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In due time I stood before the Terrace honoured by the residence of
the Happy Jacks--one of those white, stuccoed rows of houses, with
bright green doors and bright brass-plates thereon, which suburban
builders so greatly affect. As I entered the square patch of
front-garden, I perceived straw lying about, as though there had been
recent packing; and looking at the drawing-room window, I missed the
muslin curtain and the canary's brass cage swathed all over in gauze.
The door opened before I knocked, and Happy Jack was the opener. He
was clad in an old shooting-coat and slippers, had a long clay-pipe in
master. There were stairs certainly, but where was the stair-carpet?
Happy Jack, however, was clearly as happy as usual. He had a round,
red face; and, I will add, a red nose. But the usual sprightly smile
stirred the red round face, the usual big guffaw came leaping from the
largely opening mouth, the usual gleam of mingled sharpness and
_bonhomie_ shone from the large blue eyes. Happy Jack closed the door,
and, taking my arm, walked me backwards and forwards on the gravel.
'My boy,' he said, 'we've had a little domestic affair inside; but you
being, like myself, a man of the world, we were not of course going to
give up our dinner for that. The fact is,' said Jack, attempting to
assume a heroic and sentimental tone and attitude, 'that, for the
present at least, my household gods are shattered!'
'You mean that'----
'As I said, my household gods are shattered, even in the shrine!'
It was obvious that the twang of this fine phrase gave Jack uncommon
pleasure. He repeated it again and again under his breath, flourishing
his pipe, so as, allegorically and metaphorically, to set forth the
extent of his desolation.
'In other words,' I went on, 'there has been an--an execution'----
'And the brokers have not left a stick. But what of that? These, are
accidents which will occur in the best'----
'Oh! She, you know, is apt to be a little downhearted at times; and
empty rooms somehow act on her idiosyncrasy. A good woman, but weak.
So she's gone for the present to her sisters; and as for the girls,
why, Emily is with her mother, and Jane is at the Joneses. Very decent
people the Joneses. I put Jones up to a thing which would have made
his fortune the week before last; but he wouldn't have it. Jones is
slow, and--well---- And Clara is with the Hopkinses: I believe so, at
least; and Maria is---- Confound me if I know where Maria is; but I
suppose she's somewhere. Her mother managed it all: I didn't
interfere. And so now, as you know the best and the worst, let's come
An empty house is a dismal thing--almost as dismal as a dead body. The
echo, as you walk, is dismal; the blank, stripped walls, shewing the
places where the pictures and the mirrors have been, are dismal; the
bits of straw and the odds and ends of cord are dismal; the coldness,
the stillness, the blankness, are dismal. It is no longer a
habitation, but a shell.
In the dining-room stood a small deal-table, covered with a scanty
cloth, like an enlarged towel; and a baked joint, with the potatoes
under it, smoked before us. The foaming pewter-can stood beside it,
with a couple of plates, and knives and steel forks. Two Windsor
chairs, of evident public-house mould, completed the festive
preparations and the furniture of the room. The whole thing looked
very dreary; and as I gazed, I felt my appetite fade under the sense
of desolation. Not so Happy Jack. 'Come, sit down, sit down. I don't
admire baked meat as a rule, but you know, as somebody says--
"When spits and jacks are gone and spent,
Then ovens are most excellent,"
And also most con-ven-i-ent.
The people at the Chequers managed it all. Excellent people they are.
I owe them some money, which I shall have great pleasure in paying as
soon as possible. No man can pay it sooner.'
The dinner, however, went off with the greatest success. Happy Jack
was happier than ever, and consequently irresistible. Every two or
three minutes he lugged in something about his household gods and the
desolation of his hearth, evidently enjoying the sentiment highly.
Then he talked of his plans of taking a new and more expensive house,
in a fashionable locality, and furnishing it on a far handsomer scale
than the old one. In fact, he seemed rather obliged to the brokers
than otherwise for taking the quondam furniture off his hands. It was
quite behind the present taste--much of it positively ugly. He had
been ashamed to see his wife sitting in that atrocious old easy-chair,
but he hoped that he had taken a step which would change all for the
better. Warming with his dinner and the liquor, Happy Jack got more
and more eloquent and sentimental. He declaimed upon the virtues of
Mrs J., and the beauties of the girls. He proposed all their healths
_seriatim_. He regretted the little incident which had prevented their
appearance at the festive board; but though absent in person, he was
sure that they were present in spirit; and with this impression, he
would beg permission to favour them with a song--a song of the social
affections--a song of hearth and home--a song which had cheered, and
warmed, and softened many a kindly and honest heart: and with this
Happy Jack sang--and exceedingly well too, but with a sort of
dreadfully ludicrous sentiment--the highly appropriate ditty of _My
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