The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens. Chapter 18 The Jolly Sandboys was a small road-side inn of pretty ancient date, with a sign, representing three Sandboys increasing their jollity with as many jugs of ale and bags of gold, creaking and swinging on its post on the opposite side of the road. As the travellers had observed that day many indications of their drawing nearer and nearer to the race town, such as gipsy camps, carts laden with gambling booths and their appurtenances, itinerant showmen of various kinds, and beggars and trampers of every degree, all wending their way in the same direction, Mr Codlin was fearful of finding the accommodations forestalled; this fear increasing as he diminished the distance between himself and the hostelry, he quickened his pace, and notwithstanding the burden he had to carry, maintained a round trot until he reached the threshold. Here he had the gratification of finding that his fears were without foundation, for the landlord was leaning against the door-post looking lazily at the rain, which had by this time begun to descend heavily, and no tinkling of cracked bell, nor boisterous shout, nor noisy chorus, gave note of company within. ‘All alone?’ said Mr Codlin, putting down
his burden and wiping his forehead. All alone as yet,’ rejoined the landlord, glancing at the sky, ‘but we shall have more company to-night I expect. Here one of you boys, carry that show into the barn. Make haste in out of the wet, Tom; when it came on to rain I told ‘em to make the fire up, and there’s a glorious blaze in the kitchen, I can tell you.’ Mr Codlin followed with a willing mind, and
soon found that the landlord had not commended his preparations without good reason. A mighty fire was blazing on the hearth and roaring up the wide chimney with a cheerful sound, which a large iron cauldron, bubbling and simmering in the heat, lent its pleasant aid to swell. There was a deep red ruddy blush upon the
room, and when the landlord stirred the fire, sending the flames skipping and leaping up—when
he took off the lid of the iron pot and there rushed out a savoury smell, while the bubbling
sound grew deeper and more rich, and an unctuous steam came floating out, hanging in a delicious
mist above their heads—when he did this, Mr Codlin’s heart was touched. He sat down in the chimney-corner and smiled. Mr Codlin sat smiling in the chimney-corner,
eyeing the landlord as with a roguish look he held the cover in his hand, and, feigning
that his doing so was needful to the welfare of the cookery, suffered the delightful steam
to tickle the nostrils of his guest. The glow of the fire was upon the landlord’s
bald head, and upon his twinkling eye, and upon his watering mouth, and upon his pimpled
face, and upon his round fat figure. Mr Codlin drew his sleeve across his lips,
and said in a murmuring voice, ‘What is it?’ ‘It’s a stew of tripe,’ said the landlord
smacking his lips, ‘and cow-heel,’ smacking them again, ‘and bacon,’ smacking them
once more, ‘and steak,’ smacking them for the fourth time, ‘and peas, cauliflowers,
new potatoes, and sparrow-grass, all working up together in one delicious gravy.’ Having come to the climax, he smacked his
lips a great many times, and taking a long hearty sniff of the fragrance that was hovering
about, put on the cover again with the air of one whose toils on earth were over. ‘At what time will it be ready?’ asked
Mr Codlin faintly. ‘It’ll be done to a turn,’ said the
landlord looking up to the clock—and the very clock had a colour in its fat white face,
and looked a clock for jolly Sandboys to consult—‘it’ll be done to a turn at twenty-two minutes before
eleven.’ ‘Then,’ said Mr Codlin, ‘fetch me a
pint of warm ale, and don’t let nobody bring into the room even so much as a biscuit till
the time arrives.’ Nodding his approval of this decisive and
manly course of procedure, the landlord retired to draw the beer, and presently returning
with it, applied himself to warm the same in a small tin vessel shaped funnel-wise,
for the convenience of sticking it far down in the fire and getting at the bright places. This was soon done, and he handed it over
to Mr Codlin with that creamy froth upon the surface which is one of the happy circumstances
attendant on mulled malt. Greatly softened by this soothing beverage,
Mr Codlin now bethought him of his companions, and acquainted mine host of the Sandboys that
their arrival might be shortly looked for. The rain was rattling against the windows
and pouring down in torrents, and such was Mr Codlin’s extreme amiability of mind,
that he more than once expressed his earnest hope that they would not be so foolish as
to get wet. At length they arrived, drenched with the
rain and presenting a most miserable appearance, notwithstanding that Short had sheltered the
child as well as he could under the skirts of his own coat, and they were nearly breathless
from the haste they had made. But their steps were no sooner heard upon
the road than the landlord, who had been at the outer door anxiously watching for their
coming, rushed into the kitchen and took the cover off. The effect was electrical. They all came in with smiling faces though
the wet was dripping from their clothes upon the floor, and Short’s first remark was,
‘What a delicious smell!’ It is not very difficult to forget rain and
mud by the side of a cheerful fire, and in a bright room. They were furnished with slippers and such
dry garments as the house or their own bundles afforded, and ensconcing themselves, as Mr
Codlin had already done, in the warm chimney-corner, soon forgot their late troubles or only remembered
them as enhancing the delights of the present time. Overpowered by the warmth and comfort and
the fatigue they had undergone, Nelly and the old man had not long taken their seats
here, when they fell asleep. ‘Who are they?’ whispered the landlord. Short shook his head, and wished he knew himself. ‘Don’t you know?’ asked the host, turning
to Mr Codlin. ‘Not I,’ he replied. ‘They’re no good, I suppose.’ ‘They’re no harm,’ said Short. ‘Depend upon that. I tell you what—it’s plain that the old
man an’t in his right mind—’ ‘If you haven’t got anything newer than
that to say,’ growled Mr Codlin, glancing at the clock, ‘you’d better let us fix
our minds upon the supper, and not disturb us.’ ‘Hear me out, won’t you?’ retorted his friend. ‘It’s very plain to me, besides, that
they’re not used to this way of life. Don’t tell me that that handsome child has
been in the habit of prowling about as she’s done these last two or three days. I know better.’ ‘Well, who does tell you she has?’ growled Mr Codlin, again glancing at the clock
and from it to the cauldron, ‘can’t you think of anything more suitable to present
circumstances than saying things and then contradicting ‘em?’ ‘I wish somebody would give you your supper,’
returned Short, ‘for there’ll be no peace till you’ve got it. Have you seen how anxious the old man is to
get on—always wanting to be furder away—furder away. Have you seen that?’ ‘Ah! what then?’ muttered Thomas Codlin. ‘This, then,’ said Short. ‘He has given his friends the slip. Mind what I say—he has given his friends
the slip, and persuaded this delicate young creetur all along of her fondness for him
to be his guide and travelling companion—where to, he knows no more than the man in the moon. Now I’m not a going to stand that.’ ‘You’re not a going to stand that!’
cried Mr Codlin, glancing at the clock again and pulling his hair with both hands in a
kind of frenzy, but whether occasioned by his companion’s observation or the tardy
pace of Time, it was difficult to determine. ‘Here’s a world to live in!’ ‘I,’ repeated Short emphatically and slowly,
‘am not a-going to stand it. I am not a-going to see this fair young child
a falling into bad hands, and getting among people that she’s no more fit for, than
they are to get among angels as their ordinary chums. Therefore when they dewelope an intention
of parting company from us, I shall take measures for detaining of ‘em, and restoring ‘em
to their friends, who I dare say have had their disconsolation pasted up on every wall
in London by this time.’ ‘Short,’ said Mr Codlin, who with his
head upon his hands, and his elbows on his knees, had been shaking himself impatiently
from side to side up to this point and occasionally stamping on the ground, but who now looked
up with eager eyes; ‘it’s possible that there may be uncommon good sense in what you’ve
said. If there is, and there should be a reward,
Short, remember that we’re partners in everything!’ His companion had only time to nod a brief
assent to this position, for the child awoke at the instant. They had drawn close together during the previous
whispering, and now hastily separated and were rather awkwardly endeavouring to exchange
some casual remarks in their usual tone, when strange footsteps were heard without, and
fresh company entered. These were no other than four very dismal
dogs, who came pattering in one after the other, headed by an old bandy dog of particularly
mournful aspect, who, stopping when the last of his followers had got as far as the door,
erected himself upon his hind legs and looked round at his companions, who immediately stood
upon their hind legs, in a grave and melancholy row. Nor was this the only remarkable circumstance
about these dogs, for each of them wore a kind of little coat of some gaudy colour trimmed
with tarnished spangles, and one of them had a cap upon his head, tied very carefully under
his chin, which had fallen down upon his nose and completely obscured one eye; add to this,
that the gaudy coats were all wet through and discoloured with rain, and that the wearers
were splashed and dirty, and some idea may be formed of the unusual appearance of these
new visitors to the Jolly Sandboys. Neither Short nor the landlord nor Thomas
Codlin, however, was in the least surprised, merely remarking that these were Jerry’s
dogs and that Jerry could not be far behind. So there the dogs stood, patiently winking
and gaping and looking extremely hard at the boiling pot, until Jerry himself appeared,
when they all dropped down at once and walked about the room in their natural manner. This posture it must be confessed did not
much improve their appearance, as their own personal tails and their coat tails—both
capital things in their way—did not agree together. Jerry, the manager of these dancing dogs,
was a tall black-whiskered man in a velveteen coat, who seemed well known to the landlord
and his guests and accosted them with great cordiality. Disencumbering himself of a barrel organ which
he placed upon a chair, and retaining in his hand a small whip wherewith to awe his company
of comedians, he came up to the fire to dry himself, and entered into conversation. ‘Your people don’t usually travel in character,
do they?’ said Short, pointing to the dresses of the dogs. ‘It must come expensive if they do?’ ‘No,’ replied Jerry, ‘no, it’s not
the custom with us. But we’ve been playing a little on the road
to-day, and we come out with a new wardrobe at the races, so I didn’t think it worth
while to stop to undress. Down, Pedro!’ This was addressed to the dog with the cap
on, who being a new member of the company, and not quite certain of his duty, kept his
unobscured eye anxiously on his master, and was perpetually starting upon his hind legs
when there was no occasion, and falling down again. ‘I’ve got a animal here,’ said Jerry,
putting his hand into the capacious pocket of his coat, and diving into one corner as
if he were feeling for a small orange or an apple or some such article, ‘a animal here,
wot I think you know something of, Short.’ ‘Ah!’ cried Short, ‘let’s have a look
at him.’ ‘Here he is,’ said Jerry, producing a
little terrier from his pocket. ‘He was once a Toby of yours, warn’t he!’ In some versions of the great drama of Punch
there is a small dog—a modern innovation—supposed to be the private property of that gentleman,
whose name is always Toby. This Toby has been stolen in youth from another
gentleman, and fraudulently sold to the confiding hero, who having no guile himself has no suspicion
that it lurks in others; but Toby, entertaining a grateful recollection of his old master,
and scorning to attach himself to any new patrons, not only refuses to smoke a pipe
at the bidding of Punch, but to mark his old fidelity more strongly, seizes him by the
nose and wrings the same with violence, at which instance of canine attachment the spectators
are deeply affected. This was the character which the little terrier
in question had once sustained; if there had been any doubt upon the subject he would speedily
have resolved it by his conduct; for not only did he, on seeing Short, give the strongest
tokens of recognition, but catching sight of the flat box he barked so furiously at
the pasteboard nose which he knew was inside, that his master was obliged to gather him
up and put him into his pocket again, to the great relief of the whole company. The landlord now busied himself in laying
the cloth, in which process Mr Codlin obligingly assisted by setting forth his own knife and
fork in the most convenient place and establishing himself behind them. When everything was ready, the landlord took
off the cover for the last time, and then indeed there burst forth such a goodly promise
of supper, that if he had offered to put it on again or had hinted at postponement, he
would certainly have been sacrificed on his own hearth. However, he did nothing of the kind, but instead
thereof assisted a stout servant girl in turning the contents of the cauldron into a large
tureen; a proceeding which the dogs, proof against various hot splashes which fell upon
their noses, watched with terrible eagerness. At length the dish was lifted on the table,
and mugs of ale having been previously set round, little Nell ventured to say grace,
and supper began. At this juncture the poor dogs were standing
on their hind legs quite surprisingly; the child, having pity on them, was about to cast
some morsels of food to them before she tasted it herself, hungry though she was, when their
master interposed. ‘No, my dear, no, not an atom from anybody’s
hand but mine if you please. That dog,’ said Jerry, pointing out the
old leader of the troop, and speaking in a terrible voice, ‘lost a halfpenny to-day. He goes without his supper.’ The unfortunate creature dropped upon his
fore-legs directly, wagged his tail, and looked imploringly at his master. ‘You must be more careful, Sir,’ said
Jerry, walking coolly to the chair where he had placed the organ, and setting the stop. ‘Come here. Now, Sir, you play away at that, while we
have supper, and leave off if you dare.’ The dog immediately began to grind most mournful
music. His master having shown him the whip resumed
his seat and called up the others, who, at his directions, formed in a row, standing
upright as a file of soldiers. ‘Now, gentlemen,’ said Jerry, looking
at them attentively. ‘The dog whose name’s called, eats. The dogs whose names an’t called, keep quiet. Carlo!’ The lucky individual whose name was called,
snapped up the morsel thrown towards him, but none of the others moved a muscle. In this manner they were fed at the discretion
of their master. Meanwhile the dog in disgrace ground hard
at the organ, sometimes in quick time, sometimes in slow, but never leaving off for an instant. When the knives and forks rattled very much,
or any of his fellows got an unusually large piece of fat, he accompanied the music with
a short howl, but he immediately checked it on his master looking round, and applied himself
with increased diligence to the Old Hundredth. CHAPTER 19
Supper was not yet over, when there arrived at the Jolly Sandboys two more travellers
bound for the same haven as the rest, who had been walking in the rain for some hours,
and came in shining and heavy with water. One of these was the proprietor of a giant,
and a little lady without legs or arms, who had jogged forward in a van; the other, a
silent gentleman who earned his living by showing tricks upon the cards, and who had
rather deranged the natural expression of his countenance by putting small leaden lozenges
into his eyes and bringing them out at his mouth, which was one of his professional accomplishments. The name of the first of these newcomers was
Vuffin; the other, probably as a pleasant satire upon his ugliness, was called Sweet
William. To render them as comfortable as he could,
the landlord bestirred himself nimbly, and in a very short time both gentlemen were perfectly
at their ease. ‘How’s the Giant?’ said Short, when
they all sat smoking round the fire. ‘Rather weak upon his legs,’ returned
Mr Vuffin. ‘I begin to be afraid he’s going at the
knees.’ ‘That’s a bad look-out,’ said Short. ‘Aye! Bad indeed,’ replied Mr Vuffin, contemplating
the fire with a sigh. ‘Once get a giant shaky on his legs, and
the public care no more about him than they do for a dead cabbage stalk.’ ‘What becomes of old giants?’ said Short,
turning to him again after a little reflection. ‘They’re usually kept in carawans to wait
upon the dwarfs,’ said Mr Vuffin. ‘The maintaining of ‘em must come expensive,
when they can’t be shown, eh?’ remarked Short, eyeing him doubtfully. ‘It’s better that, than letting ‘em
go upon the parish or about the streets,’ said Mr Vuffin. ‘Once make a giant common and giants will
never draw again. Look at wooden legs. If there was only one man with a wooden leg
what a property he’d be!’ ‘So he would!’ observed the landlord and
Short both together. ‘That’s very true.’ ‘Instead of which,’ pursued Mr Vuffin,
‘if you was to advertise Shakspeare played entirely by wooden legs, it’s my belief
you wouldn’t draw a sixpence.’ ‘I don’t suppose you would,’ said Short. And the landlord said so too. ‘This shows, you see,’ said Mr Vuffin,
waving his pipe with an argumentative air, ‘this shows the policy of keeping the used-up
giants still in the carawans, where they get food and lodging for nothing, all their lives,
and in general very glad they are to stop there. There was one giant—a black ‘un—as left
his carawan some year ago and took to carrying coach-bills about London, making himself as
cheap as crossing-sweepers. He died. I make no insinuation against anybody in particular,’
said Mr Vuffin, looking solemnly round, ‘but he was ruining the trade;—and he died.’ The landlord drew his breath hard, and looked
at the owner of the dogs, who nodded and said gruffly that he remembered. ‘I know you do, Jerry,’ said Mr Vuffin
with profound meaning. ‘I know you remember it, Jerry, and the
universal opinion was, that it served him right. Why, I remember the time when old Maunders
as had three-and-twenty wans—I remember the time when old Maunders had in his cottage
in Spa Fields in the winter time, when the season was over, eight male and female dwarfs
setting down to dinner every day, who was waited on by eight old giants in green coats,
red smalls, blue cotton stockings, and high-lows: and there was one dwarf as had grown elderly
and wicious who whenever his giant wasn’t quick enough to please him, used to stick
pins in his legs, not being able to reach up any higher. I know that’s a fact, for Maunders told
it me himself.’ ‘What about the dwarfs when they get old?’ inquired the landlord. ‘The older a dwarf is, the better worth
he is,’ returned Mr Vuffin; ‘a grey-headed dwarf, well wrinkled, is beyond all suspicion. But a giant weak in the legs and not standing
upright!—keep him in the carawan, but never show him, never show him, for any persuasion
that can be offered.’ While Mr Vuffin and his two friends smoked
their pipes and beguiled the time with such conversation as this, the silent gentleman
sat in a warm corner, swallowing, or seeming to swallow, sixpennyworth of halfpence for
practice, balancing a feather upon his nose, and rehearsing other feats of dexterity of
that kind, without paying any regard whatever to the company, who in their turn left him
utterly unnoticed. At length the weary child prevailed upon her
grandfather to retire, and they withdrew, leaving the company yet seated round the fire,
and the dogs fast asleep at a humble distance. After bidding the old man good night, Nell
retired to her poor garret, but had scarcely closed the door, when it was gently tapped
at. She opened it directly, and was a little startled
by the sight of Mr Thomas Codlin, whom she had left, to all appearance, fast asleep down
stairs. ‘What is the matter?’ said the child. ‘Nothing’s the matter, my dear,’ returned
her visitor. ‘I’m your friend. Perhaps you haven’t thought so, but it’s
me that’s your friend—not him.’ ‘Not who?’ the child inquired. ‘Short, my dear. I tell you what,’ said Codlin, ‘for all
his having a kind of way with him that you’d be very apt to like, I’m the real, open-hearted
man. I mayn’t look it, but I am indeed.’ The child began to be alarmed, considering
that the ale had taken effect upon Mr Codlin, and that this commendation of himself was
the consequence. ‘Short’s very well, and seems kind,’
resumed the misanthrope, ‘but he overdoes it. Now I don’t.’ Certainly if there were any fault in Mr Codlin’s
usual deportment, it was that he rather underdid his kindness to those about him, than overdid
it. But the child was puzzled, and could not tell
what to say. ‘Take my advice,’ said Codlin: ‘don’t
ask me why, but take it. As long as you travel with us, keep as near
me as you can. Don’t offer to leave us—not on any account—but
always stick to me and say that I’m your friend. Will you bear that in mind, my dear, and always
say that it was me that was your friend?’ ‘Say so where—and when?’ inquired the child innocently. ‘O, nowhere in particular,’ replied Codlin,
a little put out as it seemed by the question; ‘I’m only anxious that you should think
me so, and do me justice. You can’t think what an interest I have
in you. Why didn’t you tell me your little history—that
about you and the poor old gentleman? I’m the best adviser that ever was, and
so interested in you—so much more interested than Short. I think they’re breaking up down stairs;
you needn’t tell Short, you know, that we’ve had this little talk together. God bless you. Recollect the friend. Codlin’s the friend, not Short. Short’s very well as far as he goes, but
the real friend is Codlin—not Short.’ Eking out these professions with a number
of benevolent and protecting looks and great fervour of manner, Thomas Codlin stole away
on tiptoe, leaving the child in a state of extreme surprise. She was still ruminating upon his curious
behaviour, when the floor of the crazy stairs and landing cracked beneath the tread of the
other travellers who were passing to their beds. When they had all passed, and the sound of
their footsteps had died away, one of them returned, and after a little hesitation and
rustling in the passage, as if he were doubtful what door to knock at, knocked at hers. ‘Yes,’ said the child from within. ‘It’s me—Short’—a voice called through
the keyhole. ‘I only wanted to say that we must be off
early to-morrow morning, my dear, because unless we get the start of the dogs and the
conjuror, the villages won’t be worth a penny. You’ll be sure to be stirring early and
go with us? I’ll call you.’ The child answered in the affirmative, and
returning his ‘good night’ heard him creep away. She felt some uneasiness at the anxiety of
these men, increased by the recollection of their whispering together down stairs and
their slight confusion when she awoke, nor was she quite free from a misgiving that they
were not the fittest companions she could have stumbled on. Her uneasiness, however, was nothing, weighed
against her fatigue; and she soon forgot it in sleep. Very early next morning, Short fulfilled his
promise, and knocking softly at her door, entreated that she would get up directly,
as the proprietor of the dogs was still snoring, and if they lost no time they might get a
good deal in advance both of him and the conjuror, who was talking in his sleep, and from what
he could be heard to say, appeared to be balancing a donkey in his dreams. She started from her bed without delay, and
roused the old man with so much expedition that they were both ready as soon as Short
himself, to that gentleman’s unspeakable gratification and relief. After a very unceremonious and scrambling
breakfast, of which the staple commodities were bacon and bread, and beer, they took
leave of the landlord and issued from the door of the jolly Sandboys. The morning was fine and warm, the ground
cool to the feet after the late rain, the hedges gayer and more green, the air clear,
and everything fresh and healthful. Surrounded by these influences, they walked
on pleasantly enough. They had not gone very far, when the child
was again struck by the altered behaviour of Mr Thomas Codlin, who instead of plodding
on sulkily by himself as he had heretofore done, kept close to her, and when he had an
opportunity of looking at her unseen by his companion, warned her by certain wry faces
and jerks of the head not to put any trust in Short, but to reserve all confidences for
Codlin. Neither did he confine himself to looks and
gestures, for when she and her grandfather were walking on beside the aforesaid Short,
and that little man was talking with his accustomed cheerfulness on a variety of indifferent subjects,
Thomas Codlin testified his jealousy and distrust by following close at her heels, and occasionally
admonishing her ankles with the legs of the theatre in a very abrupt and painful manner. All these proceedings naturally made the child
more watchful and suspicious, and she soon observed that whenever they halted to perform
outside a village alehouse or other place, Mr Codlin while he went through his share
of the entertainments kept his eye steadily upon her and the old man, or with a show of
great friendship and consideration invited the latter to lean upon his arm, and so held
him tight until the representation was over and they again went forward. Even Short seemed to change in this respect,
and to mingle with his good-nature something of a desire to keep them in safe custody. This increased the child’s misgivings, and
made her yet more anxious and uneasy. Meanwhile, they were drawing near the town
where the races were to begin next day; for, from passing numerous groups of gipsies and
trampers on the road, wending their way towards it, and straggling out from every by-way and
cross-country lane, they gradually fell into a stream of people, some walking by the side
of covered carts, others with horses, others with donkeys, others toiling on with heavy
loads upon their backs, but all tending to the same point. The public-houses by the wayside, from being
empty and noiseless as those in the remoter parts had been, now sent out boisterous shouts
and clouds of smoke; and, from the misty windows, clusters of broad red faces looked down upon
the road. On every piece of waste or common ground,
some small gambler drove his noisy trade, and bellowed to the idle passersby to stop
and try their chance; the crowd grew thicker and more noisy; gilt gingerbread in blanket-stalls
exposed its glories to the dust; and often a four-horse carriage, dashing by, obscured
all objects in the gritty cloud it raised, and left them, stunned and blinded, far behind. It was dark before they reached the town itself,
and long indeed the few last miles had been. Here all was tumult and confusion; the streets
were filled with throngs of people—many strangers were there, it seemed, by the looks
they cast about—the church-bells rang out their noisy peals, and flags streamed from
windows and house-tops. In the large inn-yards waiters flitted to
and fro and ran against each other, horses clattered on the uneven stones, carriage steps
fell rattling down, and sickening smells from many dinners came in a heavy lukewarm breath
upon the sense. In the smaller public-houses, fiddles with
all their might and main were squeaking out the tune to staggering feet; drunken men,
oblivious of the burden of their song, joined in a senseless howl, which drowned the tinkling
of the feeble bell and made them savage for their drink; vagabond groups assembled round
the doors to see the stroller woman dance, and add their uproar to the shrill flageolet
and deafening drum. Through this delirious scene, the child, frightened
and repelled by all she saw, led on her bewildered charge, clinging close to her conductor, and
trembling lest in the press she should be separated from him and left to find her way
alone. Quickening their steps to get clear of all
the roar and riot, they at length passed through the town and made for the race-course, which
was upon an open heath, situated on an eminence, a full mile distant from its furthest bounds. Although there were many people here, none
of the best favoured or best clad, busily erecting tents and driving stakes in the ground,
and hurrying to and fro with dusty feet and many a grumbled oath—although there were
tired children cradled on heaps of straw between the wheels of carts, crying themselves to
sleep—and poor lean horses and donkeys just turned loose, grazing among the men and women,
and pots and kettles, and half-lighted fires, and ends of candles flaring and wasting in
the air—for all this, the child felt it an escape from the town and drew her breath
more freely. After a scanty supper, the purchase of which
reduced her little stock so low, that she had only a few halfpence with which to buy
a breakfast on the morrow, she and the old man lay down to rest in a corner of a tent,
and slept, despite the busy preparations that were going on around them all night long. And now they had come to the time when they
must beg their bread. Soon after sunrise in the morning she stole
out from the tent, and rambling into some fields at a short distance, plucked a few
wild roses and such humble flowers, purposing to make them into little nosegays and offer
them to the ladies in the carriages when the company arrived. Her thoughts were not idle while she was thus
employed; when she returned and was seated beside the old man in one corner of the tent,
tying her flowers together, while the two men lay dozing in another corner, she plucked
him by the sleeve, and slightly glancing towards them, said, in a low voice— ‘Grandfather, don’t look at those I talk
of, and don’t seem as if I spoke of anything but what I am about. What was that you told me before we left the
old house? That if they knew what we were going to do,
they would say that you were mad, and part us?’ The old man turned to her with an aspect of
wild terror; but she checked him by a look, and bidding him hold some flowers while she
tied them up, and so bringing her lips closer to his ear, said—
‘I know that was what you told me. You needn’t speak, dear. I recollect it very well. It was not likely that I should forget it. Grandfather, these men suspect that we have
secretly left our friends, and mean to carry us before some gentleman and have us taken
care of and sent back. If you let your hand tremble so, we can never
get away from them, but if you’re only quiet now, we shall do so, easily.’ ‘How?’ muttered the old man. ‘Dear Nelly, how? They will shut me up in a stone room, dark
and cold, and chain me up to the wall, Nell—flog me with whips, and never let me see thee more!’ ‘You’re trembling again,’ said the child. ‘Keep close to me all day. Never mind them, don’t look at them, but
me. I shall find a time when we can steal away. When I do, mind you come with me, and do not
stop or speak a word. Hush! That’s all.’ ‘Halloa! what are you up to, my dear?’
said Mr Codlin, raising his head, and yawning. Then observing that his companion was fast
asleep, he added in an earnest whisper, ‘Codlin’s the friend, remember—not Short.’ ‘Making some nosegays,’ the child replied;
‘I am going to try and sell some, these three days of the races. Will you have one—as a present I mean?’ Mr Codlin would have risen to receive it,
but the child hurried towards him and placed it in his hand. He stuck it in his buttonhole with an air
of ineffable complacency for a misanthrope, and leering exultingly at the unconscious
Short, muttered, as he laid himself down again, ‘Tom Codlin’s the friend, by G—!’ As the morning wore on, the tents assumed
a gayer and more brilliant appearance, and long lines of carriages came rolling softly
on the turf. Men who had lounged about all night in smock-frocks
and leather leggings, came out in silken vests and hats and plumes, as jugglers or mountebanks;
or in gorgeous liveries as soft-spoken servants at gambling booths; or in sturdy yeoman dress
as decoys at unlawful games. Black-eyed gipsy girls, hooded in showy handkerchiefs,
sallied forth to tell fortunes, and pale slender women with consumptive faces lingered upon
the footsteps of ventriloquists and conjurors, and counted the sixpences with anxious eyes
long before they were gained. As many of the children as could be kept within
bounds, were stowed away, with all the other signs of dirt and poverty, among the donkeys,
carts, and horses; and as many as could not be thus disposed of ran in and out in all
intricate spots, crept between people’s legs and carriage wheels, and came forth unharmed
from under horses’ hoofs. The dancing-dogs, the stilts, the little lady
and the tall man, and all the other attractions, with organs out of number and bands innumerable,
emerged from the holes and corners in which they had passed the night, and flourished
boldly in the sun. Along the uncleared course, Short led his
party, sounding the brazen trumpet and revelling in the voice of Punch; and at his heels went
Thomas Codlin, bearing the show as usual, and keeping his eye on Nelly and her grandfather,
as they rather lingered in the rear. The child bore upon her arm the little basket
with her flowers, and sometimes stopped, with timid and modest looks, to offer them at some
gay carriage; but alas! there were many bolder beggars there, gipsies who promised husbands,
and other adepts in their trade, and although some ladies smiled gently as they shook their
heads, and others cried to the gentlemen beside them ‘See, what a pretty face!’ they let
the pretty face pass on, and never thought that it looked tired or hungry. There was but one lady who seemed to understand
the child, and she was one who sat alone in a handsome carriage, while two young men in
dashing clothes, who had just dismounted from it, talked and laughed loudly at a little
distance, appearing to forget her, quite. There were many ladies all around, but they
turned their backs, or looked another way, or at the two young men (not unfavourably
at them), and left her to herself. She motioned away a gipsy-woman urgent to
tell her fortune, saying that it was told already and had been for some years, but called
the child towards her, and taking her flowers put money into her trembling hand, and bade
her go home and keep at home for God’s sake. Many a time they went up and down those long,
long lines, seeing everything but the horses and the race; when the bell rang to clear
the course, going back to rest among the carts and donkeys, and not coming out again until
the heat was over. Many a time, too, was Punch displayed in the
full zenith of his humour, but all this while the eye of Thomas Codlin was upon them, and
to escape without notice was impracticable. At length, late in the day, Mr Codlin pitched
the show in a convenient spot, and the spectators were soon in the very triumph of the scene. The child, sitting down with the old man close
behind it, had been thinking how strange it was that horses who were such fine honest
creatures should seem to make vagabonds of all the men they drew about them, when a loud
laugh at some extemporaneous witticism of Mr Short’s, having allusion to the circumstances
of the day, roused her from her meditation and caused her to look around. If they were ever to get away unseen, that
was the very moment. Short was plying the quarter-staves vigorously
and knocking the characters in the fury of the combat against the sides of the show,
the people were looking on with laughing faces, and Mr Codlin had relaxed into a grim smile
as his roving eye detected hands going into waistcoat pockets and groping secretly for
sixpences. If they were ever to get away unseen, that
was the very moment. They seized it, and fled. They made a path through booths and carriages
and throngs of people, and never once stopped to look behind. The bell was ringing and the course was cleared
by the time they reached the ropes, but they dashed across it insensible to the shouts
and screeching that assailed them for breaking in upon its sanctity, and creeping under the
brow of the hill at a quick pace, made for the open fields. CHAPTER 20
Day after day as he bent his steps homeward, returning from some new effort to procure
employment, Kit raised his eyes to the window of the little room he had so much commended
to the child, and hoped to see some indication of her presence. His own earnest wish, coupled with the assurance
he had received from Quilp, filled him with the belief that she would yet arrive to claim
the humble shelter he had offered, and from the death of each day’s hope another hope
sprung up to live to-morrow. ‘I think they must certainly come to-morrow,
eh mother?’ said Kit, laying aside his hat with a weary air and sighing as he spoke. ‘They have been gone a week. They surely couldn’t stop away more than
a week, could they now?’ The mother shook her head, and reminded him
how often he had been disappointed already. ‘For the matter of that,’ said Kit, ‘you
speak true and sensible enough, as you always do, mother. Still, I do consider that a week is quite
long enough for ‘em to be rambling about; don’t you say so?’ ‘Quite long enough, Kit, longer than enough,
but they may not come back for all that.’ Kit was for a moment disposed to be vexed
by this contradiction, and not the less so from having anticipated it in his own mind
and knowing how just it was. But the impulse was only momentary, and the
vexed look became a kind one before it had crossed the room. ‘Then what do you think, mother, has become
of ‘em? You don’t think they’ve gone to sea, anyhow?’ ‘Not gone for sailors, certainly,’ returned
the mother with a smile. ‘But I can’t help thinking that they have
gone to some foreign country.’ ‘I say,’ cried Kit with a rueful face,
‘don’t talk like that, mother.’ ‘I am afraid they have, and that’s the
truth,’ she said. ‘It’s the talk of all the neighbours,
and there are some even that know of their having been seen on board ship, and can tell
you the name of the place they’ve gone to, which is more than I can, my dear, for it’s
a very hard one.’ ‘I don’t believe it,’ said Kit. ‘Not a word of it. A set of idle chatterboxes, how should they
know!’ ‘They may be wrong of course,’ returned
the mother, ‘I can’t tell about that, though I don’t think it’s at all unlikely
that they’re in the right, for the talk is that the old gentleman had put by a little
money that nobody knew of, not even that ugly little man you talk to me about—what’s
his name—Quilp; and that he and Miss Nell have gone to live abroad where it can’t
be taken from them, and they will never be disturbed. That don’t seem very far out of the way
now, do it?’ Kit scratched his head mournfully, in reluctant
admission that it did not, and clambering up to the old nail took down the cage and
set himself to clean it and to feed the bird. His thoughts reverting from this occupation
to the little old gentleman who had given him the shilling, he suddenly recollected
that that was the very day—nay, nearly the very hour—at which the little old gentleman
had said he should be at the Notary’s house again. He no sooner remembered this, than he hung
up the cage with great precipitation, and hastily explaining the nature of his errand,
went off at full speed to the appointed place. It was some two minutes after the time when
he reached the spot, which was a considerable distance from his home, but by great good
luck the little old gentleman had not yet arrived; at least there was no pony-chaise
to be seen, and it was not likely that he had come and gone again in so short a space. Greatly relieved to find that he was not too
late, Kit leant against a lamp-post to take breath, and waited the advent of the pony
and his charge. Sure enough, before long the pony came trotting
round the corner of the street, looking as obstinate as pony might, and picking his steps
as if he were spying about for the cleanest places, and would by no means dirty his feet
or hurry himself inconveniently. Behind the pony sat the little old gentleman,
and by the old gentleman’s side sat the little old lady, carrying just such a nosegay
as she had brought before. The old gentleman, the old lady, the pony,
and the chaise, came up the street in perfect unanimity, until they arrived within some
half a dozen doors of the Notary’s house, when the pony, deceived by a brass-plate beneath
a tailor’s knocker, came to a halt, and maintained by a sturdy silence, that that
was the house they wanted. ‘Now, Sir, will you ha’ the goodness to
go on; this is not the place,’ said the old gentleman. The pony looked with great attention into
a fire-plug which was near him, and appeared to be quite absorbed in contemplating it. ‘Oh dear, such a naughty Whisker!’ cried
the old lady. ‘After being so good too, and coming along
so well! I am quite ashamed of him. I don’t know what we are to do with him,
I really don’t.’ The pony having thoroughly satisfied himself
as to the nature and properties of the fire-plug, looked into the air after his old enemies
the flies, and as there happened to be one of them tickling his ear at that moment he
shook his head and whisked his tail, after which he appeared full of thought but quite
comfortable and collected. The old gentleman having exhausted his powers
of persuasion, alighted to lead him; whereupon the pony, perhaps because he held this to
be a sufficient concession, perhaps because he happened to catch sight of the other brass-plate,
or perhaps because he was in a spiteful humour, darted off with the old lady and stopped at
the right house, leaving the old gentleman to come panting on behind. It was then that Kit presented himself at
the pony’s head, and touched his hat with a smile. ‘Why, bless me,’ cried the old gentleman,
‘the lad is here! My dear, do you see?’ ‘I said I’d be here, Sir,’ said Kit,
patting Whisker’s neck. ‘I hope you’ve had a pleasant ride, sir. He’s a very nice little pony.’ ‘My dear,’ said the old gentleman. ‘This is an uncommon lad; a good lad, I’m
sure.’ ‘I’m sure he is,’ rejoined the old lady. ‘A very good lad, and I am sure he is a
good son.’ Kit acknowledged these expressions of confidence
by touching his hat again and blushing very much. The old gentleman then handed the old lady
out, and after looking at him with an approving smile, they went into the house—talking
about him as they went, Kit could not help feeling. Presently Mr Witherden, smelling very hard
at the nosegay, came to the window and looked at him, and after that Mr Abel came and looked
at him, and after that the old gentleman and lady came and looked at him again, and after
that they all came and looked at him together, which Kit, feeling very much embarrassed by,
made a pretence of not observing. Therefore he patted the pony more and more;
and this liberty the pony most handsomely permitted. The faces had not disappeared from the window
many moments, when Mr Chuckster in his official coat, and with his hat hanging on his head
just as it happened to fall from its peg, appeared upon the pavement, and telling him
he was wanted inside, bade him go in and he would mind the chaise the while. In giving him this direction Mr Chuckster
remarked that he wished that he might be blessed if he could make out whether he (Kit) was
‘precious raw’ or ‘precious deep,’ but intimated by a distrustful shake of the
head, that he inclined to the latter opinion. Kit entered the office in a great tremor,
for he was not used to going among strange ladies and gentlemen, and the tin boxes and
bundles of dusty papers had in his eyes an awful and venerable air. Mr Witherden too was a bustling gentleman
who talked loud and fast, and all eyes were upon him, and he was very shabby. ‘Well, boy,’ said Mr Witherden, ‘you
came to work out that shilling;—not to get another, hey?’ ‘No indeed, sir,’ replied Kit, taking
courage to look up. ‘I never thought of such a thing.’ ‘Father alive?’ said the Notary. ‘Dead, sir.’ ‘Mother?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘Married again—eh?’ Kit made answer, not without some indignation,
that she was a widow with three children, and that as to her marrying again, if the
gentleman knew her he wouldn’t think of such a thing. At this reply Mr Witherden buried his nose
in the flowers again, and whispered behind the nosegay to the old gentleman that he believed
the lad was as honest a lad as need be. ‘Now,’ said Mr Garland when they had made
some further inquiries of him, ‘I am not going to give you anything—’ ‘Thank you, sir,’ Kit replied; and quite
seriously too, for this announcement seemed to free him from the suspicion which the Notary
had hinted. ‘—But,’ resumed the old gentleman, ‘perhaps
I may want to know something more about you, so tell me where you live, and I’ll put
it down in my pocket-book.’ Kit told him, and the old gentleman wrote
down the address with his pencil. He had scarcely done so, when there was a
great uproar in the street, and the old lady hurrying to the window cried that Whisker
had run away, upon which Kit darted out to the rescue, and the others followed. It seemed that Mr Chuckster had been standing
with his hands in his pockets looking carelessly at the pony, and occasionally insulting him
with such admonitions as ‘Stand still,’—‘Be quiet,’—‘Woa-a-a,’ and the like, which
by a pony of spirit cannot be borne. Consequently, the pony being deterred by no
considerations of duty or obedience, and not having before him the slightest fear of the
human eye, had at length started off, and was at that moment rattling down the street—Mr
Chuckster, with his hat off and a pen behind his ear, hanging on in the rear of the chaise
and making futile attempts to draw it the other way, to the unspeakable admiration of
all beholders. Even in running away, however, Whisker was
perverse, for he had not gone very far when he suddenly stopped, and before assistance
could be rendered, commenced backing at nearly as quick a pace as he had gone forward. By these means Mr Chuckster was pushed and
hustled to the office again, in a most inglorious manner, and arrived in a state of great exhaustion
and discomfiture. The old lady then stepped into her seat, and
Mr Abel (whom they had come to fetch) into his. The old gentleman, after reasoning with the
pony on the extreme impropriety of his conduct, and making the best amends in his power to
Mr Chuckster, took his place also, and they drove away, waving a farewell to the Notary
and his clerk, and more than once turning to nod kindly to Kit as he watched them from
the road. CHAPTER 21
Kit turned away and very soon forgot the pony, and the chaise, and the little old lady, and
the little old gentleman, and the little young gentleman to boot, in thinking what could
have become of his late master and his lovely grandchild, who were the fountain-head of
all his meditations. Still casting about for some plausible means
of accounting for their non-appearance, and of persuading himself that they must soon
return, he bent his steps towards home, intending to finish the task which the sudden recollection
of his contract had interrupted, and then to sally forth once more to seek his fortune
for the day. When he came to the corner of the court in
which he lived, lo and behold there was the pony again! Yes, there he was, looking more obstinate
than ever; and alone in the chaise, keeping a steady watch upon his every wink, sat Mr
Abel, who, lifting up his eyes by chance and seeing Kit pass by, nodded to him as though
he would have nodded his head off. Kit wondered to see the pony again, so near
his own home too, but it never occurred to him for what purpose the pony might have come
there, or where the old lady and the old gentleman had gone, until he lifted the latch of the
door, and walking in, found them seated in the room in conversation with his mother,
at which unexpected sight he pulled off his hat and made his best bow in some confusion. ‘We are here before you, you see, Christopher,’
said Mr Garland smiling. ‘Yes, sir,’ said Kit; and as he said it,
he looked towards his mother for an explanation of the visit. ‘The gentleman’s been kind enough, my
dear,’ said she, in reply to this mute interrogation, ‘to ask me whether you were in a good place,
or in any place at all, and when I told him no, you were not in any, he was so good as
to say that—’ ‘—That we wanted a good lad in our house,’
said the old gentleman and the old lady both together, ‘and that perhaps we might think
of it, if we found everything as we would wish it to be.’ As this thinking of it, plainly meant the
thinking of engaging Kit, he immediately partook of his mother’s anxiety and fell into a
great flutter; for the little old couple were very methodical and cautious, and asked so
many questions that he began to be afraid there was no chance of his success. ‘You see, my good woman,’ said Mrs Garland
to Kit’s mother, ‘that it’s necessary to be very careful and particular in such
a matter as this, for we’re only three in family, and are very quiet regular folks,
and it would be a sad thing if we made any kind of mistake, and found things different
from what we hoped and expected.’ To this, Kit’s mother replied, that certainly
it was quite true, and quite right, and quite proper, and Heaven forbid that she should
shrink, or have cause to shrink, from any inquiry into her character or that of her
son, who was a very good son though she was his mother, in which respect, she was bold
to say, he took after his father, who was not only a good son to his mother, but the
best of husbands and the best of fathers besides, which Kit could and would corroborate she
knew, and so would little Jacob and the baby likewise if they were old enough, which unfortunately
they were not, though as they didn’t know what a loss they had had, perhaps it was a
great deal better that they should be as young as they were; and so Kit’s mother wound
up a long story by wiping her eyes with her apron, and patting little Jacob’s head,
who was rocking the cradle and staring with all his might at the strange lady and gentleman. When Kit’s mother had done speaking, the
old lady struck in again, and said that she was quite sure she was a very honest and very
respectable person or she never would have expressed herself in that manner, and that
certainly the appearance of the children and the cleanliness of the house deserved great
praise and did her the utmost credit, whereat Kit’s mother dropped a curtsey and became
consoled. Then the good woman entered in a long and
minute account of Kit’s life and history from the earliest period down to that time,
not omitting to make mention of his miraculous fall out of a back-parlour window when an
infant of tender years, or his uncommon sufferings in a state of measles, which were illustrated
by correct imitations of the plaintive manner in which he called for toast and water, day
and night, and said, ‘don’t cry, mother, I shall soon be better;’ for proof of which
statements reference was made to Mrs Green, lodger, at the cheesemonger’s round the
corner, and divers other ladies and gentlemen in various parts of England and Wales (and
one Mr Brown who was supposed to be then a corporal in the East Indies, and who could
of course be found with very little trouble), within whose personal knowledge the circumstances
had occurred. This narration ended, Mr Garland put some
questions to Kit respecting his qualifications and general acquirements, while Mrs Garland
noticed the children, and hearing from Kit’s mother certain remarkable circumstances which
had attended the birth of each, related certain other remarkable circumstances which had attended
the birth of her own son, Mr Abel, from which it appeared that both Kit’s mother and herself
had been, above and beyond all other women of what condition or age soever, peculiarly
hemmed in with perils and dangers. Lastly, inquiry was made into the nature and
extent of Kit’s wardrobe, and a small advance being made to improve the same, he was formally
hired at an annual income of Six Pounds, over and above his board and lodging, by Mr and
Mrs Garland, of Abel Cottage, Finchley. It would be difficult to say which party appeared
most pleased with this arrangement, the conclusion of which was hailed with nothing but pleasant
looks and cheerful smiles on both sides. It was settled that Kit should repair to his
new abode on the next day but one, in the morning; and finally, the little old couple,
after bestowing a bright half-crown on little Jacob and another on the baby, took their
leaves; being escorted as far as the street by their new attendant, who held the obdurate
pony by the bridle while they took their seats, and saw them drive away with a lightened heart. ‘Well, mother,’ said Kit, hurrying back
into the house, ‘I think my fortune’s about made now.’ ‘I should think it was indeed, Kit,’ rejoined
his mother. ‘Six pound a year! Only think!’ ‘Ah!’ said Kit, trying to maintain the
gravity which the consideration of such a sum demanded, but grinning with delight in
spite of himself. ‘There’s a property!’ Kit drew a long breath when he had said this,
and putting his hands deep into his pockets as if there were one year’s wages at least
in each, looked at his mother, as though he saw through her, and down an immense perspective
of sovereigns beyond. ‘Please God we’ll make such a lady of
you for Sundays, mother! such a scholar of Jacob, such a child of the baby, such a room
of the one up stairs! Six pound a year!’ ‘Hem!’ croaked a strange voice. ‘What’s that about six pound a year? What about six pound a year?’ And as the voice made this inquiry, Daniel
Quilp walked in with Richard Swiveller at his heels. ‘Who said he was to have six pound a year?’
said Quilp, looking sharply round. ‘Did the old man say it, or did little Nell
say it? And what’s he to have it for, and where
are they, eh!’ The good woman was so much alarmed by the
sudden apparition of this unknown piece of ugliness, that she hastily caught the baby
from its cradle and retreated into the furthest corner of the room; while little Jacob, sitting
upon his stool with his hands on his knees, looked full at him in a species of fascination,
roaring lustily all the time. Richard Swiveller took an easy observation
of the family over Mr Quilp’s head, and Quilp himself, with his hands in his pockets,
smiled in an exquisite enjoyment of the commotion he occasioned. ‘Don’t be frightened, mistress,’ said
Quilp, after a pause. ‘Your son knows me; I don’t eat babies;
I don’t like ‘em. It will be as well to stop that young screamer
though, in case I should be tempted to do him a mischief. Holloa, sir! Will you be quiet?’ Little Jacob stemmed the course of two tears
which he was squeezing out of his eyes, and instantly subsided into a silent horror. ‘Mind you don’t break out again, you villain,’
said Quilp, looking sternly at him, ‘or I’ll make faces at you and throw you into
fits, I will. Now you sir, why haven’t you been to me
as you promised?’ ‘What should I come for?’ retorted Kit. ‘I hadn’t any business with you, no more
than you had with me.’ ‘Here, mistress,’ said Quilp, turning
quickly away, and appealing from Kit to his mother. ‘When did his old master come or send here
last? Is he here now? If not, where’s he gone?’ ‘He has not been here at all,’ she replied. ‘I wish we knew where they have gone, for
it would make my son a good deal easier in his mind, and me too. If you’re the gentleman named Mr Quilp,
I should have thought you’d have known, and so I told him only this very day.’ ‘Humph!’ muttered Quilp, evidently disappointed
to believe that this was true. ‘That’s what you tell this gentleman too,
is it?’ ‘If the gentleman comes to ask the same
question, I can’t tell him anything else, sir; and I only wish I could, for our own
sakes,’ was the reply. Quilp glanced at Richard Swiveller, and observed
that having met him on the threshold, he assumed that he had come in search of some intelligence
of the fugitives. He supposed he was right? ‘Yes,’ said Dick, ‘that was the object
of the present expedition. I fancied it possible—but let us go ring
fancy’s knell. I’ll begin it.’ ‘You seem disappointed,’ observed Quilp. ‘A baffler, Sir, a baffler, that’s all,’
returned Dick. ‘I have entered upon a speculation which
has proved a baffler; and a Being of brightness and beauty will be offered up a sacrifice
at Cheggs’s altar. That’s all, sir.’ The dwarf eyed Richard with a sarcastic smile,
but Richard, who had been taking a rather strong lunch with a friend, observed him not,
and continued to deplore his fate with mournful and despondent looks. Quilp plainly discerned that there was some
secret reason for this visit and his uncommon disappointment, and, in the hope that there
might be means of mischief lurking beneath it, resolved to worm it out. He had no sooner adopted this resolution,
than he conveyed as much honesty into his face as it was capable of expressing, and
sympathised with Mr Swiveller exceedingly. ‘I am disappointed myself,’ said Quilp,
‘out of mere friendly feeling for them; but you have real reasons, private reasons
I have no doubt, for your disappointment, and therefore it comes heavier than mine.’ ‘Why, of course it does,’ Dick observed,
testily. ‘Upon my word, I’m very sorry, very sorry. I’m rather cast down myself. As we are companions in adversity, shall we
be companions in the surest way of forgetting it? If you had no particular business, now, to
lead you in another direction,’ urged Quilp, plucking him by the sleeve and looking slyly
up into his face out of the corners of his eyes, ‘there is a house by the water-side
where they have some of the noblest Schiedam—reputed to be smuggled, but that’s between ourselves—that
can be got in all the world. The landlord knows me. There’s a little summer-house overlooking
the river, where we might take a glass of this delicious liquor with a whiff of the
best tobacco—it’s in this case, and of the rarest quality, to my certain knowledge—and
be perfectly snug and happy, could we possibly contrive it; or is there any very particular
engagement that peremptorily takes you another way, Mr Swiveller, eh?’ As the dwarf spoke, Dick’s face relaxed
into a compliant smile, and his brows slowly unbent. By the time he had finished, Dick was looking
down at Quilp in the same sly manner as Quilp was looking up at him, and there remained
nothing more to be done but to set out for the house in question. This they did, straightway. The moment their backs were turned, little
Jacob thawed, and resumed his crying from the point where Quilp had frozen him. The summer-house of which Mr Quilp had spoken
was a rugged wooden box, rotten and bare to see, which overhung the river’s mud, and
threatened to slide down into it. The tavern to which it belonged was a crazy
building, sapped and undermined by the rats, and only upheld by great bars of wood which
were reared against its walls, and had propped it up so long that even they were decaying
and yielding with their load, and of a windy night might be heard to creak and crack as
if the whole fabric were about to come toppling down. The house stood—if anything so old and feeble
could be said to stand—on a piece of waste ground, blighted with the unwholesome smoke
of factory chimneys, and echoing the clank of iron wheels and rush of troubled water. Its internal accommodations amply fulfilled
the promise of the outside. The rooms were low and damp, the clammy walls
were pierced with chinks and holes, the rotten floors had sunk from their level, the very
beams started from their places and warned the timid stranger from their neighbourhood. To this inviting spot, entreating him to observe
its beauties as they passed along, Mr Quilp led Richard Swiveller, and on the table of
the summer-house, scored deep with many a gallows and initial letter, there soon appeared
a wooden keg, full of the vaunted liquor. Drawing it off into the glasses with the skill
of a practised hand, and mixing it with about a third part of water, Mr Quilp assigned to
Richard Swiveller his portion, and lighting his pipe from an end of a candle in a very
old and battered lantern, drew himself together upon a seat and puffed away. ‘Is it good?’ said Quilp, as Richard Swiveller
smacked his lips, ‘is it strong and fiery? Does it make you wink, and choke, and your
eyes water, and your breath come short—does it?’ ‘Does it?’ cried Dick, throwing away part
of the contents of his glass, and filling it up with water, ‘why, man, you don’t
mean to tell me that you drink such fire as this?’ ‘No!’ rejoined Quilp, ‘Not drink it! Look here. And here. And here again. Not drink it!’ As he spoke, Daniel Quilp drew off and drank
three small glassfuls of the raw spirit, and then with a horrible grimace took a great
many pulls at his pipe, and swallowing the smoke, discharged it in a heavy cloud from
his nose. This feat accomplished he drew himself together
in his former position, and laughed excessively. ‘Give us a toast!’ cried Quilp, rattling
on the table in a dexterous manner with his fist and elbow alternately, in a kind of tune,
‘a woman, a beauty. Let’s have a beauty for our toast and empty
our glasses to the last drop. Her name, come!’ ‘If you want a name,’ said Dick, ‘here’s
Sophy Wackles.’ ‘Sophy Wackles,’ screamed the dwarf, ‘Miss
Sophy Wackles that is—Mrs Richard Swiveller that shall be—that shall be—ha ha ha!’ ‘Ah!’ said Dick, ‘you might have said
that a few weeks ago, but it won’t do now, my buck. Immolating herself upon the shrine of Cheggs—’ ‘Poison Cheggs, cut Cheggs’s ears off,’
rejoined Quilp. ‘I won’t hear of Cheggs. Her name is Swiveller or nothing. I’ll drink her health again, and her father’s,
and her mother’s; and to all her sisters and brothers—the glorious family of the
Wackleses—all the Wackleses in one glass—down with it to the dregs!’ ‘Well,’ said Richard Swiveller, stopping
short in the act of raising the glass to his lips and looking at the dwarf in a species
of stupor as he flourished his arms and legs about: ‘you’re a jolly fellow, but of
all the jolly fellows I ever saw or heard of, you have the queerest and most extraordinary
way with you, upon my life you have.’ This candid declaration tended rather to increase
than restrain Mr Quilp’s eccentricities, and Richard Swiveller, astonished to see him
in such a roystering vein, and drinking not a little himself, for company—began imperceptibly
to become more companionable and confiding, so that, being judiciously led on by Mr Quilp,
he grew at last very confiding indeed. Having once got him into this mood, and knowing
now the key-note to strike whenever he was at a loss, Daniel Quilp’s task was comparatively
an easy one, and he was soon in possession of the whole details of the scheme contrived
between the easy Dick and his more designing friend. ‘Stop!’ said Quilp. ‘That’s the thing, that’s the thing. It can be brought about, it shall be brought
about. There’s my hand upon it; I am your friend
from this minute.’ ‘What! do you think there’s still a chance?’ inquired Dick, in surprise at this encouragement. ‘A chance!’ echoed the dwarf, ‘a certainty! Sophy Wackles may become a Cheggs or anything
else she likes, but not a Swiveller. Oh you lucky dog! He’s richer than any Jew alive; you’re
a made man. I see in you now nothing but Nelly’s husband,
rolling in gold and silver. I’ll help you. It shall be done. Mind my words, it shall be done.’ ‘But how?’ said Dick. ‘There’s plenty of time,’ rejoined the
dwarf, ‘and it shall be done. We’ll sit down and talk it over again all
the way through. Fill your glass while I’m gone. I shall be back directly—directly.’ With these hasty words, Daniel Quilp withdrew
into a dismantled skittle-ground behind the public-house, and, throwing himself upon the
ground actually screamed and rolled about in uncontrollable delight. ‘Here’s sport!’ he cried, ‘sport ready
to my hand, all invented and arranged, and only to be enjoyed. It was this shallow-pated fellow who made
my bones ache t’other day, was it? It was his friend and fellow-plotter, Mr Trent,
that once made eyes at Mrs Quilp, and leered and looked, was it? After labouring for two or three years in
their precious scheme, to find that they’ve got a beggar at last, and one of them tied
for life. Ha ha ha! He shall marry Nell. He shall have her, and I’ll be the first
man, when the knot’s tied hard and fast, to tell ‘em what they’ve gained and what
I’ve helped ‘em to. Here will be a clearing of old scores, here
will be a time to remind ‘em what a capital friend I was, and how I helped them to the
heiress. Ha ha ha!’ In the height of his ecstasy, Mr Quilp had
like to have met with a disagreeable check, for rolling very near a broken dog-kennel,
there leapt forth a large fierce dog, who, but that his chain was of the shortest, would
have given him a disagreeable salute. As it was, the dwarf remained upon his back
in perfect safety, taunting the dog with hideous faces, and triumphing over him in his inability
to advance another inch, though there were not a couple of feet between them. ‘Why don’t you come and bite me, why don’t
you come and tear me to pieces, you coward?’ said Quilp, hissing and worrying the animal
till he was nearly mad. ‘You’re afraid, you bully, you’re afraid,
you know you are.’ The dog tore and strained at his chain with
starting eyes and furious bark, but there the dwarf lay, snapping his fingers with gestures
of defiance and contempt. When he had sufficiently recovered from his
delight, he rose, and with his arms a-kimbo, achieved a kind of demon-dance round the kennel,
just without the limits of the chain, driving the dog quite wild. Having by this means composed his spirits
and put himself in a pleasant train, he returned to his unsuspicious companion, whom he found
looking at the tide with exceeding gravity, and thinking of that same gold and silver
which Mr Quilp had mentioned. CHAPTER 22
The remainder of that day and the whole of the next were a busy time for the Nubbles
family, to whom everything connected with Kit’s outfit and departure was matter of
as great moment as if he had been about to penetrate into the interior of Africa, or
to take a cruise round the world. It would be difficult to suppose that there
ever was a box which was opened and shut so many times within four-and-twenty hours, as
that which contained his wardrobe and necessaries; and certainly there never was one which to
two small eyes presented such a mine of clothing, as this mighty chest with its three shirts
and proportionate allowance of stockings and pocket-handkerchiefs, disclosed to the astonished
vision of little Jacob. At last it was conveyed to the carrier’s,
at whose house at Finchley Kit was to find it next day; and the box being gone, there
remained but two questions for consideration: firstly, whether the carrier would lose, or
dishonestly feign to lose, the box upon the road; secondly, whether Kit’s mother perfectly
understood how to take care of herself in the absence of her son. ‘I don’t think there’s hardly a chance
of his really losing it, but carriers are under great temptation to pretend they lose
things, no doubt,’ said Mrs Nubbles apprehensively, in reference to the first point. ‘No doubt about it,’ returned Kit, with
a serious look; ‘upon my word, mother, I don’t think it was right to trust it to
itself. Somebody ought to have gone with it, I’m
afraid.’ ‘We can’t help it now,’ said his mother;
‘but it was foolish and wrong. People oughtn’t to be tempted.’ Kit inwardly resolved that he would never
tempt a carrier any more, save with an empty box; and having formed this Christian determination,
he turned his thoughts to the second question. ‘You know you must keep up your spirits,
mother, and not be lonesome because I’m not at home. I shall very often be able to look in when
I come into town I dare say, and I shall send you a letter sometimes, and when the quarter
comes round, I can get a holiday of course; and then see if we don’t take little Jacob
to the play, and let him know what oysters means.’ ‘I hope plays mayn’t be sinful, Kit, but
I’m a’most afraid,’ said Mrs Nubbles. ‘I know who has been putting that in your
head,’ rejoined her son disconsolately; ‘that’s Little Bethel again. Now I say, mother, pray don’t take to going
there regularly, for if I was to see your good-humoured face that has always made home
cheerful, turned into a grievous one, and the baby trained to look grievous too, and
to call itself a young sinner (bless its heart) and a child of the devil (which is calling
its dead father names); if I was to see this, and see little Jacob looking grievous likewise,
I should so take it to heart that I’m sure I should go and list for a soldier, and run
my head on purpose against the first cannon-ball I saw coming my way.’ ‘Oh, Kit, don’t talk like that.’ ‘I would, indeed, mother, and unless you
want to make me feel very wretched and uncomfortable, you’ll keep that bow on your bonnet, which
you’d more than half a mind to pull off last week. Can you suppose there’s any harm in looking
as cheerful and being as cheerful as our poor circumstances will permit? Do I see anything in the way I’m made, which
calls upon me to be a snivelling, solemn, whispering chap, sneaking about as if I couldn’t
help it, and expressing myself in a most unpleasant snuffle? on the contrary, don’t I see every
reason why I shouldn’t? just hear this! Ha ha ha! An’t that as nat’ral as walking, and as
good for the health? Ha ha ha! An’t that as nat’ral as a sheep’s bleating,
or a pig’s grunting, or a horse’s neighing, or a bird’s singing? Ha ha ha! Isn’t it, mother?’ There was something contagious in Kit’s
laugh, for his mother, who had looked grave before, first subsided into a smile, and then
fell to joining in it heartily, which occasioned Kit to say that he knew it was natural, and
to laugh the more. Kit and his mother, laughing together in a
pretty loud key, woke the baby, who, finding that there was something very jovial and agreeable
in progress, was no sooner in its mother’s arms than it began to kick and laugh, most
vigorously. This new illustration of his argument so tickled
Kit, that he fell backward in his chair in a state of exhaustion, pointing at the baby
and shaking his sides till he rocked again. After recovering twice or thrice, and as often
relapsing, he wiped his eyes and said grace; and a very cheerful meal their scanty supper
was. With more kisses, and hugs, and tears, than
many young gentlemen who start upon their travels, and leave well-stocked homes behind
them, would deem within the bounds of probability (if matter so low could be herein set down),
Kit left the house at an early hour next morning, and set out to walk to Finchley; feeling a
sufficient pride in his appearance to have warranted his excommunication from Little
Bethel from that time forth, if he had ever been one of that mournful congregation. Lest anybody should feel a curiosity to know
how Kit was clad, it may be briefly remarked that he wore no livery, but was dressed in
a coat of pepper-and-salt with waistcoat of canary colour, and nether garments of iron-grey;
besides these glories, he shone in the lustre of a new pair of boots and an extremely stiff
and shiny hat, which on being struck anywhere with the knuckles, sounded like a drum. And in this attire, rather wondering that
he attracted so little attention, and attributing the circumstance to the insensibility of those
who got up early, he made his way towards Abel Cottage. Without encountering any more remarkable adventure
on the road, than meeting a lad in a brimless hat, the exact counterpart of his old one,
on whom he bestowed half the sixpence he possessed, Kit arrived in course of time at the carrier’s
house, where, to the lasting honour of human nature, he found the box in safety. Receiving from the wife of this immaculate
man, a direction to Mr Garland’s, he took the box upon his shoulder and repaired thither
directly. To be sure, it was a beautiful little cottage
with a thatched roof and little spires at the gable-ends, and pieces of stained glass
in some of the windows, almost as large as pocket-books. On one side of the house was a little stable,
just the size for the pony, with a little room over it, just the size for Kit. White curtains were fluttering, and birds
in cages that looked as bright as if they were made of gold, were singing at the windows;
plants were arranged on either side of the path, and clustered about the door; and the
garden was bright with flowers in full bloom, which shed a sweet odour all round, and had
a charming and elegant appearance. Everything within the house and without, seemed
to be the perfection of neatness and order. In the garden there was not a weed to be seen,
and to judge from some dapper gardening-tools, a basket, and a pair of gloves which were
lying in one of the walks, old Mr Garland had been at work in it that very morning. Kit looked about him, and admired, and looked
again, and this a great many times before he could make up his mind to turn his head
another way and ring the bell. There was abundance of time to look about
him again though, when he had rung it, for nobody came, so after ringing it twice or
thrice he sat down upon his box, and waited. He rang the bell a great many times, and yet
nobody came. But at last, as he was sitting upon the box
thinking about giants’ castles, and princesses tied up to pegs by the hair of their heads,
and dragons bursting out from behind gates, and other incidents of the like nature, common
in story-books to youths of low degree on their first visit to strange houses, the door
was gently opened, and a little servant-girl, very tidy, modest, and demure, but very pretty
too, appeared. ‘I suppose you’re Christopher, sir,’
said the servant-girl. Kit got off the box, and said yes, he was. ‘I’m afraid you’ve rung a good many
times perhaps,’ she rejoined, ‘but we couldn’t hear you, because we’ve been
catching the pony.’ Kit rather wondered what this meant, but as
he couldn’t stop there, asking questions, he shouldered the box again and followed the
girl into the hall, where through a back-door he descried Mr Garland leading Whisker in
triumph up the garden, after that self-willed pony had (as he afterwards learned) dodged
the family round a small paddock in the rear, for one hour and three quarters. The old gentleman received him very kindly
and so did the old lady, whose previous good opinion of him was greatly enhanced by his
wiping his boots on the mat until the soles of his feet burnt again. He was then taken into the parlour to be inspected
in his new clothes; and when he had been surveyed several times, and had afforded by his appearance
unlimited satisfaction, he was taken into the stable (where the pony received him with
uncommon complaisance); and thence into the little chamber he had already observed, which
was very clean and comfortable: and thence into the garden, in which the old gentleman
told him he would be taught to employ himself, and where he told him, besides, what great
things he meant to do to make him comfortable, and happy, if he found he deserved it. All these kindnesses, Kit acknowledged with
various expressions of gratitude, and so many touches of the new hat, that the brim suffered
considerably. When the old gentleman had said all he had
to say in the way of promise and advice, and Kit had said all he had to say in the way
of assurance and thankfulness, he was handed over again to the old lady, who, summoning
the little servant-girl (whose name was Barbara) instructed her to take him down stairs and
give him something to eat and drink, after his walk. Down stairs, therefore, Kit went; and at the
bottom of the stairs there was such a kitchen as was never before seen or heard of out of
a toy-shop window, with everything in it as bright and glowing, and as precisely ordered
too, as Barbara herself. And in this kitchen, Kit sat himself down
at a table as white as a tablecloth, to eat cold meat, and drink small ale, and use his
knife and fork the more awkwardly, because there was an unknown Barbara looking on and
observing him. It did not appear, however, that there was
anything remarkably tremendous about this strange Barbara, who having lived a very quiet
life, blushed very much and was quite as embarrassed and uncertain what she ought to say or do,
as Kit could possibly be. When he had sat for some little time, attentive
to the ticking of the sober clock, he ventured to glance curiously at the dresser, and there,
among the plates and dishes, were Barbara’s little work-box with a sliding lid to shut
in the balls of cotton, and Barbara’s prayer-book, and Barbara’s hymn-book, and Barbara’s
Bible. Barbara’s little looking-glass hung in a
good light near the window, and Barbara’s bonnet was on a nail behind the door. From all these mute signs and tokens of her
presence, he naturally glanced at Barbara herself, who sat as mute as they, shelling
peas into a dish; and just when Kit was looking at her eyelashes and wondering—quite in
the simplicity of his heart—what colour her eyes might be, it perversely happened
that Barbara raised her head a little to look at him, when both pair of eyes were hastily
withdrawn, and Kit leant over his plate, and Barbara over her pea-shells, each in extreme
confusion at having been detected by the other. CHAPTER 23
Mr Richard Swiveller wending homeward from the Wilderness (for such was the appropriate
name of Quilp’s choice retreat), after a sinuous and corkscrew fashion, with many checks
and stumbles; after stopping suddenly and staring about him, then as suddenly running
forward for a few paces, and as suddenly halting again and shaking his head; doing everything
with a jerk and nothing by premeditation;—Mr Richard Swiveller wending his way homeward
after this fashion, which is considered by evil-minded men to be symbolical of intoxication,
and is not held by such persons to denote that state of deep wisdom and reflection in
which the actor knows himself to be, began to think that possibly he had misplaced his
confidence and that the dwarf might not be precisely the sort of person to whom to entrust
a secret of such delicacy and importance. And being led and tempted on by this remorseful
thought into a condition which the evil-minded class before referred to would term the maudlin
state or stage of drunkenness, it occurred to Mr Swiveller to cast his hat upon the ground,
and moan, crying aloud that he was an unhappy orphan, and that if he had not been an unhappy
orphan things had never come to this. ‘Left an infant by my parents, at an early
age,’ said Mr Swiveller, bewailing his hard lot, ‘cast upon the world in my tenderest
period, and thrown upon the mercies of a deluding dwarf, who can wonder at my weakness! Here’s a miserable orphan for you. Here,’ said Mr Swiveller raising his voice
to a high pitch, and looking sleepily round, ‘is a miserable orphan!’ ‘Then,’ said somebody hard by, ‘let
me be a father to you.’ Mr Swiveller swayed himself to and fro to
preserve his balance, and, looking into a kind of haze which seemed to surround him,
at last perceived two eyes dimly twinkling through the mist, which he observed after
a short time were in the neighbourhood of a nose and mouth. Casting his eyes down towards that quarter
in which, with reference to a man’s face, his legs are usually to be found, he observed
that the face had a body attached; and when he looked more intently he was satisfied that
the person was Mr Quilp, who indeed had been in his company all the time, but whom he had
some vague idea of having left a mile or two behind. ‘You have deceived an orphan, Sir,’ said
Mr Swiveller solemnly.’ ‘I! I’m a second father to you,’ replied Quilp. ‘You my father, Sir!’ retorted Dick. ‘Being all right myself, Sir, I request
to be left alone—instantly, Sir.’ ‘What a funny fellow you are!’ cried Quilp. ‘Go, Sir,’ returned Dick, leaning against
a post and waving his hand. ‘Go, deceiver, go, some day, Sir, p’r’aps
you’ll waken, from pleasure’s dream to know, the grief of orphans forsaken. Will you go, Sir?’ The dwarf taking no heed of this adjuration,
Mr Swiveller advanced with the view of inflicting upon him condign chastisement. But forgetting his purpose or changing his
mind before he came close to him, he seized his hand and vowed eternal friendship, declaring
with an agreeable frankness that from that time forth they were brothers in everything
but personal appearance. Then he told his secret over again, with the
addition of being pathetic on the subject of Miss Wackles, who, he gave Mr Quilp to
understand, was the occasion of any slight incoherency he might observe in his speech
at that moment, which was attributable solely to the strength of his affection and not to
rosy wine or other fermented liquor. And then they went on arm-in-arm, very lovingly
together. ‘I’m as sharp,’ said Quilp to him, at
parting, ‘as sharp as a ferret, and as cunning as a weazel. You bring Trent to me; assure him that I’m
his friend though I fear he a little distrusts me (I don’t know why, I have not deserved
it); and you’ve both of you made your fortunes—in perspective.’ ‘That’s the worst of it,’ returned Dick. ‘These fortunes in perspective look such
a long way off.’ ‘But they look smaller than they really
are, on that account,’ said Quilp, pressing his arm. ‘You’ll have no conception of the value
of your prize until you draw close to it. Mark that.’ ‘D’ye think not?’ said Dick. ‘Aye, I do; and I am certain of what I say,
that’s better,’ returned the dwarf. ‘You bring Trent to me. Tell him I am his friend and yours—why shouldn’t
I be?’ ‘There’s no reason why you shouldn’t,
certainly,’ replied Dick, ‘and perhaps there are a great many why you should—at
least there would be nothing strange in your wanting to be my friend, if you were a choice
spirit, but then you know you’re not a choice spirit.’ ‘I not a choice spirit?’ cried Quilp. ‘Devil a bit, sir,’ returned Dick. ‘A man of your appearance couldn’t be. If you’re any spirit at all, sir, you’re
an evil spirit. Choice spirits,’ added Dick, smiting himself
on the breast, ‘are quite a different looking sort of people, you may take your oath of
that, sir.’ Quilp glanced at his free-spoken friend with
a mingled expression of cunning and dislike, and wringing his hand almost at the same moment,
declared that he was an uncommon character and had his warmest esteem. With that they parted; Mr Swiveller to make
the best of his way home and sleep himself sober; and Quilp to cogitate upon the discovery
he had made, and exult in the prospect of the rich field of enjoyment and reprisal it
opened to him. It was not without great reluctance and misgiving
that Mr Swiveller, next morning, his head racked by the fumes of the renowned Schiedam,
repaired to the lodging of his friend Trent (which was in the roof of an old house in
an old ghostly inn), and recounted by very slow degrees what had yesterday taken place
between him and Quilp. Nor was it without great surprise and much
speculation on Quilp’s probable motives, nor without many bitter comments on Dick Swiveller’s
folly, that his friend received the tale. ‘I don’t defend myself, Fred,’ said
the penitent Richard; ‘but the fellow has such a queer way with him and is such an artful
dog, that first of all he set me upon thinking whether there was any harm in telling him,
and while I was thinking, screwed it out of me. If you had seen him drink and smoke, as I
did, you couldn’t have kept anything from him. He’s a Salamander you know, that’s what
he is.’ Without inquiring whether Salamanders were
of necessity good confidential agents, or whether a fire-proof man was as a matter of
course trustworthy, Frederick Trent threw himself into a chair, and, burying his head
in his hands, endeavoured to fathom the motives which had led Quilp to insinuate himself into
Richard Swiveller’s confidence;—for that the disclosure was of his seeking, and had
not been spontaneously revealed by Dick, was sufficiently plain from Quilp’s seeking
his company and enticing him away. The dwarf had twice encountered him when he
was endeavouring to obtain intelligence of the fugitives. This, perhaps, as he had not shown any previous
anxiety about them, was enough to awaken suspicion in the breast of a creature so jealous and
distrustful by nature, setting aside any additional impulse to curiosity that he might have derived
from Dick’s incautious manner. But knowing the scheme they had planned, why
should he offer to assist it? This was a question more difficult of solution;
but as knaves generally overreach themselves by imputing their own designs to others, the
idea immediately presented itself that some circumstances of irritation between Quilp
and the old man, arising out of their secret transactions and not unconnected perhaps with
his sudden disappearance, now rendered the former desirous of revenging himself upon
him by seeking to entrap the sole object of his love and anxiety into a connexion of which
he knew he had a dread and hatred. As Frederick Trent himself, utterly regardless
of his sister, had this object at heart, only second to the hope of gain, it seemed to him
the more likely to be Quilp’s main principle of action. Once investing the dwarf with a design of
his own in abetting them, which the attainment of their purpose would serve, it was easy
to believe him sincere and hearty in the cause; and as there could be no doubt of his proving
a powerful and useful auxiliary, Trent determined to accept his invitation and go to his house
that night, and if what he said and did confirmed him in the impression he had formed, to let
him share the labour of their plan, but not the profit. Having revolved these things in his mind and
arrived at this conclusion, he communicated to Mr Swiveller as much of his meditations
as he thought proper (Dick would have been perfectly satisfied with less), and giving
him the day to recover himself from his late salamandering, accompanied him at evening
to Mr Quilp’s house. Mighty glad Mr Quilp was to see them, or mightily
glad he seemed to be; and fearfully polite Mr Quilp was to Mrs Quilp and Mrs Jiniwin;
and very sharp was the look he cast on his wife to observe how she was affected by the
recognition of young Trent. Mrs Quilp was as innocent as her own mother
of any emotion, painful or pleasant, which the sight of him awakened, but as her husband’s
glance made her timid and confused, and uncertain what to do or what was required of her, Mr
Quilp did not fail to assign her embarrassment to the cause he had in his mind, and while
he chuckled at his penetration was secretly exasperated by his jealousy. Nothing of this appeared, however. On the contrary, Mr Quilp was all blandness
and suavity, and presided over the case-bottle of rum with extraordinary open-heartedness. ‘Why, let me see,’ said Quilp. ‘It must be a matter of nearly two years
since we were first acquainted.’ ‘Nearer three, I think,’ said Trent. ‘Nearer three!’ cried Quilp. ‘How fast time flies. Does it seem as long as that to you, Mrs Quilp?’ ‘Yes, I think it seems full three years,
Quilp,’ was the unfortunate reply. ‘Oh indeed, ma’am,’ thought Quilp, ‘you
have been pining, have you? Very good, ma’am.’ ‘It seems to me but yesterday that you went
out to Demerara in the Mary Anne,’ said Quilp; ‘but yesterday, I declare. Well, I like a little wildness. I was wild myself once.’ Mr Quilp accompanied this admission with such
an awful wink, indicative of old rovings and backslidings, that Mrs Jiniwin was indignant,
and could not forbear from remarking under her breath that he might at least put off
his confessions until his wife was absent; for which act of boldness and insubordination
Mr Quilp first stared her out of countenance and then drank her health ceremoniously. ‘I thought you’d come back directly, Fred. I always thought that,’ said Quilp setting
down his glass. ‘And when the Mary Anne returned with you
on board, instead of a letter to say what a contrite heart you had, and how happy you
were in the situation that had been provided for you, I was amused—exceedingly amused. Ha ha ha!’ The young man smiled, but not as though the
theme was the most agreeable one that could have been selected for his entertainment;
and for that reason Quilp pursued it. ‘I always will say,’ he resumed, ‘that
when a rich relation having two young people—sisters or brothers, or brother and sister—dependent
on him, attaches himself exclusively to one, and casts off the other, he does wrong.’ The young man made a movement of impatience,
but Quilp went on as calmly as if he were discussing some abstract question in which
nobody present had the slightest personal interest. ‘It’s very true,’ said Quilp, ‘that
your grandfather urged repeated forgiveness, ingratitude, riot, and extravagance, and all
that; but as I told him “these are common faults.” “But he’s a scoundrel,” said he. “Granting that,” said I (for the sake
of argument of course), “a great many young noblemen and gentlemen are scoundrels too!” But he wouldn’t be convinced.’ ‘I wonder at that, Mr Quilp,’ said the
young man sarcastically. ‘Well, so did I at the time,’ returned
Quilp, ‘but he was always obstinate. He was in a manner a friend of mine, but he
was always obstinate and wrong-headed. Little Nell is a nice girl, a charming girl,
but you’re her brother, Frederick. You’re her brother after all; as you told
him the last time you met, he can’t alter that.’ ‘He would if he could, confound him for
that and all other kindnesses,’ said the young man impatiently. ‘But nothing can come of this subject now,
and let us have done with it in the Devil’s name.’ ‘Agreed,’ returned Quilp, ‘agreed on
my part readily. Why have I alluded to it? Just to show you, Frederick, that I have always
stood your friend. You little knew who was your friend, and who
your foe; now did you? You thought I was against you, and so there
has been a coolness between us; but it was all on your side, entirely on your side. Let’s shake hands again, Fred.’ With his head sunk down between his shoulders,
and a hideous grin over-spreading his face, the dwarf stood up and stretched his short
arm across the table. After a moment’s hesitation, the young man
stretched out his to meet it; Quilp clutched his fingers in a grip that for the moment
stopped the current of the blood within them, and pressing his other hand upon his lip and
frowning towards the unsuspicious Richard, released them and sat down. This action was not lost upon Trent, who,
knowing that Richard Swiveller was a mere tool in his hands and knew no more of his
designs than he thought proper to communicate, saw that the dwarf perfectly understood their
relative position, and fully entered into the character of his friend. It is something to be appreciated, even in
knavery. This silent homage to his superior abilities,
no less than a sense of the power with which the dwarf’s quick perception had already
invested him, inclined the young man towards that ugly worthy, and determined him to profit
by his aid. It being now Mr Quilp’s cue to change the
subject with all convenient expedition, lest Richard Swiveller in his heedlessness should
reveal anything which it was inexpedient for the women to know, he proposed a game at four-handed
cribbage, and partners being cut for, Mrs Quilp fell to Frederick Trent, and Dick himself
to Quilp. Mrs Jiniwin being very fond of cards was carefully
excluded by her son-in-law from any participation in the game, and had assigned to her the duty
of occasionally replenishing the glasses from the case-bottle; Mr Quilp from that moment
keeping one eye constantly upon her, lest she should by any means procure a taste of
the same, and thereby tantalising the wretched old lady (who was as much attached to the
case-bottle as the cards) in a double degree and most ingenious manner. But it was not to Mrs Jiniwin alone that Mr
Quilp’s attention was restricted, as several other matters required his constant vigilance. Among his various eccentric habits he had
a humorous one of always cheating at cards, which rendered necessary on his part, not
only a close observance of the game, and a sleight-of-hand in counting and scoring, but
also involved the constant correction, by looks, and frowns, and kicks under the table,
of Richard Swiveller, who being bewildered by the rapidity with which his cards were
told, and the rate at which the pegs travelled down the board, could not be prevented from
sometimes expressing his surprise and incredulity. Mrs Quilp too was the partner of young Trent,
and for every look that passed between them, and every word they spoke, and every card
they played, the dwarf had eyes and ears; not occupied alone with what was passing above
the table, but with signals that might be exchanging beneath it, which he laid all kinds
of traps to detect; besides often treading on his wife’s toes to see whether she cried
out or remained silent under the infliction, in which latter case it would have been quite
clear that Trent had been treading on her toes before. Yet, in the most of all these distractions,
the one eye was upon the old lady always, and if she so much as stealthily advanced
a tea-spoon towards a neighbouring glass (which she often did), for the purpose of abstracting
but one sup of its sweet contents, Quilp’s hand would overset it in the very moment of
her triumph, and Quilp’s mocking voice implore her to regard her precious health. And in any one of these his many cares, from
first to last, Quilp never flagged nor faltered. At length, when they had played a great many
rubbers and drawn pretty freely upon the case-bottle, Mr Quilp warned his lady to retire to rest,
and that submissive wife complying, and being followed by her indignant mother, Mr Swiveller
fell asleep. The dwarf beckoning his remaining companion
to the other end of the room, held a short conference with him in whispers. ‘It’s as well not to say more than one
can help before our worthy friend,’ said Quilp, making a grimace towards the slumbering
Dick. ‘Is it a bargain between us, Fred? Shall he marry little rosy Nell by-and-by?’ ‘You have some end of your own to answer,
of course,’ returned the other. ‘Of course I have, dear Fred,’ said Quilp,
grinning to think how little he suspected what the real end was. ‘It’s retaliation perhaps; perhaps whim. I have influence, Fred, to help or oppose. Which way shall I use it? There are a pair of scales, and it goes into
one.’ ‘Throw it into mine then,’ said Trent. ‘It’s done, Fred,’ rejoined Quilp, stretching
out his clenched hand and opening it as if he had let some weight fall out. ‘It’s in the scale from this time, and
turns it, Fred. Mind that.’ ‘Where have they gone?’ asked Trent. Quilp shook his head, and said that point
remained to be discovered, which it might be, easily. When it was, they would begin their preliminary
advances. He would visit the old man, or even Richard
Swiveller might visit him, and by affecting a deep concern in his behalf, and imploring
him to settle in some worthy home, lead to the child’s remembering him with gratitude
and favour. Once impressed to this extent, it would be
easy, he said, to win her in a year or two, for she supposed the old man to be poor, as
it was a part of his jealous policy (in common with many other misers) to feign to be so,
to those about him. ‘He has feigned it often enough to me, of
late,’ said Trent. ‘Oh! and to me too!’ replied the dwarf. ‘Which is more extraordinary, as I know
how rich he really is.’ ‘I suppose you should,’ said Trent. ‘I think I should indeed,’ rejoined the
dwarf; and in that, at least, he spoke the truth. After a few more whispered words, they returned
to the table, and the young man rousing Richard Swiveller informed him that he was waiting
to depart. This was welcome news to Dick, who started
up directly. After a few words of confidence in the result
of their project had been exchanged, they bade the grinning Quilp good night. Quilp crept to the window as they passed in
the street below, and listened. Trent was pronouncing an encomium upon his
wife, and they were both wondering by what enchantment she had been brought to marry
such a misshapen wretch as he. The dwarf after watching their retreating
shadows with a wider grin than his face had yet displayed, stole softly in the dark to
bed. In this hatching of their scheme, neither
Trent nor Quilp had had one thought about the happiness or misery of poor innocent Nell. It would have been strange if the careless
profligate, who was the butt of both, had been harassed by any such consideration; for
his high opinion of his own merits and deserts rendered the project rather a laudable one
than otherwise; and if he had been visited by so unwonted a guest as reflection, he would—being
a brute only in the gratification of his appetites—have soothed his conscience with the plea that
he did not mean to beat or kill his wife, and would therefore, after all said and done,
be a very tolerable, average husband. CHAPTER 24
It was not until they were quite exhausted and could no longer maintain the pace at which
they had fled from the race-ground, that the old man and the child ventured to stop, and
sit down to rest upon the borders of a little wood. Here, though the course was hidden from their
view, they could yet faintly distinguish the noise of distant shouts, the hum of voices,
and the beating of drums. Climbing the eminence which lay between them
and the spot they had left, the child could even discern the fluttering flags and white
tops of booths; but no person was approaching towards them, and their resting-place was
solitary and still. Some time elapsed before she could reassure
her trembling companion, or restore him to a state of moderate tranquillity. His disordered imagination represented to
him a crowd of persons stealing towards them beneath the cover of the bushes, lurking in
every ditch, and peeping from the boughs of every rustling tree. He was haunted by apprehensions of being led
captive to some gloomy place where he would be chained and scourged, and worse than all,
where Nell could never come to see him, save through iron bars and gratings in the wall. His terrors affected the child. Separation from her grandfather was the greatest
evil she could dread; and feeling for the time as though, go where they would, they
were to be hunted down, and could never be safe but in hiding, her heart failed her,
and her courage drooped. In one so young, and so unused to the scenes
in which she had lately moved, this sinking of the spirit was not surprising. But, Nature often enshrines gallant and noble
hearts in weak bosoms—oftenest, God bless her, in female breasts—and when the child,
casting her tearful eyes upon the old man, remembered how weak he was, and how destitute
and helpless he would be if she failed him, her heart swelled within her, and animated
her with new strength and fortitude. ‘We are quite safe now, and have nothing
to fear indeed, dear grandfather,’ she said. ‘Nothing to fear!’ returned the old man. ‘Nothing to fear if they took me from thee! Nothing to fear if they parted us! Nobody is true to me. No, not one. Not even Nell!’ ‘Oh! do not say that,’ replied the child, ‘for
if ever anybody was true at heart, and earnest, I am. I am sure you know I am.’ ‘Then how,’ said the old man, looking
fearfully round, ‘how can you bear to think that we are safe, when they are searching
for me everywhere, and may come here, and steal upon us, even while we’re talking?’ ‘Because I’m sure we have not been followed,’
said the child. ‘Judge for yourself, dear grandfather: look
round, and see how quiet and still it is. We are alone together, and may ramble where
we like. Not safe! Could I feel easy—did I feel at ease—when
any danger threatened you?’ ‘True, too,’ he answered, pressing her
hand, but still looking anxiously about. ‘What noise was that?’ ‘A bird,’ said the child, ‘flying into
the wood, and leading the way for us to follow.’ You remember that we said we would walk in
woods and fields, and by the side of rivers, and how happy we would be—you remember that? But here, while the sun shines above our heads,
and everything is bright and happy, we are sitting sadly down, and losing time. See what a pleasant path; and there’s the
bird—the same bird—now he flies to another tree, and stays to sing. Come!’ When they rose up from the ground, and took
the shady track which led them through the wood, she bounded on before, printing her
tiny footsteps in the moss, which rose elastic from so light a pressure and gave it back
as mirrors throw off breath; and thus she lured the old man on, with many a backward
look and merry beck, now pointing stealthily to some lone bird as it perched and twittered
on a branch that strayed across their path, now stopping to listen to the songs that broke
the happy silence, or watch the sun as it trembled through the leaves, and stealing
in among the ivied trunks of stout old trees, opened long paths of light. As they passed onward, parting the boughs
that clustered in their way, the serenity which the child had first assumed, stole into
her breast in earnest; the old man cast no longer fearful looks behind, but felt at ease
and cheerful, for the further they passed into the deep green shade, the more they felt
that the tranquil mind of God was there, and shed its peace on them. At length the path becoming clearer and less
intricate, brought them to the end of the wood, and into a public road. Taking their way along it for a short distance,
they came to a lane, so shaded by the trees on either hand that they met together over-head,
and arched the narrow way. A broken finger-post announced that this led
to a village three miles off; and thither they resolved to bend their steps. The miles appeared so long that they sometimes
thought they must have missed their road. But at last, to their great joy, it led downwards
in a steep descent, with overhanging banks over which the footpaths led; and the clustered
houses of the village peeped from the woody hollow below. It was a very small place. The men and boys were playing at cricket on
the green; and as the other folks were looking on, they wandered up and down, uncertain where
to seek a humble lodging. There was but one old man in the little garden
before his cottage, and him they were timid of approaching, for he was the schoolmaster,
and had ‘School’ written up over his window in black letters on a white board. He was a pale, simple-looking man, of a spare
and meagre habit, and sat among his flowers and beehives, smoking his pipe, in the little
porch before his door. ‘Speak to him, dear,’ the old man whispered. ‘I am almost afraid to disturb him,’ said
the child timidly. ‘He does not seem to see us. Perhaps if we wait a little, he may look this
way.’ They waited, but the schoolmaster cast no
look towards them, and still sat, thoughtful and silent, in the little porch. He had a kind face. In his plain old suit of black, he looked
pale and meagre. They fancied, too, a lonely air about him
and his house, but perhaps that was because the other people formed a merry company upon
the green, and he seemed the only solitary man in all the place. They were very tired, and the child would
have been bold enough to address even a schoolmaster, but for something in his manner which seemed
to denote that he was uneasy or distressed. As they stood hesitating at a little distance,
they saw that he sat for a few minutes at a time like one in a brown study, then laid
aside his pipe and took a few turns in his garden, then approached the gate and looked
towards the green, then took up his pipe again with a sigh, and sat down thoughtfully as
before. As nobody else appeared and it would soon
be dark, Nell at length took courage, and when he had resumed his pipe and seat, ventured
to draw near, leading her grandfather by the hand. The slight noise they made in raising the
latch of the wicket-gate, caught his attention. He looked at them kindly but seemed disappointed
too, and slightly shook his head. Nell dropped a curtsey, and told him they
were poor travellers who sought a shelter for the night which they would gladly pay
for, so far as their means allowed. The schoolmaster looked earnestly at her as
she spoke, laid aside his pipe, and rose up directly. ‘If you could direct us anywhere, sir,’
said the child, ‘we should take it very kindly.’ ‘You have been walking a long way,’ said
the schoolmaster. ‘A long way, Sir,’ the child replied. ‘You’re a young traveller, my child,’
he said, laying his hand gently on her head. ‘Your grandchild, friend?’ ‘Aye, Sir,’ cried the old man, ‘and
the stay and comfort of my life.’ ‘Come in,’ said the schoolmaster. Without further preface he conducted them
into his little school-room, which was parlour and kitchen likewise, and told them that they
were welcome to remain under his roof till morning. Before they had done thanking him, he spread
a coarse white cloth upon the table, with knives and platters; and bringing out some
bread and cold meat and a jug of beer, besought them to eat and drink. The child looked round the room as she took
her seat. There were a couple of forms, notched and
cut and inked all over; a small deal desk perched on four legs, at which no doubt the
master sat; a few dog’s-eared books upon a high shelf; and beside them a motley collection
of peg-tops, balls, kites, fishing-lines, marbles, half-eaten apples, and other confiscated
property of idle urchins. Displayed on hooks upon the wall in all their
terrors, were the cane and ruler; and near them, on a small shelf of its own, the dunce’s
cap, made of old newspapers and decorated with glaring wafers of the largest size. But, the great ornaments of the walls were
certain moral sentences fairly copied in good round text, and well-worked sums in simple
addition and multiplication, evidently achieved by the same hand, which were plentifully pasted
all round the room: for the double purpose, as it seemed, of bearing testimony to the
excellence of the school, and kindling a worthy emulation in the bosoms of the scholars. ‘Yes,’ said the old schoolmaster, observing
that her attention was caught by these latter specimens. ‘That’s beautiful writing, my dear.’ ‘Very, Sir,’ replied the child modestly,
‘is it yours?’ ‘Mine!’ he returned, taking out his spectacles
and putting them on, to have a better view of the triumphs so dear to his heart. ‘I couldn’t write like that, now-a-days. No. They’re all done by one hand; a little hand
it is, not so old as yours, but a very clever one.’ As the schoolmaster said this, he saw that
a small blot of ink had been thrown on one of the copies, so he took a penknife from
his pocket, and going up to the wall, carefully scraped it out. When he had finished, he walked slowly backward
from the writing, admiring it as one might contemplate a beautiful picture, but with
something of sadness in his voice and manner which quite touched the child, though she
was unacquainted with its cause. ‘A little hand indeed,’ said the poor
schoolmaster. ‘Far beyond all his companions, in his learning
and his sports too, how did he ever come to be so fond of me! That I should love him is no wonder, but that
he should love me—’ and there the schoolmaster stopped, and took off his spectacles to wipe
them, as though they had grown dim. ‘I hope there is nothing the matter, sir,’
said Nell anxiously. ‘Not much, my dear,’ returned the schoolmaster. ‘I hoped to have seen him on the green to-night. He was always foremost among them. But he’ll be there to-morrow.’ ‘Has he been ill?’ asked the child, with
a child’s quick sympathy. ‘Not very. They said he was wandering in his head yesterday,
dear boy, and so they said the day before. But that’s a part of that kind of disorder;
it’s not a bad sign—not at all a bad sign.’ The child was silent. He walked to the door, and looked wistfully
out. The shadows of night were gathering, and all
was still. ‘If he could lean upon anybody’s arm,
he would come to me, I know,’ he said, returning into the room. ‘He always came into the garden to say good
night. But perhaps his illness has only just taken
a favourable turn, and it’s too late for him to come out, for it’s very damp and
there’s a heavy dew. It’s much better he shouldn’t come to-night.’ The schoolmaster lighted a candle, fastened
the window-shutter, and closed the door. But after he had done this, and sat silent
a little time, he took down his hat, and said he would go and satisfy himself, if Nell would
sit up till he returned. The child readily complied, and he went out. She sat there half-an-hour or more, feeling
the place very strange and lonely, for she had prevailed upon the old man to go to bed,
and there was nothing to be heard but the ticking of an old clock, and the whistling
of the wind among the trees. When he returned, he took his seat in the
chimney corner, but remained silent for a long time. At length he turned to her, and speaking very
gently, hoped she would say a prayer that night for a sick child. ‘My favourite scholar!’ said the poor
schoolmaster, smoking a pipe he had forgotten to light, and looking mournfully round upon
the walls. ‘It is a little hand to have done all that,
and waste away with sickness. It is a very, very little hand!’ CHAPTER 25
After a sound night’s rest in a chamber in the thatched roof, in which it seemed the
sexton had for some years been a lodger, but which he had lately deserted for a wife and
a cottage of his own, the child rose early in the morning and descended to the room where
she had supped last night. As the schoolmaster had already left his bed
and gone out, she bestirred herself to make it neat and comfortable, and had just finished
its arrangement when the kind host returned. He thanked her many times, and said that the
old dame who usually did such offices for him had gone to nurse the little scholar whom
he had told her of. The child asked how he was, and hoped he was
better. ‘No,’ rejoined the schoolmaster shaking
his head sorrowfully, ‘no better. They even say he is worse.’ ‘I am very sorry for that, Sir,’ said
the child. The poor schoolmaster appeared to be gratified
by her earnest manner, but yet rendered more uneasy by it, for he added hastily that anxious
people often magnified an evil and thought it greater than it was; ‘for my part,’
he said, in his quiet, patient way, ‘I hope it’s not so. I don’t think he can be worse.’ The child asked his leave to prepare breakfast,
and her grandfather coming down stairs, they all three partook of it together. While the meal was in progress, their host
remarked that the old man seemed much fatigued, and evidently stood in need of rest. ‘If the journey you have before you is a
long one,’ he said, ‘and don’t press you for one day, you’re very welcome to
pass another night here. I should really be glad if you would, friend.’ He saw that the old man looked at Nell, uncertain
whether to accept or decline his offer; and added, ‘I shall be glad to have your young companion
with me for one day. If you can do a charity to a lone man, and
rest yourself at the same time, do so. If you must proceed upon your journey, I wish
you well through it, and will walk a little way with you before school begins.’ ‘What are we to do, Nell?’ said the old
man irresolutely, ‘say what we’re to do, dear.’ It required no great persuasion to induce
the child to answer that they had better accept the invitation and remain. She was happy to show her gratitude to the
kind schoolmaster by busying herself in the performance of such household duties as his
little cottage stood in need of. When these were done, she took some needle-work
from her basket, and sat herself down upon a stool beside the lattice, where the honeysuckle
and woodbine entwined their tender stems, and stealing into the room filled it with
their delicious breath. Her grandfather was basking in the sun outside,
breathing the perfume of the flowers, and idly watching the clouds as they floated on
before the light summer wind. As the schoolmaster, after arranging the two
forms in due order, took his seat behind his desk and made other preparations for school,
the child was apprehensive that she might be in the way, and offered to withdraw to
her little bedroom. But this he would not allow, and as he seemed
pleased to have her there, she remained, busying herself with her work. ‘Have you many scholars, sir?’ she asked. The poor schoolmaster shook his head, and
said that they barely filled the two forms. ‘Are the others clever, sir?’ asked the
child, glancing at the trophies on the wall. ‘Good boys,’ returned the schoolmaster,
‘good boys enough, my dear, but they’ll never do like that.’ A small white-headed boy with a sunburnt face
appeared at the door while he was speaking, and stopping there to make a rustic bow, came
in and took his seat upon one of the forms. The white-headed boy then put an open book,
astonishingly dog’s-eared upon his knees, and thrusting his hands into his pockets began
counting the marbles with which they were filled; displaying in the expression of his
face a remarkable capacity of totally abstracting his mind from the spelling on which his eyes
were fixed. Soon afterwards another white-headed little
boy came straggling in, and after him a red-headed lad, and after him two more with white heads,
and then one with a flaxen poll, and so on until the forms were occupied by a dozen boys
or thereabouts, with heads of every colour but grey, and ranging in their ages from four
years old to fourteen years or more; for the legs of the youngest were a long way from
the floor when he sat upon the form, and the eldest was a heavy good-tempered foolish fellow,
about half a head taller than the schoolmaster. At the top of the first form—the post of
honour in the school—was the vacant place of the little sick scholar, and at the head
of the row of pegs on which those who came in hats or caps were wont to hang them up,
one was left empty. No boy attempted to violate the sanctity of
seat or peg, but many a one looked from the empty spaces to the schoolmaster, and whispered
his idle neighbour behind his hand. Then began the hum of conning over lessons
and getting them by heart, the whispered jest and stealthy game, and all the noise and drawl
of school; and in the midst of the din sat the poor schoolmaster, the very image of meekness
and simplicity, vainly attempting to fix his mind upon the duties of the day, and to forget
his little friend. But the tedium of his office reminded him
more strongly of the willing scholar, and his thoughts were rambling from his pupils—it
was plain. None knew this better than the idlest boys,
who, growing bolder with impunity, waxed louder and more daring; playing odd-or-even under
the master’s eye, eating apples openly and without rebuke, pinching each other in sport
or malice without the least reserve, and cutting their autographs in the very legs of his desk. The puzzled dunce, who stood beside it to
say his lesson out of book, looked no longer at the ceiling for forgotten words, but drew
closer to the master’s elbow and boldly cast his eye upon the page; the wag of the
little troop squinted and made grimaces (at the smallest boy of course), holding no book
before his face, and his approving audience knew no constraint in their delight. If the master did chance to rouse himself
and seem alive to what was going on, the noise subsided for a moment and no eyes met his
but wore a studious and a deeply humble look; but the instant he relapsed again, it broke
out afresh, and ten times louder than before. Oh! how some of those idle fellows longed to be
outside, and how they looked at the open door and window, as if they half meditated rushing
violently out, plunging into the woods, and being wild boys and savages from that time
forth. What rebellious thoughts of the cool river,
and some shady bathing-place beneath willow trees with branches dipping in the water,
kept tempting and urging that sturdy boy, who, with his shirt-collar unbuttoned and
flung back as far as it could go, sat fanning his flushed face with a spelling-book, wishing
himself a whale, or a tittlebat, or a fly, or anything but a boy at school on that hot,
broiling day! Heat! ask that other boy, whose seat being
nearest to the door gave him opportunities of gliding out into the garden and driving
his companions to madness by dipping his face into the bucket of the well and then rolling
on the grass—ask him if there were ever such a day as that, when even the bees were
diving deep down into the cups of flowers and stopping there, as if they had made up
their minds to retire from business and be manufacturers of honey no more. The day was made for laziness, and lying on
one’s back in green places, and staring at the sky till its brightness forced one
to shut one’s eyes and go to sleep; and was this a time to be poring over musty books
in a dark room, slighted by the very sun itself? Monstrous! Nell sat by the window occupied with her work,
but attentive still to all that passed, though sometimes rather timid of the boisterous boys. The lessons over, writing time began; and
there being but one desk and that the master’s, each boy sat at it in turn and laboured at
his crooked copy, while the master walked about. This was a quieter time; for he would come
and look over the writer’s shoulder, and tell him mildly to observe how such a letter
was turned in such a copy on the wall, praise such an up-stroke here and such a down-stroke
there, and bid him take it for his model. Then he would stop and tell them what the
sick child had said last night, and how he had longed to be among them once again; and
such was the poor schoolmaster’s gentle and affectionate manner, that the boys seemed
quite remorseful that they had worried him so much, and were absolutely quiet; eating
no apples, cutting no names, inflicting no pinches, and making no grimaces, for full
two minutes afterwards. ‘I think, boys,’ said the schoolmaster
when the clock struck twelve, ‘that I shall give an extra half-holiday this afternoon.’ At this intelligence, the boys, led on and
headed by the tall boy, raised a great shout, in the midst of which the master was seen
to speak, but could not be heard. As he held up his hand, however, in token
of his wish that they should be silent, they were considerate enough to leave off, as soon
as the longest-winded among them were quite out of breath. ‘You must promise me first,’ said the
schoolmaster, ‘that you’ll not be noisy, or at least, if you are, that you’ll go
away and be so—away out of the village I mean. I’m sure you wouldn’t disturb your old
playmate and companion.’ There was a general murmur (and perhaps a
very sincere one, for they were but boys) in the negative; and the tall boy, perhaps
as sincerely as any of them, called those about him to witness that he had only shouted
in a whisper. ‘Then pray don’t forget, there’s my
dear scholars,’ said the schoolmaster, ‘what I have asked you, and do it as a favour to
me. Be as happy as you can, and don’t be unmindful
that you are blessed with health. Good-bye all!’ ‘Thank’ee, Sir,’ and ‘good-bye, Sir,’
were said a good many times in a variety of voices, and the boys went out very slowly
and softly. But there was the sun shining and there were
the birds singing, as the sun only shines and the birds only sing on holidays and half-holidays;
there were the trees waving to all free boys to climb and nestle among their leafy branches;
the hay, entreating them to come and scatter it to the pure air; the green corn, gently
beckoning towards wood and stream; the smooth ground, rendered smoother still by blending
lights and shadows, inviting to runs and leaps, and long walks God knows whither. It was more than boy could bear, and with
a joyous whoop the whole cluster took to their heels and spread themselves about, shouting
and laughing as they went. ‘It’s natural, thank Heaven!’ said the
poor schoolmaster, looking after them. ‘I’m very glad they didn’t mind me!’ It is difficult, however, to please everybody,
as most of us would have discovered, even without the fable which bears that moral,
and in the course of the afternoon several mothers and aunts of pupils looked in to express
their entire disapproval of the schoolmaster’s proceeding. A few confined themselves to hints, such as
politely inquiring what red-letter day or saint’s day the almanack said it was; a
few (these were the profound village politicians) argued that it was a slight to the throne
and an affront to church and state, and savoured of revolutionary principles, to grant a half-holiday
upon any lighter occasion than the birthday of the Monarch; but the majority expressed
their displeasure on private grounds and in plain terms, arguing that to put the pupils
on this short allowance of learning was nothing but an act of downright robbery and fraud:
and one old lady, finding that she could not inflame or irritate the peaceable schoolmaster
by talking to him, bounced out of his house and talked at him for half-an-hour outside
his own window, to another old lady, saying that of course he would deduct this half-holiday
from his weekly charge, or of course he would naturally expect to have an opposition started
against him; there was no want of idle chaps in that neighbourhood (here the old lady raised
her voice), and some chaps who were too idle even to be schoolmasters, might soon find
that there were other chaps put over their heads, and so she would have them take care,
and look pretty sharp about them. But all these taunts and vexations failed
to elicit one word from the meek schoolmaster, who sat with the child by his side—a little
more dejected perhaps, but quite silent and uncomplaining. Towards night an old woman came tottering
up the garden as speedily as she could, and meeting the schoolmaster at the door, said
he was to go to Dame West’s directly, and had best run on before her. He and the child were on the point of going
out together for a walk, and without relinquishing her hand, the schoolmaster hurried away, leaving
the messenger to follow as she might. They stopped at a cottage-door, and the schoolmaster
knocked softly at it with his hand. It was opened without loss of time. They entered a room where a little group of
women were gathered about one, older than the rest, who was crying very bitterly, and
sat wringing her hands and rocking herself to and fro. ‘Oh, dame!’ said the schoolmaster, drawing
near her chair, ‘is it so bad as this?’ ‘He’s going fast,’ cried the old woman;
‘my grandson’s dying. It’s all along of you. You shouldn’t see him now, but for his being
so earnest on it. This is what his learning has brought him
to. Oh dear, dear, dear, what can I do!’ ‘Do not say that I am in any fault,’ urged
the gentle school-master. ‘I am not hurt, dame. No, no. You are in great distress of mind, and don’t
mean what you say. I am sure you don’t.’ ‘I do,’ returned the old woman. ‘I mean it all. If he hadn’t been poring over his books
out of fear of you, he would have been well and merry now, I know he would.’ The schoolmaster looked round upon the other
women as if to entreat some one among them to say a kind word for him, but they shook
their heads, and murmured to each other that they never thought there was much good in
learning, and that this convinced them. Without saying a word in reply, or giving
them a look of reproach, he followed the old woman who had summoned him (and who had now
rejoined them) into another room, where his infant friend, half-dressed, lay stretched
upon a bed. He was a very young boy; quite a little child. His hair still hung in curls about his face,
and his eyes were very bright; but their light was of Heaven, not earth. The schoolmaster took a seat beside him, and
stooping over the pillow, whispered his name. The boy sprung up, stroked his face with his
hand, and threw his wasted arms round his neck, crying out that he was his dear kind
friend. ‘I hope I always was. I meant to be, God knows,’ said the poor
schoolmaster. ‘Who is that?’ said the boy, seeing Nell. ‘I am afraid to kiss her, lest I should
make her ill. Ask her to shake hands with me.’ The sobbing child came closer up, and took
the little languid hand in hers. Releasing his again after a time, the sick
boy laid him gently down. ‘You remember the garden, Harry,’ whispered
the schoolmaster, anxious to rouse him, for a dulness seemed gathering upon the child,
‘and how pleasant it used to be in the evening time? You must make haste to visit it again, for
I think the very flowers have missed you, and are less gay than they used to be. You will come soon, my dear, very soon now—won’t
you?’ The boy smiled faintly—so very, very faintly—and
put his hand upon his friend’s grey head. He moved his lips too, but no voice came from
them; no, not a sound. In the silence that ensued, the hum of distant
voices borne upon the evening air came floating through the open window. ‘What’s that?’ said the sick child,
opening his eyes. ‘The boys at play upon the green.’ He took a handkerchief from his pillow, and
tried to wave it above his head. But the feeble arm dropped powerless down. ‘Shall I do it?’ said the schoolmaster. ‘Please wave it at the window,’ was the
faint reply. ‘Tie it to the lattice. Some of them may see it there. Perhaps they’ll think of me, and look this
way.’ He raised his head, and glanced from the fluttering
signal to his idle bat, that lay with slate and book and other boyish property upon a
table in the room. And then he laid him softly down once more,
and asked if the little girl were there, for he could not see her. She stepped forward, and pressed the passive
hand that lay upon the coverlet. The two old friends and companions—for such
they were, though they were man and child—held each other in a long embrace, and then the
little scholar turned his face towards the wall, and fell asleep. The poor schoolmaster sat in the same place,
holding the small cold hand in his, and chafing it. It was but the hand of a dead child. He felt that; and yet he chafed it still,
and could not lay it down. CHAPTER 26
Almost broken-hearted, Nell withdrew with the schoolmaster from the bedside and returned
to his cottage. In the midst of her grief and tears she was
yet careful to conceal their real cause from the old man, for the dead boy had been a grandchild,
and left but one aged relative to mourn his premature decay. She stole away to bed as quickly as she could,
and when she was alone, gave free vent to the sorrow with which her breast was overcharged. But the sad scene she had witnessed, was not
without its lesson of content and gratitude; of content with the lot which left her health
and freedom; and gratitude that she was spared to the one relative and friend she loved,
and to live and move in a beautiful world, when so many young creatures—as young and
full of hope as she—were stricken down and gathered to their graves. How many of the mounds in that old churchyard
where she had lately strayed, grew green above the graves of children! And though she thought as a child herself,
and did not perhaps sufficiently consider to what a bright and happy existence those
who die young are borne, and how in death they lose the pain of seeing others die around
them, bearing to the tomb some strong affection of their hearts (which makes the old die many
times in one long life), still she thought wisely enough, to draw a plain and easy moral
from what she had seen that night, and to store it, deep in her mind. Her dreams were of the little scholar: not
coffined and covered up, but mingling with angels, and smiling happily. The sun darting his cheerful rays into the
room, awoke her; and now there remained but to take leave of the poor schoolmaster and
wander forth once more. By the time they were ready to depart, school
had begun. In the darkened room, the din of yesterday
was going on again: a little sobered and softened down, perhaps, but only a very little, if
at all. The schoolmaster rose from his desk and walked
with them to the gate. It was with a trembling and reluctant hand,
that the child held out to him the money which the lady had given her at the races for her
flowers: faltering in her thanks as she thought how small the sum was, and blushing as she
offered it. But he bade her put it up, and stooping to
kiss her cheek, turned back into his house. They had not gone half-a-dozen paces when
he was at the door again; the old man retraced his steps to shake hands, and the child did
the same. ‘Good fortune and happiness go with you!’
said the poor schoolmaster. ‘I am quite a solitary man now. If you ever pass this way again, you’ll
not forget the little village-school.’ ‘We shall never forget it, sir,’ rejoined
Nell; ‘nor ever forget to be grateful to you for your kindness to us.’ ‘I have heard such words from the lips of
children very often,’ said the schoolmaster, shaking his head, and smiling thoughtfully,
‘but they were soon forgotten. I had attached one young friend to me, the
better friend for being young—but that’s over—God bless you!’ They bade him farewell very many times, and
turned away, walking slowly and often looking back, until they could see him no more. At length they had left the village far behind,
and even lost sight of the smoke among the trees. They trudged onward now, at a quicker pace,
resolving to keep the main road, and go wherever it might lead them. But main roads stretch a long, long way. With the exception of two or three inconsiderable
clusters of cottages which they passed, without stopping, and one lonely road-side public-house
where they had some bread and cheese, this highway had led them to nothing—late in
the afternoon—and still lengthened out, far in the distance, the same dull, tedious,
winding course, that they had been pursuing all day. As they had no resource, however, but to go
forward, they still kept on, though at a much slower pace, being very weary and fatigued. The afternoon had worn away into a beautiful
evening, when they arrived at a point where the road made a sharp turn and struck across
a common. On the border of this common, and close to
the hedge which divided it from the cultivated fields, a caravan was drawn up to rest; upon
which, by reason of its situation, they came so suddenly that they could not have avoided
it if they would. It was not a shabby, dingy, dusty cart, but
a smart little house upon wheels, with white dimity curtains festooning the windows, and
window-shutters of green picked out with panels of a staring red, in which happily-contrasted
colours the whole concern shone brilliant. Neither was it a poor caravan drawn by a single
donkey or emaciated horse, for a pair of horses in pretty good condition were released from
the shafts and grazing on the frouzy grass. Neither was it a gipsy caravan, for at the
open door (graced with a bright brass knocker) sat a Christian lady, stout and comfortable
to look upon, who wore a large bonnet trembling with bows. And that it was not an unprovided or destitute
caravan was clear from this lady’s occupation, which was the very pleasant and refreshing
one of taking tea. The tea-things, including a bottle of rather
suspicious character and a cold knuckle of ham, were set forth upon a drum, covered with
a white napkin; and there, as if at the most convenient round-table in all the world, sat
this roving lady, taking her tea and enjoying the prospect. It happened that at that moment the lady of
the caravan had her cup (which, that everything about her might be of a stout and comfortable
kind, was a breakfast cup) to her lips, and that having her eyes lifted to the sky in
her enjoyment of the full flavour of the tea, not unmingled possibly with just the slightest
dash or gleam of something out of the suspicious bottle—but this is mere speculation and
not distinct matter of history—it happened that being thus agreeably engaged, she did
not see the travellers when they first came up. It was not until she was in the act of getting
down the cup, and drawing a long breath after the exertion of causing its contents to disappear,
that the lady of the caravan beheld an old man and a young child walking slowly by, and
glancing at her proceedings with eyes of modest but hungry admiration. ‘Hey!’ cried the lady of the caravan,
scooping the crumbs out of her lap and swallowing the same before wiping her lips. ‘Yes, to be sure—Who won the Helter-Skelter
Plate, child?’ ‘Won what, ma’am?’ asked Nell. ‘The Helter-Skelter Plate at the races,
child—the plate that was run for on the second day.’ ‘On the second day, ma’am?’ ‘Second day! Yes, second day,’ repeated the lady with
an air of impatience. ‘Can’t you say who won the Helter-Skelter
Plate when you’re asked the question civilly?’ ‘I don’t know, ma’am.’ ‘Don’t know!’ repeated the lady of the
caravan; ‘why, you were there. I saw you with my own eyes.’ Nell was not a little alarmed to hear this,
supposing that the lady might be intimately acquainted with the firm of Short and Codlin;
but what followed tended to reassure her. ‘And very sorry I was,’ said the lady
of the caravan, ‘to see you in company with a Punch; a low, practical, wulgar wretch,
that people should scorn to look at.’ ‘I was not there by choice,’ returned
the child; ‘we didn’t know our way, and the two men were very kind to us, and let
us travel with them. Do you—do you know them, ma’am?’ ‘Know ‘em, child!’ cried the lady of
the caravan in a sort of shriek. ‘Know them! But you’re young and inexperienced, and
that’s your excuse for asking sich a question. Do I look as if I know’d ‘em, does the
caravan look as if it know’d ‘em?’ ‘No, ma’am, no,’ said the child, fearing
she had committed some grievous fault. ‘I beg your pardon.’ It was granted immediately, though the lady
still appeared much ruffled and discomposed by the degrading supposition. The child then explained that they had left
the races on the first day, and were travelling to the next town on that road, where they
purposed to spend the night. As the countenance of the stout lady began
to clear up, she ventured to inquire how far it was. The reply—which the stout lady did not come
to, until she had thoroughly explained that she went to the races on the first day in
a gig, and as an expedition of pleasure, and that her presence there had no connexion with
any matters of business or profit—was, that the town was eight miles off. This discouraging information a little dashed
the child, who could scarcely repress a tear as she glanced along the darkening road. Her grandfather made no complaint, but he
sighed heavily as he leaned upon his staff, and vainly tried to pierce the dusty distance. The lady of the caravan was in the act of
gathering her tea equipage together preparatory to clearing the table, but noting the child’s
anxious manner she hesitated and stopped. The child curtseyed, thanked her for her information,
and giving her hand to the old man had already got some fifty yards or so away, when the
lady of the caravan called to her to return. ‘Come nearer, nearer still,’ said she,
beckoning to her to ascend the steps. ‘Are you hungry, child?’ ‘Not very, but we are tired, and it’s—it
is a long way.’ ‘Well, hungry or not, you had better have
some tea,’ rejoined her new acquaintance. ‘I suppose you are agreeable to that, old
gentleman?’ The grandfather humbly pulled off his hat
and thanked her. The lady of the caravan then bade him come
up the steps likewise, but the drum proving an inconvenient table for two, they descended
again, and sat upon the grass, where she handed down to them the tea-tray, the bread and butter,
the knuckle of ham, and in short everything of which she had partaken herself, except
the bottle which she had already embraced an opportunity of slipping into her pocket. ‘Set ‘em out near the hind wheels, child,
that’s the best place,’ said their friend, superintending the arrangements from above. ‘Now hand up the teapot for a little more
hot water, and a pinch of fresh tea, and then both of you eat and drink as much as you can,
and don’t spare anything; that’s all I ask of you.’ They might perhaps have carried out the lady’s
wish, if it had been less freely expressed, or even if it had not been expressed at all. But as this direction relieved them from any
shadow of delicacy or uneasiness, they made a hearty meal and enjoyed it to the utmost. While they were thus engaged, the lady of
the caravan alighted on the earth, and with her hands clasped behind her, and her large
bonnet trembling excessively, walked up and down in a measured tread and very stately
manner, surveying the caravan from time to time with an air of calm delight, and deriving
particular gratification from the red panels and the brass knocker. When she had taken this gentle exercise for
some time, she sat down upon the steps and called ‘George’; whereupon a man in a
carter’s frock, who had been so shrouded in a hedge up to this time as to see everything
that passed without being seen himself, parted the twigs that concealed him, and appeared
in a sitting attitude, supporting on his legs a baking-dish and a half-gallon stone bottle,
and bearing in his right hand a knife, and in his left a fork. ‘Yes, Missus,’ said George. ‘How did you find the cold pie, George?’ ‘It warn’t amiss, mum.’ ‘And the beer,’ said the lady of the caravan,
with an appearance of being more interested in this question than the last; ‘is it passable,
George?’ ‘It’s more flatterer than it might be,’
George returned, ‘but it an’t so bad for all that.’ To set the mind of his mistress at rest, he
took a sip (amounting in quantity to a pint or thereabouts) from the stone bottle, and
then smacked his lips, winked his eye, and nodded his head. No doubt with the same amiable desire, he
immediately resumed his knife and fork, as a practical assurance that the beer had wrought
no bad effect upon his appetite. The lady of the caravan looked on approvingly
for some time, and then said, ‘Have you nearly finished?’ ‘Wery nigh, mum.’ And indeed, after scraping the dish all round
with his knife and carrying the choice brown morsels to his mouth, and after taking such
a scientific pull at the stone bottle that, by degrees almost imperceptible to the sight,
his head went further and further back until he lay nearly at his full length upon the
ground, this gentleman declared himself quite disengaged, and came forth from his retreat. ‘I hope I haven’t hurried you, George,’
said his mistress, who appeared to have a great sympathy with his late pursuit. ‘If you have,’ returned the follower,
wisely reserving himself for any favourable contingency that might occur, ‘we must make
up for it next time, that’s all.’ ‘We are not a heavy load, George?’ ‘That’s always what the ladies say,’
replied the man, looking a long way round, as if he were appealing to Nature in general
against such monstrous propositions. ‘If you see a woman a driving, you’ll
always perceive that she never will keep her whip still; the horse can’t go fast enough
for her. If cattle have got their proper load, you
never can persuade a woman that they’ll not bear something more. What is the cause of this here?’ ‘Would these two travellers make much difference
to the horses, if we took them with us?’ asked his mistress, offering no reply to the
philosophical inquiry, and pointing to Nell and the old man, who were painfully preparing
to resume their journey on foot. ‘They’d make a difference in course,’
said George doggedly. ‘Would they make much difference?’ repeated his mistress. ‘They can’t be very heavy.’ ‘The weight o’ the pair, mum,’ said
George, eyeing them with the look of a man who was calculating within half an ounce or
so, ‘would be a trifle under that of Oliver Cromwell.’ Nell was very much surprised that the man
should be so accurately acquainted with the weight of one whom she had read of in books
as having lived considerably before their time, but speedily forgot the subject in the
joy of hearing that they were to go forward in the caravan, for which she thanked its
lady with unaffected earnestness. She helped with great readiness and alacrity
to put away the tea-things and other matters that were lying about, and, the horses being
by that time harnessed, mounted into the vehicle, followed by her delighted grandfather. Their patroness then shut the door and sat
herself down by her drum at an open window; and, the steps being struck by George and
stowed under the carriage, away they went, with a great noise of flapping and creaking
and straining, and the bright brass knocker, which nobody ever knocked at, knocking one
perpetual double knock of its own accord as they jolted heavily along. CHAPTER 27
When they had travelled slowly forward for some short distance, Nell ventured to steal
a look round the caravan and observe it more closely. One half of it—that moiety in which the
comfortable proprietress was then seated—was carpeted, and so partitioned off at the further
end as to accommodate a sleeping-place, constructed after the fashion of a berth on board ship,
which was shaded, like the little windows, with fair white curtains, and looked comfortable
enough, though by what kind of gymnastic exercise the lady of the caravan ever contrived to
get into it, was an unfathomable mystery. The other half served for a kitchen, and was
fitted up with a stove whose small chimney passed through the roof. It held also a closet or larder, several chests,
a great pitcher of water, and a few cooking-utensils and articles of crockery. These latter necessaries hung upon the walls,
which, in that portion of the establishment devoted to the lady of the caravan, were ornamented
with such gayer and lighter decorations as a triangle and a couple of well-thumbed tambourines. The lady of the caravan sat at one window
in all the pride and poetry of the musical instruments, and little Nell and her grandfather
sat at the other in all the humility of the kettle and saucepans, while the machine jogged
on and shifted the darkening prospect very slowly. At first the two travellers spoke little,
and only in whispers, but as they grew more familiar with the place they ventured to converse
with greater freedom, and talked about the country through which they were passing, and
the different objects that presented themselves, until the old man fell asleep; which the lady
of the caravan observing, invited Nell to come and sit beside her. ‘Well, child,’ she said, ‘how do you
like this way of travelling?’ Nell replied that she thought it was very
pleasant indeed, to which the lady assented in the case of people who had their spirits. For herself, she said, she was troubled with
a lowness in that respect which required a constant stimulant; though whether the aforesaid
stimulant was derived from the suspicious bottle of which mention has been already made
or from other sources, she did not say. ‘That’s the happiness of you young people,’
she continued. ‘You don’t know what it is to be low in
your feelings. You always have your appetites too, and what
a comfort that is.’ Nell thought that she could sometimes dispense
with her own appetite very conveniently; and thought, moreover, that there was nothing
either in the lady’s personal appearance or in her manner of taking tea, to lead to
the conclusion that her natural relish for meat and drink had at all failed her. She silently assented, however, as in duty
bound, to what the lady had said, and waited until she should speak again. Instead of speaking, however, she sat looking
at the child for a long time in silence, and then getting up, brought out from a corner
a large roll of canvas about a yard in width, which she laid upon the floor and spread open
with her foot until it nearly reached from one end of the caravan to the other. ‘There, child,’ she said, ‘read that.’ Nell walked down it, and read aloud, in enormous
black letters, the inscription, ‘JARLEY’S WAX-WORK.’ ‘Read it again,’ said the lady, complacently. ‘Jarley’s Wax-Work,’ repeated Nell. ‘That’s me,’ said the lady. ‘I am Mrs Jarley.’ Giving the child an encouraging look, intended
to reassure her and let her know, that, although she stood in the presence of the original
Jarley, she must not allow herself to be utterly overwhelmed and borne down, the lady of the
caravan unfolded another scroll, whereon was the inscription, ‘One hundred figures the
full size of life,’ and then another scroll, on which was written, ‘The only stupendous
collection of real wax-work in the world,’ and then several smaller scrolls with such
inscriptions as ‘Now exhibiting within’—‘The genuine and only Jarley’—‘Jarley’s
unrivalled collection’—‘Jarley is the delight of the Nobility and Gentry’—‘The
Royal Family are the patrons of Jarley.’ When she had exhibited these leviathans of
public announcement to the astonished child, she brought forth specimens of the lesser
fry in the shape of hand-bills, some of which were couched in the form of parodies on popular
melodies, as ‘Believe me if all Jarley’s wax-work so rare’—‘I saw thy show in
youthful prime’—‘Over the water to Jarley;’ while, to consult all tastes, others were
composed with a view to the lighter and more facetious spirits, as a parody on the favourite
air of ‘If I had a donkey,’ beginning, If I know’d a donkey wot wouldn’t go To see Mrs JARLEY’S wax-work show, Do you think I’d acknowledge him? Oh no no! Then run to Jarley’s— —besides several compositions in prose,
purporting to be dialogues between the Emperor of China and an oyster, or the Archbishop
of Canterbury and a dissenter on the subject of church-rates, but all having the same moral,
namely, that the reader must make haste to Jarley’s, and that children and servants
were admitted at half-price. When she had brought all these testimonials
of her important position in society to bear upon her young companion, Mrs Jarley rolled
them up, and having put them carefully away, sat down again, and looked at the child in
triumph. ‘Never go into the company of a filthy Punch
any more,’ said Mrs Jarley, ‘after this.’ ‘I never saw any wax-work, ma’am,’ said
Nell. ‘Is it funnier than Punch?’ ‘Funnier!’ said Mrs Jarley in a shrill
voice. ‘It is not funny at all.’ ‘Oh!’ said Nell, with all possible humility. ‘It isn’t funny at all,’ repeated Mrs
Jarley. ‘It’s calm and—what’s that word again—critical?—no—classical,
that’s it—it’s calm and classical. No low beatings and knockings about, no jokings
and squeakings like your precious Punches, but always the same, with a constantly unchanging
air of coldness and gentility; and so like life, that if wax-work only spoke and walked
about, you’d hardly know the difference. I won’t go so far as to say, that, as it
is, I’ve seen wax-work quite like life, but I’ve certainly seen some life that was
exactly like wax-work.’ ‘Is it here, ma’am?’ asked Nell, whose
curiosity was awakened by this description. ‘Is what here, child?’ ‘The wax-work, ma’am.’ ‘Why, bless you, child, what are you thinking
of? How could such a collection be here, where
you see everything except the inside of one little cupboard and a few boxes? It’s gone on in the other wans to the assembly-rooms,
and there it’ll be exhibited the day after to-morrow. You are going to the same town, and you’ll
see it I dare say. It’s natural to expect that you’ll see
it, and I’ve no doubt you will. I suppose you couldn’t stop away if you
was to try ever so much.’ ‘I shall not be in the town, I think, ma’am,’
said the child. ‘Not there!’ cried Mrs Jarley. ‘Then where will you be?’ ‘I—I—don’t quite know. I am not certain.’ ‘You don’t mean to say that you’re travelling
about the country without knowing where you’re going to?’ said the lady of the caravan. ‘What curious people you are! What line are you in? You looked to me at the races, child, as if
you were quite out of your element, and had got there by accident.’ ‘We were there quite by accident,’ returned
Nell, confused by this abrupt questioning. ‘We are poor people, ma’am, and are only
wandering about. We have nothing to do;—I wish we had.’ ‘You amaze me more and more,’ said Mrs
Jarley, after remaining for some time as mute as one of her own figures. ‘Why, what do you call yourselves? Not beggars?’ ‘Indeed, ma’am, I don’t know what else
we are,’ returned the child. ‘Lord bless me,’ said the lady of the
caravan. ‘I never heard of such a thing. Who’d have thought it!’ She remained so long silent after this exclamation,
that Nell feared she felt her having been induced to bestow her protection and conversation
upon one so poor, to be an outrage upon her dignity that nothing could repair. This persuasion was rather confirmed than
otherwise by the tone in which she at length broke silence and said, ‘And yet you can read. And write too, I shouldn’t wonder?’ ‘Yes, ma’am,’ said the child, fearful
of giving new offence by the confession. ‘Well, and what a thing that is,’ returned
Mrs Jarley. ‘I can’t!’ Nell said ‘indeed’ in a tone which might
imply, either that she was reasonably surprised to find the genuine and only Jarley, who was
the delight of the Nobility and Gentry and the peculiar pet of the Royal Family, destitute
of these familiar arts; or that she presumed so great a lady could scarcely stand in need
of such ordinary accomplishments. In whatever way Mrs Jarley received the response,
it did not provoke her to further questioning, or tempt her into any more remarks at the
time, for she relapsed into a thoughtful silence, and remained in that state so long that Nell
withdrew to the other window and rejoined her grandfather, who was now awake. At length the lady of the caravan shook off
her fit of meditation, and, summoning the driver to come under the window at which she
was seated, held a long conversation with him in a low tone of voice, as if she were
asking his advice on an important point, and discussing the pros and cons of some very
weighty matter. This conference at length concluded, she drew
in her head again, and beckoned Nell to approach. ‘And the old gentleman too,’ said Mrs
Jarley; ‘for I want to have a word with him. Do you want a good situation for your grand-daughter,
master? If you do, I can put her in the way of getting
one. What do you say?’ ‘I can’t leave her,’ answered the old
man. ‘We can’t separate. What would become of me without her?’ ‘I should have thought you were old enough
to take care of yourself, if you ever will be,’ retorted Mrs Jarley sharply. ‘But he never will be,’ said the child
in an earnest whisper. ‘I fear he never will be again. Pray do not speak harshly to him. We are very thankful to you,’ she added
aloud; ‘but neither of us could part from the other if all the wealth of the world were
halved between us.’ Mrs Jarley was a little disconcerted by this
reception of her proposal, and looked at the old man, who tenderly took Nell’s hand and
detained it in his own, as if she could have very well dispensed with his company or even
his earthly existence. After an awkward pause, she thrust her head
out of the window again, and had another conference with the driver upon some point on which they
did not seem to agree quite so readily as on their former topic of discussion; but they
concluded at last, and she addressed the grandfather again. ‘If you’re really disposed to employ yourself,’
said Mrs Jarley, ‘there would be plenty for you to do in the way of helping to dust
the figures, and take the checks, and so forth. What I want your grand-daughter for, is to
point ‘em out to the company; they would be soon learnt, and she has a way with her
that people wouldn’t think unpleasant, though she does come after me; for I’ve been always
accustomed to go round with visitors myself, which I should keep on doing now, only that
my spirits make a little ease absolutely necessary. It’s not a common offer, bear in mind,’
said the lady, rising into the tone and manner in which she was accustomed to address her
audiences; ‘it’s Jarley’s wax-work, remember. The duty’s very light and genteel, the company
particularly select, the exhibition takes place in assembly-rooms, town-halls, large
rooms at inns, or auction galleries. There is none of your open-air wagrancy at
Jarley’s, recollect; there is no tarpaulin and sawdust at Jarley’s, remember. Every expectation held out in the handbills
is realised to the utmost, and the whole forms an effect of imposing brilliancy hitherto
unrivalled in this kingdom. Remember that the price of admission is only
sixpence, and that this is an opportunity which may never occur again!’ Descending from the sublime when she had reached
this point, to the details of common life, Mrs Jarley remarked that with reference to
salary she could pledge herself to no specific sum until she had sufficiently tested Nell’s
abilities, and narrowly watched her in the performance of her duties. But board and lodging, both for her and her
grandfather, she bound herself to provide, and she furthermore passed her word that the
board should always be good in quality, and in quantity plentiful. Nell and her grandfather consulted together,
and while they were so engaged, Mrs Jarley with her hands behind her walked up and down
the caravan, as she had walked after tea on the dull earth, with uncommon dignity and
self-esteem. Nor will this appear so slight a circumstance
as to be unworthy of mention, when it is remembered that the caravan was in uneasy motion all
the time, and that none but a person of great natural stateliness and acquired grace could
have forborne to stagger. ‘Now, child?’ cried Mrs Jarley, coming to a halt as Nell
turned towards her. ‘We are very much obliged to you, ma’am,’
said Nell, ‘and thankfully accept your offer.’ ‘And you’ll never be sorry for it,’
returned Mrs Jarley. ‘I’m pretty sure of that. So as that’s all settled, let us have a
bit of supper.’ In the meanwhile, the caravan blundered on
as if it too had been drinking strong beer and was drowsy, and came at last upon the
paved streets of a town which were clear of passengers, and quiet, for it was by this
time near midnight, and the townspeople were all abed. As it was too late an hour to repair to the
exhibition room, they turned aside into a piece of waste ground that lay just within
the old town-gate, and drew up there for the night, near to another caravan, which, notwithstanding
that it bore on the lawful panel the great name of Jarley, and was employed besides in
conveying from place to place the wax-work which was its country’s pride, was designated
by a grovelling stamp-office as a ‘Common Stage Waggon,’ and numbered too—seven
thousand odd hundred—as though its precious freight were mere flour or coals! This ill-used machine being empty (for it
had deposited its burden at the place of exhibition, and lingered here until its services were
again required) was assigned to the old man as his sleeping-place for the night; and within
its wooden walls, Nell made him up the best bed she could, from the materials at hand. For herself, she was to sleep in Mrs Jarley’s
own travelling-carriage, as a signal mark of that lady’s favour and confidence. She had taken leave of her grandfather and
was returning to the other waggon, when she was tempted by the coolness of the night to
linger for a little while in the air. The moon was shining down upon the old gateway
of the town, leaving the low archway very black and dark; and with a mingled sensation
of curiosity and fear, she slowly approached the gate, and stood still to look up at it,
wondering to see how dark, and grim, and old, and cold, it looked. There was an empty niche from which some old
statue had fallen or been carried away hundreds of years ago, and she was thinking what strange
people it must have looked down upon when it stood there, and how many hard struggles
might have taken place, and how many murders might have been done, upon that silent spot,
when there suddenly emerged from the black shade of the arch, a man. The instant he appeared, she recognised him—Who
could have failed to recognise, in that instant, the ugly misshapen Quilp! The street beyond was so narrow, and the shadow
of the houses on one side of the way so deep, that he seemed to have risen out of the earth. But there he was. The child withdrew into a dark corner, and
saw him pass close to her. He had a stick in his hand, and, when he had
got clear of the shadow of the gateway, he leant upon it, looked back—directly, as
it seemed, towards where she stood—and beckoned. To her? oh no, thank God, not to her; for as she stood,
in an extremity of fear, hesitating whether to scream for help, or come from her hiding-place
and fly, before he should draw nearer, there issued slowly forth from the arch another
figure—that of a boy—who carried on his back a trunk. ‘Faster, sirrah!’ cried Quilp, looking
up at the old gateway, and showing in the moonlight like some monstrous image that had
come down from its niche and was casting a backward glance at its old house, ‘faster!’ ‘It’s a dreadful heavy load, Sir,’ the
boy pleaded. ‘I’ve come on very fast, considering.’ ‘You have come fast, considering!’ retorted
Quilp; ‘you creep, you dog, you crawl, you measure distance like a worm. There are the chimes now, half-past twelve.’ He stopped to listen, and then turning upon
the boy with a suddenness and ferocity that made him start, asked at what hour that London
coach passed the corner of the road. The boy replied, at one. ‘Come on then,’ said Quilp, ‘or I shall
be too late. Faster—do you hear me? Faster.’ The boy made all the speed he could, and Quilp
led onward, constantly turning back to threaten him, and urge him to greater haste. Nell did not dare to move until they were
out of sight and hearing, and then hurried to where she had left her grandfather, feeling
as if the very passing of the dwarf so near him must have filled him with alarm and terror. But he was sleeping soundly, and she softly
withdrew. As she was making her way to her own bed,
she determined to say nothing of this adventure, as upon whatever errand the dwarf had come
(and she feared it must have been in search of them) it was clear by his inquiry about
the London coach that he was on his way homeward, and as he had passed through that place, it
was but reasonable to suppose that they were safer from his inquiries there, than they
could be elsewhere. These reflections did not remove her own alarm,
for she had been too much terrified to be easily composed, and felt as if she were hemmed
in by a legion of Quilps, and the very air itself were filled with them. The delight of the Nobility and Gentry and
the patronised of Royalty had, by some process of self-abridgment known only to herself,
got into her travelling bed, where she was snoring peacefully, while the large bonnet,
carefully disposed upon the drum, was revealing its glories by the light of a dim lamp that
swung from the roof. The child’s bed was already made upon the
floor, and it was a great comfort to her to hear the steps removed as soon as she had
entered, and to know that all easy communication between persons outside and the brass knocker
was by this means effectually prevented. Certain guttural sounds, too, which from time
to time ascended through the floor of the caravan, and a rustling of straw in the same
direction, apprised her that the driver was couched upon the ground beneath, and gave
her an additional feeling of security. Notwithstanding these protections, she could
get none but broken sleep by fits and starts all night, for fear of Quilp, who throughout
her uneasy dreams was somehow connected with the wax-work, or was wax-work himself, or
was Mrs Jarley and wax-work too, or was himself, Mrs Jarley, wax-work, and a barrel organ all
in one, and yet not exactly any of them either. At length, towards break of day, that deep
sleep came upon her which succeeds to weariness and over-watching, and which has no consciousness
but one of overpowering and irresistible enjoyment. CHAPTER 28
Sleep hung upon the eyelids of the child so long, that, when she awoke, Mrs Jarley was
already decorated with her large bonnet, and actively engaged in preparing breakfast. She received Nell’s apology for being so
late with perfect good humour, and said that she should not have roused her if she had
slept on until noon. ‘Because it does you good,’ said the lady
of the caravan, ‘when you’re tired, to sleep as long as ever you can, and get the
fatigue quite off; and that’s another blessing of your time of life—you can sleep so very
sound.’ ‘Have you had a bad night, ma’am?’ asked
Nell. ‘I seldom have anything else, child,’
replied Mrs Jarley, with the air of a martyr. ‘I sometimes wonder how I bear it.’ Remembering the snores which had proceeded
from that cleft in the caravan in which the proprietress of the wax-work passed the night,
Nell rather thought she must have been dreaming of lying awake. However, she expressed herself very sorry
to hear such a dismal account of her state of health, and shortly afterwards sat down
with her grandfather and Mrs Jarley to breakfast. The meal finished, Nell assisted to wash the
cups and saucers, and put them in their proper places, and these household duties performed,
Mrs Jarley arrayed herself in an exceedingly bright shawl for the purpose of making a progress
through the streets of the town. ‘The wan will come on to bring the boxes,’
said Mrs Jarley, and you had better come in it, child. I am obliged to walk, very much against my
will; but the people expect it of me, and public characters can’t be their own masters
and mistresses in such matters as these. How do I look, child?’ Nell returned a satisfactory reply, and Mrs
Jarley, after sticking a great many pins into various parts of her figure, and making several
abortive attempts to obtain a full view of her own back, was at last satisfied with her
appearance, and went forth majestically. The caravan followed at no great distance. As it went jolting through the streets, Nell
peeped from the window, curious to see in what kind of place they were, and yet fearful
of encountering at every turn the dreaded face of Quilp. It was a pretty large town, with an open square
which they were crawling slowly across, and in the middle of which was the Town-Hall,
with a clock-tower and a weather-cock. There were houses of stone, houses of red
brick, houses of yellow brick, houses of lath and plaster; and houses of wood, many of them
very old, with withered faces carved upon the beams, and staring down into the street. These had very little winking windows, and
low-arched doors, and, in some of the narrower ways, quite overhung the pavement. The streets were very clean, very sunny, very
empty, and very dull. A few idle men lounged about the two inns,
and the empty market-place, and the tradesmen’s doors, and some old people were dozing in
chairs outside an alms-house wall; but scarcely any passengers who seemed bent on going anywhere,
or to have any object in view, went by; and if perchance some straggler did, his footsteps
echoed on the hot bright pavement for minutes afterwards. Nothing seemed to be going on but the clocks,
and they had such drowzy faces, such heavy lazy hands, and such cracked voices that they
surely must have been too slow. The very dogs were all asleep, and the flies,
drunk with moist sugar in the grocer’s shop, forgot their wings and briskness, and baked
to death in dusty corners of the window. Rumbling along with most unwonted noise, the
caravan stopped at last at the place of exhibition, where Nell dismounted amidst an admiring group
of children, who evidently supposed her to be an important item of the curiosities, and
were fully impressed with the belief that her grandfather was a cunning device in wax. The chests were taken out with all convenient
despatch, and taken in to be unlocked by Mrs Jarley, who, attended by George and another
man in velveteen shorts and a drab hat ornamented with turnpike tickets, were waiting to dispose
their contents (consisting of red festoons and other ornamental devices in upholstery
work) to the best advantage in the decoration of the room. They all got to work without loss of time,
and very busy they were. As the stupendous collection were yet concealed
by cloths, lest the envious dust should injure their complexions, Nell bestirred herself
to assist in the embellishment of the room, in which her grandfather also was of great
service. The two men being well used to it, did a great
deal in a short time; and Mrs Jarley served out the tin tacks from a linen pocket like
a toll-collector’s which she wore for the purpose, and encouraged her assistants to
renewed exertion. While they were thus employed, a tallish gentleman
with a hook nose and black hair, dressed in a military surtout very short and tight in
the sleeves, and which had once been frogged and braided all over, but was now sadly shorn
of its garniture and quite threadbare—dressed too in ancient grey pantaloons fitting tight
to the leg, and a pair of pumps in the winter of their existence—looked in at the door
and smiled affably. Mrs Jarley’s back being then towards him,
the military gentleman shook his forefinger as a sign that her myrmidons were not to apprise
her of his presence, and stealing up close behind her, tapped her on the neck, and cried
playfully ‘Boh!’ ‘What, Mr Slum!’ cried the lady of the
wax-work. ‘Lot! who’d have thought of seeing you
here!’ ‘’Pon my soul and honour,’ said Mr Slum,
‘that’s a good remark. ‘Pon my soul and honour that’s a wise
remark. Who would have thought it! George, my faithful feller, how are you?’ George received this advance with a surly
indifference, observing that he was well enough for the matter of that, and hammering lustily
all the time. ‘I came here,’ said the military gentleman
turning to Mrs Jarley—‘’pon my soul and honour I hardly know what I came here
for. It would puzzle me to tell you, it would by
Gad. I wanted a little inspiration, a little freshening
up, a little change of ideas, and—‘Pon my soul and honour,’ said the military gentleman,
checking himself and looking round the room, ‘what a devilish classical thing this is!
by Gad, it’s quite Minervian.’ ‘It’ll look well enough when it comes
to be finished,’ observed Mrs Jarley. ‘Well enough!’ said Mr Slum. ‘Will you believe me when I say it’s the
delight of my life to have dabbled in poetry, when I think I’ve exercised my pen upon
this charming theme? By the way—any orders? Is there any little thing I can do for you?’ ‘It comes so very expensive, sir,’ replied
Mrs Jarley, ‘and I really don’t think it does much good.’ ‘Hush! No, no!’ returned Mr Slum, elevating his
hand. ‘No fibs. I’ll not hear it. Don’t say it don’t do good. Don’t say it. I know better!’ ‘I don’t think it does,’ said Mrs Jarley. ‘Ha, ha!’ cried Mr Slum, ‘you’re giving
way, you’re coming down. Ask the perfumers, ask the blacking-makers,
ask the hatters, ask the old lottery-office-keepers—ask any man among ‘em what my poetry has done
for him, and mark my words, he blesses the name of Slum. If he’s an honest man, he raises his eyes
to heaven, and blesses the name of Slum—mark that! You are acquainted with Westminster Abbey,
Mrs Jarley?’ ‘Yes, surely.’ ‘Then upon my soul and honour, ma’am,
you’ll find in a certain angle of that dreary pile, called Poets’ Corner, a few smaller
names than Slum,’ retorted that gentleman, tapping himself expressively on the forehead
to imply that there was some slight quantity of brain behind it. ‘I’ve got a little trifle here, now,’
said Mr Slum, taking off his hat which was full of scraps of paper, ‘a little trifle
here, thrown off in the heat of the moment, which I should say was exactly the thing you
wanted to set this place on fire with. It’s an acrostic—the name at this moment
is Warren, and the idea’s a convertible one, and a positive inspiration for Jarley. Have the acrostic.’ ‘I suppose it’s very dear,’ said Mrs
Jarley. ‘Five shillings,’ returned Mr Slum, using
his pencil as a toothpick. ‘Cheaper than any prose.’ ‘I couldn’t give more than three,’ said
Mrs Jarley. ‘—And six,’ retorted Slum. ‘Come. Three-and-six.’ Mrs Jarley was not proof against the poet’s
insinuating manner, and Mr Slum entered the order in a small note-book as a three-and-sixpenny
one. Mr Slum then withdrew to alter the acrostic,
after taking a most affectionate leave of his patroness, and promising to return, as
soon as he possibly could, with a fair copy for the printer. As his presence had not interfered with or
interrupted the preparations, they were now far advanced, and were completed shortly after
his departure. When the festoons were all put up as tastily
as they might be, the stupendous collection was uncovered, and there were displayed, on
a raised platform some two feet from the floor, running round the room and parted from the
rude public by a crimson rope breast high, divers sprightly effigies of celebrated characters,
singly and in groups, clad in glittering dresses of various climes and times, and standing
more or less unsteadily upon their legs, with their eyes very wide open, and their nostrils
very much inflated, and the muscles of their legs and arms very strongly developed, and
all their countenances expressing great surprise. All the gentlemen were very pigeon-breasted
and very blue about the beards; and all the ladies were miraculous figures; and all the
ladies and all the gentlemen were looking intensely nowhere, and staring with extraordinary
earnestness at nothing. When Nell had exhausted her first raptures
at this glorious sight, Mrs Jarley ordered the room to be cleared of all but herself
and the child, and, sitting herself down in an arm-chair in the centre, formally invested
Nell with a willow wand, long used by herself for pointing out the characters, and was at
great pains to instruct her in her duty. ‘That,’ said Mrs Jarley in her exhibition
tone, as Nell touched a figure at the beginning of the platform, ‘is an unfortunate Maid
of Honour in the Time of Queen Elizabeth, who died from pricking her finger in consequence
of working upon a Sunday. Observe the blood which is trickling from
her finger; also the gold-eyed needle of the period, with which she is at work.’ All this, Nell repeated twice or thrice: pointing
to the finger and the needle at the right times: and then passed on to the next. ‘That, ladies and gentlemen,’ said Mrs
Jarley, ‘is Jasper Packlemerton of atrocious memory, who courted and married fourteen wives,
and destroyed them all, by tickling the soles of their feet when they were sleeping in the
consciousness of innocence and virtue. On being brought to the scaffold and asked
if he was sorry for what he had done, he replied yes, he was sorry for having let ‘em off
so easy, and hoped all Christian husbands would pardon him the offence. Let this be a warning to all young ladies
to be particular in the character of the gentlemen of their choice. Observe that his fingers are curled as if
in the act of tickling, and that his face is represented with a wink, as he appeared
when committing his barbarous murders.’ When Nell knew all about Mr Packlemerton,
and could say it without faltering, Mrs Jarley passed on to the fat man, and then to the
thin man, the tall man, the short man, the old lady who died of dancing at a hundred
and thirty-two, the wild boy of the woods, the woman who poisoned fourteen families with
pickled walnuts, and other historical characters and interesting but misguided individuals. And so well did Nell profit by her instructions,
and so apt was she to remember them, that by the time they had been shut up together
for a couple of hours, she was in full possession of the history of the whole establishment,
and perfectly competent to the enlightenment of visitors. Mrs Jarley was not slow to express her admiration
at this happy result, and carried her young friend and pupil to inspect the remaining
arrangements within doors, by virtue of which the passage had been already converted into
a grove of green-baize hung with the inscription she had already seen (Mr Slum’s productions),
and a highly ornamented table placed at the upper end for Mrs Jarley herself, at which
she was to preside and take the money, in company with his Majesty King George the Third,
Mr Grimaldi as clown, Mary Queen of Scots, an anonymous gentleman of the Quaker persuasion,
and Mr Pitt holding in his hand a correct model of the bill for the imposition of the
window duty. The preparations without doors had not been
neglected either; a nun of great personal attractions was telling her beads on the little
portico over the door; and a brigand with the blackest possible head of hair, and the
clearest possible complexion, was at that moment going round the town in a cart, consulting
the miniature of a lady. It now only remained that Mr Slum’s compositions
should be judiciously distributed; that the pathetic effusions should find their way to
all private houses and tradespeople; and that the parody commencing ‘If I know’d a donkey,’
should be confined to the taverns, and circulated only among the lawyers’ clerks and choice
spirits of the place. When this had been done, and Mrs Jarley had
waited upon the boarding-schools in person, with a handbill composed expressly for them,
in which it was distinctly proved that wax-work refined the mind, cultivated the taste, and
enlarged the sphere of the human understanding, that indefatigable lady sat down to dinner,
and drank out of the suspicious bottle to a flourishing campaign. CHAPTER 29
Unquestionably Mrs Jarley had an inventive genius. In the midst of the various devices for attracting
visitors to the exhibition, little Nell was not forgotten. The light cart in which the Brigand usually
made his perambulations being gaily dressed with flags and streamers, and the Brigand
placed therein, contemplating the miniature of his beloved as usual, Nell was accommodated
with a seat beside him, decorated with artificial flowers, and in this state and ceremony rode
slowly through the town every morning, dispersing handbills from a basket, to the sound of drum
and trumpet. The beauty of the child, coupled with her
gentle and timid bearing, produced quite a sensation in the little country place. The Brigand, heretofore a source of exclusive
interest in the streets, became a mere secondary consideration, and to be important only as
a part of the show of which she was the chief attraction. Grown-up folks began to be interested in the
bright-eyed girl, and some score of little boys fell desperately in love, and constantly
left enclosures of nuts and apples, directed in small-text, at the wax-work door. This desirable impression was not lost on
Mrs Jarley, who, lest Nell should become too cheap, soon sent the Brigand out alone again,
and kept her in the exhibition room, where she described the figures every half-hour
to the great satisfaction of admiring audiences. And these audiences were of a very superior
description, including a great many young ladies’ boarding-schools, whose favour Mrs
Jarley had been at great pains to conciliate, by altering the face and costume of Mr Grimaldi
as clown to represent Mr Lindley Murray as he appeared when engaged in the composition
of his English Grammar, and turning a murderess of great renown into Mrs Hannah More—both
of which likenesses were admitted by Miss Monflathers, who was at the head of the head
Boarding and Day Establishment in the town, and who condescended to take a Private View
with eight chosen young ladies, to be quite startling from their extreme correctness. Mr Pitt in a nightcap and bedgown, and without
his boots, represented the poet Cowper with perfect exactness; and Mary Queen of Scots
in a dark wig, white shirt-collar, and male attire, was such a complete image of Lord
Byron that the young ladies quite screamed when they saw it. Miss Monflathers, however, rebuked this enthusiasm,
and took occasion to reprove Mrs Jarley for not keeping her collection more select: observing
that His Lordship had held certain opinions quite incompatible with wax-work honours,
and adding something about a Dean and Chapter, which Mrs Jarley did not understand. Although her duties were sufficiently laborious,
Nell found in the lady of the caravan a very kind and considerate person, who had not only
a peculiar relish for being comfortable herself, but for making everybody about her comfortable
also; which latter taste, it may be remarked, is, even in persons who live in much finer
places than caravans, a far more rare and uncommon one than the first, and is not by
any means its necessary consequence. As her popularity procured her various little
fees from the visitors on which her patroness never demanded any toll, and as her grandfather
too was well-treated and useful, she had no cause of anxiety in connexion with the wax-work,
beyond that which sprung from her recollection of Quilp, and her fears that he might return
and one day suddenly encounter them. Quilp indeed was a perpetual night-mare to
the child, who was constantly haunted by a vision of his ugly face and stunted figure. She slept, for their better security, in the
room where the wax-work figures were, and she never retired to this place at night but
she tortured herself—she could not help it—with imagining a resemblance, in some
one or other of their death-like faces, to the dwarf, and this fancy would sometimes
so gain upon her that she would almost believe he had removed the figure and stood within
the clothes. Then there were so many of them with their
great glassy eyes—and, as they stood one behind the other all about her bed, they looked
so like living creatures, and yet so unlike in their grim stillness and silence, that
she had a kind of terror of them for their own sakes, and would often lie watching their
dusky figures until she was obliged to rise and light a candle, or go and sit at the open
window and feel a companionship in the bright stars. At these times, she would recall the old house
and the window at which she used to sit alone; and then she would think of poor Kit and all
his kindness, until the tears came into her eyes, and she would weep and smile together. Often and anxiously at this silent hour, her
thoughts reverted to her grandfather, and she would wonder how much he remembered of
their former life, and whether he was ever really mindful of the change in their condition
and of their late helplessness and destitution. When they were wandering about, she seldom
thought of this, but now she could not help considering what would become of them if he
fell sick, or her own strength were to fail her. He was very patient and willing, happy to
execute any little task, and glad to be of use; but he was in the same listless state,
with no prospect of improvement—a mere child—a poor, thoughtless, vacant creature—a harmless
fond old man, susceptible of tender love and regard for her, and of pleasant and painful
impressions, but alive to nothing more. It made her very sad to know that this was
so—so sad to see it that sometimes when he sat idly by, smiling and nodding to her
when she looked round, or when he caressed some little child and carried it to and fro,
as he was fond of doing by the hour together, perplexed by its simple questions, yet patient
under his own infirmity, and seeming almost conscious of it too, and humbled even before
the mind of an infant—so sad it made her to see him thus, that she would burst into
tears, and, withdrawing into some secret place, fall down upon her knees and pray that he
might be restored. But, the bitterness of her grief was not in
beholding him in this condition, when he was at least content and tranquil, nor in her
solitary meditations on his altered state, though these were trials for a young heart. Cause for deeper and heavier sorrow was yet
to come. One evening, a holiday night with them, Nell
and her grandfather went out to walk. They had been rather closely confined for
some days, and the weather being warm, they strolled a long distance. Clear of the town, they took a footpath which
struck through some pleasant fields, judging that it would terminate in the road they quitted
and enable them to return that way. It made, however, a much wider circuit than
they had supposed, and thus they were tempted onward until sunset, when they reached the
track of which they were in search, and stopped to rest. It had been gradually getting overcast, and
now the sky was dark and lowering, save where the glory of the departing sun piled up masses
of gold and burning fire, decaying embers of which gleamed here and there through the
black veil, and shone redly down upon the earth. The wind began to moan in hollow murmurs,
as the sun went down carrying glad day elsewhere; and a train of dull clouds coming up against
it, menaced thunder and lightning. Large drops of rain soon began to fall, and,
as the storm clouds came sailing onward, others supplied the void they left behind and spread
over all the sky. Then was heard the low rumbling of distant
thunder, then the lightning quivered, and then the darkness of an hour seemed to have
gathered in an instant. Fearful of taking shelter beneath a tree or
hedge, the old man and the child hurried along the high road, hoping to find some house in
which they could seek a refuge from the storm, which had now burst forth in earnest, and
every moment increased in violence. Drenched with the pelting rain, confused by
the deafening thunder, and bewildered by the glare of the forked lightning, they would
have passed a solitary house without being aware of its vicinity, had not a man, who
was standing at the door, called lustily to them to enter. ‘Your ears ought to be better than other
folks’ at any rate, if you make so little of the chance of being struck blind,’ he
said, retreating from the door and shading his eyes with his hands as the jagged lightning
came again. ‘What were you going past for, eh?’ he
added, as he closed the door and led the way along a passage to a room behind. ‘We didn’t see the house, sir, till we
heard you calling,’ Nell replied. ‘No wonder,’ said the man, ‘with this
lightning in one’s eyes, by-the-by. You had better stand by the fire here, and
dry yourselves a bit. You can call for what you like if you want
anything. If you don’t want anything, you are not
obliged to give an order. Don’t be afraid of that. This is a public-house, that’s all. The Valiant Soldier is pretty well known hereabouts.’ ‘Is this house called the Valiant Soldier,
Sir?’ asked Nell. ‘I thought everybody knew that,’ replied
the landlord. ‘Where have you come from, if you don’t
know the Valiant Soldier as well as the church catechism? This is the Valiant Soldier, by James Groves—Jem
Groves—honest Jem Groves, as is a man of unblemished moral character, and has a good
dry skittle-ground. If any man has got anything to say again Jem
Groves, let him say it to Jem Groves, and Jem Groves can accommodate him with a customer
on any terms from four pound a side to forty. With these words, the speaker tapped himself
on the waistcoat to intimate that he was the Jem Groves so highly eulogized; sparred scientifically
at a counterfeit Jem Groves, who was sparring at society in general from a black frame over
the chimney-piece; and, applying a half-emptied glass of spirits and water to his lips, drank
Jem Groves’s health. The night being warm, there was a large screen
drawn across the room, for a barrier against the heat of the fire. It seemed as if somebody on the other side
of this screen had been insinuating doubts of Mr Groves’s prowess, and had thereby
given rise to these egotistical expressions, for Mr Groves wound up his defiance by giving
a loud knock upon it with his knuckles and pausing for a reply from the other side. ‘There an’t many men,’ said Mr Groves,
no answer being returned, ‘who would ventur’ to cross Jem Groves under his own roof. There’s only one man, I know, that has nerve
enough for that, and that man’s not a hundred mile from here neither. But he’s worth a dozen men, and I let him
say of me whatever he likes in consequence—he knows that.’ In return for this complimentary address,
a very gruff hoarse voice bade Mr Groves ‘hold his noise and light a candle.’ And the same voice remarked that the same
gentleman ‘needn’t waste his breath in brag, for most people knew pretty well what
sort of stuff he was made of.’ ‘Nell, they’re—they’re playing cards,’
whispered the old man, suddenly interested. ‘Don’t you hear them?’ ‘Look sharp with that candle,’ said the
voice; ‘it’s as much as I can do to see the pips on the cards as it is; and get this
shutter closed as quick as you can, will you? Your beer will be the worse for to-night’s
thunder I expect.—Game! Seven-and-sixpence to me, old Isaac. Hand over.’ ‘Do you hear, Nell, do you hear them?’ whispered the old man again, with increased
earnestness, as the money chinked upon the table. ‘I haven’t seen such a storm as this,’
said a sharp cracked voice of most disagreeable quality, when a tremendous peal of thunder
had died away, ‘since the night when old Luke Withers won thirteen times running on
the red. We all said he had the Devil’s luck and
his own, and as it was the kind of night for the Devil to be out and busy, I suppose he
was looking over his shoulder, if anybody could have seen him.’ ‘Ah!’ returned the gruff voice; ‘for
all old Luke’s winning through thick and thin of late years, I remember the time when
he was the unluckiest and unfortunatest of men. He never took a dice-box in his hand, or held
a card, but he was plucked, pigeoned, and cleaned out completely.’ ‘Do you hear what he says?’ whispered the old man. ‘Do you hear that, Nell?’ The child saw with astonishment and alarm
that his whole appearance had undergone a complete change. His face was flushed and eager, his eyes were
strained, his teeth set, his breath came short and thick, and the hand he laid upon her arm
trembled so violently that she shook beneath its grasp. ‘Bear witness,’ he muttered, looking upward,
‘that I always said it; that I knew it, dreamed of it, felt it was the truth, and
that it must be so! What money have we, Nell? Come! I saw you with money yesterday. What money have we? Give it to me.’ ‘No, no, let me keep it, grandfather,’
said the frightened child. ‘Let us go away from here. Do not mind the rain. Pray let us go.’ ‘Give it to me, I say,’ returned the old
man fiercely. ‘Hush, hush, don’t cry, Nell. If I spoke sharply, dear, I didn’t mean
it. It’s for thy good. I have wronged thee, Nell, but I will right
thee yet, I will indeed. Where is the money?’ ‘Do not take it,’ said the child. ‘Pray do not take it, dear. For both our sakes let me keep it, or let
me throw it away—better let me throw it away, than you take it now. Let us go; do let us go.’ ‘Give me the money,’ returned the old
man, ‘I must have it. There—there—that’s my dear Nell. I’ll right thee one day, child, I’ll right
thee, never fear!’ She took from her pocket a little purse. He seized it with the same rapid impatience
which had characterised his speech, and hastily made his way to the other side of the screen. It was impossible to restrain him, and the
trembling child followed close behind. The landlord had placed a light upon the table,
and was engaged in drawing the curtain of the window. The speakers whom they had heard were two
men, who had a pack of cards and some silver money between them, while upon the screen
itself the games they had played were scored in chalk. The man with the rough voice was a burly fellow
of middle age, with large black whiskers, broad cheeks, a coarse wide mouth, and bull
neck, which was pretty freely displayed as his shirt collar was only confined by a loose
red neckerchief. He wore his hat, which was of a brownish-white,
and had beside him a thick knotted stick. The other man, whom his companion had called
Isaac, was of a more slender figure—stooping, and high in the shoulders—with a very ill-favoured
face, and a most sinister and villainous squint. ‘Now old gentleman,’ said Isaac, looking
round. ‘Do you know either of us? This side of the screen is private, sir.’ ‘No offence, I hope,’ returned the old
man. ‘But by G—, sir, there is offence,’
said the other, interrupting him, ‘when you intrude yourself upon a couple of gentlemen
who are particularly engaged.’ ‘I had no intention to offend,’ said the
old man, looking anxiously at the cards. ‘I thought that—’ ‘But you had no right to think, sir,’
retorted the other. ‘What the devil has a man at your time of
life to do with thinking?’ ‘Now bully boy,’ said the stout man, raising
his eyes from his cards for the first time, ‘can’t you let him speak?’ The landlord, who had apparently resolved
to remain neutral until he knew which side of the question the stout man would espouse,
chimed in at this place with ‘Ah, to be sure, can’t you let him speak, Isaac List?’ ‘Can’t I let him speak,’ sneered Isaac
in reply, mimicking as nearly as he could, in his shrill voice, the tones of the landlord. ‘Yes, I can let him speak, Jemmy Groves.’ ‘Well then, do it, will you?’ said the
landlord. Mr List’s squint assumed a portentous character,
which seemed to threaten a prolongation of this controversy, when his companion, who
had been looking sharply at the old man, put a timely stop to it. ‘Who knows,’ said he, with a cunning look,
‘but the gentleman may have civilly meant to ask if he might have the honour to take
a hand with us!’ ‘I did mean it,’ cried the old man. ‘That is what I mean. That is what I want now!’ ‘I thought so,’ returned the same man. ‘Then who knows but the gentleman, anticipating
our objection to play for love, civilly desired to play for money?’ The old man replied by shaking the little
purse in his eager hand, and then throwing it down upon the table, and gathering up the
cards as a miser would clutch at gold. ‘Oh! That indeed,’ said Isaac; ‘if that’s
what the gentleman meant, I beg the gentleman’s pardon. Is this the gentleman’s little purse? A very pretty little purse. Rather a light purse,’ added Isaac, throwing
it into the air and catching it dexterously, ‘but enough to amuse a gentleman for half
an hour or so.’ ‘We’ll make a four-handed game of it,
and take in Groves,’ said the stout man. ‘Come, Jemmy.’ The landlord, who conducted himself like one
who was well used to such little parties, approached the table and took his seat. The child, in a perfect agony, drew her grandfather
aside, and implored him, even then, to come away. ‘Come; and we may be so happy,’ said the
child. ‘We will be happy,’ replied the old man
hastily. ‘Let me go, Nell. The means of happiness are on the cards and
the dice. We must rise from little winnings to great. There’s little to be won here; but great
will come in time. I shall but win back my own, and it’s all
for thee, my darling.’ ‘God help us!’ cried the child. ‘Oh! what hard fortune brought us here?’ ‘Hush!’ rejoined the old man laying his
hand upon her mouth, ‘Fortune will not bear chiding. We must not reproach her, or she shuns us;
I have found that out.’ ‘Now, mister,’ said the stout man. ‘If you’re not coming yourself, give us
the cards, will you?’ ‘I am coming,’ cried the old man. ‘Sit thee down, Nell, sit thee down and
look on. Be of good heart, it’s all for thee—all—every
penny. I don’t tell them, no, no, or else they
wouldn’t play, dreading the chance that such a cause must give me. Look at them. See what they are and what thou art. Who doubts that we must win!’ ‘The gentleman has thought better of it,
and isn’t coming,’ said Isaac, making as though he would rise from the table. ‘I’m sorry the gentleman’s daunted—nothing
venture, nothing have—but the gentleman knows best.’ ‘Why I am ready. You have all been slow but me,’ said the
old man. ‘I wonder who is more anxious to begin than
I.’ As he spoke he drew a chair to the table;
and the other three closing round it at the same time, the game commenced. The child sat by, and watched its progress
with a troubled mind. Regardless of the run of luck, and mindful
only of the desperate passion which had its hold upon her grandfather, losses and gains
were to her alike. Exulting in some brief triumph, or cast down
by a defeat, there he sat so wild and restless, so feverishly and intensely anxious, so terribly
eager, so ravenous for the paltry stakes, that she could have almost better borne to
see him dead. And yet she was the innocent cause of all
this torture, and he, gambling with such a savage thirst for gain as the most insatiable
gambler never felt, had not one selfish thought! On the contrary, the other three—knaves
and gamesters by their trade—while intent upon their game, were yet as cool and quiet
as if every virtue had been centered in their breasts. Sometimes one would look up to smile to another,
or to snuff the feeble candle, or to glance at the lightning as it shot through the open
window and fluttering curtain, or to listen to some louder peal of thunder than the rest,
with a kind of momentary impatience, as if it put him out; but there they sat, with a
calm indifference to everything but their cards, perfect philosophers in appearance,
and with no greater show of passion or excitement than if they had been made of stone. The storm had raged for full three hours;
the lightning had grown fainter and less frequent; the thunder, from seeming to roll and break
above their heads, had gradually died away into a deep hoarse distance; and still the
game went on, and still the anxious child was quite forgotten. CHAPTER 30
At length the play came to an end, and Mr Isaac List rose the only winner. Mat and the landlord bore their losses with
professional fortitude. Isaac pocketed his gains with the air of a
man who had quite made up his mind to win, all along, and was neither surprised nor pleased. Nell’s little purse was exhausted; but although
it lay empty by his side, and the other players had now risen from the table, the old man
sat poring over the cards, dealing them as they had been dealt before, and turning up
the different hands to see what each man would have held if they had still been playing. He was quite absorbed in this occupation,
when the child drew near and laid her hand upon his shoulder, telling him it was near
midnight. ‘See the curse of poverty, Nell,’ he said,
pointing to the packs he had spread out upon the table. ‘If I could have gone on a little longer,
only a little longer, the luck would have turned on my side. Yes, it’s as plain as the marks upon the
cards. See here—and there—and here again.’ ‘Put them away,’ urged the child. ‘Try to forget them.’ ‘Try to forget them!’ he rejoined, raising
his haggard face to hers, and regarding her with an incredulous stare. ‘To forget them! How are we ever to grow rich if I forget them?’ The child could only shake her head. ‘No, no, Nell,’ said the old man, patting
her cheek; ‘they must not be forgotten. We must make amends for this as soon as we
can. Patience—patience, and we’ll right thee
yet, I promise thee. Lose to-day, win to-morrow. And nothing can be won without anxiety and
care—nothing. Come, I am ready.’ ‘Do you know what the time is?’ said Mr
Groves, who was smoking with his friends. ‘Past twelve o’clock—’ ‘—And a rainy night,’ added the stout
man. ‘The Valiant Soldier, by James Groves. Good beds. Cheap entertainment for man and beast,’
said Mr Groves, quoting his sign-board. ‘Half-past twelve o’clock.’ ‘It’s very late,’ said the uneasy child. ‘I wish we had gone before. What will they think of us! It will be two o’clock by the time we get
back. What would it cost, sir, if we stopped here?’ ‘Two good beds, one-and-sixpence; supper
and beer one shilling; total two shillings and sixpence,’ replied the Valiant Soldier. Now, Nell had still the piece of gold sewn
in her dress; and when she came to consider the lateness of the hour, and the somnolent
habits of Mrs Jarley, and to imagine the state of consternation in which they would certainly
throw that good lady by knocking her up in the middle of the night—and when she reflected,
on the other hand, that if they remained where they were, and rose early in the morning,
they might get back before she awoke, and could plead the violence of the storm by which
they had been overtaken, as a good apology for their absence—she decided, after a great
deal of hesitation, to remain. She therefore took her grandfather aside,
and telling him that she had still enough left to defray the cost of their lodging,
proposed that they should stay there for the night. ‘If I had had but that money before—If
I had only known of it a few minutes ago!’ muttered the old man. ‘We will decide to stop here if you please,’
said Nell, turning hastily to the landlord. ‘I think that’s prudent,’ returned Mr
Groves. ‘You shall have your suppers directly.’ Accordingly, when Mr Groves had smoked his
pipe out, knocked out the ashes, and placed it carefully in a corner of the fire-place,
with the bowl downwards, he brought in the bread and cheese, and beer, with many high
encomiums upon their excellence, and bade his guests fall to, and make themselves at
home. Nell and her grandfather ate sparingly, for
both were occupied with their own reflections; the other gentlemen, for whose constitutions
beer was too weak and tame a liquid, consoled themselves with spirits and tobacco. As they would leave the house very early in
the morning, the child was anxious to pay for their entertainment before they retired
to bed. But as she felt the necessity of concealing
her little hoard from her grandfather, and had to change the piece of gold, she took
it secretly from its place of concealment, and embraced an opportunity of following the
landlord when he went out of the room, and tendered it to him in the little bar. ‘Will you give me the change here, if you
please?’ said the child. Mr James Groves was evidently surprised, and
looked at the money, and rang it, and looked at the child, and at the money again, as though
he had a mind to inquire how she came by it. The coin being genuine, however, and changed
at his house, he probably felt, like a wise landlord, that it was no business of his. At any rate, he counted out the change, and
gave it her. The child was returning to the room where
they had passed the evening, when she fancied she saw a figure just gliding in at the door. There was nothing but a long dark passage
between this door and the place where she had changed the money, and, being very certain
that no person had passed in or out while she stood there, the thought struck her that
she had been watched. But by whom? When she re-entered the room, she found its
inmates exactly as she had left them. The stout fellow lay upon two chairs, resting
his head on his hand, and the squinting man reposed in a similar attitude on the opposite
side of the table. Between them sat her grandfather, looking
intently at the winner with a kind of hungry admiration, and hanging upon his words as
if he were some superior being. She was puzzled for a moment, and looked round
to see if any else were there. No. Then she asked her grandfather in a whisper
whether anybody had left the room while she was absent. ‘No,’ he said, ‘nobody.’ It must have been her fancy then; and yet
it was strange, that, without anything in her previous thoughts to lead to it, she should
have imagined this figure so very distinctly. She was still wondering and thinking of it,
when a girl came to light her to bed. The old man took leave of the company at the
same time, and they went up stairs together. It was a great, rambling house, with dull
corridors and wide staircases which the flaring candles seemed to make more gloomy. She left her grandfather in his chamber, and
followed her guide to another, which was at the end of a passage, and approached by some
half-dozen crazy steps. This was prepared for her. The girl lingered a little while to talk,
and tell her grievances. She had not a good place, she said; the wages
were low, and the work was hard. She was going to leave it in a fortnight;
the child couldn’t recommend her to another, she supposed? Instead she was afraid another would be difficult
to get after living there, for the house had a very indifferent character; there was far
too much card-playing, and such like. She was very much mistaken if some of the
people who came there oftenest were quite as honest as they might be, but she wouldn’t
have it known that she had said so, for the world. Then there were some rambling allusions to
a rejected sweetheart, who had threatened to go a soldiering—a final promise of knocking
at the door early in the morning—and ‘Good night.’ The child did not feel comfortable when she
was left alone. She could not help thinking of the figure
stealing through the passage down stairs; and what the girl had said did not tend to
reassure her. The men were very ill-looking. They might get their living by robbing and
murdering travellers. Who could tell? Reasoning herself out of these fears, or losing
sight of them for a little while, there came the anxiety to which the adventures of the
night gave rise. Here was the old passion awakened again in
her grandfather’s breast, and to what further distraction it might tempt him Heaven only
knew. What fears their absence might have occasioned
already! Persons might be seeking for them even then. Would they be forgiven in the morning, or
turned adrift again! Oh! why had they stopped in that strange place? It would have been better, under any circumstances,
to have gone on! At last, sleep gradually stole upon her—a
broken, fitful sleep, troubled by dreams of falling from high towers, and waking with
a start and in great terror. A deeper slumber followed this—and then—What! That figure in the room. A figure was there. Yes, she had drawn up the blind to admit the
light when it should be dawn, and there, between the foot of the bed and the dark casement,
it crouched and slunk along, groping its way with noiseless hands, and stealing round the
bed. She had no voice to cry for help, no power
to move, but lay still, watching it. On it came—on, silently and stealthily,
to the bed’s head. The breath so near her pillow, that she shrunk
back into it, lest those wandering hands should light upon her face. Back again it stole to the window—then turned
its head towards her. The dark form was a mere blot upon the lighter
darkness of the room, but she saw the turning of the head, and felt and knew how the eyes
looked and the ears listened. There it remained, motionless as she. At length, still keeping the face towards
her, it busied its hands in something, and she heard the chink of money. Then, on it came again, silent and stealthy
as before, and replacing the garments it had taken from the bedside, dropped upon its hands
and knees, and crawled away. How slowly it seemed to move, now that she
could hear but not see it, creeping along the floor! It reached the door at last, and stood upon
its feet. The steps creaked beneath its noiseless tread,
and it was gone. The first impulse of the child was to fly
from the terror of being by herself in that room—to have somebody by—not to be alone—and
then her power of speech would be restored. With no consciousness of having moved, she
gained the door. There was the dreadful shadow, pausing at
the bottom of the steps. She could not pass it; she might have done
so, perhaps, in the darkness without being seized, but her blood curdled at the thought. The figure stood quite still, and so did she;
not boldly, but of necessity; for going back into the room was hardly less terrible than
going on. The rain beat fast and furiously without,
and ran down in plashing streams from the thatched roof. Some summer insect, with no escape into the
air, flew blindly to and fro, beating its body against the walls and ceiling, and filling
the silent place with murmurs. The figure moved again. The child involuntarily did the same. Once in her grandfather’s room, she would
be safe. It crept along the passage until it came to
the very door she longed so ardently to reach. The child, in the agony of being so near,
had almost darted forward with the design of bursting into the room and closing it behind
her, when the figure stopped again. The idea flashed suddenly upon her—what
if it entered there, and had a design upon the old man’s life! She turned faint and sick. It did. It went in. There was a light inside. The figure was now within the chamber, and
she, still dumb—quite dumb, and almost senseless—stood looking on. The door was partly open. Not knowing what she meant to do, but meaning
to preserve him or be killed herself, she staggered forward and looked in. What sight was that which met her view! The bed had not been lain on, but was smooth
and empty. And at a table sat the old man himself; the
only living creature there; his white face pinched and sharpened by the greediness which
made his eyes unnaturally bright—counting the money of which his hands had robbed her. CHAPTER 31
With steps more faltering and unsteady than those with which she had approached the room,
the child withdrew from the door, and groped her way back to her own chamber. The terror she had lately felt was nothing
compared with that which now oppressed her. No strange robber, no treacherous host conniving
at the plunder of his guests, or stealing to their beds to kill them in their sleep,
no nightly prowler, however terrible and cruel, could have awakened in her bosom half the
dread which the recognition of her silent visitor inspired. The grey-headed old man gliding like a ghost
into her room and acting the thief while he supposed her fast asleep, then bearing off
his prize and hanging over it with the ghastly exultation she had witnessed, was worse—immeasurably
worse, and far more dreadful, for the moment, to reflect upon—than anything her wildest
fancy could have suggested. If he should return—there was no lock or
bolt upon the door, and if, distrustful of having left some money yet behind, he should
come back to seek for more—a vague awe and horror surrounded the idea of his slinking
in again with stealthy tread, and turning his face toward the empty bed, while she shrank
down close at his feet to avoid his touch, which was almost insupportable. She sat and listened. Hark! A footstep on the stairs, and now the door
was slowly opening. It was but imagination, yet imagination had
all the terrors of reality; nay, it was worse, for the reality would have come and gone,
and there an end, but in imagination it was always coming, and never went away. The feeling which beset the child was one
of dim uncertain horror. She had no fear of the dear old grandfather,
in whose love for her this disease of the brain had been engendered; but the man she
had seen that night, wrapt in the game of chance, lurking in her room, and counting
the money by the glimmering light, seemed like another creature in his shape, a monstrous
distortion of his image, a something to recoil from, and be the more afraid of, because it
bore a likeness to him, and kept close about her, as he did. She could scarcely connect her own affectionate
companion, save by his loss, with this old man, so like yet so unlike him. She had wept to see him dull and quiet. How much greater cause she had for weeping
now! The child sat watching and thinking of these
things, until the phantom in her mind so increased in gloom and terror, that she felt it would
be a relief to hear the old man’s voice, or, if he were asleep, even to see him, and
banish some of the fears that clustered round his image. She stole down the stairs and passage again. The door was still ajar as she had left it,
and the candle burning as before. She had her own candle in her hand, prepared
to say, if he were waking, that she was uneasy and could not rest, and had come to see if
his were still alight. Looking into the room, she saw him lying calmly
on his bed, and so took courage to enter. Fast asleep. No passion in the face, no avarice, no anxiety,
no wild desire; all gentle, tranquil, and at peace. This was not the gambler, or the shadow in
her room; this was not even the worn and jaded man whose face had so often met her own in
the grey morning light; this was her dear old friend, her harmless fellow-traveller,
her good, kind grandfather. She had no fear as she looked upon his slumbering
features, but she had a deep and weighty sorrow, and it found its relief in tears. ‘God bless him!’ said the child, stooping
softly to kiss his placid cheek. ‘I see too well now, that they would indeed
part us if they found us out, and shut him up from the light of the sun and sky. He has only me to help him. God bless us both!’ Lighting her candle, she retreated as silently
as she had come, and, gaining her own room once more, sat up during the remainder of
that long, long, miserable night. At last the day turned her waning candle pale,
and she fell asleep. She was quickly roused by the girl who had
shown her up to bed; and, as soon as she was dressed, prepared to go down to her grandfather. But first she searched her pocket and found
that her money was all gone—not a sixpence remained. The old man was ready, and in a few seconds
they were on their road. The child thought he rather avoided her eye,
and appeared to expect that she would tell him of her loss. She felt she must do that, or he might suspect
the truth. ‘Grandfather,’ she said in a tremulous
voice, after they had walked about a mile in silence, ‘do you think they are honest
people at the house yonder?’ ‘Why?’ returned the old man trembling. ‘Do I think them honest—yes, they played
honestly.’ ‘I’ll tell you why I ask,’ rejoined
Nell. ‘I lost some money last night—out of my
bedroom, I am sure. Unless it was taken by somebody in jest—only
in jest, dear grandfather, which would make me laugh heartily if I could but know it—’ ‘Who would take money in jest?’ returned the old man in a hurried manner. ‘Those who take money, take it to keep. Don’t talk of jest.’ ‘Then it was stolen out of my room, dear,’
said the child, whose last hope was destroyed by the manner of this reply. ‘But is there no more, Nell?’ said the
old man; ‘no more anywhere? Was it all taken—every farthing of it—was
there nothing left?’ ‘Nothing,’ replied the child. ‘We must get more,’ said the old man,
‘we must earn it, Nell, hoard it up, scrape it together, come by it somehow. Never mind this loss. Tell nobody of it, and perhaps we may regain
it. Don’t ask how;—we may regain it, and a
great deal more;—but tell nobody, or trouble may come of it. And so they took it out of thy room, when
thou wert asleep!’ he added in a compassionate tone, very different from the secret, cunning
way in which he had spoken until now. ‘Poor Nell, poor little Nell!’ The child hung down her head and wept. The sympathising tone in which he spoke, was
quite sincere; she was sure of that. It was not the lightest part of her sorrow
to know that this was done for her. ‘Not a word about it to any one but me,’
said the old man, ‘no, not even to me,’ he added hastily, ‘for it can do no good. All the losses that ever were, are not worth
tears from thy eyes, darling. Why should they be, when we will win them
back?’ ‘Let them go,’ said the child looking
up. ‘Let them go, once and for ever, and I would
never shed another tear if every penny had been a thousand pounds.’ ‘Well, well,’ returned the old man, checking
himself as some impetuous answer rose to his lips, ‘she knows no better. I ought to be thankful of it.’ ‘But listen to me,’ said the child earnestly,
‘will you listen to me?’ ‘Aye, aye, I’ll listen,’ returned the
old man, still without looking at her; ‘a pretty voice. It has always a sweet sound to me. It always had when it was her mother’s,
poor child.’ ‘Let me persuade you, then—oh, do let
me persuade you,’ said the child, ‘to think no more of gains or losses, and to try
no fortune but the fortune we pursue together.’ ‘We pursue this aim together,’ retorted
her grandfather, still looking away and seeming to confer with himself. ‘Whose image sanctifies the game?’ ‘Have we been worse off,’ resumed the
child, ‘since you forgot these cares, and we have been travelling on together? Have we not been much better and happier without
a home to shelter us, than ever we were in that unhappy house, when they were on your
mind?’ ‘She speaks the truth,’ murmured the old
man in the same tone as before. ‘It must not turn me, but it is the truth;
no doubt it is.’ ‘Only remember what we have been since that
bright morning when we turned our backs upon it for the last time,’ said Nell, ‘only
remember what we have been since we have been free of all those miseries—what peaceful
days and quiet nights we have had—what pleasant times we have known—what happiness we have
enjoyed. If we have been tired or hungry, we have been
soon refreshed, and slept the sounder for it. Think what beautiful things we have seen,
and how contented we have felt. And why was this blessed change?’ He stopped her with a motion of his hand,
and bade her talk to him no more just then, for he was busy. After a time he kissed her cheek, still motioning
her to silence, and walked on, looking far before him, and sometimes stopping and gazing
with a puckered brow upon the ground, as if he were painfully trying to collect his disordered
thoughts. Once she saw tears in his eyes. When he had gone on thus for some time, he
took her hand in his as he was accustomed to do, with nothing of the violence or animation
of his late manner; and so, by degrees so fine that the child could not trace them,
he settled down into his usual quiet way, and suffered her to lead him where she would. When they presented themselves in the midst
of the stupendous collection, they found, as Nell had anticipated, that Mrs Jarley was
not yet out of bed, and that, although she had suffered some uneasiness on their account
overnight, and had indeed sat up for them until past eleven o’clock, she had retired
in the persuasion, that, being overtaken by storm at some distance from home, they had
sought the nearest shelter, and would not return before morning. Nell immediately applied herself with great
assiduity to the decoration and preparation of the room, and had the satisfaction of completing
her task, and dressing herself neatly, before the beloved of the Royal Family came down
to breakfast. ‘We haven’t had,’ said Mrs Jarley when
the meal was over, ‘more than eight of Miss Monflathers’s young ladies all the time
we’ve been here, and there’s twenty-six of ‘em, as I was told by the cook when I
asked her a question or two and put her on the free-list. We must try ‘em with a parcel of new bills,
and you shall take it, my dear, and see what effect that has upon ‘em.’ The proposed expedition being one of paramount
importance, Mrs Jarley adjusted Nell’s bonnet with her own hands, and declaring that she
certainly did look very pretty, and reflected credit on the establishment, dismissed her
with many commendations, and certain needful directions as to the turnings on the right
which she was to take, and the turnings on the left which she was to avoid. Thus instructed, Nell had no difficulty in
finding out Miss Monflathers’s Boarding and Day Establishment, which was a large house,
with a high wall, and a large garden-gate with a large brass plate, and a small grating
through which Miss Monflathers’s parlour-maid inspected all visitors before admitting them;
for nothing in the shape of a man—no, not even a milkman—was suffered, without special
license, to pass that gate. Even the tax-gatherer, who was stout, and
wore spectacles and a broad-brimmed hat, had the taxes handed through the grating. More obdurate than gate of adamant or brass,
this gate of Miss Monflathers’s frowned on all mankind. The very butcher respected it as a gate of
mystery, and left off whistling when he rang the bell. As Nell approached the awful door, it turned
slowly upon its hinges with a creaking noise, and, forth from the solemn grove beyond, came
a long file of young ladies, two and two, all with open books in their hands, and some
with parasols likewise. And last of the goodly procession came Miss
Monflathers, bearing herself a parasol of lilac silk, and supported by two smiling teachers,
each mortally envious of the other, and devoted unto Miss Monflathers. Confused by the looks and whispers of the
girls, Nell stood with downcast eyes and suffered the procession to pass on, until Miss Monflathers,
bringing up the rear, approached her, when she curtseyed and presented her little packet;
on receipt whereof Miss Monflathers commanded that the line should halt. ‘You’re the wax-work child, are you not?’
said Miss Monflathers. ‘Yes, ma’am,’ replied Nell, colouring
deeply, for the young ladies had collected about her, and she was the centre on which
all eyes were fixed. ‘And don’t you think you must be a very
wicked little child,’ said Miss Monflathers, who was of rather uncertain temper, and lost
no opportunity of impressing moral truths upon the tender minds of the young ladies,
‘to be a wax-work child at all?’ Poor Nell had never viewed her position in
this light, and not knowing what to say, remained silent, blushing more deeply than before. ‘Don’t you know,’ said Miss Monflathers,
‘that it’s very naughty and unfeminine, and a perversion of the properties wisely
and benignantly transmitted to us, with expansive powers to be roused from their dormant state
through the medium of cultivation?’ The two teachers murmured their respectful
approval of this home-thrust, and looked at Nell as though they would have said that there
indeed Miss Monflathers had hit her very hard. Then they smiled and glanced at Miss Monflathers,
and then, their eyes meeting, they exchanged looks which plainly said that each considered
herself smiler in ordinary to Miss Monflathers, and regarded the other as having no right
to smile, and that her so doing was an act of presumption and impertinence. ‘Don’t you feel how naughty it is of you,’
resumed Miss Monflathers, ‘to be a wax-work child, when you might have the proud consciousness
of assisting, to the extent of your infant powers, the manufactures of your country;
of improving your mind by the constant contemplation of the steam-engine; and of earning a comfortable
and independent subsistence of from two-and-ninepence to three shillings per week? Don’t you know that the harder you are at
work, the happier you are?’ ‘“How doth the little—“’ murmured
one of the teachers, in quotation from Doctor Watts. ‘Eh?’ said Miss Monflathers, turning smartly
round. ‘Who said that?’ Of course the teacher who had not said it,
indicated the rival who had, whom Miss Monflathers frowningly requested to hold her peace; by
that means throwing the informing teacher into raptures of joy. ‘The little busy bee,’ said Miss Monflathers,
drawing herself up, ‘is applicable only to genteel children. “In books, or work, or healthful play”
is quite right as far as they are concerned; and the work means painting on velvet, fancy
needle-work, or embroidery. In such cases as these,’ pointing to Nell,
with her parasol, ‘and in the case of all poor people’s children, we should read it
thus: “In work, work, work. In work alway
Let my first years be past, That I may give for ev’ry day
Some good account at last.”’ A deep hum of applause rose not only from
the two teachers, but from all the pupils, who were equally astonished to hear Miss Monflathers
improvising after this brilliant style; for although she had been long known as a politician,
she had never appeared before as an original poet. Just then somebody happened to discover that
Nell was crying, and all eyes were again turned towards her. There were indeed tears in her eyes, and drawing
out her handkerchief to brush them away, she happened to let it fall. Before she could stoop to pick it up, one
young lady of about fifteen or sixteen, who had been standing a little apart from the
others, as though she had no recognised place among them, sprang forward and put it in her
hand. She was gliding timidly away again, when she
was arrested by the governess. ‘It was Miss Edwards who did that, I know,’
said Miss Monflathers predictively. ‘Now I am sure that was Miss Edwards.’ It was Miss Edwards, and everybody said it
was Miss Edwards, and Miss Edwards herself admitted that it was. ‘Is it not,’ said Miss Monflathers, putting
down her parasol to take a severer view of the offender, ‘a most remarkable thing,
Miss Edwards, that you have an attachment to the lower classes which always draws you
to their sides; or, rather, is it not a most extraordinary thing that all I say and do
will not wean you from propensities which your original station in life have unhappily
rendered habitual to you, you extremely vulgar-minded girl?’ ‘I really intended no harm, ma’am,’
said a sweet voice. ‘It was a momentary impulse, indeed.’ ‘An impulse!’ repeated Miss Monflathers
scornfully. ‘I wonder that you presume to speak of impulses
to me’—both the teachers assented—‘I am astonished’—both the teachers were
astonished—‘I suppose it is an impulse which induces you to take the part of every
grovelling and debased person that comes in your way’—both the teachers supposed so
too. ‘But I would have you know, Miss Edwards,’
resumed the governess in a tone of increased severity, ‘that you cannot be permitted—if
it be only for the sake of preserving a proper example and decorum in this establishment—that
you cannot be permitted, and that you shall not be permitted, to fly in the face of your
superiors in this exceedingly gross manner. If you have no reason to feel a becoming pride
before wax-work children, there are young ladies here who have, and you must either
defer to those young ladies or leave the establishment, Miss Edwards.’ This young lady, being motherless and poor,
was apprenticed at the school—taught for nothing—teaching others what she learnt,
for nothing—boarded for nothing—lodged for nothing—and set down and rated as something
immeasurably less than nothing, by all the dwellers in the house. The servant-maids felt her inferiority, for
they were better treated; free to come and go, and regarded in their stations with much
more respect. The teachers were infinitely superior, for
they had paid to go to school in their time, and were paid now. The pupils cared little for a companion who
had no grand stories to tell about home; no friends to come with post-horses, and be received
in all humility, with cake and wine, by the governess; no deferential servant to attend
and bear her home for the holidays; nothing genteel to talk about, and nothing to display. But why was Miss Monflathers always vexed
and irritated with the poor apprentice—how did that come to pass? Why, the gayest feather in Miss Monflathers’s
cap, and the brightest glory of Miss Monflathers’s school, was a baronet’s daughter—the real
live daughter of a real live baronet—who, by some extraordinary reversal of the Laws
of Nature, was not only plain in features but dull in intellect, while the poor apprentice
had both a ready wit, and a handsome face and figure. It seems incredible. Here was Miss Edwards, who only paid a small
premium which had been spent long ago, every day outshining and excelling the baronet’s
daughter, who learned all the extras (or was taught them all) and whose half-yearly bill
came to double that of any other young lady’s in the school, making no account of the honour
and reputation of her pupilage. Therefore, and because she was a dependent,
Miss Monflathers had a great dislike to Miss Edwards, and was spiteful to her, and aggravated
by her, and, when she had compassion on little Nell, verbally fell upon and maltreated her
as we have already seen. ‘You will not take the air to-day, Miss
Edwards,’ said Miss Monflathers. ‘Have the goodness to retire to your own
room, and not to leave it without permission.’ The poor girl was moving hastily away, when
she was suddenly, in nautical phrase, ‘brought to’ by a subdued shriek from Miss Monflathers. ‘She has passed me without any salute!’
cried the governess, raising her eyes to the sky. ‘She has actually passed me without the
slightest acknowledgment of my presence!’ The young lady turned and curtsied. Nell could see that she raised her dark eyes
to the face of her superior, and that their expression, and that of her whole attitude
for the instant, was one of mute but most touching appeal against this ungenerous usage. Miss Monflathers only tossed her head in reply,
and the great gate closed upon a bursting heart. ‘As for you, you wicked child,’ said Miss
Monflathers, turning to Nell, ‘tell your mistress that if she presumes to take the
liberty of sending to me any more, I will write to the legislative authorities and have
her put in the stocks, or compelled to do penance in a white sheet; and you may depend
upon it that you shall certainly experience the treadmill if you dare to come here again. Now ladies, on.’ The procession filed off, two and two, with
the books and parasols, and Miss Monflathers, calling the Baronet’s daughter to walk with
her and smooth her ruffled feelings, discarded the two teachers—who by this time had exchanged
their smiles for looks of sympathy—and left them to bring up the rear, and hate each other
a little more for being obliged to walk together. CHAPTER 32
Mrs Jarley’s wrath on first learning that she had been threatened with the indignity
of Stocks and Penance, passed all description. The genuine and only Jarley exposed to public
scorn, jeered by children, and flouted by beadles! The delight of the Nobility and Gentry shorn
of a bonnet which a Lady Mayoress might have sighed to wear, and arrayed in a white sheet
as a spectacle of mortification and humility! And Miss Monflathers, the audacious creature
who presumed, even in the dimmest and remotest distance of her imagination, to conjure up
the degrading picture, ‘I am a’most inclined,’ said Mrs Jarley, bursting with the fulness
of her anger and the weakness of her means of revenge, ‘to turn atheist when I think
of it!’ But instead of adopting this course of retaliation,
Mrs Jarley, on second thoughts, brought out the suspicious bottle, and ordering glasses
to be set forth upon her favourite drum, and sinking into a chair behind it, called her
satellites about her, and to them several times recounted, word for word, the affronts
she had received. This done, she begged them in a kind of deep
despair to drink; then laughed, then cried, then took a little sip herself, then laughed
and cried again, and took a little more; and so, by degrees, the worthy lady went on, increasing
in smiles and decreasing in tears, until at last she could not laugh enough at Miss Monflathers,
who, from being an object of dire vexation, became one of sheer ridicule and absurdity. ‘For which of us is best off, I wonder,’
quoth Mrs Jarley, ‘she or me! It’s only talking, when all is said and
done, and if she talks of me in the stocks, why I can talk of her in the stocks, which
is a good deal funnier if we come to that. Lord, what does it matter, after all!’ Having arrived at this comfortable frame of
mind (to which she had been greatly assisted by certain short interjectional remarks of
the philosophical George), Mrs Jarley consoled Nell with many kind words, and requested as
a personal favour that whenever she thought of Miss Monflathers, she would do nothing
else but laugh at her, all the days of her life. So ended Mrs Jarley’s wrath, which subsided
long before the going down of the sun. Nell’s anxieties, however, were of a deeper
kind, and the checks they imposed upon her cheerfulness were not so easily removed. That evening, as she had dreaded, her grandfather
stole away, and did not come back until the night was far spent. Worn out as she was, and fatigued in mind
and body, she sat up alone, counting the minutes, until he returned—penniless, broken-spirited,
and wretched, but still hotly bent upon his infatuation. ‘Get me money,’ he said wildly, as they
parted for the night. ‘I must have money, Nell. It shall be paid thee back with gallant interest
one day, but all the money that comes into thy hands, must be mine—not for myself,
but to use for thee. Remember, Nell, to use for thee!’ What could the child do with the knowledge
she had, but give him every penny that came into her hands, lest he should be tempted
on to rob their benefactress? If she told the truth (so thought the child)
he would be treated as a madman; if she did not supply him with money, he would supply
himself; supplying him, she fed the fire that burnt him up, and put him perhaps beyond recovery. Distracted by these thoughts, borne down by
the weight of the sorrow which she dared not tell, tortured by a crowd of apprehensions
whenever the old man was absent, and dreading alike his stay and his return, the colour
forsook her cheek, her eye grew dim, and her heart was oppressed and heavy. All her old sorrows had come back upon her,
augmented by new fears and doubts; by day they were ever present to her mind; by night
they hovered round her pillow, and haunted her in dreams. It was natural that, in the midst of her affliction,
she should often revert to that sweet young lady of whom she had only caught a hasty glance,
but whose sympathy, expressed in one slight brief action, dwelt in her memory like the
kindnesses of years. She would often think, if she had such a friend
as that to whom to tell her griefs, how much lighter her heart would be—that if she were
but free to hear that voice, she would be happier. Then she would wish that she were something
better, that she were not quite so poor and humble, that she dared address her without
fearing a repulse; and then feel that there was an immeasurable distance between them,
and have no hope that the young lady thought of her any more. It was now holiday-time at the schools, and
the young ladies had gone home, and Miss Monflathers was reported to be flourishing in London,
and damaging the hearts of middle-aged gentlemen, but nobody said anything about Miss Edwards,
whether she had gone home, or whether she had any home to go to, whether she was still
at the school, or anything about her. But one evening, as Nell was returning from
a lonely walk, she happened to pass the inn where the stage-coaches stopped, just as one
drove up, and there was the beautiful girl she so well remembered, pressing forward to
embrace a young child whom they were helping down from the roof. Well, this was her sister, her little sister,
much younger than Nell, whom she had not seen (so the story went afterwards) for five years,
and to bring whom to that place on a short visit, she had been saving her poor means
all that time. Nell felt as if her heart would break when
she saw them meet. They went a little apart from the knot of
people who had congregated about the coach, and fell upon each other’s neck, and sobbed,
and wept with joy. Their plain and simple dress, the distance
which the child had come alone, their agitation and delight, and the tears they shed, would
have told their history by themselves. They became a little more composed in a short
time, and went away, not so much hand in hand as clinging to each other. ‘Are you sure you’re happy, sister?’
said the child as they passed where Nell was standing. ‘Quite happy now,’ she answered. ‘But always?’ said the child. ‘Ah, sister, why do you turn away your face?’ Nell could not help following at a little
distance. They went to the house of an old nurse, where
the elder sister had engaged a bed-room for the child. ‘I shall come to you early every morning,’
she said, ‘and we can be together all the day.’ ‘Why not at night-time too? Dear sister, would they be angry with you
for that?’ Why were the eyes of little Nell wet, that
night, with tears like those of the two sisters? Why did she bear a grateful heart because
they had met, and feel it pain to think that they would shortly part? Let us not believe that any selfish reference—unconscious
though it might have been—to her own trials awoke this sympathy, but thank God that the
innocent joys of others can strongly move us, and that we, even in our fallen nature,
have one source of pure emotion which must be prized in Heaven! By morning’s cheerful glow, but oftener
still by evening’s gentle light, the child, with a respect for the short and happy intercourse
of these two sisters which forbade her to approach and say a thankful word, although
she yearned to do so, followed them at a distance in their walks and rambles, stopping when
they stopped, sitting on the grass when they sat down, rising when they went on, and feeling
it a companionship and delight to be so near them. Their evening walk was by a river’s side. Here, every night, the child was too, unseen
by them, unthought of, unregarded; but feeling as if they were her friends, as if they had
confidences and trusts together, as if her load were lightened and less hard to bear;
as if they mingled their sorrows, and found mutual consolation. It was a weak fancy perhaps, the childish
fancy of a young and lonely creature; but night after night, and still the sisters loitered
in the same place, and still the child followed with a mild and softened heart. She was much startled, on returning home one
night, to find that Mrs Jarley had commanded an announcement to be prepared, to the effect
that the stupendous collection would only remain in its present quarters one day longer;
in fulfilment of which threat (for all announcements connected with public amusements are well
known to be irrevocable and most exact), the stupendous collection shut up next day. ‘Are we going from this place directly,
ma’am?’ said Nell. ‘Look here, child,’ returned Mrs Jarley. ‘That’ll inform you.’ And so saying Mrs Jarley produced another
announcement, wherein it was stated, that, in consequence of numerous inquiries at the
wax-work door, and in consequence of crowds having been disappointed in obtaining admission,
the Exhibition would be continued for one week longer, and would re-open next day. ‘For now that the schools are gone, and
the regular sight-seers exhausted,’ said Mrs Jarley, ‘we come to the General Public,
and they want stimulating.’ Upon the following day at noon, Mrs Jarley
established herself behind the highly-ornamented table, attended by the distinguished effigies
before mentioned, and ordered the doors to be thrown open for the readmission of a discerning
and enlightened public. But the first day’s operations were by no
means of a successful character, inasmuch as the general public, though they manifested
a lively interest in Mrs Jarley personally, and such of her waxen satellites as were to
be seen for nothing, were not affected by any impulses moving them to the payment of
sixpence a head. Thus, notwithstanding that a great many people
continued to stare at the entry and the figures therein displayed; and remained there with
great perseverance, by the hour at a time, to hear the barrel-organ played and to read
the bills; and notwithstanding that they were kind enough to recommend their friends to
patronise the exhibition in the like manner, until the door-way was regularly blockaded
by half the population of the town, who, when they went off duty, were relieved by the other
half; it was not found that the treasury was any the richer, or that the prospects of the
establishment were at all encouraging. In this depressed state of the classical market,
Mrs Jarley made extraordinary efforts to stimulate the popular taste, and whet the popular curiosity. Certain machinery in the body of the nun on
the leads over the door was cleaned up and put in motion, so that the figure shook its
head paralytically all day long, to the great admiration of a drunken, but very Protestant,
barber over the way, who looked upon the said paralytic motion as typical of the degrading
effect wrought upon the human mind by the ceremonies of the Romish Church and discoursed
upon that theme with great eloquence and morality. The two carters constantly passed in and out
of the exhibition-room, under various disguises, protesting aloud that the sight was better
worth the money than anything they had beheld in all their lives, and urging the bystanders,
with tears in their eyes, not to neglect such a brilliant gratification. Mrs Jarley sat in the pay-place, chinking
silver moneys from noon till night, and solemnly calling upon the crowd to take notice that
the price of admission was only sixpence, and that the departure of the whole collection,
on a short tour among the Crowned Heads of Europe, was positively fixed for that day
week. ‘So be in time, be in time, be in time,’
said Mrs Jarley at the close of every such address. ‘Remember that this is Jarley’s stupendous
collection of upwards of One Hundred Figures, and that it is the only collection in the
world; all others being imposters and deceptions. Be in time, be in time, be in time!’ CHAPTER 33
As the course of this tale requires that we should become acquainted, somewhere hereabouts,
with a few particulars connected with the domestic economy of Mr Sampson Brass, and
as a more convenient place than the present is not likely to occur for that purpose, the
historian takes the friendly reader by the hand, and springing with him into the air,
and cleaving the same at a greater rate than ever Don Cleophas Leandro Perez Zambullo and
his familiar travelled through that pleasant region in company, alights with him upon the
pavement of Bevis Marks. The intrepid aeronauts alight before a small
dark house, once the residence of Mr Sampson Brass. In the parlour window of this little habitation,
which is so close upon the footway that the passenger who takes the wall brushes the dim
glass with his coat sleeve—much to its improvement, for it is very dirty—in this parlour window
in the days of its occupation by Sampson Brass, there hung, all awry and slack, and discoloured
by the sun, a curtain of faded green, so threadbare from long service as by no means to intercept
the view of the little dark room, but rather to afford a favourable medium through which
to observe it accurately. There was not much to look at. A rickety table, with spare bundles of papers,
yellow and ragged from long carriage in the pocket, ostentatiously displayed upon its
top; a couple of stools set face to face on opposite sides of this crazy piece of furniture;
a treacherous old chair by the fire-place, whose withered arms had hugged full many a
client and helped to squeeze him dry; a second-hand wig box, used as a depository for blank writs
and declarations and other small forms of law, once the sole contents of the head which
belonged to the wig which belonged to the box, as they were now of the box itself; two
or three common books of practice; a jar of ink, a pounce box, a stunted hearth-broom,
a carpet trodden to shreds but still clinging with the tightness of desperation to its tacks—these,
with the yellow wainscot of the walls, the smoke-discoloured ceiling, the dust and cobwebs,
were among the most prominent decorations of the office of Mr Sampson Brass. But this was mere still-life, of no greater
importance than the plate, ‘Brass, Solicitor,’ upon the door, and the bill, ‘First floor
to let to a single gentleman,’ which was tied to the knocker. The office commonly held two examples of animated
nature, more to the purpose of this history, and in whom it has a stronger interest and
more particular concern. Of these, one was Mr Brass himself, who has
already appeared in these pages. The other was his clerk, assistant, housekeeper,
secretary, confidential plotter, adviser, intriguer, and bill of cost increaser, Miss
Brass—a kind of amazon at common law, of whom it may be desirable to offer a brief
description. Miss Sally Brass, then, was a lady of thirty-five
or thereabouts, of a gaunt and bony figure, and a resolute bearing, which if it repressed
the softer emotions of love, and kept admirers at a distance, certainly inspired a feeling
akin to awe in the breasts of those male strangers who had the happiness to approach her. In face she bore a striking resemblance to
her brother, Sampson—so exact, indeed, was the likeness between them, that had it consorted
with Miss Brass’s maiden modesty and gentle womanhood to have assumed her brother’s
clothes in a frolic and sat down beside him, it would have been difficult for the oldest
friend of the family to determine which was Sampson and which Sally, especially as the
lady carried upon her upper lip certain reddish demonstrations, which, if the imagination
had been assisted by her attire, might have been mistaken for a beard. These were, however, in all probability, nothing
more than eyelashes in a wrong place, as the eyes of Miss Brass were quite free from any
such natural impertinencies. In complexion Miss Brass was sallow—rather
a dirty sallow, so to speak—but this hue was agreeably relieved by the healthy glow
which mantled in the extreme tip of her laughing nose. Her voice was exceedingly impressive—deep
and rich in quality, and, once heard, not easily forgotten. Her usual dress was a green gown, in colour
not unlike the curtain of the office window, made tight to the figure, and terminating
at the throat, where it was fastened behind by a peculiarly large and massive button. Feeling, no doubt, that simplicity and plainness
are the soul of elegance, Miss Brass wore no collar or kerchief except upon her head,
which was invariably ornamented with a brown gauze scarf, like the wing of the fabled vampire,
and which, twisted into any form that happened to suggest itself, formed an easy and graceful
head-dress. Such was Miss Brass in person. In mind, she was of a strong and vigorous
turn, having from her earliest youth devoted herself with uncommon ardour to the study
of law; not wasting her speculations upon its eagle flights, which are rare, but tracing
it attentively through all the slippery and eel-like crawlings in which it commonly pursues
its way. Nor had she, like many persons of great intellect,
confined herself to theory, or stopped short where practical usefulness begins; inasmuch
as she could ingross, fair-copy, fill up printed forms with perfect accuracy, and, in short,
transact any ordinary duty of the office down to pouncing a skin of parchment or mending
a pen. It is difficult to understand how, possessed
of these combined attractions, she should remain Miss Brass; but whether she had steeled
her heart against mankind, or whether those who might have wooed and won her, were deterred
by fears that, being learned in the law, she might have too near her fingers’ ends those
particular statutes which regulate what are familiarly termed actions for breach, certain
it is that she was still in a state of celibacy, and still in daily occupation of her old stool
opposite to that of her brother Sampson. And equally certain it is, by the way, that
between these two stools a great many people had come to the ground. One morning Mr Sampson Brass sat upon his
stool copying some legal process, and viciously digging his pen deep into the paper, as if
he were writing upon the very heart of the party against whom it was directed; and Miss
Sally Brass sat upon her stool making a new pen preparatory to drawing out a little bill,
which was her favourite occupation; and so they sat in silence for a long time, until
Miss Brass broke silence. ‘Have you nearly done, Sammy?’ said Miss
Brass; for in her mild and feminine lips, Sampson became Sammy, and all things were
softened down. ‘No,’ returned her brother. ‘It would have been all done though, if
you had helped at the right time.’ ‘Oh yes, indeed,’ cried Miss Sally; ‘you
want my help, don’t you?—you, too, that are going to keep a clerk!’ ‘Am I going to keep a clerk for my own pleasure,
or because of my own wish, you provoking rascal!’ said Mr Brass, putting his pen in his mouth,
and grinning spitefully at his sister. ‘What do you taunt me about going to keep
a clerk for?’ It may be observed in this place, lest the
fact of Mr Brass calling a lady a rascal, should occasion any wonderment or surprise,
that he was so habituated to having her near him in a man’s capacity, that he had gradually
accustomed himself to talk to her as though she were really a man. And this feeling was so perfectly reciprocal,
that not only did Mr Brass often call Miss Brass a rascal, or even put an adjective before
the rascal, but Miss Brass looked upon it as quite a matter of course, and was as little
moved as any other lady would be by being called an angel. ‘What do you taunt me, after three hours’
talk last night, with going to keep a clerk for?’ repeated Mr Brass, grinning again with the
pen in his mouth, like some nobleman’s or gentleman’s crest. ‘Is it my fault?’ ‘All I know is,’ said Miss Sally, smiling
drily, for she delighted in nothing so much as irritating her brother, ‘that if every
one of your clients is to force us to keep a clerk, whether we want to or not, you had
better leave off business, strike yourself off the roll, and get taken in execution,
as soon as you can.’ ‘Have we got any other client like him?’
said Brass. ‘Have we got another client like him now—will
you answer me that?’ ‘Do you mean in the face!’ said his sister. ‘Do I mean in the face!’ sneered Sampson
Brass, reaching over to take up the bill-book, and fluttering its leaves rapidly. ‘Look here—Daniel Quilp, Esquire—Daniel
Quilp, Esquire—Daniel Quilp, Esquire—all through. Whether should I take a clerk that he recommends,
and says, “this is the man for you,” or lose all this, eh?’ Miss Sally deigned to make no reply, but smiled
again, and went on with her work. ‘But I know what it is,’ resumed Brass
after a short silence. ‘You’re afraid you won’t have as long
a finger in the business as you’ve been used to have. Do you think I don’t see through that?’ ‘The business wouldn’t go on very long,
I expect, without me,’ returned his sister composedly. ‘Don’t you be a fool and provoke me, Sammy,
but mind what you’re doing, and do it.’ Sampson Brass, who was at heart in great fear
of his sister, sulkily bent over his writing again, and listened as she said: ‘If I determined that the clerk ought not
to come, of course he wouldn’t be allowed to come. You know that well enough, so don’t talk
nonsense.’ Mr Brass received this observation with increased
meekness, merely remarking, under his breath, that he didn’t like that kind of joking,
and that Miss Sally would be ‘a much better fellow’ if she forbore to aggravate him. To this compliment Miss Sally replied, that
she had a relish for the amusement, and had no intention to forego its gratification. Mr Brass not caring, as it seemed, to pursue
the subject any further, they both plied their pens at a great pace, and there the discussion
ended. While they were thus employed, the window
was suddenly darkened, as by some person standing close against it. As Mr Brass and Miss Sally looked up to ascertain
the cause, the top sash was nimbly lowered from without, and Quilp thrust in his head. ‘Hallo!’ he said, standing on tip-toe
on the window-sill, and looking down into the room. ‘Is there anybody at home? Is there any of the Devil’s ware here? Is Brass at a premium, eh?’ ‘Ha, ha, ha!’ laughed the lawyer in an
affected ecstasy. ‘Oh, very good, Sir! Oh, very good indeed! Quite eccentric! Dear me, what humour he has!’ ‘Is that my Sally?’ croaked the dwarf, ogling the fair Miss Brass. ‘Is it Justice with the bandage off her
eyes, and without the sword and scales? Is it the Strong Arm of the Law? Is it the Virgin of Bevis?’ ‘What an amazing flow of spirits!’ cried
Brass. ‘Upon my word, it’s quite extraordinary!’ ‘Open the door,’ said Quilp, ‘I’ve
got him here. Such a clerk for you, Brass, such a prize,
such an ace of trumps. Be quick and open the door, or if there’s
another lawyer near and he should happen to look out of window, he’ll snap him up before
your eyes, he will.’ It is probable that the loss of the phoenix
of clerks, even to a rival practitioner, would not have broken Mr Brass’s heart; but, pretending
great alacrity, he rose from his seat, and going to the door, returned, introducing his
client, who led by the hand no less a person than Mr Richard Swiveller. ‘There she is,’ said Quilp, stopping short
at the door, and wrinkling up his eyebrows as he looked towards Miss Sally; ‘there
is the woman I ought to have married—there is the beautiful Sarah—there is the female
who has all the charms of her sex and none of their weaknesses. Oh Sally, Sally!’ To this amorous address Miss Brass briefly
responded ‘Bother!’ ‘Hard-hearted as the metal from which she
takes her name,’ said Quilp. ‘Why don’t she change it—melt down the
brass, and take another name?’ ‘Hold your nonsense, Mr Quilp, do,’ returned
Miss Sally, with a grim smile. ‘I wonder you’re not ashamed of yourself
before a strange young man.’ ‘The strange young man,’ said Quilp, handing
Dick Swiveller forward, ‘is too susceptible himself not to understand me well. This is Mr Swiveller, my intimate friend—a
gentleman of good family and great expectations, but who, having rather involved himself by
youthful indiscretion, is content for a time to fill the humble station of a clerk—humble,
but here most enviable. What a delicious atmosphere!’ If Mr Quilp spoke figuratively, and meant
to imply that the air breathed by Miss Sally Brass was sweetened and rarefied by that dainty
creature, he had doubtless good reason for what he said. But if he spoke of the delights of the atmosphere
of Mr Brass’s office in a literal sense, he had certainly a peculiar taste, as it was
of a close and earthy kind, and, besides being frequently impregnated with strong whiffs
of the second-hand wearing apparel exposed for sale in Duke’s Place and Houndsditch,
had a decided flavour of rats and mice, and a taint of mouldiness. Perhaps some doubts of its pure delight presented
themselves to Mr Swiveller, as he gave vent to one or two short abrupt sniffs, and looked
incredulously at the grinning dwarf. ‘Mr Swiveller,’ said Quilp, ‘being pretty
well accustomed to the agricultural pursuits of sowing wild oats, Miss Sally, prudently
considers that half a loaf is better than no bread. To be out of harm’s way he prudently thinks
is something too, and therefore he accepts your brother’s offer. Brass, Mr Swiveller is yours.’ ‘I am very glad, Sir,’ said Mr Brass,
‘very glad indeed. Mr Swiveller, Sir, is fortunate enough to
have your friendship. You may be very proud, Sir, to have the friendship
of Mr Quilp.’ Dick murmured something about never wanting
a friend or a bottle to give him, and also gasped forth his favourite allusion to the
wing of friendship and its never moulting a feather; but his faculties appeared to be
absorbed in the contemplation of Miss Sally Brass, at whom he stared with blank and rueful
looks, which delighted the watchful dwarf beyond measure. As to the divine Miss Sally herself, she rubbed
her hands as men of business do, and took a few turns up and down the office with her
pen behind her ear. ‘I suppose,’ said the dwarf, turning briskly
to his legal friend, ‘that Mr Swiveller enters upon his duties at once? It’s Monday morning.’ ‘At once, if you please, Sir, by all means,’
returned Brass. ‘Miss Sally will teach him law, the delightful
study of the law,’ said Quilp; ‘she’ll be his guide, his friend, his companion, his
Blackstone, his Coke upon Littleton, his Young Lawyer’s Best Companion.’ ‘He is exceedingly eloquent,’ said Brass,
like a man abstracted, and looking at the roofs of the opposite houses, with his hands
in his pockets; ‘he has an extraordinary flow of language. Beautiful, really.’ ‘With Miss Sally,’ Quilp went on, ‘and
the beautiful fictions of the law, his days will pass like minutes. Those charming creations of the poet, John
Doe and Richard Roe, when they first dawn upon him, will open a new world for the enlargement
of his mind and the improvement of his heart.’ ‘Oh, beautiful, beautiful! Beau-ti-ful indeed!’ cried Brass. ‘It’s a treat to hear him!’ ‘Where will Mr Swiveller sit?’ said Quilp,
looking round. ‘Why, we’ll buy another stool, sir,’
returned Brass. ‘We hadn’t any thoughts of having a gentleman
with us, sir, until you were kind enough to suggest it, and our accommodation’s not
extensive. We’ll look about for a second-hand stool,
sir. In the meantime, if Mr Swiveller will take
my seat, and try his hand at a fair copy of this ejectment, as I shall be out pretty well
all the morning—’ ‘Walk with me,’ said Quilp. ‘I have a word or two to say to you on points
of business. Can you spare the time?’ ‘Can I spare the time to walk with you,
sir? You’re joking, sir, you’re joking with
me,’ replied the lawyer, putting on his hat. ‘I’m ready, sir, quite ready. My time must be fully occupied indeed, sir,
not to leave me time to walk with you. It’s not everybody, sir, who has an opportunity
of improving himself by the conversation of Mr Quilp.’ The dwarf glanced sarcastically at his brazen
friend, and, with a short dry cough, turned upon his heel to bid adieu to Miss Sally. After a very gallant parting on his side,
and a very cool and gentlemanly sort of one on hers, he nodded to Dick Swiveller, and
withdrew with the attorney. Dick stood at the desk in a state of utter
stupefaction, staring with all his might at the beauteous Sally, as if she had been some
curious animal whose like had never lived. When the dwarf got into the street, he mounted
again upon the window-sill, and looked into the office for a moment with a grinning face,
as a man might peep into a cage. Dick glanced upward at him, but without any
token of recognition; and long after he had disappeared, still stood gazing upon Miss
Sally Brass, seeing or thinking of nothing else, and rooted to the spot. Miss Brass being by this time deep in the
bill of costs, took no notice whatever of Dick, but went scratching on, with a noisy
pen, scoring down the figures with evident delight, and working like a steam-engine. There stood Dick, gazing now at the green
gown, now at the brown head-dress, now at the face, and now at the rapid pen, in a state
of stupid perplexity, wondering how he got into the company of that strange monster,
and whether it was a dream and he would ever wake. At last he heaved a deep sigh, and began slowly
pulling off his coat. Mr Swiveller pulled off his coat, and folded
it up with great elaboration, staring at Miss Sally all the time; then put on a blue jacket
with a double row of gilt buttons, which he had originally ordered for aquatic expeditions,
but had brought with him that morning for office purposes; and, still keeping his eye
upon her, suffered himself to drop down silently upon Mr Brass’s stool. Then he underwent a relapse, and becoming
powerless again, rested his chin upon his hand, and opened his eyes so wide, that it
appeared quite out of the question that he could ever close them any more. When he had looked so long that he could see
nothing, Dick took his eyes off the fair object of his amazement, turned over the leaves of
the draft he was to copy, dipped his pen into the inkstand, and at last, and by slow approaches,
began to write. But he had not written half-a-dozen words
when, reaching over to the inkstand to take a fresh dip, he happened to raise his eyes. There was the intolerable brown head-dress—there
was the green gown—there, in short, was Miss Sally Brass, arrayed in all her charms,
and more tremendous than ever. This happened so often, that Mr Swiveller
by degrees began to feel strange influences creeping over him—horrible desires to annihilate
this Sally Brass—mysterious promptings to knock her head-dress off and try how she looked
without it. There was a very large ruler on the table;
a large, black, shining ruler. Mr Swiveller took it up and began to rub his
nose with it. From rubbing his nose with the ruler, to poising
it in his hand and giving it an occasional flourish after the tomahawk manner, the transition
was easy and natural. In some of these flourishes it went close
to Miss Sally’s head; the ragged edges of the head-dress fluttered with the wind it
raised; advance it but an inch, and that great brown knot was on the ground: yet still the
unconscious maiden worked away, and never raised her eyes. Well, this was a great relief. It was a good thing to write doggedly and
obstinately until he was desperate, and then snatch up the ruler and whirl it about the
brown head-dress with the consciousness that he could have it off if he liked. It was a good thing to draw it back, and rub
his nose very hard with it, if he thought Miss Sally was going to look up, and to recompense
himself with more hardy flourishes when he found she was still absorbed. By these means Mr Swiveller calmed the agitation
of his feelings, until his applications to the ruler became less fierce and frequent,
and he could even write as many as half-a-dozen consecutive lines without having recourse
to it—which was a great victory. CHAPTER 34
In course of time, that is to say, after a couple of hours or so, of diligent application,
Miss Brass arrived at the conclusion of her task, and recorded the fact by wiping her
pen upon the green gown, and taking a pinch of snuff from a little round tin box which
she carried in her pocket. Having disposed of this temperate refreshment,
she arose from her stool, tied her papers into a formal packet with red tape, and taking
them under her arm, marched out of the office. Mr Swiveller had scarcely sprung off his seat
and commenced the performance of a maniac hornpipe, when he was interrupted, in the
fulness of his joy at being again alone, by the opening of the door, and the reappearance
of Miss Sally’s head. ‘I am going out,’ said Miss Brass. ‘Very good, ma’am,’ returned Dick. ‘And don’t hurry yourself on my account
to come back, ma’am,’ he added inwardly. ‘If anybody comes on office business, take
their messages, and say that the gentleman who attends to that matter isn’t in at present,
will you?’ said Miss Brass. ‘I will, ma’am,’ replied Dick. ‘I shan’t be very long,’ said Miss Brass,
retiring. ‘I’m sorry to hear it, ma’am,’ rejoined
Dick when she had shut the door. ‘I hope you may be unexpectedly detained,
ma’am. If you could manage to be run over, ma’am,
but not seriously, so much the better.’ Uttering these expressions of good-will with
extreme gravity, Mr Swiveller sat down in the client’s chair and pondered; then took
a few turns up and down the room and fell into the chair again. ‘So I’m Brass’s clerk, am I?’ said
Dick. ‘Brass’s clerk, eh? And the clerk of Brass’s sister—clerk
to a female Dragon. Very good, very good! What shall I be next? Shall I be a convict in a felt hat and a grey
suit, trotting about a dockyard with my number neatly embroidered on my uniform, and the
order of the garter on my leg, restrained from chafing my ankle by a twisted belcher
handkerchief? Shall I be that? Will that do, or is it too genteel? Whatever you please, have it your own way,
of course.’ As he was entirely alone, it may be presumed
that, in these remarks, Mr Swiveller addressed himself to his fate or destiny, whom, as we
learn by the precedents, it is the custom of heroes to taunt in a very bitter and ironical
manner when they find themselves in situations of an unpleasant nature. This is the more probable from the circumstance
of Mr Swiveller directing his observations to the ceiling, which these bodily personages
are usually supposed to inhabit—except in theatrical cases, when they live in the heart
of the great chandelier. ‘Quilp offers me this place, which he says
he can insure me,’ resumed Dick after a thoughtful silence, and telling off the circumstances
of his position, one by one, upon his fingers; ‘Fred, who, I could have taken my affidavit,
would not have heard of such a thing, backs Quilp to my astonishment, and urges me to
take it also—staggerer, number one! My aunt in the country stops the supplies,
and writes an affectionate note to say that she has made a new will, and left me out of
it—staggerer, number two. No money; no credit; no support from Fred,
who seems to turn steady all at once; notice to quit the old lodgings—staggerers, three,
four, five, and six! Under an accumulation of staggerers, no man
can be considered a free agent. No man knocks himself down; if his destiny
knocks him down, his destiny must pick him up again. Then I’m very glad that mine has brought
all this upon itself, and I shall be as careless as I can, and make myself quite at home to
spite it. So go on my buck,’ said Mr Swiveller, taking
his leave of the ceiling with a significant nod, ‘and let us see which of us will be
tired first!’ Dismissing the subject of his downfall with
these reflections, which were no doubt very profound, and are indeed not altogether unknown
in certain systems of moral philosophy, Mr Swiveller shook off his despondency and assumed
the cheerful ease of an irresponsible clerk. As a means towards his composure and self-possession,
he entered into a more minute examination of the office than he had yet had time to
make; looked into the wig-box, the books, and ink-bottle; untied and inspected all the
papers; carved a few devices on the table with a sharp blade of Mr Brass’s penknife;
and wrote his name on the inside of the wooden coal-scuttle. Having, as it were, taken formal possession
of his clerkship in virtue of these proceedings, he opened the window and leaned negligently
out of it until a beer-boy happened to pass, whom he commanded to set down his tray and
to serve him with a pint of mild porter, which he drank upon the spot and promptly paid for,
with the view of breaking ground for a system of future credit and opening a correspondence
tending thereto, without loss of time. Then, three or four little boys dropped in,
on legal errands from three or four attorneys of the Brass grade: whom Mr Swiveller received
and dismissed with about as professional a manner, and as correct and comprehensive an
understanding of their business, as would have been shown by a clown in a pantomime
under similar circumstances. These things done and over, he got upon his
stool again and tried his hand at drawing caricatures of Miss Brass with a pen and ink,
whistling very cheerfully all the time. He was occupied in this diversion when a coach
stopped near the door, and presently afterwards there was a loud double-knock. As this was no business of Mr Swiveller’s,
the person not ringing the office bell, he pursued his diversion with perfect composure,
notwithstanding that he rather thought there was nobody else in the house. In this, however, he was mistaken; for, after
the knock had been repeated with increased impatience, the door was opened, and somebody
with a very heavy tread went up the stairs and into the room above. Mr Swiveller was wondering whether this might
be another Miss Brass, twin sister to the Dragon, when there came a rapping of knuckles
at the office door. ‘Come in!’ said Dick. ‘Don’t stand upon ceremony. The business will get rather complicated if
I’ve many more customers. Come in!’ ‘Oh, please,’ said a little voice very
low down in the doorway, ‘will you come and show the lodgings?’ Dick leant over the table, and descried a
small slipshod girl in a dirty coarse apron and bib, which left nothing of her visible
but her face and feet. She might as well have been dressed in a violin-case. ‘Why, who are you?’ said Dick. To which the only reply was, ‘Oh, please
will you come and show the lodgings?’ There never was such an old-fashioned child
in her looks and manner. She must have been at work from her cradle. She seemed as much afraid of Dick, as Dick
was amazed at her. ‘I hav’n’t got anything to do with the
lodgings,’ said Dick. ‘Tell ‘em to call again.’ ‘Oh, but please will you come and show the
lodgings,’ returned the girl; ‘It’s eighteen shillings a week and us finding plate
and linen. Boots and clothes is extra, and fires in winter-time
is eightpence a day.’ ‘Why don’t you show ‘em yourself? You seem to know all about ‘em,’ said
Dick. ‘Miss Sally said I wasn’t to, because
people wouldn’t believe the attendance was good if they saw how small I was first.’ ‘Well, but they’ll see how small you are
afterwards, won’t they?’ said Dick. ‘Ah! But then they’ll have taken ‘em for a
fortnight certain,’ replied the child with a shrewd look; ‘and people don’t like
moving when they’re once settled.’ ‘This is a queer sort of thing,’ muttered
Dick, rising. ‘What do you mean to say you are—the cook?’ ‘Yes, I do plain cooking;’ replied the
child. ‘I’m housemaid too; I do all the work
of the house.’ ‘I suppose Brass and the Dragon and I do
the dirtiest part of it,’ thought Dick. And he might have thought much more, being
in a doubtful and hesitating mood, but that the girl again urged her request, and certain
mysterious bumping sounds on the passage and staircase seemed to give note of the applicant’s
impatience. Richard Swiveller, therefore, sticking a pen
behind each ear, and carrying another in his mouth as a token of his great importance and
devotion to business, hurried out to meet and treat with the single gentleman. He was a little surprised to perceive that
the bumping sounds were occasioned by the progress up-stairs of the single gentleman’s
trunk, which, being nearly twice as wide as the staircase, and exceedingly heavy withal,
it was no easy matter for the united exertions of the single gentleman and the coachman to
convey up the steep ascent. But there they were, crushing each other,
and pushing and pulling with all their might, and getting the trunk tight and fast in all
kinds of impossible angles, and to pass them was out of the question; for which sufficient
reason, Mr Swiveller followed slowly behind, entering a new protest on every stair against
the house of Mr Sampson Brass being thus taken by storm. To these remonstrances, the single gentleman
answered not a word, but when the trunk was at last got into the bed-room, sat down upon
it and wiped his bald head and face with his handkerchief. He was very warm, and well he might be; for,
not to mention the exertion of getting the trunk up stairs, he was closely muffled in
winter garments, though the thermometer had stood all day at eighty-one in the shade. ‘I believe, sir,’ said Richard Swiveller,
taking his pen out of his mouth, ‘that you desire to look at these apartments. They are very charming apartments, sir. They command an uninterrupted view of—of
over the way, and they are within one minute’s walk of—of the corner of the street. There is exceedingly mild porter, sir, in
the immediate vicinity, and the contingent advantages are extraordinary.’ ‘What’s the rent?’ said the single gentleman. ‘One pound per week,’ replied Dick, improving
on the terms. ‘I’ll take ‘em.’ ‘The boots and clothes are extras,’ said
Dick; ‘and the fires in winter time are—’ ‘Are all agreed to,’ answered the single
gentleman. ‘Two weeks certain,’ said Dick, ‘are
the—’ ‘Two weeks!’ cried the single gentleman
gruffly, eyeing him from top to toe. ‘Two years. I shall live here for two years. Here. Ten pounds down. The bargain’s made.’ ‘Why you see,’ said Dick, ‘my name is
not Brass, and—’ ‘Who said it was? My name’s not Brass. What then?’ ‘The name of the master of the house is,’
said Dick. ‘I’m glad of it,’ returned the single
gentleman; ‘it’s a good name for a lawyer. Coachman, you may go. So may you, Sir.’ Mr Swiveller was so much confounded by the
single gentleman riding roughshod over him at this rate, that he stood looking at him
almost as hard as he had looked at Miss Sally. The single gentleman, however, was not in
the slightest degree affected by this circumstance, but proceeded with perfect composure to unwind
the shawl which was tied round his neck, and then to pull off his boots. Freed of these encumbrances, he went on to
divest himself of his other clothing, which he folded up, piece by piece, and ranged in
order on the trunk. Then, he pulled down the window-blinds, drew
the curtains, wound up his watch, and, quite leisurely and methodically, got into bed. ‘Take down the bill,’ were his parting
words, as he looked out from between the curtains; ‘and let nobody call me till I ring the
bell.’ With that the curtains closed, and he seemed
to snore immediately. ‘This is a most remarkable and supernatural
sort of house!’ said Mr Swiveller, as he walked into the office with the bill in his
hand. ‘She-dragons in the business, conducting
themselves like professional gentlemen; plain cooks of three feet high appearing mysteriously
from under ground; strangers walking in and going to bed without leave or licence in the
middle of the day! If he should be one of the miraculous fellows
that turn up now and then, and has gone to sleep for two years, I shall be in a pleasant
situation. It’s my destiny, however, and I hope Brass
may like it. I shall be sorry if he don’t. But it’s no business of mine—I have nothing
whatever to do with it!’ CHAPTER 35
Mr Brass on returning home received the report of his clerk with much complacency and satisfaction,
and was particular in inquiring after the ten-pound note, which, proving on examination
to be a good and lawful note of the Governor and Company of the Bank of England, increased
his good-humour considerably. Indeed he so overflowed with liberality and
condescension, that, in the fulness of his heart, he invited Mr Swiveller to partake
of a bowl of punch with him at that remote and indefinite period which is currently denominated
‘one of these days,’ and paid him many handsome compliments on the uncommon aptitude
for business which his conduct on the first day of his devotion to it had so plainly evinced. It was a maxim with Mr Brass that the habit
of paying compliments kept a man’s tongue oiled without any expense; and, as that useful
member ought never to grow rusty or creak in turning on its hinges in the case of a
practitioner of the law, in whom it should be always glib and easy, he lost few opportunities
of improving himself by the utterance of handsome speeches and eulogistic expressions. And this had passed into such a habit with
him, that, if he could not be correctly said to have his tongue at his fingers’ ends,
he might certainly be said to have it anywhere but in his face: which being, as we have already
seen, of a harsh and repulsive character, was not oiled so easily, but frowned above
all the smooth speeches—one of nature’s beacons, warning off those who navigated the
shoals and breakers of the World, or of that dangerous strait the Law, and admonishing
them to seek less treacherous harbours and try their fortune elsewhere. While Mr Brass by turns overwhelmed his clerk
with compliments and inspected the ten-pound note, Miss Sally showed little emotion and
that of no pleasurable kind, for as the tendency of her legal practice had been to fix her
thoughts on small gains and gripings, and to whet and sharpen her natural wisdom, she
was not a little disappointed that the single gentleman had obtained the lodgings at such
an easy rate, arguing that when he was seen to have set his mind upon them, he should
have been at the least charged double or treble the usual terms, and that, in exact proportion
as he pressed forward, Mr Swiveller should have hung back. But neither the good opinion of Mr Brass,
nor the dissatisfaction of Miss Sally, wrought any impression upon that young gentleman,
who, throwing the responsibility of this and all other acts and deeds thereafter to be
done by him, upon his unlucky destiny, was quite resigned and comfortable: fully prepared
for the worst, and philosophically indifferent to the best. ‘Good morning, Mr Richard,’ said Brass,
on the second day of Mr Swiveller’s clerkship. ‘Sally found you a second-hand stool, Sir,
yesterday evening, in Whitechapel. She’s a rare fellow at a bargain, I can
tell you, Mr Richard. You’ll find that a first-rate stool, Sir,
take my word for it.’ ‘It’s rather a crazy one to look at,’
said Dick. ‘You’ll find it a most amazing stool to
sit down upon, you may depend,’ returned Mr Brass. ‘It was bought in the open street just opposite
the hospital, and as it has been standing there a month of two, it has got rather dusty
and a little brown from being in the sun, that’s all.’ ‘I hope it hasn’t got any fevers or anything
of that sort in it,’ said Dick, sitting himself down discontentedly, between Mr Sampson
and the chaste Sally. ‘One of the legs is longer than the others.’ ‘Then we get a bit of timber in, Sir,’
retorted Brass. ‘Ha, ha, ha! We get a bit of timber in, Sir, and that’s
another advantage of my sister’s going to market for us. Miss Brass, Mr Richard is the—’ ‘Will you keep quiet?’ interrupted the fair subject of these remarks,
looking up from her papers. ‘How am I to work if you keep on chattering?’ ‘What an uncertain chap you are!’ returned
the lawyer. ‘Sometimes you’re all for a chat. At another time you’re all for work. A man never knows what humour he’ll find
you in.’ ‘I’m in a working humour now,’ said
Sally, ‘so don’t disturb me, if you please. And don’t take him,’ Miss Sally pointed
with the feather of her pen to Richard, ‘off his business. He won’t do more than he can help, I dare
say.’ Mr Brass had evidently a strong inclination
to make an angry reply, but was deterred by prudent or timid considerations, as he only
muttered something about aggravation and a vagabond; not associating the terms with any
individual, but mentioning them as connected with some abstract ideas which happened to
occur to him. They went on writing for a long time in silence
after this—in such a dull silence that Mr Swiveller (who required excitement) had several
times fallen asleep, and written divers strange words in an unknown character with his eyes
shut, when Miss Sally at length broke in upon the monotony of the office by pulling out
the little tin box, taking a noisy pinch of snuff, and then expressing her opinion that
Mr Richard Swiveller had ‘done it.’ ‘Done what, ma’am?’ said Richard. ‘Do you know,’ returned Miss Brass, ‘that
the lodger isn’t up yet— that nothing has been seen or heard of him since he went
to bed yesterday afternoon?’ ‘Well, ma’am,’ said Dick, ‘I suppose
he may sleep his ten pound out, in peace and quietness, if he likes.’ ‘Ah! I begin to think he’ll never wake,’ observed
Miss Sally. ‘It’s a very remarkable circumstance,’
said Brass, laying down his pen; ‘really, very remarkable. Mr Richard, you’ll remember, if this gentleman
should be found to have hung himself to the bed-post, or any unpleasant accident of that
kind should happen—you’ll remember, Mr Richard, that this ten pound note was given
to you in part payment of two years’ rent? You’ll bear that in mind, Mr Richard; you
had better make a note of it, sir, in case you should ever be called upon to give evidence.’ Mr Swiveller took a large sheet of foolscap,
and with a countenance of profound gravity, began to make a very small note in one corner. ‘We can never be too cautious,’ said Mr
Brass. ‘There is a deal of wickedness going about
the world, a deal of wickedness. Did the gentleman happen to say, Sir—but
never mind that at present, sir; finish that little memorandum first.’ Dick did so, and handed it to Mr Brass, who
had dismounted from his stool, and was walking up and down the office. ‘Oh, this is the memorandum, is it?’ said
Brass, running his eye over the document. ‘Very good. Now, Mr Richard, did the gentleman say anything
else?’ ‘No.’ ‘Are you sure, Mr Richard,’ said Brass,
solemnly, ‘that the gentleman said nothing else?’ ‘Devil a word, Sir,’ replied Dick. ‘Think again, Sir,’ said Brass; ‘it’s
my duty, Sir, in the position in which I stand, and as an honourable member of the legal profession—the
first profession in this country, Sir, or in any other country, or in any of the planets
that shine above us at night and are supposed to be inhabited—it’s my duty, Sir, as
an honourable member of that profession, not to put to you a leading question in a matter
of this delicacy and importance. Did the gentleman, Sir, who took the first
floor of you yesterday afternoon, and who brought with him a box of property—a box
of property—say anything more than is set down in this memorandum?’ ‘Come, don’t be a fool,’ said Miss Sally. Dick looked at her, and then at Brass, and
then at Miss Sally again, and still said ‘No.’ ‘Pooh, pooh! Deuce take it, Mr Richard, how dull you are!’
cried Brass, relaxing into a smile. ‘Did he say anything about his property?—there!’ ‘That’s the way to put it,’ said Miss
Sally, nodding to her brother. ‘Did he say, for instance,’ added Brass,
in a kind of comfortable, cozy tone—‘I don’t assert that he did say so, mind; I
only ask you, to refresh your memory—did he say, for instance, that he was a stranger
in London—that it was not his humour or within his ability to give any references—that
he felt we had a right to require them—and that, in case anything should happen to him,
at any time, he particularly desired that whatever property he had upon the premises
should be considered mine, as some slight recompense for the trouble and annoyance I
should sustain—and were you, in short,’ added Brass, still more comfortably and cozily
than before, ‘were you induced to accept him on my behalf, as a tenant, upon those
conditions?’ ‘Certainly not,’ replied Dick. ‘Why then, Mr Richard,’ said Brass, darting
at him a supercilious and reproachful look, ‘it’s my opinion that you’ve mistaken
your calling, and will never make a lawyer.’ ‘Not if you live a thousand years,’ added
Miss Sally. Whereupon the brother and sister took each
a noisy pinch of snuff from the little tin box, and fell into a gloomy thoughtfulness. Nothing further passed up to Mr Swiveller’s
dinner-time, which was at three o’clock, and seemed about three weeks in coming. At the first stroke of the hour, the new clerk
disappeared. At the last stroke of five, he reappeared,
and the office, as if by magic, became fragrant with the smell of gin and water and lemon-peel. ‘Mr Richard,’ said Brass, ‘this man’s
not up yet. Nothing will wake him, sir. What’s to be done?’ ‘I should let him have his sleep out,’
returned Dick. ‘Sleep out!’ cried Brass; ‘why he has been asleep now,
six-and-twenty hours. We have been moving chests of drawers over
his head, we have knocked double knocks at the street-door, we have made the servant-girl
fall down stairs several times (she’s a light weight, and it don’t hurt her much,)
but nothing wakes him.’ ‘Perhaps a ladder,’ suggested Dick, ‘and
getting in at the first-floor window—’ ‘But then there’s a door between; besides,
the neighbours would be up in arms,’ said Brass. ‘What do you say to getting on the roof
of the house through the trap-door, and dropping down the chimney?’ suggested Dick. ‘That would be an excellent plan,’ said
Brass, ‘if anybody would be—’ and here he looked very hard at Mr Swiveller—‘would
be kind, and friendly, and generous enough, to undertake it. I dare say it would not be anything like as
disagreeable as one supposes.’ Dick had made the suggestion, thinking that
the duty might possibly fall within Miss Sally’s department. As he said nothing further, and declined taking
the hint, Mr Brass was fain to propose that they should go up stairs together, and make
a last effort to awaken the sleeper by some less violent means, which, if they failed
on this last trial, must positively be succeeded by stronger measures. Mr Swiveller, assenting, armed himself with
his stool and the large ruler, and repaired with his employer to the scene of action,
where Miss Brass was already ringing a hand-bell with all her might, and yet without producing
the smallest effect upon their mysterious lodger. ‘There are his boots, Mr Richard!’ said
Brass. ‘Very obstinate-looking articles they are
too,’ quoth Richard Swiveller. And truly, they were as sturdy and bluff a
pair of boots as one would wish to see; as firmly planted on the ground as if their owner’s
legs and feet had been in them; and seeming, with their broad soles and blunt toes, to
hold possession of their place by main force. ‘I can’t see anything but the curtain
of the bed,’ said Brass, applying his eye to the keyhole of the door. ‘Is he a strong man, Mr Richard?’ ‘Very,’ answered Dick. ‘It would be an extremely unpleasant circumstance
if he was to bounce out suddenly,’ said Brass. ‘Keep the stairs clear. I should be more than a match for him, of
course, but I’m the master of the house, and the laws of hospitality must be respected.—Hallo
there! Hallo, hallo!’ While Mr Brass, with his eye curiously twisted
into the keyhole, uttered these sounds as a means of attracting the lodger’s attention,
and while Miss Brass plied the hand-bell, Mr Swiveller put his stool close against the
wall by the side of the door, and mounting on the top and standing bolt upright, so that
if the lodger did make a rush, he would most probably pass him in its onward fury, began
a violent battery with the ruler upon the upper panels of the door. Captivated with his own ingenuity, and confident
in the strength of his position, which he had taken up after the method of those hardy
individuals who open the pit and gallery doors of theatres on crowded nights, Mr Swiveller
rained down such a shower of blows, that the noise of the bell was drowned; and the small
servant, who lingered on the stairs below, ready to fly at a moment’s notice, was obliged
to hold her ears lest she should be rendered deaf for life. Suddenly the door was unlocked on the inside,
and flung violently open. The small servant flew to the coal-cellar;
Miss Sally dived into her own bed-room; Mr Brass, who was not remarkable for personal
courage, ran into the next street, and finding that nobody followed him, armed with a poker
or other offensive weapon, put his hands in his pockets, walked very slowly all at once,
and whistled. Meanwhile, Mr Swiveller, on the top of the
stool, drew himself into as flat a shape as possible against the wall, and looked, not
unconcernedly, down upon the single gentleman, who appeared at the door growling and cursing
in a very awful manner, and, with the boots in his hand, seemed to have an intention of
hurling them down stairs on speculation. This idea, however, he abandoned. He was turning into his room again, still
growling vengefully, when his eyes met those of the watchful Richard. ‘Have you been making that horrible noise?’
said the single gentleman. ‘I have been helping, sir,’ returned Dick,
keeping his eye upon him, and waving the ruler gently in his right hand, as an indication
of what the single gentleman had to expect if he attempted any violence. ‘How dare you then,’ said the lodger,
‘Eh?’ To this, Dick made no other reply than by
inquiring whether the lodger held it to be consistent with the conduct and character
of a gentleman to go to sleep for six-and-twenty hours at a stretch, and whether the peace
of an amiable and virtuous family was to weigh as nothing in the balance. ‘Is my peace nothing?’ said the single
gentleman. ‘Is their peace nothing, sir?’ returned Dick. ‘I don’t wish to hold out any threats,
sir—indeed the law does not allow of threats, for to threaten is an indictable offence—but
if ever you do that again, take care you’re not sat upon by the coroner and buried in
a cross road before you wake. We have been distracted with fears that you
were dead, Sir,’ said Dick, gently sliding to the ground, ‘and the short and the long
of it is, that we cannot allow single gentlemen to come into this establishment and sleep
like double gentlemen without paying extra for it.’ ‘Indeed!’ cried the lodger. ‘Yes, Sir, indeed,’ returned Dick, yielding
to his destiny and saying whatever came uppermost; ‘an equal quantity of slumber was never
got out of one bed and bedstead, and if you’re going to sleep in that way, you must pay for
a double-bedded room.’ Instead of being thrown into a greater passion
by these remarks, the lodger lapsed into a broad grin and looked at Mr Swiveller with
twinkling eyes. He was a brown-faced sun-burnt man, and appeared
browner and more sun-burnt from having a white nightcap on. As it was clear that he was a choleric fellow
in some respects, Mr Swiveller was relieved to find him in such good humour, and, to encourage
him in it, smiled himself. The lodger, in the testiness of being so rudely
roused, had pushed his nightcap very much on one side of his bald head. This gave him a rakish eccentric air which,
now that he had leisure to observe it, charmed Mr Swiveller exceedingly; therefore, by way
of propitiation, he expressed his hope that the gentleman was going to get up, and further
that he would never do so any more. ‘Come here, you impudent rascal!’ was
the lodger’s answer as he re-entered his room. Mr Swiveller followed him in, leaving the
stool outside, but reserving the ruler in case of a surprise. He rather congratulated himself on his prudence
when the single gentleman, without notice or explanation of any kind, double-locked
the door. ‘Can you drink anything?’ was his next
inquiry. Mr Swiveller replied that he had very recently
been assuaging the pangs of thirst, but that he was still open to ‘a modest quencher,’
if the materials were at hand. Without another word spoken on either side,
the lodger took from his great trunk, a kind of temple, shining as of polished silver,
and placed it carefully on the table. Greatly interested in his proceedings, Mr
Swiveller observed him closely. Into one little chamber of this temple, he
dropped an egg; into another some coffee; into a third a compact piece of raw steak
from a neat tin case; into a fourth, he poured some water. Then, with the aid of a phosphorus-box and
some matches, he procured a light and applied it to a spirit-lamp which had a place of its
own below the temple; then, he shut down the lids of all the little chambers; then he opened
them; and then, by some wonderful and unseen agency, the steak was done, the egg was boiled,
the coffee was accurately prepared, and his breakfast was ready. ‘Hot water—’ said the lodger, handing
it to Mr Swiveller with as much coolness as if he had a kitchen fire before him—‘extraordinary
rum—sugar—and a travelling glass. Mix for yourself. And make haste.’ Dick complied, his eyes wandering all the
time from the temple on the table, which seemed to do everything, to the great trunk which
seemed to hold everything. The lodger took his breakfast like a man who
was used to work these miracles, and thought nothing of them. ‘The man of the house is a lawyer, is he
not?’ said the lodger. Dick nodded. The rum was amazing. ‘The woman of the house—what’s she?’ ‘A dragon,’ said Dick. The single gentleman, perhaps because he had
met with such things in his travels, or perhaps because he was a single gentleman, evinced
no surprise, but merely inquired ‘Wife or sister?’—‘Sister,’ said Dick.—‘So
much the better,’ said the single gentleman, ‘he can get rid of her when he likes.’ ‘I want to do as I like, young man,’ he
added after a short silence; ‘to go to bed when I like, get up when I like, come in when
I like, go out when I like—to be asked no questions and be surrounded by no spies. In this last respect, servants are the devil. There’s only one here.’ ‘And a very little one,’ said Dick. ‘And a very little one,’ repeated the
lodger. ‘Well, the place will suit me, will it?’ ‘Yes,’ said Dick. ‘Sharks, I suppose?’ said the lodger. Dick nodded assent, and drained his glass. ‘Let them know my humour,’ said the single
gentleman, rising. ‘If they disturb me, they lose a good tenant. If they know me to be that, they know enough. If they try to know more, it’s a notice
to quit. It’s better to understand these things at
once. Good day.’ ‘I beg your pardon,’ said Dick, halting
in his passage to the door, which the lodger prepared to open. ‘When he who adores thee has left but the
name—’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘—But the name,’ said Dick—‘has
left but the name—in case of letters or parcels—’ ‘I never have any,’ returned the lodger. ‘Or in the case anybody should call.’ ‘Nobody ever calls on me.’ ‘If any mistake should arise from not having
the name, don’t say it was my fault, Sir,’ added Dick, still lingering.—‘Oh blame
not the bard—’ ‘I’ll blame nobody,’ said the lodger,
with such irascibility that in a moment Dick found himself on the staircase, and the locked
door between them. Mr Brass and Miss Sally were lurking hard
by, having been, indeed, only routed from the keyhole by Mr Swiveller’s abrupt exit. As their utmost exertions had not enabled
them to overhear a word of the interview, however, in consequence of a quarrel for precedence,
which, though limited of necessity to pushes and pinches and such quiet pantomime, had
lasted the whole time, they hurried him down to the office to hear his account of the conversation. This Mr Swiveller gave them—faithfully as
regarded the wishes and character of the single gentleman, and poetically as concerned the
great trunk, of which he gave a description more remarkable for brilliancy of imagination
than a strict adherence to truth; declaring, with many strong asseverations, that it contained
a specimen of every kind of rich food and wine, known in these times, and in particular
that it was of a self-acting kind and served up whatever was required, as he supposed by
clock-work. He also gave them to understand that the cooking
apparatus roasted a fine piece of sirloin of beef, weighing about six pounds avoir-dupoise,
in two minutes and a quarter, as he had himself witnessed, and proved by his sense of taste;
and further, that, however the effect was produced, he had distinctly seen water boil
and bubble up when the single gentleman winked; from which facts he (Mr Swiveller) was led
to infer that the lodger was some great conjuror or chemist, or both, whose residence under
that roof could not fail at some future days to shed a great credit and distinction on
the name of Brass, and add a new interest to the history of Bevis Marks. There was one point which Mr Swiveller deemed
it unnecessary to enlarge upon, and that was the fact of the modest quencher, which, by
reason of its intrinsic strength and its coming close upon the heels of the temperate beverage
he had discussed at dinner, awakened a slight degree of fever, and rendered necessary two
or three other modest quenchers at the public-house in the course of the evening. CHAPTER 36
As the single gentleman after some weeks’ occupation of his lodgings, still declined
to correspond, by word or gesture, either with Mr Brass or his sister Sally, but invariably
chose Richard Swiveller as his channel of communication; and as he proved himself in
all respects a highly desirable inmate, paying for everything beforehand, giving very little
trouble, making no noise, and keeping early hours; Mr Richard imperceptibly rose to an
important position in the family, as one who had influence over this mysterious lodger,
and could negotiate with him, for good or evil, when nobody else durst approach his
person. If the truth must be told, even Mr Swiveller’s
approaches to the single gentleman were of a very distant kind, and met with small encouragement;
but, as he never returned from a monosyllabic conference with the unknown, without quoting
such expressions as ‘Swiveller, I know I can rely upon you,’—‘I have no hesitation
in saying, Swiveller, that I entertain a regard for you,’—‘Swiveller, you are my friend,
and will stand by me I am sure,’ with many other short speeches of the same familiar
and confiding kind, purporting to have been addressed by the single gentleman to himself,
and to form the staple of their ordinary discourse, neither Mr Brass nor Miss Sally for a moment
questioned the extent of his influence, but accorded to him their fullest and most unqualified
belief. But quite apart from, and independent of,
this source of popularity, Mr Swiveller had another, which promised to be equally enduring,
and to lighten his position considerably. He found favour in the eyes of Miss Sally
Brass. Let not the light scorners of female fascination
erect their ears to listen to a new tale of love which shall serve them for a jest; for
Miss Brass, however accurately formed to be beloved, was not of the loving kind. That amiable virgin, having clung to the skirts
of the Law from her earliest youth; having sustained herself by their aid, as it were,
in her first running alone, and maintained a firm grasp upon them ever since; had passed
her life in a kind of legal childhood. She had been remarkable, when a tender prattler
for an uncommon talent in counterfeiting the walk and manner of a bailiff: in which character
she had learned to tap her little playfellows on the shoulder, and to carry them off to
imaginary sponging-houses, with a correctness of imitation which was the surprise and delight
of all who witnessed her performances, and which was only to be exceeded by her exquisite
manner of putting an execution into her doll’s house, and taking an exact inventory of the
chairs and tables. These artless sports had naturally soothed
and cheered the decline of her widowed father: a most exemplary gentleman (called ‘old
Foxey’ by his friends from his extreme sagacity,) who encouraged them to the utmost, and whose
chief regret, on finding that he drew near to Houndsditch churchyard, was, that his daughter
could not take out an attorney’s certificate and hold a place upon the roll. Filled with this affectionate and touching
sorrow, he had solemnly confided her to his son Sampson as an invaluable auxiliary; and
from the old gentleman’s decease to the period of which we treat, Miss Sally Brass
had been the prop and pillar of his business. It is obvious that, having devoted herself
from infancy to this one pursuit and study, Miss Brass could know but little of the world,
otherwise than in connection with the law; and that from a lady gifted with such high
tastes, proficiency in those gentler and softer arts in which women usually excel, was scarcely
to be looked for. Miss Sally’s accomplishments were all of
a masculine and strictly legal kind. They began with the practice of an attorney
and they ended with it. She was in a state of lawful innocence, so
to speak. The law had been her nurse. And, as bandy-legs or such physical deformities
in children are held to be the consequence of bad nursing, so, if in a mind so beautiful
any moral twist or handiness could be found, Miss Sally Brass’s nurse was alone to blame. It was upon this lady, then, that Mr Swiveller
burst in full freshness as something new and hitherto undreamed of, lighting up the office
with scraps of song and merriment, conjuring with inkstands and boxes of wafers, catching
three oranges in one hand, balancing stools upon his chin and penknives on his nose, and
constantly performing a hundred other feats with equal ingenuity; for with such unbendings
did Richard, in Mr Brass’s absence, relieve the tedium of his confinement. These social qualities, which Miss Sally first
discovered by accident, gradually made such an impression upon her, that she would entreat
Mr Swiveller to relax as though she were not by, which Mr Swiveller, nothing loth, would
readily consent to do. By these means a friendship sprung up between
them. Mr Swiveller gradually came to look upon her
as her brother Sampson did, and as he would have looked upon any other clerk. He imparted to her the mystery of going the
odd man or plain Newmarket for fruit, ginger-beer, baked potatoes, or even a modest quencher,
of which Miss Brass did not scruple to partake. He would often persuade her to undertake his
share of writing in addition to her own; nay, he would sometimes reward her with a hearty
slap on the back, and protest that she was a devilish good fellow, a jolly dog, and so
forth; all of which compliments Miss Sally would receive in entire good part and with
perfect satisfaction. One circumstance troubled Mr Swiveller’s
mind very much, and that was that the small servant always remained somewhere in the bowels
of the earth under Bevis Marks, and never came to the surface unless the single gentleman
rang his bell, when she would answer it and immediately disappear again. She never went out, or came into the office,
or had a clean face, or took off the coarse apron, or looked out of any one of the windows,
or stood at the street-door for a breath of air, or had any rest or enjoyment whatever. Nobody ever came to see her, nobody spoke
of her, nobody cared about her. Mr Brass had said once, that he believed she
was a ‘love-child’ (which means anything but a child of love), and that was all the
information Richard Swiveller could obtain. ‘It’s of no use asking the dragon,’
thought Dick one day, as he sat contemplating the features of Miss Sally Brass. ‘I suspect if I asked any questions on that
head, our alliance would be at an end. I wonder whether she is a dragon by-the-bye,
or something in the mermaid way. She has rather a scaly appearance. But mermaids are fond of looking at themselves
in the glass, which she can’t be. And they have a habit of combing their hair,
which she hasn’t. No, she’s a dragon.’ ‘Where are you going, old fellow?’ said
Dick aloud, as Miss Sally wiped her pen as usual on the green dress, and uprose from
her seat. ‘To dinner,’ answered the dragon. ‘To dinner!’ thought Dick, ‘that’s
another circumstance. I don’t believe that small servant ever
has anything to eat.’ ‘Sammy won’t be home,’ said Miss Brass. ‘Stop till I come back. I sha’n’t be long.’ Dick nodded, and followed Miss Brass—with
his eyes to the door, and with his ears to a little back parlour, where she and her brother
took their meals. ‘Now,’ said Dick, walking up and down
with his hands in his pockets, ‘I’d give something—if I had it—to know how they
use that child, and where they keep her. My mother must have been a very inquisitive
woman; I have no doubt I’m marked with a note of interrogation somewhere. My feelings I smother, but thou hast been
the cause of this anguish, my—upon my word,’ said Mr Swiveller, checking himself and falling
thoughtfully into the client’s chair, ‘I should like to know how they use her!’ After running on, in this way, for some time,
Mr Swiveller softly opened the office door, with the intention of darting across the street
for a glass of the mild porter. At that moment he caught a parting glimpse
of the brown head-dress of Miss Brass flitting down the kitchen stairs. ‘And by Jove!’ thought Dick, ‘she’s
going to feed the small servant. Now or never!’ First peeping over the handrail and allowing
the head-dress to disappear in the darkness below, he groped his way down, and arrived
at the door of a back kitchen immediately after Miss Brass had entered the same, bearing
in her hand a cold leg of mutton. It was a very dark miserable place, very low
and very damp: the walls disfigured by a thousand rents and blotches. The water was trickling out of a leaky butt,
and a most wretched cat was lapping up the drops with the sickly eagerness of starvation. The grate, which was a wide one, was wound
and screwed up tight, so as to hold no more than a little thin sandwich of fire. Everything was locked up; the coal-cellar,
the candle-box, the salt-box, the meat-safe, were all padlocked. There was nothing that a beetle could have
lunched upon. The pinched and meagre aspect of the place
would have killed a chameleon. He would have known, at the first mouthful,
that the air was not eatable, and must have given up the ghost in despair. The small servant stood with humility in presence
of Miss Sally, and hung her head. ‘Are you there?’ said Miss Sally. ‘Yes, ma’am,’ was the answer in a weak
voice. ‘Go further away from the leg of mutton,
or you’ll be picking it, I know,’ said Miss Sally. The girl withdrew into a corner, while Miss
Brass took a key from her pocket, and opening the safe, brought from it a dreary waste of
cold potatoes, looking as eatable as Stonehenge. This she placed before the small servant,
ordering her to sit down before it, and then, taking up a great carving-knife, made a mighty
show of sharpening it upon the carving-fork. ‘Do you see this?’ said Miss Brass, slicing
off about two square inches of cold mutton, after all this preparation, and holding it
out on the point of the fork. The small servant looked hard enough at it
with her hungry eyes to see every shred of it, small as it was, and answered, ‘yes.’ ‘Then don’t you ever go and say,’ retorted
Miss Sally, ‘that you hadn’t meat here. There, eat it up.’ This was soon done. ‘Now, do you want any more?’ said Miss
Sally. The hungry creature answered with a faint
‘No.’ They were evidently going through an established
form. ‘You’ve been helped once to meat,’ said
Miss Brass, summing up the facts; ‘you have had as much as you can eat, you’re asked
if you want any more, and you answer, ‘no!’ Then don’t you ever go and say you were
allowanced, mind that.’ With those words, Miss Sally put the meat
away and locked the safe, and then drawing near to the small servant, overlooked her
while she finished the potatoes. It was plain that some extraordinary grudge
was working in Miss Brass’s gentle breast, and that it was that which impelled her, without
the smallest present cause, to rap the child with the blade of the knife, now on her hand,
now on her head, and now on her back, as if she found it quite impossible to stand so
close to her without administering a few slight knocks. But Mr Swiveller was not a little surprised
to see his fellow-clerk, after walking slowly backwards towards the door, as if she were
trying to withdraw herself from the room but could not accomplish it, dart suddenly forward,
and falling on the small servant give her some hard blows with her clenched hand. The victim cried, but in a subdued manner
as if she feared to raise her voice, and Miss Sally, comforting herself with a pinch of
snuff, ascended the stairs, just as Richard had safely reached the office. CHAPTER 37
The single gentleman among his other peculiarities—and he had a very plentiful stock, of which he
every day furnished some new specimen—took a most extraordinary and remarkable interest
in the exhibition of Punch. If the sound of a Punch’s voice, at ever
so remote a distance, reached Bevis Marks, the single gentleman, though in bed and asleep,
would start up, and, hurrying on his clothes, make for the spot with all speed, and presently
return at the head of a long procession of idlers, having in the midst the theatre and
its proprietors. Straightway, the stage would be set up in
front of Mr Brass’s house; the single gentleman would establish himself at the first floor
window; and the entertainment would proceed, with all its exciting accompaniments of fife
and drum and shout, to the excessive consternation of all sober votaries of business in that
silent thoroughfare. It might have been expected that when the
play was done, both players and audience would have dispersed; but the epilogue was as bad
as the play, for no sooner was the Devil dead, than the manager of the puppets and his partner
were summoned by the single gentleman to his chamber, where they were regaled with strong
waters from his private store, and where they held with him long conversations, the purport
of which no human being could fathom. But the secret of these discussions was of
little importance. It was sufficient to know that while they
were proceeding, the concourse without still lingered round the house; that boys beat upon
the drum with their fists, and imitated Punch with their tender voices; that the office-window
was rendered opaque by flattened noses, and the key-hole of the street-door luminous with
eyes; that every time the single gentleman or either of his guests was seen at the upper
window, or so much as the end of one of their noses was visible, there was a great shout
of execration from the excluded mob, who remained howling and yelling, and refusing consolation,
until the exhibitors were delivered up to them to be attended elsewhere. It was sufficient, in short, to know that
Bevis Marks was revolutionised by these popular movements, and that peace and quietness fled
from its precincts. Nobody was rendered more indignant by these
proceedings than Mr Sampson Brass, who, as he could by no means afford to lose so profitable
an inmate, deemed it prudent to pocket his lodger’s affront along with his cash, and
to annoy the audiences who clustered round his door by such imperfect means of retaliation
as were open to him, and which were confined to the trickling down of foul water on their
heads from unseen watering pots, pelting them with fragments of tile and mortar from the
roof of the house, and bribing the drivers of hackney cabriolets to come suddenly round
the corner and dash in among them precipitately. It may, at first sight, be matter of surprise
to the thoughtless few that Mr Brass, being a professional gentleman, should not have
legally indicted some party or parties, active in the promotion of the nuisance, but they
will be good enough to remember, that as Doctors seldom take their own prescriptions, and Divines
do not always practise what they preach, so lawyers are shy of meddling with the Law on
their own account: knowing it to be an edged tool of uncertain application, very expensive
in the working, and rather remarkable for its properties of close shaving, than for
its always shaving the right person. ‘Come,’ said Mr Brass one afternoon, ‘this
is two days without a Punch. I’m in hopes he has run through ‘em all,
at last.’ ‘Why are you in hopes?’ returned Miss Sally. ‘What harm do they do?’ ‘Here’s a pretty sort of a fellow!’
cried Brass, laying down his pen in despair. ‘Now here’s an aggravating animal!’ ‘Well, what harm do they do?’ retorted Sally. ‘What harm!’ cried Brass. ‘Is it no harm to have a constant hallooing
and hooting under one’s very nose, distracting one from business, and making one grind one’s
teeth with vexation? Is it no harm to be blinded and choked up,
and have the king’s highway stopped with a set of screamers and roarers whose throats
must be made of—of—’ ‘Brass,’ suggested Mr Swiveller. ‘Ah! of brass,’ said the lawyer, glancing
at his clerk, to assure himself that he had suggested the word in good faith and without
any sinister intention. ‘Is that no harm?’ The lawyer stopped short in his invective,
and listening for a moment, and recognising the well-known voice, rested his head upon
his hand, raised his eyes to the ceiling, and muttered faintly, ‘There’s another!’ Up went the single gentleman’s window directly. ‘There’s another,’ repeated Brass; ‘and
if I could get a break and four blood horses to cut into the Marks when the crowd is at
its thickest, I’d give eighteen-pence and never grudge it!’ The distant squeak was heard again. The single gentleman’s door burst open. He ran violently down the stairs, out into
the street, and so past the window, without any hat, towards the quarter whence the sound
proceeded—bent, no doubt, upon securing the strangers’ services directly. ‘I wish I only knew who his friends were,’
muttered Sampson, filling his pocket with papers; ‘if they’d just get up a pretty
little Commission de lunatico at the Gray’s Inn Coffee House and give me the job, I’d
be content to have the lodgings empty for one while, at all events.’ With which words, and knocking his hat over
his eyes as if for the purpose of shutting out even a glimpse of the dreadful visitation,
Mr Brass rushed from the house and hurried away. As Mr Swiveller was decidedly favourable to
these performances, upon the ground that looking at a Punch, or indeed looking at anything
out of window, was better than working; and as he had been, for this reason, at some pains
to awaken in his fellow clerk a sense of their beauties and manifold deserts; both he and
Miss Sally rose as with one accord and took up their positions at the window: upon the
sill whereof, as in a post of honour, sundry young ladies and gentlemen who were employed
in the dry nurture of babies, and who made a point of being present, with their young
charges, on such occasions, had already established themselves as comfortably as the circumstances
would allow. The glass being dim, Mr Swiveller, agreeably
to a friendly custom which he had established between them, hitched off the brown head-dress
from Miss Sally’s head, and dusted it carefully therewith. By the time he had handed it back, and its
beautiful wearer had put it on again (which she did with perfect composure and indifference),
the lodger returned with the show and showmen at his heels, and a strong addition to the
body of spectators. The exhibitor disappeared with all speed behind
the drapery; and his partner, stationing himself by the side of the Theatre, surveyed the audience
with a remarkable expression of melancholy, which became more remarkable still when he
breathed a hornpipe tune into that sweet musical instrument which is popularly termed a mouth-organ,
without at all changing the mournful expression of the upper part of his face, though his
mouth and chin were, of necessity, in lively spasms. The drama proceeded to its close, and held
the spectators enchained in the customary manner. The sensation which kindles in large assemblies,
when they are relieved from a state of breathless suspense and are again free to speak and move,
was yet rife, when the lodger, as usual, summoned the men up stairs. ‘Both of you,’ he called from the window;
for only the actual exhibitor—a little fat man—prepared to obey the summons. ‘I want to talk to you. Come both of you!’ ‘Come, Tommy,’ said the little man. ‘I an’t a talker,’ replied the other. ‘Tell him so. What should I go and talk for?’ ‘Don’t you see the gentleman’s got a
bottle and glass up there?’ returned the little man. ‘And couldn’t you have said so at first?’ retorted the other with sudden alacrity. ‘Now, what are you waiting for? Are you going to keep the gentleman expecting
us all day? haven’t you no manners?’ With this remonstrance, the melancholy man,
who was no other than Mr Thomas Codlin, pushed past his friend and brother in the craft,
Mr Harris, otherwise Short or Trotters, and hurried before him to the single gentleman’s
apartment. ‘Now, my men,’ said the single gentleman;
‘you have done very well. What will you take? Tell that little man behind, to shut the door.’ ‘Shut the door, can’t you?’ said Mr
Codlin, turning gruffly to his friend. ‘You might have knowed that the gentleman
wanted the door shut, without being told, I think.’ Mr Short obeyed, observing under his breath
that his friend seemed unusually ‘cranky,’ and expressing a hope that there was no dairy
in the neighbourhood, or his temper would certainly spoil its contents. The gentleman pointed to a couple of chairs,
and intimated by an emphatic nod of his head that he expected them to be seated. Messrs Codlin and Short, after looking at
each other with considerable doubt and indecision, at length sat down—each on the extreme edge
of the chair pointed out to him—and held their hats very tight, while the single gentleman
filled a couple of glasses from a bottle on the table beside him, and presented them in
due form. ‘You’re pretty well browned by the sun,
both of you,’ said their entertainer. ‘Have you been travelling?’ Mr Short replied in the affirmative with a
nod and a smile. Mr Codlin added a corroborative nod and a
short groan, as if he still felt the weight of the Temple on his shoulders. ‘To fairs, markets, races, and so forth,
I suppose?’ pursued the single gentleman. ‘Yes, sir,’ returned Short, ‘pretty
nigh all over the West of England.’ ‘I have talked to men of your craft from
North, East, and South,’ returned their host, in rather a hasty manner; ‘but I never
lighted on any from the West before.’ ‘It’s our reg’lar summer circuit is
the West, master,’ said Short; ‘that’s where it is. We takes the East of London in the spring
and winter, and the West of England in the summer time. Many’s the hard day’s walking in rain
and mud, and with never a penny earned, we’ve had down in the West.’ ‘Let me fill your glass again.’ ‘Much obleeged to you sir, I think I will,’
said Mr Codlin, suddenly thrusting in his own and turning Short’s aside. ‘I’m the sufferer, sir, in all the travelling,
and in all the staying at home. In town or country, wet or dry, hot or cold,
Tom Codlin suffers. But Tom Codlin isn’t to complain for all
that. Oh, no! Short may complain, but if Codlin grumbles
by so much as a word—oh dear, down with him, down with him directly. It isn’t his place to grumble. That’s quite out of the question.’ ‘Codlin an’t without his usefulness,’
observed Short with an arch look, ‘but he don’t always keep his eyes open. He falls asleep sometimes, you know. Remember them last races, Tommy.’ ‘Will you never leave off aggravating a
man?’ said Codlin. ‘It’s very like I was asleep when five-and-tenpence
was collected, in one round, isn’t it? I was attending to my business, and couldn’t
have my eyes in twenty places at once, like a peacock, no more than you could. If I an’t a match for an old man and a young
child, you an’t neither, so don’t throw that out against me, for the cap fits your
head quite as correct as it fits mine.’ ‘You may as well drop the subject, Tom,’
said Short. ‘It isn’t particular agreeable to the
gentleman, I dare say.’ ‘Then you shouldn’t have brought it up,’
returned Mr Codlin; ‘and I ask the gentleman’s pardon on your account, as a giddy chap that
likes to hear himself talk, and don’t much care what he talks about, so that he does
talk.’ Their entertainer had sat perfectly quiet
in the beginning of this dispute, looking first at one man and then at the other, as
if he were lying in wait for an opportunity of putting some further question, or reverting
to that from which the discourse had strayed. But, from the point where Mr Codlin was charged
with sleepiness, he had shown an increasing interest in the discussion: which now attained
a very high pitch. ‘You are the two men I want,’ he said,
‘the two men I have been looking for, and searching after! Where are that old man and that child you
speak of?’ ‘Sir?’ said Short, hesitating, and looking
towards his friend. ‘The old man and his grandchild who travelled
with you—where are they? It will be worth your while to speak out,
I assure you; much better worth your while than you believe. They left you, you say—at those races, as
I understand. They have been traced to that place, and there
lost sight of. Have you no clue, can you suggest no clue,
to their recovery?’ ‘Did I always say, Thomas,’ cried Short,
turning with a look of amazement to his friend, ‘that there was sure to be an inquiry after
them two travellers?’ ‘You said!’ returned Mr Codlin. ‘Did I always say that that ‘ere blessed
child was the most interesting I ever see? Did I always say I loved her, and doated on
her? Pretty creetur, I think I hear her now. “Codlin’s my friend,” she says, with
a tear of gratitude a trickling down her little eye; “Codlin’s my friend,” she says—“not
Short. Short’s very well,” she says; “I’ve
no quarrel with Short; he means kind, I dare say; but Codlin,” she says, “has the feelings
for my money, though he mayn’t look it.”’ Repeating these words with great emotion,
Mr Codlin rubbed the bridge of his nose with his coat-sleeve, and shaking his head mournfully
from side to side, left the single gentleman to infer that, from the moment when he lost
sight of his dear young charge, his peace of mind and happiness had fled. ‘Good Heaven!’ said the single gentleman,
pacing up and down the room, ‘have I found these men at last, only to discover that they
can give me no information or assistance! It would have been better to have lived on,
in hope, from day to day, and never to have lighted on them, than to have my expectations
scattered thus.’ ‘Stay a minute,’ said Short. ‘A man of the name of Jerry—you know Jerry,
Thomas?’ ‘Oh, don’t talk to me of Jerrys,’ replied
Mr Codlin. ‘How can I care a pinch of snuff for Jerrys,
when I think of that ‘ere darling child? “Codlin’s my friend,” she says, “dear,
good, kind Codlin, as is always a devising pleasures for me! I don’t object to Short,” she says, “but
I cotton to Codlin.” Once,’ said that gentleman reflectively,
‘she called me Father Codlin. I thought I should have bust!’ ‘A man of the name of Jerry, sir,’ said
Short, turning from his selfish colleague to their new acquaintance, ‘wot keeps a
company of dancing dogs, told me, in a accidental sort of way, that he had seen the old gentleman
in connexion with a travelling wax-work, unbeknown to him. As they’d given us the slip, and nothing
had come of it, and this was down in the country that he’d been seen, I took no measures
about it, and asked no questions—But I can, if you like.’ ‘Is this man in town?’ said the impatient
single gentleman. ‘Speak faster.’ ‘No he isn’t, but he will be to-morrow,
for he lodges in our house,’ replied Mr Short rapidly. ‘Then bring him here,’ said the single
gentleman. ‘Here’s a sovereign a-piece. If I can find these people through your means,
it is but a prelude to twenty more. Return to me to-morrow, and keep your own
counsel on this subject—though I need hardly tell you that; for you’ll do so for your
own sakes. Now, give me your address, and leave me.’ The address was given, the two men departed,
the crowd went with them, and the single gentleman for two mortal hours walked in uncommon agitation
up and down his room, over the wondering heads of Mr Swiveller and Miss Sally Brass.