Night and Morning, Volume 5

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Book V


“Per ambages et ministeria deorum.”—PETRONTUS.

[Through the mysteries and ministerings of the gods.]

Mr. Roger Morton was behind his counter one drizzling, melancholy day.
Mr. Roger Morton, alderman, and twice mayor of his native town, was a
thriving man. He had grown portly and corpulent. The nightly potations
of brandy and water, continued year after year with mechanical
perseverance, had deepened the roses on his cheek. Mr. Roger Morton was
never intoxicated—he “only made himself comfortable.” His constitution
was strong; but, somehow or other, his digestion was not as good as it
might be. He was certain that something or other disagreed with him. He
left off the joint one day—the pudding another. Now he avoided
vegetables as poison—and now he submitted with a sigh to the doctor’s
interdict of his cigar. Mr. Roger Morton never thought of leaving off
the brandy and water: and he would have resented as the height of
impertinent insinuation any hint upon that score to a man of so sober
and respectable a character.

Mr. Roger Morton was seated—for the last four years, ever since his
second mayoralty, he had arrogated to himself the dignity of a chair. He
received rather than served his customers. The latter task was left to
two of his sons. For Tom, after much cogitation, the profession of an
apothecary had been selected. Mrs. Morton observed, that it was a
genteel business, and Tom had always been a likely lad. And Mr. Roger
considered that it would be a great comfort and a great saving to have
his medical adviser in his own son.

The other two sons and the various attendants of the shop were plying the
profitable trade, as customer after customer, with umbrellas and in
pattens, dropped into the tempting shelter—when a man, meanly dressed,
and who was somewhat past middle age, with a careworn, hungry face,
entered timidly. He waited in patience by the crowded counter, elbowed
by sharp-boned and eager spinsters—and how sharp the elbows of spinsters
are, no man can tell who has not forced his unwelcome way through the
agitated groups in a linendraper’s shop!—the man, I say, waited
patiently and sadly, till the smallest of the shopboys turned from a
lady, who, after much sorting and shading, had finally decided on two
yards of lilac-coloured penny riband, and asked, in an insinuating
professional tone,—

“What shall I show you, sir?”

“I wish to speak to Mr. Morton. Which is he?”

“Mr. Morton is engaged, sir. I can give you what you want.”

“No—it is a matter of business—important business.” The boy eyed the
napless and dripping hat, the gloveless hands, and the rusty neckcloth of
the speaker; and said, as he passed his fingers through a profusion of
light curls “Mr. Morton don’t attend much to business himself now; but
that’s he. Any cravats, sir?”

The man made no answer, but moved where, near the window, and chatting
with the banker of the town (as the banker tried on a pair of beaver
gloves), sat still—after due apology for sitting—Mr. Roger Morton.

The alderman lowered his spectacles as he glanced grimly at the lean
apparition that shaded the spruce banker, and said,—

“Do you want me, friend?”

“Yes, sir, if you please;” and the man took off his shabby hat, and bowed

“Well, speak out. No begging petition, I hope?”

“No, sir! Your nephews—”

The banker turned round, and in his turn eyed the newcomer. The
linendraper started back.

“Nephews!” he repeated, with a bewildered look. “What does the man mean?

Wait a bit.”

“Oh, I’ve done!” said the banker, smiling. “I am glad to find we agree
so well upon this question: I knew we should. Our member will never suit
us if he goes on in this way. Trade must take care of itself. Good day
to You!”

“Nephews!” repeated Mr. Morton, rising, and beckoning to the man to
follow him into the back parlour, where Mrs. Morton sat casting up the
washing bills.

“Now,” said the husband, closing the door, “what do you mean, my good

“Sir, what I wish to ask you is-if you can tell me what has become of—of
the young Beau—, that is, of your sister’s sons. I understand there
were two—and I am told that—that they are both dead. Is it so?”

“What is that to you, friend?”

“An please you, sir, it is a great deal to them!”

“Yes—ha! ha! it is a great deal to everybody whether they are alive or
dead!” Mr. Morton, since he had been mayor, now and then had his joke.
“But really—”

“Roger!” said Mrs. Morton, under her breath—”Roger!”

“Yes, my dear.”

“Come this way—I want to speak to you about this bill.” The husband

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