The Old Curiosity Shop
Part 3 out of 13
He was sitting in his easy chair one day, and Nell upon a stool
beside him, when a man outside the door inquired if he might enter.
'Yes,' he said without emotion, 'it was Quilp, he knew. Quilp was
master there. Of course he might come in.' And so he did.
'I'm glad to see you well again at last, neighbour,' said the
dwarf, sitting down opposite him. 'You're quite strong now?'
'Yes,' said the old man feebly, 'yes.'
'I don't want to hurry you, you know, neighbour,' said the dwarf,
raising his voice, for the old man's senses were duller than they
had been; 'but, as soon as you can arrange your future proceedings,
'Surely,' said the old man. 'The better for all parties.'
'You see,' pursued Quilp after a short pause, 'the goods being once
removed, this house would be uncomfortable; uninhabitable in fact.'
'You say true,' returned the old man. 'Poor Nell too, what would
'Exactly,' bawled the dwarf nodding his head; 'that's very well
observed. Then will you consider about it, neighbour?'
'I will, certainly,' replied the old man. 'We shall not stop here.'
'So I supposed,' said the dwarf. 'I have sold the things. They have
not yielded quite as much as they might have done, but pretty well--
pretty well. To-day's Tuesday. When shall they be moved? There's
no hurry--shall we say this afternoon?'
'Say Friday morning,' returned the old man.
'Very good,' said the dwarf. 'So be it--with the understanding
that I can't go beyond that day, neighbour, on any account.'
'Good,' returned the old man. 'I shall remember it.'
Mr Quilp seemed rather puzzled by the strange, even spiritless way
in which all this was said; but as the old man nodded his head and
repeated 'on Friday morning. I shall remember it,' he had no excuse
for dwelling on the subject any further, and so took a friendly
leave with many expressions of good-will and many compliments to
his friend on his looking so remarkably well; and went below stairs
to report progress to Mr Brass.
All that day, and all the next, the old man remained in this state.
He wandered up and down the house and into and out of the various
rooms, as if with some vague intent of bidding them adieu, but he
referred neither by direct allusions nor in any other manner to the
interview of the morning or the necessity of finding some other
shelter. An indistinct idea he had, that the child was desolate and
in want of help; for he often drew her to his bosom and bade her be
of good cheer, saying that they would not desert each other; but he
seemed unable to contemplate their real position more distinctly,
and was still the listless, passionless creature that suffering of
mind and body had left him.
We call this a state of childishness, but it is the same poor
hollow mockery of it, that death is of sleep. Where, in the dull
eyes of doating men, are the laughing light and life of childhood,
the gaiety that has known no check, the frankness that has felt no
chill, the hope that has never withered, the joys that fade in
blossoming? Where, in the sharp lineaments of rigid and unsightly
death, is the calm beauty of slumber, telling of rest for the
waking hours that are past, and gentle hopes and loves for those
which are to come? Lay death and sleep down, side by side, and say
who shall find the two akin. Send forth the child and childish man
together, and blush for the pride that libels our own old happy
state, and gives its title to an ugly and distorted image.
Thursday arrived, and there was no alteration in the old man. But
a change came upon him that evening as he and the child sat
In a small dull yard below his window, there was a tree--green and
flourishing enough, for such a place--and as the air stirred among
its leaves, it threw a rippling shadow on the white wall. The old
man sat watching the shadows as they trembled in this patch of
light, until the sun went down; and when it was night, and the moon
was slowly rising, he still sat in the same spot.
To one who had been tossing on a restless bed so long, even these
few green leaves and this tranquil light, although it languished
among chimneys and house-tops, were pleasant things. They suggested
quiet places afar off, and rest, and peace. The child thought, more
than once that he was moved: and had forborne to speak. But now he
shed tears--tears that it lightened her aching heart to see--and
making as though he would fall upon his knees, besought her to
'Forgive you--what?' said Nell, interposing to prevent his
purpose. 'Oh grandfather, what should I forgive?'
'All that is past, all that has come upon thee, Nell, all that was
done in that uneasy dream,' returned the old man.
'Do not talk so,' said the child. 'Pray do not. Let us speak of
'Yes, yes, we will,' he rejoined. 'And it shall be of what we
talked of long ago--many months--months is it, or weeks, or days?
which is it Nell?'
'I do not understand you,' said the child.
'It has come back upon me to-day, it has all come back since we
have been sitting here. I bless thee for it, Nell!'
'For what, dear grandfather?'
'For what you said when we were first made beggars, Nell. Let us
speak softly. Hush! for if they knew our purpose down stairs, they
would cry that I was mad and take thee from me. We will not stop
here another day. We will go far away from here.'
'Yes, let us go,' said the child earnestly. 'Let us begone from
this place, and never turn back or think of it again. Let us wander
barefoot through the world, rather than linger here.'
'We will,' answered the old man, 'we will travel afoot through the
fields and woods, and by the side of rivers, and trust ourselves to
God in the places where He dwells. It is far better to lie down at
night beneath an open sky like that yonder--see how bright it is--
than to rest in close rooms which are always full of care and
weary dreams. Thou and I together, Nell, may be cheerful and happy
yet, and learn to forget this time, as if it had never been.'
'We will be happy,' cried the child. 'We never can be here.'
'No, we never can again--never again--that's truly said,'
rejoined the old man. 'Let us steal away to-morrow morning--early
and softly, that we may not be seen or heard--and leave no trace
or track for them to follow by. Poor Nell! Thy cheek is pale, and
thy eyes are heavy with watching and weeping for me--I know--for
me; but thou wilt be well again, and merry too, when we are far
away. To-morrow morning, dear, we'll turn our faces from this scene
of sorrow, and be as free and happy as the birds.'
And then the old man clasped his hands above her head, and said, in
a few broken words, that from that time forth they would wander up
and down together, and never part more until Death took one or
other of the twain.
The child's heart beat high with hope and confidence. She had no
thought of hunger, or cold, or thirst, or suffering. She saw in
this, but a return of the simple pleasures they had once enjoyed,
a relief from the gloomy solitude in which she had lived, an escape
from the heartless people by whom she had been surrounded in her
late time of trial, the restoration of the old man's health and
peace, and a life of tranquil happiness. Sun, and stream, and
meadow, and summer days, shone brightly in her view, and there was
no dark tint in all the sparkling picture.
The old man had slept, for some hours, soundly in his bed, and she
was yet busily engaged in preparing for their flight. There were a
few articles of clothing for herself to carry, and a few for him;
old garments, such as became their fallen fortunes, laid out to
wear; and a staff to support his feeble steps, put ready for his
use. But this was not all her task; for now she must visit the old
rooms for the last time.
And how different the parting with them was, from any she had
expected, and most of all from that which she had oftenest pictured
to herself. How could she ever have thought of bidding them
farewell in triumph, when the recollection of the many hours she
had passed among them rose to her swelling heart, and made her feel
the wish a cruelty: lonely and sad though many of those hours had
been! She sat down at the window where she had spent so many
evenings--darker far than this--and every thought of hope or
cheerfulness that had occurred to her in that place came vividly
upon her mind, and blotted out all its dull and mournful
associations in an instant.
Her own little room too, where she had so often knelt down and
prayed at night--prayed for the time which she hoped was dawning
now--the little room where she had slept so peacefully, and
dreamed such pleasant dreams! It was hard not to be able to glance
round it once more, and to be forced to leave it without one kind
look or grateful tear. There were some trifles there--poor useless
things--that she would have liked to take away; but that was
This brought to mind her bird, her poor bird, who hung there yet.
She wept bitterly for the loss of this little creature--until the
idea occurred to her--she did not know how, or why, it came into
her head--that it might, by some means, fall into the hands of Kit
who would keep it for her sake, and think, perhaps, that she had
left it behind in the hope that he might have it, and as an
assurance that she was grateful to him. She was calmed and
comforted by the thought, and went to rest with a lighter heart.
From many dreams of rambling through light and sunny places, but
with some vague object unattained which ran indistinctly through
them all, she awoke to find that it was yet night, and that the
stars were shining brightly in the sky. At length, the day began to
glimmer, and the stars to grow pale and dim. As soon as she was
sure of this, she arose, and dressed herself for the journey.
The old man was yet asleep, and as she was unwilling to disturb
him, she left him to slumber on, until the sun rose. He was anxious
that they should leave the house without a minute's loss of time,
and was soon ready.
The child then took him by the hand, and they trod lightly and
cautiously down the stairs, trembling whenever a board creaked, and
often stopping to listen. The old man had forgotten a kind of
wallet which contained the light burden he had to carry; and the
going back a few steps to fetch it seemed an interminable delay.
At last they reached the passage on the ground floor, where the
snoring of Mr Quilp and his legal friend sounded more terrible in
their ears than the roars of lions. The bolts of the door were
rusty, and difficult to unfasten without noise. When they were all
drawn back, it was found to be locked, and worst of all, the key
was gone. Then the child remembered, for the first time, one of the
nurses having told her that Quilp always locked both the house-
doors at night, and kept the keys on the table in his bedroom.
It was not without great fear and trepidation that little Nell
slipped off her shoes and gliding through the store-room of old
curiosities, where Mr Brass--the ugliest piece of goods in all the
stock--lay sleeping on a mattress, passed into her own little
Here she stood, for a few moments, quite transfixed with terror at
the sight of Mr Quilp, who was hanging so far out of bed that he
almost seemed to be standing on his head, and who, either from the
uneasiness of this posture, or in one of his agreeable habits, was
gasping and growling with his mouth wide open, and the whites (or
rather the dirty yellows) of his eyes distinctly visible. It was no
time, however, to ask whether anything ailed him; so, possessing
herself of the key after one hasty glance about the room, and
repassing the prostrate Mr Brass, she rejoined the old man in
safety. They got the door open without noise, and passing into the
street, stood still.
'Which way?' said the child.
The old man looked, irresolutely and helplessly, first at her, then
to the right and left, then at her again, and shook his head. It
was plain that she was thenceforth his guide and leader. The child
felt it, but had no doubts or misgiving, and putting her hand in
his, led him gently away.
It was the beginning of a day in June; the deep blue sky unsullied
by a cloud, and teeming with brilliant light. The streets were, as
yet, nearly free from passengers, the houses and shops were closed,
and the healthy air of morning fell like breath from angels, on the
The old man and the child passed on through the glad silence, elate
with hope and pleasure. They were alone together, once again; every
object was bright and fresh; nothing reminded them, otherwise than
by contrast, of the monotony and constraint they had left behind;
church towers and steeples, frowning and dark at other times, now
shone in the sun; each humble nook and corner rejoiced in light;
and the sky, dimmed only by excessive distance, shed its placid
smile on everything beneath.
Forth from the city, while it yet slumbered, went the two poor
adventurers, wandering they knew not whither.
Daniel Quilp of Tower Hill, and Sampson Brass of Bevis Marks in the
city of London, Gentleman, one of her Majesty's attornies of the
Courts of the King's Bench and Common Pleas at Westminster and a
solicitor of the High Court of Chancery, slumbered on, unconscious
and unsuspicious of any mischance, until a knocking on the street
door, often repeated and gradually mounting up from a modest single
rap to a perfect battery of knocks, fired in long discharges with
a very short interval between, caused the said Daniel Quilp to
struggle into a horizontal position, and to stare at the ceiling
with a drowsy indifference, betokening that he heard the noise and
rather wondered at the same, and couldn't be at the trouble of
bestowing any further thought upon the subject.
As the knocking, however, instead of accommodating itself to his
lazy state, increased in vigour and became more importunate, as if
in earnest remonstrance against his falling asleep again, now that
he had once opened his eyes, Daniel Quilp began by degrees to
comprehend the possibility of there being somebody at the door; and
thus he gradually came to recollect that it was Friday morning, and
he had ordered Mrs Quilp to be in waiting upon him at an early
Mr Brass, after writhing about, in a great many strange attitudes,
and often twisting his face and eyes into an expression like that
which is usually produced by eating gooseberries very early in the
season, was by this time awake also. Seeing that Mr Quilp invested
himself in his every-day garments, he hastened to do the like,
putting on his shoes before his stockings, and thrusting his legs
into his coat sleeves, and making such other small mistakes in his
toilet as are not uncommon to those who dress in a hurry, and
labour under the agitation of having been suddenly roused.
While the attorney was thus engaged, the dwarf was groping under
the table, muttering desperate imprecations on himself, and mankind
in general, and all inanimate objects to boot, which suggested to
Mr Brass the question, 'what's the matter?'
'The key,' said the dwarf, looking viciously about him, 'the
door-key--that's the matter. D'ye know anything of it?'
'How should I know anything of it, sir?' returned Mr Brass.
'How should you?' repeated Quilp with a sneer. 'You're a nice
lawyer, an't you? Ugh, you idiot!'
Not caring to represent to the dwarf in his present humour, that
the loss of a key by another person could scarcely be said to
affect his (Brass's) legal knowledge in any material degree, Mr
Brass humbly suggested that it must have been forgotten over night,
and was, doubtless, at that moment in its native key-hole.
Notwithstanding that Mr Quilp had a strong conviction to the
contrary, founded on his recollection of having carefully taken it
out, he was fain to admit that this was possible, and therefore
went grumbling to the door where, sure enough, he found it.
Now, just as Mr Quilp laid his hand upon the lock, and saw with
great astonishment that the fastenings were undone, the knocking
came again with the most irritating violence, and the daylight
which had been shining through the key-hole was intercepted on the
outside by a human eye. The dwarf was very much exasperated, and
wanting somebody to wreak his ill-humour upon, determined to dart
out suddenly, and favour Mrs Quilp with a gentle acknowledgment of
her attention in making that hideous uproar.
With this view, he drew back the lock very silently and softly, and
opening the door all at once, pounced out upon the person on the
other side, who had at that moment raised the knocker for another
application, and at whom the dwarf ran head first: throwing out his
hands and feet together, and biting the air in the fulness of his
So far, however, from rushing upon somebody who offered no
resistance and implored his mercy, Mr Quilp was no sooner in the
arms of the individual whom he had taken for his wife than he found
himself complimented with two staggering blows on the head, and two
more, of the same quality, in the chest; and closing with his
assailant, such a shower of buffets rained down upon his person as
sufficed to convince him that he was in skilful and experienced
hands. Nothing daunted by this reception, he clung tight to his
opponent, and bit and hammered away with such good-will and
heartiness, that it was at least a couple of minutes before he was
dislodged. Then, and not until then, Daniel Quilp found himself,
all flushed and dishevelled, in the middle of the street, with Mr
Richard Swiveller performing a kind of dance round him and
requiring to know 'whether he wanted any more?'
'There's plenty more of it at the same shop,' said Mr Swiveller, by
turns advancing and retreating in a threatening attitude, 'a large
and extensive assortment always on hand--country orders executed
with promptitude and despatch--will you have a little more, Sir--
don't say no, if you'd rather not.'
'I thought it was somebody else,' said Quilp, rubbing his
shoulders, 'why didn't you say who you were?'
'Why didn't you say who YOU were?' returned Dick, 'instead of
flying out of the house like a Bedlamite ?'
'It was you that--that knocked,' said the dwarf, getting up with
a short groan, 'was it?'
'Yes, I am the man,' replied Dick. 'That lady had begun when I
came, but she knocked too soft, so I relieved her.' As he said
this, he pointed towards Mrs Quilp, who stood trembling at a little
'Humph!' muttered the dwarf, darting an angry look at his wife, 'I
thought it was your fault! And you, sir--don't you know there has
been somebody ill here, that you knock as if you'd beat the door
'Damme!' answered Dick, 'that's why I did it. I thought there was
somebody dead here.'
'You came for some purpose, I suppose,' said Quilp. 'What is it you
'I want to know how the old gentleman is,' rejoined Mr Swiveller,
'and to hear from Nell herself, with whom I should like to have a
little talk. I'm a friend of the family, sir--at least I'm the
friend of one of the family, and that's the same thing.'
'You'd better walk in then,' said the dwarf. 'Go on, sir, go on.
Now, Mrs Quilp--after you, ma'am.'
Mrs Quilp hesitated, but Mr Quilp insisted. And it was not a
contest of politeness, or by any means a matter of form, for she
knew very well that her husband wished to enter the house in this
order, that he might have a favourable opportunity of inflicting a
few pinches on her arms, which were seldom free from impressions of
his fingers in black and blue colours. Mr Swiveller, who was not in
the secret, was a little surprised to hear a suppressed scream,
and, looking round, to see Mrs Quilp following him with a sudden
jerk; but he did not remark on these appearances, and soon forgot
'Now, Mrs Quilp,' said the dwarf when they had entered the shop,
'go you up stairs, if you please, to Nelly's room, and tell her
that she's wanted.'
'You seem to make yourself at home here,' said Dick, who was
unacquainted with Mr Quilp's authority.
'I AM at home, young gentleman,' returned the dwarf.
Dick was pondering what these words might mean, and still more what
the presence of Mr Brass might mean, when Mrs Quilp came hurrying
down stairs, declaring that the rooms above were empty.
'Empty, you fool!' said the dwarf.
'I give you my word, Quilp,' answered his trembling wife, 'that I
have been into every room and there's not a soul in any of them.'
'And that,' said Mr Brass, clapping his hands once, with an
emphasis, 'explains the mystery of the key!'
Quilp looked frowningly at him, and frowningly at his wife, and
frowningly at Richard Swiveller; but, receiving no enlightenment
from any of them, hurried up stairs, whence he soon hurried down
again, confirming the report which had already been made.
'It's a strange way of going,' he said, glancing at Swiveller,
'very strange not to communicate with me who am such a close and
intimate friend of his! Ah! he'll write to me no doubt, or he'll
bid Nelly write--yes, yes, that's what he'll do. Nelly's very fond
of me. Pretty Nell!'
Mr Swiveller looked, as he was, all open-mouthed astonishment.
Still glancing furtively at him, Quilp turned to Mr Brass and
observed, with assumed carelessness, that this need not interfere
with the removal of the goods.
'For indeed,' he added, 'we knew that they'd go away to-day, but
not that they'd go so early, or so quietly. But they have their
reasons, they have their reasons.'
'Where in the devil's name are they gone?' said the wondering Dick.
Quilp shook his head, and pursed up his lips, in a manner which
implied that he knew very well, but was not at liberty to say.
'And what,' said Dick, looking at the confusion about him, 'what do
you mean by moving the goods?'
'That I have bought 'em, Sir,' rejoined Quilp. 'Eh? What then?'
'Has the sly old fox made his fortune then, and gone to live in a
tranquil cot in a pleasant spot with a distant view of the changing
sea?' said Dick, in great bewilderment.
'Keeping his place of retirement very close, that he may not be
visited too often by affectionate grandsons and their devoted
friends, eh?' added the dwarf, rubbing his hands hard; 'I say
nothing, but is that your meaning?'
Richard Swiveller was utterly aghast at this unexpected alteration
of circumstances, which threatened the complete overthrow of the
project in which he bore so conspicuous a part, and seemed to nip
his prospects in the bud. Having only received from Frederick
Trent, late on the previous night, information of the old man's
illness, he had come upon a visit of condolence and inquiry to
Nell, prepared with the first instalment of that long train of
fascinations which was to fire her heart at last. And here, when he
had been thinking of all kinds of graceful and insinuating
approaches, and meditating on the fearful retaliation which was
slowly working against Sophy Wackles--here were Nell, the old man,
and all the money gone, melted away, decamped he knew not whither,
as if with a fore-knowledge of the scheme and a resolution to
defeat it in the very outset, before a step was taken.
In his secret heart, Daniel Quilp was both surprised and troubled
by the flight which had been made. It had not escaped his keen eye
that some indispensable articles of clothing were gone with the
fugitives, and knowing the old man's weak state of mind, he
marvelled what that course of proceeding might be in which he had
so readily procured the concurrence of the child. It must not be
supposed (or it would be a gross injustice to Mr Quilp) that he was
tortured by any disinterested anxiety on behalf of either. His
uneasiness arose from a misgiving that the old man had some secret
store of money which he had not suspected; and the idea of its
escaping his clutches, overwhelmed him with mortification and
In this frame of mind, it was some consolation to him to find that
Richard Swiveller was, for different reasons, evidently irritated
and disappointed by the same cause. It was plain, thought the
dwarf, that he had come there, on behalf of his friend, to cajole
or frighten the old man out of some small fraction of that wealth
of which they supposed him to have an abundance. Therefore, it was
a relief to vex his heart with a picture of the riches the old man
hoarded, and to expatiate on his cunning in removing himself even
beyond the reach of importunity.
'Well,' said Dick, with a blank look, 'I suppose it's of no use my
'Not the least in the world,' rejoined the dwarf.
'You'll mention that I called, perhaps?' said Dick.
Mr Quilp nodded, and said he certainly would, the very first time
he saw them.
'And say,' added Mr Swiveller, 'say, sir, that I was wafted here
upon the pinions of concord; that I came to remove, with the rake
of friendship, the seeds of mutual violence and heart-burning, and
to sow in their place, the germs of social harmony. Will you have
the goodness to charge yourself with that commission, Sir?'
'Certainly!' rejoined Quilp.
'Will you be kind enough to add to it, Sir,' said Dick, producing
a very small limp card, 'that that is my address, and that I am to
be found at home every morning. Two distinct knocks, sir, will
produce the slavey at any time. My particular friends, Sir, are
accustomed to sneeze when the door is opened, to give her to
understand that they ARE my friends and have no interested motives
in asking if I'm at home. I beg your pardon; will you allow me to
look at that card again?'
'Oh! by all means,' rejoined Quilp.
'By a slight and not unnatural mistake, sir,' said Dick,
substituting another in its stead, 'I had handed you the pass-
ticket of a select convivial circle called the Glorious Apollers of
which I have the honour to be Perpetual Grand. That is the proper
document, Sir. Good morning.'
Quilp bade him good day; the perpetual Grand Master of the Glorious
Apollers, elevating his hat in honour of Mrs Quilp, dropped it
carelessly on the side of his head again, and disappeared with a
By this time, certain vans had arrived for the conveyance of the
goods, and divers strong men in caps were balancing chests of
drawers and other trifles of that nature upon their heads, and
performing muscular feats which heightened their complexions
considerably. Not to be behind-hand in the bustle, Mr Quilp went to
work with surprising vigour; hustling and driving the people about,
like an evil spirit; setting Mrs Quilp upon all kinds of arduous
and impracticable tasks; carrying great weights up and down, with
no apparent effort; kicking the boy from the wharf, whenever he
could get near him; and inflicting, with his loads, a great many
sly bumps and blows on the shoulders of Mr Brass, as he stood upon
the door-steps to answer all the inquiries of curious neighbours,
which was his department. His presence and example diffused such
alacrity among the persons employed, that, in a few hours, the
house was emptied of everything, but pieces of matting, empty
porter-pots, and scattered fragments of straw.
Seated, like an African chief, on one of these pieces of matting,
the dwarf was regaling himself in the parlour, with bread and
cheese and beer, when he observed without appearing to do so, that
a boy was prying in at the outer door. Assured that it was Kit,
though he saw little more than his nose, Mr Quilp hailed him by his
name; whereupon Kit came in and demanded what he wanted.
'Come here, you sir,' said the dwarf. 'Well, so your old master and
young mistress have gone?'
'Where?' rejoined Kit, looking round.
'Do you mean to say you don't know where?' answered Quilp sharply.
'Where have they gone, eh?'
'I don't know,' said Kit.
'Come,' retorted Quilp, 'let's have no more of this! Do you mean to
say that you don't know they went away by stealth, as soon as it
was light this morning?'
'No,' said the boy, in evident surprise.
'You don't know that?' cried Quilp. 'Don't I know that you were
hanging about the house the other night, like a thief, eh? Weren't
you told then?'
'No,' replied the boy.
'You were not?' said Quilp. 'What were you told then; what were you
Kit, who knew no particular reason why he should keep the matter
secret now, related the purpose for which he had come on that
occasion, and the proposal he had made.
'Oh!' said the dwarf after a little consideration. 'Then, I think
they'll come to you yet.'
'Do you think they will?' cried Kit eagerly.
'Aye, I think they will,' returned the dwarf. 'Now, when they do,
let me know; d'ye hear? Let me know, and I'll give you something.
I want to do 'em a kindness, and I can't do 'em a kindness unless
I know where they are. You hear what I say?'
Kit might have returned some answer which would not have been
agreeable to his irascible questioner, if the boy from the wharf,
who had been skulking about the room in search of anything that
might have been left about by accident, had not happened to cry,
'Here's a bird! What's to be done with this?'
'Wring its neck,' rejoined Quilp.
'Oh no, don't do that,' said Kit, stepping forward. 'Give it to me.'
'Oh yes, I dare say,' cried the other boy. 'Come! You let the cage
alone, and let me wring its neck will you? He said I was to do it.
You let the cage alone will you.'
'Give it here, give it to me, you dogs,' roared Quilp. 'Fight for
it, you dogs, or I'll wring its neck myself!'
Without further persuasion, the two boys fell upon each other,
tooth and nail, while Quilp, holding up the cage in one hand, and
chopping the ground with his knife in an ecstasy, urged them on by
his taunts and cries to fight more fiercely. They were a pretty
equal match, and rolled about together, exchanging blows which were
by no means child's play, until at length Kit, planting a
well-directed hit in his adversary's chest, disengaged himself,
sprung nimbly up, and snatching the cage from Quilp's hands made
off with his prize.
He did not stop once until he reached home, where his bleeding face
occasioned great consternation, and caused the elder child to howl
'Goodness gracious, Kit, what is the matter, what have you been
doing?' cried Mrs Nubbles.
'Never you mind, mother,' answered her son, wiping his face on the
jack-towel behind the door. 'I'm not hurt, don't you be afraid for
me. I've been a fightin' for a bird and won him, that's all. Hold
your noise, little Jacob. I never see such a naughty boy in all my
'You have been fighting for a bird!' exclaimed his mother.
'Ah! Fightin' for a bird!' replied Kit, 'and here he is--Miss
Nelly's bird, mother, that they was agoin' to wring the neck of! I
stopped that though--ha ha ha! They wouldn't wring his neck and me
by, no, no. It wouldn't do, mother, it wouldn't do at all. Ha ha
Kit laughing so heartily, with his swoln and bruised face looking
out of the towel, made little Jacob laugh, and then his mother
laughed. and then the baby crowed and kicked with great glee, and
then they all laughed in concert: partly because of Kit's triumph,
and partly because they were very fond of each other. When this fit
was over, Kit exhibited the bird to both children, as a great and
precious rarity--it was only a poor linnet--and looking about the
wall for an old nail, made a scaffolding of a chair and table and
twisted it out with great exultation.
'Let me see,' said the boy, 'I think I'll hang him in the winder,
because it's more light and cheerful, and he can see the sky there,
if he looks up very much. He's such a one to sing, I can tell you!'
So, the scaffolding was made again, and Kit, climbing up with the
poker for a hammer, knocked in the nail and hung up the cage, to
the immeasurable delight of the whole family. When it had been
adjusted and straightened a great many times, and he had walked
backwards into the fire-place in his admiration of it, the
arrangement was pronounced to be perfect.
'And now, mother,' said the boy, 'before I rest any more, I'll go
out and see if I can find a horse to hold, and then I can buy some
birdseed, and a bit of something nice for you, into the bargain.'
As it was very easy for Kit to persuade himself that the old house
was in his way, his way being anywhere, he tried to look upon his
passing it once more as a matter of imperative and disagreeable
necessity, quite apart from any desire of his own, to which he
could not choose but yield. It is not uncommon for people who are
much better fed and taught than Christopher Nubbles had ever been,
to make duties of their inclinations in matters of more doubtful
propriety, and to take great credit for the self-denial with which
they gratify themselves.
There was no need of any caution this time, and no fear of being
detained by having to play out a return match with Daniel Quilp's
boy. The place was entirely deserted, and looked as dusty and dingy
as if it had been so for months. A rusty padlock was fastened on
the door, ends of discoloured blinds and curtains flapped drearily
against the half-opened upper windows, and the crooked holes cut in
the closed shutters below, were black with the darkness of the
inside. Some of the glass in the window he had so often watched,
had been broken in the rough hurry of the morning, and that room
looked more deserted and dull than any. A group of idle urchins had
taken possession of the door-steps; some were plying the knocker
and listening with delighted dread to the hollow sounds it spread
through the dismantled house; others were clustered about the
keyhole, watching half in jest and half in earnest for 'the ghost,'
which an hour's gloom, added to the mystery that hung about the
late inhabitants, had already raised. Standing all alone in the
midst of the business and bustle of the street, the house looked a
picture of cold desolation; and Kit, who remembered the cheerful
fire that used to burn there on a winter's night and the no less
cheerful laugh that made the small room ring, turned quite
It must be especially observed in justice to poor Kit that he was
by no means of a sentimental turn, and perhaps had never heard that
adjective in all his life. He was only a soft-hearted grateful
fellow, and had nothing genteel or polite about him; consequently,
instead of going home again, in his grief, to kick the children and
abuse his mother (for, when your finely strung people are out of
sorts, they must have everybody else unhappy likewise), he turned
his thoughts to the vulgar expedient of making them more
comfortable if he could.
Bless us, what a number of gentlemen on horseback there were riding
up and down, and how few of them wanted their horses held! A good
city speculator or a parliamentary commissioner could have told to
a fraction, from the crowds that were cantering about, what sum of
money was realised in London, in the course of a year, by holding
horses alone. And undoubtedly it would have been a very large one,
if only a twentieth part of the gentlemen without grooms had had
occasion to alight; but they had not; and it is often an
ill-natured circumstance like this, which spoils the most ingenious
estimate in the world.
Kit walked about, now with quick steps and now with slow; now
lingering as some rider slackened his horse's pace and looked about
him; and now darting at full speed up a bye-street as he caught a
glimpse of some distant horseman going lazily up the shady side of
the road, and promising to stop, at every door. But on they all
went, one after another, and there was not a penny stirring. 'I
wonder,' thought the boy, 'if one of these gentlemen knew there was
nothing in the cupboard at home, whether he'd stop on purpose, and
make believe that he wanted to call somewhere, that I might earn a
He was quite tired out with pacing the streets, to say nothing of
repeated disappointments, and was sitting down upon a step to rest,
when there approached towards him a little clattering jingling
four-wheeled chaise' drawn by a little obstinate-looking
rough-coated pony, and driven by a little fat placid-faced old
gentleman. Beside the little old gentleman sat a little old lady,
plump and placid like himself, and the pony was coming along at his
own pace and doing exactly as he pleased with the whole concern. If
the old gentleman remonstrated by shaking the reins, the pony
replied by shaking his head. It was plain that the utmost the pony
would consent to do, was to go in his own way up any street that
the old gentleman particularly wished to traverse, but that it was
an understanding between them that he must do this after his own
fashion or not at all.
As they passed where he sat, Kit looked so wistfully at the little
turn-out, that the old gentleman looked at him. Kit rising and
putting his hand to his hat, the old gentleman intimated to the
pony that he wished to stop, to which proposal the pony (who seldom
objected to that part of his duty) graciously acceded.
'I beg your pardon, sir,' said Kit. 'I'm sorry you stopped, sir. I
only meant did you want your horse minded.'
'I'm going to get down in the next street,' returned the old
gentleman. 'If you like to come on after us, you may have the job.'
Kit thanked him, and joyfully obeyed. The pony ran off at a sharp
angle to inspect a lamp-post on the opposite side of the way, and
then went off at a tangent to another lamp-post on the other side.
Having satisfied himself that they were of the same pattern and
materials, he came to a stop apparently absorbed in meditation.
'Will you go on, sir,' said the old gentleman, gravely, 'or are we
to wait here for you till it's too late for our appointment?'
The pony remained immoveable.
'Oh you naughty Whisker,' said the old lady. 'Fie upon you! I'm
ashamed of such conduct.'
The pony appeared to be touched by this appeal to his feelings, for
he trotted on directly, though in a sulky manner, and stopped no
more until he came to a door whereon was a brass plate with the
words 'Witherden--Notary.' Here the old gentleman got out and
helped out the old lady, and then took from under the seat a
nosegay resembling in shape and dimensions a full-sized warming-pan
with the handle cut short off. This, the old lady carried into the
house with a staid and stately air, and the old gentleman (who had
a club-foot) followed close upon her.
They went, as it was easy to tell from the sound of their voices,
into the front parlour, which seemed to be a kind of office. The
day being very warm and the street a quiet one, the windows were
wide open; and it was easy to hear through the Venetian blinds all
that passed inside.
At first there was a great shaking of hands and shuffling of feet,
succeeded by the presentation of the nosegay; for a voice, supposed
by the listener to be that of Mr Witherden the Notary, was heard to
exclaim a great many times, 'oh, delicious!' 'oh, fragrant,
indeed!' and a nose, also supposed to be the property of that
gentleman, was heard to inhale the scent with a snuffle of
'I brought it in honour of the occasion, Sir,' said the old lady.
'Ah! an occasion indeed, ma'am, an occasion which does honour to
me, ma'am, honour to me,' rejoined Mr Witherden, the notary. 'I
have had many a gentleman articled to me, ma'am, many a one. Some
of them are now rolling in riches, unmindful of their old companion
and friend, ma'am, others are in the habit of calling upon me to
this day and saying, "Mr Witherden, some of the pleasantest hours
I ever spent in my life were spent in this office--were spent,
Sir, upon this very stool"; but there was never one among the
number, ma'am, attached as I have been to many of them, of whom I
augured such bright things as I do of your only son.'
'Oh dear!' said the old lady. 'How happy you do make us when you
tell us that, to be sure!'
'I tell you, ma'am,' said Mr Witherden, 'what I think as an honest
man, which, as the poet observes, is the noblest work of God. I
agree with the poet in every particular, ma'am. The mountainous
Alps on the one hand, or a humming-bird on the other, is nothing,
in point of workmanship, to an honest man--or woman--or woman.'
'Anything that Mr Witherden can say of me,' observed a small quiet
voice, 'I can say, with interest, of him, I am sure.'
'It's a happy circumstance, a truly happy circumstance,' said the
Notary, 'to happen too upon his eight-and-twentieth birthday, and
I hope I know how to appreciate it. I trust, Mr Garland, my dear
Sir, that we may mutually congratulate each other upon this
To this the old gentleman replied that he felt assured they might.
There appeared to be another shaking of hands in consequence, and
when it was over, the old gentleman said that, though he said it
who should not, he believed no son had ever been a greater comfort
to his parents than Abel Garland had been to his.
'Marrying as his mother and I did, late in life, sir, after waiting
for a great many years, until we were well enough off--coming
together when we were no longer young, and then being blessed with
one child who has always been dutiful and affectionate--why, it's
a source of great happiness to us both, sir.'
'Of course it is, I have no doubt of it,' returned the Notary in a
sympathising voice. 'It's the contemplation of this sort of thing,
that makes me deplore my fate in being a bachelor. There was a
young lady once, sir, the daughter of an outfitting warehouse of
the first respectability--but that's a weakness. Chuckster, bring
in Mr Abel's articles.'
'You see, Mr Witherden,' said the old lady, 'that Abel has not been
brought up like the run of young men. He has always had a pleasure
in our society, and always been with us. Abel has never been absent
from us, for a day; has he, my dear?'
'Never, my dear,' returned the old gentleman, 'except when he went
to Margate one Saturday with Mr Tomkinley that had been a teacher
at that school he went to, and came back upon the Monday; but he
was very ill after that, you remember, my dear; it was quite a
'He was not used to it, you know,' said the old lady, 'and he
couldn't bear it, that's the truth. Besides he had no comfort in
being there without us, and had nobody to talk to or enjoy himself
'That was it, you know,' interposed the same small quiet voice that
had spoken once before. 'I was quite abroad, mother, quite
desolate, and to think that the sea was between us--oh, I never
shall forget what I felt when I first thought that the sea was
'Very natural under the circumstances,' observed the Notary. 'Mr
Abel's feelings did credit to his nature, and credit to your
nature, ma'am, and his father's nature, and human nature. I trace
the same current now, flowing through all his quiet and unobtrusive
proceedings.---I am about to sign my name, you observe, at the foot
of the articles which Mr Chuckster will witness; and placing my
finger upon this blue wafer with the vandyked corners, I am
constrained to remark in a distinct tone of voice--don't be
alarmed, ma'am, it is merely a form of law--that I deliver this,
as my act and deed. Mr Abel will place his name against the other
wafer, repeating the same cabalistic words, and the business is
over. Ha ha ha! You see how easily these things are done!'
There was a short silence, apparently, while Mr Abel went through
the prescribed form, and then the shaking of hands and shuffling of
feet were renewed, and shortly afterwards there was a clinking of
wine-glasses and a great talkativeness on the part of everybody. In
about a quarter of an hour Mr Chuckster (with a pen behind his ear
and his face inflamed with wine) appeared at the door, and
condescending to address Kit by the jocose appellation of 'Young
Snob,' informed him that the visitors were coming out.
Out they came forthwith; Mr Witherden, who was short, chubby,
fresh-coloured, brisk, and pompous, leading the old lady with
extreme politeness, and the father and son following them, arm in
arm. Mr Abel, who had a quaint old-fashioned air about him, looked
nearly of the same age as his father, and bore a wonderful
resemblance to him in face and figure, though wanting something of
his full, round, cheerfulness, and substituting in its place a
timid reserve. In all other respects, in the neatness of the dress,
and even in the club-foot, he and the old gentleman were precisely
Having seen the old lady safely in her seat, and assisted in the
arrangement of her cloak and a small basket which formed an
indispensable portion of her equipage, Mr Abel got into a little
box behind which had evidently been made for his express
accommodation, and smiled at everybody present by turns, beginning
with his mother and ending with the pony. There was then a great
to-do to make the pony hold up his head that the bearing-rein might
be fastened; at last even this was effected; and the old gentleman,
taking his seat and the reins, put his hand in his pocket to find
a sixpence for Kit.
He had no sixpence, neither had the old lady, nor Mr Abel, nor the
Notary, nor Mr Chuckster. The old gentleman thought a shilling too
much, but there was no shop in the street to get change at, so he
gave it to the boy.
'There,' he said jokingly, 'I'm coming here again next Monday at
the same time, and mind you're here, my lad, to work it out.'
'Thank you, Sir,' said Kit. 'I'll be sure to be here.'
He was quite serious, but they all laughed heartily at his saying
so, especially Mr Chuckster, who roared outright and appeared to
relish the joke amazingly. As the pony, with a presentiment that he
was going home, or a determination that he would not go anywhere
else (which was the same thing) trotted away pretty nimbly, Kit had
no time to justify himself, and went his way also. Having expended
his treasure in such purchases as he knew would be most acceptable
at home, not forgetting some seed for the wonderful bird, he
hastened back as fast as he could, so elated with his success and
great good fortune, that he more than half expected Nell and the
old man would have arrived before him.
Often, while they were yet pacing the silent streets of the town on
the morning of their departure, the child trembled with a mingled
sensation of hope and fear as in some far-off figure imperfectly
seen in the clear distance, her fancy traced a likeness to honest
Kit. But although she would gladly have given him her hand and
thanked him for what he had said at their last meeting, it was
always a relief to find, when they came nearer to each other, that
the person who approached was not he, but a stranger; for even if
she had not dreaded the effect which the sight of him might have
wrought upon her fellow-traveller, she felt that to bid farewell to
anybody now, and most of all to him who had been so faithful and so
true, was more than she could bear. It was enough to leave dumb
things behind, and objects that were insensible both to her love
and sorrow. To have parted from her only other friend upon the
threshold of that wild journey, would have wrung her heart indeed.
Why is it that we can better bear to part in spirit than in body,
and while we have the fortitude to act farewell have not the nerve
to say it? On the eve of long voyages or an absence of many years,
friends who are tenderly attached will separate with the usual
look, the usual pressure of the hand, planning one final interview
for the morrow, while each well knows that it is but a poor feint
to save the pain of uttering that one word, and that the meeting
will never be. Should possibilities be worse to bear than
certainties? We do not shun our dying friends; the not having
distinctly taken leave of one among them, whom we left in all
kindness and affection, will often embitter the whole remainder of
The town was glad with morning light; places that had shown ugly
and distrustful all night long, now wore a smile; and sparkling
sunbeams dancing on chamber windows, and twinkling through blind
and curtain before sleepers' eyes, shed light even into dreams, and
chased away the shadows of the night. Birds in hot rooms, covered
up close and dark, felt it was morning, and chafed and grew
restless in their little cells; bright-eyed mice crept back to
their tiny homes and nestled timidly together; the sleek house-cat,
forgetful of her prey, sat winking at the rays of sun starting
through keyhole and cranny in the door, and longed for her stealthy
run and warm sleek bask outside. The nobler beasts confined in
dens, stood motionless behind their bars and gazed on fluttering
boughs, and sunshine peeping through some little window, with eyes
in which old forests gleamed--then trod impatiently the track
their prisoned feet had worn--and stopped and gazed again. Men in
their dungeons stretched their cramp cold limbs and cursed the
stone that no bright sky could warm. The flowers that sleep by
night, opened their gentle eyes and turned them to the day. The
light, creation's mind, was everywhere, and all things owned its
The two pilgrims, often pressing each other's hands, or exchanging
a smile or cheerful look, pursued their way in silence. Bright and
happy as it was, there was something solemn in the long, deserted
streets, from which, like bodies without souls, all habitual
character and expression had departed, leaving but one dead uniform
repose, that made them all alike. All was so still at that early
hour, that the few pale people whom they met seemed as much
unsuited to the scene, as the sickly lamp which had been here and
there left burning, was powerless and faint in the full glory of
Before they had penetrated very far into the labyrinth of men's
abodes which yet lay between them and the outskirts, this aspect
began to melt away, and noise and bustle to usurp its place. Some
straggling carts and coaches rumbling by, first broke the charm,
then others came, then others yet more active, then a crowd. The
wonder was, at first, to see a tradesman's window open, but it was
a rare thing soon to see one closed; then, smoke rose slowly from
the chimneys, and sashes were thrown up to let in air, and doors
were opened, and servant girls, looking lazily in all directions
but their brooms, scattered brown clouds of dust into the eyes of
shrinking passengers, or listened disconsolately to milkmen who
spoke of country fairs, and told of waggons in the mews, with
awnings and all things complete, and gallant swains to boot, which
another hour would see upon their journey.
This quarter passed, they came upon the haunts of commerce and
great traffic, where many people were resorting, and business was
already rife. The old man looked about him with a startled and
bewildered gaze, for these were places that he hoped to shun. He
pressed his finger on his lip, and drew the child along by narrow
courts and winding ways, nor did he seem at ease until they had
left it far behind, often casting a backward look towards it,
murmuring that ruin and self-murder were crouching in every street,
and would follow if they scented them; and that they could not fly
Again this quarter passed, they came upon a straggling
neighbourhood, where the mean houses parcelled off in rooms, and
windows patched with rags and paper, told of the populous poverty
that sheltered there. The shops sold goods that only poverty could
buy, and sellers and buyers were pinched and griped alike. Here
were poor streets where faded gentility essayed with scanty space
and shipwrecked means to make its last feeble stand, but
tax-gatherer and creditor came there as elsewhere, and the poverty
that yet faintly struggled was hardly less squalid and manifest
than that which had long ago submitted and given up the game.
This was a wide, wide track--for the humble followers of the camp
of wealth pitch their tents round about it for many a mile--but
its character was still the same. Damp rotten houses, many to let,
many yet building, many half-built and mouldering away--lodgings,
where it would be hard to tell which needed pity most, those who
let or those who came to take--children, scantily fed and clothed,
spread over every street, and sprawling in the dust--scolding
mothers, stamping their slipshod feet with noisy threats upon the
pavement--shabby fathers, hurrying with dispirited looks to the
occupation which brought them 'daily bread' and little more--
mangling-women, washer-women, cobblers, tailors, chandlers,
driving their trades in parlours and kitchens and back room and
garrets, and sometimes all of them under the same roof--
brick-fields skirting gardens paled with staves of old casks, or
timber pillaged from houses burnt down, and blackened and blistered
by the flames--mounds of dock-weed, nettles, coarse grass and
oyster-shells, heaped in rank confusion--small dissenting chapels
to teach, with no lack of illustration, the miseries of Earth, and
plenty of new churches, erected with a little superfluous wealth,
to show the way to Heaven.
At length these streets becoming more straggling yet, dwindled and
dwindled away, until there were only small garden patches bordering
the road, with many a summer house innocent of paint and built of
old timber or some fragments of a boat, green as the tough
cabbage-stalks that grew about it, and grottoed at the seams with
toad-stools and tight-sticking snails. To these succeeded pert
cottages, two and two with plots of ground in front, laid out in
angular beds with stiff box borders and narrow paths between, where
footstep never strayed to make the gravel rough. Then came the
public-house, freshly painted in green and white, with tea-gardens
and a bowling green, spurning its old neighbour with the
horse-trough where the waggons stopped; then, fields; and then,
some houses, one by one, of goodly size with lawns, some even with
a lodge where dwelt a porter and his wife. Then came a turnpike;
then fields again with trees and hay-stacks; then, a hill, and on
the top of that, the traveller might stop, and--looking back at
old Saint Paul's looming through the smoke, its cross peeping above
the cloud (if the day were clear), and glittering in the sun; and
casting his eyes upon the Babel out of which it grew until he
traced it down to the furthest outposts of the invading army of
bricks and mortar whose station lay for the present nearly at his
feet--might feel at last that he was clear of London.
Near such a spot as this, and in a pleasant field, the old man and
his little guide (if guide she were, who knew not whither they were
bound) sat down to rest. She had had the precaution to furnish her
basket with some slices of bread and meat, and here they made their
The freshness of the day, the singing of the birds, the beauty of
the waving grass, the deep green leaves, the wild flowers, and the
thousand exquisite scents and sounds that floated in the air--
deep joys to most of us, but most of all to those whose life is in
a crowd or who live solitarily in great cities as in the bucket of
a human well--sunk into their breasts and made them very glad.
The child had repeated her artless prayers once that morning, more
earnestly perhaps than she had ever done in all her life, but as
she felt all this, they rose to her lips again. The old man took
off his hat--he had no memory for the words--but he said amen,
and that they were very good.
There had been an old copy of the Pilgrim's Progress, with strange
plates, upon a shelf at home, over which she had often pored whole
evenings, wondering whether it was true in every word, and where
those distant countries with the curious names might be. As she
looked back upon the place they had left, one part of it came
strongly on her mind.
'Dear grandfather,' she said, 'only that this place is prettier and
a great deal better than the real one, if that in the book is like
it, I feel as if we were both Christian, and laid down on this
grass all the cares and troubles we brought with us; never to take
them up again.'
'No--never to return--never to return'--replied the old man,
waving his hand towards the city. 'Thou and I are free of it now,
Nell. They shall never lure us back.'
'Are you tired?' said the child, 'are you sure you don't feel ill
from this long walk?'
'I shall never feel ill again, now that we are once away,' was his
reply. 'Let us be stirring, Nell. We must be further away--a long,
long way further. We are too near to stop, and be at rest. Come!'
There was a pool of clear water in the field, in which the child
laved her hands and face, and cooled her feet before setting forth
to walk again. She would have the old man refresh himself in this
way too, and making him sit down upon the grass, cast the water on
him with her hands, and dried it with her simple dress.
'I can do nothing for myself, my darling,' said the grandfather; 'I
don't know how it is, I could once, but the time's gone. Don't
leave me, Nell; say that thou'lt not leave me. I loved thee all the
while, indeed I did. If I lose thee too, my dear, I must die!'
He laid his head upon her shoulder and moaned piteously. The time
had been, and a very few days before, when the child could not have
restrained her tears and must have wept with him. But now she
soothed him with gentle and tender words, smiled at his thinking
they could ever part, and rallied him cheerfully upon the jest. He
was soon calmed and fell asleep, singing to himself in a low voice,
like a little child.
He awoke refreshed, and they continued their journey. The road was
pleasant, lying between beautiful pastures and fields of corn,
about which, poised high in the clear blue sky, the lark trilled
out her happy song. The air came laden with the fragrance it caught
upon its way, and the bees, upborne upon its scented breath, hummed
forth their drowsy satisfaction as they floated by.
They were now in the open country; the houses were very few and
scattered at long intervals, often miles apart. Occasionally they
came upon a cluster of poor cottages, some with a chair or low
board put across the open door to keep the scrambling children from
the road, others shut up close while all the family were working in
the fields. These were often the commencement of a little village:
and after an interval came a wheelwright's shed or perhaps a
blacksmith's forge; then a thriving farm with sleepy cows lying
about the yard, and horses peering over the low wall and scampering
away when harnessed horses passed upon the road, as though in
triumph at their freedom. There were dull pigs too, turning up the
ground in search of dainty food, and grunting their monotonous
grumblings as they prowled about, or crossed each other in their
quest; plump pigeons skimming round the roof or strutting on the
eaves; and ducks and geese, far more graceful in their own conceit,
waddling awkwardly about the edges of the pond or sailing glibly on
its surface. The farm-yard passed, then came the little inn; the
humbler beer-shop; and the village tradesman's; then the lawyer's
and the parson's, at whose dread names the beer-shop trembled; the
church then peeped out modestly from a clump of trees; then there
were a few more cottages; then the cage, and pound, and not
unfrequently, on a bank by the way-side, a deep old dusty well.
Then came the trim-hedged fields on either hand, and the open road
They walked all day, and slept that night at a small cottage where
beds were let to travellers. Next morning they were afoot again,
and though jaded at first, and very tired, recovered before long
and proceeded briskly forward.
They often stopped to rest, but only for a short space at a time,
and still kept on, having had but slight refreshment since the
morning. It was nearly five o'clock in the afternoon, when drawing
near another cluster of labourers' huts, the child looked wistfully
in each, doubtful at which to ask for permission to rest awhile,
and buy a draught of milk.
It was not easy to determine, for she was timid and fearful of
being repulsed. Here was a crying child, and there a noisy wife. In
this, the people seemed too poor; in that, too many. At length she
stopped at one where the family were seated round the table--
chiefly because there was an old man sitting in a cushioned chair
beside the hearth, and she thought he was a grandfather and would
feel for hers.
There were besides, the cottager and his wife, and three young
sturdy children, brown as berries. The request was no sooner
preferred, than granted. The eldest boy ran out to fetch some milk,
the second dragged two stools towards the door, and the youngest
crept to his mother's gown, and looked at the strangers from
beneath his sunburnt hand.
'God save you, master,' said the old cottager in a thin piping
voice; 'are you travelling far?'
'Yes, Sir, a long way'--replied the child; for her grandfather
appealed to her.
'From London?' inquired the old man.
The child said yes.
Ah! He had been in London many a time--used to go there often
once, with waggons. It was nigh two-and-thirty year since he had
been there last, and he did hear say there were great changes. Like
enough! He had changed, himself, since then. Two-and-thirty year
was a long time and eighty-four a great age, though there was some
he had known that had lived to very hard upon a hundred--and not
so hearty as he, neither--no, nothing like it.
'Sit thee down, master, in the elbow chair,' said the old man,
knocking his stick upon the brick floor, and trying to do so
sharply. 'Take a pinch out o' that box; I don't take much myself,
for it comes dear, but I find it wakes me up sometimes, and ye're
but a boy to me. I should have a son pretty nigh as old as you if
he'd lived, but they listed him for a so'ger--he come back home
though, for all he had but one poor leg. He always said he'd be
buried near the sun-dial he used to climb upon when he was a baby,
did my poor boy, and his words come true--you can see the place
with your own eyes; we've kept the turf up, ever since.'
He shook his head, and looking at his daughter with watery eyes,
said she needn't be afraid that he was going to talk about that,
any more. He didn't wish to trouble nobody, and if he had troubled
anybody by what he said, he asked pardon, that was all.
The milk arrived, and the child producing her little basket, and
selecting its best fragments for her grandfather, they made a
hearty meal. The furniture of the room was very homely of course--
a few rough chairs and a table, a corner cupboard with their little
stock of crockery and delf, a gaudy tea-tray, representing a lady
in bright red, walking out with a very blue parasol, a few common,
coloured scripture subjects in frames upon the wall and chimney, an
old dwarf clothes-press and an eight-day clock, with a few bright
saucepans and a kettle, comprised the whole. But everything was
clean and neat, and as the child glanced round, she felt a tranquil
air of comfort and content to which she had long been unaccustomed.
'How far is it to any town or village?' she asked of the husband.
'A matter of good five mile, my dear,' was the reply, 'but you're
not going on to-night?'
'Yes, yes, Nell,' said the old man hastily, urging her too by
signs. 'Further on, further on, darling, further away if we walk
'There's a good barn hard by, master,' said the man, 'or there's
travellers' lodging, I know, at the Plow an' Harrer. Excuse me, but
you do seem a little tired, and unless you're very anxious to get
'Yes, yes, we are,' returned the old man fretfully. 'Further away,
dear Nell, pray further away.'
'We must go on, indeed,' said the child, yielding to his restless
wish. 'We thank you very much, but we cannot stop so soon. I'm
quite ready, grandfather.'
But the woman had observed, from the young wanderer's gait, that
one of her little feet was blistered and sore, and being a woman
and a mother too, she would not suffer her to go until she had
washed the place and applied some simple remedy, which she did so
carefully and with such a gentle hand--rough-grained and hard
though it was, with work--that the child's heart was too full to
admit of her saying more than a fervent 'God bless you!' nor could
she look back nor trust herself to speak, until they had left the
cottage some distance behind. When she turned her head, she saw
that the whole family, even the old grandfather, were standing in
the road watching them as they went, and so, with many waves of the
hand, and cheering nods, and on one side at least not without
tears, they parted company.
They trudged forward, more slowly and painfully than they had done
yet, for another mile or thereabouts, when they heard the sound of
wheels behind them, and looking round observed an empty cart
approaching pretty briskly. The driver on coming up to them stopped
his horse and looked earnestly at Nell.
'Didn't you stop to rest at a cottage yonder?' he said.
'Yes, sir,' replied the child.
'Ah! They asked me to look out for you,' said the man. 'I'm going
your way. Give me your hand--jump up, master.'
This was a great relief, for they were very much fatigued and could
scarcely crawl along. To them the jolting cart was a luxurious
carriage, and the ride the most delicious in the world. Nell had
scarcely settled herself on a little heap of straw in one corner,
when she fell asleep, for the first time that day.
She was awakened by the stopping of the cart, which was about to
turn up a bye-lane. The driver kindly got down to help her out, and
pointing to some trees at a very short distance before them, said
that the town lay there, and that they had better take the path
which they would see leading through the churchyard. Accordingly,
towards this spot, they directed their weary steps.
The sun was setting when they reached the wicket-gate at which the
path began, and, as the rain falls upon the just and unjust alike,
it shed its warm tint even upon the resting-places of the dead, and
bade them be of good hope for its rising on the morrow. The church
was old and grey, with ivy clinging to the walls, and round the
porch. Shunning the tombs, it crept about the mounds, beneath which
slept poor humble men: twining for them the first wreaths they had
ever won, but wreaths less liable to wither and far more lasting in
their kind, than some which were graven deep in stone and marble,
and told in pompous terms of virtues meekly hidden for many a year,
and only revealed at last to executors and mourning legatees.
The clergyman's horse, stumbling with a dull blunt sound among the
graves, was cropping the grass; at once deriving orthodox
consolation from the dead parishioners, and enforcing last Sunday's
text that this was what all flesh came to; a lean ass who had
sought to expound it also, without being qualified and ordained,
was pricking his ears in an empty pound hard by, and looking with
hungry eyes upon his priestly neighbour.
The old man and the child quitted the gravel path, and strayed
among the tombs; for there the ground was soft, and easy to their
tired feet. As they passed behind the church, they heard voices
near at hand, and presently came on those who had spoken.
They were two men who were seated in easy attitudes upon the grass,
and so busily engaged as to be at first unconscious of intruders.
It was not difficult to divine that they were of a class of
itinerant showmen--exhibitors of the freaks of Punch--for,
perched cross-legged upon a tombstone behind them, was a figure of
that hero himself, his nose and chin as hooked and his face as
beaming as usual. Perhaps his imperturbable character was never
more strikingly developed, for he preserved his usual equable smile
notwithstanding that his body was dangling in a most uncomfortable
position, all loose and limp and shapeless, while his long peaked
cap, unequally balanced against his exceedingly slight legs,
threatened every instant to bring him toppling down.
In part scattered upon the ground at the feet of the two men, and
in part jumbled together in a long flat box, were the other persons
of the Drama. The hero's wife and one child, the hobby-horse, the
doctor, the foreign gentleman who not being familiar with the
language is unable in the representation to express his ideas
otherwise than by the utterance of the word 'Shallabalah' three
distinct times, the radical neighbour who will by no means admit
that a tin bell is an organ, the executioner, and the devil, were
all here. Their owners had evidently come to that spot to make some
needful repairs in the stage arrangements, for one of them was
engaged in binding together a small gallows with thread, while the
other was intent upon fixing a new black wig, with the aid of a
small hammer and some tacks, upon the head of the radical
neighbour, who had been beaten bald.
They raised their eyes when the old man and his young companion
were close upon them, and pausing in their work, returned their
looks of curiosity. One of them, the actual exhibitor no doubt, was
a little merry-faced man with a twinkling eye and a red nose, who
seemed to have unconsciously imbibed something of his hero's
character. The other--that was he who took the money--had rather
a careful and cautious look, which was perhaps inseparable from his
The merry man was the first to greet the strangers with a nod; and
following the old man's eyes, he observed that perhaps that was the
first time he had ever seen a Punch off the stage. (Punch, it may
be remarked, seemed to be pointing with the tip of his cap to a
most flourishing epitaph, and to be chuckling over it with all his
'Why do you come here to do this?' said the old man, sitting down
beside them, and looking at the figures with extreme delight.
'Why you see,' rejoined the little man, 'we're putting up for
to-night at the public-house yonder, and it wouldn't do to let 'em
see the present company undergoing repair.'
'No!' cried the old man, making signs to Nell to listen, 'why not,
eh? why not?'
'Because it would destroy all the delusion, and take away all the
interest, wouldn't it?' replied the little man. 'Would you care a
ha'penny for the Lord Chancellor if you know'd him in private and
without his wig?---certainly not.'
'Good!' said the old man, venturing to touch one of the puppets,
and drawing away his hand with a shrill laugh. 'Are you going to
show 'em to-night? are you?'
'That is the intention, governor,' replied the other, 'and unless
I'm much mistaken, Tommy Codlin is a calculating at this minute
what we've lost through your coming upon us. Cheer up, Tommy, it
can't be much.'
The little man accompanied these latter words with a wink,
expressive of the estimate he had formed of the travellers'
To this Mr Codlin, who had a surly, grumbling manner, replied, as
he twitched Punch off the tombstone and flung him into the box,
'I don't care if we haven't lost a farden, but you're too free. If
you stood in front of the curtain and see the public's faces as I
do, you'd know human natur' better.'
'Ah! it's been the spoiling of you, Tommy, your taking to that
branch,' rejoined his companion. 'When you played the ghost in the
reg'lar drama in the fairs, you believed in everything--except
ghosts. But now you're a universal mistruster. I never see a man so
'Never mind,' said Mr Codlin, with the air of a discontented
philosopher. 'I know better now, and p'raps I'm sorry for it.'
Turning over the figures in the box like one who knew and despised
them, Mr Codlin drew one forth and held it up for the inspection of
'Look here; here's all this judy's clothes falling to pieces again.
You haven't got a needle and thread I suppose?'
The little man shook his head, and scratched it ruefully as he
contemplated this severe indisposition of a principal performer.
Seeing that they were at a loss, the child said timidly:
'I have a needle, Sir, in my basket, and thread too. Will you let
me try to mend it for you? I think I could do it neater than you
Even Mr Codlin had nothing to urge against a proposal so
seasonable. Nelly, kneeling down beside the box, was soon busily
engaged in her task, and accomplishing it to a miracle.
While she was thus engaged, the merry little man looked at her with
an interest which did not appear to be diminished when he glanced
at her helpless companion. When she had finished her work he
thanked her, and inquired whither they were travelling.
'N--no further to-night, I think,' said the child, looking towards
'If you're wanting a place to stop at,' the man remarked, 'I should
advise you to take up at the same house with us. That's it. The
long, low, white house there. It's very cheap.'
The old man, notwithstanding his fatigue, would have remained in
the churchyard all night if his new acquaintances had remained
there too. As he yielded to this suggestion a ready and rapturous
assent, they all rose and walked away together; he keeping close to
the box of puppets in which he was quite absorbed, the merry little
man carrying it slung over his arm by a strap attached to it for
the purpose, Nelly having hold of her grandfather's hand, and Mr
Codlin sauntering slowly behind, casting up at the church tower and
neighbouring trees such looks as he was accustomed in town-practice
to direct to drawing-room and nursery windows, when seeking for a
profitable spot on which to plant the show.
The public-house was kept by a fat old landlord and landlady who
made no objection to receiving their new guests, but praised
Nelly's beauty and were at once prepossessed in her behalf. There
was no other company in the kitchen but the two showmen, and the
child felt very thankful that they had fallen upon such good
quarters. The landlady was very much astonished to learn that they
had come all the way from London, and appeared to have no little
curiosity touching their farther destination. The child parried her
inquiries as well as she could, and with no great trouble, for
finding that they appeared to give her pain, the old lady desisted.
'These two gentlemen have ordered supper in an hour's time,' she
said, taking her into the bar; 'and your best plan will be to sup
with them. Meanwhile you shall have a little taste of something
that'll do you good, for I'm sure you must want it after all you've
gone through to-day. Now, don't look after the old gentleman,
because when you've drank that, he shall have some too.'
As nothing could induce the child to leave him alone, however, or
to touch anything in which he was not the first and greatest
sharer, the old lady was obliged to help him first. When they had
been thus refreshed, the whole house hurried away into an empty
stable where the show stood, and where, by the light of a few
flaring candles stuck round a hoop which hung by a line from the
ceiling, it was to be forthwith exhibited.
And now Mr Thomas Codlin, the misanthrope, after blowing away at
the Pan's pipes until he was intensely wretched, took his station
on one side of the checked drapery which concealed the mover of the
figures, and putting his hands in his pockets prepared to reply to
all questions and remarks of Punch, and to make a dismal feint of
being his most intimate private friend, of believing in him to the
fullest and most unlimited extent, of knowing that he enjoyed day
and night a merry and glorious existence in that temple, and that
he was at all times and under every circumstance the same
intelligent and joyful person that the spectators then beheld him.
All this Mr Codlin did with the air of a man who had made up his
mind for the worst and was quite resigned; his eye slowly wandering
about during the briskest repartee to observe the effect upon the
audience, and particularly the impression made upon the landlord
and landlady, which might be productive of very important results
in connexion with the supper.
Upon this head, however, he had no cause for any anxiety, for the
whole performance was applauded to the echo, and voluntary
contributions were showered in with a liberality which testified
yet more strongly to the general delight. Among the laughter none
was more loud and frequent than the old man's. Nell's was unheard,
for she, poor child, with her head drooping on his shoulder, had
fallen asleep, and slept too soundly to be roused by any of his
efforts to awaken her to a participation in his glee.
The supper was very good, but she was too tired to eat, and yet
would not leave the old man until she had kissed him in his bed.
He, happily insensible to every care and anxiety, sat listening
with a vacant smile and admiring face to all that his new friend
said; and it was not until they retired yawning to their room, that
he followed the child up stairs.
It was but a loft partitioned into two compartments, where they
were to rest, but they were well pleased with their lodging and had
hoped for none so good. The old man was uneasy when he had lain
down, and begged that Nell would come and sit at his bedside as she
had done for so many nights. She hastened to him, and sat there
till he slept.
There was a little window, hardly more than a chink in the wall, in
her room, and when she left him, she opened it, quite wondering at
the silence. The sight of the old church, and the graves about it
in the moonlight, and the dark trees whispering among themselves,
made her more thoughtful than before. She closed the window again,
and sitting down upon the bed, thought of the life that was before them.
She had a little money, but it was very little, and when that was
gone, they must begin to beg. There was one piece of gold among it,
and an emergency might come when its worth to them would be
increased a hundred fold. It would be best to hide this coin, and
never produce it unless their case was absolutely desperate, and no
other resource was left them.
Her resolution taken, she sewed the piece of gold into her dress,
and going to bed with a lighter heart sunk into a deep slumber.
Another bright day shining in through the small casement, and
claiming fellowship with the kindred eyes of the child, awoke her.
At sight of the strange room and its unaccustomed objects she
started up in alarm, wondering how she had been moved from the
familiar chamber in which she seemed to have fallen asleep last
night, and whither she had been conveyed. But, another glance
around called to her mind all that had lately passed, and she
sprung from her bed, hoping and trustful.
It was yet early, and the old man being still asleep, she walked
out into the churchyard, brushing the dew from the long grass with
her feet, and often turning aside into places where it grew longer
than in others, that she might not tread upon the graves. She felt
a curious kind of pleasure in lingering among these houses of the
dead, and read the inscriptions on the tombs of the good people (a
great number of good people were buried there), passing on from one
to another with increasing interest.
It was a very quiet place, as such a place should be, save for the
cawing of the rooks who had built their nests among the branches of
some tall old trees, and were calling to one another, high up in
the air. First, one sleek bird, hovering near his ragged house as
it swung and dangled in the wind, uttered his hoarse cry, quite by
chance as it would seem, and in a sober tone as though he were but
talking to himself. Another answered, and he called again, but
louder than before; then another spoke and then another; and each
time the first, aggravated by contradiction, insisted on his case
more strongly. Other voices, silent till now, struck in from boughs
lower down and higher up and midway, and to the right and left, and
from the tree-tops; and others, arriving hastily from the grey
church turrets and old belfry window, joined the clamour which rose
and fell, and swelled and dropped again, and still went on; and all
this noisy contention amidst a skimming to and fro, and lighting on
fresh branches, and frequent change of place, which satirised the
old restlessness of those who lay so still beneath the moss and
turf below, and the strife in which they had worn away their lives.
Frequently raising her eyes to the trees whence these sounds came
down, and feeling as though they made the place more quiet than
perfect silence would have done, the child loitered from grave to
grave, now stopping to replace with careful hands the bramble which
had started from some green mound it helped to keep in shape, and
now peeping through one of the low latticed windows into the
church, with its worm-eaten books upon the desks, and baize of
whitened-green mouldering from the pew sides and leaving the naked
wood to view. There were the seats where the poor old people sat,
worn spare, and yellow like themselves; the rugged font where
children had their names, the homely altar where they knelt in
after life, the plain black tressels that bore their weight on
their last visit to the cool old shady church. Everything told of
long use and quiet slow decay; the very bell-rope in the porch was
frayed into a fringe, and hoary with old age.
She was looking at a humble stone which told of a young man who had
died at twenty-three years old, fifty-five years ago, when she
heard a faltering step approaching, and looking round saw a feeble
woman bent with the weight of years, who tottered to the foot of
that same grave and asked her to read the writing on the stone. The
old woman thanked her when she had done, saying that she had had
the words by heart for many a long, long year, but could not see
'Were you his mother?' said the child.
'I was his wife, my dear.'
She the wife of a young man of three-and-twenty! Ah, true! It was
fifty-five years ago.
'You wonder to hear me say that,' remarked the old woman, shaking
her head. 'You're not the first. Older folk than you have wondered
at the same thing before now. Yes, I was his wife. Death doesn't
change us more than life, my dear.'
'Do you come here often?' asked the child.
'I sit here very often in the summer time,' she answered, 'I used
to come here once to cry and mourn, but that was a weary while ago,
'I pluck the daisies as they grow, and take them home,' said the
old woman after a short silence. 'I like no flowers so well as
these, and haven't for five-and-fifty years. It's a long time, and
I'm getting very old.'
Then growing garrulous upon a theme which was new to one listener
though it were but a child, she told her how she had wept and
moaned and prayed to die herself, when this happened; and how when
she first came to that place, a young creature strong in love and
grief, she had hoped that her heart was breaking as it seemed to
be. But that time passed by, and although she continued to be sad
when she came there, still she could bear to come, and so went on
until it was pain no longer, but a solemn pleasure, and a duty she
had learned to like. And now that five-and-fifty years were gone,
she spoke of the dead man as if he had been her son or grandson,
with a kind of pity for his youth, growing out of her own old age,
and an exalting of his strength and manly beauty as compared with
her own weakness and decay; and yet she spoke about him as her
husband too, and thinking of herself in connexion with him, as she
used to be and not as she was now, talked of their meeting in
another world, as if he were dead but yesterday, and she, separated
from her former self, were thinking of the happiness of that comely
girl who seemed to have died with him.
The child left her gathering the flowers that grew upon the grave,
and thoughtfully retraced her steps.
The old man was by this time up and dressed. Mr Codlin, still
doomed to contemplate the harsh realities of existence, was packing
among his linen the candle-ends which had been saved from the
previous night's performance; while his companion received the
compliments of all the loungers in the stable-yard, who, unable to
separate him from the master-mind of Punch, set him down as next in
importance to that merry outlaw, and loved him scarcely less. When
he had sufficiently acknowledged his popularity he came in to
breakfast, at which meal they all sat down together.
'And where are you going to-day?' said the little man, addressing
himself to Nell.
'Indeed I hardly know--we have not determined yet,' replied the child.
'We're going on to the races,' said the little man. 'If that's your
way and you like to have us for company, let us travel together. If
you prefer going alone, only say the word and you'll find that we
shan't trouble you.'
'We'll go with you,' said the old man. 'Nell--with them, with them.'
The child considered for a moment, and reflecting that she must
shortly beg, and could scarcely hope to do so at a better place
than where crowds of rich ladies and gentlemen were assembled
together for purposes of enjoyment and festivity, determined to
accompany these men so far. She therefore thanked the little man
for his offer, and said, glancing timidly towards his friend, that
if there was no objection to their accompanying them as far as the
'Objection!' said the little man. 'Now be gracious for once, Tommy,
and say that you'd rather they went with us. I know you would. Be
'Trotters,' said Mr Codlin, who talked very slowly and ate very
greedily, as is not uncommon with philosophers and misanthropes;
'you're too free.'
'Why what harm can it do?' urged the other. 'No harm at all in this
particular case, perhaps,' replied Mr Codlin; 'but the principle's
a dangerous one, and you're too free I tell you.'
'Well, are they to go with us or not?'
'Yes, they are,' said Mr Codlin; 'but you might have made a favour
of it, mightn't you?'
The real name of the little man was Harris, but it had gradually
merged into the less euphonious one of Trotters, which, with the
prefatory adjective, Short, had been conferred upon him by reason
of the small size of his legs. Short Trotters however, being a
compound name, inconvenient of use in friendly dialogue, the
gentleman on whom it had been bestowed was known among his
intimates either as 'Short,' or 'Trotters,' and was seldom accosted
at full length as Short Trotters, except in formal conversations
and on occasions of ceremony.
Short, then, or Trotters, as the reader pleases, returned unto the
remonstrance of his friend Mr Thomas Codlin a jocose answer
calculated to turn aside his discontent; and applying himself with
great relish to the cold boiled beef, the tea, and bread and
butter, strongly impressed upon his companions that they should do
the like. Mr Codlin indeed required no such persuasion, as he had
already eaten as much as he could possibly carry and was now
moistening his clay with strong ale, whereof he took deep draughts
with a silent relish and invited nobody to partake--thus again
strongly indicating his misanthropical turn of mind.
Breakfast being at length over, Mr Codlin called the bill, and
charging the ale to the company generally (a practice also
savouring of misanthropy) divided the sum-total into two fair and
equal parts, assigning one moiety to himself and friend, and the
other to Nelly and her grandfather. These being duly discharged and
all things ready for their departure, they took farewell of the
landlord and landlady and resumed their journey.
And here Mr Codlin's false position in society and the effect it
wrought upon his wounded spirit, were strongly illustrated; for
whereas he had been last night accosted by Mr Punch as 'master,'
and had by inference left the audience to understand that he
maintained that individual for his own luxurious entertainment and
delight, here he was, now, painfully walking beneath the burden of
that same Punch's temple, and bearing it bodily upon his shoulders
on a sultry day and along a dusty road. In place of enlivening his
patron with a constant fire of wit or the cheerful rattle of his
quarter-staff on the heads of his relations and acquaintance, here
was that beaming Punch utterly devoid of spine, all slack and
drooping in a dark box, with his legs doubled up round his neck,
and not one of his social qualities remaining.
Mr Codlin trudged heavily on, exchanging a word or two at intervals
with Short, and stopping to rest and growl occasionally. Short led
the way; with the flat box, the private luggage (which was not
extensive) tied up in a bundle, and a brazen trumpet slung from his
shoulder-blade. Nell and her grandfather walked next him on either
hand, and Thomas Codlin brought up the rear.
When they came to any town or village, or even to a detached house
of good appearance, Short blew a blast upon the brazen trumpet and
carolled a fragment of a song in that hilarious tone common to
Punches and their consorts. If people hurried to the windows, Mr
Codlin pitched the temple, and hastily unfurling the drapery and
concealing Short therewith, flourished hysterically on the pipes
and performed an air. Then the entertainment began as soon as might
be; Mr Codlin having the responsibility of deciding on its length
and of protracting or expediting the time for the hero's final
triumph over the enemy of mankind, according as he judged that the
after-crop of half-pence would be plentiful or scant. When it had
been gathered in to the last farthing, he resumed his load and on
they went again.
Sometimes they played out the toll across a bridge or ferry, and
once exhibited by particular desire at a turnpike, where the
collector, being drunk in his solitude, paid down a shilling to
have it to himself. There was one small place of rich promise in
which their hopes were blighted, for a favourite character in the
play having gold-lace upon his coat and being a meddling
wooden-headed fellow was held to be a libel on the beadle, for
which reason the authorities enforced a quick retreat; but they
were generally well received, and seldom left a town without a
troop of ragged children shouting at their heels.
They made a long day's journey, despite these interruptions, and
were yet upon the road when the moon was shining in the sky. Short
beguiled the time with songs and jests, and made the best of
everything that happened. Mr Codlin on the other hand, cursed his
fate, and all the hollow things of earth (but Punch especially),
and limped along with the theatre on his back, a prey to the
They had stopped to rest beneath a finger-post where four roads
met, and Mr Codlin in his deep misanthropy had let down the drapery
and seated himself in the bottom of the show, invisible to mortal
eyes and disdainful of the company of his fellow creatures, when
two monstrous shadows were seen stalking towards them from a
turning in the road by which they had come. The child was at first
quite terrified by the sight of these gaunt giants--for such they
looked as they advanced with lofty strides beneath the shadow of
the trees--but Short, telling her there was nothing to fear, blew
a blast upon the trumpet, which was answered by a cheerful shout.
'It's Grinder's lot, an't it?' cried Mr Short in a loud key.
'Yes,' replied a couple of shrill voices.
'Come on then,' said Short. 'Let's have a look at you. I thought it
Thus invited, 'Grinder's lot' approached with redoubled speed and
soon came up with the little party.
Mr Grinder's company, familiarly termed a lot, consisted of a young
gentleman and a young lady on stilts, and Mr Grinder himself, who
used his natural legs for pedestrian purposes and carried at his
back a drum. The public costume of the young people was of the
Highland kind, but the night being damp and cold, the young
gentleman wore over his kilt a man's pea jacket reaching to his
ankles, and a glazed hat; the young lady too was muffled in an old
cloth pelisse and had a handkerchief tied about her head. Their
Scotch bonnets, ornamented with plumes of jet black feathers, Mr
Grinder carried on his instrument.
'Bound for the races, I see,' said Mr Grinder coming up out of
breath. 'So are we. How are you, Short?' With that they shook hands
in a very friendly manner. The young people being too high up for
the ordinary salutations, saluted Short after their own fashion.
The young gentleman twisted up his right stilt and patted him on
the shoulder, and the young lady rattled her tambourine.
'Practice?' said Short, pointing to the stilts.
'No,' returned Grinder. 'It comes either to walkin' in 'em or
carryin' of 'em, and they like walkin' in 'em best. It's wery
pleasant for the prospects. Which road are you takin'? We go the
'Why, the fact is,' said Short, 'that we are going the longest way,
because then we could stop for the night, a mile and a half on. But
three or four mile gained to-night is so many saved to-morrow, and
if you keep on, I think our best way is to do the same.'
'Where's your partner?' inquired Grinder.
'Here he is,' cried Mr Thomas Codlin, presenting his head and face
in the proscenium of the stage, and exhibiting an expression of
countenance not often seen there; 'and he'll see his partner boiled
alive before he'll go on to-night. That's what he says.'
'Well, don't say such things as them, in a spear which is dewoted
to something pleasanter,' urged Short. 'Respect associations,
Tommy, even if you do cut up rough.'
'Rough or smooth,' said Mr Codlin, beating his hand on the little
footboard where Punch, when suddenly struck with the symmetry of
his legs and their capacity for silk stockings, is accustomed to
exhibit them to popular admiration, 'rough or smooth, I won't go
further than the mile and a half to-night. I put up at the Jolly
Sandboys and nowhere else. If you like to come there, come there.
If you like to go on by yourself, go on by yourself, and do without
me if you can.'
So saying, Mr Codlin disappeared from the scene and immediately
presented himself outside the theatre, took it on his shoulders at
a jerk, and made off with most remarkable agility.
Any further controversy being now out of the question, Short was
fain to part with Mr Grinder and his pupils and to follow his
morose companion. After lingering at the finger-post for a few
minutes to see the stilts frisking away in the moonlight and the
bearer of the drum toiling slowly after them, he blew a few notes
upon the trumpet as a parting salute, and hastened with all speed
to follow Mr Codlin. With this view he gave his unoccupied hand to
Nell, and bidding her be of good cheer as they would soon be at the
end of their journey for that night, and stimulating the old man
with a similar assurance, led them at a pretty swift pace towards
their destination, which he was the less unwilling to make for, as
the moon was now overcast and the clouds were threatening rain.
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
'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'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
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
Back to Full Books