`MY dear Miss Primmins' said the kind and comfortable lady, Mrs Cogsby, a burly good-natured body, engaged in that most delightful occupation of gardening on a summer evening, which consisted of amputating a few dead rosebuds with an enormous and sanguinary looking knife, apparently constructed originally for the rather unusual purpose of murdering crocodiles, but which she employed on the present occasion with no more apparent emotion than if it were the most delicate lady's penknife. `My dear Miss Primmins, you mustn't think of going a step further, before you've come in, and had a glass of elder wine. Besides you haven't seen my darling Guggy this age, and he's so improved!' The said darling Guggy was a rather over-grown boy of about 6 years old, the delight of his mother, and the utter detestation of all the neighbourhood, who were miserably victimised by Mrs Cogsby for whole evenings together, admiring him and hearing of his performances. He was always carried into the room by his mother's express desire, though it was noticed by the more observant of her visitors that the nurse only took him up outside the door, indeed it was impossible for any human nurse to have carried him 10 yards without dropping.
`Rely, Mem,' began the present victim, a sickly decayed looking young lady, of considerably over 70, who screwed all her words with some difficulty out of one of the smallest mouths, `rely, Mem, I kiddnt think of intrewding on your seclusion.' But Mrs Cogsby would hear of no excuse, and she was soon seated in the parlour, where in the course of 1/2 an hour, 8 or 10 other victims were assembled, and the darling Guggy was introduced.
`Oh! what a charming boy!' was the general exclamation on his first appearance, the charming boy meanwhile standing at his mother's knee with his thumb in his mouth, vouchsafing not a word to any of the company; `I really must show you,' began Mrs Cogsby, `a remarkable production of Guggy's. It's a portrait of his father, wonderfully like him, (a universal elevation of eye-brows) only the poor dear man wouldn't look at it, when I shewed it him today, but went off in a fluff.' (Probably a combination of flurry and huff, a confusion of words being one of Mrs Cogsby's peculiarities.) At this moment a gentle knock was heard at the door.
ON the door being opened, Mr Cogsby senior timidly entered the room: he cast an anxious glance around him, detected Miss Primmins in the act of examining his portrait, and with a faint shriek of horror, sunk into a chair. Mrs Cogsby flew to him, and by dint of a well directed battery of the most energetic slaps on the back, succeeded in restoring the vital spark. `My dear Alfred,' she murmured reproachfully in his ear, as soon as she saw signs of returning consciousness, `to think that you should yield to this weakness! you, to whom I'm sure I've been more than a mother.' `I beg your pardon, ma'am' interposed a pale tall young man, leaning over a chair, with a large head of a small stick constantly in his mouth, `but do you happen to be his--grandmother?' `Sir!' said Mrs Cogsby with a withering glance, which silenced him in a moment. Even in that awful moment she had the presence of mind to ring the bell. `Show that person out!' said she faintly, and the young man, rather astounded at the effect of his speech, followed the indignant maid-servant, who saw that the mistress had received some insult, though what it was she was by no means clear. The danger over Mrs Cogsby began to think it was her turn to have a scene, and accordingly began, `The brute! the beast!!! to call--a young lady--n-not 30--t-to call her--a granan-an-mother--oh!' and here, having reached the climax, she fell, executing her favourite manoeuvre of sinking upon a sofa in a picturesque attitude.
The next moment a yell of agony was heard from Guggy, the feet of that beauteous infant being just discernible protruding from under his mother's dress.
A series of vigorous little kicks were being applied to Mrs Cogsby by her pet son, while her anxious female friends were employing all sorts of unheard of restoratives on the other. Miss Primmins, with a handful of burnt feathers in one hand, and a bottle of hartshorn in the other was the most conspicuous among them. Mr. Cogsby had disappeared at the first moment of alarm: he now reappeared with a smile of satisfaction on his face, and before anyone could interpose to prevent him, soused his wife with the whole contents of a very large bucket of water. All symptoms of fainting vanished in an instant, and Mrs Cogsby with wrath and revenge in her flashing eye, rose up from her recumbent position, seized her terrified husband by the ear, and led him from the room; the miserable Guggy whom no-one compassionated, was left in a crushed and wafer-like condition on the sofa, where he was found by the maid-servant, hours afterwards, howling frantically.
Shrieks and blows resounded from the next room, and the female visitors, stopping their ears, rushed out of the house, leaving the unhappy Mr Cogsby to his fate. The gentlemen were only too glad to follow them, and no-one was left, save and except one deaf old gentleman, who hadn't the smallest notion of what had been going on, and now remained sitting in the corner, with his legs crossed, and a calm and placid smile settled on his face.
What followed in Mr Cogsby's house, it is not for us to say: Miss Primmins, on arriving at home was seized by violent hysterics.
THE deepest antipathy and most violent disgust may be got over in the slow course of time, and though for the next 6 months she was injured innocence personified, though she expressed the most utter abhorrence of the Cogsby conduct, and made solemn vows not to enter the Cogsby residence, yet when Mrs Cogsby issued her invitations to her annual ball, on New-years-day there was no-one who obeyed the summons with greater alacrity, or arrived more punctually to the time than Miss Primmins. Clad in a low satin dress of the deepest Prussian blue, with a tiara of jewels on her head, her auburn ringlets gracefully falling over her shoulders, (honestly her's, for she had payed for them) and her fair complexion (likewise honestly her's) blooming in all the fresh ruddiness of youth, no-one who saw her then would have imagined her to be the ordinary every-day Miss Primmins, with her sallow face, known to be the most malicious and spiteful gossip in the town, any more than he would have imagined her to be the Emperor of Russia. And Mr Augustus Bymm was there too, contrite for all past offences, and forgiven by Mrs Cogsby, and of course the charming Guggy was introduced in the drawing room, who after treading on three gentlemen's toes, pushing a plate of cake into a lady's lap, and deluging the table with coffee, was finally sent to bed roaring for upsetting the lamp over Miss Primmins. All hands were immediately at work to `put out' Miss Primmins, who, enwrapped in flames, was at last enveloped by Mr Augustus Bymm in a hearthrug, and finally extinguished. This was hardly done when a more horrifying event took place. Mr Cogsby's feet were seen for a moment balancing on the sill of the open window, the next he had vanished.
ALL rushed to the window; the ill-fated Mr Cogsby was seen stuck in one of the flower-beds in an inverted position, quivering like an aspen tree: it appeared that the unhappy gentleman had been gradually backing from the scene of conflagration, overcome with horror at the accident which had befallen Miss Primmins, until he had at length backed out of the room in the manner described in the former chapter. Mr Augustus Bymm was on the spot in a moment, uprooted the half suffocated Mr Cogsby, and bore him in his arms into the house, where he consigned him to the maternal solicitude of his wife, (he did not venture to call it grand-maternal on this occasion) and returned in a high state of self-gratulation to the smouldering Miss Primmins, who, overcome by her feelings, took off her (false) diamond necklace on the spot, and begged to present it to him with her compliments as a token of her heartfelt gratitude.
Order being at length restored among the agitated guests, and Mrs Cogsby having returned with the pleasing intelligence that the only result of Mr Cogsby's fall had been a stiff neck and a slight attack of alloverishness, conversation proceeded in its usual train, and Miss Primmins, taking her seat by Mrs Cogsby's side, begged to ask her advice in an important matter: `she was thinking' she said, `of giving a little juvenile party in a few days, but did not quite know how to manage it.' `No? were you really?' exclaimed Mrs Cogsby rapturously, `how delightful! well, I'm sure I'll give you every assistance I can. I shall have no objection to let you have my darling Guggy for the occasion, who I'm sure will be the life and soul of the whole thing.' `Why, no, not exactly,' said Miss Primmins, coughing nervously to hide her confusion as she had not foreseen this offer and her whole object had been to avoid the presence of that much-detested child, `I did not exactly ask you for him, you know, Mrs Cogsby.' `I know you did not, my dear Miss Primmins,' said Mrs Cogsby, affectionately laying her hand upon her arm, `your natural delicacy was too great for you to try to separate a mother from her darling infant, however much you might wish to do so, but I need hardly say that I have full confidence in your prudence and experience, and do not hesitate to trust my precious child to your care, no, and should not if he were a hundred Guggy's!'
Miss Primmins shuddered at the idea, and proceeded rather less hopefully. than before. `But you see, Mrs Cogsby, that--I'm so nervous! and really--a number--of children,--that is--I didn't mean to say--but--you understand what I mean--in fact--for these reasons--I fear I must--decline--the--the--company--of--your--precious Guggy.'
`MY dear Miss Primmins,' said Mrs Cogsby, `I understand your wishes, and be assured I will act accordingly.' `Thank you, thank you,' returned that agitated lady. `I am sure you understand--what I wish--that I, you know--I didn't mean to say it--but better than I could express it myself.' `Yes, yes, I perfectly understand you,' replied Mrs Cogsby and here the two ladies parted, the one to seek out Mr Augustus Bymm, and again assure him that she wasn't in the least hurt, only frightened, and that her sense of gratitude to him would survive to the latest moment of her life, the other to spend the rest of the evening in boasting among her lady-guests of the attainments of her Guggy.
The auspicious day at length arrived, and Miss Primmins, with trembling hands, was herself ornamenting the dishes which she intended to form the repast of her juvenile guests, her loud and imperious maid assisting, or rather hindering, continuously grumbling at her mistress for her ignorance and in the same breath complaining of the trouble these things always gave, and regularly winding up her paragraphs with, `there, I told you so, you'd better let me do it!' snatching the dish or other article out of her hands. One by one her little guests dropped in, shy, timid, and shrinking. `How d'you do, my dears,' began Miss Primmins, `won't you take off your bonnets?' `There, you'd better let me do it!' remarked her maid in a surly undertone. When all had arrived, Miss Primmins was joyfully counting heads when the door opened and in marched Master George Cogsby.
MASTER George Cogsby, who, as the reader already knows, rejoiced in the mellifluous sobriquet of Guggy, entered the room, and Miss Primmins, in whose face the most intense disgust was vividly depicted, rose to meet him. `My darling child,' she began, `I am delighted to see you, how is your dear mother?' `Don't know,' was the darling's intelligent reply, and Miss Primmins turned to her other guests saying `Well, I hope you'll all enjoy yourselves,' with a look which plainly added, `but I don't think you've much chance, now!' She then occupied herself in setting her little visitors to games etc. but Master Guggy would do nothing, join in nothing, but kept going round the room, pinching the guests, and enjoying their screams: at last he took his station by Miss Primmins herself, who was playing a brisk polka for the enlivenment of the company in general.
After listening with the profoundest attention for some time, during which he was unscrewing three wires in the inside of the piano, he suddenly asked `Is that part of the tune, Miss Prim?' `Is what part of the tune, precious?' `Putting your tongue in your cheek.' `No, love,' she hastily replied and rising from her seat, sought another part of the room. The delightful infant then proceeded to examine the internal arrangement of the instrument, and ended in breaking off the pedal.
At last, when he had produced universal dissatisfaction among the children, and set three little girls crying, Miss Primmins thought it time to summon them to tea in another room. A magnificent cake stood at the top of the table: Miss Primmins dispensed half of it among her guests in large slices, and then left the room for some wine: on her return she missed the remainder. `Jane,' she asked in a confidential whisper, `what have you done with the rest of the cake?' `If you please'm' was the reply in an equally low whisper, `if you please'm, Master Cogsby's eaten it!'
MISS Primmins turned to Master Cogsby in horror; that infant's hand grasped a huge hunch of the cake, his cheeks were distended to their fullest extent, his jaws making a feeble attempt to move. Uttering a scream of passion she struck the cake out of his hands, and seizing his hair with one hand, administered such a shower of heavy blows on his back, that the cake was instantly swallowed, to the imminent danger of the darling's life, and from the beauteous lips of Guggy there issued forth such a horrid discordant yell, as sent the whole of the party out of the room, stopping their ears, to shut out the dreadful noise.
Miss Primmins bore it for full 20 seconds, retaining her hold of his hair, and then, finding that the noise, instead of abating was getting worse, and without check or inspiration, was gradually rising to a climax, which would beat 3 steam-engines screaming together into fits, she deserted her post, and fled upstairs into the drawing room, where her other guests were assembled.
Even there the voice of Guggy was plainly heard, echoing through the house, making the walls ring again. As a last resource she rang for a maid, and giving her a pitcher of water, screamed in her ear, so as to make herself heard above the din, `Be so good as to take this jug down to the dining room, and pour it all over Master Cogsby!' The maid departed, and Miss Primmins seated herself, mentally counting the moments which must elapse before she could get downstairs. `Now,' she thought, `she's on the second landing, and now she's passing the stair window. Now she's in the hall, she must have got to the dining room door by this time, and now--' The noise had been gradually dying away during these thoughts, and the party were beginning to hope that it would soon stop, but just as Miss Primmins had reached this exact point in her calculations, the house was shaken from top to bottom, and such a sudden and intensely terrible roar thundered in her ears, as can only be compared to the explosion of a large powder mill, blowing up with it a menagerie of wild beasts. Five of the party fainted away on the spot: the rest, crouching on the floor, clung to one another in mute and agonizing terror, and when the last echo of the frightful sound had died away, the only sound that was to be heard in the house was the gasping of the terrified Miss Primmins. The silence that succeeded was almost as terrible as the noise, and Miss Primmins, as soon as she recovered herself, hastened trembling downstairs and found Guggy, considerably discomposed, but quite quiet, standing by the table, with his mouth open, dripping like a drowned rat. The pitcher was empty on the floor, and by it was extended the unfortunate maid, in a fainting fit.
THE next day Miss Primmins left the place, and a few months afterwards, Mrs Cogsby received a couple of wedding cards, with a slice of bride-cake from, `MR AND MRS BYMM'.