Page images

was all my eye!'-is his literal interpretation of a ministerial colloquy ;and The Capp'n swore to my lady as 'ow her eyes had pitched it into 'im strong, is his equally faithful transcript of a declaration of love, couched in all the flowery generalities of Lalla Rookh or the Life Guards. -The Linkman is consequently an accusing angel, who inscribes in his black books all the aristocratic indiscretions of the season.

What a singular destiny! A very slight stretch of imagination might transform the ragged caitiff stationed with his link at the gates of some lordly palace, into a Spirit stationed with his flaming sword at the gates of Paradise! Celestial odours exhale upon him from those open portals. The music of a heavenly choir resounds in faint echoes from the distance. Emanations of ambrosial food deride his lips. He hears the flageolet of Collinet,-he savours the garnished chickens of Gunter, he beholds the tripsome feet of Lady Wilhelmine or Lady Clementina flit by him;-and lo! he returns to the gnawing of his mutton bone and the twanging of his Jew's harp,-mocked by a Barmecide's feast of the imagination.

So far, however, from complaining of his destinies, he feels that it is something to have enjoyed even this bare imagination of a feast ;-something to have fed on the crumbs falling from the table of beauty ;-something to have been sanctified by a touch from the hem of the garments of those superhuman creatures. His brethren of the puddle are divided by a vast abyss from such angelic company. It is only the filthy torch he carries in his hand that entitles him to accost the shrinking beauty with, 'Take your time, my lady!-please to take your time!-Only your ladyship's poor linkman! Rainy night, my lady; may I ask the servant for sixpence!'--so disposing his link during his apostrophe, that he is enabled to decide whether my lady's silken hose are laced or plain; and whether her ladyship's white slippers be of silk or satin!-Not one of her adorers have approached her more familiarly in the course of the evening, than her ladyship's poor linkman!"

It is astonishing the tact evinced by these fellows in ferreting out everything in the shape of an entertainment, from Pimlico to Whitechapel. Provided half-a-dozen carriages and hack cabs be gathered together, thither crowd the linkmen,-varying their oration from Take your time, my lady,' to 'Take your time, Mrs. Smith!' or 'Shall I call up your lordship's people-to 'Please to want a cab, sir?'

At the more brilliant balls, they are as inevitable as the cornet à piston, or DM! One knows them, like the cuckoo, by their most sweet voices,' rather than by their outward presentment, albeit revealed to view by the flaring of their links, as the ugliness of the imps of darkness in Don Juan, by the flashing of their torches. These 'winged voices,' these

Airy tongues that syllable men's names,'

connect themselves as intimately with the gaieties of Almacks' as if the Linkman held his patent of office from the Patronesses' Bench. There is a peculiar hoarseness in their accents, as if the larynx, harassed by an eternal calling of carriages, had imbibed some mysterious distemper. They speak as through a speaking-trumpet; nay, sometimes, like Demosthenes, trying to outroar the surges of the chafing ocean!

Much discussion has arisen of late years concerning the origin of the slang phrases of the day. Nothing can exceed the universality of these axioms of street eloquence. But a commonplace cannot always have been a commonplace; and to originate a commonplace, is an effort of creative genius. The first man who said, 'Does your mother know you're out?' uttered that which has been repeated by an enlightened population of at least a million of souls. If not witty himself, he has been the cause of wit in others, by inducing many an apt appropriation of a platitude. Some assert that these cant words and slang phrases have their origin in the police reports; others, that they spring to light and life in the galleries of the minor theatres. It is my firm belief that they are the legitimate and indisputable offspring of the Linkmen of the West End! Ask the policemen,-inquire of the standard footmen,-and they will inform you that the first time they were ever pestered with interrogations concerning their mamma's mangle, or pianoforte, was by the Linkmen attending some fashionable assembly.

A few minutes' attention to their notes explanatory and commentatorial upon the carriages, as they successively drive up to a door, would suffice to prove that their humour is worthy the illustration of Cruikshank or Leech. A few years ago, when the Church, if not in danger, was in disgrace with the street orators of the metropolis, it was a favourite jest with the Linkmen to go bawling round the Opera House, in the thick of the crush of carriages after the Opera, every Sunday morning, "THE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY'S carriage!' THE BISHOP OF LONDON'S carriage stops the way!' THE BISHOP OF EXETER Coming out!'-thereby impressing the multitude with a firm conviction of the levity, if not demoralisation, of those eminent prelates. At the time of the Reform Bill, their vocabilities had a still more personal tendency; and to this day, all the biting truths inflicted upon the French ministers by the Charivari, are lavished viva voce on our English legislators, by the sarcasms of the linkboys.

In former times, before London was paved and lighted as becomes a civilized metropolis, every footman was his own linkman. The lackeys clustered behind a nobleman's carriage, or escorting a lady's sedan, carried each his torch, like pages on the stage in the old plays. Beside the entrance of many of the old-fashioned mansions in London may still be seen appended a huge iron funnel for extinguishing the flambeau or link.

But since the introduction of gas the Linkman's' occupation's gone,' as regards the livery of London.-The flambeau is in desuetude; the link has retrograded to St. Giles's; nay, it now simply constitutes a badge to distinguish from the common herd the privileged callers-up of carriages. The noisy, officious, troublesome, roaring, boring rapscallions, who visit the pavement wherever a goodly mansion is lighted up for the reception of company, would be severally consigned to the station-house and Penitentiary, as disturbers of the public peace, did they not bear in their hands an ensign of impunity. As the herald was protected by his wand,

as the Chancellor by his mace, -as the Archbishop by his crosier,-as Majesty itself is dignified by its sceptre, the interjectional portion of the mobility who call the coaches of the nobility, are sanctified by their links ; -thereby entitled to vex the dull ear of night with their

Linked sweetness long drawn out.

The Linkmen of London are usually natives of the sister island,— which implies that they are poor, lean, hungerly, brisk, and knowing;Pat at giving or taking offence. A whole jest-book might be concocted from their well-known repartees; and a whole series of romances compiled from the inedited memoirs of these enlightening members of society. Dodsley, the man of letters, began life as a footman. I dare not say how high certain of our contemporaries have risen, who commenced it as linkboys. Let a single instance suffice.

Some five-and-thirty years ago,

In my hot youth, when George the Third was king.

there came among other specimens of Irish starvation, from the Cove of Cork, the skeleton of a dapper-limbed young fellow, who, after fighting the king of terrors in the guise of typhus fever, famine, and Ballinasloe fair, had a mind to see whether the living which he found it impossible to pick up on Irish ground, were to be found, on any terms, in the kingdom of Cockaigne. While bog-trotting and turf-cutting in his hungry boyhood, he had heard wondrous fairy tales of the city whose streets are paved with gold, whose houses are tiled with pancakes, and whose geese fly about ready stuffed, cackling for the spit and dying to be roasted; and was exceedingly disappointed when he arrived by long sea in the river, with a cargo of Irish butter, Irish pork, and Irish labourers, to find that people must work for their living in London, as elsewhere; but that work was not always to be had. With a heavy heart, did the new-comer seat himself on the stones of old London Bridge. In the desolation of his soul he wept bitterly. He had nowhere to lay his head that night. But for the opportune suggestions of some better impulse, such as that which instigated Whittington to turn again' from the milestone, and aspire to the civic chair of London, Corney Cregan would perhaps have sought his rest in the bed of the river that ran below. Hope whispered to him that in a capital glittering with such myriads of lights, and rumbling with such thousands of equipages, a brighter fate must be in store for him than amid the toiling moiling drudgery of his own poor gloomy native land.


Even the ardent temperament of an Irishman, however, all but gave way under the influence of a week's starvation and a week's mockery, the isolation of an alien in a land of strangers!-The skeleton became still more gaunt, and its brilliant eyes burnt brighter in their sockets, under the excitement of want and desperation. From his youth upward nothing had ever prospered with Corney. The cherry-trees from which he had been posted to drive away the birds, were sure to be more pecked than other cherry-trees. The field he was employed to sow, produced the scantiest crop; the hay he was employed to mow, was never known to dry. And now, the same evil destiny seemed to pursue him in his new settlement ! If he asked for employment, his shabby appearance was scouted; if he asked for charity, he was rebuked as too well dressed for a beggar: nay, when he attempted to pour his tale of woe into the ears of the humane, whom Heaven hath blessed with affluence,' as the advertisements have it, the richness of his brogue had so powerful an effect upon his auditors, that they were sure to wipe from their eyes tears arising from laughter rather than from emotions of sympathy.

Poor Corney's heart was ready to break. All this was much worse than starving in Ireland. In Ireland people are used to starve, till, like the eels, they think nothing of it! But to starve in goodly streets abounding in cooks' shops, amid men and women who looked as if fed to compete for Smithfield prizes, was a realization of the pains of Tantalus! As he passed by the areas of the fashionable squares, and imbibed the aroma of stews and ragoûts issuing from the offices, it was not wonderful that he should conceive some mistrust concerning the text which talks of 'filling the hungry with good things, and sending the rich empty away.'

One summer afternoon, about the time when London sends forth its brightest equipages, adorned with the brightest human faces, to disport in the brightest sunshine of Hyde Park, poor Corney tottered his way from the miserable cellar in St. Giles's, where he rented a bed at the price of twopence a night, and the succeeding day's worth of rheumatism, towards the fashionable quarter of the town; leaning against the railings, the better to support his exhausted frame, and feeling that, if hunger could eat through stone walls, it was a shame that Providence had sent him only brick ones to devour. The strong man was now a weakling,-the cheerful one a misanthrope. Vainly had he addressed himself to the fair inmates of more than one showy carriage for the sorry dole of a halfpenny. Though something in the picturesque wildness of his appearance for a moment captivated their attention, no sooner did his extended hand convince them that he was in need of charity, than they became shocked and frightened,-muttered something about "wild Irishman," or "horrid Irishman,”—and desired the laced footman in attendance to drive him away.

'Sorrow take thim thin, for hearts as black as the faces iv 'em is fair!" was the only ejaculation of poor Corney as he turned doggedly away; and lo! when he applied in the same pitiful terms to passers-by of his own sex, he found himself threatened with the Mendicity Society, or affronted with mention of a constable. If the poor man had only had strength enough to be indignant, he would have fired up at all the insults put upon his country in his person.

Sauntering onward and onward, with a vague hope, proceeding from the increasing purity of the atmosphere, that he should reach green fields and blue skies at last, Corney traversed the brilliant tumults of Bond Street, crossed Berkeley Square, and at length took refuge on the doorstep of a handsome house in a street somewhat more secluded than the rest. Though it was Seamore Place, poor Corney Cregan knew not that only a row of houses divided him from the pleasant pastures of Hyde Park. Resting his head upon his hands to relieve the dizziness arising from weakness and want, he began to indulge in visions of a brighter kind; soothing his pangs in England by hopes of heaven,-just as in old Ireland he had assuaged them by hopes of England, prosperity, and peace. In the extremity of his woe he still pursued the instincts of a sanguine nature, and looked forward:

He was roused from his reverie by the approach of a horse entering the quiet street. All Irishmen are born with a weakness for horseflesh. Miserable as he was, he could not look without a feeling of satisfaction at the fine animal and its handsome young rider so well-fitted for each other, who appeared before him,

A stately apparition, sent
To be a moment's ornament,-

to the barren waste of his prospects. Poor Corney started up, and fixed his eyes upon them with such a beaming and undisguised admiration, that something of the poetry of enthusiasm imparting itself to his gaunt person, attracted in its turn the notice of the young equestrian.

He was in the act of dismounting to pay a visit in the very house upon whose doorstep Corney had been resting.

Can I trust you to hold my horse ?"-said he, addressing the poor fellow; who forthwith uttered in such uncouth accents his promise to. have a care of the 'baste as though 'twere his own,' as might have intimidated a less confiding nature, lest he should so far treat it as his own as to ride off with it, and be heard of no more.

The young man, however, who was most characteristically a young gentleman, as well as an officer in the Guards, possessed a sufficient insight into the mysteries of human physiognomy to intrust his property to the hands of Corney Cregan. After a word or two of instruction as to the mouth of the horse, and the best mode of holding the bridle, Captain Wrottesley entered the house, after declining the civil offer of one of the servants by whom the door was opened to officiate as his groom during his visit.

The first ten minutes were very long to Corney; for his mind was intent upon the few pence which he expected as the guerdon of his office. But by the time a quarter of an hour had elapsed, he was beginning to feel an interest in the fine animal under his charge; and when, at the close of an hour, Captain Wrottesley reappeared, his poor heart was actually cheered by such intimate companionship with a beast so much more cared for, and so much better fed than himself.

The young soldier, on the other hand, was pleased to find that, instead of his horse being harassed, as is often the case when intrusted to the care of some casual guardian, his orders had been strictly attended to. His visit had been a delightful one. His own spirit was as much the lighter for it, as Corney's; so that, instead of the shilling wherewith it was his custom to repay an hour's attendance, he bestowed a whole halfcrown upon his tattered esquire. Little did he suspect the opulence contained in that single coin, to the imagination of Corney Cregan!Within another hour, he had appeased the gnawing pangs of hunger, and taken out of pawn the jacket which had obtained him a shilling to keep him from starving the preceding week.-That night he slept like an emperor!

The following day, about the same hour, but more from the desire to renew an agreeable reminiscence than from any expectation of encountering his benefactor again, Corney rambled to the same spot. Judge of his delight when, as he entered the secluded street, he saw the iligant baste of a chisnut horse, and his darlin' of a rider,' entering it at the further extremity, and to his utter amazement found his services again in request. The handsome young officer and his Bucephalus seemed expressly sent by Providence as a blessing upon poor Corney!

'Harkye, my good fellow!' said Captain Wrottesley, at the close of his second visit, 'you seem to be out of work, and living hereabouts. If you choose to try your luck every day at this hour, 'tis most likely I shall find you employment. I can't afford to give you halfcrowns every day. A shilling is my stint for such jobs, and a shilling you shall have. Be here to-morrow. So long as I find I can rely upon you, you may rely upon me.'

« PreviousContinue »