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   Chapter 6 THE COMMERCIAL ROOM, BULL INN, LEEDS.

Orley Farm By Anthony Trollope Characters: 28938

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Mr. Samuel Dockwrath was a little man, with sandy hair, a pale face, and stone-blue eyes. In judging of him by appearance only and not by the ear, one would be inclined to doubt that he could be a very sharp attorney abroad and a very persistent tyrant at home. But when Mr. Dockwrath began to talk, one's respect for him began to grow. He talked well and to the point, and with a tone of voice that could command where command was possible, persuade where persuasion was required, mystify when mystification was needed, and express with accuracy the tone of an obedient humble servant when servility was thought to be expedient. We will now accompany him on his little tour into Yorkshire.

Groby Park is about seven miles from Leeds, and as Mr. Dockwrath had in the first instance to travel from Hamworth up to London, he did not reach Leeds till late in the evening. It was a nasty, cold, drizzling night, so that the beauties and marvels of the large manufacturing town offered him no attraction, and at nine o'clock he had seated himself before the fire in the commercial room at The Bull, had called for a pair of public slippers, and was about to solace all his cares with a glass of mahogany-coloured brandy and water and a cigar. The room had no present occupant but himself, and therefore he was able to make the most of all its comforts. He had taken the solitary arm-chair, and had so placed himself that the gas would fall direct from behind his head on to that day's Leeds and Halifax Chronicle, as soon as he should choose to devote himself to local politics.

The waiter had looked at him with doubtful eyes when he asked to be shown into the commercial room, feeling all but confident that such a guest had no right to be there. He had no bulky bundles of samples, nor any of those outward characteristics of a commercial "gent" with which all men conversant with the rail and road are acquainted, and which the accustomed eye of a waiter recognises at a glance. And here it may be well to explain that ordinary travellers are in this respect badly treated by the customs of England, or rather by the hotel-keepers. All inn-keepers have commercial rooms, as certainly as they have taps and bars, but all of them do not have commercial rooms in the properly exclusive sense. A stranger, therefore, who has asked for and obtained his mutton-chop in the commercial room of The Dolphin, The Bear, and The George, not unnaturally asks to be shown into the same chamber at the King's Head. But the King's Head does a business with real commercials, and the stranger finds himself-out of his element.

"'Mercial, sir?" said the waiter at The Bull Inn, Leeds, to Mr. Dockwrath, in that tone of doubt which seemed to carry an answer to his own question. But Mr. Dockwrath was not a man to be put down by a waiter. "Yes," said he. "Didn't you hear me say so?" And then the waiter gave way. None of those lords of the road were in the house at the moment, and it might be that none would come that night.

Mr. Dockwrath had arrived by the 8.22 p.m. down, but the 8.45 p.m. up from the north followed quick upon his heels, and he had hardly put his brandy and water to his mouth before a rush and a sound of many voices were heard in the hall. There is a great difference between the entrance into an inn of men who are not known there and of men who are known. The men who are not known are shy, diffident, doubtful, and anxious to propitiate the chambermaid by great courtesy. The men who are known are loud, jocular, and assured;-or else, in case of deficient accommodation, loud, angry, and full of threats. The guests who had now arrived were well known, and seemed at present to be in the former mood. "Well, Mary, my dear, what's the time of day with you?" said a rough, bass voice, within the hearing of Mr. Dockwrath. "Much about the old tune, Mr. Moulder," said the girl at the bar. "Time to look alive and keep moving. Will you have them boxes up stairs, Mr. Kantwise?" and then there were a few words about the luggage, and two real commercial gentlemen walked into the room.

Mr. Dockwrath resolved to stand upon his rights, so he did not move his chair, but looked up over his shoulder at the new comers. The first man who entered was short and very fat;-so fat that he could not have seen his own knees for some considerable time past. His face rolled with fat, as also did all his limbs. His eyes were large, and bloodshot. He wore no beard, and therefore showed plainly the triple bagging of his fat chin. In spite of his overwhelming fatness, there was something in his face that was masterful and almost vicious. His body had been overcome by eating, but not as yet his spirit-one would be inclined to say. This was Mr. Moulder, well known on the road as being in the grocery and spirit line; a pushing man, who understood his business, and was well trusted by his firm in spite of his habitual intemperance. What did the firm care whether or no he killed himself by eating and drinking? He sold his goods, collected his money, and made his remittances. If he got drunk at night that was nothing to them, seeing that he always did his quota of work the next day. But Mr. Moulder did not get drunk. His brandy and water went into his blood, and into his eyes, and into his feet, and into his hands,-but not into his brain.

The other was a little square man in the hardware line, of the name of Kantwise. He disposed of fire-irons, grates, ovens, and kettles, and was at the present moment heavily engaged in the sale of certain newly-invented metallic tables and chairs lately brought out by the Patent Steel Furniture Company, for which Mr. Kantwise did business. He looked as though a skin rather too small for the purpose had been drawn over his head and face so that his forehead and cheeks and chin were tight and shiny. His eyes were small and green, always moving about in his head, and were seldom used by Mr. Kantwise in the ordinary way. At whatever he looked he looked sideways; it was not that he did not look you in the face, but he always looked at you with a sidelong glance, never choosing to have you straight in front of him. And the more eager he was in conversation-the more anxious he might be to gain his point, the more he averted his face and looked askance; so that sometimes he would prefer to have his antagonist almost behind his shoulder. And then as he did this, he would thrust forward his chin, and having looked at you round the corner till his eyes were nearly out of his head, he would close them both and suck in his lips, and shake his head with rapid little shakes, as though he were saying to himself, "Ah, sir! you're a bad un, a very bad un." His nose-for I should do Mr. Kantwise injustice if I did not mention this feature-seemed to have been compressed almost into nothing by that skin-squeezing operation. It was long enough, taking the measurement down the bridge, and projected sufficiently, counting the distance from the upper lip; but it had all the properties of a line; it possessed length without breadth. There was nothing in it from side to side. If you essayed to pull it, your fingers would meet. When I shall have also said that the hair on Mr. Kantwise's head stood up erect all round to the height of two inches, and that it was very red, I shall have been accurate enough in his personal description.

That Mr. Moulder represented a firm good business, doing tea, coffee, and British brandy on a well-established basis of capital and profit, the travelling commercial world in the north of England was well aware. No one entertained any doubt about his employers, Hubbles and Grease of Houndsditch. Hubbles and Grease were all right, as they had been any time for the last twenty years. But I cannot say that there was quite so strong a confidence felt in the Patent Steel Furniture Company generally, or in the individual operations of Mr. Kantwise in particular. The world in Yorkshire and Lancashire was doubtful about metallic tables, and it was thought that Mr. Kantwise was too eloquent in their praise.

Mr. Moulder when he had entered the room, stood still, to enable the waiter to peel off from him his greatcoat and the large shawl with which his neck was enveloped, and Mr. Kantwise performed the same operation for himself, carefully folding up the articles of clothing as he took them off. Then Mr. Moulder fixed his eyes on Mr. Dockwrath, and stared at him very hard. "Who's the party, James?" he said to the waiter, speaking in a whisper that was plainly heard by the attorney.

"Gen'elman by the 8.22 down," said James.

"Commercial?" asked Mr. Moulder, with angry frown.

"He says so himself, anyways," said the waiter.

"Gammon!" replied Mr. Moulder, who knew all the bearings of a commercial man thoroughly, and could have put one together if he were only supplied with a little bit-say the mouth, as Professor Owen always does with the Dodoes. Mr. Moulder now began to be angry, for he was a stickler for the rights and privileges of his class, and had an idea that the world was not so conservative in that respect as it should be. Mr. Dockwrath, however, was not to be frightened, so he drew his chair a thought nearer to the fire, took a sup of brandy and water, and prepared himself for war if war should be necessary.

"Cold evening, sir, for the time of year," said Mr. Moulder, walking up to the fireplace, and rolling the lumps of his forehead about in his attempt at a frown. In spite of his terrible burden of flesh, Mr. Moulder could look angry on occasions, but he could only do so when he was angry. He was not gifted with a command of his facial muscles.

"Yes," said Mr. Dockwrath, not taking his eyes from off the Leeds and Halifax Chronicle. "It is coldish. Waiter, bring me a cigar."

This was very provoking, as must be confessed. Mr. Moulder had not been prepared to take any step towards turning the gentleman out, though doubtless he might have done so had he chosen to exercise his prerogative. But he did expect that the gentleman would have acknowledged the weakness of his footing, by moving himself a little towards one side of the fire, and he did not expect that he would have presumed to smoke without asking whether the practice was held to be objectionable by the legal possessors of the room. Mr. Dockwrath was free of any such pusillanimity. "Waiter," he said again, "bring me a cigar, d'ye hear?"

The great heart of Moulder could not stand this unmoved. He had been an accustomed visitor to that room for fifteen years, and had always done his best to preserve the commercial code unsullied. He was now so well known, that no one else ever presumed to take the chair at the four o'clock commercial dinner if he were present. It was incumbent on him to stand forward and make a fight, more especially in the presence of Kantwise, who was by no means stanch to his order. Kantwise would at all times have been glad to have outsiders in the room, in order that he might puff his tables, and if possible effect a sale;-a mode of proceeding held in much aversion by the upright, old-fashioned, commercial mind.

"Sir," said Mr. Moulder, having become very red about the cheeks and chin, "I and this gentleman are going to have a bit of supper, and it ain't accustomed to smoke in commercial rooms during meals. You know the rules no doubt if you're commercial yourself;-as I suppose you are, seeing you in this room."

Now Mr. Moulder was wrong in his law, as he himself was very well aware. Smoking is allowed in all commercial rooms when the dinner has been some hour or so off the table. But then it was necessary that he should hit the stranger in some way, and the chances were that the stranger would know nothing about commercial law. Nor did he; so he merely looked Mr. Moulder hard in the face. But Mr. Kantwise knew the laws well enough, and as he saw before him a possible purchaser of metallic tables, he came to the assistance of the attorney.

"I think you are a little wrong there, Mr. Moulder; eh; ain't you?" said he.

"Wrong about what?" said Moulder, turning very sharply upon his base-minded compatriot.

"Well, as to smoking. It's nine o'clock, and if the gentleman-"

"I don't care a brass farthing about the clock," said the other, "but when I'm going to have a bit of steak with my tea, in my own room, I chooses to have it comfortable."

"Goodness me, Mr. Moulder, how many times have I seen you sitting there with a pipe in your mouth, and half a dozen gents eating their teas the while in this very room? The rule of the case I take it to be this; when-"

"Bother your rules."

"Well; it was you spoke of them."

"The question I take to be this," said Moulder, now emboldened by the opposition he had received. "Has the gentleman any right to be in this room at all, or has he not? Is he commercial, or is he-miscellaneous? That's the chat, as I take it."

"You're on the square there, I must allow," said Kantwise.

"James," said Moulder, appealing with authority to the waiter, who had remained in the room during the controversy;-and now Mr. Moulder was determined to do his duty and vindicate his profession, let the consequences be what they might. "James, is that gentleman commercial, or is he not?"

It was clearly necessary now that Mr. Dockwrath himself should take his own part, and fight his own battle. "Sir," said he, turning to Mr. Moulder, "I think you'll find it extremely difficult to define that word;-extremely difficult. In this enterprising country all men are more or less commercial."

"Hear! hear!" said Mr. Kantwise.

"That's gammon," said Mr. Moulder.

"Gammon it may be," said Mr. Dockwrath, "but nevertheless it's right in law. Taking the word in its broadest, strictest, and most intelligible sense, I am a commercial gentleman; and as such I do maintain that I have a full right to the accommodation of this public room."

"That's very well put," said Mr. Kantwise.

"Waiter," thundered out Mr. Moulder, as though he imagined that that functionary was down the yard at the taproom instead of standing within three feet of his elbow. "Is this gent a commercial, or is he not? Because if not,-then I'll trouble you to send Mr. Crump here. My compliments to Mr. Crump, and I wish to see him." Now Mr. Crump was the landlord of the Bull Inn.

"Master's just stepped out, down the street," said James.

"Why

don't you answer my question, sir?" said Moulder, becoming redder and still more red about his shirt-collars.

"The gent said as how he was 'mercial," said the poor man. "Was I to go to contradict a gent and tell him he wasn't when he said as how he was?"

"If you please," said Mr. Dockwrath, "we will not bring the waiter into this discussion. I asked for the commercial room, and he did his duty in showing me to the door of it. The fact I take to be this; in the south of England the rules to which you refer are not kept so strictly as in these more mercantile localities."

"I've always observed that," said Kantwise.

"I travelled for three years in Devonshire, Somersetshire, and Wiltshire," said Moulder, "and the commercial rooms were as well kept there as any I ever see."

"I alluded to Surrey and Kent," said Mr. Dockwrath.

"They're uncommonly miscellaneous in Surrey and Kent," said Kantwise. "There's no doubt in the world about that."

"If the gentleman means to say that he's come in here because he didn't know the custom of the country, I've no more to say, of course," said Moulder. "And in that case, I, for one, shall be very happy if the gentleman cam make himself comfortable in this room as a stranger, and I may say guest;-paying his own shot, of course."

"And as for me, I shall be delighted," said Kantwise. "I never did like too much exclusiveness. What's the use of bottling oneself up? that's what I always say. Besides, there's no charity in it. We gents as are always on the road should show a little charity to them as ain't so well accustomed to the work."

At this allusion to charity Mr. Moulder snuffled through his nose to show his great disgust, but he made no further answer. Mr. Dockwrath, who was determined not to yield, but who had nothing to gain by further fighting, bowed his head, and declared that he felt very much obliged. Whether or no there was any touch of irony in his tone, Mr. Moulder's ears were not fine enough to discover. So they now sat round the fire together, the attorney still keeping his seat in the middle. And then Mr. Moulder ordered his little bit of steak with his tea. "With the gravy in it, James," he said, solemnly. "And a bit of fat, and a few slices of onion, thin mind, put on raw, not with all the taste fried out; and tell the cook if she don't do it as it should be done, I'll be down into the kitchen and do it myself. You'll join me, Kantwise, eh?"

"Well, I think not; I dined at three, you know."

"Dined at three! What of that? a dinner at three won't last a man for ever. You might as well join me."

"No, I think not. Have you got such a thing as a nice red herring in the house, James?"

"Get one round the corner, sir."

"Do, there's a good fellow; and I'll take it for a relish with my tea. I'm not so fond of your solids three times a day. They heat the blood too much."

"Bother," grunted Moulder; and then they went to their evening meal, over which we will not disturb them. The steak, we may presume, was cooked aright, as Mr. Moulder did not visit the kitchen, and Mr. Kantwise no doubt made good play with his unsubstantial dainty, as he spoke no further till his meal was altogether finished.

"Did you ever hear anything of that Mr. Mason who lives near Bradford?" asked Mr. Kantwise, addressing himself to Mr. Moulder, as soon as the things had been cleared from the table, and that latter gentleman had been furnished with a pipe and a supply of cold without.

"I remember his father when I was a boy," said Moulder, not troubling himself to take his pipe from his mouth, "Mason and Martock in the Old Jewry; very good people they were too."

"He's decently well off now, I suppose, isn't he?" said Kantwise, turning away his face, and looking at his companion out of the corners of his eyes.

"I suppose he is. That place there by the road-side is all his own, I take it. Have you been at him with some of your rusty, rickety tables and chairs?"

"Mr. Moulder, you forget that there is a gentleman here who won't understand that you're at your jokes. I was doing business at Groby Park, but I found the party uncommon hard to deal with."

"Didn't complete the transaction?"

"Well, no; not exactly; but I intend to call again. He's close enough himself, is Mr. Mason. But his lady, Mrs. M.! Lord love you, Mr. Moulder, that is a woman!"

"She is; is she? As for me, I never have none of these private dealings. It don't suit my book at all; nor it ain't what I've been accustomed to. If a man's wholesale, let him be wholesale." And then, having enunciated this excellent opinion with much energy, he took a long pull at his brandy and water.

"Very old fashioned, Mr. Moulder," said Kantwise, looking round the corner, then shutting his eyes and shaking his head.

"May be," said Moulder, "and yet none the worse for that. I call it hawking and peddling, that going round the country with your goods on your back. It ain't trade." And then there was a lull in the conversation, Mr. Kantwise, who was a very religious gentleman, having closed his eyes, and being occupied with some internal anathema against Mr. Moulder.

"Begging your pardon, sir, I think you were talking about one Mr. Mason who lives in these parts," said Dockwrath.

"Exactly. Joseph Mason, Esq., of Groby Park," said Mr. Kantwise, now turning his face upon the attorney.

"I suppose I shall be likely to find him at home to-morrow, if I call?"

"Certainly, sir; certainly; leastwise I should say so. Any personal acquaintance with Mr. Mason, sir? If so, I meant nothing offensive by my allusion to the lady, sir; nothing at all, I can assure you."

"The lady's nothing to me, sir; nor the gentleman either;-only that I have a little business with him."

"Shall be very happy to join you in a gig, sir, to-morrow, as far as Groby Park; or fly, if more convenient. I shall only take a few patterns with me, and they're no weight at all,-none in the least, sir. They go on behind, and you wouldn't know it, sir." To this, however, Mr. Dockwrath would not assent. As he wanted to see Mr. Mason very specially, he should go early, and preferred going by himself.

"No offence, I hope," said Mr. Kantwise.

"None in the least," said Mr. Dockwrath.

"And if you would allow me, sir, to have the pleasure of showing you a few of my patterns, I'm sure I should be delighted." This he said observing that Mr. Moulder was sitting over his empty glass with the pipe in his hand, and his eyes fast closed. "I think, sir, I could show you an article that would please you very much. You see, sir, that new ideas are coming in every day, and wood, sir, is altogether going out,-altogether going out as regards furniture. In another twenty years, sir, there won't be such a thing as a wooden table in the country, unless with some poor person that can't afford to refurnish. Believe me, sir, iron's the thing now-a-days."

"And indian-rubber," said Dockwrath.

"Yes; indian-rubber's wonderful too. Are you in that line, sir?"

"Well; no; not exactly."

"It's not like iron, sir. You can't make a dinner-table for fourteen people out of indian-rubber, that will shut up into a box 3-6 by 2-4 deep, and 2-6 broad. Why, sir, I can let you have a set of drawing-room furniture for fifteen ten that you've never seen equalled in wood for three times the money;-ornamented in the tastiest way, sir, and fit for any lady's drawing-room or boodoor. The ladies of quality are all getting them now for their boodoors. There's three tables, eight chairs, easy rocking-chair, music-stand, stool to match, and pair of stand-up screens, all gilt in real Louey catorse; and it goes in three boxes 4-2 by 2-1 and 2-3. Think of that, sir. For fifteen ten and the boxes in." Then there was a pause, after which Mr. Kantwise added-"If ready money, the carriage paid." And then he turned his head very much away, and looked back very hard at his expected customer.

"I'm afraid the articles are not in my line," said Mr. Dockwrath.

"It's the tastiest present for a gentleman to make to his lady that has come out since-since those sort of things have come out at all. You'll let me show you the articles, sir. It will give me the sincerest pleasure." And Mr. Kantwise proposed to leave the room in order that he might introduce the three boxes in question.

"They would not be at all in my way," said Mr. Dockwrath.

"The trouble would be nothing," said Mr. Kantwise, "and it gives me the greatest pleasure to make them known when I find any one who can appreciate such undoubted luxuries;" and so saying Mr. Kantwise skipped out of the room, and soon returned with James and Boots, each of the three bearing on his shoulder a deal box nearly as big as a coffin, all of which were deposited in different parts of the room. Mr. Moulder in the meantime snored heavily, his head falling on to his breast every now and again. But nevertheless he held fast by his pipe.

Mr. Kantwise skipped about the room with wonderful agility, unfastening the boxes, and taking out the contents, while Joe the boots and James the waiter stood by assisting. They had never yet seen the glories of these chairs and tables, and were therefore not unwilling to be present. It was singular to see how ready Mr. Kantwise was at the work, how recklessly he threw aside the whitey-brown paper in which the various pieces of painted iron were enveloped, and with what a practised hand he put together one article after another. First there was a round loo-table, not quite so large in its circumference as some people might think desirable, but, nevertheless, a round loo-table. The pedestal with its three claws was all together. With a knowing touch Mr. Kantwise separated the bottom of what looked like a yellow stick, and, lo! there were three legs, which he placed carefully on the ground. Then a small bar was screwed on to the top, and over the bar was screwed the leaf, or table itself, which consisted of three pieces unfolding with hinges. These, when the screw had been duly fastened in the centre, opened out upon the bar, and there was the table complete.

It was certainly a "tasty" article, and the pride with which Mr. Kantwise glanced back at it was quite delightful. The top of the table was blue, with a red bird of paradise in the middle; and the edges of the table, to the breadth of a couple of inches, were yellow. The pillar also was yellow, as were the three legs. "It's the real Louey catorse," said Mr. Kantwise, stooping down to go on with table number two, which was, as he described it, a "chess," having the proper number of blue and light-pink squares marked upon it; but this also had been made Louey catorse with reference to its legs and edges. The third table was a "sofa," of proper shape, but rather small in size. Then, one after another, he brought forth and screwed up the chairs, stools, and sundry screens, and within a quarter of an hour he had put up the whole set complete. The red bird of paradise and the blue ground appeared on all, as did also the yellow legs and edgings which gave to them their peculiarly fashionable character. "There," said Mr. Kantwise, looking at them with fond admiration, "I don't mind giving a personal guarantee that there's nothing equal to that for the money either in England or in France."

"They are very nice," said Mr. Dockwrath. When a man has had produced before him for his own and sole delectation any article or articles, how can he avoid eulogium? Mr. Dockwrath found himself obliged to pause, and almost feared that he should find himself obliged to buy.

"Nice! I should rather think they are," said Mr. Kantwise, becoming triumphant,-"and for fifteen ten, delivered, boxes included. There's nothing like iron, sir, nothing; you may take my word for that. They're so strong, you know. Look here, sir." And then Mr. Kantwise, taking two of the pieces of whitey-brown paper which had been laid aside, carefully spread one on the centre of the round table, and the other on the seat of one of the chairs. Then lightly poising himself on his toe, he stepped on to the chair, and from thence on to the table. In that position he skillfully brought his feet together, so that his weight was directly on the leg, and gracefully waved his hands over his head. James and Boots stood by admiring, with open mouths, and Mr. Dockwrath, with his hands in his pockets, was meditating whether he could not give the order without complying with the terms as to ready money.

"There is nothing like iron, Sir; nothing."

Click to ENLARGE

"Look at that for strength," said Mr. Kantwise from his exalted position. "I don't think any lady of your acquaintance, sir, would allow you to stand on her rosewood or mahogany loo-table. And if she did, you would not like to adventure it yourself. But look at this for strength," and he waved his arms abroad, still keeping his feet skilfully together in the same exact position.

At that moment Mr. Moulder awoke. "So you've got your iron traps out, have you?" said he. "What; you're there, are you? Upon my word I'd sooner you than me."

"I certainly should not like to see you up here, Mr. Moulder. I doubt whether even this table would bear five-and-twenty stone. Joe, lend me your shoulder, there's a good fellow." And then Mr. Kantwise, bearing very lightly on the chair, descended to the ground without accident.

"Now, that's what I call gammon," said Moulder.

"What is gammon, Mr. Moulder?" said the other, beginning to be angry.

"It's all gammon. The chairs and tables is gammon, and so is the stools and the screens."

"Mr. Moulder, I didn't call your tea and coffee and brandy gammon."

"You can't; and you wouldn't do any harm if you did. Hubbles and Grease are too well known in Yorkshire for you to hurt them. But as for all that show-off and gimcrack-work, I tell you fairly it ain't what I call trade, and it ain't fit for a commercial room. It's gammon, gammon, gammon! James, give me a bedcandle." And so Mr. Moulder took himself off to bed.

"I think I'll go too," said Mr. Dockwrath.

"You'll let me put you up the set, eh?" said Mr. Kantwise.

"Well; I'll think about it," said the attorney. "I'll not just give you an answer to-night. Good night, sir; I'm very much obliged to you." And he too went, leaving Mr. Kantwise to repack his chairs and tables with the assistance of James the waiter.

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