The Old Curiosity Shop
Part 5 out of 13
took courage, and when he had resumed his pipe and seat, ventured
to draw near, leading her grandfather by the hand. The slight noise
they made in raising the latch of the wicket-gate, caught his
attention. He looked at them kindly but seemed disappointed too,
and slightly shook his head.
Nell dropped a curtsey, and told him they were poor travellers who
sought a shelter for the night which they would gladly pay for, so
far as their means allowed. The schoolmaster looked earnestly at
her as she spoke, laid aside his pipe, and rose up directly.
'If you could direct us anywhere,sir,' said the child, 'we should
take it very kindly.'
'You have been walking a long way,' said the schoolmaster.
'A long way, Sir,' the child replied.
'You're a young traveller, my child,' he said, laying his hand
gently on her head. 'Your grandchild, friend? '
'Aye, Sir,' cried the old man, 'and the stay and comfort of my
'Come in,' said the schoolmaster.
Without further preface he conducted them into his little
school-room, which was parlour and kitchen likewise, and told them
that they were welcome to remain under his roof till morning.
Before they had done thanking him, he spread a coarse white cloth
upon the table, with knives and platters; and bringing out some
bread and cold meat and a jug of beer, besought them to eat and
The child looked round the room as she took her seat. There were a
couple of forms, notched and cut and inked all over; a small deal
desk perched on four legs, at which no doubt the master sat; a few
dog's-eared books upon a high shelf; and beside them a motley
collection of peg-tops, balls, kites, fishing-lines, marbles,
half-eaten apples, and other confiscated property of idle urchins.
Displayed on hooks upon the wall in all their terrors, were the
cane and ruler; and near them, on a small shelf of its own, the
dunce's cap, made of old newspapers and decorated with glaring
wafers of the largest size. But, the great ornaments of the walls
were certain moral sentences fairly copied in good round text, and
well-worked sums in simple addition and multiplication, evidently
achieved by the same hand, which were plentifully pasted all round
the room: for the double purpose, as it seemed, of bearing
testimony to the excellence of the school, and kindling a worthy
emulation in the bosoms of the scholars.
'Yes,' said the old schoolmaster, observing that her attention was
caught by these latter specimens. 'That's beautiful writing, my
'Very, Sir,' replied the child modestly, 'is it yours?'
'Mine!' he returned, taking out his spectacles and putting them on,
to have a better view of the triumphs so dear to his heart. 'I
couldn't write like that, now-a-days. No. They're all done by one
hand; a little hand it is, not so old as yours, but a very clever one.'
As the schoolmaster said this, he saw that a small blot of ink had
been thrown on one of the copies, so he took a penknife from his
pocket, and going up to the wall, carefully scraped it out. When he
had finished, he walked slowly backward from the writing, admiring
it as one might contemplate a beautiful picture, but with something
of sadness in his voice and manner which quite touched the child,
though she was unacquainted with its cause.
'A little hand indeed,' said the poor schoolmaster. 'Far beyond all
his companions, in his learning and his sports too, how did he ever
come to be so fond of me! That I should love him is no wonder, but
that he should love me--' and there the schoolmaster stopped, and
took off his spectacles to wipe them, as though they had grown dim.
'I hope there is nothing the matter,sir,' said Nell anxiously.
'Not much, my dear,' returned the schoolmaster. 'I hoped to have
seen him on the green to-night. He was always foremost among them.
But he'll be there to-morrow.'
'Has he been ill?' asked the child, with a child's quick sympathy.
'Not very. They said he was wandering in his head yesterday, dear
boy, and so they said the day before. But that's a part of that
kind of disorder; it's not a bad sign--not at all a bad sign.'
The child was silent. He walked to the door, and looked wistfully
out. The shadows of night were gathering, and all was still.
'If he could lean upon anybody's arm, he would come to me, I know,'
he said, returning into the room. 'He always came into the garden
to say good night. But perhaps his illness has only just taken a
favourable turn, and it's too late for him to come out, for it's
very damp and there's a heavy dew. it's much better he shouldn't
The schoolmaster lighted a candle, fastened the window-shutter,
and closed the door. But after he had done this, and sat silent a
little time, he took down his hat, and said he would go and satisfy
himself, if Nell would sit up till he returned. The child readily
complied, and he went out.
She sat there half-an-hour or more, feeling the place very strange
and lonely, for she had prevailed upon the old man to go to bed,
and there was nothing to be heard but the ticking of an old clock,
and the whistling of the wind among the trees. When he returned, he
took his seat in the chimney corner, but remained silent for a long
time. At length he turned to her, and speaking very gently, hoped
she would say a prayer that night for a sick child.
'My favourite scholar!' said the poor schoolmaster, smoking a pipe
he had forgotten to light, and looking mournfully round upon the
walls. 'It is a little hand to have done all that, and waste away
with sickness. It is a very, very little hand!'
After a sound night's rest in a chamber in the thatched roof, in
which it seemed the sexton had for some years been a lodger, but
which he had lately deserted for a wife and a cottage of his own,
the child rose early in the morning and descended to the room where
she had supped last night. As the schoolmaster had already left his
bed and gone out, she bestirred herself to make it neat and
comfortable, and had just finished its arrangement when the kind
He thanked her many times, and said that the old dame who usually
did such offices for him had gone to nurse the little scholar whom
he had told her of. The child asked how he was, and hoped he was
'No,' rejoined the schoolmaster shaking his head sorrowfully, 'no
better. They even say he is worse.'
'I am very sorry for that, Sir,' said the child.
The poor schoolmaster appeared to be gratified by her earnest
manner, but yet rendered more uneasy by it, for he added hastily
that anxious people often magnified an evil and thought it greater
than it was; 'for my part,' he said, in his quiet, patient way, 'I
hope it's not so. I don't think he can be worse.'
The child asked his leave to prepare breakfast, and her grandfather
coming down stairs, they all three partook of it together. While
the meal was in progress, their host remarked that the old man
seemed much fatigued, and evidently stood in need of rest.
'If the journey you have before you is a long one,' he said, 'and
don't press you for one day, you're very welcome to pass another
night here. I should really be glad if you would, friend.'
He saw that the old man looked at Nell, uncertain whether to accept
or decline his offer; and added,
'I shall be glad to have your young companion with me for one day.
If you can do a charity to a lone man, and rest yourself at the
same time, do so. If you must proceed upon your journey, I wish you
well through it, and will walk a little way with you before school
'What are we to do, Nell?' said the old man irresolutely, 'say what
we're to do, dear.'
It required no great persuasion to induce the child to answer that
they had better accept the invitation and remain. She was happy to
show her gratitude to the kind schoolmaster by busying herself in
the performance of such household duties as his little cottage
stood in need of. When these were done, she took some needle-work
from her basket, and sat herself down upon a stool beside the
lattice, where the honeysuckle and woodbine entwined their tender
stems, and stealing into the room filled it with their delicious
breath. Her grandfather was basking in the sun outside, breathing
the perfume of the flowers, and idly watching the clouds as they
floated on before the light summer wind.
As the schoolmaster, after arranging the two forms in due order,
took his seat behind his desk and made other preparations for
school, the child was apprehensive that she might be in the way,
and offered to withdraw to her little bedroom. But this he would
not allow, and as he seemed pleased to have her there, she
remained, busying herself with her work.
'Have you many scholars, sir?' she asked.
The poor schoolmaster shook his head, and said that they barely
filled the two forms.
'Are the others clever, sir?' asked the child, glancing at the
trophies on the wall.
'Good boys,' returned the schoolmaster, 'good boys enough, my dear,
but they'll never do like that.'
A small white-headed boy with a sunburnt face appeared at the door
while he was speaking, and stopping there to make a rustic bow,
came in and took his seat upon one of the forms. The white-headed
boy then put an open book, astonishingly dog's-eared upon his
knees, and thrusting his hands into his pockets began counting the
marbles with which they were filled; displaying in the expression
of his face a remarkable capacity of totally abstracting his mind
from the spelling on which his eyes were fixed. Soon afterwards
another white-headed little boy came straggling in, and after him
a red-headed lad, and after him two more with white heads, and then
one with a flaxen poll, and so on until the forms were occupied by
a dozen boys or thereabouts, with heads of every colour but grey,
and ranging in their ages from four years old to fourteen years or
more; for the legs of the youngest were a long way from the floor
when he sat upon the form, and the eldest was a heavy good-tempered
foolish fellow, about half a head taller than the schoolmaster.
At the top of the first form--the post of honour in the school--
was the vacant place of the little sick scholar, and at the head of
the row of pegs on which those who came in hats or caps were wont
to hang them up, one was left empty. No boy attempted to violate
the sanctity of seat or peg, but many a one looked from the empty
spaces to the schoolmaster, and whispered his idle neighbour behind
Then began the hum of conning over lessons and getting them by
heart, the whispered jest and stealthy game, and all the noise and
drawl of school; and in the midst of the din sat the poor
schoolmaster, the very image of meekness and simplicity, vainly
attempting to fix his mind upon the duties of the day, and to
forget his little friend. But the tedium of his office reminded him
more strongly of the willing scholar, and his thoughts were
rambling from his pupils--it was plain.
None knew this better than the idlest boys, who, growing bolder
with impunity, waxed louder and more daring; playing odd-or-even
under the master's eye, eating apples openly and without rebuke,
pinching each other in sport or malice without the least reserve,
and cutting their autographs in the very legs of his desk. The
puzzled dunce, who stood beside it to say his lesson out of book,
looked no longer at the ceiling for forgotten words, but drew
closer to the master's elbow and boldly cast his eye upon the page;
the wag of the little troop squinted and made grimaces (at the
smallest boy of course), holding no book before his face, and his
approving audience knew no constraint in their delight. If the
master did chance to rouse himself and seem alive to what was going
on, the noise subsided for a moment and no eyes met his but wore a
studious and a deeply humble look; but the instant he relapsed
again, it broke out afresh, and ten times louder than before.
Oh! how some of those idle fellows longed to be outside, and how
they looked at the open door and window, as if they half
meditated rushing violently out, plunging into the woods, and being
wild boys and savages from that time forth. What rebellious
thoughts of the cool river, and some shady bathing-place beneath
willow trees with branches dipping in the water, kept tempting and
urging that sturdy boy, who, with his shirt-collar unbuttoned and
flung back as far as it could go, sat fanning his flushed face with
a spelling-book, wishing himself a whale, or a tittlebat, or a fly,
or anything but a boy at school on that hot, broiling day! Heat!
ask that other boy, whose seat being nearest to the door gave him
opportunities of gliding out into the garden and driving his
companions to madness by dipping his face into the bucket of the
well and then rolling on the grass--ask him if there were ever
such a day as that, when even the bees were diving deep down into
the cups of flowers and stopping there, as if they had made up
their minds to retire from business and be manufacturers of honey
no more. The day was made for laziness, and lying on one's back in
green places, and staring at the sky till its brightness forced one
to shut one's eyes and go to sleep; and was this a time to be
poring over musty books in a dark room, slighted by the very sun
Nell sat by the window occupied with her work, but attentive still
to all that passed, though sometimes rather timid of the boisterous
boys. The lessons over, writing time began; and there being but one
desk and that the master's, each boy sat at it in turn and laboured
at his crooked copy, while the master walked about. This was a
quieter time; for he would come and look over the writer's
shoulder, and tell him mildly to observe how such a letter was
turned in such a copy on the wall, praise such an up-stroke here
and such a down-stroke there, and bid him take it for his model.
Then he would stop and tell them what the sick child had said last
night, and how he had longed to be among them once again; and such
was the poor schoolmaster's gentle and affectionate manner, that
the boys seemed quite remorseful that they had worried him so much,
and were absolutely quiet; eating no apples, cutting no names,
inflicting no pinches, and making no grimaces, for full two minutes
'I think, boys,' said the schoolmaster when the clock struck
twelve, 'that I shall give an extra half-holiday this afternoon.'
At this intelligence, the boys, led on and headed by the tall boy,
raised a great shout, in the midst of which the master was seen to
speak, but could not be heard. As he held up his hand, however, in
token of his wish that they should be silent, they were considerate
enough to leave off, as soon as the longest-winded among them were
quite out of breath.
'You must promise me first,' said the schoolmaster, 'that you'll
not be noisy, or at least, if you are, that you'll go away and be
so--away out of the village I mean. I'm sure you wouldn't disturb
your old playmate and companion.'
There was a general murmur (and perhaps a very sincere one, for
they were but boys) in the negative; and the tall boy, perhaps as
sincerely as any of them, called those about him to witness that he
had only shouted in a whisper.
'Then pray don't forget, there's my dear scholars,' said the
schoolmaster, 'what I have asked you, and do it as a favour to me.
Be as happy as you can, and don't be unmindful that you are blessed
with health. Good-bye all!'
'Thank'ee, Sir,' and 'good-bye, Sir,' were said a good many times
in a variety of voices, and the boys went out very slowly and
softly. But there was the sun shining and there were the birds
singing, as the sun only shines and the birds only sing on holidays
and half-holidays; there were the trees waving to all free boys to
climb and nestle among their leafy branches; the hay, entreating
them to come and scatter it to the pure air; the green corn, gently
beckoning towards wood and stream; the smooth ground, rendered
smoother still by blending lights and shadows, inviting to runs and
leaps, and long walks God knows whither. It was more than boy could
bear, and with a joyous whoop the whole cluster took to their heels
and spread themselves about, shouting and laughing as they went.
'It's natural, thank Heaven!' said the poor schoolmaster, looking
after them. 'I'm very glad they didn't mind me!'
It is difficult, however, to please everybody, as most of us would
have discovered, even without the fable which bears that moral, and
in the course of the afternoon several mothers and aunts of pupils
looked in to express their entire disapproval of the schoolmaster's
proceeding. A few confined themselves to hints, such as politely
inquiring what red-letter day or saint's day the almanack said it
was; a few (these were the profound village politicians) argued
that it was a slight to the throne and an affront to church and
state, and savoured of revolutionary principles, to grant a
half-holiday upon any lighter occasion than the birthday of the
Monarch; but the majority expressed their displeasure on private
grounds and in plain terms, arguing that to put the pupils on this
short allowance of learning was nothing but an act of downright
robbery and fraud: and one old lady, finding that she could not
inflame or irritate the peaceable schoolmaster by talking to him,
bounced out of his house and talked at him for half-an-hour outside
his own window, to another old lady, saying that of course he would
deduct this half-holiday from his weekly charge, or of course he
would naturally expect to have an opposition started against him;
there was no want of idle chaps in that neighbourhood (here the old
lady raised her voice), and some chaps who were too idle even to be
schoolmasters, might soon find that there were other chaps put over
their heads, and so she would have them take care, and look pretty
sharp about them. But all these taunts and vexations failed to
elicit one word from the meek schoolmaster, who sat with the child
by his side--a little more dejected perhaps, but quite silent and
Towards night an old woman came tottering up the garden as speedily
as she could, and meeting the schoolmaster at the door, said he was
to go to Dame West's directly, and had best run on before her. He
and the child were on the point of going out together for a walk,
and without relinquishing her hand, the schoolmaster hurried away,
leaving the messenger to follow as she might.
They stopped at a cottage-door, and the schoolmaster knocked softly
at it with his hand. It was opened without loss of time. They
entered a room where a little group of women were gathered about
one, older than the rest, who was crying very bitterly, and sat
wringing her hands and rocking herself to and fro.
'Oh, dame!' said the schoolmaster, drawing near her chair, 'is it
so bad as this?'
'He's going fast,' cried the old woman; 'my grandson's dying. It's
all along of you. You shouldn't see him now, but for his being so
earnest on it. This is what his learning has brought him to. Oh
dear, dear, dear, what can I do!'
'Do not say that I am in any fault,' urged the gentle school-
master. 'I am not hurt, dame. No, no. You are in great distress of
mind, and don't mean what you say. I am sure you don't.'
'I do,' returned the old woman. 'I mean it all. If he hadn't been
poring over his books out of fear of you, he would have been well
and merry now, I know he would.'
The schoolmaster looked round upon the other women as if to entreat
some one among them to say a kind word for him, but they shook
their heads, and murmured to each other that they never thought
there was much good in learning, and that this convinced them.
Without saying a word in reply, or giving them a look of reproach,
he followed the old woman who had summoned him (and who had now
rejoined them) into another room, where his infant friend,
half-dressed, lay stretched upon a bed.
He was a very young boy; quite a little child. His hair still hung
in curls about his face, and his eyes were very bright; but their
light was of Heaven, not earth. The schoolmaster took a seat beside
him, and stooping over the pillow, whispered his name. The boy
sprung up, stroked his face with his hand, and threw his wasted
arms round his neck, crying out that he was his dear kind friend.
'I hope I always was. I meant to be, God knows,' said the poor
'Who is that?' said the boy, seeing Nell. 'I am afraid to kiss her,
lest I should make her ill. Ask her to shake hands with me.' The
sobbing child came closer up, and took the little languid hand in
hers. Releasing his again after a time, the sick boy laid him
'You remember the garden, Harry,' whispered the schoolmaster,
anxious to rouse him, for a dulness seemed gathering upon the
child, 'and how pleasant it used to be in the evening time? You
must make haste to visit it again, for I think the very flowers
have missed you, and are less gay than they used to be. You will
come soon, my dear, very soon now--won't you?'
The boy smiled faintly--so very, very faintly--and put his hand
upon his friend's grey head. He moved his lips too, but no voice
came from them; no, not a sound.
In the silence that ensued, the hum of distant voices borne upon
the evening air came floating through the open window. 'What's
that?' said the sick child, opening his eyes.
'The boys at play upon the green.'
He took a handkerchief from his pillow, and tried to wave it above
his head. But the feeble arm dropped powerless down.
'Shall I do it?' said the schoolmaster.
'Please wave it at the window,' was the faint reply. 'Tie it to the
lattice. Some of them may see it there. Perhaps they'll think of
me, and look this way.'
He raised his head, and glanced from the fluttering signal to his
idle bat, that lay with slate and book and other boyish property
upon a table in the room. And then he laid him softly down once more,
and asked if the little girl were there, for he could not see her.
She stepped forward, and pressed the passive hand that lay upon the
coverlet. The two old friends and companions--for such they were,
though they were man and child--held each other in a long embrace,
and then the little scholar turned his face towards the wall, and
The poor schoolmaster sat in the same place, holding the small cold
hand in his, and chafing it. It was but the hand of a dead child.
He felt that; and yet he chafed it still, and could not lay it down.
Almost broken-hearted, Nell withdrew with the schoolmaster from the
bedside and returned to his cottage. In the midst of her grief and
tears she was yet careful to conceal their real cause from the old
man, for the dead boy had been a grandchild, and left but one aged
relative to mourn his premature decay.
She stole away to bed as quickly as she could, and when she was
alone, gave free vent to the sorrow with which her breast was
overcharged. But the sad scene she had witnessed, was not without
its lesson of content and gratitude; of content with the lot which
left her health and freedom; and gratitude that she was spared to
the one relative and friend she loved, and to live and move in a
beautiful world, when so many young creatures--as young and full
of hope as she--were stricken down and gathered to their graves.
How many of the mounds in that old churchyard where she had lately
strayed, grew green above the graves of children! And though she
thought as a child herself, and did not perhaps sufficiently
consider to what a bright and happy existence those who die young
are borne, and how in death they lose the pain of seeing others die
around them, bearing to the tomb some strong affection of their
hearts (which makes the old die many times in one long life), still
she thought wisely enough, to draw a plain and easy moral from what
she had seen that night, and to store it, deep in her mind.
Her dreams were of the little scholar: not coffined and covered up,
but mingling with angels, and smiling happily. The sun darting his
cheerful rays into the room, awoke her; and now there remained but
to take leave of the poor schoolmaster and wander forth once more.
By the time they were ready to depart, school had begun. In the
darkened room, the din of yesterday was going on again: a little
sobered and softened down, perhaps, but only a very little, if at
all. The schoolmaster rose from his desk and walked with them to
It was with a trembling and reluctant hand, that the child held out
to him the money which the lady had given her at the races for her
flowers: faltering in her thanks as she thought how small the sum
was, and blushing as she offered it. But he bade her put it up,
and stooping to kiss her cheek, turned back into his house.
They had not gone half-a-dozen paces when he was at the door again;
the old man retraced his steps to shake hands, and the child did
'Good fortune and happiness go with you!' said the poor
schoolmaster. 'I am quite a solitary man now. If you ever pass
this way again, you'll not forget the little village-school.'
'We shall never forget it, sir,' rejoined Nell; 'nor ever forget to
be grateful to you for your kindness to us.'
'I have heard such words from the lips of children very often,'
said the schoolmaster, shaking his head, and smiling thoughtfully,
'but they were soon forgotten. I had attached one young friend to
me, the better friend for being young--but that's over--God bless
They bade him farewell very many times, and turned away, walking
slowly and often looking back, until they could see him no more.
At length they had left the village far behind, and even lost sight
of the smoke among the trees. They trudged onward now, at a
quicker pace, resolving to keep the main road, and go wherever it
might lead them.
But main roads stretch a long, long way. With the exception of two
or three inconsiderable clusters of cottages which they passed,
without stopping, and one lonely road-side public-house where they
had some bread and cheese, this highway had led them to nothing--
late in the afternoon--and still lengthened out, far in the
distance, the same dull, tedious, winding course, that they had
been pursuing all day. As they had no resource, however, but to go
forward, they still kept on, though at a much slower pace, being
very weary and fatigued.
The afternoon had worn away into a beautiful evening, when they
arrived at a point where the road made a sharp turn and struck
across a common. On the border of this common, and close to the
hedge which divided it from the cultivated fields, a caravan was
drawn up to rest; upon which, by reason of its situation, they came
so suddenly that they could not have avoided it if they would.
It was not a shabby, dingy, dusty cart, but a smart little house
upon wheels, with white dimity curtains festooning the windows, and
window-shutters of green picked out with panels of a staring red,
in which happily-contrasted colours the whole concern shone
brilliant. Neither was it a poor caravan drawn by a single donkey
or emaciated horse, for a pair of horses in pretty
good condition were released from the shafts and grazing on the
frouzy grass. Neither was it a gipsy caravan, for at the open door
(graced with a bright brass knocker) sat a Christian lady, stout
and comfortable to look upon, who wore a large bonnet trembling
with bows. And that it was not an unprovided or destitute caravan
was clear from this lady's occupation, which was the very pleasant
and refreshing one of taking tea. The tea-things, including a
bottle of rather suspicious character and a cold knuckle of ham,
were set forth upon a drum, covered with a white napkin; and there,
as if at the most convenient round-table in all the world, sat
this roving lady, taking her tea and enjoying the prospect.
It happened that at that moment the lady of the caravan had her cup
(which, that everything about her might be of a stout and
comfortable kind, was a breakfast cup) to her lips, and that having
her eyes lifted to the sky in her enjoyment of the full flavour of
the tea, not unmingled possibly with just the slightest
dash or gleam of something out of the suspicious bottle--but this
is mere speculation and not distinct matter of history--it
happened that being thus agreeably engaged, she did not see the
travellers when they first came up. It was not until she was in
the act of getting down the cup, and drawing a long breath after
the exertion of causing its contents to disappear, that the lady of
the caravan beheld an old man and a young child walking slowly by,
and glancing at her proceedings with eyes of modest but hungry
'Hey!' cried the lady of the caravan, scooping the crumbs out of
her lap and swallowing the same before wiping her lips. 'Yes, to
be sure--Who won the Helter-Skelter Plate, child?'
'Won what, ma'am?' asked Nell.
'The Helter-Skelter Plate at the races, child--the plate that was
run for on the second day.'
'On the second day, ma'am?'
'Second day! Yes, second day,' repeated the lady with an air of
impatience. 'Can't you say who won the Helter-Skelter Plate when
you're asked the question civilly?'
'I don't know, ma'am.'
'Don't know!' repeated the lady of the caravan; 'why, you were
there. I saw you with my own eyes.'
Nell was not a little alarmed to hear this, supposing that the lady
might be intimately acquainted with the firm of Short and Codlin;
but what followed tended to reassure her.
'And very sorry I was,' said the lady of the caravan, 'to see you
in company with a Punch; a low, practical, wulgar wretch, that
people should scorn to look at.'
'I was not there by choice,' returned the child; 'we didn't know
our way, and the two men were very kind to us, and let us travel
with them. Do you--do you know them, ma'am?'
'Know 'em, child!' cried the lady of the caravan in a sort of
shriek. 'Know them! But you're young and inexperienced, and
that's your excuse for asking sich a question. Do I look as if I
know'd 'em, does the caravan look as if it know'd 'em?'
'No, ma'am, no,' said the child, fearing she had committed some
grievous fault. 'I beg your pardon.'
It was granted immediately, though the lady still appeared much
ruffled and discomposed by the degrading supposition. The child
then explained that they had left the races on the first day, and
were travelling to the next town on that road, where they purposed
to spend the night. As the countenance of the stout lady began to
clear up, she ventured to inquire how far it was. The reply--which
the stout lady did not come to, until she had thoroughly explained
that she went to the races on the first day in a gig, and as an
expedition of pleasure, and that her presence there had no
connexion with any matters of business or profit--was, that the
town was eight miles off.
This discouraging information a little dashed the child, who could
scarcely repress a tear as she glanced along the darkening road.
Her grandfather made no complaint, but he sighed heavily as he
leaned upon his staff, and vainly tried to pierce the dusty
The lady of the caravan was in the act of gathering her tea
equipage together preparatory to clearing the table, but noting the
child's anxious manner she hesitated and stopped. The child
curtseyed, thanked her for her information, and giving her hand to
the old man had already got some fifty yards or so away, when the
lady of the caravan called to her to return.
'Come nearer, nearer still,' said she, beckoning to her to ascend
the steps. 'Are you hungry, child?'
'Not very, but we are tired, and it's--it IS a long way.'
'Well, hungry or not, you had better have some tea,' rejoined her
new acquaintance. 'I suppose you are agreeable to that, old
The grandfather humbly pulled off his hat and thanked her. The
lady of the caravan then bade him come up the steps likewise, but
the drum proving an inconvenient table for two, they descended
again, and sat upon the grass, where she handed down to them the
tea-tray, the bread and butter, the knuckle of ham, and in short
everything of which she had partaken herself, except the bottle
which she had already embraced an opportunity of slipping into her
'Set 'em out near the hind wheels, child, that's the best place,'
said their friend, superintending the arrangements from above.
'Now hand up the teapot for a little more hot water, and a pinch of
fresh tea, and then both of you eat and drink as much as you can,
and don't spare anything; that's all I ask of you.'
They might perhaps have carried out the lady's wish, if it had been
less freely expressed, or even if it had not been expressed at all.
But as this direction relieved them from any shadow of delicacy or
uneasiness, they made a hearty meal and enjoyed it to the utmost.
While they were thus engaged, the lady of the caravan alighted
on the earth, and with her hands clasped behind her, and her large
bonnet trembling excessively, walked up and down in a measured
tread and very stately manner, surveying the caravan from time to
time with an air of calm delight, and deriving particular
gratification from the red panels and the brass knocker. When she
had taken this gentle exercise for some time, she sat down upon the
steps and called 'George'; whereupon a man in a carter's frock, who
had been so shrouded in a hedge up to this time as to see
everything that passed without being seen himself, parted the twigs
that concealed him, and appeared in a sitting attitude, supporting
on his legs a baking-dish and a half-gallon stone bottle, and
bearing in his right hand a knife, and in his left a fork.
'Yes, Missus,' said George.
'How did you find the cold pie, George?'
'It warn't amiss, mum.'
'And the beer,' said the lady of the caravan, with an appearance of
being more interested in this question than the last; 'is it
'It's more flatterer than it might be,' George returned, 'but it
an't so bad for all that.'
To set the mind of his mistress at rest, he took a sip (amounting
in quantity to a pint or thereabouts) from the stone bottle, and
then smacked his lips, winked his eye, and nodded his head. No
doubt with the same amiable desire, he immediately resumed his
knife and fork, as a practical assurance that the beer had wrought
no bad effect upon his appetite.
The lady of the caravan looked on approvingly for some time, and
'Have you nearly finished?'
'Wery nigh, mum.' And indeed, after scraping the dish all round
with his knife and carrying the choice brown morsels to his mouth,
and after taking such a scientific pull at the stone bottle that,
by degrees almost imperceptible to the sight, his head went further
and further back until he lay nearly at his full length upon the
ground, this gentleman declared himself quite disengaged, and came
forth from his retreat.
'I hope I haven't hurried you, George,' said his mistress, who
appeared to have a great sympathy with his late pursuit.
'If you have,' returned the follower, wisely reserving himself
for any favourable contingency that might occur, 'we must make up
for it next time, that's all.'
'We are not a heavy load, George?'
'That's always what the ladies say,' replied the man, looking a
long way round, as if he were appealing to Nature in general
against such monstrous propositions. 'If you see a woman a
driving, you'll always perceive that she never will keep her whip
still; the horse can't go fast enough for her. If cattle have got
their proper load, you never can persuade a woman that they'll not
bear something more. What is ' the cause of this here?'
'Would these two travellers make much difference to the horses, if
we took them with us?' asked his mistress, offering no reply to the
philosophical inquiry, and pointing to Nell and the old man, who
were painfully preparing to resume their journey on foot.
'They'd make a difference in course,' said George doggedly.
'Would they make much difference?' repeated his mistress. 'They
can't be very heavy.'
'The weight o' the pair, mum,' said George, eyeing them with the
look of a man who was calculating within half an ounce or so,
'would be a trifle under that of Oliver Cromwell."
Nell was very much surprised that the man should be so accurately
acquainted with the weight of one whom she had read of in books as
having lived considerably before their time, but speedily forgot
the subject in the joy of hearing that they were to go forward in
the caravan, for which she thanked its lady with unaffected
earnestness. She helped with great readiness and alacrity to put
away the tea-things and other matters that were lying about, and,
the horses being by that time harnessed, mounted into the vehicle,
followed by her delighted grandfather. Their patroness then shut
the door and sat herself down by her drum at an open window; and,
the steps being struck by George and stowed under the carriage,
away they went, with a great noise of flapping and creaking and
straining, and the bright brass knocker, which nobody ever knocked
at, knocking one perpetual double knock of its own accord as they
jolted heavily along.
When they had travelled slowly forward for some short distance,
Nell ventured to steal a look round the caravan and observe it more
closely. One half of it--that moiety in which the comfortable
proprietress was then seated--was carpeted, and so partitioned off
at the further end as to accommodate a sleeping-place, constructed
after the fashion of a berth on board ship, which was shaded, like
the little windows, with fair white curtains, and looked
comfortable enough, though by what kind of gymnastic exercise the
lady of the caravan ever contrived to get into it, was an
unfathomable mystery. The other half served for a kitchen, and was
fitted up with a stove whose small chimney passed through the roof.
It held also a closet or larder, several chests, a great pitcher of
water, and a few cooking-utensils and articles of crockery. These
latter necessaries hung upon the walls, which, in that portion of
the establishment devoted to the lady of the caravan, were
ornamented with such gayer and lighter decorations as a triangle
and a couple of well-thumbed tambourines.
The lady of the caravan sat at one window in all the pride and
poetry of the musical instruments, and little Nell and her
grandfather sat at the other in all the humility of the kettle and
saucepans, while the machine jogged on and shifted the darkening
prospect very slowly. At first the two travellers spoke little,
and only in whispers, but as they grew more familiar with the place
they ventured to converse with greater freedom, and talked about
the country through which they were passing, and the different
objects that presented themselves, until the old man fell asleep;
which the lady of the caravan observing, invited Nell to come and
sit beside her.
'Well, child,' she said, 'how do you like this way of travelling?'
Nell replied that she thought it was very pleasant indeed, to which
the lady assented in the case of people who had their spirits. For
herself, she said, she was troubled with a lowness in that respect
which required a constant stimulant; though whether the aforesaid
stimulant was derived from the suspicious bottle of which mention
has been already made or from other sources, she did not say.
'That's the happiness of you young people,' she continued. 'You
don't know what it is to be low in your feelings. You always have
your appetites too, and what a comfort that is.'
Nell thought that she could sometimes dispense with her own
appetite very conveniently; and thought, moreover, that there was
nothing either in the lady's personal appearance or in her manner
of taking tea, to lead to the conclusion that her natural relish
for meat and drink had at all failed her. She silently assented,
however, as in duty bound, to what the lady had said, and waited
until she should speak again.
Instead of speaking, however, she sat looking at the child for a
long time in silence, and then getting up, brought out from a
corner a large roll of canvas about a yard in width, which she laid
upon the floor and spread open with her foot until it nearly
reached from one end of the caravan to the other.
'There, child,' she said, 'read that.'
Nell walked down it, and read aloud, in enormous black letters, the
inscription, 'Jarley's WAX-WORK.'
'Read it again,' said the lady, complacently.
'Jarley's Wax-Work,' repeated Nell.
'That's me,' said the lady. 'I am Mrs Jarley.'
Giving the child an encouraging look, intended to reassure her and
let her know, that, although she stood in the presence of the
original Jarley, she must not allow herself to be utterly
overwhelmed and borne down, the lady of the caravan unfolded
another scroll, whereon was the inscription, 'One hundred figures
the full size of life,' and then another scroll, on which was
written, 'The only stupendous collection of real wax-work in the
world,' and then several smaller scrolls with such inscriptions as
'Now exhibiting within'--'The genuine and only Jarley'--'Jarley's
unrivalled collection'--'Jarley is the delight of the Nobility and
Gentry'--'The Royal Family are the patrons of Jarley.' When she
had exhibited these leviathans of public announcement to the
astonished child, she brought forth specimens of the lesser fry in
the shape of hand-bills, some of which were couched in the form of
parodies on popular melodies, as 'Believe me if all Jarley's
wax-work so rare'--'I saw thy show in youthful prime'--'Over the
water to Jarley;' while, to consult all tastes, others were
composed with a view to the lighter and more facetious spirits, as
a parody on the favourite air of 'If I had a donkey,' beginning
If I know'd a donkey wot wouldn't go
To see Mrs JARLEY'S wax-work show,
Do you think I'd acknowledge him? Oh no no!
Then run to Jarley's--
--besides several compositions in prose, purporting to be dialogues
between the Emperor of China and an oyster, or the Archbishop of
Canterbury and a dissenter on the subject of church-rates, but all
having the same moral, namely, that the reader must make haste to
Jarley's, and that children and servants were admitted at
half-price. When she had brought all these testimonials of her
important position in society to bear upon her young companion, Mrs
Jarley rolled them up, and having put them carefully away, sat down
again, and looked at the child in triumph.
'Never go into the company of a filthy Punch any more,' said Mrs
Jarley, 'after this.'
'I never saw any wax-work, ma'am,' said Nell. 'Is it funnier than Punch?'
'Funnier!' said Mrs Jarley in a shrill voice. 'It is not funny at all.'
'Oh!' said Nell, with all possible humility.
'It isn't funny at all,' repeated Mrs Jarley. 'It's calm and--
what's that word again--critical? --no--classical, that's it--
it's calm and classical. No low beatings and knockings about, no
jokings and squeakings like your precious Punches, but always the
same, with a constantly unchanging air of coldness and gentility;
and so like life, that if wax-work only spoke and walked about,
you'd hardly know the difference. I won't go so far as to say,
that, as it is, I've seen wax-work quite like life, but I've
certainly seen some life that was exactly like wax-work.'
'Is it here, ma'am?' asked Nell, whose curiosity was awakened by
'Is what here, child?'
'The wax-work, ma'am.'
'Why, bless you, child, what are you thinking of? How could such
a collection be here, where you see everything except the inside of
one little cupboard and a few boxes? It's gone on in the other
wans to the assembly-rooms, and there it'll be exhibited the day
after to-morrow. You are going to the same town, and you'll see it
I dare say. It's natural to expect that you'll see
it, and I've no doubt you will. I suppose you couldn't stop away
if you was to try ever so much.'
'I shall not be in the town, I think, ma'am,' said the child.
'Not there!' cried Mrs Jarley. 'Then where will you be?'
'I--I--don't quite know. I am not certain.'
'You don't mean to say that you're travelling about the country
without knowing where you're going to?' said the lady of the
caravan. 'What curious people you are! What line are you in? You
looked to me at the races, child, as if you were quite out of your
element, and had got there by accident.'
'We were there quite by accident,' returned Nell, confused by this
abrupt questioning. 'We are poor people, ma'am, and are only
wandering about. We have nothing to do;--I wish we had.'
'You amaze me more and more,' said Mrs Jarley, after remaining for
some time as mute as one of her own figures. 'Why, what do you
call yourselves? Not beggars?'
'Indeed, ma'am, I don't know what else we are,' returned the child.
'Lord bless me,' said the lady of the caravan. 'I never heard of
such a thing. Who'd have thought it!'
She remained so long silent after this exclamation, that Nell
feared she felt her having been induced to bestow her protection
and conversation upon one so poor, to be an outrage upon her
dignity that nothing could repair. This persuasion was rather
confirmed than otherwise by the tone in which she at length broke
silence and said,
'And yet you can read. And write too, I shouldn't wonder?'
'Yes, ma'am,' said the child, fearful of giving new offence by the
'Well, and what a thing that is,' returned Mrs Jarley. 'I can't!'
Nell said 'indeed' in a tone which might imply, either that she was
reasonably surprised to find the genuine and only Jarley, who was
the delight of the Nobility and Gentry and the peculiar pet of the
Royal Family, destitute of these familiar arts; or that she
presumed so great a lady could scarcely stand in need of such
ordinary accomplishments. In whatever way Mrs Jarley received the
response, it did not provoke her to further questioning, or tempt
her into any more remarks at the time, for she relapsed into a
thoughtful silence, and remained in that state so long that Nell
withdrew to the other window and rejoined her grandfather, who was
At length the lady of the caravan shook off her fit of meditation,
and, summoning the driver to come under the window at which she was
seated, held a long conversation with him in a low tone of voice,
as if she were asking his advice on an important point, and
discussing the pros and cons of some very weighty matter. This
conference at length concluded, she drew in her head again, and
beckoned Nell to approach.
'And the old gentleman too,' said Mrs Jarley; 'for I want to have
a word with him. Do you want a good situation for your
grand-daughter, master? If you do, I can put her in the way of
getting one. What do you say?'
'I can't leave her,' answered the old man. 'We can't separate.
What would become of me without her?'
'I should have thought you were old enough to take care of
yourself, if you ever will be,' retorted Mrs Jarley sharply.
'But he never will be,' said the child in an earnest whisper. 'I
fear he never will be again. Pray do not speak harshly to him. We
are very thankful to you,' she added aloud; 'but neither of us
could part from the other if all the wealth of the world were
halved between us.'
Mrs Jarley was a little disconcerted by this reception of her
proposal, and looked at the old man, who tenderly took Nell's hand
and detained it in his own, as if she could have very well
dispensed with his company or even his earthly existence. After an
awkward pause, she thrust her head out of the window again, and had
another conference with the driver upon some point on which they
did not seem to agree quite so readily as on their former topic of
discussion; but they concluded at last, and she addressed the
'If you're really disposed to employ yourself,' said Mrs Jarley,
'there would be plenty for you to do in the way of helping to dust
the figures, and take the checks, and so forth. What I want your
grand-daughter for, is to point 'em out to the company; they would
be soon learnt, and she has a way with her that people wouldn't
think unpleasant, though she does come after me; for I've been
always accustomed to go round with visitors myself, which I should
keep on doing now, only that my spirits make a little ease
absolutely necessary. It's not a common offer, bear in mind,' said
the lady, rising into the tone and manner in
which she was accustomed to address her audiences; 'it's Jarley's
wax-work, remember. The duty's very light and genteel, the company
particularly select, the exhibition takes place in assembly-rooms,
town-halls, large rooms at inns, or auction galleries. There is
none of your open-air wagrancy at Jarley's, recollect; there is no
tarpaulin and sawdust at Jarley's, remember. Every expectation
held out in the handbills is realised to the utmost, and the whole
forms an effect of imposing brilliancy hitherto unrivalled in this
kingdom. Remember that the price of admission is only sixpence,
and that this is an opportunity which may never occur again!'
Descending from the sublime when she had reached this point, to the
details of common life, Mrs Jarley remarked that with reference to
salary she could pledge herself to no specific sum until she had
sufficiently tested Nell's abilities, and narrowly watched her in
the performance of her duties. But board and lodging, both for her
and her grandfather, she bound herself to provide, and she
furthermore passed her word that the board should always be good in
quality, and in quantity plentiful.
Nell and her grandfather consulted together, and while they were so
engaged, Mrs Jarley with her hands behind her walked up and down
the caravan, as she had walked after tea on the dull earth, with
uncommon dignity and self-esteem. Nor will this appear so slight
a circumstance as to be unworthy of mention, when it is remembered
that the caravan was in uneasy motion all the time, and that none
but a person of great natural stateliness and acquired grace could
have forborne to stagger.
'Now, child?' cried Mrs Jarley, coming to a halt as Nell turned
'We are very much obliged to you, ma'am,' said Nell, 'and
thankfully accept your offer.'
'And you'll never be sorry for it,' returned Mrs Jarley. 'I'm
pretty sure of that. So as that's all settled, let us have a bit
In the meanwhile, the caravan blundered on as if it too had been
drinking strong beer and was drowsy, and came at last upon the
paved streets of a town which were clear of passengers, and quiet,
for it was by this time near midnight, and the townspeople were all
abed. As it was too late an hour to repair to the exhibition room,
they turned aside into a piece of waste ground that lay just within
the old town-gate, and drew up there for the night, near to another
caravan, which, notwithstanding that it bore on the lawful panel
the great name of Jarley, and was employed besides in conveying
from place to place the wax-work which was its country's pride,
was designated by a grovelling stamp-office as a 'Common Stage
Waggon,' and numbered too--seven thousand odd hundred--as though
its precious freight were mere flour or coals!
This ill-used machine being empty (for it had deposited its burden
at the place of exhibition, and lingered here until its services
were again required) was assigned to the old man as his
sleeping-place for the night; and within its wooden walls, Nell
made him up the best bed she could, from the materials at hand.
For herself, she was to sleep in Mrs Jarley's own travelling-
carriage, as a signal mark of that lady's favour and confidence.
She had taken leave of her grandfather and was returning to the
other waggon, when she was tempted by the coolness of the night to
linger for a little while in the air. The moon was shining down
upon the old gateway of the town, leaving the low archway very
black and dark; and with a mingled sensation of curiosity and fear,
she slowly approached the gate, and stood still to look up at it,
wondering to see how dark, and grim, and old, and cold, it looked.
There was an empty niche from which some old statue had fallen or
been carried away hundreds of years ago, and she was thinking what
strange people it must have looked down upon when it stood there,
and how many hard struggles might have taken place, and how many
murders might have been done, upon that silent spot, when there
suddenly emerged from the black shade of the arch, a man. The
instant he appeared, she recognised him--Who could have failed to
recognise, in that instant, the ugly misshapen Quilp!
The street beyond was so narrow, and the shadow of the houses on
one side of the way so deep, that he seemed to have risen out of
the earth. But there he was. The child withdrew into a dark
corner, and saw him pass close to her. He had a stick in his hand,
and, when he had got clear of the shadow of the gateway, he leant
upon it, looked back--directly, as it seemed, towards where she
To her? oh no, thank God, not to her; for as she stood, in an
extremity of fear, hesitating whether to scream for help, or come
from her hiding-place and fly, before he should draw nearer,
there issued slowly forth from the arch another figure--that of a
boy--who carried on his back a trunk.
'Faster, sirrah!' cried Quilp, looking up at the old gateway, and
showing in the moonlight like some monstrous image that had come
down from its niche and was casting a backward glance at its old
'It's a dreadful heavy load, Sir,' the boy pleaded. 'I've come on
very fast, considering.'
'YOU have come fast, considering!' retorted Quilp; 'you creep, you
dog, you crawl, you measure distance like a worm. There are the
chimes now, half-past twelve.'
He stopped to listen, and then turning upon the boy with a
suddenness and ferocity that made him start, asked at what hour
that London coach passed the corner of the road. The boy replied,
'Come on then,' said Quilp, 'or I shall be too late. Faster--do
you hear me? Faster.'
The boy made all the speed he could, and Quilp led onward,
constantly turning back to threaten him, and urge him to greater
haste. Nell did not dare to move until they were out of sight and
hearing, and then hurried to where she had left her grandfather,
feeling as if the very passing of the dwarf so near him must have
filled him with alarm and terror. But he was sleeping soundly, and
she softly withdrew.
As she was making her way to her own bed, she determined to say
nothing of this adventure, as upon whatever errand the dwarf had
come (and she feared it must have been in search of them) it was
clear by his inquiry about the London coach that he was on his way
homeward, and as he had passed through that place, it was but
reasonable to suppose that they were safer from his inquiries
there, than they could be elsewhere. These reflections did not
remove her own alarm, for she had been too much terrified to be
easily composed, and felt as if she were hemmed in by a legion of
Quilps, and the very air itself were filled with them.
The delight of the Nobility and Gentry and the patronised of
Royalty had, by some process of self-abridgment known only to
herself, got into her travelling bed, where she was snoring
peacefully, while the large bonnet, carefully disposed upon the
drum, was revealing its glories by the light of a dim lamp that
swung from the roof. The child's bed was already made upon the
floor, and it was a great comfort to her to hear the steps removed
as soon as she had entered, and to know that all easy communication
between persons outside and the brass knocker was by this means
effectually prevented. Certain guttural sounds, too, which from
time to time ascended through the floor of the caravan, and a
rustling of straw in the same direction, apprised her that the
driver was couched upon the ground beneath, and gave her an
additional feeling of security.
Notwithstanding these protections, she could get none but broken
sleep by fits and starts all night, for fear of Quilp, who
throughout her uneasy dreams was somehow connected with the
wax-work, or was wax-work himself, or was Mrs Jarley and wax-work
too, or was himself, Mrs Jarley, wax-work, and a barrel organ all
in one, and yet not exactly any of them either. At length, towards
break of day, that deep sleep came upon her which succeeds to
weariness and over-watching, and which has no consciousness
but one of overpowering and irresistible enjoyment.
Sleep hung upon the eyelids of the child so long, that, when she
awoke, Mrs Jarley was already decorated with her large bonnet, and
actively engaged in preparing breakfast. She received Nell's
apology for being so late with perfect good humour, and said that
she should not have roused her if she had slept on until noon.
'Because it does you good,' said the lady of the caravan, 'when
you're tired, to sleep as long as ever you can, and get the fatigue
quite off; and that's another blessing of your time of life--you
can sleep so very sound.'
'Have you had a bad night, ma'am?' asked Nell.
'I seldom have anything else, child,' replied Mrs Jarley, with the
air of a martyr. 'I sometimes wonder how I bear it.'
Remembering the snores which had proceeded from that cleft in the
caravan in which the proprietress of the wax-work passed the night,
Nell rather thought she must have been dreaming of lying awake.
However, she expressed herself very sorry to hear such a dismal
account of her state of health, and shortly afterwards sat down
with her grandfather and Mrs Jarley to breakfast. The meal
finished, Nell assisted to wash the cups and saucers, and put them
in their proper places, and these household duties performed, Mrs
Jarley arrayed herself in an exceedingly bright shawl for the
purpose of making a progress through the streets of the town.
'The wan will come on to bring the boxes,' said Mrs Jarley, and you
had better come in it, child. I am obliged to walk, very much
against my will; but the people expect it of me, and public
characters can't be their own masters and mistresses in such
matters as these. How do I look, child?'
Nell returned a satisfactory reply, and Mrs Jarley, after sticking
a great many pins into various parts of her figure, and making
several abortive attempts to obtain a full view of her own back,
was at last satisfied with her appearance, and went forth
The caravan followed at no great distance. As it went jolting
through the streets, Nell peeped from the window, curious to see in
what kind of place they were, and yet fearful of encountering at
every turn the dreaded face of Quilp. It was a pretty large town,
with an open square which they were crawling slowly across, and in
the middle of which was the Town-Hall, with a clock-tower and a
weather-cock. There were houses of stone, houses of red brick,
houses of yellow brick, houses of lath and plaster; and houses of
wood, many of them very old, with withered faces carved upon the
beams, and staring down into the street. These had very little
winking windows, and low-arched doors, and, in some of the narrower
ways, quite overhung the pavement. The streets were very clean,
very sunny, very empty, and very dull. A few idle men lounged
about the two inns, and the empty market-place, and the tradesmen's
doors, and some old people were dozing in chairs outside an
alms-house wall; but scarcely any passengers who seemed bent on
going anywhere, or to have any object in view, went by; and if
perchance some straggler did, his footsteps echoed on the hot
bright pavement for minutes afterwards. Nothing seemed to be going
on but the clocks, and they had such drowzy faces, such heavy lazy
hands, and such cracked voices that they surely must have been too
slow. The very dogs were all asleep, and the flies, drunk with
moist sugar in the grocer's shop, forgot their wings and briskness,
and baked to death in dusty corners of the window.
Rumbling along with most unwonted noise, the caravan stopped at
last at the place of exhibition, where Nell dismounted amidst an
admiring group of children, who evidently supposed her to be an
important item of the curiosities, and were fully impressed with
the belief that her grandfather was a cunning device in wax. The
chests were taken out with all convenient despatch, and taken in to
be unlocked by Mrs Jarley, who, attended by George and another man
in velveteen shorts and a drab hat ornamented with turnpike
tickets, were waiting to dispose their contents (consisting of red
festoons and other ornamental devices in upholstery work) to the
best advantage in the decoration of the room.
They all got to work without loss of time, and very busy they were.
As the stupendous collection were yet concealed by cloths, lest the
envious dust should injure their complexions, Nell bestirred
herself to assist in the embellishment of the room, in which her
grandfather also was of great service. The two men being well used
to it, did a great deal in a short time; and Mrs Jarley served out
the tin tacks from a linen pocket like a toll-collector's which she
wore for the purpose, and encouraged her assistants to renewed
While they were thus employed, a tallish gentleman with a hook nose
and black hair, dressed in a military surtout very short and tight
in the sleeves, and which had once been frogged and braided all
over, but was now sadly shorn of its garniture and quite threadbare--
dressed too in ancient grey pantaloons fitting tight to the leg,
and a pair of pumps in the winter of their existence--looked in at
the door and smiled affably. Mrs Jarley's back being then towards
him, the military gentleman shook his forefinger as a sign that her
myrmidons were not to apprise her of his presence, and stealing up
close behind her, tapped her on the neck, and cried playfully
'What, Mr Slum!' cried the lady of the wax-work. 'Lot! who'd have
thought of seeing you here!'
''Pon my soul and honour,' said Mr Slum, 'that's a good remark.
'Pon my soul and honour that's a wise remark. Who would have
thought it! George, my faithful feller, how are you?'
George received this advance with a surly indifference, observing
that he was well enough for the matter of that, and hammering
lustily all the time.
'I came here,' said the military gentleman turning to Mrs Jarley--
''pon my soul and honour I hardly know what I came here for. It
would puzzle me to tell you, it would by Gad. I wanted a little
inspiration, a little freshening up, a little change of ideas, and--
'Pon my soul and honour,' said the military gentleman, checking
himself and looking round the room, 'what a devilish classical
thing this is! by Gad, it's quite Minervian.'
'It'll look well enough when it comes to be finished,' observed Mrs Jarley.
'Well enough!' said Mr Slum. 'Will you believe me when I say it's
the delight of my life to have dabbled in poetry, when I think I've
exercised my pen upon this charming theme? By the way--any
orders? Is there any little thing I can do for you?'
'It comes so very expensive, sir,' replied Mrs Jarley, 'and I
really don't think it does much good.'
'Hush! No, no!' returned Mr Slum, elevating his hand. 'No fibs.
I'll not hear it. Don't say it don't do good. Don't say it. I
'I don't think it does,' said Mrs Jarley.
'Ha, ha!' cried Mr Slum, 'you're giving way, you're coming down.
Ask the perfumers, ask the blacking-makers, ask the hatters, ask
the old lottery-office-keepers--ask any man among 'em what my
poetry has done for him, and mark my words, he blesses the name of
Slum. If he's an honest man, he raises his eyes to heaven, and
blesses the name of Slum--mark that! You are acquainted with
Westminster Abbey, Mrs Jarley?'
'Then upon my soul and honour, ma'am, you'll find in a certain
angle of that dreary pile, called Poets' Corner, a few smaller
names than Slum,' retorted that gentleman, tapping himself
expressively on the forehead to imply that there was some slight
quantity of brain behind it. 'I've got a little trifle here, now,'
said Mr Slum, taking off his hat which was full of scraps of paper,
'a little trifle here, thrown off in the heat of the moment, which
I should say was exactly the thing you wanted to set this place on
fire with. It's an acrostic--the name at this moment is Warren,
and the idea's a convertible one, and a positive inspiration for
Jarley. Have the acrostic.'
'I suppose it's very dear,' said Mrs Jarley.
'Five shillings,' returned Mr Slum, using his pencil as a
toothpick. 'Cheaper than any prose.'
'I couldn't give more than three,' said Mrs Jarley.
'--And six,' retorted Slum. 'Come. Three-and-six.'
Mrs Jarley was not proof against the poet's insinuating manner, and
Mr Slum entered the order in a small note-book as a
three-and-sixpenny one. Mr Slum then withdrew to alter the
acrostic, after taking a most affectionate leave of his patroness,
and promising to return, as soon as he possibly could, with a fair
copy for the printer.
As his presence had not interfered with or interrupted the
preparations, they were now far advanced, and were completed
shortly after his departure. When the festoons were all put up as
tastily as they might be, the stupendous collection was uncovered,
and there were displayed, on a raised platform some two feet from
the floor, running round the room and parted from the rude public
by a crimson rope breast high, divers sprightly effigies of
celebrated characters, singly and in groups, clad in glittering
dresses of various climes and times, and standing more or less
unsteadily upon their legs, with their eyes very wide open, and
their nostrils very much inflated, and the muscles of their legs
and arms very strongly developed, and all their countenances
expressing great surprise. All the gentlemen were very
pigeon-breasted and very blue about the beards; and all the ladies
were miraculous figures; and all the ladies and all the gentlemen
were looking intensely nowhere, and staring with extraordinary
earnestness at nothing.
When Nell had exhausted her first raptures at this glorious sight,
Mrs Jarley ordered the room to be cleared of all but herself and
the child, and, sitting herself down in an arm-chair in the centre,
formally invested Nell with a willow wand, long used by herself for
pointing out the characters, and was at great pains to instruct her
in her duty.
'That,' said Mrs Jarley in her exhibition tone, as Nell touched a
figure at the beginning of the platform, 'is an unfortunate Maid of
Honour in the Time of Queen Elizabeth, who died from pricking her
finger in consequence of working upon a Sunday. Observe the blood
which is trickling from her finger; also the gold-eyed needle of
the period, with which she is at work.'
All this, Nell repeated twice or thrice: pointing to the finger and
the needle at the right times: and then passed on to the next.
'That, ladies and gentlemen,' said Mrs Jarley, 'is jasper
Packlemerton of atrocious memory, who courted and married fourteen
wives, and destroyed them all, by tickling the soles of their feet
when they were sleeping in the consciousness of innocence and
virtue. On being brought to the scaffold and asked if he was sorry
for what he had done, he replied yes, he was sorry for having let
'em off so easy, and hoped all Christian husbands would pardon him
the offence. Let this be a warning to all young ladies to be
particular in the character of the gentlemen of their choice.
Observe that his fingers are curled as if in the act of tickling,
and that his face is represented with a wink, as he appeared when
committing his barbarous murders.'
When Nell knew all about Mr Packlemerton, and could say it without
faltering, Mrs Jarley passed on to the fat man, and then to the
thin man, the tall man, the short man, the old lady who died of
dancing at a hundred and thirty-two, the wild boy of the woods, the
woman who poisoned fourteen families with pickled walnuts, and
other historical characters and interesting but misguided
individuals. And so well did Nell profit by her instructions, and
so apt was she to remember them, that by the time they had been
shut up together for a couple of hours, she was in full possession
of the history of the whole establishment, and perfectly competent
to the enlightenment of visitors.
Mrs Jarley was not slow to express her admiration at this happy
result, and carried her young friend and pupil to inspect the
remaining arrangements within doors, by virtue of which the passage
had been already converted into a grove of green-baize hung with
the inscription she had already seen (Mr Slum's productions), and
a highly ornamented table placed at the upper end for Mrs Jarley
herself, at which she was to preside and take the money, in company
with his Majesty King George the Third, Mr Grimaldi as clown, Mary
Queen of Scots, an anonymous gentleman of the Quaker persuasion,
and Mr Pitt holding in his hand a correct model of the bill for the
imposition of the window duty. The preparations without doors had
not been neglected either; a nun of great personal attractions was
telling her beads on the little portico over the door; and a
brigand with the blackest possible head of hair, and the clearest
possible complexion, was at that moment going round the town in a
cart, consulting the miniature of a lady.
It now only remained that Mr Slum's compositions should be
judiciously distributed; that the pathetic effusions should find
their way to all private houses and tradespeople; and that the
parody commencing 'If I know'd a donkey,' should be confined to the
taverns, and circulated only among the lawyers' clerks and choice
spirits of the place. When this had been done, and Mrs Jarley had
waited upon the boarding-schools in person, with a handbill
composed expressly for them, in which it was distinctly proved that
wax-work refined the mind, cultivated the taste, and enlarged the
sphere of the human understanding, that indefatigable lady sat down
to dinner, and drank out of the suspicious bottle to a flourishing
Unquestionably Mrs Jarley had an inventive genius. In the midst of
the various devices for attracting visitors to the exhibition,
little Nell was not forgotten. The light cart in which the Brigand
usually made his perambulations being gaily dressed with flags and
streamers, and the Brigand placed therein, contemplating the
miniature of his beloved as usual, Nell was accommodated with a
seat beside him, decorated with artificial flowers, and in this
state and ceremony rode slowly through the town every morning,
dispersing handbills from a basket, to the sound of drum and
trumpet. The beauty of the child, coupled with her gentle and
timid bearing, produced quite a sensation in the little country
place. The Brigand, heretofore a source of exclusive interest in
the streets, became a mere secondary consideration, and to be
important only as a part of the show of which she was the chief
attraction. Grown-up folks began to be interested in the
bright-eyed girl, and some score of little boys fell desperately in
love, and constantly left enclosures of nuts and apples, directed
in small-text, at the wax-work door.
This desirable impression was not lost on Mrs Jarley, who, lest
Nell should become too cheap, soon sent the Brigand out alone
again, and kept her in the exhibition room, where she described the
figures every half-hour to the great satisfaction of admiring
audiences. And these audiences were of a very superior
description, including a great many young ladies' boarding-schools,
whose favour Mrs Jarley had been at great pains to conciliate, by
altering the face and costume of Mr Grimaldi as clown to represent
Mr Lindley Murray as he appeared when engaged in the composition of
his English Grammar, and turning a murderess of great renown into
Mrs Hannah More--both of which likenesses were admitted by Miss
Monflathers, who was at the head of the head Boarding and Day
Establishment in the town, and who condescended to take a Private
View with eight chosen young ladies, to be quite startling from
their extreme correctness. Mr Pitt in a nightcap and bedgown, and
without his boots, represented the poet Cowper with perfect
exactness; and Mary Queen of Scots in a dark wig, white
shirt-collar, and male attire, was such a complete image of Lord
Byron that the young ladies quite screamed when they saw it. Miss
Monflathers, however, rebuked this enthusiasm, and took occasion to
reprove Mrs Jarley for not keeping her collection more select:
observing that His Lordship had held certain opinions quite
incompatible with wax-work honours, and adding something about a
Dean and Chapter, which Mrs Jarley did not understand.
Although her duties were sufficiently laborious, Nell found in the
lady of the caravan a very kind and considerate person, who had not
only a peculiar relish for being comfortable herself, but for
making everybody about her comfortable also; which latter taste, it
may be remarked, is, even in persons who live in much finer places
than caravans, a far more rare and uncommon one than the first, and
is not by any means its necessary consequence. As her popularity
procured her various little fees from the visitors on which her
patroness never demanded any toll, and as her grandfather too was
well-treated and useful, she had no cause of anxiety in connexion
with the wax-work, beyond that which sprung from her recollection
of Quilp, and her fears that he might return and one day suddenly
Quilp indeed was a perpetual night-mare to the child, who was
constantly haunted by a vision of his ugly face and stunted figure.
She slept, for their better security, in the room where the
wax-work figures were, and she never retired to this place at night
but she tortured herself--she could not help it--with imagining
a resemblance, in some one or other of their death-like faces, to
the dwarf, and this fancy would sometimes so gain upon her that she
would almost believe he had removed the figure and stood within the
clothes. Then there were so many of them with their great glassy
eyes--and, as they stood one behind the other all about her bed,
they looked so like living creatures, and yet so unlike in their
grim stillness and silence, that she had a kind of terror of them
for their own sakes, and would often lie watching their dusky
figures until she was obliged to rise and light a candle, or go and
sit at the open window and feel a companionship in the bright
stars. At these times, she would recall the old house and the
window at which she used to sit alone; and then she would think of
poor Kit and all his kindness, until the tears came into her eyes,
and she would weep and smile together.
Often and anxiously at this silent hour, her thoughts reverted to
her grandfather, and she would wonder how much he remembered of
their former life, and whether he was ever really mindful of the
change in their condition and of their late helplessness and
destitution. When they were wandering about, she seldom thought of
this, but now she could not help considering what would become of
them if he fell sick, or her own strength were to fail her. He was
very patient and willing, happy to execute any little task, and
glad to be of use; but he was in the same listless state, with no
prospect of improvement--a mere child--a poor, thoughtless,
vacant creature--a harmless fond old man, susceptible of tender
love and regard for her, and of pleasant and painful impressions,
but alive to nothing more. It made her very sad to know that this
was so--so sad to see it that sometimes when he sat idly by,
smiling and nodding to her when she looked round, or when he
caressed some little child and carried it to and fro, as he was
fond of doing by the hour together, perplexed by its simple
questions, yet patient under his own infirmity, and seeming almost
conscious of it too, and humbled even before the mind of an infant--
so sad it made her to see him thus, that she would burst into
tears, and, withdrawing into some secret place, fall down upon her
knees and pray that he might be restored.
But, the bitterness of her grief was not in beholding him in this
condition, when he was at least content and tranquil, nor in her
solitary meditations on his altered state, though these were trials
for a young heart. Cause for deeper and heavier sorrow was yet to
One evening, a holiday night with them, Nell and her grandfather
went out to walk. They had been rather closely confined for some
days, and the weather being warm, they strolled a long distance.
Clear of the town, they took a footpath which struck through some
pleasant fields, judging that it would terminate in the road they
quitted and enable them to return that way. It made, however, a
much wider circuit than they had supposed, and thus they were
tempted onward until sunset, when they reached the track of which
they were in search, and stopped to rest.
It had been gradually getting overcast, and now the sky was dark
and lowering, save where the glory of the departing sun piled up
masses of gold and burning fire, decaying embers of which gleamed
here and there through the black veil, and shone redly down upon
the earth. The wind began to moan in hollow murmurs, as the sun
went down carrying glad day elsewhere; and a train of dull clouds
coming up against it, menaced thunder and lightning. Large drops
of rain soon began to fall, and, as the storm clouds came sailing
onward, others supplied the void they left behind and spread over
all the sky. Then was heard the low rumbling of distant thunder,
then the lightning quivered, and then the darkness of an hour
seemed to have gathered in an instant.
Fearful of taking shelter beneath a tree or hedge, the old man and
the child hurried along the high road, hoping to find some house in
which they could seek a refuge from the storm, which had now burst
forth in earnest, and every moment increased in violence. Drenched
with the pelting rain, confused by the deafening thunder, and
bewildered by the glare of the forked lightning, they would have
passed a solitary house without being aware of its vicinity, had
not a man, who was standing at the door, called lustily to them to
'Your ears ought to be better than other folks' at any rate, if you
make so little of the chance of being struck blind,' he said,
retreating from the door and shading his eyes with his hands as the
jagged lightning came again. 'What were you going past for, eh?'
he added, as he closed the door and led the way along a passage to
a room behind.
'We didn't see the house, sir, till we heard you calling,' Nell
'No wonder,' said the man, 'with this lightning in one's eyes,
by-the-by. You had better stand by the fire here, and dry
yourselves a bit. You can call for what you like if you want
anything. If you don't want anything, you are not obliged to give
an order. Don't be afraid of that. This is a public-house, that's
all. The Valiant Soldier is pretty well known hereabouts.'
'Is this house called the Valiant Soldier, Sir?' asked Nell.
'I thought everybody knew that,' replied the landlord. 'Where have
you come from, if you don't know the Valiant Soldier as well as the
church catechism? This is the Valiant Soldier, by James Groves--
Jem Groves--honest Jem Groves, as is a man of unblemished moral
character, and has a good dry skittle-ground. If any man has got
anything to say again Jem Groves, let him say it TO Jem Groves, and
Jem Groves can accommodate him with a customer on any terms from
four pound a side to forty.
With these words, the speaker tapped himself on the waistcoat to
intimate that he was the Jem Groves so highly eulogized; sparred
scientifically at a counterfeit Jem Groves, who was sparring at
society in general from a black frame over the chimney-piece; and,
applying a half-emptied glass of spirits and water to his lips,
drank Jem Groves's health.
The night being warm, there was a large screen drawn across the
room, for a barrier against the heat of the fire. It seemed as if
somebody on the other side of this screen had been insinuating
doubts of Mr Groves's prowess, and had thereby given rise to these
egotistical expressions, for Mr Groves wound up his defiance by
giving a loud knock upon it with his knuckles and pausing for a
reply from the other side.
'There an't many men,' said Mr Groves, no answer being returned,
'who would ventur' to cross Jem Groves under his own roof. There's
only one man, I know, that has nerve enough for that, and that
man's not a hundred mile from here neither. But he's worth a dozen
men, and I let him say of me whatever he likes in consequence--he
In return for this complimentary address, a very gruff hoarse voice
bade Mr Groves 'hold his noise and light a candle.' And the same
voice remarked that the same gentleman 'needn't waste his breath in
brag, for most people knew pretty well what sort of stuff he was
'Nell, they're--they're playing cards,' whispered the old man,
suddenly interested. 'Don't you hear them?'
'Look sharp with that candle,' said the voice; 'it's as much as I
can do to see the pips on the cards as it is; and get this shutter
closed as quick as you can, will you? Your beer will be the worse
for to-night's thunder I expect. --Game! Seven-and-sixpence to
me, old Isaac. Hand over.'
'Do you hear, Nell, do you hear them?' whispered the old man again,
with increased earnestness, as the money chinked upon the table.
'I haven't seen such a storm as this,' said a sharp cracked voice
of most disagreeable quality, when a tremendous peal of thunder had
died away, 'since the night when old Luke Withers won thirteen
times running on the red. We all said he had the Devil's luck and
his own, and as it was the kind of night for the Devil to be out
and busy, I suppose he was looking over his shoulder, if anybody
could have seen him.'
'Ah!' returned the gruff voice; 'for all old Luke's winning through
thick and thin of late years, I remember the time when he was the
unluckiest and unfortunatest of men. He never took a dice-box in
his hand, or held a card, but he was plucked, pigeoned, and cleaned
'Do you hear what he says?' whispered the old man. 'Do you hear
The child saw with astonishment and alarm that his whole appearance
had undergone a complete change. His face was flushed and eager,
his eyes were strained, his teeth set, his breath came short and
thick, and the hand he laid upon her arm trembled so violently that
she shook beneath its grasp.
'Bear witness,' he muttered, looking upward, 'that I always said
it; that I knew it, dreamed of it, felt it was the truth, and that
it must be so! What money have we, Nell? Come! I saw you with
money yesterday. What money have we? Give it to me.'
'No, no, let me keep it, grandfather,' said the frightened child.
'Let us go away from here. Do not mind the rain. Pray let us go.'
'Give it to me, I say,' returned the old man fiercely. 'Hush,
hush, don't cry, Nell. If I spoke sharply, dear, I didn't mean it.
It's for thy good. I have wronged thee, Nell, but I will right
thee yet, I will indeed. Where is the money?'
'Do not take it,' said the child. 'Pray do not take it, dear. For
both our sakes let me keep it, or let me throw it away--better let
me throw it away, than you take it now. Let us go; do let us go.'
'Give me the money,' returned the old man, 'I must have it. There--
there--that's my dear Nell. I'll right thee one day, child,
I'll right thee, never fear!'
She took from her pocket a little purse. He seized it with the
same rapid impatience which had characterised his speech, and
hastily made his way to the other side of the screen. It was
impossible to restrain him, and the trembling child followed close
The landlord had placed a light upon the table, and was engaged in
drawing the curtain of the window. The speakers whom they had
heard were two men, who had a pack of cards and some silver money
between them, while upon the screen itself the games they had
played were scored in chalk. The man with the rough voice was a
burly fellow of middle age, with large black whiskers, broad
cheeks, a coarse wide mouth, and bull neck, which was pretty freely
displayed as his shirt collar was only confined by a loose red
neckerchief. He wore his hat, which was of a brownish-white, and
had beside him a thick knotted stick. The other man, whom his
companion had called Isaac, was of a more slender figure--
stooping, and high in the shoulders--with a very ill-favoured
face, and a most sinister and villainous squint.
'Now old gentleman,' said Isaac, looking round. 'Do you know
either of us? This side of the screen is private, sir.'
'No offence, I hope,' returned the old man.
'But by G--, sir, there is offence,' said the other, interrupting
him, 'when you intrude yourself upon a couple of gentlemen who are
'I had no intention to offend,' said the old man, looking anxiously
at the cards. 'I thought that--'
'But you had no right to think, sir,' retorted the other. 'What
the devil has a man at your time of life to do with thinking?'
'Now bully boy,' said the stout man, raising his eyes from his
cards for the first time, 'can't you let him speak?'
The landlord, who had apparently resolved to remain neutral until
he knew which side of the question the stout man would espouse,
chimed in at this place with 'Ah, to be sure, can't you let him
speak, Isaac List?'
'Can't I let him speak,' sneered Isaac in reply, mimicking as
nearly as he could, in his shrill voice, the tones of the landlord.
'Yes, I can let him speak, Jemmy Groves.'
'Well then, do it, will you?' said the landlord.
Mr List's squint assumed a portentous character, which seemed to
threaten a prolongation of this controversy, when his companion,
who had been looking sharply at the old man, put a timely stop to
'Who knows,' said he, with a cunning look, 'but the gentleman may
have civilly meant to ask if he might have the honour to take a
hand with us!'
'I did mean it,' cried the old man. 'That is what I mean. That is
what I want now!'
'I thought so,' returned the same man. 'Then who knows but the
gentleman, anticipating our objection to play for love, civilly
desired to play for money?'
The old man replied by shaking the little purse in his eager hand,
and then throwing it down upon the table, and gathering up the
cards as a miser would clutch at gold.
'Oh! That indeed,' said Isaac; 'if that's what the gentleman
meant, I beg the gentleman's pardon. Is this the gentleman's
little purse? A very pretty little purse. Rather a light purse,'
added Isaac, throwing it into the air and catching it dexterously,
'but enough to amuse a gentleman for half an hour or so.'
'We'll make a four-handed game of it, and take in Groves,' said the
stout man. 'Come, Jemmy.'
The landlord, who conducted himself like one who was well used to
such little parties, approached the table and took his seat. The
child, in a perfect agony, drew her grandfather aside, and implored
him, even then, to come away.
'Come; and we may be so happy,' said the child.
'We WILL be happy,' replied the old man hastily. 'Let me go, Nell.
The means of happiness are on the cards and the dice. We must rise
from little winnings to great. There's little to be won here; but
great will come in time. I shall but win back my own, and it's all
for thee, my darling.'
'God help us!' cried the child. 'Oh! what hard fortune brought us
'Hush!' rejoined the old man laying his hand upon her mouth,
'Fortune will not bear chiding. We must not reproach her, or she
shuns us; I have found that out.'
'Now, mister,' said the stout man. 'If you're not coming yourself,
give us the cards, will you?'
'I am coming,' cried the old man. 'Sit thee down, Nell, sit thee
down and look on. Be of good heart, it's all for thee--all--
every penny. I don't tell them, no, no, or else they wouldn't
play, dreading the chance that such a cause must give me. Look at
them. See what they are and what thou art. Who doubts that we
'The gentleman has thought better of it, and isn't coming,' said
Isaac, making as though he would rise from the table. 'I'm sorry
the gentleman's daunted--nothing venture, nothing have--but the
gentleman knows best.'
'Why I am ready. You have all been slow but me,' said the old man.
'I wonder who is more anxious to begin than I.'
As he spoke he drew a chair to the table; and the other three
closing round it at the same time, the game commenced.
The child sat by, and watched its progress with a troubled mind.
Regardless of the run of luck, and mindful only of the desperate
passion which had its hold upon her grandfather, losses and gains
were to her alike. Exulting in some brief triumph, or cast down by
a defeat, there he sat so wild and restless, so feverishly and
intensely anxious, so terribly eager, so ravenous for the paltry
stakes, that she could have almost better borne to see him dead.
And yet she was the innocent cause of all this torture, and he,
gambling with such a savage thirst for gain as the most insatiable
gambler never felt, had not one selfish thought!
On the contrary, the other three--knaves and gamesters by their
trade--while intent upon their game, were yet as cool and quiet as
if every virtue had been centered in their breasts. Sometimes one
would look up to smile to another, or to snuff the feeble candle,
or to glance at the lightning as it shot through the open window
and fluttering curtain, or to listen to some louder peal of thunder
than the rest, with a kind of momentary impatience, as if it put
him out; but there they sat, with a calm indifference to everything
but their cards, perfect philosophers in appearance, and with no
greater show of passion or excitement than if they had been
made of stone.
The storm had raged for full three hours; the lightning had grown
fainter and less frequent; the thunder, from seeming to roll and
break above their heads, had gradually died away into a deep hoarse
distance; and still the game went on, and still the anxious child
was quite forgotten.
At length the play came to an end, and Mr Isaac List rose the only
winner. Mat and the landlord bore their losses with professional
fortitude. Isaac pocketed his gains with the air of a man who had
quite made up his mind to win, all along, and was neither surprised
Nell's little purse was exhausted; but although it lay empty by his
side, and the other players had now risen from the table, the old
man sat poring over the cards, dealing them as they had been dealt
before, and turning up the different hands to see what each man
would have held if they had still been playing. He was quite
absorbed in this occupation, when the child drew near and laid her
hand upon his shoulder, telling him it was near midnight.
'See the curse of poverty, Nell,' he said, pointing to the packs he
had spread out upon the table. 'If I could have gone on a little
longer, only a little longer, the luck would have turned on my
side. Yes, it's as plain as the marks upon the cards. See here--
and there--and here again.'
'Put them away,' urged the child. 'Try to forget them.'
'Try to forget them!' he rejoined, raising his haggard face to
hers, and regarding her with an incredulous stare. 'To forget
them! How are we ever to grow rich if I forget them?'
The child could only shake her head.
'No, no, Nell,' said the old man, patting her cheek; 'they must not
be forgotten. We must make amends for this as soon as we can.
Patience--patience, and we'll right thee yet, I promise thee.
Lose to-day, win to-morrow. And nothing can be won without anxiety
and care--nothing. Come, I am ready.'
'Do you know what the time is?' said Mr Groves, who was smoking
with his friends. 'Past twelve o'clock--'
'--And a rainy night,' added the stout man.
'The Valiant Soldier, by James Groves. Good beds. Cheap
entertainment for man and beast,' said Mr Groves, quoting his
sign-board. 'Half-past twelve o'clock.'
'It's very late,' said the uneasy child. 'I wish we had gone
before. What will they think of us! It will be two o'clock by the
time we get back. What would it cost, sir, if we stopped here?'
'Two good beds, one-and-sixpence; supper and beer one shilling;
total two shillings and sixpence,' replied the Valiant Soldier.
Now, Nell had still the piece of gold sewn in her dress; and when
she came to consider the lateness of the hour, and the somnolent
habits of Mrs Jarley, and to imagine the state of consternation in
which they would certainly throw that good lady by knocking her up
in the middle of the night--and when she reflected, on the other
hand, that if they remained where they were, and rose early in the
morning, they might get back before she awoke, and could plead the
violence of the storm by which they had been overtaken, as a good
apology for their absence--she decided, after a great deal of
hesitation, to remain. She therefore took her grandfather aside,
and telling him that she had still enough left to defray the cost
of their lodging, proposed that they should stay there for the
'If I had had but that money before--If I had only known of it a
few minutes ago!' muttered the old man.
'We will decide to stop here if you please,' said Nell, turning
hastily to the landlord.
'I think that's prudent,' returned Mr Groves. 'You shall have your
Accordingly, when Mr Groves had smoked his pipe out, knocked out
the ashes, and placed it carefully in a corner of the fire-place,
with the bowl downwards, he brought in the bread and cheese, and
beer, with many high encomiums upon their excellence, and bade his
guests fall to, and make themselves at home. Nell and her
grandfather ate sparingly, for both were occupied with their own
reflections; the other gentlemen, for whose constitutions beer was
too weak and tame a liquid, consoled themselves with spirits and
As they would leave the house very early in the morning, the child
was anxious to pay for their entertainment before they retired to
bed. But as she felt the necessity of concealing her
little hoard from her grandfather, and had to change the piece of
gold, she took it secretly from its place of concealment, and
embraced an opportunity of following the landlord when he went out
of the room, and tendered it to him in the little bar.
'Will you give me the change here, if you please?' said the child.
Mr James Groves was evidently surprised, and looked at the money,
and rang it, and looked at the child, and at the money again, as
though he had a mind to inquire how she came by it. The coin being
genuine, however, and changed at his house, he probably felt, like
a wise landlord, that it was no business of his. At any rate, he
counted out the change, and gave it her. The child was returning
to the room where they had passed the evening, when she fancied she
saw a figure just gliding in at the door. There was nothing but a
long dark passage between this door and the place where she had
changed the money, and, being very certain that no person had
passed in or out while she stood there, the thought struck her that
she had been watched.
But by whom? When she re-entered the room, she found its inmates
exactly as she had left them. The stout fellow lay upon two
chairs, resting his head on his hand, and the squinting man reposed
in a similar attitude on the opposite side of the table. Between
them sat her grandfather, looking intently at the winner with a
kind of hungry admiration, and hanging upon his words as if he were
some superior being. She was puzzled for a moment, and looked
round to see if any else were there. No. Then she asked her
grandfather in a whisper whether anybody had left the room while
she was absent. 'No,' he said, 'nobody.'
It must have been her fancy then; and yet it was strange, that,
without anything in her previous thoughts to lead to it, she should
have imagined this figure so very distinctly. She was still
wondering and thinking of it, when a girl came to light her to bed.
The old man took leave of the company at the same time, and they
went up stairs together. It was a great, rambling house, with dull
corridors and wide staircases which the flaring candles seemed to
make more gloomy. She left her grandfather in his chamber, and
followed her guide to another, which was at the end of a passage,
and approached by some half-dozen crazy steps. This was prepared
for her. The girl lingered a little while to talk, and tell her
grievances. She had not a good place, she said; the wages were
low, and the work was hard. She was going to leave it in a
fortnight; the child couldn't recommend her to another, she
supposed? Instead she was afraid another would be difficult to
get after living there, for the house had a very indifferent
character; there was far too much card-playing, and such like.
She was very much mistaken if some of the people who
came there oftenest were quite as honest as they might be, but she
wouldn't have it known that she had said so, for the world. Then
there were some rambling allusions to a rejected sweetheart, who
had threatened to go a soldiering--a final promise of knocking at
the door early in the morning--and 'Good night.'
The child did not feel comfortable when she was left alone. She
could not help thinking of the figure stealing through the passage
down stairs; and what the girl had said did not tend to reassure
her. The men were very ill-looking. They might get their living
by robbing and murdering travellers. Who could tell?
Reasoning herself out of these fears, or losing sight of them for
a little while, there came the anxiety to which the adventures of
the night gave rise. Here was the old passion awakened again in
her grandfather's breast, and to what further distraction it might
tempt him Heaven only knew. What fears their absence might have
occasioned already! Persons might be seeking for them even then.
Would they be forgiven in the morning, or turned adrift again! Oh!
why had they stopped in that strange place? It would have been
better, under any circumstances, to have gone on!
At last, sleep gradually stole upon her--a broken, fitful sleep,
troubled by dreams of falling from high towers, and waking with a
start and in great terror. A deeper slumber followed this--and
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