This Man Rogers happened upon me and introduced himself at the town of —–, in the South of England, where I stayed awhile. His stepfather had married a distant relative of mine who was afterward hanged; and so he seemed to think a blood relationship existed between us. He came in every day and sat down and talked. Of all the bland, serene human curiosities I ever saw, I think he was the chiefest. He desired to look at my new chimney-pot hat. I was very willing, for I thought he would notice the name of the great Oxford Street hatter in it, and respect me accordingly. But he turned it about with a sort of grave compassion, pointed out two or three blemishes, and said that I, being so recently arrived, could not be expected to know where to supply myself. Said he would send me the address of his hatter. Then he said, “Pardon me,” and proceeded to cut a neat circle of red tissue paper; daintily notched the edges of it; took the mucilage and pasted it in my hat so as to cover the manufacturer’s name. He said, “No one will know now where you got it. I will send you a hat-tip of my hatter, and you can paste it over this tissue circle.” It was the calmest, coolest thing–I never admired a man so much in my life. Mind, he did this while his own hat sat offensively near our noses, on the table–an ancient extinguisher of the “slouch” pattern, limp and shapeless with age, discolored by vicissitudes of the weather, and banded by an equator of bear’s grease that had stewed through.
Another time he examined my coat. I had no terrors, for over my tailor’s door was the legend, “By Special Appointment Tailor to H. R. H. the Prince of Wales,” etc. I did not know at the time that the most of the tailor shops had the same sign out, and that whereas it takes nine tailors to make an ordinary man, it takes a hundred and fifty to make a prince. He was full of compassion for my coat. Wrote down the address of his tailor for me. Did not tell me to mention my nom de plume and the tailor would put his best work on my garment, as complimentary people sometimes do, but said his tailor would hardly trouble himself for an unknown person (unknown person, when I thought I was so celebrated in England!–that was the cruelest cut), but cautioned me to mention his name, and it would be all right. Thinking to be facetious, I said:
“But he might sit up all night and injure his health.”
“Well, let him,” said Rogers; “I’ve done enough for him, for him to show some appreciation of it.”
I might as well have tried to disconcert a mummy with my facetiousness. Said Rogers: “I get all my coats there–they’re the only coats fit to be seen in.”
I made one more attempt. I said, “I wish you had brought one with you –I would like to look at it.”
“Bless your heart, haven’t I got one on?–this article is Morgan’s make.”
I examined it. The coat had been bought ready-made, of a Chatham Street Jew, without any question–about 1848. It probably cost four dollars when it was new. It was ripped, it was frayed, it was napless and greasy. I could not resist showing him where it was ripped. It so affected him that I was almost sorry I had done it. First he seemed plunged into a bottomless abyss of grief. Then he roused himself, made a feint with his hands as if waving off the pity of a nation, and said –with what seemed to me a manufactured emotion–“No matter; no matter; don’t mind me; do not bother about it. I can get another.”
When he was thoroughly restored, so that he could examine the rip and command his feelings, he said, ah, now he understood it–his servant must have done it while dressing him that morning.
His servant! There was something awe-inspiring in effrontery like this.
Nearly every day he interested himself in some article of my clothing. One would hardly have expected this sort of infatuation in a man who always wore the same suit, and it a suit that seemed coeval with the Conquest.
It was an unworthy ambition, perhaps, but I did wish I could make this man admire something about me or something I did–you would have felt the same way. I saw my opportunity: I was about to return to London, and had “listed” my soiled linen for the wash. It made quite an imposing mountain in the corner of the room–fifty-four pieces. I hoped he would fancy it was the accumulation of a single week. I took up the wash-list, as if to see that it was all right, and then tossed it on the table, with pretended forgetfulness. Sure enough, he took it up and ran his eye along down to the grand total. Then he said, “You get off easy,” and laid it down again.
His gloves were the saddest ruin, but he told me where I could get some like them. His shoes would hardly hold walnuts without leaking, but he liked to put his feet up on the mantelpiece and contemplate them. He wore a dim glass breastpin, which he called a “morphylitic diamond” –whatever that may mean–and said only two of them had ever been found –the Emperor of China had the other one.
Afterward, in London, it was a pleasure to me to see this fantastic vagabond come marching into the lobby of the hotel in his grand-ducal way, for he always had some new imaginary grandeur to develop–there was nothing stale about him but his clothes. If he addressed me when strangers were about, he always raised his voice a little and called me “Sir Richard,” or “General,” or “Your Lordship”–and when people began to stare and look deferential, he would fall to inquiring in a casual way why I disappointed the Duke of Argyll the night before; and then remind me of our engagement at the Duke of Westminster’s for the following day. I think that for the time being these things were realities to him. He once came and invited me to go with him and spend the evening with the Earl of Warwick at his town house. I said I had received no formal invitation. He said that that was of no consequence, the Earl had no formalities for him or his friends. I asked if I could go just as I was. He said no, that would hardly do; evening dress was requisite at night in any gentleman’s house. He said he would wait while I dressed, and then we would go to his apartments and I could take a bottle of champagne and a cigar while he dressed. I was very willing to see how this enterprise would turn out, so I dressed, and we started to his lodgings. He said if I didn’t mind we would walk. So we tramped some four miles through the mud and fog, and finally found his “apartments”; they consisted of a single room over a barber’s shop in a back street. Two chairs, a small table, an ancient valise, a wash-basin and pitcher (both on the floor in a corner), an unmade bed, a fragment of a looking-glass, and a flower-pot, with a perishing little rose geranium in it, which he called a century plant, and said it had not bloomed now for upward of two centuries–given to him by the late Lord Palmerston (been offered a prodigious sum for it)–these were the contents of the room. Also a brass candlestick and a part of a candle. Rogers lit the candle, and told me to sit down and make myself at home. He said he hoped I was thirsty, because he would surprise my palate with an article of champagne that seldom got into a commoner’s system; or would I prefer sherry, or port? Said he had port in bottles that were swathed in stratified cobwebs, every stratum representing a generation. And as for his cigars–well, I should judge of them myself. Then he put his head out at the door and called:
“Sackville!” No answer.
“Hi-Sackville!” No answer.
“Now what the devil can have become of that butler? I never allow a servant to–Oh, confound that idiot, he’s got the keys. Can’t get into the other rooms without the keys.”
(I was just wondering at his intrepidity in still keeping up the delusion of the champagne, and trying to imagine how he was going to get out of the difficulty.)
Now he stopped calling Sackville and began to call “Anglesy.” But Anglesy didn’t come. He said, “This is the second time that that equerry has been absent without leave. To-morrow I’ll discharge him.” Now he began to whoop for “Thomas,” but Thomas didn’t answer. Then for “Theodore,” but no Theodore replied.
“Well, I give it up,” said Rogers. “The servants never expect me at this hour, and so they’re all off on a lark. Might get along without the equerry and the page, but can’t have any wine or cigars without the butler, and can’t dress without my valet.”
I offered to help him dress, but he would not hear of it; and besides, he said he would not feel comfortable unless dressed by a practised hand. However, he finally concluded that he was such old friends with the Earl that it would not make any difference how he was dressed. So we took a cab, he gave the driver some directions, and we started. By and by we stopped before a large house and got out. I never had seen this man with a collar on. He now stepped under a lamp and got a venerable paper collar out of his coat pocket, along with a hoary cravat, and put them on. He ascended the stoop, and entered. Presently he reappeared, descended rapidly, and said:
We hurried away, and turned the corner.
“Now we’re safe,” he said, and took off his collar and cravat and returned them to his pocket.
“Made a mighty narrow escape,” said he.
“How?” said I.
“B’ George, the Countess was there!”
“Well, what of that?–don’t she know you?”
“Know me? Absolutely worships me. I just did happen to catch a glimpse of her before she saw me–and out I shot. Haven’t seen her for two months–to rush in on her without any warning might have been fatal. She could not have stood it. I didn’t know she was in town–thought she was at the castle. Let me lean on you–just a moment–there; now I am better–thank you; thank you ever so much. Lord bless me, what an escape!”
So I never got to call on the Earl, after all. But I marked the house for future reference. It proved to be an ordinary family hotel, with about a thousand plebeians roosting in it.
In most things Rogers was by no means a fool. In some things it was plain enough that he was a fool, but he certainly did not know it. He was in the “deadest” earnest in these matters. He died at sea, last summer, as the “Earl of Ramsgate.”