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Transcribed from the 1910 Oxford University Press edition by David Price, email firstname.lastname@example.org
MORE PAGES FROM A JOURNAL WITH OTHER PAPERS
A Bad Dream Esther Kate Radcliffe Mr. Whittaker's Retirement Confessions of a Self-tormentor A letter to the 'Rambler' A letter from the Authoress of 'Judith Crowhurst' Clearing-up after a storm in January The end of the North Wind Romney Marsh Axmouth The Preacher and the Sea Conversion July A Sunday morning in November Under Beachy Head: December 24th December Dreaming Ourselves The Riddle An Epoch Belief Extracts from a diary on the Quantocks Godwin and Wordsworth Notes Shakespeare
A BAD DREAM
Miss Toller, a lady about forty years old, kept a boarding-house, called Russell House, at Brighton, in a dull but genteel part of the town--so dull that even those fortunate inhabitants who were reputed to have resources in themselves were relieved by a walk to the shops or by a German band. Miss Toller could not afford to be nearer the front. Rents were too high for her, even in the next street, which claimed a sea-view sideways through the bow-windows. She was the daughter of a farmer in Northamptonshire, and till she came to Brighton had lived at home. When she was five-and-twenty her mother died, and in two years her father married again. The second wife was a widow, good-looking but hard, and had a temper. She made herself very disagreeable to Miss Toller, and the husband took the wife's part. Miss Toller therefore left the farm at Barton Sluice, and with a little money that belonged to her purchased the goodwill and furniture of Russell House. She brought with her a Northamptonshire girl as servant, and the two shared the work between them. At the time when this history begins she had five lodgers, all of whom had been with her six months, and one for more than a year.
Mrs. Poulter, the senior in residence of the five, was the widow of a retired paymaster in the Navy. She was between fifty and sixty, a big, portly woman. After her husband was pensioned she lived in Southsea. As he belonged to the civilian branch, Mrs. Poulter had to fight undauntedly in order to maintain a calling acquaintance with the wives of executive officers, and in fact the highest she had on her list was a commander's lady. When Paymaster Poulter died, and his pension ceased, she gave up the struggle. She had no children, and moved to Brighton with an annuity of 150 pounds a year derived from her husband's insurance of 2000 pounds, and a life interest in some property left by her mother.
Mr. Goacher was a bachelor clergyman of about forty. He read prayers, presided over the book-club, and by a judicious expenditure of oil prevented friction between the other boarders. It was understood that he had been compelled to give up clerical duty by what is called clergyman's sore-throat. It was not known whether he had been vicar, rector, or curate, but he wore the usual white neck- band and a soft, low felt hat, he was clean-shaven, his letters were addressed 'Reverend,' he was not bad-looking; and these vouchers were considered sufficient.
Mrs. Mudge was the widow of a tradesman in London. She was better off than any of the other lodgers, and drank claret at twenty shillings a dozen.
Miss Everard, the youngest of the party, was a French mistress, but English by birth, and gave lessons in two or three schools. She was never at home on weekdays excepting at breakfast and dinner. After dinner she generally corrected exercises in her bedroom, but when she was not busy she sat in the drawing-room to save fire and light.
Miss Taggart was the daughter of a country doctor. Both her parents were dead, and she was poor. She had a reputation for being enlightened, as she was not regular in her attendance at public worship on Sunday, and did not always go to the same church. She told Mrs. Poulter once that science should tincture theology, whereupon, appeal being made to Mr. Goacher by that alarmed lady, he ventured to remark, that with all respect to Miss Taggart, such observations were perhaps liable to misconstruction in ordinary society, where they could not be fully explained, and, although she was doubtless right in a way, the statement needed qualification. Miss Taggart was not very friendly with Mrs. Poulter and Mr. Goacher, and despised Mrs. Mudge because she was low-bred. Miss Everard Miss Taggart dreaded, and accused her of being vicious and spiteful.
It was still early in December, but the lodgers in Russell House who had nothing to do--that is to say all of them excepting Miss Everard--were making plans for Christmas. They always thought a long time beforehand of what was going to happen. On Tuesday morning they began to anticipate Sunday, and when the Sunday afternoon wore away slowly and drearily, they looked forward to the excitement of omnibuses and butchers' carts on Monday. A little more than a fortnight before Christmas, on Sunday at early dinner, a leg of mutton was provided. Mrs. Poulter always sat at the head of the table and carved. This was the position she occupied when Mr. Goacher came, and she did not offer to resign it. Mrs. Mudge was helped first, but it was towards the knuckle and she had no fat.
'Thank you, Mrs. Poulter, but will you please give me a piece of fat?'
Mrs. Poulter, scowling, placed a minute portion of hard, half-burnt skin on Mrs. Mudge's plate.
'Much obliged, Mrs. Poulter, but I want a piece of FAT--white fat-- just there,' pointing to it with her fork.
Mrs. Poulter, as we have said, was at enmity with Mrs. Mudge. Mrs. Mudge also was Low Church; and Mrs. Poulter was High. She had just returned from a High Church service at St. Paul's, and the demand for an undue share of fat was particularly irritating.
'Really, Mrs. Mudge, you forget that there is hardly enough to go round. For my part, though, I care nothing about it.'
'If I had thought you did, Mrs. Poulter, I am sure I should not have dared to ask for it.'
'I believe,' said Miss Taggart, 'that the office of fat in diet is to preserve heat.'
'If fat promotes heat,' said Miss Everard, 'and I have no doubt it is so, considering Miss Taggart's physiological knowledge, my advice is that we abstain from it.'
'It is a pity,' said Mr. Goacher, smiling, 'that animals will not suit our requirements. But to be practical, Miss Toller might be instructed to order legs of mutton with more fat. This reminds me of beef, and beef reminds me of Christmas. It is now the second Sunday in Advent, and there is a subject which you will remember we had agreed to discuss this week.'
This important subject was a proposal by Mrs. Mudge that Miss Toller should dine with them on Christmas Day.
'You, Mrs. Poulter,' said Mr. Goacher, 'are of opinion that we should not invite her?'
'Certainly. I do not see how she is to send up the dinner properly if she is to be our guest, and I imagine also she would not be comfortable with us.'
Mrs. M. 'Why shouldn't she be comfortable? Of course, if we don't try to make her so she won't be. There are ways to make people comfortable and ways to make them uncomfortable. Miss Toller is just as good as any of us.'
Miss T. 'She is not an educated woman, and I am sure she would rather remain downstairs; our conversation would not interest her.'
Miss E. 'Pray, Miss Taggart, what is an educated woman?'
Miss T. 'What a question, Miss Everard! By an educated woman is meant a woman who has been taught the usual curriculum of a lady in cultivated circles.'
Miss E. 'What is the curriculum of a cultivated lady?'
Miss T. 'Really you are provoking; you understand perfectly as well as I do.'
Miss E. 'I am still in the dark. What is the curriculum of a cultivated lady?'
Mrs. P. 'I much doubt if Miss Toller is acquainted with the ordinary facts of geography, even those which are familiar to common seamen in the Navy. She probably could not tell us the situation of the Straits of Panama.'
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