“Please, sir, we were to ask for Mr. Jones,” said the servant, putting his head into the carriage after both Mr. and Mrs. Brown had seated themselves.
“Mr. Jones!” exclaimed the husband.
“Why ask for Mr. Jones?” demanded the wife. The servant was about to tender some explanation when Mr. Jones stepped up and said that he was Mr. Jones. “We are going to Thompson Hall,” said the lady with great vigor.
The week with Anthony Trollope’s Christmas at Thompson Hall concludes as the Browns and Mr Jones (“Barnaby Jones?” Mrs Brown wonders) arrive at Thompson Hall Christmas morning.
This story is from Why Frau Frohmann Raised Her Prices, and Other Stories, which you’ll find at Project Gutenberg.
“So am I,” said Mr. Jones, with much dignity. It was, however, arranged that he should sit with the coachman, as there was a rumble behind for the other servant. The luggage was put into a cart, and away all went for Thompson Hall.
“What do you think about it, Mary?” whispered Mr. Brown, after a pause. He was evidently awe-struck by the horror of the occasion.
“I cannot make it out at all. What do you think?”
“I don’t know what to think. Jones going to Thompson Hall?”
“He’s a very good-looking young man,” said Mrs. Brown.
“Well, that’s as people think. A stiff, stuck-up fellow, I should say. Up to this moment he has never forgiven you for what you did to him.”
“Would you have forgiven his wife, Charles, if she’d done it to you?”
“He hasn’t got a wife, yet.”
“How do you know?”
“He is coming home now to be married,” said Mr. Brown. “He expects to meet the young lady this very Christmas Day. He told me so. That was one of the reasons why he was so angry at being stopped by what you did last night.”
“I suppose he knows Uncle John, or he wouldn’t be going to the Hall,” said Mrs. Brown.
“I can’t make it out,” said Mr. Brown, shaking his head.
“He looks quite like a gentleman,” said Mrs. Brown, “though he has been so stiff. Jones! Barnaby Jones! You’re sure it was Barnaby?”
“That was the name on the card.”
“Not Burnaby?” asked Mrs. Brown.
“It was Barnaby Jones on the card, just the same as ‘Barnaby Rudge,’ and as for looking like a gentleman, I’m by no means quite so sure. A gentleman takes an apology when it’s offered.”
“Perhaps, my dear, that depends on the condition of his throat. If you had had a mustard plaster on all night, you might not have liked it. But here we are at Thompson Hall at last.”
Thompson Hall was an old brick mansion, standing within a huge iron gate, with a gravel sweep before it. It had stood there before Stratford was a town, or even a suburb, and had then been known by the name of Bow Place. But it had been in the hands of the present family for the last thirty years, and was now known far and wide as Thompson Hall, a comfortable, roomy, old-fashioned place, perhaps a little dark and dull to look at, but much more substantially built than most of our modern villas. Mrs. Brown jumped with alacrity from the carriage, and with a quick step entered the home of her forefathers. Her husband followed her more leisurely, but he, too, felt that he was at home at Thompson Hall. Then Mr. Jones walked in also, but he looked as though he were not at all at home. It was still very early, and no one of the family was as yet down. In these circumstances it was almost necessary that something should be said to Mr. Jones.
“Do you know Mr. Thompson?” asked Mr. Brown.
“I never had the pleasure of seeing him, as yet,” answered Mr. Jones, very stiffly.
“Oh, I didn’t know, because you said you were coming here.”
“And I have come here. Are you friends of Mr. Thompson?”
“Oh, dear, yes,” said Mrs. Brown. “I was a Thompson myself before I married.”
“Oh, indeed!” said Mr. Jones. “How very odd, very odd, indeed.”
During this time the luggage was being brought into the house, and two old family servants were offering them assistance. Would the new comers like to go up to their bedrooms? Then the housekeeper, Mrs. Green, intimated with a wink that Miss Jane would, she was sure, be down quite immediately. The present moment, however, was still very unpleasant. The lady probably had made her guess as to the mystery; but the two gentlemen were still altogether in the dark. Mrs. Brown had no doubt declared her parentage, but Mr. Jones, with such a multitude of strange facts crowding on his mind, had been slow to understand her. Being somewhat suspicious by nature, he was beginning to think whether possibly the mustard had been put by this lady on his throat with some reference to his connection with Thompson Hall. Could it be that she, for some reason of her own, had wished to prevent his coming, and had contrived this untoward stratagem out of her brain? or had she wished to make him ridiculous to the Thompson family, to whom, as a family, he was at present unknown? It was becoming more and more improbable to him that the whole thing should have been an accident. When, after the first horrid torments of that morning in which he had in his agony invoked the assistance of the night-porter, he had begun to reflect on his situation, he had determined that it would be better that nothing further should be said about it. What would life be worth to him if he were to be known wherever he went as the man who had been mustard-plastered in the middle of the night by a strange lady? The worst of a practical joke is that the remembrance of the absurd condition sticks so long to the sufferer! At the hotel that night-porter, who had possessed himself of the handkerchief and had read the name, and had connected that name with the occupant of 333 whom he had found wandering about the house with some strange purpose, had not permitted the thing to sleep. The porter had pressed the matter home against the Browns, and had produced the interview which has been recorded. But during the whole of that day Mr. Jones had been resolving that he would never again either think of the Browns or speak of them. A great injury had been done to him, a most outrageous injustice, but it was a thing which had to be endured. A horrid woman had come across him like a nightmare. All he could do was to endeavor to forget the terrible visitation. Such had been his resolve, in making which he had passed that long day in Paris. And now the Browns had stuck to him from the moment of his leaving his room! He had been forced to travel with them, but had travelled with them as a stranger. He had tried to comfort himself with the reflection that at every fresh stage he would shake them off. In one railway after another the vicinity had been bad, but still they were strangers. Now he found himself in the same house with them, where of course the story would be told. Had not the thing been done on purpose that the story might be told there at Thompson Hall?
Mrs. Brown had acceded to the proposition of the housekeeper, and was about to be taken to her room when there was heard a sound of footsteps along the passage above and on the stairs, and a young lady came bounding on to the scene. “You have all of you come a quarter of an hour earlier than we thought possible,” said the young lady. “I did so mean to be up to receive you!” With that she passed her sister on the stairs, for the young lady was Miss Jane Thompson, sister to our Mrs. Brown, and hurried down into the hall. Here Mr. Brown, who had ever been on affectionate terms with his sister-in-law, put himself forward to receive her embraces; but she, apparently not noticing him in her ardor, rushed on and threw herself on to the breast of the other gentleman. “This is my Charles,” she said. “Oh, Charles, I thought you never would be here.”
Mr. Charles Burnaby Jones, for such was his name since he had inherited the Jones property in Pembrokeshire, received into his arms the ardent girl of his heart with all that love and devotion to which she was entitled, but could not do so without some external shrinking from her embrace. “Oh, Charles, what is it?” she said.
“Nothing, dearest—only—only—.” Then he looked piteously up into Mrs. Brown’s face, as though imploring her not to tell the story.
“Perhaps, Jane, you had better introduce us,” said Mrs. Brown.
“Introduce you! I thought you had been travelling together, and staying at the same hotel—and all that.”
“So we have; but people may be in the same hotel without knowing each other. And we have travelled all the way home with Mr. Jones without in the least knowing who he was.”
“How very odd! Do you mean you have never spoken?”
“Not a word,” said Mrs. Brown.
“I do so hope you’ll love each other,” said Jane.
“It shan’t be my fault if we don’t,” said Mrs. Brown.
“I’m sure it shan’t be mine,” said Mr. Brown, tendering his hand to the other gentleman. The various feelings of the moment were too much for Mr. Jones, and he could not respond quite as he should have done. But as he was taken upstairs to his room he determined that he would make the best of it.
The owner of the house was old Uncle John. He was a bachelor, and with him lived various members of the family. There was the great Thompson of them all, Cousin Robert, who was now member of Parliament for the Essex Flats, and young John, as a certain enterprising Thompson of the age of forty was usually called, and then there was old Aunt Bess, and among other young branches there was Miss Jane Thompson, who was now engaged to marry Mr. Charles Burnaby Jones. As it happened, no other member of the family had as yet seen Mr. Burnaby Jones, and he, being by nature of a retiring disposition, felt himself to be ill at ease when he came into the breakfast parlor among all the Thompsons. He was known to be a gentleman of good family and ample means, and all the Thompsons had approved of the match, but during the first Christmas breakfast he did not seem to accept his condition jovially. His own Jane sat beside him, but then on the other side sat Mrs. Brown. She assumed an immediate intimacy, as women know how to do on such occasions, being determined from the very first to regard her sister’s husband as a brother; but he still feared her. She was still to him the woman who had come to him in the dead of night with that horrid mixture, and had then left him.
“It was so odd that both of you should have been detained on the very same day,” said Jane.
“Yes, it was odd,” said Mrs. Brown, with a smile looking round upon her neighbor.
“It was abominably bad weather you know,” said Brown.
“But you were both so determined to come,” said the old gentleman. “When we got the two telegrams at the same moment, we were sure that there had been some agreement between you.”
“Not exactly an agreement,” said Mrs. Brown; whereupon Mr. Jones looked as grim as death.
“I’m sure there is something more than we understand yet,” said the Member of Parliament.
Then they all went to church, as a united family ought to do on Christmas Day, and came home to a fine old English early dinner at three o’clock, a sirloin of beef a foot-and-a-half broad, a turkey as big as an ostrich, a plum-pudding bigger than the turkey, and two or three dozen mince-pies. “That’s a very large bit of beef,” said Mr. Jones, who had not lived much in England latterly. “It won’t look so large,” said the old gentleman, “when all our friends downstairs have had their say to it.”
“A plum-pudding on Christmas Day can’t be too big,” he said again, “if the cook will but take time enough over it. I never knew a bit go to waste yet.”
By this time there had been some explanation as to past events between the two sisters. Mrs. Brown had indeed told Jane all about it, how ill her husband had been, how she had been forced to go down and look for the mustard, and then what she had done with the mustard. “I don’t think they are a bit alike you know, Mary, if you mean that,” said Jane.
“Well, no; perhaps not quite alike. I only saw his beard, you know. No doubt it was stupid, but I did it.”
“Why didn’t you take it off again?” asked the sister.
“Oh, Jane, if you’d only think of it! Could you? ” Then of course all that occurred was explained, how they had been stopped on their journey, how Brown had made the best apology in his power, and how Jones had travelled with them and had never spoken a word. The gentleman had only taken his new name a week since, but of course had had his new card printed immediately. “I’m sure I should have thought of it if they hadn’t made a mistake with the first name. Charles said it was like Barnaby Rudge.”
“Not at all like Barnaby Rudge,” said Jane; “Charles Burnaby Jones is a very good name.”
“Very good indeed, and I’m sure that after a little bit he won’t be at all the worse for the accident.”
Before dinner the secret had been told no further, but still there had crept about among the Thompsons, and, indeed, downstairs also, among the retainers, a feeling that there was a secret. The old housekeeper was sure that Miss Mary, as she still called Mrs. Brown, had something to tell if she could only be induced to tell it, and that this something had reference to Mr. Jones’ personal comfort. The head of the family, who was a sharp old gentleman, felt this also, and the member of Parliament, who had an idea that he specially should never be kept in the dark, was almost angry. Mr. Jones, suffering from some kindred feeling throughout the dinner, remained silent and unhappy. When two or three toasts had been drunk, the Queen’s health, the old gentleman’s health, the young couple’s health, Brown’s health, and the general health of all the Thompsons, then tongues were loosened and a question was asked, “I know that there has been something doing in Paris between these young people that we haven’t heard as yet,” said the uncle. Then Mrs. Brown laughed, and Jane, laughing too, gave Mr. Jones to understand that she at any rate knew all about it.
“If there is a mystery I hope it will be told at once,” said the member of Parliament, angrily.
“Come, Brown, what is it?” asked another male cousin.
“Well, there was an accident. I’d rather Jones should tell,” said he.
Jones’ brow became blacker than thunder, but he did not say a word. “You mustn’t be angry with Mary,” Jane whispered into her lover’s ear.
“Come, Mary, you never were slow at talking,” said the uncle.
“I do hate this kind of thing,” said the member of Parliament.
“I will tell it all,” said Mrs. Brown, very nearly in tears, or else pretending to be very nearly in tears. “I know I was very wrong, and I do beg his pardon, and if he won’t say that he forgives me I never shall be happy again.” Then she clasped her hands, and turning round, looked him piteously in the face.
“Oh yes; I do forgive you,” said Mr. Jones.
“My brother,” said she, throwing her arms round him and kissing him. He recoiled from the embrace, but I think that he attempted to return the kiss. “And now I will tell the whole story,” said Mrs. Brown. And she told it, acknowledging her fault with true contrition, and swearing that she would atone for it by life-long sisterly devotion.
“And you mustard-plastered the wrong man!” said the old gentleman, almost rolling off his chair with delight.
“I did,” said Mrs. Brown, sobbing, “and I think that no woman ever suffered as I suffered.”
“And Jones wouldn’t let you leave the hotel?”
“It was the handkerchief stopped us,” said Brown.
“If it had turned out to be anybody else,” said the member of Parliament, “the results might have been most serious, not to say discreditable.”
“That’s nonsense, Robert,” said Mrs. Brown, who was disposed to resent the use of so severe a word, even from the legislator cousin.
“In a strange gentleman’s bedroom!” he continued. “It only shows that what I have always said is quite true. You should never go to bed in a strange house without locking your door.”
Nevertheless it was a very jovial meeting, and before the evening was over Mr. Jones was happy, and had been brought to acknowledge that the mustard-plaster would probably not do him any permanent injury.