The Old Curiosity Shop
Part 8 out of 13
suspicion. The old man then shook hands with his tempters, and
They watched his bowed and stooping figure as it retreated slowly,
and when he turned his head to look back, which he often did, waved
their hands, or shouted some brief encouragement. It was not until
they had seen him gradually diminish into a mere speck upon the
distant road, that they turned to each other, and ventured to laugh
'So,' said Jowl, warming his hands at the fire, 'it's done at last.
He wanted more persuading than I expected. It's three weeks ago,
since we first put this in his head. What'll he bring, do you
'Whatever he brings, it's halved between us,' returned Isaac List.
The other man nodded. 'We must make quick work of it,' he said,
'and then cut his acquaintance, or we may be suspected. Sharp's
List and the gipsy acquiesced. When they had all three amused
themselves a little with their victim's infatuation, they dismissed
the subject as one which had been sufficiently discussed, and began
to talk in a jargon which the child did not understand. As their
discourse appeared to relate to matters in which they were warmly
interested, however, she deemed it the best time for escaping
unobserved; and crept away with slow and cautious steps, keeping in
the shadow of the hedges, or forcing a path through them or the dry
ditches, until she could emerge upon the road at a point beyond
their range of vision. Then she fled homeward as quickly as she
could, torn and bleeding from the wounds of thorns and briars, but
more lacerated in mind, and threw herself upon her bed, distracted.
The first idea that flashed upon her mind was flight, instant
flight; dragging him from that place, and rather dying of want upon
the roadside, than ever exposing him again to such terrible
temptations. Then, she remembered that the crime was not to be
committed until next night, and there was the intermediate time for
thinking, and resolving what to do. Then, she was distracted with
a horrible fear that he might be committing it at that moment; with
a dread of hearing shrieks and cries piercing the silence of the
night; with fearful thoughts of what he might be tempted and led on
to do, if he were detected in the act, and had but a woman to
struggle with. It was impossible to bear such torture. She stole
to the room where the money was, opened the door, and looked in.
God be praised! He was not there, and she was sleeping soundly.
She went back to her own room, and tried to prepare herself for
bed. But who could sleep--sleep! who could lie passively down,
distracted by such terrors? They came upon her more and more
strongly yet. Half undressed, and with her hair in wild disorder,
she flew to the old man's bedside, clasped him by the wrist, and
roused him from his sleep.
'What's this!' he cried, starting up in bed, and fixing his eyes
upon her spectral face.
'I have had a dreadful dream,' said the child, with an energy that
nothing but such terrors could have inspired. 'A dreadful,
horrible dream. I have had it once before. It is a dream of
grey-haired men like you, in darkened rooms by night, robbing
sleepers of their gold. Up, up!'
The old man shook in every joint, and folded his hands like one who
'Not to me,' said the child, 'not to me--to Heaven, to save us
from such deeds! This dream is too real. I cannot sleep, I cannot
stay here, I cannot leave you alone under the roof where such
dreams come. Up! We must fly.'
He looked at her as if she were a spirit--she might have been for
all the look of earth she had--and trembled more and more.
'There is no time to lose; I will not lose one minute,' said the
child. 'Up! and away with me!'
'To-night?' murmured the old man.
'Yes, to-night,' replied the child. 'To-morrow night will be too
late. The dream will have come again. Nothing but flight can save
The old man rose from his bed: his forehead bedewed with the cold
sweat of fear: and, bending before the child as if she had been an
angel messenger sent to lead him where she would, made ready to
follow her. She took him by the hand and led him on. As they
passed the door of the room he had proposed to rob, she shuddered
and looked up into his face. What a white face was that, and with
what a look did he meet hers!
She took him to her own chamber, and, still holding him by the hand
as if she feared to lose him for an instant, gathered together the
little stock she had, and hung her basket on her arm. The old man
took his wallet from her hands and strapped it on his shoulders--
his staff, too, she had brought away--and then she led him forth.
Through the strait streets, and narrow crooked outskirts, their
trembling feet passed quickly. Up the steep hill too, crowned by
the old grey castle, they toiled with rapid steps, and had not once
But as they drew nearer the ruined walls, the moon rose in all her
gentle glory, and, from their venerable age, garlanded with ivy,
moss, and waving grass, the child looked back upon the sleeping
town, deep in the valley's shade: and on the far-off river with its
winding track of light: and on the distant hills; and as she did
so, she clasped the hand she held, less firmly, and bursting into
tears, fell upon the old man's neck.
Her momentary weakness past, the child again summoned the
resolution which had until now sustained her, and, endeavouring to
keep steadily in her view the one idea that they were flying from
disgrace and crime, and that her grandfather's preservation must
depend solely on her firmness, unaided by one word of advice or any
helping hand, urged him onward and looked back no more.
While he, subdued and abashed, seemed to crouch before her, and to
shrink and cower down, as if in the presence of some superior
creature, the child herself was sensible of a new feeling within
her, which elevated her nature, and inspired her with an energy and
confidence she had never known. There was no divided
responsibility now; the whole burden of their two lives had fallen
upon her, and henceforth she must think and act for both. 'I have
saved him,' she thought. 'In all dangers and distresses, I will
At any other time, the recollection of having deserted the friend
who had shown them so much homely kindness, without a word of
justification--the thought that they were guilty, in appearance,
of treachery and ingratitude--even the having parted from the two
sisters--would have filled her with sorrow and regret. But now,
all other considerations were lost in the new uncertainties and
anxieties of their wild and wandering life; and the very
desperation of their condition roused and stimulated her.
In the pale moonlight, which lent a wanness of its own to the
delicate face where thoughtful care already mingled with the
winning grace and loveliness of youth, the too bright eye, the
spiritual head, the lips that pressed each other with such high
resolve and courage of the heart, the slight figure firm in its
bearing and yet so very weak, told their silent tale; but told it
only to the wind that rustled by, which, taking up its burden,
carried, perhaps to some mother's pillow, faint dreams of childhood
fading in its bloom, and resting in the sleep that knows no waking.
The night crept on apace, the moon went down, the stars grew pale
and dim, and morning, cold as they, slowly approached. Then, from
behind a distant hill, the noble sun rose up, driving the mists in
phantom shapes before it, and clearing the earth of their ghostly
forms till darkness came again. When it had climbed higher into
the sky, and there was warmth in its cheerful beams, they laid them
down to sleep, upon a bank, hard by some water.
But Nell retained her grasp upon the old man's arm, and long after
he was slumbering soundly, watched him with untiring eyes. Fatigue
stole over her at last; her grasp relaxed, tightened, relaxed
again, and they slept side by side.
A confused sound of voices, mingling with her dreams, awoke her.
A man of very uncouth and rough appearance was standing over them,
and two of his companions were looking on, from a long heavy boat
which had come close to the bank while they were sleeping. The
boat had neither oar nor sail, but was towed by a couple of horses,
who, with the rope to which they were harnessed slack and dripping
in the water, were resting on the path.
'Holloa!' said the man roughly. 'What's the matter here?'
'We were only asleep, Sir,' said Nell. 'We have been walking all
'A pair of queer travellers to be walking all night,' observed the
man who had first accosted them. 'One of you is a trifle too old
for that sort of work, and the other a trifle too young. Where are
Nell faltered, and pointed at hazard towards the West, upon which
the man inquired if she meant a certain town which he named. Nell,
to avoid more questioning, said 'Yes, that was the place.'
'Where have you come from?' was the next question; and this being
an easier one to answer, Nell mentioned the name of the village in
which their friend the schoolmaster dwelt, as being less likely to
be known to the men or to provoke further inquiry.
'I thought somebody had been robbing and ill-using you, might be,'
said the man. 'That's all. Good day.'
Returning his salute and feeling greatly relieved by his departure,
Nell looked after him as he mounted one of the horses, and the boat
went on. It had not gone very far, when it stopped again, and she
saw the men beckoning to her.
'Did you call to me?' said Nell, running up to them.
'You may go with us if you like,' replied one of those in the boat.
'We're going to the same place.'
The child hesitated for a moment. Thinking, as she had thought
with great trepidation more than once before, that the men whom she
had seen with her grandfather might, perhaps, in their eagerness
for the booty, follow them, and regaining their influence over him,
set hers at nought; and that if they went with these men, all
traces of them must surely be lost at that spot; determined to
accept the offer. The boat came close to the bank again, and
before she had had any more time for consideration, she and her
grandfather were on board, and gliding smoothly down the canal.
The sun shone pleasantly on the bright water, which was sometimes
shaded by trees, and sometimes open to a wide extent of country,
intersected by running streams, and rich with wooded hills,
cultivated land, and sheltered farms. Now and then, a village with
its modest spire, thatched roofs, and gable-ends, would peep out
from among the trees; and, more than once, a distant town, with
great church towers looming through its smoke, and high factories
or workshops rising above the mass of houses, would come in view,
and, by the length of time it lingered in the distance, show them
how slowly they travelled. Their way lay, for the most part,
through the low grounds, and open plains; and except these distant
places, and occasionally some men working in the fields, or
lounging on the bridges under which they passed, to see them creep
along, nothing encroached on their monotonous and secluded track.
Nell was rather disheartened, when they stopped at a kind of wharf
late in the afternoon, to learn from one of the men that they would
not reach their place of destination until next day, and that, if
she had no provision with her, she had better buy it there. She
had but a few pence, having already bargained with them for some
bread, but even of these it was necessary to be very careful, as
they were on their way to an utterly strange place, with no
resource whatever. A small loaf and a morsel of cheese, therefore,
were all she could afford, and with these she took her place in the
boat again, and, after half an hour's delay during which the men
were drinking at the public-house, proceeded on the journey.
They brought some beer and spirits into the boat with them, and
what with drinking freely before, and again now, were soon in a
fair way of being quarrelsome and intoxicated. Avoiding the small
cabin, therefore, which was very dark and filthy, and to which they
often invited both her and her grandfather, Nell sat in the open
air with the old man by her side: listening to their boisterous
hosts with a palpitating heart, and almost wishing herself safe on
shore again though she should have to walk all night.
They were, in truth, very rugged, noisy fellows, and quite brutal
among themselves, though civil enough to their two passengers.
Thus, when a quarrel arose between the man who was steering and his
friend in the cabin, upon the question who had first suggested the
propriety of offering Nell some beer, and when the quarrel led to
a scuffle in which they beat each other fearfully, to her
inexpressible terror, neither visited his displeasure upon her, but
each contented himself with venting it on his adversary, on whom,
in addition to blows, he bestowed a variety of compliments, which,
happily for the child, were conveyed in terms, to her quite
unintelligible. The difference was finally adjusted, by the man
who had come out of the cabin knocking the other into it head
first, and taking the helm into his own hands, without evincing the
least discomposure himself, or causing any in his friend, who,
being of a tolerably strong constitution and perfectly inured to
such trifles, went to sleep as he was, with his heels upwards, and
in a couple of minutes or so was snoring comfortably.
By this time it was night again, and though the child felt cold,
being but poorly clad, her anxious thoughts were far removed from
her own suffering or uneasiness, and busily engaged in endeavouring
to devise some scheme for their joint subsistence. The same spirit
which had supported her on the previous night, upheld and sustained
her now. Her grandfather lay sleeping safely at her side, and the
crime to which his madness urged him, was not committed. That was
How every circumstance of her short, eventful life, came thronging
into her mind, as they travelled on! Slight incidents, never
thought of or remembered until now; faces, seen once and ever since
forgotten; words scarcely heeded at the time; scenes, of a year ago
and those of yesterday, mixing up and linking themselves together;
familiar places shaping themselves out in the darkness from things
which, when approached, were, of all others, the most remote and
most unlike them; sometimes, a strange confusion in her mind
relative to the occasion of her being there, and the place to which
she was going, and the people she was with; and imagination
suggesting remarks and questions which sounded so plainly in her
ears, that she would start, and turn, and be almost tempted to
reply;--all the fancies and contradictions common in watching and
excitement and restless change of place, beset the child.
She happened, while she was thus engaged, to encounter the face of
the man on deck, in whom the sentimental stage of drunkenness had
now succeeded to the boisterous, and who, taking from his mouth a
short pipe, quilted over with string for its longer preservation,
requested that she would oblige him with a song.
'You've got a very pretty voice, a very soft eye, and a very strong
memory,' said this gentleman; 'the voice and eye I've got evidence
for, and the memory's an opinion of my own. And I'm never wrong.
Let me hear a song this minute.'
'I don't think I know one, sir,' returned Nell.
'You know forty-seven songs,' said the man, with a gravity which
admitted of no altercation on the subject. 'Forty-seven's your
number. Let me hear one of 'em--the best. Give me a song this
Not knowing what might be the consequences of irritating her
friend, and trembling with the fear of doing so, poor Nell sang him
some little ditty which she had learned in happier times, and which
was so agreeable to his ear, that on its conclusion he in the same
peremptory manner requested to be favoured with another, to which
he was so obliging as to roar a chorus to no particular tune, and
with no words at all, but which amply made up in its amazing energy
for its deficiency in other respects. The noise of this vocal
performance awakened the other man, who, staggering upon deck and
shaking his late opponent by the hand, swore that singing was his
pride and joy and chief delight, and that he desired no better
entertainment. With a third call, more imperative than either of
the two former, Nell felt obliged to comply, and this time a chorus
was maintained not only by the two men together, but also by the
third man on horseback, who being by his position debarred from a
nearer participation in the revels of the night, roared when his
companions roared, and rent the very air. In this way, with little
cessation, and singing the same songs again and again, the tired
and exhausted child kept them in good humour all that night; and
many a cottager, who was roused from his soundest sleep by the
discordant chorus as it floated away upon the wind, hid his head
beneath the bed-clothes and trembled at the sounds.
At length the morning dawned. It was no sooner light than it began
to rain heavily. As the child could not endure the intolerable
vapours of the cabin, they covered her, in return for her
exertions, with some pieces of sail-cloth and ends of tarpaulin,
which sufficed to keep her tolerably dry and to shelter her
grandfather besides. As the day advanced the rain increased. At
noon it poured down more hopelessly and heavily than ever without
the faintest promise of abatement.
They had, for some time, been gradually approaching the place for
which they were bound. The water had become thicker and dirtier;
other barges, coming from it, passed them frequently; the paths of
coal-ash and huts of staring brick, marked the vicinity of some
great manufacturing town; while scattered streets and houses, and
smoke from distant furnaces, indicated that they were already in
the outskirts. Now, the clustered roofs, and piles of buildings,
trembling with the working of engines, and dimly resounding with
their shrieks and throbbings; the tall chimneys vomiting forth a
black vapour, which hung in a dense ill-favoured cloud above the
housetops and filled the air with gloom; the clank of hammers
beating upon iron, the roar of busy streets and noisy crowds,
gradually augmenting until all the various sounds blended into one
and none was distinguishable for itself, announced the termination
of their journey.
The boat floated into the wharf to which it belonged. The men were
occupied directly. The child and her grandfather, after waiting in
vain to thank them or ask them whither they should go, passed
through a dirty lane into a crowded street, and stood, amid its din
and tumult, and in the pouring rain, as strange, bewildered, and
confused, as if they had lived a thousand years before, and were
raised from the dead and placed there by a miracle.
The throng of people hurried by, in two opposite streams, with no
symptom of cessation or exhaustion; intent upon their own affairs;
and undisturbed in their business speculations, by the roar of
carts and waggons laden with clashing wares, the slipping of
horses' feet upon the wet and greasy pavement, the rattling of the
rain on windows and umbrella-tops, the jostling of the more
impatient passengers, and all the noise and tumult of a crowded
street in the high tide of its occupation: while the two poor
strangers, stunned and bewildered by the hurry they beheld but had
no part in, looked mournfully on; feeling, amidst the crowd, a
solitude which has no parallel but in the thirst of the shipwrecked
mariner, who, tost to and fro upon the billows of a mighty ocean,
his red eyes blinded by looking on the water which hems him in on
every side, has not one drop to cool his burning tongue.
They withdrew into a low archway for shelter from the rain, and
watched the faces of those who passed, to find in one among them a
ray of encouragement or hope. Some frowned, some smiled, some
muttered to themselves, some made slight gestures, as if
anticipating the conversation in which they would shortly be
engaged, some wore the cunning look of bargaining and plotting,
some were anxious and eager, some slow and dull; in some
countenances, were written gain; in others, loss. It was like
being in the confidence of all these people to stand quietly there,
looking into their faces as they flitted past. In busy places,
where each man has an object of his own, and feels assured that
every other man has his, his character and purpose are written
broadly in his face. In the public walks and lounges of a town,
people go to see and to be seen, and there the same expression,
with little variety, is repeated a hundred times. The working-day
faces come nearer to the truth, and let it out more plainly.
Falling into that kind of abstraction which such a solitude
awakens, the child continued to gaze upon the passing crowd with a
wondering interest, amounting almost to a temporary forgetfulness
of her own condition. But cold, wet, hunger, want of rest, and
lack of any place in which to lay her aching head, soon brought her
thoughts back to the point whence they had strayed. No one passed
who seemed to notice them, or to whom she durst appeal. After some
time, they left their place of refuge from the weather, and mingled
with the concourse.
Evening came on. They were still wandering up and down, with fewer
people about them, but with the same sense of solitude in their own
breasts, and the same indifference from all around. The lights in
the streets and shops made them feel yet more desolate, for with
their help, night and darkness seemed to come on faster. Shivering
with the cold and damp, ill in body, and sick to death at heart,
the child needed her utmost firmness and resolution even to creep
Why had they ever come to this noisy town, when there were peaceful
country places, in which, at least, they might have hungered and
thirsted, with less suffering than in its squalid strife! They
were but an atom, here, in a mountain heap of misery, the very
sight of which increased their hopelessness and suffering.
The child had not only to endure the accumulated hardships of their
destitute condition, but to bear the reproaches of her grandfather,
who began to murmur at having been led away from their late abode,
and demand that they should return to it. Being now penniless, and
no relief or prospect of relief appearing, they retraced their
steps through the deserted streets, and went back to the wharf,
hoping to find the boat in which they had come, and to be allowed
to sleep on board that night. But here again they were
disappointed, for the gate was closed, and some fierce dogs,
barking at their approach, obliged them to retreat.
'We must sleep in the open air to-night, dear,' said the child in
a weak voice, as they turned away from this last repulse; 'and
to-morrow we will beg our way to some quiet part of the country,
and try to earn our bread in very humble work.'
'Why did you bring me here?' returned the old man fiercely. 'I
cannot bear these close eternal streets. We came from a quiet
part. Why did you force me to leave it?'
'Because I must have that dream I told you of, no more,' said the
child, with a momentary firmness that lost itself in tears; 'and we
must live among poor people, or it will come again. Dear
grandfather, you are old and weak, I know; but look at me. I never
will complain if you will not, but I have some suffering indeed.'
'Ah! poor, houseless, wandering, motherless child!' cried the old
man, clasping his hands and gazing as if for the first time upon
her anxious face, her travel-stained dress, and bruised and swollen
feet; 'has all my agony of care brought her to this at last! Was
I a happy man once, and have I lost happiness and all I had, for
'If we were in the country now,' said the child, with assumed
cheerfulness, as they walked on looking about them for a shelter,
we should find some good old tree, stretching out his green arms as
if he loved us, and nodding and rustling as if he would have us
fall asleep, thinking of him while he watched. Please God, we
shall be there soon--to-morrow or next day at the farthest--and
in the meantime let us think, dear, that it was a good thing we
came here; for we are lost in the crowd and hurry of this place,
and if any cruel people should pursue us, they could surely never
trace us further. There's comfort in that. And here's a deep old
doorway--very dark, but quite dry, and warm too, for the wind
don't blow in here--What's that!'
Uttering a half shriek, she recoiled from a black figure which came
suddenly out of the dark recess in which they were about to take
refuge, and stood still, looking at them.
'Speak again,' it said; 'do I know the voice?'
'No,' replied the child timidly; 'we are strangers, and having no
money for a night's lodging, were going to rest here.'
There was a feeble lamp at no great distance; the only one in the
place, which was a kind of square yard, but sufficient to show how
poor and mean it was. To this, the figure beckoned them; at the
same time drawing within its rays, as if to show that it had no
desire to conceal itself or take them at an advantage.
The form was that of a man, miserably clad and begrimed with smoke,
which, perhaps by its contrast with the natural colour of his skin,
made him look paler than he really was. That he was naturally of
a very wan and pallid aspect, however, his hollow cheeks, sharp
features, and sunken eyes, no less than a certain look of patient
endurance, sufficiently testified. His voice was harsh by nature,
but not brutal; and though his face, besides possessing the
characteristics already mentioned, was overshadowed by a quantity
of long dark hair, its expression was neither ferocious nor bad.
'How came you to think of resting there?' he said. 'Or how,' he
added, looking more attentively at the child, 'do you come to want
a place of rest at this time of night?'
'Our misfortunes,' the grandfather answered, 'are the cause.'
'Do you know,' said the man, looking still more earnestly at Nell,
'how wet she is, and that the damp streets are not a place for
'I know it well, God help me,' he replied. 'What can I do!'
The man looked at Nell again, and gently touched her garments, from
which the rain was running off in little streams. 'I can give you
warmth,' he said, after a pause; 'nothing else. Such lodging as I
have, is in that house,' pointing to the doorway from which he had
emerged, 'but she is safer and better there than here. The fire is
in a rough place, but you can pass the night beside it safely, if
you'll trust yourselves to me. You see that red light yonder?'
They raised their eyes, and saw a lurid glare hanging in the dark
sky; the dull reflection of some distant fire.
'It's not far,' said the man. 'Shall I take you there? You were
going to sleep upon cold bricks; I can give you a bed of warm ashes
Without waiting for any further reply than he saw in their looks,
he took Nell in his arms, and bade the old man follow.
Carrying her as tenderly, and as easily too, as if she had been an
infant, and showing himself both swift and sure of foot, he led the
way through what appeared to be the poorest and most wretched
quarter of the town; and turning aside to avoid the overflowing
kennels or running waterspouts, but holding his course, regardless
of such obstructions, and making his way straight through them.
They had proceeded thus, in silence, for some quarter of an hour,
and had lost sight of the glare to which he had pointed, in the
dark and narrow ways by which they had come, when it suddenly burst
upon them again, streaming up from the high chimney of a building
close before them.
'This is the place,' he said, pausing at a door to put Nell down
and take her hand. 'Don't be afraid. There's nobody here will
It needed a strong confidence in this assurance to induce them to
enter, and what they saw inside did not diminish their apprehension
and alarm. In a large and lofty building, supported by pillars of
iron, with great black apertures in the upper walls, open to the
external air; echoing to the roof with the beating of hammers and
roar of furnaces, mingled with the hissing of red-hot metal plunged
in water, and a hundred strange unearthly noises never heard
elsewhere; in this gloomy place, moving like demons among the flame
and smoke, dimly and fitfully seen, flushed and tormented by the
burning fires, and wielding great weapons, a faulty blow from any
one of which must have crushed some workman's skull, a number of
men laboured like giants. Others, reposing upon heaps of coals or
ashes, with their faces turned to the black vault above, slept or
rested from their toil. Others again, opening the white-hot
furnace-doors, cast fuel on the flames, which came rushing and
roaring forth to meet it, and licked it up like oil. Others drew
forth, with clashing noise, upon the ground, great sheets of
glowing steel, emitting an insupportable heat, and a dull deep
light like that which reddens in the eyes of savage beasts.
Through these bewildering sights and deafening sounds, their
conductor led them to where, in a dark portion of the building, one
furnace burnt by night and day--so, at least, they gathered from
the motion of his lips, for as yet they could only see him speak:
not hear him. The man who had been watching this fire, and whose
task was ended for the present, gladly withdrew, and left them with
their friend, who, spreading Nell's little cloak upon a heap of
ashes, and showing her where she could hang her outer-clothes to
dry, signed to her and the old man to lie down and sleep. For
himself, he took his station on a rugged mat before the
furnace-door, and resting his chin upon his hands, watched the
flame as it shone through the iron chinks, and the white ashes as
they fell into their bright hot grave below.
The warmth of her bed, hard and humble as it was, combined with the
great fatigue she had undergone, soon caused the tumult of the
place to fall with a gentler sound upon the child's tired ears, and
was not long in lulling her to sleep. The old man was stretched
beside her, and with her hand upon his neck she lay and dreamed.
It was yet night when she awoke, nor did she know how long, or for
how short a time, she had slept. But she found herself protected,
both from any cold air that might find its way into the building,
and from the scorching heat, by some of the workmen's clothes; and
glancing at their friend saw that he sat in exactly the same
attitude, looking with a fixed earnestness of attention towards the
fire, and keeping so very still that he did not even seem to
breathe. She lay in the state between sleeping and waking, looking
so long at his motionless figure that at length she almost feared
he had died as he sat there; and softly rising and drawing close to
him, ventured to whisper in his ear.
He moved, and glancing from her to the place she had lately
occupied, as if to assure himself that it was really the child so
near him, looked inquiringly into her face.
'I feared you were ill,' she said. 'The other men are all in
motion, and you are so very quiet.'
'They leave me to myself,' he replied. 'They know my humour. They
laugh at me, but don't harm me in it. See yonder there--that's my
'The fire?' said the child.
'It has been alive as long as I have,' the man made answer. 'We
talk and think together all night long.'
The child glanced quickly at him in her surprise, but he had turned
his eyes in their former direction, and was musing as before.
'It's like a book to me,' he said--'the only book I ever learned to
read; and many an old story it tells me. It's music, for I should
know its voice among a thousand, and there are other voices in its
roar. It has its pictures too. You don't know how many strange
faces and different scenes I trace in the red-hot coals. It's my
memory, that fire, and shows me all my life.'
The child, bending down to listen to his words, could not help
remarking with what brightened eyes he continued to speak and muse.
'Yes,' he said, with a faint smile, 'it was the same when I was
quite a baby, and crawled about it, till I fell asleep. My father
watched it then.'
'Had you no mother?' asked the child.
'No, she was dead. Women work hard in these parts. She worked
herself to death they told me, and, as they said so then, the fire
has gone on saying the same thing ever since. I suppose it was
true. I have always believed it.'
'Were you brought up here, then?' said the child.
'Summer and winter,' he replied. 'Secretly at first, but when they
found it out, they let him keep me here. So the fire nursed me--
the same fire. It has never gone out.'
'You are fond of it?' said the child.
'Of course I am. He died before it. I saw him fall down--just
there, where those ashes are burning now--and wondered, I
remember, why it didn't help him.'
'Have you been here ever since?' asked the child.
'Ever since I came to watch it; but there was a while between, and
a very cold dreary while it was. It burned all the time though,
and roared and leaped when I came back, as it used to do in our
play days. You may guess, from looking at me, what kind of child
I was, but for all the difference between us I was a child, and
when I saw you in the street to-night, you put me in mind of
myself, as I was after he died, and made me wish to bring you to
the fire. I thought of those old times again, when I saw you
sleeping by it. You should be sleeping now. Lie down again, poor
child, lie down again!'
With that, he led her to her rude couch, and covering her with the
clothes with which she had found herself enveloped when she woke,
returned to his seat, whence he moved no more unless to feed the
furnace, but remained motionless as a statue. The child continued
to watch him for a little time, but soon yielded to the drowsiness
that came upon her, and, in the dark strange place and on the heap
of ashes, slept as peacefully as if the room had been a palace
chamber, and the bed, a bed of down.
When she awoke again, broad day was shining through the lofty
openings in the walls, and, stealing in slanting rays but midway
down, seemed to make the building darker than it had been at night.
The clang and tumult were still going on, and the remorseless fires
were burning fiercely as before; for few changes of night and day
brought rest or quiet there.
Her friend parted his breakfast--a scanty mess of coffee and some
coarse bread--with the child and her grandfather, and inquired
whither they were going. She told him that they sought some
distant country place remote from towns or even other villages, and
with a faltering tongue inquired what road they would do best to
'I know little of the country,' he said, shaking his head, 'for
such as I, pass all our lives before our furnace doors, and seldom
go forth to breathe. But there are such places yonder.'
'And far from here?' said Nell.
'Aye surely. How could they be near us, and be green and fresh?
The road lies, too, through miles and miles, all lighted up by
fires like ours--a strange black road, and one that would frighten
you by night.'
'We are here and must go on,' said the child boldly; for she saw
that the old man listened with anxious ears to this account.
'Rough people--paths never made for little feet like yours--a
dismal blighted way--is there no turning back, my child!'
'There is none,' cried Nell, pressing forward. 'If you can direct
us, do. If not, pray do not seek to turn us from our purpose.
Indeed you do not know the danger that we shun, and how right and
true we are in flying from it, or you would not try to stop us, I
am sure you would not.'
'God forbid, if it is so!' said their uncouth protector, glancing
from the eager child to her grandfather, who hung his head and bent
his eyes upon the ground. 'I'll direct you from the door, the best
I can. I wish I could do more.'
He showed them, then, by which road they must leave the town, and
what course they should hold when they had gained it. He lingered
so long on these instructions, that the child, with a fervent
blessing, tore herself away, and stayed to hear no more.
But, before they had reached the corner of the lane, the man came
running after them, and, pressing her hand, left something in it--
two old, battered, smoke-encrusted penny pieces. Who knows but
they shone as brightly in the eyes of angels, as golden gifts that
have been chronicled on tombs?
And thus they separated; the child to lead her sacred charge
farther from guilt and shame; the labourer to attach a fresh
interest to the spot where his guests had slept, and read new
histories in his furnace fire.
In all their journeying, they had never longed so ardently, they
had never so pined and wearied, for the freedom of pure air and
open country, as now. No, not even on that memorable morning,
when, deserting their old home, they abandoned themselves to the
mercies of a strange world, and left all the dumb and senseless
things they had known and loved, behind--not even then, had they
so yearned for the fresh solitudes of wood, hillside, and field, as
now, when the noise and dirt and vapour, of the great manufacturing
town reeking with lean misery and hungry wretchedness, hemmed them
in on every side, and seemed to shut out hope, and render escape
'Two days and nights!' thought the child. 'He said two days and
nights we should have to spend among such scenes as these. Oh! if
we live to reach the country once again, if we get clear of these
dreadful places, though it is only to lie down and die, with what
a grateful heart I shall thank God for so much mercy!'
With thoughts like this, and with some vague design of travelling
to a great distance among streams and mountains, where only very
poor and simple people lived, and where they might maintain
themselves by very humble helping work in farms, free from such
terrors as that from which they fled--the child, with no resource
but the poor man's gift, and no encouragement but that which flowed
from her own heart, and its sense of the truth and right of what
she did, nerved herself to this last journey and boldly pursued her
'We shall be very slow to-day, dear,' she said, as they toiled
painfully through the streets; 'my feet are sore, and I have pains
in all my limbs from the wet of yesterday. I saw that he looked at
us and thought of that, when he said how long we should be upon the
'It was a dreary way he told us of,' returned her grandfather,
piteously. 'Is there no other road? Will you not let me go some
other way than this?'
'Places lie beyond these,' said the child, firmly, 'where we may
live in peace, and be tempted to do no harm. We will take the road
that promises to have that end, and we would not turn out of it, if
it were a hundred times worse than our fears lead us to expect. We
would not, dear, would we?'
'No,' replied the old man, wavering in his voice, no less than in
his manner. 'No. Let us go on. I am ready. I am quite ready,
The child walked with more difficulty than she had led her
companion to expect, for the pains that racked her joints were of
no common severity, and every exertion increased them. But they
wrung from her no complaint, or look of suffering; and, though the
two travellers proceeded very slowly, they did proceed. Clearing
the town in course of time, they began to feel that they were
fairly on their way.
A long suburb of red brick houses--some with patches of
garden-ground, where coal-dust and factory smoke darkened the
shrinking leaves, and coarse rank flowers, and where the struggling
vegetation sickened and sank under the hot breath of kiln and
furnace, making them by its presence seem yet more blighting and
unwholesome than in the town itself--a long, flat, straggling
suburb passed, they came, by slow degrees, upon a cheerless region,
where not a blade of grass was seen to grow, where not a bud put
forth its promise in the spring, where nothing green could live but
on the surface of the stagnant pools, which here and there lay idly
sweltering by the black road-side.
Advancing more and more into the shadow of this mournful place, its
dark depressing influence stole upon their spirits, and filled them
with a dismal gloom. On every side, and far as the eye could see
into the heavy distance, tall chimneys, crowding on each other, and
presenting that endless repetition of the same dull, ugly form,
which is the horror of oppressive dreams, poured out their plague
of smoke, obscured the light, and made foul the melancholy air. On
mounds of ashes by the wayside, sheltered only by a few rough
boards, or rotten pent-house roofs, strange engines spun and
writhed like tortured creatures; clanking their iron chains,
shrieking in their rapid whirl from time to time as though in
torment unendurable, and making the ground tremble with their
agonies. Dismantled houses here and there appeared, tottering to
the earth, propped up by fragments of others that had fallen down,
unroofed, windowless, blackened, desolate, but yet inhabited. Men,
women, children, wan in their looks and ragged in attire, tended
the engines, fed their tributary fire, begged upon the road, or
scowled half-naked from the doorless houses. Then came more of the
wrathful monsters, whose like they almost seemed to be in their
wildness and their untamed air, screeching and turning round and
round again; and still, before, behind, and to the right and left,
was the same interminable perspective of brick towers, never
ceasing in their black vomit, blasting all things living or
inanimate, shutting out the face of day, and closing in on all
these horrors with a dense dark cloud.
But night-time in this dreadful spot!--night, when the smoke was
changed to fire; when every chimney spirited up its flame; and
places, that had been dark vaults all day, now shone red-hot, with
figures moving to and fro within their blazing jaws, and calling to
one another with hoarse cries--night, when the noise of every
strange machine was aggravated by the darkness; when the people
near them looked wilder and more savage; when bands of unemployed
labourers paraded the roads, or clustered by torch-light round
their leaders, who told them, in stern language, of their wrongs,
and urged them on to frightful cries and threats; when maddened
men, armed with sword and firebrand, spurning the tears and prayers
of women who would restrain them, rushed forth on errands of terror
and destruction, to work no ruin half so surely as their own--
night, when carts came rumbling by, filled with rude coffins (for
contagious disease and death had been busy with the living crops);
when orphans cried, and distracted women shrieked and followed in
their wake--night, when some called for bread, and some for drink
to drown their cares, and some with tears, and some with staggering
feet, and some with bloodshot eyes, went brooding home--night,
which, unlike the night that Heaven sends on earth, brought with it
no peace, nor quiet, nor signs of blessed sleep--who shall tell
the terrors of the night to the young wandering child!
And yet she lay down, with nothing between her and the sky; and,
with no fear for herself, for she was past it now, put up a prayer
for the poor old man. So very weak and spent, she felt, so very
calm and unresisting, that she had no thought of any wants of her
own, but prayed that God would raise up some friend for him. She
tried to recall the way they had come, and to look in the direction
where the fire by which they had slept last night was burning. She
had forgotten to ask the name of the poor man, their friend, and
when she had remembered him in her prayers, it seemed ungrateful
not to turn one look towards the spot where he was watching.
A penny loaf was all they had had that day. It was very little,
but even hunger was forgotten in the strange tranquillity that
crept over her senses. She lay down, very gently, and, with a
quiet smile upon her face, fell into a slumber. It was not like
sleep--and yet it must have been, or why those pleasant dreams of
the little scholar all night long! Morning came. Much weaker,
diminished powers even of sight and hearing, and yet the child made
no complaint--perhaps would have made none, even if she had not
had that inducement to be silent, travelling by her side. She felt
a hopelessness of their ever being extricated together from that
forlorn place; a dull conviction that she was very ill, perhaps
dying; but no fear or anxiety.
A loathing of food that she was not conscious of until they
expended their last penny in the purchase of another loaf,
prevented her partaking even of this poor repast. Her grandfather
ate greedily, which she was glad to see.
Their way lay through the same scenes as yesterday, with no variety
or improvement. There was the same thick air, difficult to
breathe; the same blighted ground, the same hopeless prospect, the
same misery and distress. Objects appeared more dim, the noise
less, the path more rugged and uneven, for sometimes she stumbled,
and became roused, as it were, in the effort to prevent herself
from falling. Poor child! the cause was in her tottering feet.
Towards the afternoon, her grandfather complained bitterly of
hunger. She approached one of the wretched hovels by the way-side,
and knocked with her hand upon the door.
'What would you have here?' said a gaunt man, opening it.
'Charity. A morsel of bread.'
'Do you see that?' returned the man hoarsely, pointing to a kind of
bundle on the ground. 'That's a dead child. I and five hundred
other men were thrown out of work, three months ago. That is my
third dead child, and last. Do you think I have charity to bestow,
or a morsel of bread to spare?'
The child recoiled from the door, and it closed upon her. Impelled
by strong necessity, she knocked at another: a neighbouring one,
which, yielding to the slight pressure of her hand, flew open.
It seemed that a couple of poor families lived in this hovel, for
two women, each among children of her own, occupied different
portions of the room. In the centre, stood a grave gentleman in
black who appeared to have just entered, and who held by the arm a
'Here, woman,' he said, 'here's your deaf and dumb son. You may
thank me for restoring him to you. He was brought before me, this
morning, charged with theft; and with any other boy it would have
gone hard, I assure you. But, as I had compassion on his
infirmities, and thought he might have learnt no better, I have
managed to bring him back to you. Take more care of him for the
'And won't you give me back MY son!' said the other woman, hastily
rising and confronting him. 'Won't you give me back MY son, Sir,
who was transported for the same offence!'
'Was he deaf and dumb, woman?' asked the gentleman sternly.
'Was he not, Sir?'
'You know he was not.'
'He was,' cried the woman. 'He was deaf, dumb, and blind, to all
that was good and right, from his cradle. Her boy may have learnt
no better! where did mine learn better? where could he? who was
there to teach him better, or where was it to be learnt?'
'Peace, woman,' said the gentleman, 'your boy was in possession of
all his senses.'
'He was,' cried the mother; 'and he was the more easy to be led
astray because he had them. If you save this boy because he may
not know right from wrong, why did you not save mine who was never
taught the difference? You gentlemen have as good a right to
punish her boy, that God has kept in ignorance of sound and speech,
as you have to punish mine, that you kept in ignorance yourselves.
How many of the girls and boys--ah, men and women too--that are
brought before you and you don't pity, are deaf and dumb in their
minds, and go wrong in that state, and are punished in that state,
body and soul, while you gentlemen are quarrelling among yourselves
whether they ought to learn this or that? --Be a just man, Sir,
and give me back my son.'
'You are desperate,' said the gentleman, taking out his snuff-box,
'and I am sorry for you.'
'I AM desperate,' returned the woman, 'and you have made me so.
Give me back my son, to work for these helpless children. Be a
just man, Sir, and, as you have had mercy upon this boy, give me
back my son!'
The child had seen and heard enough to know that this was not a
place at which to ask for alms. She led the old man softly from
the door, and they pursued their journey.
With less and less of hope or strength, as they went on, but with
an undiminished resolution not to betray by any word or sigh her
sinking state, so long as she had energy to move, the child,
throughout the remainder of that hard day, compelled herself to
proceed: not even stopping to rest as frequently as usual, to
compensate in some measure for the tardy pace at which she was
obliged to walk. Evening was drawing on, but had not closed in,
when--still travelling among the same dismal objects--they came to
a busy town.
Faint and spiritless as they were, its streets were insupportable.
After humbly asking for relief at some few doors, and being
repulsed, they agreed to make their way out of it as speedily as
they could, and try if the inmates of any lone house beyond, would
have more pity on their exhausted state.
They were dragging themselves along through the last street, and
the child felt that the time was close at hand when her enfeebled
powers would bear no more. There appeared before them, at this
juncture, going in the same direction as themselves, a traveller on
foot, who, with a portmanteau strapped to his back, leaned upon a
stout stick as he walked, and read from a book which he held in his
It was not an easy matter to come up with him, and beseech his aid,
for he walked fast, and was a little distance in advance. At
length, he stopped, to look more attentively at some passage in his
book. Animated with a ray of hope, the child shot on before her
grandfather, and, going close to the stranger without rousing him
by the sound of her footsteps, began, in a few faint words, to
implore his help.
He turned his head. The child clapped her hands together, uttered
a wild shriek, and fell senseless at his feet.
It was the poor schoolmaster. No other than the poor schoolmaster.
Scarcely less moved and surprised by the sight of the child than
she had been on recognising him, he stood, for a moment, silent and
confounded by this unexpected apparition, without even the presence
of mind to raise her from the ground.
But, quickly recovering his self-possession, he threw down his
stick and book, and dropping on one knee beside her, endeavoured,
by such simple means as occurred to him, to restore her to herself;
while her grandfather, standing idly by, wrung his hands, and
implored her with many endearing expressions to speak to him, were
it only a word.
'She is quite exhausted,' said the schoolmaster, glancing upward
into his face. 'You have taxed her powers too far, friend.'
'She is perishing of want,' rejoined the old man. 'I never thought
how weak and ill she was, till now.'
Casting a look upon him, half-reproachful and half-compassionate,
the schoolmaster took the child in his arms, and, bidding the old
man gather up her little basket and follow him directly, bore her
away at his utmost speed.
There was a small inn within sight, to which, it would seem, he had
been directing his steps when so unexpectedly overtaken. Towards
this place he hurried with his unconscious burden, and rushing into
the kitchen, and calling upon the company there assembled to make
way for God's sake, deposited it on a chair before the fire.
The company, who rose in confusion on the schoolmaster's entrance,
did as people usually do under such circumstances. Everybody
called for his or her favourite remedy, which nobody brought; each
cried for more air, at the same time carefully excluding what air
there was, by closing round the object of sympathy; and all
wondered why somebody else didn't do what it never appeared to
occur to them might be done by themselves.
The landlady, however, who possessed more readiness and activity
than any of them, and who had withal a quicker perception of the
merits of the case, soon came running in, with a little hot brandy
and water, followed by her servant-girl, carrying vinegar,
hartshorn, smelling-salts, and such other restoratives; which,
being duly administered, recovered the child so far as to enable
her to thank them in a faint voice, and to extend her hand to the
poor schoolmaster, who stood, with an anxious face, hard by.
Without suffering her to speak another word, or so much as to stir
a finger any more, the women straightway carried her off to bed;
and, having covered her up warm, bathed her cold feet, and wrapped
them in flannel, they despatched a messenger for the doctor.
The doctor, who was a red-nosed gentleman with a great bunch of
seals dangling below a waistcoat of ribbed black satin, arrived
with all speed, and taking his seat by the bedside of poor Nell,
drew out his watch, and felt her pulse. Then he looked at her
tongue, then he felt her pulse again, and while he did so, he eyed
the half-emptied wine-glass as if in profound abstraction.
'I should give her,' said the doctor at length, 'a tea-spoonful,
every now and then, of hot brandy and water.'
'Why, that's exactly what we've done, sir!' said the delighted
'I should also,' observed the doctor, who had passed the foot-bath
on the stairs, 'I should also,' said the doctor, in the voice of an
oracle, 'put her feet in hot water, and wrap them up in flannel.
I should likewise,' said the doctor with increased solemnity, 'give
her something light for supper--the wing of a roasted fowl now--'
'Why, goodness gracious me, sir, it's cooking at the kitchen fire
this instant!' cried the landlady. And so indeed it was, for the
schoolmaster had ordered it to be put down, and it was getting on
so well that the doctor might have smelt it if he had tried;
perhaps he did.
'You may then,' said the doctor, rising gravely, 'give her a glass
of hot mulled port wine, if she likes wine--'
'And a toast, Sir?' suggested the landlady.
'Ay,' said the doctor, in the tone of a man who makes a dignified
concession. 'And a toast--of bread. But be very particular to
make it of bread, if you please, ma'am.'
With which parting injunction, slowly and portentously delivered,
the doctor departed, leaving the whole house in admiration of that
wisdom which tallied so closely with their own. Everybody said he
was a very shrewd doctor indeed, and knew perfectly what people's
constitutions were; which there appears some reason to suppose he
While her supper was preparing, the child fell into a refreshing
sleep, from which they were obliged to rouse her when it was ready.
As she evinced extraordinary uneasiness on learning that her
grandfather was below stairs, and as she was greatly troubled at
the thought of their being apart, he took his supper with her.
Finding her still very restless on this head, they made him up a
bed in an inner room, to which he presently retired. The key of
this chamber happened by good fortune to be on that side of the
door which was in Nell's room; she turned it on him when the
landlady had withdrawn, and crept to bed again with a thankful
The schoolmaster sat for a long time smoking his pipe by the
kitchen fire, which was now deserted, thinking, with a very happy
face, on the fortunate chance which had brought him so opportunely
to the child's assistance, and parrying, as well as in his simple
way he could, the inquisitive cross-examination of the landlady,
who had a great curiosity to be made acquainted with every
particular of Nell's life and history. The poor schoolmaster was
so open-hearted, and so little versed in the most ordinary cunning
or deceit, that she could not have failed to succeed in the first
five minutes, but that he happened to be unacquainted with what she
wished to know; and so he told her. The landlady, by no means
satisfied with this assurance, which she considered an ingenious
evasion of the question, rejoined that he had his reasons of
course. Heaven forbid that she should wish to pry into the affairs
of her customers, which indeed were no business of hers, who had so
many of her own. She had merely asked a civil question, and to be
sure she knew it would meet with a civil answer. She was quite
satisfied--quite. She had rather perhaps that he would have said
at once that he didn't choose to be communicative, because that
would have been plain and intelligible. However, she had no right
to be offended of course. He was the best judge, and had a perfect
right to say what he pleased; nobody could dispute that for a
moment. Oh dear, no!
'I assure you, my good lady,' said the mild schoolmaster, 'that I
have told you the plain truth. As I hope to be saved, I have told
you the truth.'
'Why then, I do believe you are in earnest,' rejoined the landlady,
with ready good-humour, 'and I'm very sorry I have teazed you. But
curiosity you know is the curse of our sex, and that's the fact.'
The landlord scratched his head, as if he thought the curse
sometimes involved the other sex likewise; but he was prevented
from making any remark to that effect, if he had it in
contemplation to do so, by the schoolmaster's rejoinder.
'You should question me for half-a-dozen hours at a sitting, and
welcome, and I would answer you patiently for the kindness of heart
you have shown to-night, if I could,' he said. 'As it is, please
to take care of her in the morning, and let me know early how she
is; and to understand that I am paymaster for the three.'
So, parting with them on most friendly terms (not the less cordial
perhaps for this last direction), the schoolmaster went to his bed,
and the host and hostess to theirs.
The report in the morning was, that the child was better, but was
extremely weak, and would at least require a day's rest, and
careful nursing, before she could proceed upon her journey. The
schoolmaster received this communication with perfect cheerfulness,
observing that he had a day to spare--two days for that matter--
and could very well afford to wait. As the patient was to sit up
in the evening, he appointed to visit her in her room at a certain
hour, and rambling out with his book, did not return until the hour
Nell could not help weeping when they were left alone; whereat, and
at sight of her pale face and wasted figure, the simple
schoolmaster shed a few tears himself, at the same time showing in
very energetic language how foolish it was to do so, and how very
easily it could be avoided, if one tried.
'It makes me unhappy even in the midst of all this kindness' said
the child, 'to think that we should be a burden upon you. How can
I ever thank you? If I had not met you so far from home, I must
have died, and he would have been left alone.'
'We'll not talk about dying,' said the schoolmaster; 'and as to
burdens, I have made my fortune since you slept at my cottage.'
'Indeed!' cried the child joyfully.
'Oh yes,' returned her friend. 'I have been appointed clerk and
schoolmaster to a village a long way from here--and a long way
from the old one as you may suppose--at five-and-thirty pounds a
year. Five-and-thirty pounds!'
'I am very glad,' said the child, 'so very, very glad.'
'I am on my way there now,' resumed the schoolmaster. 'They
allowed me the stage-coach-hire--outside stage-coach-hire all the
way. Bless you, they grudge me nothing. But as the time at which
I am expected there, left me ample leisure, I determined to walk
instead. How glad I am, to think I did so!'
'How glad should we be!'
'Yes, yes,' said the schoolmaster, moving restlessly in his chair,
'certainly, that's very true. But you--where are you going, where
are you coming from, what have you been doing since you left me,
what had you been doing before? Now, tell me--do tell me. I know
very little of the world, and perhaps you are better fitted to
advise me in its affairs than I am qualified to give advice to you;
but I am very sincere, and I have a reason (you have not forgotten
it) for loving you. I have felt since that time as if my love for
him who died, had been transferred to you who stood beside his bed.
If this,' he added, looking upwards, 'is the beautiful creation
that springs from ashes, let its peace prosper with me, as I deal
tenderly and compassionately by this young child!'
The plain, frank kindness of the honest schoolmaster, the
affectionate earnestness of his speech and manner, the truth which
was stamped upon his every word and look, gave the child a
confidence in him, which the utmost arts of treachery and
dissimulation could never have awakened in her breast. She told
him all--that they had no friend or relative--that she had fled
with the old man, to save him from a madhouse and all the miseries
he dreaded--that she was flying now, to save him from himself--
and that she sought an asylum in some remote and primitive place,
where the temptation before which he fell would never enter, and
her late sorrows and distresses could have no place.
The schoolmaster heard her with astonishment. 'This child!'--he
thought--'Has this child heroically persevered under all doubts
and dangers, struggled with poverty and suffering, upheld and
sustained by strong affection and the consciousness of rectitude
alone! And yet the world is full of such heroism. Have I yet to
learn that the hardest and best-borne trials are those which are
never chronicled in any earthly record, and are suffered every day!
And should I be surprised to hear the story of this child!'
What more he thought or said, matters not. It was concluded that
Nell and her grandfather should accompany him to the village
whither he was bound, and that he should endeavour to find them
some humble occupation by which they could subsist. 'We shall be
sure to succeed,' said the schoolmaster, heartily. 'The cause is
too good a one to fail.'
They arranged to proceed upon their journey next evening, as a
stage-waggon, which travelled for some distance on the same road as
they must take, would stop at the inn to change horses, and the
driver for a small gratuity would give Nell a place inside. A
bargain was soon struck when the waggon came; and in due time it
rolled away; with the child comfortably bestowed among the softer
packages, her grandfather and the schoolmaster walking on beside
the driver, and the landlady and all the good folks of the inn
screaming out their good wishes and farewells.
What a soothing, luxurious, drowsy way of travelling, to lie inside
that slowly-moving mountain, listening to the tinkling of the
horses' bells, the occasional smacking of the carter's whip, the
smooth rolling of the great broad wheels, the rattle of the
harness, the cheery good-nights of passing travellers jogging past
on little short-stepped horses--all made pleasantly indistinct by
the thick awning, which seemed made for lazy listening under, till
one fell asleep! The very going to sleep, still with an indistinct
idea, as the head jogged to and fro upon the pillow, of moving
onward with no trouble or fatigue, and hearing all these sounds
like dreamy music, lulling to the senses--and the slow waking up,
and finding one's self staring out through the breezy curtain
half-opened in the front, far up into the cold bright sky with its
countless stars, and downward at the driver's lantern dancing on
like its namesake Jack of the swamps and marshes, and sideways at
the dark grim trees, and forward at the long bare road rising up,
up, up, until it stopped abruptly at a sharp high ridge as if there
were no more road, and all beyond was sky--and the stopping at the
inn to bait, and being helped out, and going into a room with fire
and candles, and winking very much, and being agreeably reminded
that the night was cold, and anxious for very comfort's sake to
think it colder than it was!--What a delicious journey was that
journey in the waggon.
Then the going on again--so fresh at first, and shortly afterwards
so sleepy. The waking from a sound nap as the mail came dashing
past like a highway comet, with gleaming lamps and rattling hoofs,
and visions of a guard behind, standing up to keep his feet warm,
and of a gentleman in a fur cap opening his eyes and looking wild
and stupefied--the stopping at the turnpike where the man was gone
to bed, and knocking at the door until he answered with a smothered
shout from under the bed-clothes in the little room above, where
the faint light was burning, and presently came down, night-capped
and shivering, to throw the gate wide open, and wish all waggons
off the road except by day. The cold sharp interval between night
and morning--the distant streak of light widening and spreading,
and turning from grey to white, and from white to yellow, and from
yellow to burning red--the presence of day, with all its
cheerfulness and life--men and horses at the plough--birds in the
trees and hedges, and boys in solitary fields, frightening them
away with rattles. The coming to a town--people busy in the
markets; light carts and chaises round the tavern yard; tradesmen
standing at their doors; men running horses up and down the street
for sale; pigs plunging and grunting in the dirty distance, getting
off with long strings at their legs, running into clean chemists'
shops and being dislodged with brooms by 'prentices; the night
coach changing horses--the passengers cheerless, cold, ugly, and
discontented, with three months' growth of hair in one night--the
coachman fresh as from a band-box, and exquisitely beautiful by
contrast:--so much bustle, so many things in motion, such a
variety of incidents--when was there a journey with so many
delights as that journey in the waggon!
Sometimes walking for a mile or two while her grandfather rode
inside, and sometimes even prevailing upon the schoolmaster to take
her place and lie down to rest, Nell travelled on very happily
until they came to a large town, where the waggon stopped, and
where they spent a night. They passed a large church; and in the
streets were a number of old houses, built of a kind of earth or
plaster, crossed and re-crossed in a great many directions with
black beams, which gave them a remarkable and very ancient look.
The doors, too, were arched and low, some with oaken portals and
quaint benches, where the former inhabitants had sat on summer
evenings. The windows were latticed in little diamond panes, that
seemed to wink and blink upon the passengers as if they were dim of
sight. They had long since got clear of the smoke and furnaces,
except in one or two solitary instances, where a factory planted
among fields withered the space about it, like a burning mountain.
When they had passed through this town, they entered again upon the
country, and began to draw near their place of destination.
It was not so near, however, but that they spent another night upon
the road; not that their doing so was quite an act of necessity,
but that the schoolmaster, when they approached within a few miles
of his village, had a fidgety sense of his dignity as the new
clerk, and was unwilling to make his entry in dusty shoes, and
travel-disordered dress. It was a fine, clear, autumn morning,
when they came upon the scene of his promotion, and stopped to
contemplate its beauties.
'See--here's the church!' cried the delighted schoolmaster in a
low voice; 'and that old building close beside it, is the school-
house, I'll be sworn. Five-and-thirty pounds a-year in this
They admired everything--the old grey porch, the mullioned
windows, the venerable gravestones dotting the green churchyard,
the ancient tower, the very weathercock; the brown thatched roofs
of cottage, barn, and homestead, peeping from among the trees; the
stream that rippled by the distant water-mill; the blue Welsh
mountains far away. It was for such a spot the child had wearied
in the dense, dark, miserable haunts of labour. Upon her bed of
ashes, and amidst the squalid horrors through which they had forced
their way, visions of such scenes--beautiful indeed, but not more
beautiful than this sweet reality--had been always present to her
mind. They had seemed to melt into a dim and airy distance, as the
prospect of ever beholding them again grew fainter; but, as they
receded, she had loved and panted for them more.
'I must leave you somewhere for a few minutes,' said the
schoolmaster, at length breaking the silence into which they had
fallen in their gladness. 'I have a letter to present, and
inquiries to make, you know. Where shall I take you? To the
little inn yonder?'
'Let us wait here,' rejoined Nell. 'The gate is open. We will sit
in the church porch till you come back.'
'A good place too,' said the schoolmaster, leading the way towards
it, disencumbering himself of his portmanteau, and placing it on
the stone seat. 'Be sure that I come back with good news, and am
not long gone!'
So, the happy schoolmaster put on a bran-new pair of gloves which
he had carried in a little parcel in his pocket all the way, and
hurried off, full of ardour and excitement.
The child watched him from the porch until the intervening foliage
hid him from her view, and then stepped softly out into the old
churchyard--so solemn and quiet that every rustle of her dress
upon the fallen leaves, which strewed the path and made her
footsteps noiseless, seemed an invasion of its silence. It was a
very aged, ghostly place; the church had been built many hundreds
of years ago, and had once had a convent or monastery attached; for
arches in ruins, remains of oriel windows, and fragments of
blackened walls, were yet standing-, while other portions of the
old building, which had crumbled away and fallen down, were mingled
with the churchyard earth and overgrown with grass, as if they too
claimed a burying-place and sought to mix their ashes with the dust
of men. Hard by these gravestones of dead years, and forming a
part of the ruin which some pains had been taken to render
habitable in modern times, were two small dwellings with sunken
windows and oaken doors, fast hastening to decay, empty and
Upon these tenements, the attention of the child became exclusively
riveted. She knew not why. The church, the ruin, the antiquated
graves, had equal claims at least upon a stranger's thoughts, but
from the moment when her eyes first rested on these two dwellings,
she could turn to nothing else. Even when she had made the circuit
of the enclosure, and, returning to the porch, sat pensively
waiting for their friend, she took her station where she could
still look upon them, and felt as if fascinated towards that spot.
Kit's mother and the single gentleman--upon whose track it is
expedient to follow with hurried steps, lest this history should be
chargeable with inconstancy, and the offence of leaving its
characters in situations of uncertainty and doubt--Kit's mother
and the single gentleman, speeding onward in the post-chaise-
and-four whose departure from the Notary's door we have already
witnessed, soon left the town behind them, and struck fire from the
flints of the broad highway.
The good woman, being not a little embarrassed by the novelty of
her situation, and certain material apprehensions that perhaps by
this time little Jacob, or the baby, or both, had fallen into the
fire, or tumbled down stairs, or had been squeezed behind doors, or
had scalded their windpipes in endeavouring to allay their thirst
at the spouts of tea-kettles, preserved an uneasy silence; and
meeting from the window the eyes of turnpike-men, omnibus-drivers,
and others, felt in the new dignity of her position like a mourner
at a funeral, who, not being greatly afflicted by the loss of the
departed, recognizes his every-day acquaintance from the window of
the mourning coach, but is constrained to preserve a decent
solemnity, and the appearance of being indifferent to all external
To have been indifferent to the companionship of the single
gentleman would have been tantamount to being gifted with nerves of
steel. Never did chaise inclose, or horses draw, such a restless
gentleman as he. He never sat in the same position for two minutes
together, but was perpetually tossing his arms and legs about,
pulling up the sashes and letting them violently down, or thrusting
his head out of one window to draw it in again and thrust it out of
another. He carried in his pocket, too, a fire-box of mysterious
and unknown construction; and as sure as ever Kit's mother closed
her eyes, so surely--whisk, rattle, fizz--there was the single
gentleman consulting his watch by a flame of fire, and letting the
sparks fall down among the straw as if there were no such thing as
a possibility of himself and Kit's mother being roasted alive
before the boys could stop their horses. Whenever they halted to
change, there he was--out of the carriage without letting down the
steps, bursting about the inn-yard like a lighted cracker, pulling
out his watch by lamp-light and forgetting to look at it before he
put it up again, and in short committing so many extravagances that
Kit's mother was quite afraid of him. Then, when the horses were
to, in he came like a Harlequin, and before they had gone a mile,
out came the watch and the fire-box together, and Kit's mother as
wide awake again, with no hope of a wink of sleep for that stage.
'Are you comfortable?' the single gentleman would say after one of
these exploits, turning sharply round.
'Quite, Sir, thank you.'
'Are you sure? An't you cold?'
'It is a little chilly, Sir,' Kit's mother would reply.
'I knew it!' cried the single gentleman, letting down one of the
front glasses. 'She wants some brandy and water! Of course she
does. How could I forget it? Hallo! Stop at the next inn, and
call out for a glass of hot brandy and water.'
It was in vain for Kit's mother to protest that she stood in need
of nothing of the kind. The single gentleman was inexorable; and
whenever he had exhausted all other modes and fashions of
restlessness, it invariably occurred to him that Kit's mother
wanted brandy and water.
In this way they travelled on until near midnight, when they
stopped to supper, for which meal the single gentleman ordered
everything eatable that the house contained; and because Kit's
mother didn't eat everything at once, and eat it all, he took it
into his head that she must be ill.
'You're faint,' said the single gentleman, who did nothing himself
but walk about the room. 'I see what's the matter with you, ma'am.
'Thank you, sir, I'm not indeed.'
'I know you are. I'm sure of it. I drag this poor woman from the
bosom of her family at a minute's notice, and she goes on getting
fainter and fainter before my eyes. I'm a pretty fellow! How many
children have you got, ma'am?'
'Two, sir, besides Kit.'
'Are they christened?'
'Only half baptised as yet, sir.'
'I'm godfather to both of 'em. Remember that, if you please,
ma'am. You had better have some mulled wine.'
'I couldn't touch a drop indeed, sir.'
'You must,' said the single gentleman. 'I see you want it. I
ought to have thought of it before.'
Immediately flying to the bell, and calling for mulled wine as
impetuously as if it had been wanted for instant use in the
recovery of some person apparently drowned, the single gentleman
made Kit's mother swallow a bumper of it at such a high temperature
that the tears ran down her face, and then hustled her off to the
chaise again, where--not impossibly from the effects of this
agreeable sedative--she soon became insensible to his
restlessness, and fell fast asleep. Nor were the happy effects of
this prescription of a transitory nature, as, notwithstanding that
the distance was greater, and the journey longer, than the single
gentleman had anticipated, she did not awake until it was broad
day, and they were clattering over the pavement of a town.
'This is the place!' cried her companion, letting down all the
glasses. 'Drive to the wax-work!'
The boy on the wheeler touched his hat, and setting spurs to his
horse, to the end that they might go in brilliantly, all four broke
into a smart canter, and dashed through the streets with a noise
that brought the good folks wondering to their doors and windows,
and drowned the sober voices of the town-clocks as they chimed out
half-past eight. They drove up to a door round which a crowd of
persons were collected, and there stopped.
'What's this?' said the single gentleman thrusting out his head.
'Is anything the matter here?'
'A wedding Sir, a wedding!' cried several voices. 'Hurrah!'
The single gentleman, rather bewildered by finding himself the
centre of this noisy throng, alighted with the assistance of one of
the postilions, and handed out Kit's mother, at sight of whom the
populace cried out, 'Here's another wedding!' and roared and leaped
'The world has gone mad, I think,' said the single gentleman,
pressing through the concourse with his supposed bride. 'Stand
back here, will you, and let me knock.'
Anything that makes a noise is satisfactory to a crowd. A score of
dirty hands were raised directly to knock for him, and seldom has
a knocker of equal powers been made to produce more deafening
sounds than this particular engine on the occasion in question.
Having rendered these voluntary services, the throng modestly
retired a little, preferring that the single gentleman should bear
their consequences alone.
'Now, sir, what do you want!' said a man with a large white bow at
his button-hole, opening the door, and confronting him with a very
'Who has been married here, my friend?' said the single gentleman.
'You! and to whom in the devil's name?'
'What right have you to ask?' returned the bridegroom, eyeing him
from top to toe.
'What right!' cried the single gentleman, drawing the arm of Kit's
mother more tightly through his own, for that good woman evidently
had it in contemplation to run away. 'A right you little dream of.
Mind, good people, if this fellow has been marrying a minor--tut,
tut, that can't be. Where is the child you have here, my good
fellow. You call her Nell. Where is she?'
As he propounded this question, which Kit's mother echoed, somebody
in a room near at hand, uttered a great shriek, and a stout lady in
a white dress came running to the door, and supported herself upon
the bridegroom's arm.
'Where is she!' cried this lady. 'What news have you brought me?
What has become of her?'
The single gentleman started back, and gazed upon the face of the
late Mrs Jarley (that morning wedded to the philosophic George, to
the eternal wrath and despair of Mr Slum the poet), with looks of
conflicting apprehension, disappointment, and incredulity. At
length he stammered out,
'I ask YOU where she is? What do you mean?'
'Oh sir!' cried the bride, 'If you have come here to do her any
good, why weren't you here a week ago?'
'She is not--not dead?' said the person to whom she addressed
herself, turning very pale.
'No, not so bad as that.'
'I thank God!' cried the single gentleman feebly. 'Let me come
They drew back to admit him, and when he had entered, closed the
'You see in me, good people,' he said, turning to the newly-
married couple, 'one to whom life itself is not dearer than the two
persons whom I seek. They would not know me. My features are
strange to them, but if they or either of them are here, take this
good woman with you, and let them see her first, for her they both
know. If you deny them from any mistaken regard or fear for them,
judge of my intentions by their recognition of this person as their
old humble friend.'
'I always said it!' cried the bride, 'I knew she was not a common
child! Alas, sir! we have no power to help you, for all that we
could do, has been tried in vain.'
With that, they related to him, without disguise or concealment,
all that they knew of Nell and her grandfather, from their first
meeting with them, down to the time of their sudden disappearance;
adding (which was quite true) that they had made every possible
effort to trace them, but without success; having been at first in
great alarm for their safety, as well as on account of the
suspicions to which they themselves might one day be exposed in
consequence of their abrupt departure. They dwelt upon the old
man's imbecility of mind, upon the uneasiness the child had always
testified when he was absent, upon the company he had been supposed
to keep, and upon the increased depression which had gradually
crept over her and changed her both in health and spirits. Whether
she had missed the old man in the night, and knowing or
conjecturing whither he had bent his steps, had gone in pursuit, or
whether they had left the house together, they had no means of
determining. Certain they considered it, that there was but
slender prospect left of hearing of them again, and that whether
their flight originated with the old man, or with the child, there
was now no hope of their return.
To all this, the single gentleman listened with the air of a man
quite borne down by grief and disappointment. He shed tears when
they spoke of the grandfather, and appeared in deep affliction.
Not to protract this portion of our narrative, and to make short
work of a long story, let it be briefly written that before the
interview came to a close, the single gentleman deemed he had
sufficient evidence of having been told the truth, and that he
endeavoured to force upon the bride and bridegroom an
acknowledgment of their kindness to the unfriended child, which,
however, they steadily declined accepting. In the end, the happy
couple jolted away in the caravan to spend their honeymoon in a
country excursion; and the single gentleman and Kit's mother stood
ruefully before their carriage-door.
'Where shall we drive you, sir?' said the post-boy.
'You may drive me,' said the single gentleman, 'to the--' He was
not going to add 'inn,' but he added it for the sake of Kit's
mother; and to the inn they went.
Rumours had already got abroad that the little girl who used to
show the wax-work, was the child of great people who had been
stolen from her parents in infancy, and had only just been traced.
Opinion was divided whether she was the daughter of a prince, a
duke, an earl, a viscount, or a baron, but all agreed upon the main
fact, and that the single gentleman was her father; and all bent
forward to catch a glimpse, though it were only of the tip of his
noble nose, as he rode away, desponding, in his four-horse chaise.
What would he have given to know, and what sorrow would have been
saved if he had only known, that at that moment both child and
grandfather were seated in the old church porch, patiently awaiting
the schoolmaster's return!
Popular rumour concerning the single gentleman and his errand,
travelling from mouth to mouth, and waxing stronger in the
marvellous as it was bandied about--for your popular rumour,
unlike the rolling stone of the proverb, is one which gathers a
deal of moss in its wanderings up and down--occasioned his
dismounting at the inn-door to be looked upon as an exciting and
attractive spectacle, which could scarcely be enough admired; and
drew together a large concourse of idlers, who having recently
been, as it were, thrown out of employment by the closing of the
wax-work and the completion of the nuptial ceremonies, considered
his arrival as little else than a special providence, and hailed it
with demonstrations of the liveliest joy.
Not at all participating in the general sensation, but wearing the
depressed and wearied look of one who sought to meditate on his
disappointment in silence and privacy, the single gentleman
alighted, and handed out Kit's mother with a gloomy politeness
which impressed the lookers-on extremely. That done, he gave her
his arm and escorted her into the house, while several active
waiters ran on before as a skirmishing party, to clear the way and
to show the room which was ready for their reception.
'Any room will do,' said the single gentleman. 'Let it be near at
hand, that's all.'
'Close here, sir, if you please to walk this way.'
'Would the gentleman like this room?' said a voice, as a little
out-of-the-way door at the foot of the well staircase flew briskly
open and a head popped out. 'He's quite welcome to it. He's as
welcome as flowers in May, or coals at Christmas. Would you like
this room, sir? Honour me by walking in. Do me the favour, pray.'
'Goodness gracious me!' cried Kit's mother, falling back in extreme
surprise, 'only think of this!'
She had some reason to be astonished, for the person who proffered
the gracious invitation was no other than Daniel Quilp. The little
door out of which he had thrust his head was close to the inn
larder; and there he stood, bowing with grotesque politeness; as
much at his ease as if the door were that of his own house;
blighting all the legs of mutton and cold roast fowls by his close
companionship, and looking like the evil genius of the cellars come
from underground upon some work of mischief.
'Would you do me the honour?' said Quilp.
'I prefer being alone,' replied the single gentleman.
'Oh!' said Quilp. And with that, he darted in again with one jerk
and clapped the little door to, like a figure in a Dutch clock when
the hour strikes.
'Why it was only last night, sir,' whispered Kit's mother, 'that I
left him in Little Bethel.'
'Indeed!' said her fellow-passenger. 'When did that person come
'Come down by the night-coach, this morning, sir.'
'Humph! And when is he going?'
'Can't say, sir, really. When the chambermaid asked him just now
if he should want a bed, sir, he first made faces at her, and then
wanted to kiss her.'
'Beg him to walk this way,' said the single gentleman. 'I should
be glad to exchange a word with him, tell him. Beg him to come at
once, do you hear?'
The man stared on receiving these instructions, for the single
gentleman had not only displayed as much astonishment as Kit's
mother at sight of the dwarf, but, standing in no fear of him, had
been at less pains to conceal his dislike and repugnance. He
departed on his errand, however, and immediately returned, ushering
in its object.
'Your servant, sir,' said the dwarf, 'I encountered your messenger
half-way. I thought you'd allow me to pay my compliments to you.
I hope you're well. I hope you're very well.'
There was a short pause, while the dwarf, with half-shut eyes and
puckered face, stood waiting for an answer. Receiving none, he
turned towards his more familiar acquaintance.
'Christopher's mother!' he cried. 'Such a dear lady, such a worthy
woman, so blest in her honest son! How is Christopher's mother?
Have change of air and scene improved her? Her little family too,
and Christopher? Do they thrive? Do they flourish? Are they
growing into worthy citizens, eh?'
Making his voice ascend in the scale with every succeeding
question, Mr Quilp finished in a shrill squeak, and subsided into
the panting look which was customary with him, and which, whether
it were assumed or natural, had equally the effect of banishing all
expression from his face, and rendering it, as far as it afforded
any index to his mood or meaning, a perfect blank.
'Mr Quilp,' said the single gentleman.
The dwarf put his hand to his great flapped ear, and counterfeited
the closest attention.
'We two have met before--'
'Surely,' cried Quilp, nodding his head. 'Oh surely, sir. Such an
honour and pleasure--it's both, Christopher's mother, it's both--
is not to be forgotten so soon. By no means!'
'You may remember that the day I arrived in London, and found the
house to which I drove, empty and deserted, I was directed by some
of the neighbours to you, and waited upon you without stopping for
rest or refreshment?'
'How precipitate that was, and yet what an earnest and vigorous
measure!' said Quilp, conferring with himself, in imitation of his
friend Mr Sampson Brass.
'I found,' said the single gentleman, 'you most unaccountably, in
possession of everything that had so recently belonged to another
man, and that other man, who up to the time of your entering upon
his property had been looked upon as affluent, reduced to sudden
beggary, and driven from house and home.'
'We had warrant for what we did, my good sir,' rejoined Quilp, 'we
had our warrant. Don't say driven either. He went of his own
accord--vanished in the night, sir.'
'No matter,' said the single gentleman angrily. 'He was gone.'
'Yes, he was gone,' said Quilp, with the same exasperating
composure. 'No doubt he was gone. The only question was, where.
And it's a question still.'
'Now, what am I to think,' said the single gentleman, sternly
regarding him, 'of you, who, plainly indisposed to give me any
information then--nay, obviously holding back, and sheltering
yourself with all kinds of cunning, trickery, and evasion--are
dogging my footsteps now?'
'I dogging!' cried Quilp.
'Why, are you not?' returned his questioner, fretted into a state
of the utmost irritation. 'Were you not a few hours since, sixty
miles off, and in the chapel to which this good woman goes to say
'She was there too, I think?' said Quilp, still perfectly unmoved.
'I might say, if I was inclined to be rude, how do I know but you
are dogging MY footsteps. Yes, I was at chapel. What then? I've
read in books that pilgrims were used to go to chapel before they
went on journeys, to put up petitions for their safe return. Wise
men! journeys are very perilous--especially outside the coach.
Wheels come off, horses take fright, coachmen drive too fast,
coaches overturn. I always go to chapel before I start on
journeys. It's the last thing I do on such occasions, indeed.'
That Quilp lied most heartily in this speech, it needed no very
great penetration to discover, although for anything that he
suffered to appear in his face, voice, or manner, he might have
been clinging to the truth with the quiet constancy of a martyr.
'In the name of all that's calculated to drive one crazy, man,'
said the unfortunate single gentleman, 'have you not, for some
reason of your own, taken upon yourself my errand? don't you know
with what object I have come here, and if you do know, can you
throw no light upon it?'
'You think I'm a conjuror, sir,' replied Quilp, shrugging up his
shoulders. 'If I was, I should tell my own fortune--and make it.'
'Ah! we have said all we need say, I see,' returned the other,
throwing himself impatiently upon a sofa. 'Pray leave us, if you
'Willingly,' returned Quilp. 'Most willingly. Christopher's
mother, my good soul, farewell. A pleasant journey--back, sir.
With these parting words, and with a grin upon his features
altogether indescribable, but which seemed to be compounded of
every monstrous grimace of which men or monkeys are capable, the
dwarf slowly retreated and closed the door behind him.
'Oho!' he said when he had regained his own room, and sat himself
down in a chair with his arms akimbo. 'Oho! Are you there, my
Chuckling as though in very great glee, and recompensing himself
for the restraint he had lately put upon his countenance by
twisting it into all imaginable varieties of ugliness, Mr Quilp,
rocking himself to and fro in his chair and nursing his left leg at
the same time, fell into certain meditations, of which it may be
necessary to relate the substance.
First, he reviewed the circumstances which had led to his repairing
to that spot, which were briefly these. Dropping in at Mr Sampson
Brass's office on the previous evening, in the absence of that
gentleman and his learned sister, he had lighted upon Mr Swiveller,
who chanced at the moment to be sprinkling a glass of warm gin and
water on the dust of the law, and to be moistening his clay, as the
phrase goes, rather copiously. But as clay in the abstract, when
too much moistened, becomes of a weak and uncertain consistency,
breaking down in unexpected places, retaining impressions but
faintly, and preserving no strength or steadiness of character, so
Mr Swiveller's clay, having imbibed a considerable quantity of
moisture, was in a very loose and slippery state, insomuch that the
various ideas impressed upon it were fast losing their distinctive
character, and running into each other. It is not uncommon for
human clay in this condition to value itself above all things upon
its great prudence and sagacity; and Mr Swiveller, especially
prizing himself upon these qualities, took occasion to remark that
he had made strange discoveries in connection with the single
gentleman who lodged above, which he had determined to keep within
his own bosom, and which neither tortures nor cajolery should ever
induce him to reveal. Of this determination Mr Quilp expressed his
high approval, and setting himself in the same breath to goad Mr
Swiveller on to further hints, soon made out that the single
gentleman had been seen in communication with Kit, and that this
was the secret which was never to be disclosed.
Possessed of this piece of information, Mr Quilp directly supposed
that the single gentleman above stairs must be the same individual
who had waited on him, and having assured himself by further
inquiries that this surmise was correct, had no difficulty in
arriving at the conclusion that the intent and object of his
correspondence with Kit was the recovery of his old client and the
child. Burning with curiosity to know what proceedings were afoot,
he resolved to pounce upon Kit's mother as the person least able to
resist his arts, and consequently the most likely to be entrapped
into such revelations as he sought; so taking an abrupt leave of Mr
Swiveller, he hurried to her house. The good woman being from
home, he made inquiries of a neighbour, as Kit himself did soon
afterwards, and being directed to the chapel be took himself there,
in order to waylay her, at the conclusion of the service.
He had not sat in the chapel more than a quarter of an hour, and
with his eyes piously fixed upon the ceiling was chuckling inwardly
over the joke of his being there at all, when Kit himself appeared.
Watchful as a lynx, one glance showed the dwarf that he had come on
business. Absorbed in appearance, as we have seen, and feigning a
profound abstraction, he noted every circumstance of his behaviour,
and when he withdrew with his family, shot out after him. In fine,
he traced them to the notary's house; learnt the destination of the
carriage from one of the postilions; and knowing that a fast
night-coach started for the same place, at the very hour which was
on the point of striking, from a street hard by, darted round to
the coach-office without more ado, and took his seat upon the roof.
After passing and repassing the carriage on the road, and being
passed and repassed by it sundry times in the course of the night,
according as their stoppages were longer or shorter; or their rate
of travelling varied, they reached the town almost together. Quilp
kept the chaise in sight, mingled with the crowd, learnt the single
gentleman's errand, and its failure, and having possessed himself
of all that it was material to know, hurried off, reached the inn
before him, had the interview just now detailed, and shut himself
up in the little room in which he hastily reviewed all these
'You are there, are you, my friend?' he repeated, greedily biting
his nails. 'I am suspected and thrown aside, and Kit's the
confidential agent, is he? I shall have to dispose of him, I fear.
If we had come up with them this morning,' he continued, after a
thoughtful pause, 'I was ready to prove a pretty good claim. I
could have made my profit. But for these canting hypocrites, the
lad and his mother, I could get this fiery gentleman as comfortably
into my net as our old friend--our mutual friend, ha! ha!--and
chubby, rosy Nell. At the worst, it's a golden opportunity, not to
be lost. Let us find them first, and I'll find means of draining
you of some of your superfluous cash, sir, while there are prison
bars, and bolts, and locks, to keep your friend or kinsman safely.
I hate your virtuous people!' said the dwarf, throwing off a bumper
of brandy, and smacking his lips, 'ah! I hate 'em every one!'
This was not a mere empty vaunt, but a deliberate avowal of his
real sentiments; for Mr Quilp, who loved nobody, had by little and
little come to hate everybody nearly or remotely connected with his
ruined client: --the old man himself, because he had been able to
deceive him and elude his vigilance --the child, because she was
the object of Mrs Quilp's commiseration and constant self-reproach
--the single gentleman, because of his unconcealed aversion to
himself --Kit and his mother, most mortally, for the reasons shown.
Above and beyond that general feeling of opposition to them, which
would have been inseparable from his ravenous desire to enrich
himself by these altered circumstances, Daniel Quilp hated them
In this amiable mood, Mr Quilp enlivened himself and his hatreds
with more brandy, and then, changing his quarters, withdrew to an
obscure alehouse, under cover of which seclusion he instituted all
possible inquiries that might lead to the discovery of the old man
and his grandchild. But all was in vain. Not the slightest trace
or clue could be obtained. They had left the town by night; no one
had seen them go; no one had met them on the road; the driver of no
coach, cart, or waggon, had seen any travellers answering their
description; nobody had fallen in with them, or heard of them.
Convinced at last that for the present all such attempts were
hopeless, he appointed two or three scouts, with promises of large
rewards in case of their forwarding him any intelligence, and
returned to London by next day's coach.
It was some gratification to Mr Quilp to find, as he took his place
upon the roof, that Kit's mother was alone inside; from which
circumstance he derived in the course of the journey much
cheerfulness of spirit, inasmuch as her solitary condition enabled
him to terrify her with many extraordinary annoyances; such as
hanging over the side of the coach at the risk of his life, and
staring in with his great goggle eyes, which seemed in hers the
more horrible from his face being upside down; dodging her in this
way from one window to another; getting nimbly down whenever they
changed horses and thrusting his head in at the window with a
dismal squint: which ingenious tortures had such an effect upon Mrs
Nubbles, that she was quite unable for the time to resist the
belief that Mr Quilp did in his own person represent and embody
that Evil Power, who was so vigorously attacked at Little Bethel,
and who, by reason of her backslidings in respect of Astley's and
oysters, was now frolicsome and rampant.
Kit, having been apprised by letter of his mother's intended
return, was waiting for her at the coach-office; and great was his
surprise when he saw, leering over the coachman's shoulder like
some familiar demon, invisible to all eyes but his, the well-known
face of Quilp.
'How are you, Christopher?' croaked the dwarf from the coach-top.
'All right, Christopher. Mother's inside.'
'Why, how did he come here, mother?' whispered Kit.
'I don't know how he came or why, my dear,' rejoined Mrs Nubbles,
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