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Title: My Lodger
Author: Mary Fortune
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Language: English
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My Lodger
Mary Fortune

Why, you know, it was only last summer that I was wearily trudging
through Melbourne streets in search of lodgings, and will you credit
it that I have to-day arrived at the dignity of keeping lodgers
myself! Instead of speaking humbly to crusty old women who scan me
from head to foot inspectively, and watch any loose articles, such as
a huckaback towel, that may be lying about when I request to see the
"apartment" to let, I have the immense satisfaction of being crusty,
and of snapping and turning up my nose at non-eligible inquirers for
rooms myself.

Now, I don't care how much inclined you may be to disagreeable fault-
finding, you must acknowledge that I have wonderfully improved my
condition within the past few months; not that I expect much sympathy
from you in any case, oh, no! (although, if you made anything by it, I
have no doubt any quantity of that commodity would be humbly at my
service), but you are so much in the habit of considering yourself and
your judgments as infallible, and of talking of yourself as a
reasonable and reasoning creature (fond public!) that you would not
venture upon jeopardising your character by denying a fact so obvious.

And although I calculate upon a hearing of my little insignificant
interests from you in a general way, in a particular one how idle it
would be to attempt interesting you! You walk on Turkey carpets, or at
the least Brussels, you do; and you loll upon, oh, so soft and
delicious sofas, and in the downiest of easy-chairs; and what do you
care about the cost of dingy-looking drugget, or the price of sea-weed
mattresses! Faugh! the very idea of the thing makes you ill, doesn't
it? but that doesn't trouble me in the least, you know, for it is
quite as much pleasure to me to talk of my own petty affairs as it is
to you to discuss the most important arrangements connected with your
most magnificent menage.

If one has the bump of constructiveness at all well developed, there
is nothing more pleasurably exciting than furnishing a house upon
nothing. Until you commence to do so with not more than four or five
pounds in your purse, and begin to contrive tables and seats out of
empty cases, and to convert trunks and boxes into pretty-looking
ottomans, you don't know what fun there is in the world. Until you
have to scrape pennies together in a way that the careful can only
understand, and lay them together to make shillings for the
acquisition of some necessary trifle, you have little idea of the
comfort to be derived from the most ordinary of necessities; and I
have not the least doubt that I have more real pleasure in
contemplating at this moment a very pretty rug, bought for the sum of
two shillings and sixpence, than you enjoy in looking at the tout
ensemble of your very magnificent drawing-room, the furnishing of
which, I myself am aware, cost you a few cool hundreds.

And when I laid that said rug down in front of a fireplace as white
as whitening could make it, and looked from the bright cluster of red
roses and white lilies in the centre of it, to my muslin-draped
toilet, that you would never suppose to be three empty orange cases, I
began to feel the entire satisfaction of having a whole "furnished
room to let." You might turn up your nose at my clean matted floor,
and the efforts I had made to make two chairs look four in my disposal
of them in half a dozen different positions; but, thank goodness, I am
not likely to have you looking for lodgings at my door just at
present, although I have seen loftier ideas than yours reduced even
lower in my time.

Well, my "apartment" being in a state of readiness, the next step was
to take expeditious measures to lay my claims for patronage before the
public, and, of course, considering my means, or rather my want of
them, it was necessary for me to do so in as cheap a form as possible.
Firstly, then, I wrote several "cards," stating that furnished
apartments might be had at so-and-so, such a street, and these I
distributed to the baker and the butcher and the grocer, with the
polite request that they would kindly place the same on view in their
several windows. Certainly they all promised to be kind enough, and,
with one exception, all were kind enough, for I made it my business to
walk round and see that they had done so; and that disgraceful
exception was the butcher, who goes round and rings a bell every day
to call out his customers, and I should think the foolish man had
since repented his conduct in sackcloth and ashes, for I have not
since purchased my pound of "chuck" steak, or pennyworth of cat's meat
from his cart.

Now for my own window. I dare say there are many very nice people who
feel a little weakness about putting a card in their parlour window,
and so advertising the fact that their incomes are not quite so
liberal as could be wished, but I do assure you that it was with quite
a different feeling I displayed my pasteboard and its unique notice.
You see I was so proud of my half a dozen empty cases, and my two
chairs, etc., that I was delighted to let everybody know that I really
had furnished rooms. However, I met with one difficulty at the very
outset of preparing my advertisement. I could not decide in what form
to make it public.

"Board and residence," eh? in an enclosed card with a delightfully
embossed border, and suspended inside the window by a prettily-
coloured bit of love ribbon. Very sweet and pretty, no doubt: but
there are "young ladies" where that card is, and gentlemen might be
disappointed on seeing my old phiz at the door; and if there is
anything in the world aggravating to women "of a certain age,” it must
be to read in the male eye that they are considered passe and not
worth the trouble of being polite to. No, I couldn't stand that, thank
you; and so, what do you say to "Furnished Apartments to Let"?

Hum! Apartment is a very fine word; could I conscientiously declare
that a room, ornamented, or decorated, or whatever you choose to call
it, with six empty cases, and two chairs, was a furnished apartment? I
don't think I could, I really do not, although I am by no means a
straitlaced person (as my lodgers may find when I come to consider my
perquisites), and ready enough to stretch a point where my interests
are concerned. But beyond a certain amount of cheek I cannot go, and
it would be really a bit too far to declare that I was the landlady of
a furnished apartment.

"A Furnished Room to Let.” Well, that's sensible-looking, and to the
point, and I do like things to seem what they really are, without
shirking the matter in the least; but, look here, my card is rather
small, and what do you think of the good old-fashioned word
"Lodgings"? I have seen that word in a good many windows in a good
many "old countries," and I rather like the unpretending style of it.
You might lodge anywhere--in an exceedingly well-furnished apartment
or in a room with a few well-disposed empty cases doing duty for
tables, etc.; nay, your lodgings might be "on the cold ground" for
that matter, as the song says, or you might lodge in a gaspipe on
Cole's wharf, as does our mythical friend the Peripatetic Philosopher;
at any rate, the word describes the thing I have to dispose of
accurately, and I have no doubt in the world that disagreeable and
evil-disposed persons will be calling me a lodging-house keeper one of
these odd days; so, in the name of peace, "Lodgings" be it.

And "Lodgings" it was, in the finest old English letters, you can
well believe, barring the L. I am sorry to say I failed in that, and
that it was difficult, on a cursory inspection, to pronounce that the
complete word was not "Todgings." Nay, I heard one little wretched
gamin calling "Podgings," at the top of his voice, one day, in front
of my parlour window; but that was entirely out of spite, seeing that
he belonged to the house over the way, where "Board and Residence" is
displayed within the usual embossage, and with the usual bit of
ribbon, although truth compels me to declare that the latter is very
considerably fly spotted. No, after I had carefully scraped a too long
tail off my capital L, and drawn the other tail as near the o as I
dared, I think I may with safety declare that the person must be
indeed very ignorant who could, for one moment, mistake the word for
anything but what it really was, namely, "Lodgings."

And so I pinned it up nicely between my muslin blind and the window,
and then I went out into the street to see how it showed. Why, it
showed beautifully, to be sure, and returned, with a relieved mind, to
sit in state and wait for the lodger which it might please heaven to
send me. Heaven was, however, pleased to very considerably try my
patience, for I waited there at that window days--ay, weeks--before I
had the extreme pleasure of talking to my gossips about the sayings
and doings of "my lodger."

Sometimes one of the passers-by would pause and direct a scrutinising
look at my card, and at such times my heart would begin to beat
anticipatively; but I soon discovered that those persons were simply
interested by the style of my card, and occasionally, I dare say,
critically pronouncing on the demerits of my capital L. But of all the
disappointments I have to record, that of the old gentleman who was
the final occasion (drat him) of the embossed card disappearing from
the window of my rival opposite was the very greatest.

I saw this old gentleman appear on the opposite side of the way, and
by the keen examining look he was shooting from under his bushy
eyebrows, first at one side of the street and then at the other, I was
convinced that he was a delightful old fellow in search of "Lodgings."
How I jumped from my seat, to be sure, and how my heart did really
pound at an increased rate when I observed that my card had taken his
attention, and that he was making straight across the street in my
direction.

He was a rotund, Pickwickian-looking old boy in figure, but he had a
sharp and yet half terrified-looking expression, not at all suggestive
of Dickens's hero; yet I thought him the very acme of old
gentlemanliness, as he stood at my garden railing and looked at my old
English characters on the card. He looked at it, I say, and
thoughtfully shoved up the end of his nose with the knob of his
umbrella; and then he hesitatingly turned around toward the street,
although his hand was already on the latch of my gate.

I wish that the old---, well, it's no use being uncharitable now that
it's all past and gone, but if ever I wished a card at the---, I did
the one opposite at that moment, for it caught the old chap's eye,
and, like a hawk sighting a fresh quarry, he let go of my latch, and
pegged away across the street, to that obnoxious lodging-house keeper
over the way.

What could it be? Did my capital L disagree with him, or did the old
reprobate catch a glimpse of a chignon and blue ribbon band that I saw
plainly enough bobbing up and down behind the blind, and watching the
old thing's movements with quite as much interest as myself? Goodness
knows; but, at any rate, never was a greater disappointment
experienced, and had it not been for some hopes that he might return,
I am afraid that old gent would not have been followed by many
blessings from my side of the way.

Vain were my hopes in this as in many another matter. The old fellow
knocked, and was promptly admitted, as you may suppose; and he must
have been a person of decided and energetic movements, for five
minutes did not elapse ere he reappeared, and was accompanied by the
landlady, with so much empressement, and so many smiles and nods (with
a perspective of the chignon and blue ribbon band), that I concluded
the arrangement was made.

It was. In less than an hour the old chap returned in a cab,
accompanied by two eminently respectable portmanteaus. He was received
by the same smiles and nods, and perspective flitting of a chignon and
blue ribbon, and finally the door was closed, leaving me, in the
fullest sense of the word, an outsider. Little I thought, when I
sighed over the loss of that tasteless individual as an inmate of my
apartment, how much he would soon have to do with that very apartment,
or how soon the occupancy of mine would make the lodgings of my rival
over the way tremble to their very foundations.

Look you, I was in one of my most unamiable moods that afternoon, and
can you in your heart wonder at it? When my black cat came purring to
remind me that her hour of refection was come and past, I saluted her
with such a box on the ear that she made tracks under the sofa, and
did not venture to reappear until matters were smoother; and as I
desperately began to prepare my usual papers "for the press" (ahem!) I
maliciously made six blots on one page of my MS, just for the purpose
of occasioning that compositor a little extra trouble.

"That will pay him out," I said to myself, "for the absurd nonsense
he puts under my signature at times. There was that last article about
the cemetery, for instance; didn't he go and print 'brain' for 'train'
in connection with 'a girl of the period', as if such a girl could be
supposed to have the slightest soupcon of the former."

Slightly relieved by this piece of retaliation, I resumed my position
at the window, just in time to perceive a skippy-looking female pause
also at the rival house, just as the chignon and blue ribbon was
removing the obnoxious card which had attracted and landed the fish I
had hoped to secure as my own prize. The fact of its removal did not,
however, affect the female in question for she skipped to the door,
and used the knocker to such purpose that the chignon and blue ribbon
were tossed disdainfully as they disappeared from the window. It was a
satisfaction to me, as you may well believe, to see that female
disappointed over the way; and that her object was lodgings I did not
doubt when she turned her back upon my engaged rival, and walked
toward my door.

I must describe that lady to you, not exactly as she appeared to me
during her approach, for, of a certainty, I was disposed to look upon
everything connected with her attractive just at that moment. She was,
then, a lady of no few years; perhaps she carried forty of them on her
head, but she tried hard to carry them with an air of youth and
vitality, which attempt was also evinced in her style of dressing,
that was girlish and periodical to a degree.

Perhaps the tight and awfully high heels of the boots she endured,
that in some measure necessitated the skipping movement we must term
her walk; but I am inclined to believe that it was at least partially
assumed, her attire so corresponded with the juvenile activity it
simulated. Her skirts were uncommonly short and scant, her ankles as
bony as you could wish, and her skinny shoulders well defined, not by
nature, but by the tight-fitting waist of a dress of as skinny a make
as herself. She carried a parasol in one hand daintily, as if it were
a bouquet, and a small leather bag in the other with the tips of her
gloved fingers, and by the extreme of the chain, consciously, as if it
contained something dirty.

Such was, in appearance, the female who came across the street and
after, with some difficulty, in consequence of the parasol and the
bag, opening my gate and stepping in with a little extra skip,
performed a "tat-a-tat ta-ra-ra-ra-ra" upon my door, that would have
astonished you. Depend on it, I did not keep the lady waiting,
although I am sorry to confess that I did not obey the summons without
a considerable increase of the acidity of temper I had been afflicted
with since the old gentleman's desertion; so I opened the door with a
jerk and inquired her business with as supercilious an air as if I had
kept lodgings in London or Melbourne during the whole term of my
natural life.

"Have you got an apartment to let?"

"Yes."

"A furnished apartment?"

"Ye-e-es; what kind of room do you want?"

"Oh! a bedroom--a bedroom for a lady."

"A single lady?"

"Of course; the room is for myself."

"Ah! you are unmarried, then?" (How I should like to have added
"still!") "Well, I am very particular as to whom I take into my house,
and expect references."

"'References! I can furnish the best of references, ma'am, if that's
necessary," said the lady, with an angry rattle of the bag chain; "but
in my opinion money is as good a reference as you can have, and I am
in the habit of always paying my rent in advance."

"That, in my case, miss, you would find to be a necessity. Will you
step in and see the apartment?"

"Pray, may I enquire, is it a front room?"

"It is a front room."

"Ah!" and my lady gave a sigh of the deepest relief, and at the same
time a glance which I considered to be strangely directed toward the
lodging-house opposite. "One question more, ma'am, and a most
important one--are there any of the male sex about this house?"

"Male sex!" I ejaculated in the utmost astonishment, as the prim lady
moved past me into the hall. "I fail to gather your meaning."

"I mean have you any gentlemen lodgers or other members of the sex in
the house--in daily communion, I mean?" she explained with a little
simper, and a screwed-up mouth, that I defy you to imitate.

"On, no! I have no gentlemen lodgers; nor are there any males in
intimate communion with even the walls of the house, saving and
excepting the woodman, to whom you could not have any objection,
seeing that he is old and respectable, viz., the father of a large
family."

"I'm glad of that--very glad--for I could not even think of risking
my character by residing in the same house as a gentleman. I think
young persons cannot be too careful."

"Certainly not, miss; that is the reason I have such an objection to
gentlemen lodgers" (and I thought sadly of the old gent opposite).
"Here is the apartment."

Yes, there was the apartment, looking so admirable and pretty with
its cases decorated, and its two chairs doing duty for four, that I
thought it the most mortal of pities it should not become the lodging
of a nice, tidy, elderly gentleman. While I was thinking so, my young
lady was looking anxiously and carefully from the window, as if the
apartment she thought of occupying was on the other side of the
street, and she was examining its comforts and capabilities. I thought
this rather strange at the time, more particularly when she turned
suddenly to me and said.

"I'll take the room, ma'am. What is the rent?"

She was in earnest evidently, as her purse was produced from the bag
with the rattling chain as she spoke.

Now I have often had occasion to comment on the impossibility of
gratifying the craving desires of humanity, and in this matter I saw
myself no exception to the general rule. A few hours before, I should
have been only too glad to look forward to the probability of letting
my apartment to a single lady of irreproachable character, and a
strict determination to take especial care of the same valuable
article, and here I was positively half sorry that she showed so
decided an intention to locate herself in my establishment. Simply
because she was so ready with her money, after I had declared a
hundred times over that rent in advance I would have from king or
kaiser! "Why she has never even looked at the accommodation inside the
room!" I mentally ejaculated, "and there she is, with the open purse
in her hand, staring out of the window, as if the most delightful
prospect in the world was a brick house with a dingy iron railing in
front."

"And the top of an old gentleman's round bald head, surmounting a
little round pair of spectacled eyes, peering over the blind," I might
have added, for just at that moment I observed the new lodger opposite
taking a peep at the street; and my lodger saw him too, for she drew
back and bridled, and looked sheepishly at me, and again devoted
herself to the arrangement of terms.

And the terms were arranged, and the old young lady, whose name, by
the way, was "Miss Anna Perkins," went to bring her wardrobe from her
former lodgings. And the wardrobe was brought, also in a cab,
consisting, outwardly, of one small stereotyped boot-box and four
dilapidated bonnet-boxes. Two old parasols followed, in company with a
white covered umbrella and a pair of dingy goloshes, and, finally,
Miss Perkins, with all her belongings, was "fixed" among my ornamented
empty cases and my two chairs, etc.

And then came my initiation into the comfort of keeping lodgers. Miss
Perkins wanted some warm water to perform her ablutions, and I was
under the disagreeable necessity of informing her that she might
observe the kitchen fire to be out, and that if she wished for warm
water, she must kindle it (viz., the fire), and procure the article
for herself. Then she requested my assistance in removing the so-
called toilet-table from the window to a dim corner of the apartment,
as there was "nothing so pleasant," she declared, "as a seat by the
window"; "or so unpleasant," I mentally added, "as for an old woman
who wishes to be young to see the wrinkles in her face too plainly."

Early next morning, Miss Anna Perkins was up and out, and all the way
to the Eastern Market; and she came home laden with two little red
flower-pots; one containing an incipient rose-tree, and the other a
very weak myrtle. Added to these were a miniature green watering-pot
and a brown-ware teapot of the very smallest dimensions; I was just in
the middle of my breakfast preparations when she entered the kitchen
and deposited her purchases on the table with a giggle and a skip, and
drew the longest breath of relief that her flat chest could afford.

"Oh, I'm so tired! Dear me, you couldn't imagine what a time I've had
of it! I don't think I should have really got back at all had it not
been for a gentleman, who insisted on carrying my watering-pot and
flowers."

"What! one of the male sex?" I exclaimed, in affected astonishment.

"He-he! I couldn't help it. Oh, I do assure you, he perfectly
insisted, and followed me so persistently: what could I do, you know?
And when he really took my things, almost forcibly, I couldn't
struggle in the street, could I, or be rude?"

"Did it not strike you as rudeness on his part at all, Miss Perkins?"

"Well now, there's a great deal in manner, you know, and his was not
rude--only anxious to save a lady trouble. And he joked so, I could
not, do all I would, help laughing--he-he! He did so enjoy my teapot,
and said it was so old-maid-like, that he almost insisted on
destroying it, the dear little thing--he-he! But, in spite of all his
entreaties, I would not even permit him to carry it for me. It would
have looked so, you know."

I didn't like my lodger--there; and I don't at all mind owning it to
you as events turned out. I should fifty times over rather have had a
crusty old bachelor to deal with than a vain old woman, that would
imagine herself youthful. I don't think there is a more despicable
object in the world than this latter, and I never meet with one
without the inclination to tell her a bit of my mind on the subject.
Perhaps, you will uncharitably gather from this that I have reached
such an age myself as to render all attempts at revivification
useless; but I haven't, you see, although I am by no means a skipping
young lady myself.

My morning avocations performed, I resumed my usual seat at the
window of the sitting-room, and, the door of Miss Perkins' apartment
being open and opposite mine, I had the pleasure of seeing her arrange
her flower-pots in the window, and exhibit her loose muslin-clad arm
in using the little green watering-pot for their behoof in the
jauntiest and airiest manner conceivable. Indeed, she threw the window
so fully up, and fluttered around it so persistently, that I began to
fancy she was a little more touched in the upper story than I had even
at first concluded, when something or other attracted her gaze to the
street.

And just as it was, I saw the old gentleman opposite appear over the
blind, or, at least, his round bald head and his round spectacled
eyes. He stared--he stared, and his head appeared to grow shiny, as it
certainly did grow red, and his eyes rounder than ever; and then he
drew suddenly back, as if from some most disagreeable and astonishing
discovery. What could it be? I rose up, and looked up the street and
down the street, like a true daughter of Eve, but I saw nothing, save
Miss Anna Perkins flourishing her watering-pot, and smirking in such a
hideous manner, that I felt certain she also had observed the old
gentleman with the round eyes and bald head. "Bah!" I thought, "she's
been making eyes at the poor old man, and terrified him out of his
wits. I don't wonder at it, for a husband-hunting old fool is
abominable."

The old gentleman appeared not again; and, after a couple of hours'
hanging and lolling around the open window, Miss Perkins dressed
herself to kill, and emerged from the front door, performing the role
of an innocent and lively young damsel to her own admiration. The
scrap of ground in front of my residence ought hardly to be dignified
by the title of garden, but Miss Perkins made the most of it, as a
little area to disport herself in before she passed into the street.
She plucked a little scrap of privet and a tiny bit of laurestina, and
a morsel of stunted briar, and she placed them daintily together, and
smelled them with, oh, such an air! and she finally went out, casting
a side-glance at the windows over the way, and patting her lips and
caressing her lanky cheek with the small bouquet in a most bewitching
manner.

And she sauntered up the street towards the Gardens, with an air of
saunter that no person could mistake. "I am simply going for a stroll"
was so evident in her affected dawdle, that I could not help giving
vent to my feelings aloud. "If that old gent over the way does not
accept your plain invitation to follow you in a stroll, my most fair
Miss Perkins," I said, "then your attentions may in future be devoted
to some one of the male sex more worthy of, and more likely to
reciprocate them. However, I do not doubt that you are stringing, or
trying to string, your bow double, and that your 'gentleman' of this
morning has some slight idea of your stroll in the Gardens."

"But, bless my heart, is he an old fool after all?" This exclamation
was drawn from me by the fact that a moment had scarcely elapsed after
Miss Perkins' disappearance from the street, when the old fellow
trotted out from his door, and looked keenly in the direction she had
taken. And he looked more than keenly--he looked vicious and
determined, and like a man who had made up his mind to a certain
thing, and would go through with it, even if all sorts of obstacles
should be encountered on the way; but for any sake, I beg you to
imagine my complete astonishment when the old chap commenced to trot
across the street, and finally, opened my gate, with the same pursed-
up mouth and frowning brow, as if his determination had at any rate
something to do with the sharp rap he presently gave at my door.

I opened it in a sort of daze, and I had no time to wonder. Perhaps
an idea that the lodgings opposite did not suit him may have shot
across my mind, but if it did, the old man's first words changed it.

"I have something to say to you, ma'am," he said sturdily, and
emphasising his words with a rap of his stick on the ground--
"something about that disgusting lady-lodger of yours; and I want to
go inside to your sitting-room, where I won't be liable to be pounced
upon by the jade in the middle of it." And he looked up the street
with such a frown and twist of his mouth, while he clutched the cane
more firmly in his hand, as if he would not have hesitated to attack
Miss Anna Perkins bodily, should she unfortunately make her
appearance.

"Gracious me!" thinks I, as I led the way into my sitting-room
wonderingly, and saw the old fellow seat himself in my chair, and wipe
his face with his voluminous silk handkerchief. "And now, sir" (aloud)
"will you be good enough to tell me your business?"

"Yes, ma'am, I will be good enough--I came here for the purpose of
being good enough. Your female lodger is a jade, ma'am, and it is the
very greatest satisfaction for me to tell you so." And the fellow drew
in his chin and stamped his foot and his stick, and looked at me as if
he considered me in league with Miss Anna Perkins, and one of the same
species myself.

"I have no doubt, sir, that you express your opinion, however too
candidly I may consider you do it, but pray what have I got to do with
your opinion of Miss Perkins?"

"Miss Devilskin!" he muttered between his teeth ere he replied. "Yes,
ma'am, you've come to the point, and I expected that you would come to
the point. What have you got to do with it? Exactly. What will you
make by it? Just so. Oh, ma'am, I know the world--so do you, eh?
However, it simplifies matters considerably to have you speak your
mind out plainly--not one woman in twenty hundred would have done it;
they would have pretended innocence, and immaculate honour, and all
sorts of trash. Ma'am, I hate women!" Emphasised by another thump of
the stick.

"The women are in despair to have gained your bad opinion, doubtless,
sir, but I do assure you that I do not personally care one straw
whether you hate them or not. Now, sir, will you please tell me what
you are driving at, as Miss Perkins may interrupt you before you are
prepared?"

"D--Miss Perkins--the jade! That old woman is the bane of my
existence, ma'am. She is rendering my existence a perfect hell upon
earth! I have the misfortune to be well off, ma'am, and the wretch
knows it! If I was a fox, ma'am, and Miss Devilskin was a hound, she
could not nose me and follow me out with more persistence; but, by---,
I am a fox, as far as cunning goes, and that she shall know before
long!"

Good heavens! how the stick did go on the floor, and how red the old
gentleman got in the face as he flourished his hat about with the
other hand! I do declare to you that I began to think of apoplexy and
lunacy, and all sorts of disagreeable things, as the excited speaker
went on. Suddenly he turned and faced me fully. Turned with a
movement, in which stick, and hat, and eyes, and spectacles, and even
the very buttons on his coat, seemed to play separate parts of a most
extraordinary whole, and asked.

"Now, ma'am, what will you take for Miss Perkins--the--jade?"

"Take for Miss Perkins!"

"Yes, take for Miss Perkins! What's her selling price? Come now, what
price, in round straightforward figures, do you put upon that
wrinkled, bedizened old fool, Anna Perkins?"

"Ha-ha!" Oh, I couldn't for the life of me help it, the whole thing
was so absurd. "Ha! ha! ha! Oh, sir, I don't think the value I should
set upon the dear creature would break any bank; but I do assure you
that your meaning is incomprehensible to me. If you wish to buy my
lodger, surely you had better apply to herself on the subject."

"Of course, I haven't explained myself," he said, looking a little
foolish, and moving the end of his stick uneasily on the carpet. "You
know nothing about it--how should you? Bah, I'm an old fool. Look
here, ma'am, that jade found me out at a boarding-house in town, where
I had been for two years, and where I was very comfortable. She made a
dead set at me, I tell you, and in such a barefaced, giggling manner,
that I was obliged to bolt for it, to get rid of her. I made a
moonlight flitting of it, ma'am, and used every precaution. By gad, I
even had my letters addressed under cover, so that she might not find
me out. Will you believe it, ma'am? I had not been there three days in
my new quarters when the wretch took the very room next to mine in the
same house, and there she was, grinning at me, and sticking up her
bony shoulders before me when I came home to have a peaceable dinner!
Man or devil couldn't stand it. Next day, I came here and took a room
where there was no other to let, but, by---, the first thing I set my
eyes on next morning is that infernal hag making faces at me from your
window! I'll buy her out! By Jupiter, I'll buy her out, if it took my
last pound out of the bank! I'm not going to be driven about, like a
Wandering Jew, in my old days, by a--husband-hunting old curse!"

He couldn't talk any more; he was completely out of breath, and
panting with the rage he had worked himself into. And what reply could
I make? What could I possibly know of his meaning in buying Miss
Perkins out? However, he soon recovered himself, and went on.

"Now do you know what I mean, ma'am?"

"Upon my word, sir, I do not."

"I want you to turn that old Jezebel out! I want to pay for her room!
That's what I want, and I don't care if I pay double rent, but out
with her!"

"My good sir, if you consider one moment, you will see that it would
be utterly impossible for me to be taking money from you for an empty
room."

"Why? I can't see it."

"You simply offer me a bribe, as I understand it, to get Miss Perkins
out of your way. I couldn't accept a bribe, sir."

"Bribe be---, I only want to pay you for losing your lodger."

"Yes, pay me for keeping my room empty. Perhaps, the next lady lodger
I got might be quite as objectionable as Miss Perkins."

"Get a gentleman lodger, can't you?"

"I might, sir; but it's only a chance, you know."

"By Jupiter, I'll take the room and live in it myself, before I'll be
beaten!"

"And then Miss Perkins will take the one you at present occupy, and
you will be simply out of the frying pan into the fire. Depend upon
it, if Miss Perkins discovers your plan, she will just step over into
your old room."

"Will she though?" he said with, I am sorry to say, something very
like a jubilant wink (the old scamp!) "I'll take care of that! The
people over there know what side their bread's buttered on. Leave that
to me. Now, when does she march?"

"I must give her a week's notice, you know."

"Phew! I'm off to the Dandenong Ranges for eight days, if that's it!
At any rate. I'll hide where she won't find me."

"In the Yarra Bend wouldn't be a bad place," I could not help saying,
with a laugh.

"Oh. You're a queer one, you are. There's your money, a fortnight in
advance. The change for ‘extras’--lodging-house extras; oh, I know?
Good day! I'll be here on the evening of this day week, bag and
baggage." And out he went with a chuckle, banging the door after him,
and leaving me sitting with the note in my hand, and feeling funny.

What a scene with Miss Perkins, to be sure! but never mind. I should
gain three shillings a-week by the change, not to speak of the chance
of setting my own cap at the gentleman lodger. The old silly! Little
he guesses what he's doing; never mind, we'll see. With these
thoughts, came Miss Anna Perkins, skipping to the gate, and casting
such sheep's eyes at the window opposite, as made me laugh loud enough
to be heard next door, I dare say.

"Oh, I'm quite fatigued! I'm such a creature! but it's lovely in the
Gardens to-day, Mrs---. Oh, dear, how tired I am, to be sure! I must
have a cup of tea directly, out of my dear little teapot. He-he! What
a nice view you have from this window. Oh, there's Lodgings there
too!"

Sure enough the ticket was replaced in the window opposite, and I
guessed it was simply a ruse of the cunning old fellow's, and followed
it up.

"Yes," I said, "there was an old gentleman came there yesterday, but
I suppose the rooms do not suit him, for he leaves immediately. I
presume that cab is come to remove him."

Yes. Out came the boxes once more, and out came the old hero himself,
and got into the conveyance with an air of triumph, which I should
fail to describe. And there stood Miss Perkins, like a transformation,
staring at the departure with feelings of disappointment that I could
guess.

"By the by, Miss Perkins, I have a rather unpleasant matter to break
to you, since I entered into an engagement to let you my apartment
yesterday, circumstances have so altered that I find myself under the
necessity of giving you a week's notice to leave. If you prefer
leaving at once I shall with pleasure return your advanced rent."

If I expected any explosion, I was disappointed. The loss of her game
affected her too deeply to leave room for any other feeling, so she
turned an old withered face without one spark of her recent animation
in it, from the window, and said, "It makes no difference whatever to
me; one can always find a room. Is the kettle boiling?"

Well, my ticket with the peculiar L, has disappeared from behind my
blind, and I have had an old gent in Miss P's late room, for a week. I
have fabricated for myself such a lovely muslin morning-cap (à la
veuve of course) in which I make the old chap's chocolate in the
mornings, that all the widows in the colony would be breaking their
hearts for the pattern, could they only see it. Little that old chap
guesses what a dangerous house he's got into, for you see, I'm not an
old maid, and I have that funny old gent's measure to a T already.
Already, too, he is beginning to think me the most sensible woman he
ever conversed with, and admires excessively my plain outspoken
manner, "so different from most women," he says; ha, ha! Lord help the
old silly!

I mean to tell you something more about my lodgers, for I use the
plural, seeing that I am fitting up another apartment to let. I wish I
dare give you my address, it would be such a good advertisement, you
know; but what would be the use of my writing it, seeing that our
Editor would only draw his indefatigable pen right through the middle
of it. Ha, there comes my old chap, trotting along, and twirling his
stick as if there was not a Miss Anna Perkins in the wide world.



THE END




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