18th February 1826

I told Papa this morning that – if he liked – I could deliver some of his prospectuses. For it occurred to me during the night that I might combine this favour with discovering the Hathersages’ place of worship. (He was very grateful and promised me sixpence ‘at the earliest practicable opportunity.’)

The task of shifting these notices, however, proved quite impossible; and, indeed, dispiriting. I was mocked and bullied at every turn. I cannot say how many times some wag asked me to ‘give them a song’ – for I did look rather like a pathetic imitation of a ballad-singer with a bundle of papers draped over my arm. I rang the bell at some of the more genteel houses en route to Holborn. I was met with half a dozen flat refusals. By the time I had reached a two dozen – ‘no callers’ – ‘not today’ – ‘the master ain’t at home’ &c – I was utterly exhausted – for the prospectuses grew awfully heavy. The only consolation was that I had finally arrived in Red Lion Square.

There was, thankfully, only one candidate for Mrs Hathersage’s place of worship in the vicinity: a squat and shabby little building, quite in keeping with the shabby tone of the neighbourhood. The place could have easily passed for some sort of grimy manufactory but for a modest wooden cross upon the roof and the words Little Bethesda Tabernacle painted in white, fading upon the soot-blackened lintel. There was also an ivy-encrusted sign, affixed to the front railings:

The Little Bethesda Tabernacle of Holy Joy

Rev. Septimus B. Prater

‘Make a joyful noise unto God’

While I was reading this inscription, a tall woman emerged from a nearby doorway. This creature was very pale, thin as a reed, wearing the plainest, most sombre black dress and bonnet. She was, doubtless, bound on some particular errand; but, having caught sight of me peering at the sign, she marched straight over to where I stood.

‘You there! Papers! Yes, you! Boy with all the papers! Yes, I am addressing you, Papers!’

‘Me, ma’am?’

‘You, sir. Tell me, are you a wolf or a lamb?’

While I hesitated, she looked me up and down, and remarked, darkly, ‘All boys are wolves, in my experience. But if you care to have a little less of the wolf about you, our service is at ten o’clock on Sunday.’ ‘Ten o’clock, Papers,’ she repeated, narrowing her eyes, as if trying to make out what pointy ears I had, and what sharp teeth besides. Then, without waiting to hear a reply, she stalked off. 

(I was now perfectly convinced this was Mrs Hathersage’s church. For there was something very much of this fearful woman in Mrs Hathersage’s own gloomy dress and manner.)

My thoughts, naturally, then returned to Pa’s commission, which was weighing heavy on my mind – and my arm! I tried two more houses. The boy who answered the bell at the first, said that I had ‘no right to be bothering folks with elasticated articles of any description – it ain’t decent’; and the maid who belonged to the second establishment out-and-out laughed in my face. I only record these humiliating details to demonstrate how a poor young fellow might eventually yield to temptation. For, having left the square, I chanced upon a tumble-down old-fashioned building with a sign which read George T. Poole, Waste Paper. In short, I began to look upon my burden in a more practical and remunerative light. The old man behind the counter gave me a shilling for the lot and I do not suppose the G.N.E.L.E.V.H.C. shall suffer much by it.

Perhaps I shall use the money to buy back Papa’s hat from Oddenbury; or save for another waistcoat.

Nine o’clock p.m.

Mama rather strange and peevish at dinner. At first, I thought she had somehow discovered that I had wagged school but there was no mention of Dr Ballast. Most likely it has something to do with Papa.

Nonetheless, I have successfully persuaded her to visit the Little Bethesda Tabernacle tomorrow. I served up a load of nonsense about the boys at school having heard of this Reverend Prater; and how Sykes visited last week and promptly swore off hard liquor (!). It was not very hard because she has always had a fondness for ranters. Indeed, she has dragged us to many a damp and dreary little chapel, solely upon the doubtful recommendation of Mrs Jericho or Mrs Fitzharris. I finished my speech with the greatest inducement, namely the likely presence of our most esteemed and respectable neighbour, Mrs Hathersage. Mama, after some deliberation, finally agreed that we might attend as a family, ‘to see what all the fuss was about.’

(LORD! I am swift becoming a CUNNING ROGUE – but it is all for LOVE!)

I have, this very evening, also completed the second scene of The Gadabout Duke. Pistacchio, having saved the wrongly-accused Mexican – named Pablo – adopts him as his personal valet. They return to Pistacchio’s quest for Selenia St. Cristophero, who has run away to a castle in the Italian Alps, which sits beneath enormous storm clouds of great foreboding. The way to the castle is well-guarded and so Pistacchio must use his wits, disguising himself as a beggar-woman and borrowing an intelligent dog from a gypsy.

I read the best sections to Letty and she says it is very good, especially the part about the dog.

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