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Miseries of a Dandy by Jonathan F. Kelley

 

That poverty is at times very unhandy—yea, humiliating, we can bear witness; but that any persons should make their poverty an everlasting subject of shame and annoyance to themselves, is the most contemptible nonsense we know of. During our junior days, while officiating as “shop boy,” behind a counter in a southern city, we used to derive some fun from the man[oe]uvres of a dandy-jack of a fellow in the same establishment. He was of the bullet-headed, pimpled and stubby-haired genus, but dressed up to the nines; and had as much pride as two half-Spanish counts or a peacock in a barnyard.

Charley was mostly engaged in the ware rooms, laboratory, etc., up stairs. He would arrive about 7 A. M., arrayed in the costume of the latest style, as he flaunted down Chestnut Street—by the way, it was a long, idle tramp, out of his road to do so,—his hair all frizzled up, hat shining and bright as a May morn, his dickey so stiff he could hardly expectorate over his goatee, while his “stunnin'“ scarf and dashing pin stuck out to the admiration of Charley's extensive eyes, and the astonishment of half the clerks and all the shop boys along the line of our Beau Brummell's promenade!

It was very natural to conceive that Charley was impressed with the idea, that he was the envy of half the men, and the beau ideal of all the women he met! But your real dandy is no particular lover of women; he very naturally so loves himself that he lavishes all his fond affection upon his own person. So it was with our beau—he wouldn't have risked dirtying his hands, soiling his “patent leathers,” or disarranging his scarf the thirteenth of an inch, to save a lady from a mad bull, or being run down by a wheelbarrow! Charley, to be sure, would walk with them, talk with them, beau them to the theatre, concert or ball room, provided always—they were dressed all but to within half an inch of their lives! The man who introduced a new and stunnin' hat, scarf, or coat, Charley would swear friendship to, on sight! A shabby, genteel person was his abomination; a patch or darn, utterly horrifying! He lived, moved, breathed—ideally, his ideality based, of course, upon ridiculous superfluities of life—leather and prunella, entirely. Charley looked upon “a dirty day” as upon a villanously-dressed person, while a bright, shining morn—giving him amplitude to make a “grand dash,” won from him the same encomiums to the producer that he would bestow on the getter-up of an elegant pair of cassimeres—commendable works of an artist! The genus dandy, whether of savage or civilized life, is a felicitous subject for peculiar, speculative, comparative analogy or analysis; we shall pursue the shadow no farther, but come to the substance.

After arriving at the establishment, Charley would strip off his “top hamper,” placing his finery in a closet with the care and diligence of a maiden of thirty, and upwards. Then, donning a rude pair of over-alls and coat, he condescended to go to work. Now, in the said establishment, our beau had few friends; the men, girls, and boys were “down” upon him; the men, because of his dandyism; the females hated him, because Charley stuck his long nose up at “shop girls,” and wouldn't no more notice them in the streets, than if they were chimney sweepers or decayed esculents! We boys didn't like him no how, generally, though it was policy for him to treat us tolerably decent, because his pride made it imperiously necessary that some of the “little breeches” should do small chores, errands, bringing water from the street, carrying down to the shop goods, etc., which might otherwise devolve upon himself. But men, girls and boys were always scheming and practising jokes and tricks upon the beau. The boys would all rush off to dinner—first having so dirtied the water, hid the towels and soap, that poor Charley would necessarily be obliged to go down into the public street and bring up a bucket of the clean element to wash his begrimed face and hands. And mark the difficulties and diplomacy of such an arrangement. Charley would slip down into the lower entry, peep out to see if any body was looking,—if a genteel person was visible, the beau held back with his bucket; after various reconnaissances, the coast would appear clear, and the beau would dash out to the pump, agitate “the iron-tailed cow” with the force and speed of an infantile earthquake—snatch up the bucket, and with one dart hit the doorway, and glide up stairs, thanking his stars that nobody “seen him do it!”

In one of these forays for water, the beau was decidedly cornered by two of the “shop girls.” They, sly creatures, observed poor Charley from an upper “landing” of the stairway, in the entry below, watching his chance to get a clear coast to fill his dirty bucket. The moment the beau darted out, down rush the girls—slam to the door and bar it!

The beau, dreaming of no such diabolical inventions, gives the pump an awful surge, fills the bucket, looks down the street, and—O! murder, there come two ladies—the first cuts of the city, to whom Charley had once the honor of a personal introduction! With his face turned over his shoulder at the ladies —his nether limbs desperately nerved for tall walking,—he dashes at the supposed open entryway, and—nearly knocked the panel out of the door, smashing the bucket, spilling the water, and slightly killing himself!

It was almost “a cruel joke,” in the girls, who, taking advantage of the stunning effect of the operation, unbarred the door and vanished, before poor Charley picked himself up and scrambled into the lower store to recuperate.

Weeks ran on; the beau had enjoyed a respite from the wiles of his persecutors, when one morning he was forced to come down into the store in his working gear, well be-spattered with oleaginous substances, dust and dirt; in this gear, Charley presented about as ugly and primitive a looking Christian, as might not often—before California life was dreamed of—be seen in a city. We did quite an extensive retail trade—the store was rarely free from ton-ish citizens, mostly “fine ladies,” in quest of fine perfumes, soaps, oils, etc., to sweeten and decorate their own beautiful selves. But, before venturing in, our beau had an eye about the horizon, to see that no impediments offered; things looked safe, and in comes the beau.

We were upon very fair terms with Charley, and he was wont to regale us with many of his long stories about the company he faced into, the “conquests” he made, and the times he had with this and that, in high life. Fanny Kemble was about that time—belle of the season! Lioness of the day! setting corduroy in a high fever, and raising an awful furore—generally! Alas! how soon such things—cave in!

Charley got behind the counter to stow away some articles he had brought down, and began one of his usual harangues:

“Theatre, last night, Jack?”

“No; couldn't get off; wanted to,” said we.

“O, you missed a grand opportunity to see the fashion beauty and wealthy people of this city! Such a house! Crowded from pit to dome, met a hundred and fifty of my friends—ladies of the first families in town, with all the 'high boys' of my acquaintance!”

“And how did Fanny do Juliet?” we asked.

“Do it? Elegant! I sat in the second stage box with the two Misses W. (Chestnut street belles!) and Colonel S. and Sam. G., and his sister (all nobs of course!), and they were truly entranced with Miss Kemble's Juliet! I threw for Miss G. her elegant bouquet,—Fanny kissed her fingers to me, and with a look at me, as I stood up so—(the beau gave a tall rear up and was about to spread himself, when glancing at the door, he sees—two ladies! right in the store!) thunder!” he exclaims.

If the beau had been hit by a streak of lightning, he would not have dropped sooner than he did, behind the counter.

The ladies proved to be nobody else than those of the very two Misses W. themselves; they lived close by, and frequently came to the store. Beneath our counter were endless packages, broken glass, refuse oils, rancid perfumes, dust, dirt, grease, charcoal, soap, and about everything else dingy and offensive to the eye and nose. The place afforded a wretched refuge for a hull so big and nice as our beau's, but there he was, much in our way too, with the mournful fact, for Charley, that if those “fine ladies” stayed less than half an hour, without overhauling about every article in the store, it would be a white stone indeed in the fortunes of the beau! The ladies sat; they dickered and examined—we exhibited and put away, the beau lying crouched and crucifying at our feet, and we sniggering fit to burst at the contretemps of the poor victim. Charley stood it with the most heroic resignation for full twenty minutes, when the two Misses W. got up to go. Casting their eyes towards the door, who should be about to pass but the divine Fanny!

Fanny Kemble! Seeing the two Misses W., whose recognition and acquaintance was worth cultivating—even by the haughty queen of the drama and belle of the hour; she rushed in, they all had a talk—and you know how women can talk, will talk for an hour or two, all about nothing in particular, except to talk. Imagine our beau,—“Phancy his phelinks,” as Yellow Plush says, and to heighten the effect, in comes the boss! He comes behind the counter—he sees poor Charley sprawling—he roars out:

“By Jupiter! Mr. Whackstack, are you sick? dead?”

“Dead?” utters Fanny.

“A man dead behind your counter, sir?” scream the Misses W.!

With one desperate splurge, up jumps the beau; rushes out, up stairs—gets on his clothes, and we did not see him again for over two years!

 
 
 

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