This is the curious tale of Timothy Tight, as written for the Hampshire Advertiser in September 1845, as part of the ‘Sketches in the New Forest’ series. The hero of the story was described as a young-looking person of rather diminutive form who, having learned the skills of a piano-tuner, was seeking to make his fortune. By chance he discovered that an Earl residing in the New Forest had just taken delivery of a rather fine pianoforte, which was a gift for his daughter Lady Mary. Timothy decided to pay a visit to the Earl and offer his services in keeping the piano tuned and in good order. His journey from London coincided with one of the hottest days of the year in the middle of a drought. The animals of the Forest waited beside empty ponds as he made his way along the dusty tracks. He became rather overheated and parched as he tramped along the roads but, by and by, saw way off in the distance a house where he thought he could be relieved of his torment by having a cooling cup of water. As he approached the building he realised that it was a public house – The Horse & Jockey – and upon entering asked for a pint of beer, which he drank most gratefully. Having refreshed himself he continued on his journey and soon found himself in the grounds of an elegant mansion. He felt rather trepidatious about entering but seeing an old man sat in the garden, under the shade of a portico, he presented his card and asked if it were possible to speak to the Earl about tuning the pianoforte. Now, Timothy had never seen an Earl and was expecting someone far grander than the kindly gentleman, without a cravat, dressed in a straw hat and summer-weight clothes, who spoke to him now and did not realise that he was actually addressing His Grace. The Earl knew this of course and was quietly amused, but it just so happened that Lady Mary had only that day complained about her new piano and the Earl, seeing this as an opportunity to make his daughter happy, decided to show the young man into the drawing room to tune the piano.
Boldness brought on by strong beer
Perhaps the boldness of Timothy’s next remark to the kindly old man was the result of the strong beer he had refreshed himself with earlier in The Horse & Jockey, or from the pangs of the terrible hunger he was experiencing, but he began to speculate aloud on the character of the Earl and whether or not he would stand a good dinner and bottle of wine. Indeed, he confessed to the kindly old man that he was totally famished. On hearing this the old man rang the bell and gave whispered instructions to the servant who came in answer. As Timothy tuned the piano a gentleman of stately bearing entered the room. Timothy naturally understood him to be the Earl and bowed deeply but he was in truth the butler. The butler invited Timothy below stairs where a splendid meal, that consisted of a round of beef and a full bottle of sherry, were laid before him. He was making good progress towards the bottom of the bottle when the butler asked Timothy if he could tune the pianoforte in the schoolroom. He would be able to come back later and finish the bottle. Timothy was shown into the room and let to his work but when Timothy began to tune the piano he felt rather giddy. He was sensible of his situation and rather regretted drinking such quantities of strong liquor earlier in the day before imbibing in sherry wine, so he decided to walk around the room to revive his senses.
Oh, dear! Lady Mary.
Unbeknown to Timothy Lady Mary, whose general health was at the best of times delicate, was resting in the schoolroom. The butler had placed a screen around her to prevent her being disturbed and she was now in a deep sleep. Timothy saw the screen and was curious to see what was behind it. There he discovered Lady Mary looking for all the world like an apparition or the most beautiful waxwork doll he’d ever seen. He detected no signs of life in her and so reached over and pinched her cheek. In that instant he realised that she was indeed real. Upon feeling Timothy’s rough examination Lady Mary awoke and began to scream hysterically. Timothy ran away in a state of fright and confusion, with Lady Mary’s screams echoing after him. He soon found himself in an antiquated hall where he slumped down, feeling utterly dejected, exhausted and slightly tipsy. Soon he fell asleep and dreamed of the events of the day – the parched heathland, the thirsty ponies, his visit to the Horse & Groom, the kindly old man and Lady Mary. Oh, dear. Lady Mary. The Earl was informed of the events that had unfolded and quickly realised that Timothy’s behaviour had been foolish rather than vicious. His servants had made a search for the unfortunate piano tuner but had not located him and it was supposed that he’d run away. The Earl continued with his engagement, which was entertaining the local vicar, doctor and some distinguished families from the neighbourhood. As they watched the sun setting gorgeously over the New Forest heathland and woods in the distance they were interrupted by a pandemonium from the servants and cries of “Fire! Fire!” The house was momentarily in uproar until the Earl wisely resolved to ascertain the location of the supposed conflagration. A search was made of the house, which found Timothy Tight lying on the floor in a complete swoon. Upon reviving he explained that he had awoken in the dark and feeling rather groggy had pulled the bell cord to summon a servant but had pulled the fire bell by mistake. On hearing the cries of “Fire!” he had fainted with sheer fright. Timothy Tight was allowed to stay the night to recover himself fully before leaving for London the next morning. He never returned to the New Forest ever again.