The Old Curiosity Shop
Part 7 out of 13
have killed a chameleon. He would have known, at the first
mouthful, that the air was not eatable, and must have given up the
ghost in despair.
The small servant stood with humility in presence of Miss Sally,
and hung her head.
'Are you there?' said Miss Sally.
'Yes, ma'am,' was the answer in a weak voice.
'Go further away from the leg of mutton, or you'll be picking it,
I know,' said Miss Sally.
The girl withdrew into a corner, while Miss Brass took a key
from her pocket, and opening the safe, brought from it a dreary
waste of cold potatoes, looking as eatable as Stonehenge. This she
placed before the small servant, ordering her to sit down before
it, and then, taking up a great carving-knife, made a mighty show
of sharpening it upon the carving-fork.
'Do you see this?' said Miss Brass, slicing off about two square
inches of cold mutton, after all this preparation, and holding it
out on the point of the fork.
The small servant looked hard enough at it with her hungry eyes to
see every shred of it, small as it was, and answered, 'yes.'
'Then don't you ever go and say,' retorted Miss Sally, 'that you
hadn't meat here. There, eat it up.'
This was soon done. 'Now, do you want any more?' said Miss Sally.
The hungry creature answered with a faint 'No.' They were
evidently going through an established form.
'You've been helped once to meat,' said Miss Brass, summing up the
facts; 'you have had as much as you can eat, you're asked if you
want any more, and you answer, 'no!' Then don't you ever go and say
you were allowanced, mind that.'
With those words, Miss Sally put the meat away and locked the safe,
and then drawing near to the small servant, overlooked her while
she finished the potatoes.
It was plain that some extraordinary grudge was working in Miss
Brass's gentle breast, and that it was that which impelled her,
without the smallest present cause, to rap the child with the blade
of the knife, now on her hand, now on her head, and now on her
back, as if she found it quite impossible to stand so close to her
without administering a few slight knocks. But Mr Swiveller was
not a little surprised to see his fellow-clerk, after walking
slowly backwards towards the door, as if she were trying to
withdraw herself from the room but could not accomplish it, dart
suddenly forward, and falling on the small servant give her some
hard blows with her clenched hand. The victim cried, but in a
subdued manner as if she feared to raise her voice, and Miss Sally,
comforting herself with a pinch of snuff, ascended the stairs, just
as Richard had safely reached the office.
The single gentleman among his other peculiarities--and he had a
very plentiful stock, of which he every day furnished some new
specimen--took a most extraordinary and remarkable interest in the
exhibition of Punch. If the sound of a Punch's voice, at ever so
remote a distance, reached Bevis Marks, the single gentleman,
though in bed and asleep, would start up, and, hurrying on his
clothes, make for the spot with all speed, and presently return at
the head of a long procession of idlers, having in the midst the
theatre and its proprietors. Straightway, the stage would be set
up in front of Mr Brass's house; the single gentleman would
establish himself at the first floor window; and the entertainment
would proceed, with all its exciting accompaniments of fife and
drum and shout, to the excessive consternation of all sober
votaries of business in that silent thoroughfare. It might have
been expected that when the play was done, both players and
audience would have dispersed; but the epilogue was as bad as the
play, for no sooner was the Devil dead, than the manager of the
puppets and his partner were summoned by the single gentleman to
his chamber, where they were regaled with strong waters from his
private store, and where they held with him long conversations, the
purport of which no human being could fathom. But the secret of
these discussions was of little importance. It was sufficient to
know that while they were proceeding, the concourse without still
lingered round the house; that boys beat upon the drum with their
fists, and imitated Punch with their tender voices; that the
office-window was rendered opaque by flattened noses, and the
key-hole of the street-door luminous with eyes; that every time the
single gentleman or either of his guests was seen at the upper
window, or so much as the end of one of their noses was visible,
there was a great shout of execration from the excluded mob, who
remained howling and yelling, and refusing consolation, until the
exhibitors were delivered up to them to be attended elsewhere. It
was sufficient, in short, to know that Bevis Marks was
revolutionised by these popular movements, and that peace and
quietness fled from its precincts.
Nobody was rendered more indignant by these proceedings than Mr
Sampson Brass, who, as he could by no means afford to lose so
profitable an inmate, deemed it prudent to pocket his lodger's
affront along with his cash, and to annoy the audiences who
clustered round his door by such imperfect means of retaliation as
were open to him, and which were confined to the trickling down of
foul water on their heads from unseen watering pots, pelting them
with fragments of tile and mortar from the roof of the house, and
bribing the drivers of hackney cabriolets to come suddenly round
the corner and dash in among them precipitately. It may, at first
sight, be matter of surprise to the thoughtless few that Mr Brass,
being a professional gentleman, should not have legally indicted
some party or parties, active in the promotion of the nuisance, but
they will be good enough to remember, that as Doctors seldom take
their own prescriptions, and Divines do not always practise what
they preach, so lawyers are shy of meddling with the Law on their
own account: knowing it to be an edged tool of uncertain
application, very expensive in the working, and rather remarkable
for its properties of close shaving, than for its always shaving
the right person.
'Come,' said Mr Brass one afternoon, 'this is two days without a
Punch. I'm in hopes he has run through 'em all, at last.'
'Why are you in hopes?' returned Miss Sally. 'What harm do they
'Here's a pretty sort of a fellow!' cried Brass, laying down his
pen in despair. 'Now here's an aggravating animal!'
'Well, what harm do they do?' retorted Sally.
'What harm!' cried Brass. 'Is it no harm to have a constant
hallooing and hooting under one's very nose, distracting one from
business, and making one grind one's teeth with vexation? Is it no
harm to be blinded and choked up, and have the king's highway
stopped with a set of screamers and roarers whose throats must be
'Brass,' suggested Mr Swiveller.
'Ah! of brass,' said the lawyer, glancing at his clerk, to assure
himself that he had suggested the word in good faith and without
any sinister intention. 'Is that no harm?'
The lawyer stopped short in his invective, and listening for a
moment, and recognising the well-known voice, rested his head upon
his hand, raised his eyes to the ceiling, and muttered faintly,
Up went the single gentleman's window directly.
'There's another,' repeated Brass; 'and if I could get a break and
four blood horses to cut into the Marks when the crowd is at its
thickest, I'd give eighteen-pence and never grudge it!'
The distant squeak was heard again. The single gentleman's door
burst open. He ran violently down the stairs, out into the street,
and so past the window, without any hat, towards the quarter whence
the sound proceeded--bent, no doubt, upon securing the strangers'
'I wish I only knew who his friends were,' muttered Sampson,
filling his pocket with papers; 'if they'd just get up a pretty
little Commission de lunatico at the Gray's Inn Coffee House and
give me the job, I'd be content to have the lodgings empty for one
while, at all events.'
With which words, and knocking his hat over his eyes as if for the
purpose of shutting out even a glimpse of the dreadful visitation,
Mr Brass rushed from the house and hurried away.
As Mr Swiveller was decidedly favourable to these performances,
upon the ground that looking at a Punch, or indeed looking at
anything out of window, was better than working; and as he had
been, for this reason, at some pains to awaken in his fellow clerk
a sense of their beauties and manifold deserts; both he and Miss
Sally rose as with one accord and took up their positions at the
window: upon the sill whereof, as in a post of honour, sundry young
ladies and gentlemen who were employed in the dry nurture of
babies, and who made a point of being present, with their young
charges, on such occasions, had already established themselves as
comfortably as the circumstances would allow.
The glass being dim, Mr Swiveller, agreeably to a friendly custom
which he had established between them, hitched off the brown
head-dress from Miss Sally's head, and dusted it carefully
therewith. By the time he had handed it back, and its beautiful
wearer had put it on again (which she did with perfect composure
and indifference), the lodger returned with the show and showmen at
his heels, and a strong addition to the body of spectators. The
exhibitor disappeared with all speed behind the drapery; and his
partner, stationing himself by the side of the Theatre, surveyed
the audience with a remarkable expression of melancholy, which
became more remarkable still when he breathed a hornpipe tune into
that sweet musical instrument which is popularly termed a
mouth-organ, without at all changing the mournful expression of the
upper part of his face, though his mouth and chin were, of
necessity, in lively spasms.
The drama proceeded to its close, and held the spectators enchained
in the customary manner. The sensation which kindles in large
assemblies, when they are relieved from a state of breathless
suspense and are again free to speak and move, was yet rife, when
the lodger, as usual, summoned the men up stairs.
'Both of you,' he called from the window; for only the actual
exhibitor--a little fat man--prepared to obey the summons. 'I
want to talk to you. Come both of you!'
Come, Tommy,' said the little man.
I an't a talker,' replied the other. 'Tell him so. What should I
go and talk for?'
'Don't you see the gentleman's got a bottle and glass up there?'
returned the little man.
'And couldn't you have said so at first?' retorted the other with
sudden alacrity. 'Now, what are you waiting for? Are you going to
keep the gentleman expecting us all day? haven't you no manners?'
With this remonstrance, the melancholy man, who was no other than
Mr Thomas Codlin, pushed past his friend and brother in the craft,
Mr Harris, otherwise Short or Trotters, and hurried before him to
the single gentleman's apartment.
'Now, my men,' said the single gentleman; 'you have done very well.
What will you take? Tell that little man behind, to shut the
'Shut the door, can't you?' said Mr Codlin, turning gruffly to his
friend. 'You might have knowed that the gentleman wanted the door
shut, without being told, I think.'
Mr Short obeyed, observing under his breath that his friend seemed
unusually 'cranky,' and expressing a hope that there was no dairy
in the neighbourhood, or his temper would certainly spoil its
The gentleman pointed to a couple of chairs, and intimated by an
emphatic nod of his head that he expected them to be seated.
Messrs Codlin and Short, after looking at each other with
considerable doubt and indecision, at length sat down--each on the
extreme edge of the chair pointed out to him--and held their hats
very tight, while the single gentleman filled a couple of glasses
from a bottle on the table beside him, and presented them in due
'You're pretty well browned by the sun, both of you,' said their
entertainer. 'Have you been travelling?'
Mr Short replied in the affirmative with a nod and a smile. Mr
Codlin added a corroborative nod and a short groan, as if he still
felt the weight of the Temple on his shoulders.
'To fairs, markets, races, and so forth, I suppose?' pursued the
'Yes, sir,' returned Short, 'pretty nigh all over the West of
'I have talked to men of your craft from North, East, and South,'
returned their host, in rather a hasty manner; 'but I never lighted
on any from the West before.'
'It's our reg'lar summer circuit is the West, master,' said Short;
'that's where it is. We takes the East of London in the spring and
winter, and the West of England in the summer time. Many's the
hard day's walking in rain and mud, and with never a penny earned,
we've had down in the West.'
'Let me fill your glass again.'
'Much obleeged to you sir, I think I will,' said Mr Codlin,
suddenly thrusting in his own and turning Short's aside. 'I'm the
sufferer, sir, in all the travelling, and in all the staying at
home. In town or country, wet or dry, hot or cold, Tom Codlin
suffers. But Tom Codlin isn't to complain for all that. Oh, no!
Short may complain, but if Codlin grumbles by so much as a word--
oh dear, down with him, down with him directly. It isn't his place
to grumble. That's quite out of the question.'
'Codlin an't without his usefulness,' observed Short with an arch
look, 'but he don't always keep his eyes open. He falls asleep
sometimes, you know. Remember them last races, Tommy.'
'Will you never leave off aggravating a man?' said Codlin. 'It's
very like I was asleep when five-and-tenpence was collected, in one
round, isn't it? I was attending to my business, and couldn't have
my eyes in twenty places at once, like a peacock, no more than you
could. If I an't a match for an old man and a young child, you
an't neither, so don't throw that out against me, for the cap fits
your head quite as correct as it fits mine."
'You may as well drop the subject, Tom,' said Short. 'It isn't
particular agreeable to the gentleman, I dare say.'
'Then you shouldn't have brought it up,' returned Mr Codlin; 'and
I ask the gentleman's pardon on your account, as a giddy chap that
likes to hear himself talk, and don't much care what he talks
about, so that he does talk.'
Their entertainer had sat perfectly quiet in the beginning of this
dispute, looking first at one man and then at the other, as if he
were lying in wait for an opportunity of putting some further
question, or reverting to that from which the discourse had
strayed. But, from the point where Mr Codlin was charged with
sleepiness, he had shown an increasing interest in the discussion:
which now attained a very high pitch.
'You are the two men I want,' he said, 'the two men I have been
looking for, and searching after! Where are that old man and that
child you speak of?'
'Sir?' said Short, hesitating, and looking towards his friend.
'The old man and his grandchild who travelled with you--where are
they? It will be worth your while to speak out, I assure you; much
better worth your while than you believe. They left you, you say--
at those races, as I understand. They have been traced to that
place, and there lost sight of. Have you no clue, can you suggest
no clue, to their recovery?'
'Did I always say, Thomas,' cried Short, turning with a look of
amazement to his friend, 'that there was sure to be an inquiry
after them two travellers?'
'YOU said!' returned Mr Codlin. 'Did I always say that that 'ere
blessed child was the most interesting I ever see? Did I always
say I loved her, and doated on her? Pretty creetur, I think I hear
her now. "Codlin's my friend," she says, with a tear of gratitude
a trickling down her little eye; "Codlin's my friend," she says--
"not Short. Short's very well," she says; "I've no quarrel with
Short; he means kind, I dare say; but Codlin," she says, "has the
feelings for my money, though he mayn't look it."'
Repeating these words with great emotion, Mr Codlin rubbed the
bridge of his nose with his coat-sleeve, and shaking his head
mournfully from side to side, left the single gentleman to infer
that, from the moment when he lost sight of his dear young charge,
his peace of mind and happiness had fled.
'Good Heaven!' said the single gentleman, pacing up and down the
room, 'have I found these men at last, only to discover that they
can give me no information or assistance! It would have been
better to have lived on, in hope, from day to day, and never to
have lighted on them, than to have my expectations scattered thus.'
'Stay a minute,' said Short. 'A man of the name of Jerry--you
know Jerry, Thomas?'
'Oh, don't talk to me of Jerrys,' replied Mr Codlin. 'How can I
care a pinch of snuff for Jerrys, when I think of that 'ere darling
child? "Codlin's my friend," she says, "dear, good, kind Codlin,
as is always a devising pleasures for me! I don't object to
Short," she says, "but I cotton to Codlin." Once,' said that
gentleman reflectively, 'she called me Father Codlin. I thought I
should have bust!'
'A man of the name of Jerry, sir,' said Short, turning from his
selfish colleague to their new acquaintance, 'wot keeps a company
of dancing dogs, told me, in a accidental sort of way, that he had
seen the old gentleman in connexion with a travelling wax-work,
unbeknown to him. As they'd given us the slip, and nothing had
come of it, and this was down in the country that he'd been seen,
I took no measures about it, and asked no questions--But I can, if
'Is this man in town?' said the impatient single gentleman. 'Speak
'No he isn't, but he will be to-morrow, for he lodges in our
house,' replied Mr Short rapidly.
'Then bring him here,' said the single gentleman. 'Here's a
sovereign a-piece. If I can find these people through your means,
it is but a prelude to twenty more. Return to me to-morrow, and
keep your own counsel on this subject--though I need hardly tell
you that; for you'll do so for your own sakes. Now, give me your
address, and leave me.'
The address was given, the two men departed, the crowd went with
them, and the single gentleman for two mortal hours walked in
uncommon agitation up and down his room, over the wondering heads
of Mr Swiveller and Miss Sally Brass.
Kit--for it happens at this juncture, not only that we have
breathing time to follow his fortunes, but that the necessities of
these adventures so adapt themselves to our ease and inclination as
to call upon us imperatively to pursue the track we most desire to
take--Kit, while the matters treated of in the last fifteen
chapters were yet in progress, was, as the reader may suppose,
gradually familiarising himself more and more with Mr and Mrs
Garland, Mr Abel, the pony, and Barbara, and gradually coming to
consider them one and all as his particular private friends, and
Abel Cottage, Finchley, as his own proper home.
Stay--the words are written, and may go, but if they convey any
notion that Kit, in the plentiful board and comfortable lodging of
his new abode, began to think slightingly of the poor fare and
furniture of his old dwelling, they do their office badly and
commit injustice. Who so mindful of those he left at home--albeit
they were but a mother and two young babies--as Kit? What
boastful father in the fulness of his heart ever related such
wonders of his infant prodigy, as Kit never wearied of telling
Barbara in the evening time, concerning little Jacob? Was there
ever such a mother as Kit's mother, on her son's showing; or was
there ever such comfort in poverty as in the poverty of Kit's
family, if any correct judgment might be arrived at, from his own
And let me linger in this place, for an instant, to remark that if
ever household affections and loves are graceful things, they are
graceful in the poor. The ties that bind the wealthy and the proud
to home may be forged on earth, but those which link the poor man
to his humble hearth are of the truer metal and bear the stamp of
Heaven. The man of high descent may love the halls and lands of
his inheritance as part of himself: as trophies of his birth and
power; his associations with them are associations of pride and
wealth and triumph; the poor man's attachment to the tenements he
holds, which strangers have held before, and may to-morrow occupy
again, has a worthier root, struck deep into a purer soil. His
household gods are of flesh and blood, with no alloy of silver,
gold, or precious stone; he has no property but in the affections
of his own heart; and when they endear bare floors and walls,
despite of rags and toil and scanty fare, that man has his love of
home from God, and his rude hut becomes a solemn place.
Oh! if those who rule the destinies of nations would but remember
this--if they would but think how hard it is for the very poor to
have engendered in their hearts, that love of home from which all
domestic virtues spring, when they live in dense and squalid masses
where social decency is lost, or rather never found--if they
would but turn aside from the wide thoroughfares and great houses,
and strive to improve the wretched dwellings in bye-ways where only
Poverty may walk--many low roofs would point more truly to the
sky, than the loftiest steeple that now rears proudly up from the
midst of guilt, and crime, and horrible disease, to mock them by
its contrast. In hollow voices from Workhouse, Hospital, and jail,
this truth is preached from day to day, and has been proclaimed for
years. It is no light matter--no outcry from the working vulgar--
no mere question of the people's health and comforts that may be
whistled down on Wednesday nights. In love of home, the love of
country has its rise; and who are the truer patriots or the better
in time of need--those who venerate the land, owning its wood, and
stream, and earth, and all that they produce? or those who love
their country, boasting not a foot of ground in all its wide
Kit knew nothing about such questions, but he knew that his old
home was a very poor place, and that his new one was very unlike
it, and yet he was constantly looking back with grateful
satisfaction and affectionate anxiety, and often indited square-
folded letters to his mother, enclosing a shilling or eighteenpence
or such other small remittance, which Mr Abel's liberality enabled
him to make. Sometimes being in the neighbourhood, he had leisure
to call upon her, and then great was the joy and pride of Kit's
mother, and extremely noisy the satisfaction of little Jacob and
the baby, and cordial the congratulations of the whole court, who
listened with admiring ears to the accounts of Abel Cottage, and
could never be told too much of its wonders and magnificence.
Although Kit was in the very highest favour with the old lady and
gentleman, and Mr Abel, and Barbara, it is certain that no member
of the family evinced such a remarkable partiality for him as the
self-willed pony, who, from being the most obstinate and
opinionated pony on the face of the earth, was, in his hands, the
meekest and most tractable of animals. It is true that in exact
proportion as he became manageable by Kit he became utterly
ungovernable by anybody else (as if he had determined to keep him
in the family at all risks and hazards), and that, even under the
guidance of his favourite, he would sometimes perform a great
variety of strange freaks and capers, to the extreme discomposure
of the old lady's nerves; but as Kit always represented that this
was only his fun, or a way he had of showing his attachment to his
employers, Mrs Garland gradually suffered herself to be persuaded
into the belief, in which she at last became so strongly confirmed,
that if, in one of these ebullitions, he had overturned the chaise,
she would have been quite satisfied that he did it with the very
Besides becoming in a short time a perfect marvel in all stable
matters, Kit soon made himself a very tolerable gardener, a handy
fellow within doors, and an indispensable attendant on Mr Abel, who
every day gave him some new proof of his confidence and
approbation. Mr Witherden the notary, too, regarded him with a
friendly eye; and even Mr Chuckster would sometimes condescend to
give him a slight nod, or to honour him with that peculiar form of
recognition which is called 'taking a sight,' or to favour him with
some other salute combining pleasantry with patronage.
One morning Kit drove Mr Abel to the Notary's office, as he
sometimes did, and having set him down at the house, was about to
drive off to a livery stable hard by, when this same Mr Chuckster
emerged from the office door, and cried 'Woa-a-a-a-a-a!'--dwelling
upon the note a long time, for the purpose of striking terror into
the pony's heart, and asserting the supremacy of man over the
'Pull up, Snobby,' cried Mr Chuckster, addressing himself to Kit.
'You're wanted inside here.'
'Has Mr Abel forgotten anything, I wonder?' said Kit as he
'Ask no questions, Snobby,' returned Mr Chuckster, 'but go and see.
Woa-a-a then, will you? If that pony was mine, I'd break him.'
'You must be very gentle with him, if you please,' said Kit, 'or
you'll find him troublesome. You'd better not keep on pulling his
ears, please. I know he won't like it.'
To this remonstrance Mr Chuckster deigned no other answer, than
addressing Kit with a lofty and distant air as 'young feller,' and
requesting him to cut and come again with all speed. The 'young
feller' complying, Mr Chuckster put his hands in his pockets, and
tried to look as if he were not minding the pony, but happened to
be lounging there by accident.
Kit scraped his shoes very carefully (for he had not yet lost his
reverence for the bundles of papers and the tin boxes,) and tapped
at the office-door, which was quickly opened by the Notary himself.
'Oh! come in, Christopher,' said Mr Witherden.
'Is that the lad?' asked an elderly gentleman, but of a stout,
bluff figure--who was in the room.
'That's the lad,' said Mr Witherden. 'He fell in with my client,
Mr Garland, sir, at this very door. I have reason to think he is
a good lad, sir, and that you may believe what he says. Let me
introduce Mr Abel Garland, sir--his young master; my articled
pupil, sir, and most particular friend:--my most particular
friend, sir,' repeated the Notary, drawing out his silk
handkerchief and flourishing it about his face.
'Your servant, sir,' said the stranger gentleman.
'Yours, sir, I'm sure,' replied Mr Abel mildly. 'You were wishing
to speak to Christopher, sir?'
'Yes, I was. Have I your permission?'
'By all means.'
'My business is no secret; or I should rather say it need be no
secret here,' said the stranger, observing that Mr Abel and the
Notary were preparing to retire. 'It relates to a dealer in
curiosities with whom he lived, and in whom I am earnestly and
warmly interested. I have been a stranger to this country,
gentlemen, for very many years, and if I am deficient in form and
ceremony, I hope you will forgive me.'
'No forgiveness is necessary, sir;--none whatever,' replied the
Notary. And so said Mr Abel.
'I have been making inquiries in the neighbourhood in which his old
master lived,' said the stranger, 'and I learn that he was served
by this lad. I have found out his mother's house, and have been
directed by her to this place as the nearest in which I should be
likely to find him. That's the cause of my presenting myself here
'I am very glad of any cause, sir,' said the Notary, 'which
procures me the honour of this visit.'
'Sir,' retorted the stranger, 'you speak like a mere man of the
world, and I think you something better. Therefore, pray do not
sink your real character in paying unmeaning compliments to me.'
'Hem!' coughed the Notary. 'You're a plain speaker, sir.'
'And a plain dealer,' returned the stranger. 'It may be my long
absence and inexperience that lead me to the conclusion; but if
plain speakers are scarce in this part of the world, I fancy plain
dealers are still scarcer. If my speaking should offend you, sir,
my dealing, I hope, will make amends.'
Mr Witherden seemed a little disconcerted by the elderly
gentleman's mode of conducting the dialogue; and as for Kit, he
looked at him in open-mouthed astonishment: wondering what kind of
language he would address to him, if he talked in that free and
easy way to a Notary. It was with no harshness, however, though
with something of constitutional irritability and haste, that he
turned to Kit and said:
'If you think, my lad, that I am pursuing these inquiries with any
other view than that of serving and reclaiming those I am in search
of, you do me a very great wrong, and deceive yourself. Don't be
deceived, I beg of you, but rely upon my assurance. The fact is,
gentlemen,' he added, turning again to the Notary and his pupil,
'that I am in a very painful and wholly unexpected position. I
came to this city with a darling object at my heart, expecting to
find no obstacle or difficulty in the way of its attainment. I
find myself suddenly checked and stopped short, in the execution of
my design, by a mystery which I cannot penetrate. Every effort I
have made to penetrate it, has only served to render it darker and
more obscure; and I am afraid to stir openly in the matter, lest
those whom I anxiously pursue, should fly still farther from me.
I assure you that if you could give me any assistance, you would
not be sorry to do so, if you knew how greatly I stand in need of
it, and what a load it would relieve me from.'
There was a simplicity in this confidence which occasioned it to
find a quick response in the breast of the good-natured Notary, who
replied, in the same spirit, that the stranger had not mistaken his
desire, and that if he could be of service to him, he would, most
Kit was then put under examination and closely questioned by the
unknown gentleman, touching his old master and the child, their
lonely way of life, their retired habits, and strict seclusion.
The nightly absence of the old man, the solitary existence of the
child at those times, his illness and recovery, Quilp's possession
of the house, and their sudden disappearance, were all the subjects
of much questioning and answer. Finally, Kit informed the
gentleman that the premises were now to let, and that a board upon
the door referred all inquirers to Mr Sampson Brass, Solicitor, of
Bevis Marks, from whom he might perhaps learn some further
'Not by inquiry,' said the gentleman shaking his head. 'I live
'Live at Brass's the attorney's!' cried Mr Witherden in some
surprise: having professional knowledge of the gentleman in
'Aye,' was the reply. 'I entered on his lodgings t'other day,
chiefly because I had seen this very board. it matters little to
me where I live, and I had a desperate hope that some intelligence
might be cast in my way there, which would not reach me elsewhere.
Yes, I live at Brass's--more shame for me, I suppose?'
'That's a mere matter of opinion,' said the Notary, shrugging his
shoulders. 'He is looked upon as rather a doubtful character.'
'Doubtful?' echoed the other. 'I am glad to hear there's any doubt
about it. I supposed that had been thoroughly settled, long ago.
But will you let me speak a word or two with you in private?'
Mr Witherden consenting, they walked into that gentleman's private
closet, and remained there, in close conversation, for some quarter
of an hour, when they returned into the outer office. The stranger
had left his hat in Mr Witherden's room, and seemed to have
established himself in this short interval on quite a friendly
'I'll not detain you any longer now,' he said, putting a crown into
Kit's hand, and looking towards the Notary. 'You shall hear from
me again. Not a word of this, you know, except to your master and
'Mother, sir, would be glad to know--' said Kit, faltering.
'Glad to know what?'
'Anything--so that it was no harm--about Miss Nell.'
'Would she? Well then, you may tell her if she can keep a secret.
But mind, not a word of this to anybody else. Don't forget that.
'I'll take care, sir,' said Kit. 'Thankee, sir, and good morning.'
Now, it happened that the gentleman, in his anxiety to impress upon
Kit that he was not to tell anybody what had passed between them,
followed him out to the door to repeat his caution, and it further
happened that at that moment the eyes of Mr Richard Swiveller were
turned in that direction, and beheld his mysterious friend and Kit
It was quite an accident, and the way in which it came about was
this. Mr Chuckster, being a gentleman of a cultivated taste and
refined spirit, was one of that Lodge of Glorious Apollos whereof
Mr Swiveller was Perpetual Grand. Mr Swiveller, passing through
the street in the execution of some Brazen errand, and beholding
one of his Glorious Brotherhood intently gazing on a pony, crossed
over to give him that fraternal greeting with which Perpetual
Grands are, by the very constitution of their office, bound to
cheer and encourage their disciples. He had scarcely bestowed upon
him his blessing, and followed it with a general remark touching
the present state and prospects of the weather, when, lifting up
his eyes, he beheld the single gentleman of Bevis Marks in earnest
conversation with Christopher Nubbles.
'Hallo!' said Dick, 'who is that?'
'He called to see my Governor this morning,' replied Mr Chuckster;
'beyond that, I don't know him from Adam.'
'At least you know his name?' said Dick.
To which Mr Chuckster replied, with an elevation of speech becoming
a Glorious Apollo, that he was 'everlastingly blessed' if he did.
'All I know, my dear feller,' said Mr Chuckster, running his
fingers through his hair, 'is, that he is the cause of my having
stood here twenty minutes, for which I hate him with a mortal and
undying hatred, and would pursue him to the confines of eternity if
I could afford the time.'
While they were thus discoursing, the subject of their conversation
(who had not appeared to recognise Mr Richard Swiveller) re-entered
the house, and Kit came down the steps and joined them; to whom Mr
Swiveller again propounded his inquiry with no better success.
'He is a very nice gentleman, Sir,' said Kit, 'and that's all I
know about him.'
Mr Chuckster waxed wroth at this answer, and without applying the
remark to any particular case, mentioned, as a general truth, that
it was expedient to break the heads of Snobs, and to tweak their
noses. Without expressing his concurrence in this sentiment, Mr
Swiveller after a few moments of abstraction inquired which way Kit
was driving, and, being informed, declared it was his way, and that
he would trespass on him for a lift. Kit would gladly have
declined the proffered honour, but as Mr Swiveller was already
established in the seat beside him, he had no means of doing so,
otherwise than by a forcible ejectment, and therefore, drove
briskly off--so briskly indeed, as to cut short the leave-taking
between Mr Chuckster and his Grand Master, and to occasion the
former gentleman some inconvenience from having his corns squeezed
by the impatient pony.
As Whisker was tired of standing, and Mr Swiveller was kind enough
to stimulate him by shrill whistles, and various sporting cries,
they rattled off at too sharp a pace to admit of much conversation:
especially as the pony, incensed by Mr Swiveller's admonitions,
took a particular fancy for the lamp-posts and cart-wheels, and
evinced a strong desire to run on the pavement and rasp himself
against the brick walls. It was not, therefore, until they had
arrived at the stable, and the chaise had been extricated from a
very small doorway, into which the pony dragged it under the
impression that he could take it along with him into his usual
stall, that Mr Swiveller found time to talk.
'It's hard work,' said Richard. 'What do you say to some beer?'
Kit at first declined, but presently consented, and they adjourned
to the neighbouring bar together.
'We'll drink our friend what's-his-name,' said Dick, holding up the
bright frothy pot; '--that was talking to you this morning, you
know--I know him--a good fellow, but eccentric--very--here's
Kit pledged him.
'He lives in my house,' said Dick; 'at least in the house occupied
by the firm in which I'm a sort of a--of a managing partner--a
difficult fellow to get anything out of, but we like him--we like
'I must be going, sir, if you please,' said Kit, moving away.
'Don't be in a hurry, Christopher,' replied his patron, 'we'll
drink your mother.'
'Thank you, sir.'
'An excellent woman that mother of yours, Christopher,' said Mr
Swiveller. 'Who ran to catch me when I fell, and kissed the place
to make it well? My mother. A charming woman. He's a liberal
sort of fellow. We must get him to do something for your mother.
Does he know her, Christopher?'
Kit shook his head, and glancing slyly at his questioner, thanked
him, and made off before he could say another word.
'Humph!' said Mr Swiveller pondering, 'this is queer. Nothing but
mysteries in connection with Brass's house. I'll keep my own
counsel, however. Everybody and anybody has been in my confidence
as yet, but now I think I'll set up in business for myself. Queer--
After pondering deeply and with a face of exceeding wisdom for some
time, Mr Swiveller drank some more of the beer, and summoning a
small boy who had been watching his proceedings, poured forth the
few remaining drops as a libation on the gravel, and bade him carry
the empty vessel to the bar with his compliments, and above all
things to lead a sober and temperate life, and abstain from all
intoxicating and exciting liquors. Having given him this piece of
moral advice for his trouble (which, as he wisely observed, was far
better than half-pence) the Perpetual Grand Master of the Glorious
Apollos thrust his hands into his pockets and sauntered away: still
pondering as he went.
All that day, though he waited for Mr Abel until evening, Kit kept
clear of his mother's house, determined not to anticipate the
pleasures of the morrow, but to let them come in their full rush of
delight; for to-morrow was the great and long looked-for epoch in
his life--to-morrow was the end of his first quarter--the day of
receiving, for the first time, one fourth part of his annual income
of Six Pounds in one vast sum of Thirty Shillings--to-morrow was
to be a half-holiday devoted to a whirl of entertainments, and
little Jacob was to know what oysters meant, and to see a play.
All manner of incidents combined in favour of the occasion: not
only had Mr and Mrs Garland forewarned him that they intended to
make no deduction for his outfit from the great amount, but to pay
it him unbroken in all its gigantic grandeur; not only had the
unknown gentleman increased the stock by the sum of five shillings,
which was a perfect god-send and in itself a fortune; not only had
these things come to pass which nobody could have calculated upon,
or in their wildest dreams have hoped; but it was Barbara's quarter
too--Barbara's quarter, that very day--and Barbara had a
half-holiday as well as Kit, and Barbara's mother was going to make
one of the party, and to take tea with Kit's mother, and cultivate
To be sure Kit looked out of his window very early that morning to
see which way the clouds were flying, and to be sure Barbara would
have been at hers too, if she had not sat up so late over-night,
starching and ironing small pieces of muslin, and crimping them
into frills, and sewing them on to other pieces to form magnificent
wholes for next day's wear. But they were both up very early for
all that, and had small appetites for breakfast and less for
dinner, and were in a state of great excitement when Barbara's
mother came in, with astonishing accounts of the fineness of the
weather out of doors (but with a very large umbrella
notwithstanding, for people like Barbara's mother seldom make
holiday without one), and when the bell rang for them to go up
stairs and receive their quarter's money in gold and silver.
Well, wasn't Mr Garland kind when he said 'Christopher, here's your
money, and you have earned it well;' and wasn't Mrs Garland kind
when she said 'Barbara, here's yours, and I'm much pleased with
you;' and didn't Kit sign his name bold to his receipt, and didn't
Barbara sign her name all a trembling to hers; and wasn't it
beautiful to see how Mrs Garland poured out Barbara's mother a
glass of wine; and didn't Barbara's mother speak up when she said
'Here's blessing you, ma'am, as a good lady, and you, sir, as a
good gentleman, and Barbara, my love to you, and here's towards
you, Mr Christopher;' and wasn't she as long drinking it as if it
had been a tumblerful; and didn't she look genteel, standing there
with her gloves on; and wasn't there plenty of laughing and talking
among them as they reviewed all these things upon the top of the
coach, and didn't they pity the people who hadn't got a holiday!
But Kit's mother, again--wouldn't anybody have supposed she had
come of a good stock and been a lady all her life! There she was,
quite ready to receive them, with a display of tea-things that
might have warmed the heart of a china-shop; and little Jacob and
the baby in such a state of perfection that their clothes looked as
good as new, though Heaven knows they were old enough! Didn't she
say before they had sat down five minutes that Barbara's mother was
exactly the sort of lady she expected, and didn't Barbara's mother
say that Kit's mother was the very picture of what she had
expected, and didn't Kit's mother compliment Barbara's mother on
Barbara, and didn't Barbara's mother compliment Kit's mother on
Kit, and wasn't Barbara herself quite fascinated with little Jacob,
and did ever a child show off when he was wanted, as that child
did, or make such friends as he made!
'And we are both widows too!' said Barbara's mother. 'We must have
been made to know each other.'
'I haven't a doubt about it,' returned Mrs Nubbles. 'And what a
pity it is we didn't know each other sooner.'
'But then, you know, it's such a pleasure,' said Barbara's mother,
'to have it brought about by one's son and daughter, that it's
fully made up for. Now, an't it?'
To this, Kit's mother yielded her full assent, and tracing things
back from effects to causes, they naturally reverted to their
deceased husbands, respecting whose lives, deaths, and burials,
they compared notes, and discovered sundry circumstances that
tallied with wonderful exactness; such as Barbara's father having
been exactly four years and ten months older than Kit's father, and
one of them having died on a Wednesday and the other on a Thursday,
and both of them having been of a very fine make and remarkably
good-looking, with other extraordinary coincidences. These
recollections being of a kind calculated to cast a shadow on the
brightness of the holiday, Kit diverted the conversation to general
topics, and they were soon in great force again, and as merry as
before. Among other things, Kit told them about his old place, and
the extraordinary beauty of Nell (of whom he had talked to Barbara
a thousand times already); but the last-named circumstance failed
to interest his hearers to anything like the extent he had
supposed, and even his mother said (looking accidentally at Barbara
at the same time) that there was no doubt Miss Nell was very
pretty, but she was but a child after all, and there were many
young women quite as pretty as she; and Barbara mildly observed
that she should think so, and that she never could help believing
Mr Christopher must be under a mistake--which Kit wondered at very
much, not being able to conceive what reason she had for doubting
him. Barbara's mother too, observed that it was very common for
young folks to change at about fourteen or fifteen, and whereas
they had been very pretty before, to grow up quite plain; which
truth she illustrated by many forcible examples, especially one of
a young man, who, being a builder with great prospects, had been
particular in his attentions to Barbara, but whom Barbara would
have nothing to say to; which (though everything happened for the
best) she almost thought was a pity. Kit said he thought so too,
and so he did honestly, and he wondered what made Barbara so silent
all at once, and why his mother looked at him as if he shouldn't
have said it.
However, it was high time now to be thinking of the play; for which
great preparation was required, in the way of shawls and bonnets,
not to mention one handkerchief full of oranges and another of
apples, which took some time tying up, in consequence of
the fruit having a tendency to roll out at the corners. At length,
everything was ready, and they went off very fast; Kit's mother
carrying the baby, who was dreadfully wide awake, and Kit holding
little Jacob in one hand, and escorting Barbara with the other--a
state of things which occasioned the two mothers, who walked
behind, to declare that they looked quite family folks, and caused
Barbara to blush and say, 'Now don't, mother!' But Kit said she had
no call to mind what they said; and indeed she need not have had,
if she had known how very far from Kit's thoughts any love-making
was. Poor Barbara!
At last they got to the theatre, which was Astley's: and in some
two minutes after they had reached the yet unopened door, little
Jacob was squeezed flat, and the baby had received divers
concussions, and Barbara's mother's umbrella had been carried
several yards off and passed back to her over the shoulders of the
people, and Kit had hit a man on the head with the handkerchief of
apples for 'scrowdging' his parent with unnecessary violence, and
there was a great uproar. But, when they were once past the
pay-place and tearing away for very life with their checks in their
hands, and, above all, when they were fairly in the theatre, and
seated in such places that they couldn't have had better if they
had picked them out, and taken them beforehand, all this was looked
upon as quite a capital joke, and an essential part of the
Dear, dear, what a place it looked, that Astley's; with all the
paint, gilding, and looking-glass; the vague smell of horses
suggestive of coming wonders; the curtain that hid such gorgeous
mysteries; the clean white sawdust down in the circus; the company
coming in and taking their places; the fiddlers looking carelessly
up at them while they tuned their instruments, as if they didn't
want the play to begin, and knew it all beforehand! What a glow
was that, which burst upon them all, when that long, clear,
brilliant row of lights came slowly up; and what the feverish
excitement when the little bell rang and the music began in good
earnest, with strong parts for the drums, and sweet effects for the
triangles! Well might Barbara's mother say to Kit's mother that
the gallery was the place to see from, and wonder it wasn't much
dearer than the boxes; well might Barbara feel doubtful whether to
laugh or cry, in her flutter of delight.
Then the play itself! the horses which little Jacob believed from
the first to be alive, and the ladies and gentlemen of whose
reality he could be by no means persuaded, having never seen or
heard anything at all like them--the firing, which made Barbara
wink--the forlorn lady, who made her cry--the tyrant, who made
her tremble--the man who sang the song with the lady's-maid and
danced the chorus, who made her laugh--the pony who reared up on
his hind legs when he saw the murderer, and wouldn't hear of
walking on all fours again until he was taken into custody--the
clown who ventured on such familiarities with the military man in
boots--the lady who jumped over the nine-and-twenty ribbons and
came down safe upon the horse's back--everything was delightful,
splendid, and surprising! Little Jacob applauded till his hands
were sore; Kit cried 'an-kor' at the end of everything, the
three-act piece included; and Barbara's mother beat her umbrella on
the floor, in her ecstasies, until it was nearly worn down to the
In the midst of all these fascinations, Barbara's thoughts seemed
to have been still running on what Kit had said at tea-time; for,
when they were coming out of the play, she asked him, with an
hysterical simper, if Miss Nell was as handsome as the lady who
jumped over the ribbons.
'As handsome as her?' said Kit. 'Double as handsome.'
'Oh Christopher! I'm sure she was the beautifullest creature ever
was,' said Barbara.
'Nonsense!' returned Kit. 'She was well enough, I don't deny that;
but think how she was dressed and painted, and what a difference
that made. Why YOU are a good deal better looking than her,
'Oh Christopher!' said Barbara, looking down.
'You are, any day,' said Kit, '--and so's your mother.'
What was all this though--even all this--to the extraordinary
dissipation that ensued, when Kit, walking into an oyster-shop as
bold as if he lived there, and not so much as looking at the
counter or the man behind it, led his party into a box--a private
box, fitted up with red curtains, white table-cloth, and cruet-
stand complete--and ordered a fierce gentleman with whiskers, who
acted as waiter and called him, him Christopher Nubbles, 'sir,' to
bring three dozen of his largest-sized oysters, and to look sharp
about it! Yes, Kit told this gentleman to look sharp, and he not
only said he would look sharp, but he actually did, and presently
came running back with the newest loaves, and the freshest butter,
and the largest oysters, ever seen. Then said Kit to this
gentleman, 'a pot of beer'--just so--and the gentleman, instead
of replying, 'Sir, did you address that language to me?' only said,
'Pot o' beer, sir? Yes, sir,' and went off and fetched it, and put
it on the table in a small decanter-stand, like those which
blind-men's dogs carry about the streets in their mouths, to catch
the half-pence in; and both Kit's mother and Barbara's mother
declared as he turned away that he was one of the slimmest and
gracefullest young men she had ever looked upon.
Then they fell to work upon the supper in earnest; and there was
Barbara, that foolish Barbara, declaring that she could not eat
more than two, and wanting more pressing than you would believe
before she would eat four: though her mother and Kit's mother made
up for it pretty well, and ate and laughed and enjoyed themselves
so thoroughly that it did Kit good to see them, and made him laugh
and eat likewise from strong sympathy. But the greatest miracle of
the night was little Jacob, who ate oysters as if he had been born
and bred to the business--sprinkled the pepper and the vinegar
with a discretion beyond his years--and afterwards built a grotto
on the table with the shells. There was the baby too, who had
never closed an eye all night, but had sat as good as gold, trying
to force a large orange into his mouth, and gazing intently at the
lights in the chandelier--there he was, sitting up in his mother's
lap, staring at the gas without winking, and making indentations in
his soft visage with an oyster-shell, to that degree that a heart
of iron must have loved him! In short, there never was a more
successful supper; and when Kit ordered in a glass of something hot
to finish with, and proposed Mr and Mrs Garland before sending it
round, there were not six happier people in all the world.
But all happiness has an end--hence the chief pleasure of its next
beginning--and as it was now growing late, they agreed it was time
to turn their faces homewards. So, after going a little out of
their way to see Barbara and Barbara's mother safe to a friend's
house where they were to pass the night, Kit and his mother left
them at the door, with an early appointment for returning to
Finchley next morning, and a great many plans for next quarter's
enjoyment. Then, Kit took little Jacob on his back, and giving his
arm to his mother, and a kiss to the baby, they all trudged merrily
Full of that vague kind of penitence which holidays awaken next
morning, Kit turned out at sunrise, and, with his faith in last
night's enjoyments a little shaken by cool daylight and the return
to every-day duties and occupations, went to meet Barbara and her
mother at the appointed place. And being careful not to awaken any
of the little household, who were yet resting from their unusual
fatigues, Kit left his money on the chimney-piece, with an
inscription in chalk calling his mother's attention to the
circumstance, and informing her that it came from her dutiful son;
and went his way, with a heart something heavier than his pockets,
but free from any very great oppression notwithstanding.
Oh these holidays! why will they leave us some regret? why cannot
we push them back, only a week or two in our memories, so as to put
them at once at that convenient distance whence they may be
regarded either with a calm indifference or a pleasant effort of
recollection! why will they hang about us, like the flavour of
yesterday's wine, suggestive of headaches and lassitude, and those
good intentions for the future, which, under the earth, form the
everlasting pavement of a large estate, and, upon it, usually
endure until dinner-time or thereabouts!
Who will wonder that Barbara had a headache, or that Barbara's
mother was disposed to be cross, or that she slightly underrated
Astley's, and thought the clown was older than they had taken him
to be last night? Kit was not surprised to hear her say so--not
he. He had already had a misgiving that the inconstant actors in
that dazzling vision had been doing the same thing the night before
last, and would do it again that night, and the next, and for weeks
and months to come, though he would not be there. Such is the
difference between yesterday and today. We are all going to the
play, or coming home from it.
However, the Sun himself is weak when he first rises, and gathers
strength and courage as the day gets on. By degrees, they began to
recall circumstances more and more pleasant in their nature, until,
what between talking, walking, and laughing, they reached Finchley
in such good heart, that Barbara's mother declared she never felt
less tired or in better spirits. And so said Kit. Barbara had
been silent all the way, but she said so too. Poor little Barbara!
She was very quiet.
They were at home in such good time that Kit had rubbed down the
pony and made him as spruce as a race-horse, before Mr Garland came
down to breakfast; which punctual and industrious conduct the old
lady, and the old gentleman, and Mr Abel, highly extolled. At his
usual hour (or rather at his usual minute and second, for he was
the soul of punctuality) Mr Abel walked out, to be overtaken by the
London coach, and Kit and the old gentleman went to work in the
This was not the least pleasant of Kit's employments. On a fine
day they were quite a family party; the old lady sitting hard by
with her work-basket on a little table; the old gentleman digging,
or pruning, or clipping about with a large pair of shears, or
helping Kit in some way or other with great assiduity; and Whisker
looking on from his paddock in placid contemplation of them all.
To-day they were to trim the grape-vine, so Kit mounted half-way up
a short ladder, and began to snip and hammer away, while the old
gentleman, with a great interest in his proceedings, handed up the
nails and shreds of cloth as he wanted them. The old lady and
Whisker looked on as usual.
'Well, Christopher,' said Mr Garland, 'and so you have made a new
'I beg your pardon, Sir?' returned Kit, looking down from the
'You have made a new friend, I hear from Mr Abel,' said the old
gentleman, 'at the office!'
'Oh! Yes Sir, yes. He behaved very handsome, Sir.'
'I'm glad to hear it,' returned the old gentlemen with a smile.
'He is disposed to behave more handsomely still, though,
'Indeed, Sir! It's very kind in him, but I don't want him to, I'm
sure,' said Kit, hammering stoutly at an obdurate nail.
'He is rather anxious,' pursued the old gentleman, 'to have you in
his own service--take care what you're doing, or you will fall
down and hurt yourself.'
'To have me in his service, Sir?' cried Kit, who had stopped short
in his work and faced about on the ladder like some dexterous
tumbler. 'Why, Sir, I don't think he can be in earnest when he
'Oh! But he is indeed,' said Mr Garland. 'And he has told Mr Abel
'I never heard of such a thing!' muttered Kit, looking ruefully at
his master and mistress. 'I wonder at him; that I do.'
'You see, Christopher,' said Mr Garland, 'this is a point of much
importance to you, and you should understand and consider it in
that light. This gentleman is able to give you more money than I--
not, I hope, to carry through the various relations of master and
servant, more kindness and confidence, but certainly, Christopher,
to give you more money.'
'Well,' said Kit, 'after that, Sir--'
'Wait a moment,' interposed Mr Garland. 'That is not all. You
were a very faithful servant to your old employers, as I
understand, and should this gentleman recover them, as it is his
purpose to attempt doing by every means in his power, I have no
doubt that you, being in his service, would meet with your reward.
Besides,' added the old gentleman with stronger emphasis, 'besides
having the pleasure of being again brought into communication with
those to whom you seem to be very strongly and disinterestedly
attached. You must think of all this, Christopher, and not be rash
or hasty in your choice.'
Kit did suffer one twinge, one momentary pang, in keeping the
resolution he had already formed, when this last argument passed
swiftly into his thoughts, and conjured up the realization of all
his hopes and fancies. But it was gone in a minute, and he
sturdily rejoined that the gentleman must look out for somebody
else, as he did think he might have done at first.
'He has no right to think that I'd be led away to go to him, sir,'
said Kit, turning round again after half a minute's hammering.
'Does he think I'm a fool?'
'He may, perhaps, Christopher, if you refuse his offer,' said Mr
'Then let him, sir,' retorted Kit; 'what do I care, sir, what he
thinks? why should I care for his thinking, sir, when I know that
I should be a fool, and worse than a fool, sir, to leave the
kindest master and mistress that ever was or can be, who took me
out of the streets a very poor and hungry lad indeed--poorer and
hungrier perhaps than even you think for, sir--to go to him or
anybody? If Miss Nell was to come back, ma'am,' added Kit, turning
suddenly to his mistress, 'why that would be another thing, and
perhaps if she wanted me, I might ask you now and then to let me
work for her when all was done at home. But when she comes back,
I see now that she'll be rich as old master always said she would,
and being a rich young lady, what could she want of me? No, no,'
added Kit, shaking his head sorrowfully, 'she'll never want me any
more, and bless her, I hope she never may, though I should like to
see her too!'
Here Kit drove a nail into the wall, very hard--much harder than
was necessary--and having done so, faced about again.
'There's the pony, sir,' said Kit--'Whisker, ma'am (and he knows
so well I'm talking about him that he begins to neigh directly,
Sir)--would he let anybody come near him but me, ma'am? Here's
the garden, sir, and Mr Abel, ma'am. Would Mr Abel part with me,
Sir, or is there anybody that could be fonder of the garden, ma'am?
It would break mother's heart, Sir, and even little Jacob would
have sense enough to cry his eyes out, ma'am, if he thought that Mr
Abel could wish to part with me so soon, after having told me, only
the other day, that he hoped we might be together for years to
There is no telling how long Kit might have stood upon the ladder,
addressing his master and mistress by turns, and generally turning
towards the wrong person, if Barbara had not at that moment come
running up to say that a messenger from the office had brought a
note, which, with an expression of some surprise at Kit's
oratorical appearance, she put into her master's hand.
'Oh!' said the old gentleman after reading it, 'ask the messenger
to walk this way.' Barbara tripping off to do as she was bid, he
turned to Kit and said that they would not pursue the subject any
further, and that Kit could not be more unwilling to part with
them, than they would be to part with Kit; a sentiment which the
old lady very generously echoed.
'At the same time, Christopher,' added Mr Garland, glancing at the
note in his hand, 'if the gentleman should want to borrow you now
and then for an hour or so, or even a day or so, at a time, we must
consent to lend you, and you must consent to be lent. --Oh! here
is the young gentleman. How do you do, Sir?'
This salutation was addressed to Mr Chuckster, who, with his hat
extremely on one side, and his hair a long way beyond it, came
swaggering up the walk.
'Hope I see you well sir,' returned that gentleman. 'Hope I see
YOU well, ma'am. Charming box' this, sir. Delicious country to be
'You want to take Kit back with you, I find?' observed Mr Garland.
'I have got a chariot-cab waiting on purpose,' replied the clerk.
'A very spanking grey in that cab, sir, if you're a judge of
Declining to inspect the spanking grey, on the plea that he was but
poorly acquainted with such matters, and would but imperfectly
appreciate his beauties, Mr Garland invited Mr Chuckster to partake
of a slight repast in the way of lunch. That gentleman readily
consenting, certain cold viands, flanked with ale and wine, were
speedily prepared for his refreshment.
At this repast, Mr Chuckster exerted his utmost abilities to
enchant his entertainers, and impress them with a conviction of the
mental superiority of those who dwelt in town; with which view he
led the discourse to the small scandal of the day, in which he was
justly considered by his friends to shine prodigiously. Thus, he
was in a condition to relate the exact circumstances of the
difference between the Marquis of Mizzler and Lord Bobby, which it
appeared originated in a disputed bottle of champagne, and not in
a pigeon-pie, as erroneously reported in the newspapers; neither
had Lord Bobby said to the Marquis of Mizzler, 'Mizzler, one of us
two tells a lie, and I'm not the man,' as incorrectly stated by the
same authorities; but 'Mizzler, you know where I'm to be found, and
damme, sir, find me if you want me'--which, of course, entirely
changed the aspect of this interesting question, and placed it in
a very different light. He also acquainted them with the precise
amount of the income guaranteed by the Duke of Thigsberry to
Violetta Stetta of the Italian Opera, which it appeared was payable
quarterly, and not half-yearly, as the public had been given to
understand, and which was EXclusive, and not INclusive (as had been
monstrously stated,) of jewellery, perfumery, hair-powder for five
footmen, and two daily changes of kid-gloves for a page. Having
entreated the old lady and gentleman to set their minds at rest on
these absorbing points, for they might rely on his statement being
the correct one, Mr Chuckster entertained them with theatrical
chit-chat and the court circular; and so wound up a brilliant and
fascinating conversation which he had maintained alone, and without
any assistance whatever, for upwards of three-quarters of an hour.
'And now that the nag has got his wind again,' said Mr Chuckster
rising in a graceful manner, 'I'm afraid I must cut my stick.'
Neither Mr nor Mrs Garland offered any opposition to his tearing
himself away (feeling, no doubt, that such a man could ill be
spared from his proper sphere of action), and therefore Mr
Chuckster and Kit were shortly afterwards upon their way to town;
Kit being perched upon the box of the cabriolet beside the driver,
and Mr Chuckster seated in solitary state inside, with one of his
boots sticking out at each of the front windows.
When they reached the Notary's house, Kit followed into the office,
and was desired by Mr Abel to sit down and wait, for the gentleman
who wanted him had gone out, and perhaps might not return for some
time. This anticipation was strictly verified, for Kit had had his
dinner, and his tea, and had read all the lighter matter in the
Law-List, and the Post-Office Directory, and had fallen asleep a
great many times, before the gentleman whom he had seen before,
came in; which he did at last in a very great hurry.
He was closeted with Mr Witherden for some little time, and Mr Abel
had been called in to assist at the conference, before Kit,
wondering very much what he was wanted for, was summoned to attend
'Christopher,' said the gentleman, turning to him directly he
entered the room, 'I have found your old master and young
'No, Sir! Have you, though?' returned Kit, his eyes sparkling with
delight. 'Where are they, Sir? How are they, Sir? Are they--are
they near here?'
'A long way from here,' returned the gentleman, shaking his head.
'But I am going away to-night to bring them back, and I want you to
go with me.'
'Me, Sir?' cried Kit, full of joy and surprise.
'The place,' said the strange gentleman, turning thoughtfully to
the Notary, 'indicated by this man of the dogs, is--how far from
'From sixty to seventy.'
'Humph! If we travel post all night, we shall reach there in good
time to-morrow morning. Now, the only question is, as they will
not know me, and the child, God bless her, would think that any
stranger pursuing them had a design upon her grandfather's liberty--
can I do better than take this lad, whom they both know and will
readily remember, as an assurance to them of my friendly
'Certainly not,' replied the Notary. 'Take Christopher by all
'I beg your pardon, Sir,' said Kit, who had listened to this
discourse with a lengthening countenance, 'but if that's the
reason, I'm afraid I should do more harm than good--Miss Nell,
Sir, she knows me, and would trust in me, I am sure; but old master--
I don't know why, gentlemen; nobody does--would not bear me in
his sight after he had been ill, and Miss Nell herself told me that
I must not go near him or let him see me any more. I should spoil
all that you were doing if I went, I'm afraid. I'd give the world
to go, but you had better not take me, Sir.'
'Another difficulty!' cried the impetuous gentleman. 'Was ever man
so beset as I? Is there nobody else that knew them, nobody else in
whom they had any confidence? Solitary as their lives were, is
there no one person who would serve my purpose?'
'IS there, Christopher?' said the Notary.
'Not one, Sir,' replied Kit.--'Yes, though--there's my mother.'
'Did they know her?' said the single gentleman.
'Know her, Sir! why, she was always coming backwards and forwards.
They were as kind to her as they were to me. Bless you, Sir, she
expected they'd come back to her house.'
'Then where the devil is the woman?' said the impatient gentleman,
catching up his hat. 'Why isn't she here? Why is that woman
always out of the way when she is most wanted?'
In a word, the single gentleman was bursting out of the office,
bent upon laying violent hands on Kit's mother, forcing her into a
post-chaise, and carrying her off, when this novel kind of
abduction was with some difficulty prevented by the joint efforts
of Mr Abel and the Notary, who restrained him by dint of their
remonstrances, and persuaded him to sound Kit upon the probability
of her being able and willing to undertake such a journey on so
short a notice.
This occasioned some doubts on the part of Kit, and some violent
demonstrations on that of the single gentleman, and a great many
soothing speeches on that of the Notary and Mr Abel. The upshot of
the business was, that Kit, after weighing the matter in his mind
and considering it carefully, promised, on behalf of his mother,
that she should be ready within two hours from that time to
undertake the expedition, and engaged to produce her in that place,
in all respects equipped and prepared for the journey, before the
specified period had expired.
Having given this pledge, which was rather a bold one, and not
particularly easy of redemption, Kit lost no time in sallying
forth, and taking measures for its immediate fulfilment.
Kit made his way through the crowded streets, dividing the stream
of people, dashing across the busy road-ways, diving into lanes and
alleys, and stopping or turning aside for nothing, until he came in
front of the Old Curiosity Shop, when he came to a stand; partly
from habit and partly from being out of breath.
It was a gloomy autumn evening, and he thought the old place had
never looked so dismal as in its dreary twilight. The windows
broken, the rusty sashes rattling in their frames, the deserted
house a dull barrier dividing the glaring lights and bustle of the
street into two long lines, and standing in the midst, cold, dark,
and empty--presented a cheerless spectacle which mingled harshly
with the bright prospects the boy had been building up for its late
inmates, and came like a disappointment or misfortune. Kit would
have had a good fire roaring up the empty chimneys, lights
sparkling and shining through the windows, people moving briskly to
and fro, voices in cheerful conversation, something in unison with
the new hopes that were astir. He had not expected that the house
would wear any different aspect--had known indeed that it could
not--but coming upon it in the midst of eager thoughts and
expectations, it checked the current in its flow, and darkened it
with a mournful shadow.
Kit, however, fortunately for himself, was not learned enough or
contemplative enough to be troubled with presages of evil afar off,
and, having no mental spectacles to assist his vision in this
respect, saw nothing but the dull house, which jarred uncomfortably
upon his previous thoughts. So, almost wishing that he had not
passed it, though hardly knowing why, he hurried on again, making
up by his increased speed for the few moments he had lost.
'Now, if she should be out,' thought Kit, as he approached the poor
dwelling of his mother, 'and I not able to find her, this impatient
gentleman would be in a pretty taking. And sure enough there's no
light, and the door's fast. Now, God forgive me for saying so, but
if this is Little Bethel's doing, I wish Little Bethel was--was
farther off,' said Kit checking himself, and knocking at the door.
A second knock brought no reply from within the house; but caused
a woman over the way to look out and inquire who that was, awanting
'Me,' said Kit. 'She's at--at Little Bethel, I suppose?'--getting
out the name of the obnoxious conventicle with some reluctance, and
laying a spiteful emphasis upon the words.
The neighbour nodded assent.
'Then pray tell me where it is,' said Kit, 'for I have come on a
pressing matter, and must fetch her out, even if she was in the
It was not very easy to procure a direction to the fold in
question, as none of the neighbours were of the flock that resorted
thither, and few knew anything more of it than the name. At last,
a gossip of Mrs Nubbles's, who had accompanied her to chapel on one
or two occasions when a comfortable cup of tea had preceded her
devotions, furnished the needful information, which Kit had no
sooner obtained than he started off again.
Little Bethel might have been nearer, and might have been in a
straighter road, though in that case the reverend gentleman who
presided over its congregation would have lost his favourite
allusion to the crooked ways by which it was approached, and which
enabled him to liken it to Paradise itself, in contradistinction to
the parish church and the broad thoroughfare leading thereunto.
Kit found it, at last, after some trouble, and pausing at the door
to take breath that he might enter with becoming decency, passed
into the chapel.
It was not badly named in one respect, being in truth a
particularly little Bethel--a Bethel of the smallest dimensions--
with a small number of small pews, and a small pulpit, in which a
small gentleman (by trade a Shoemaker, and by calling a Divine) was
delivering in a by no means small voice, a by no means small
sermon, judging of its dimensions by the condition of his audience,
which, if their gross amount were but small, comprised a still
smaller number of hearers, as the majority were slumbering.
Among these was Kit's mother, who, finding it matter of extreme
difficulty to keep her eyes open after the fatigues of last night,
and feeling their inclination to close strongly backed and seconded
by the arguments of the preacher, had yielded to the drowsiness
that overpowered her, and fallen asleep; though not so soundly but
that she could, from time to time, utter a slight and almost
inaudible groan, as if in recognition of the orator's doctrines.
The baby in her arms was as fast asleep as she; and little Jacob,
whose youth prevented him from recognising in this prolonged
spiritual nourishment anything half as interesting as oysters, was
alternately very fast asleep and very wide awake, as his
inclination to slumber, or his terror of being personally alluded
to in the discourse, gained the mastery over him.
'And now I'm here,' thought Kit, gliding into the nearest empty pew
which was opposite his mother's, and on the other side of the
little aisle, 'how am I ever to get at her, or persuade her to come
out! I might as well be twenty miles off. She'll never wake till
it's all over, and there goes the clock again! If he would but
leave off for a minute, or if they'd only sing!'
But there was little encouragement to believe that either event
would happen for a couple of hours to come. The preacher went on
telling them what he meant to convince them of before he had done,
and it was clear that if he only kept to one-half of his promises
and forgot the other, he was good for that time at least.
In his desperation and restlessness Kit cast his eyes about the
chapel, and happening to let them fall upon a little seat in front
of the clerk's desk, could scarcely believe them when they showed
He rubbed them twice or thrice, but still they insisted that Quilp
was there, and there indeed he was, sitting with his hands upon his
knees, and his hat between them on a little wooden bracket, with
the accustomed grin on his dirty face, and his eyes fixed upon the
ceiling. He certainly did not glance at Kit or at his mother, and
appeared utterly unconscious of their presence; still Kit could not
help feeling, directly, that the attention of the sly little fiend
was fastened upon them, and upon nothing else.
But, astounded as he was by the apparition of the dwarf among the
Little Bethelites, and not free from a misgiving that it was the
forerunner of some trouble or annoyance, he was compelled to subdue
his wonder and to take active measures for the withdrawal of his
parent, as the evening was now creeping on, and the matter grew
serious. Therefore, the next time little Jacob woke, Kit set
himself to attract his wandering attention, and this not being a
very difficult task (one sneeze effected it), he signed to him to
rouse his mother.
Ill-luck would have it, however, that, just then, the preacher, in
a forcible exposition of one head of his discourse, leaned over
upon the pulpit-desk so that very little more of him than his legs
remained inside; and, while he made vehement gestures with his
right hand, and held on with his left, stared, or seemed to stare,
straight into little Jacob's eyes, threatening him by his strained
look and attitude--so it appeared to the child--that if he so
much as moved a muscle, he, the preacher, would be literally, and
not figuratively, 'down upon him' that instant. In this fearful
state of things, distracted by the sudden appearance of Kit, and
fascinated by the eyes of the preacher, the miserable Jacob sat
bolt upright, wholly incapable of motion, strongly disposed to cry
but afraid to do so, and returning his pastor's gaze until his
infant eyes seemed starting from their sockets.
'If I must do it openly, I must,' thought Kit. With that he walked
softly out of his pew and into his mother's, and as Mr Swiveller
would have observed if he had been present, 'collared' the baby
without speaking a word.
'Hush, mother!' whispered Kit. 'Come along with me, I've got
something to tell you.'
'Where am I?' said Mrs Nubbles.
'In this blessed Little Bethel,' returned her son, peevishly.
'Blessed indeed!' cried Mrs Nubbles, catching at the word. 'Oh,
Christopher, how have I been edified this night!'
'Yes, yes, I know,' said Kit hastily; 'but come along, mother,
everybody's looking at us. Don't make a noise--bring Jacob--
'Stay, Satan, stay!' cried the preacher, as Kit was moving off.
'This gentleman says you're to stay, Christopher,' whispered his
'Stay, Satan, stay!' roared the preacher again. 'Tempt not the
woman that doth incline her ear to thee, but harken to the voice of
him that calleth. He hath a lamb from the fold!' cried the
preacher, raising his voice still higher and pointing to the baby.
'He beareth off a lamb, a precious lamb! He goeth about, like a
wolf in the night season, and inveigleth the tender lambs!'
Kit was the best-tempered fellow in the world, but considering this
strong language, and being somewhat excited by the circumstances in
which he was placed, he faced round to the pulpit with the baby in
his arms, and replied aloud, 'No, I don't. He's my brother.'
'He's MY brother!' cried the preacher.
'He isn't,' said Kit indignantly. 'How can you say such a thing?
And don't call me names if you please; what harm have I done? I
shouldn't have come to take 'em away, unless I was obliged, you may
depend upon that. I wanted to do it very quiet, but you wouldn't
let me. Now, you have the goodness to abuse Satan and them, as
much as you like, Sir, and to let me alone if you please.'
So saying, Kit marched out of the chapel, followed by his mother
and little Jacob, and found himself in the open air, with an
indistinct recollection of having seen the people wake up and look
surprised, and of Quilp having remained, throughout the
interruption, in his old attitude, without moving his eyes from the
ceiling, or appearing to take the smallest notice of anything that
'Oh Kit!' said his mother, with her handkerchief to her eyes, 'what
have you done! I never can go there again--never!'
'I'm glad of it, mother. What was there in the little bit of
pleasure you took last night that made it necessary for you to be
low-spirited and sorrowful tonight? That's the way you do. If
you're happy or merry ever, you come here to say, along with that
chap, that you're sorry for it. More shame for you, mother, I was
going to say.'
'Hush, dear!' said Mrs Nubbles; 'you don't mean what you say I
know, but you're talking sinfulness.'
'Don't mean it? But I do mean it!' retorted Kit. 'I don't
believe, mother, that harmless cheerfulness and good humour are
thought greater sins in Heaven than shirt-collars are, and I
do believe that those chaps are just about as right and sensible in
putting down the one as in leaving off the other--that's my
belief. But I won't say anything more about it, if you'll promise
not to cry, that's all; and you take the baby that's a lighter
weight, and give me little Jacob; and as we go along (which we must
do pretty quick) I'll give you the news I bring, which will
surprise you a little, I can tell you. There--that's right. Now
you look as if you'd never seen Little Bethel in all your life, as
I hope you never will again; and here's the baby; and little Jacob,
you get atop of my back and catch hold of me tight round the neck,
and whenever a Little Bethel parson calls you a precious lamb or
says your brother's one, you tell him it's the truest things he's
said for a twelvemonth, and that if he'd got a little more of the
lamb himself, and less of the mint-sauce--not being quite so sharp
and sour over it--I should like him all the better. That's what
you've got to say to him, Jacob.'
Talking on in this way, half in jest and half in earnest, and
cheering up his mother, the children, and himself, by the one
simple process of determining to be in a good humour, Kit led them
briskly forward; and on the road home, he related what had passed
at the Notary's house, and the purpose with which he had intruded
on the solemnities of Little Bethel.
His mother was not a little startled on learning what service was
required of her, and presently fell into a confusion of ideas, of
which the most prominent were that it was a great honour and
dignity to ride in a post-chaise, and that it was a moral
impossibility to leave the children behind. But this objection,
and a great many others, founded on certain articles of dress being
at the wash, and certain other articles having no existence in the
wardrobe of Mrs Nubbles, were overcome by Kit, who opposed to each
and every of them, the pleasure of recovering Nell, and the delight
it would be to bring her back in triumph.
'There's only ten minutes now, mother,' said Kit when they reached
home. 'There's a bandbox. Throw in what you want, and we'll be
To tell how Kit then hustled into the box all sorts of things which
could, by no remote contingency, be wanted, and how he left out
everything likely to be of the smallest use; how a neighbour was
persuaded to come and stop with the children, and how the children
at first cried dismally, and then laughed heartily on being
promised all kinds of impossible and unheard-of toys; how Kit's
mother wouldn't leave off kissing them, and how Kit couldn't make
up his mind to be vexed with her for doing it; would take more time
and room than you and I can spare. So, passing over all such
matters, it is sufficient to say that within a few minutes after
the two hours had expired, Kit and his mother arrived at the
Notary's door, where a post-chaise was already waiting.
'With four horses I declare!' said Kit, quite aghast at the
preparations. 'Well you ARE going to do it, mother! Here she is,
Sir. Here's my mother. She's quite ready, sir.'
'That's well,' returned the gentleman. 'Now, don't be in a
flutter, ma'am; you'll be taken great care of. Where's the box
with the new clothing and necessaries for them?'
'Here it is,' said the Notary. 'In with it, Christopher.'
'All right, Sir,' replied Kit. 'Quite ready now, sir.'
'Then come along,' said the single gentleman. And thereupon he
gave his arm to Kit's mother, handed her into the carriage as
politely as you please, and took his seat beside her.
Up went the steps, bang went the door, round whirled the wheels,
and off they rattled, with Kit's mother hanging out at one window
waving a damp pocket-handkerchief and screaming out a great many
messages to little Jacob and the baby, of which nobody heard a
Kit stood in the middle of the road, and looked after them with
tears in his eyes--not brought there by the departure he
witnessed, but by the return to which he looked forward. 'They
went away,' he thought, 'on foot with nobody to speak to them or
say a kind word at parting, and they'll come back, drawn by four
horses, with this rich gentleman for their friend, and all their
troubles over! She'll forget that she taught me to write--'
Whatever Kit thought about after this, took some time to think of,
for he stood gazing up the lines of shining lamps, long after the
chaise had disappeared, and did not return into the house until the
Notary and Mr Abel, who had themselves lingered outside till the
sound of the wheels was no longer distinguishable, had several
times wondered what could possibly detain him.
It behoves us to leave Kit for a while, thoughtful and expectant,
and to follow the fortunes of little Nell; resuming the thread of
the narrative at the point where it was left, some chapters back.
In one of those wanderings in the evening time, when, following the
two sisters at a humble distance, she felt, in her sympathy with
them and her recognition in their trials of something akin to her
own loneliness of spirit, a comfort and consolation which made such
moments a time of deep delight, though the softened pleasure they
yielded was of that kind which lives and dies in tears--in one of
those wanderings at the quiet hour of twilight, when sky, and
earth, and air, and rippling water, and sound of distant bells,
claimed kindred with the emotions of the solitary child, and
inspired her with soothing thoughts, but not of a child's world or
its easy joys--in one of those rambles which had now become her
only pleasure or relief from care, light had faded into darkness
and evening deepened into night, and still the young creature
lingered in the gloom; feeling a companionship in Nature so serene
and still, when noise of tongues and glare of garish lights would
have been solitude indeed.
The sisters had gone home, and she was alone. She raised her eyes
to the bright stars, looking down so mildly from the wide worlds of
air, and, gazing on them, found new stars burst upon her view, and
more beyond, and more beyond again, until the whole great expanse
sparkled with shining spheres, rising higher and higher in
immeasurable space, eternal in their numbers as in their changeless
and incorruptible existence. She bent over the calm river, and saw
them shining in the same majestic order as when the dove beheld
them gleaming through the swollen waters, upon the mountain tops
down far below, and dead mankind, a million fathoms deep.
The child sat silently beneath a tree, hushed in her very breath by
the stillness of the night, and all its attendant wonders. The
time and place awoke reflection, and she thought with a quiet hope--
less hope, perhaps, than resignation--on the past, and present,
and what was yet before her. Between the old man and herself there
had come a gradual separation, harder to bear than any former
sorrow. Every evening, and often in the day-time too, he was
absent, alone; and although she well knew where he went, and why--
too well from the constant drain upon her scanty purse and from his
haggard looks--he evaded all inquiry, maintained a strict reserve,
and even shunned her presence.
She sat meditating sorrowfully upon this change, and mingling it,
as it were, with everything about her, when the distant
church-clock bell struck nine. Rising at the sound, she retraced
her steps, and turned thoughtfully towards the town.
She had gained a little wooden bridge, which, thrown across the
stream, led into a meadow in her way, when she came suddenly upon
a ruddy light, and looking forward more attentively, discerned that
it proceeded from what appeared to be an encampment of gipsies, who
had made a fire in one corner at no great distance from the path,
and were sitting or lying round it. As she was too poor to have
any fear of them, she did not alter her course (which, indeed, she
could not have done without going a long way round), but quickened
her pace a little, and kept straight on.
A movement of timid curiosity impelled her, when she approached the
spot, to glance towards the fire. There was a form between it and
her, the outline strongly developed against the light, which caused
her to stop abruptly. Then, as if she had reasoned with herself
and were assured that it could not be, or had satisfied herself
that it was not that of the person she had supposed, she went on
But at that instant the conversation, whatever it was, which had
been carrying on near this fire was resumed, and the tones of the
voice that spoke--she could not distinguish words--sounded as
familiar to her as her own.
She turned, and looked back. The person had been seated before,
but was now in a standing posture, and leaning forward on a stick
on which he rested both hands. The attitude was no less familiar
to her than the tone of voice had been. It was her grandfather.
Her first impulse was to call to him; her next to wonder who his
associates could be, and for what purpose they were together. Some
vague apprehension succeeded, and, yielding to the strong
inclination it awakened, she drew nearer to the place; not
advancing across the open field, however, but creeping towards it
by the hedge.
In this way she advanced within a few feet of the fire, and
standing among a few young trees, could both see and hear, without
much danger of being observed.
There were no women or children, as she had seen in other gipsy
camps they had passed in their wayfaring, and but one gipsy--a
tall athletic man, who stood with his arms folded, leaning against
a tree at a little distance off, looking now at the fire, and now,
under his black eyelashes, at three other men who were there, with
a watchful but half-concealed interest in their conversation. Of
these, her grandfather was one; the others she recognised as the
first card-players at the public-house on the eventful night of the
storm--the man whom they had called Isaac List, and his gruff
companion. One of the low, arched gipsy-tents, common to that
people, was pitched hard by, but it either was, or appeared to be,
'Well, are you going?' said the stout man, looking up from the
ground where he was lying at his ease, into her grandfather's face.
'You were in a mighty hurry a minute ago. Go, if you like. You're
your own master, I hope?'
'Don't vex him,' returned Isaac List, who was squatting like a frog
on the other side of the fire, and had so screwed himself up that
he seemed to be squinting all over; 'he didn't mean any offence.'
'You keep me poor, and plunder me, and make a sport and jest of me
besides,' said the old man, turning from one to the other. 'Ye'll
drive me mad among ye.'
The utter irresolution and feebleness of the grey-haired child,
contrasted with the keen and cunning looks of those in whose hands
he was, smote upon the little listener's heart. But she
constrained herself to attend to all that passed, and to note each
look and word.
'Confound you, what do you mean?' said the stout man rising a
little, and supporting himself on his elbow. 'Keep you poor!
You'd keep us poor if you could, wouldn't you? That's the way with
you whining, puny, pitiful players. When you lose, you're martyrs;
but I don't find that when you win, you look upon the other losers
in that light. As to plunder!' cried the fellow, raising his voice--
'Damme, what do you mean by such ungentlemanly language as
The speaker laid himself down again at full length, and gave one or
two short, angry kicks, as if in further expression of his
unbounded indignation. It was quite plain that he acted the bully,
and his friend the peacemaker, for some particular purpose; or
rather, it would have been to any one but the weak old man; for
they exchanged glances quite openly, both with each other and with
the gipsy, who grinned his approval of the jest until his white
teeth shone again.
The old man stood helplessly among them for a little time, and then
said, turning to his assailant:
'You yourself were speaking of plunder just now, you know. Don't
be so violent with me. You were, were you not?'
'Not of plundering among present company! Honour among--among
gentlemen, Sir,' returned the other, who seemed to have been very
near giving an awkward termination to the sentence.
'Don't be hard upon him, Jowl,' said Isaac List. 'He's very sorry
for giving offence. There--go on with what you were saying--go
'I'm a jolly old tender-hearted lamb, I am,' cried Mr Jowl, 'to be
sitting here at my time of life giving advice when I know it won't
be taken, and that I shall get nothing but abuse for my pains. But
that's the way I've gone through life. Experience has never put a
chill upon my warm-heartedness.'
'I tell you he's very sorry, don't I?' remonstrated Isaac List,
'and that he wishes you'd go on.'
'Does he wish it?' said the other.
'Ay,' groaned the old man sitting down, and rocking himself to and
fro. 'Go on, go on. It's in vain to fight with it; I can't do it;
'I go on then,' said Jowl, 'where I left off, when you got up so
quick. If you're persuaded that it's time for luck to turn, as it
certainly is, and find that you haven't means enough to try it (and
that's where it is, for you know, yourself, that you never have the
funds to keep on long enough at a sitting), help yourself to what
seems put in your way on purpose. Borrow it, I say, and, when
you're able, pay it back again.'
'Certainly,' Isaac List struck in, 'if this good lady as keeps the
wax-works has money, and does keep it in a tin box when she goes to
bed, and doesn't lock her door for fear of fire, it seems a easy
thing; quite a Providence, I should call it--but then I've been
religiously brought up.'
'You see, Isaac,' said his friend, growing more eager, and drawing
himself closer to the old man, while he signed to the gipsy not to
come between them; 'you see, Isaac, strangers are going in and out
every hour of the day; nothing would be more likely than for one of
these strangers to get under the good lady's bed, or lock himself
in the cupboard; suspicion would be very wide, and would fall a
long way from the mark, no doubt. I'd give him his revenge to the
last farthing he brought, whatever the amount was.'
'But could you?' urged Isaac List. 'Is your bank strong enough?'
'Strong enough!' answered the other, with assumed disdain. 'Here,
you Sir, give me that box out of the straw!'
This was addressed to the gipsy, who crawled into the low tent on
all fours, and after some rummaging and rustling returned with a
cash-box, which the man who had spoken opened with a key he wore
about his person.
'Do you see this?' he said, gathering up the money in his hand and
letting it drop back into the box, between his fingers, like water.
'Do you hear it? Do you know the sound of gold? There, put it
back--and don't talk about banks again, Isaac, till you've got one
of your own.'
Isaac List, with great apparent humility, protested that he had
never doubted the credit of a gentleman so notorious for his
honourable dealing as Mr Jowl, and that he had hinted at the
production of the box, not for the satisfaction of his doubts, for
he could have none, but with a view to being regaled with a sight
of so much wealth, which, though it might be deemed by some but an
unsubstantial and visionary pleasure, was to one in his
circumstances a source of extreme delight, only to be surpassed by
its safe depository in his own personal pockets. Although Mr List
and Mr Jowl addressed themselves to each other, it was remarkable
that they both looked narrowly at the old man, who, with his eyes
fixed upon the fire, sat brooding over it, yet listening eagerly--
as it seemed from a certain involuntary motion of the head, or
twitching of the face from time to time--to all they said.
'My advice,' said Jowl, lying down again with a careless air, 'is
plain--I have given it, in fact. I act as a friend. Why should
I help a man to the means perhaps of winning all I have, unless I
considered him my friend? It's foolish, I dare say, to be so
thoughtful of the welfare of other people, but that's my
constitution, and I can't help it; so don't blame me, Isaac List.'
'I blame you!' returned the person addressed; 'not for the world,
Mr Jowl. I wish I could afford to be as liberal as you; and, as
you say, he might pay it back if he won--and if he lost--'
'You're not to take that into consideration at all,' said Jowl.
'But suppose he did (and nothing's less likely, from all I know of
chances), why, it's better to lose other people's money than one's
own, I hope?'
'Ah!' cried Isaac List rapturously, 'the pleasures of winning! The
delight of picking up the money--the bright, shining yellow-boys--
and sweeping 'em into one's pocket! The deliciousness of having a
triumph at last, and thinking that one didn't stop short and turn
back, but went half-way to meet it! The--but you're not going,
'I'll do it,' said the old man, who had risen and taken two or
three hurried steps away, and now returned as hurriedly. 'I'll
have it, every penny.'
'Why, that's brave,' cried Isaac, jumping up and slapping him on
the shoulder; 'and I respect you for having so much young blood
left. Ha, ha, ha! Joe Jowl's half sorry he advised you now.
We've got the laugh against him. Ha, ha, ha!'
'He gives me my revenge, mind,' said the old man, pointing to him
eagerly with his shrivelled hand: 'mind--he stakes coin against
coin, down to the last one in the box, be there many or few.
'I'm witness,' returned Isaac. 'I'll see fair between you.'
'I have passed my word,' said Jowl with feigned reluctance, 'and
I'll keep it. When does this match come off? I wish it was over.--
'I must have the money first,' said the old man; 'and that I'll
'Why not to-night?' urged Jowl.
'It's late now, and I should be flushed and flurried,' said the old
man. 'It must be softly done. No, to-morrow night.'
'Then to-morrow be it,' said Jowl. 'A drop of comfort here. Luck
to the best man! Fill!' The gipsy produced three tin cups, and
filled them to the brim with brandy. The old man turned aside and
muttered to himself before he drank. Her own name struck upon the
listener's ear, coupled with some wish so fervent, that he seemed
to breathe it in an agony of supplication.
'God be merciful to us!' cried the child within herself, 'and help
us in this trying hour! What shall I do to save him!'
The remainder of their conversation was carried on in a lower tone
of voice, and was sufficiently concise; relating merely to the
execution of the project, and the best precautions for diverting
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