“Fred,” said Mr. Swiveller, “remember the once-popular melody of ‘Begone dull care;’ fan the sinking flame of hilarity with the wing of friendship; and pass the rosy wine!”
Mr. Richard Swiveller’s apartments were in the neighbourhood of Drury Lane, and in addition to this conveniency of situation had the advantage of being over a tobacconist’s shop, so that he was enabled to procure a refreshing sneeze at any time by merely stepping out on the staircase, and was saved the trouble and expense of maintaining a snuff-box. It was in these apartments that Mr. Swiveller made use of the expressions above recorded, for the consolation and encouragement of his desponding friend; and it may not be uninteresting or improper to remark that even these brief observations partook in a double sense of the figurative and poetical character of Mr. Swiveller’s mind, as the rosy wine was in fact represented by one glass of cold gin-and-water, which was replenished, as occasion required, from a bottle and jug upon the table, and was passed from one to another, in a scarcity of tumblers which, as Mr. Swiveller’s was a bachelor’s establishment, may be acknowledged without a blush. By a like pleasant fiction his single chamber was always mentioned in the plural number. In its disengaged times, the tobacconist had announced it in his window as “apartments” for a single gentleman, and Mr. Swiveller, following up the hint, never failed to speak of it as his rooms, his lodgings, or his chambers: conveying to his hearers a notion of indefinite space, and leaving their imaginations to wander through long suites of lofty halls, at pleasure.
In this flight of fancy, Mr. Swiveller was assisted by a deceptive piece of furniture, in reality a bedstead, but in semblance a bookcase, which occupied a prominent situation in his chamber and seemed to defy suspicion and challenge inquiry. There is no doubt that, by day, Mr. Swiveller firmly believed this secret convenience to be a bookcase and nothing more; that he closed his eyes to the bed, resolutely denied the existence of the blankets, and spurned the bolster from his thoughts. No word of its real use, no hint of its nightly service, no allusion to its peculiar properties, had ever passed between him and his most intimate friends. Implicit faith in the deception was the first article of his creed. To be the friend of Swiveller you must reject all circumstantial evidence, all reason, observation, and experience, and repose a blind belief in the bookcase. It was his pet weakness, and he cherished it.
“Fred!” said Mr. Swiveller, finding that his former adjuration had been productive of no effect. “Pass the rosy!”
Young Trent, with an impatient gesture, pushed the glass towards 45 him, and fell again into the moody attitude from which he had been unwillingly roused.
Mr. Swiveller in his own Apartments.
“I’ll give you, Fred,” said his friend, stirring the mixture, “a little sentiment appropriate to the occasion. Here’s May the——”
“Pshaw!” interposed the other. “You worry me to death with your chattering. You can be merry under any circumstances.”
“Why, Mr. Trent,” returned Dick, “there is a proverb which talks about being merry and wise. There are some people who can be merry and can’t be wise, and some who can be wise (or think they can) and can’t be merry. I’m one of the first sort. If the proverb’s a good ’un, I suppose it’s better to keep to half of it than none; at all events I’d rather be merry and not wise, than be like you neither one nor t’other.”
“Bah!” muttered his friend, peevishly.
“With all my heart,” said Mr. Swiveller. “In the polite circles I believe this sort of thing isn’t usually said to a gentleman in his own apartments, but never mind that. Make yourself at home.” Adding to this retort an observation to the effect that his friend appeared to be rather “cranky” in point of temper, Richard Swiveller finished the rosy and applied himself to the composition of another glassful, in which, after tasting it with great relish, he proposed a toast to an imaginary company.
“Gentlemen, I’ll give you, if you please, Success to the ancient 46 family of the Swivellers, and good luck to Mr. Richard in particular—Mr. Richard, gentlemen,” said Dick with great emphasis, “who spends all his money on his friends and is Bah!’d for his pains. Hear, hear!”
“Dick!” said the other, returning to his seat after having paced the room twice or thrice, “will you talk seriously for two minutes, if I show you a way to make your fortune with very little trouble?”
“You’ve shown me so many,” returned Dick; “and nothing has come of any one of ’em but empty pockets——”
“You’ll tell a different story of this one, before a very long time is over,” said his companion drawing his chair to the table. “You saw my sister Nell?”
“What about her?” returned Dick.
“She has a pretty face, has she not?”
“Why, certainly,” replied Dick, “I must say for her, that there’s not any very strong family likeness between her and you.”
“Has she a pretty face?” repeated his friend impatiently.
“Yes,” said Dick, “she has a pretty face, a very pretty face. What of that?”
“I’ll tell you,” returned his friend. “It’s very plain that the old man and I will remain at daggers-drawn to the end of our lives, and that I have nothing to expect from him. You see that, I suppose?”
“A bat might see that, with the sun shining,” said Dick.
“It’s equally plain that the money which the old flint—rot him—first taught me to expect that I should share with her at his death, will all be hers, is it not?”
“I should say it was,” replied Dick; “unless the way in which I put the case to him, made an impression. It may have done so. It was powerful, Fred. ‘Here is a jolly old grandfather’—that was strong, I thought—very friendly and natural. Did it strike you in that way?”
“It didn’t strike him,” returned the other, “so we needn’t discuss it. Now look here. Nell is nearly fourteen.”
“Fine girl of her age, but small,” observed Richard Swiveller parenthetically.
“If I am to go on, be quiet for one minute,” returned Trent, fretting at the very slight interest the other appeared to take in the conversation. “Now I’m coming to the point.”
“That’s right,” said Dick.
“The girl has strong affections, and brought up as she has been, may, at her age, be easily influenced and persuaded. If I take her in hand, I will be bound by a very little coaxing and threatening to bend her to my will. Not to beat about the bush (for the advantages of the scheme would take a week to tell) what’s to prevent your marrying her?”
A Cool Proposal.
Richard Swiveller, who had been looking over the rim of the tumbler while his companion addressed the foregoing remarks to him 47 with great energy and earnestness of manner, no sooner heard these words than he evinced the utmost consternation, and with difficulty ejaculated the monosyllable,
“I say, what’s to prevent,” repeated the other, with a steadiness of manner, of the effect of which upon his companion he was well assured by long experience, “what’s to prevent your marrying her?”
“And she ‘nearly fourteen!’” cried Dick.
“I don’t mean marrying her now”—returned the brother angrily; “say in two years’ time, in three, in four. Does the old man look like a long-liver?”
“He don’t look like it,” said Dick shaking his head, “but these old people—there’s no trusting ’em, Fred. There’s an aunt of mine down in Dorsetshire that was going to die when I was eight years old, and hasn’t kept her word yet. They’re so aggravating, so unprincipled, so spiteful—unless there’s apoplexy in the family, Fred, you can’t calculate upon ’em, and even then they deceive you just as often as not.”
“Look at the worst side of the question then,” said Trent as steadily as before, and keeping his eyes upon his friend. “Suppose he lives.”
“To be sure,” said Dick. “There’s the rub.”
“I say,” resumed his friend, “suppose he lives, and I persuaded, or if the word sounds more feasible, forced, Nell to a secret marriage with you. What do you think would come of that?”
“A family and an annual income of nothing, to keep ’em on,” said Richard Swiveller after some reflection.
“I tell you,” returned the other with an increased earnestness, which, whether it were real or assumed, had the same effect on his companion, “that he lives for her, that his whole energies and thoughts are bound up in her, that he would no more disinherit her for an act of disobedience than he would take me into his favour again for any act of obedience or virtue that I could possibly be guilty of. He could not do it. You or any other man with eyes in his head may see that, if he chooses.”
“It seems improbable certainly,” said Dick, musing.
“It seems improbable because it is improbable,” his friend returned. “If you would furnish him with an additional inducement to forgive you, let there be an irreconcileable breach, a most deadly quarrel, between you and me—let there be a pretence of such a thing, I mean, of course—and he’ll do so fast enough. As to Nell, constant dropping will wear away a stone; you know you may trust to me as far as she is concerned. So, whether he lives or dies, what does it come to? That you become the sole inheritor of the wealth of this rich old hunks; that you and I spend it together; and that you get, into the bargain, a beautiful young wife.”
“I suppose there’s no doubt about his being rich,” said Dick.
“Doubt! Did you hear what he let fall the other day when we were there? Doubt! What will you doubt next, Dick?”48
It would be tedious to pursue the conversation through all its artful windings, or to develope the gradual approaches by which the heart of Richard Swiveller was gained. It is sufficient to know that vanity, interest, poverty, and every spendthrift consideration urged him to look upon the proposal with favour, and that where all other inducements were wanting, the habitual of his disposition stepped in and still weighed down the scale on the same side. To these impulses must be added the complete ascendancy which his friend had long been accustomed to exercise over him—an ascendancy exerted in the beginning sorely at the expense of the unfortunate Dick’s purse and prospects, but still maintained without the slightest relaxation, notwithstanding that Dick suffered for all his friend’s vices and was, in nine cases out of ten, looked upon as his designing tempter when he was indeed nothing but his thoughtless light-headed tool.
The motives on the other side were something deeper than any which Richard Swiveller entertained or understood, but these being left to their own development, require no present elucidation. The negotiation was concluded very pleasantly, and Swiveller was in the act of stating in flowery terms that he had no insurmountable objection to marrying anybody plentifully endowed with money or moveables, who could be induced to take him, when he was interrupted in his observations by a knock at the door, and the consequent necessity of crying “Come in.”
The door was opened, but nothing came in except a soapy arm and a strong gush of tobacco. The gush of tobacco came from the shop down-stairs, and the soapy arm proceeded from the body of a servant girl, who being then and there engaged in cleaning the stairs had just drawn it out of a warm pail to take in a letter, which letter she now held in her hand; proclaiming aloud, with that quick perception of surnames peculiar to her class, that it was for Mister Snivelling.
Dick looked rather pale and foolish when he glanced at the direction, and still more so when he came to look at the inside; observing that this was one of the inconveniences of being a lady’s man, and that it was very easy to talk as they had been talking, but he had quite forgotten her.
“Her. Who?” demanded Trent.
“Sophy Wackles,” said Dick.
“She’s all my fancy painted her, sir, that’s what she is,” said Mr. Swiveller, taking a long pull at “the rosy” and looking gravely at his friend. “She is lovely, she’s divine. You know ”
“I remember,” said his companion carelessly “What of her?”
“Why sir,” returned Dick, “between Miss Sophia Wackles and the humble individual who has now the honour to address you, warm and tender sentiments have been engendered—sentiments of the most honourable and inspiring kind. The Goddess Diana, sir, that calls 49 aloud for the chase, is not more particular in her behaviour than Sophia Wackles; I can tell you that.”
A Timely Reminder.
“Am I to believe there’s anything real in what you say?” demanded his friend; “you don’t mean to say that any love-making has been going on?”
“Love-making, yes. Promising, no,” said Dick. “There can be no action for breach, that’s one comfort. I’ve never committed myself in writing, Fred.”
“And what’s in the letter pray?”
“A reminder, Fred, for to-night—a small party of twenty—making two hundred light fantastic toes in all, supposing every lady and gentleman to have the proper complement. I must go, if it’s only to begin breaking off the affair—I’ll do it, don’t you be afraid. I should like to know whether she left this, herself. If she did, unconscious of any bar to her happiness, it’s affecting, Fred.”
To solve this question, Mr. Swiveller summoned the handmaid and ascertained that Miss Sophy Wackles had indeed left the letter with her own hands; and that she had come accompanied, for decorum’s sake, no doubt, by a younger Miss Wackles; and that on learning that Mr. Swiveller was at home and being requested to walk up-stairs, she was extremely shocked and professed that she would rather die. Mr. Swiveller heard this account with a degree of admiration not altogether consistent with the project in which he had just concurred, but his friend attached very little importance to his behaviour in this respect, probably because he knew that he had influence sufficient to control Richard Swiveller’s proceedings in this or any other matter, whenever he deemed it necessary, for the advancement of his own purposes, to exert it.
Business disposed of, Mr. Swiveller was inwardly reminded of its being nigh dinner-time, and to the intent that his health might not be endangered by longer abstinence, despatched a message to the nearest eating-house requiring an immediate supply of boiled beef and greens for two. With this demand, however, the eating-house (having experience of its customer) declined to comply, churlishly sending back for answer that if Mr. Swiveller stood in need of beef perhaps he would be so obliging as to come there and eat it, bringing with him, as grace before meat, the amount of a certain small account which had been long outstanding. Not at all intimidated by this rebuff, but rather sharpened in wits and appetite, Mr. Swiveller forwarded the same message to another and more distant eating-house, adding to it by way of rider that the gentleman was induced to send so far, not 50 only by the great fame and popularity its beef had acquired, but in consequence of the extreme toughness of the beef retailed at the obdurate cook’s shop, which rendered it quite unfit not merely for gentlemanly food but for any human consumption. The good effect of this politic course was demonstrated by the speedy arrival of a small pewter pyramid, curiously constructed of platters and covers, whereof the boiled-beef-plates formed the base, and a foaming quart-pot the apex; the structure being resolved into its component parts afforded all things requisite and necessary for a hearty meal, to which Mr. Swiveller and his friend applied themselves with great keenness and enjoyment.
“May the present moment,” said Dick, sticking his fork into a large carbuncular potato, “be the worst of our lives! I like this plan of sending ’em with the peel on; there’s a charm in drawing a potato from its native element (if I may so express it) to which the rich and powerful are strangers. Ah! ‘Man wants but little here below, nor wants that little long!’ How true that is!—after dinner.”
“I hope the eating-house keeper will want but little and that he may not want that little long,” returned his companion; “but I suspect you’ve no means of paying for this!”
“I shall be passing presently, and I’ll call,” said Dick, winking his eye significantly. “The waiter’s quite helpless. The goods are gone, Fred, and there’s an end of it.”
In point of fact, it would seem that the waiter felt this wholesome truth, for when he returned for the empty plates and dishes and was informed by Mr. Swiveller with dignified carelessness that he would call and settle when he should be passing presently, he displayed some perturbation of spirit, and muttered a few remarks about “payment on delivery,” and “no trust,” and other unpleasant subjects, but was fain to content himself with inquiring at what hour it was likely the gentleman would call, in order that being personally responsible for the beef, greens, and sundries, he might take care to be in the way at the time. Mr. Swiveller, after mentally calculating his engagements to a nicety, replied that he should look in at from two minutes before six to seven minutes past; and the man disappearing with this feeble consolation, Richard Swiveller took a greasy memorandum-book from his pocket and made an entry therein.
“Is that a reminder, in case you should forget to call?” said Trent with a sneer.
“Not exactly, Fred,” replied the imperturbable Richard, continuing to write with a business-like air, “I enter in this little book the names of the streets that I can’t go down while the shops are open. This dinner to-day closes Long Acre. I bought a pair of boots in Great Queen Street last week, and made that no thoroughfare too. There’s only one avenue to the Strand left open now, and I shall have to stop up that to-night with a pair of gloves. The roads are closing so fast in every direction, that in about a month’s time, unless my aunt sends 51 me a remittance, I shall have to go three or four miles out of town to get over the way.”
Mr. Swiveller reviews his Position.
“There’s no fear of her failing, in the end?” said Trent.
“Why, I hope not,” returned Mr. Swiveller, “but the average number of letters it takes to soften her is six, and this time we have got as far as eight without any effect at all. I’ll write another to-morrow morning. I mean to blot it a good deal and shake some water over it out of the pepper-castor, to make it look penitent. ‘I’m in such a state of mind that I hardly know what I write’—blot—‘if you could see me at this minute shedding tears for my past misconduct’—pepper-castor—‘my hand trembles when I think’—blot again—if that don’t produce the effect, it’s all over.”
By this time Mr. Swiveller had finished his entry, and he now replaced his pencil in its little sheath and closed the book, in a perfectly grave and serious frame of mind. His friend discovered that it was time for him to fulfil some other engagement, and Richard Swiveller was accordingly left alone, in company with the rosy wine and his own meditations touching Miss Sophy Wackles.
“It’s rather sudden,” said Dick shaking his head with a look of infinite wisdom, and running on (as he was accustomed to do) with scraps of verse as if they were only prose in a hurry; “when the heart of a man is depressed with fears, the mist is dispelled when Miss Wackles appears: she’s a very nice girl. She’s like the red red rose that’s newly sprung in June—there’s no denying that—she’s also like a melody that’s sweetly played in tune. It’s really very sudden. Not that there’s any need, on account of Fred’s little sister, to turn cool directly, but it’s better not to go too far. If I begin to cool at all I must begin at once, I see that. There’s the chance of an action for breach, that’s one reason. There’s the chance of Sophy’s getting another husband, that’s another. There’s the chance of—no, there’s no chance of that, but it’s as well to be on the safe side.”
This undeveloped consideration was the possibility, which Richard Swiveller sought to conceal even from himself, of his not being proof against the charms of Miss Wackles, and in some unguarded moment, by linking his fortunes to hers for ever, of putting it out of his own power to further the notable scheme to which he had so readily become a party. For all these reasons, he decided to pick a quarrel with Miss Wackles without delay, and casting about for a pretext determined in favour of groundless jealousy. Having made up his mind on this important point, he circulated the glass (from his right hand to his left, and back again) pretty freely, to enable him to act his part with the greater discretion, and then, after making some slight improvements in his toilet, bent his steps towards the spot hallowed by the fair object of his meditations.
This spot was at Chelsea, for there Miss Sophia Wackles resided with her widowed mother and two sisters, in conjunction with whom she maintained a very small day-school for young ladies of proportionate 52 dimensions; a circumstance which was made known to the neighbourhood by an oval board over the front first-floor window, whereon appeared, in circumambient flourishes, the words “Ladies’ Seminary;” and which was further published and proclaimed at intervals between the hours of half-past nine and ten in the morning, by a straggling and solitary young lady of tender years standing on the scraper on the tips of her toes and making futile attempts to reach the knocker with a spelling-book. The several duties of instruction in this establishment were thus discharged. English grammar, composition, geography, and the use of the dumb-bells, by Miss Melissa Wackles; writing, arithmetic, dancing, music, and general fascination, by Miss Sophy Wackles; the art of needle-work, marking, and samplery, by Miss Jane Wackles; corporal punishment, fasting, and other tortures and terrors, by Mrs. Wackles. Miss Melissa Wackles was the eldest daughter, Miss Sophy the next, and Miss Jane the youngest. Miss Melissa might have seen five-and-thirty summers or thereabouts, and verged on the autumnal; Miss Sophy was a fresh, good-humoured, buxom girl of twenty; and Miss Jane numbered scarcely sixteen years. Mrs. Wackles was an excellent, but rather venomous old lady of three-score.
To this Ladies’ Seminary then, Richard Swiveller hied, with designs obnoxious to the peace of the fair Sophia, who, arrayed in virgin white, embellished by no ornament but one blushing rose, received him on his arrival, in the midst of very elegant not to say brilliant preparations; such as the embellishment of the room with the little flower-pots which always stood on the window-sill outside, save in windy weather when they blew into the area; the choice attire of the day-scholars who were allowed to grace the festival; the unwonted curls of Miss Jane Wackles who had kept her head during the whole of the preceding day screwed up tight in a yellow play-bill; and the solemn gentility and stately bearing of the old lady and her eldest daughter, which struck Mr. Swiveller as being uncommon but made no further impression upon him.
The truth is—and, as there is no accounting for tastes, even a taste so strange as this may be recorded without being looked upon as a wilful and malicious invention—the truth is, that neither Mrs. Wackles nor her eldest daughter had at any time greatly favoured the pretensions of Mr. Swiveller: they being accustomed to make slight mention of him as “a gay young man” and to sigh and shake their heads ominously, whenever his name was mentioned. Mr. Swiveller’s conduct in respect to Miss Sophy having been of that vague and dilatory kind which is usually looked upon as betokening no fixed matrimonial intentions, the young lady herself began in course of time to deem it highly desirable, that it should be brought to an issue one way or other. Hence, she had at last consented to play off, against Richard Swiveller, a stricken market-gardener known to be ready with his offer on the smallest encouragement, and hence—as this occasion 53 had been specially assigned for the purpose—that great anxiety on her part for Richard Swiveller’s presence which had occasioned her to leave the note he has been seen to receive. “If he has any expectations at all or any means of keeping a wife well,” said Mrs. Wackles to her eldest daughter, “he’ll state ’em to us now or never.”—“If he really cares about me,” thought Miss Sophy, “he must tell me so, tonight.”
Diplomacy of the Wackles Family.
But all these sayings and doings and thinkings being unknown to Mr. Swiveller, affected him not in the least; he was debating in his mind how he could best turn jealous, and wishing that Sophy were, for that occasion only, far less pretty than she was, or that she were her own sister, which would have served his turn as well, when the company came, and among them the market-gardener, whose name was Cheggs. But Mr. Cheggs came not alone or unsupported, for he prudently brought along with him his sister, Miss Cheggs, who making straight to Miss Sophy and taking her by both hands, and kissing her on both cheeks, hoped in an audible whisper that they had not come too early.
“Too early? No!” replied Miss Sophy.
“Oh my dear,” rejoined Miss Cheggs in the same whisper as before, “I’ve been so tormented, so worried, that it’s a mercy we were not here at four o’clock in the afternoon. Alick has been in such a state of impatience to come! You’d hardly believe that he was dressed before dinner-time and has been looking at the clock and teasing me ever since. It’s all your fault, you naughty thing.”
Miss Sophy blushed, and Mr. Cheggs (who was bashful before ladies) blushed too, and Miss Sophy’s mother and sisters, to prevent Mr. Cheggs from blushing more, lavished civilities and attentions upon him, and left Richard Swiveller to take care of himself. Here was the very thing he wanted; here was good cause, reason, and foundation, for pretending to be angry; but having this cause, reason, and foundation which he had come expressly to seek, not expecting to find, Richard Swiveller was angry in sound earnest, and wondered what the devil Cheggs meant by his impudence.
However, Mr. Swiveller had Miss Sophy’s hand for the first quadrille (country-dances being low, were utterly proscribed), and so gained an advantage over his rival, who sat despondingly in a corner and contemplated the glorious figure of the young lady as she moved through the mazy dance. Nor was this the only start Mr. Swiveller had of the market-gardener; for, determining to show the family what quality of man they trifled with, and influenced perhaps by his late libations, he performed such feats of agility and such spins and twirls as filled the company with astonishment, and in particular caused a very long gentleman who was dancing with a very short scholar, to stand quite transfixed by wonder and admiration. Even Mrs. Wackles forgot for the moment to snub three small young ladies who were inclined to be happy, and could not repress a rising thought 54 that to have such a dancer as that in the family would be a pride indeed.
At this momentous crisis, Miss Cheggs proved herself a vigorous and useful ally; for, not confining herself to expressing by scornful smiles a contempt for Mr. Swiveller’s accomplishments, she took every opportunity of whispering into Miss Sophy’s ear expressions of condolence and sympathy on her being worried by such a ridiculous creature, declaring that she was frightened to death lest Alick should fall upon him, and beat him, in the fulness of his wrath, and entreating Miss Sophy to observe how the eyes of the said Alick gleamed with love and fury; passions, it may be observed, which being too much for his eyes rushed into his nose also, and suffused it with a crimson glow.
“You must dance with Miss Cheggs,” said Miss Sophy to Dick Swiveller, after she had herself danced twice with Mr. Cheggs and made great show of encouraging his advances. “She’s such a nice girl—and her brother’s quite delightful.”
“Quite delightful is he?” muttered Dick. “Quite delighted too, I should say, from the manner in which he’s looking this way.”
Here Miss Jane (previously instructed for the purpose) interposed her many curls and whispered her sister to observe how jealous Mr. Cheggs was.
“Jealous! Like his impudence!” said Richard Swiveller.
“His impudence, Mr. Swiveller!” said Miss Jane, tossing her head. “Take care he don’t hear you, sir, or you may be sorry for it.”
“Oh pray, Jane——” said Miss Sophy.
“Nonsense!” replied her sister. “Why shouldn’t Mr. Cheggs be jealous if he likes? I like that, certainly. Mr. Cheggs has as good a right to be jealous as anybody else has, and perhaps he may have a better right soon if he hasn’t already. You know best about that, Sophy!”
Though this was a concerted plot between Miss Sophy and her sister, originating in humane intentions and having for its object the inducing Mr. Swiveller to declare himself in time, it failed in its effect; for Miss Jane being one of those young ladies who are prematurely shrill and shrewish, gave such undue importance to her part that Mr. Swiveller retired in dudgeon, resigning his mistress to Mr. Cheggs and conveying a defiance into his looks which that gentleman indignantly returned.
“Did you speak to me, sir?” said Mr. Cheggs, following him into a corner.—“Have the kindness to smile, sir, in order that we may not be suspected.—Did you speak to me, sir?”
Mr. Swiveller looked with a supercilious smile at Mr. Cheggs’s toes, then raised his eyes from them to his ankle, from that to his shin, from that to his knee, and so on very gradually, keeping up his right leg, until he reached his waistcoat, when he raised his eyes from button to button until he reached his chin, and travelling straight 55 up the middle of his nose came at last to his eyes, when he said abruptly—
“No, sir, I didn’t.”
Mr. Cheggs and Mr. Swiveller.
“Hem!” said Mr. Cheggs, glancing over his shoulder, “have the goodness to smile again, sir. Perhaps you wished to speak to me, sir.”
“No, sir, I didn’t do that, either.”
“Perhaps you may have nothing to say to me now, sir,” said Mr. Cheggs fiercely.
At these words, Richard Swiveller withdrew his eyes from Mr. Cheggs’s face, and travelling down the middle of his nose, and down his waistcoat, and down his right leg, reached his toes again, and carefully surveyed them; this done, he crossed over, and coming up the other leg, and thence approaching by the waistcoat as before, said when he had got to his eyes “No, sir, I haven’t.”
“Oh indeed, sir!” said Mr. Cheggs. “I’m glad to hear it. You know where I’m to be found, I suppose, sir, in case you should have anything to say to me?”
“I can easily inquire, sir, when I want to know.”
“There’s nothing more we need say, I believe, sir?”
“Nothing more, sir”—With that they closed the tremendous dialogue by frowning mutually. Mr. Cheggs hastened to tender his hand to Miss Sophy, and Mr. Swiveller sat himself down in a corner in a very moody state.
Hard by this corner, Mrs. Wackles and Miss Wackles were seated, looking on at the dance; and unto Mrs. and Miss Wackles, Miss Cheggs occasionally darted when her partner was occupied with his share of the figure, and made some remark or other which was gall and wormwood to Richard Swiveller’s soul. Looking into the eyes of Mrs. and Miss Wackles for encouragement, and sitting very upright and uncomfortable on a couple of hard stools, were two of the day-scholars; and when Miss Wackles smiled, and Mrs. Wackles smiled, the two little girls on the stools sought to curry favour by smiling likewise, in gracious acknowledgment of which attention the old lady frowned them down instantly, and said that if they dared to be guilty of such an impertinence again, they should be sent under convoy to their respective homes. This threat caused one of the young ladies, she being of a weak and trembling temperament, to shed tears, and for this offence they were both filed off immediately, with a dreadful promptitude that struck terror into the souls of all the pupils.
“I’ve got such news for you,” said Miss Cheggs approaching once more. “Alick has been saying such things to Sophy. Upon my word, you know, it’s quite serious and in earnest, that’s clear.”
“What’s he been saying, my dear?” demanded Mrs. Wackles.
“All manner of things,” replied Miss Cheggs, “you can’t think how out he has been speaking!”
Richard Swiveller considered it advisable to hear no more, but taking advantage of a pause in the dancing, and the approach of Mr. 56 Cheggs to pay his court to the old lady, swaggered with an extremely careful assumption of extreme carelessness towards the door, passing on the way Miss Jane Wackles, who in all the glory of her curls was holding a flirtation (as good practice when no better was to be had) with a feeble old gentleman who lodged in the parlour. Near the door sat Miss Sophy, still fluttered and confused by the attentions of Mr. Cheggs, and by her side Richard Swiveller lingered for a moment to exchange a few parting words.
“My boat is on the shore and my bark is on the sea, but before I pass this door I will say farewell to thee,” murmured Dick, looking gloomily upon her.
“Are you going?” said Miss Sophy, whose heart sunk within her at the result of her stratagem, but who affected a light indifference notwithstanding.
“Am I going?” echoed Dick bitterly. “Yes, I am. What then?”
“Nothing, except that it’s very early,” said Miss Sophy; “but you are your own master of course.”
“I would that I had been my own mistress too,” said Dick, “before I had ever entertained a thought of you. Miss Wackles, I believed you true, and I was blest in so believing, but now I mourn that e’er I knew, a girl so fair yet so deceiving.”
Miss Sophy bit her lip and affected to look with great interest after Mr. Cheggs, who was quaffing lemonade in the distance.
“I came here,” said Dick, rather oblivious of the purpose with which he had really come, “with my bosom expanded, my heart dilated, and my sentiments of a corresponding description. I go away with feelings that may be conceived, but cannot be described: feeling within myself the desolating truth that my best affections have experienced, this night, a stifler!”
“I am sure I don’t know what you mean, Mr. Swiveller,” said Miss Sophy with downcast eyes. “I’m very sorry if——”
“Sorry, ma’am!” said Dick, “sorry in the possession of a Cheggs! But I wish you a very good-night; concluding with this slight remark, that there is a young lady growing up at this present moment for me, who has not only great personal attractions but great wealth, and who has requested her next of kin to propose for my hand, which, having a regard for some members of her family, I have consented to promise. It’s a gratifying circumstance which you’ll be glad to hear, that a young and lovely girl is growing into a woman expressly on my account, and is now saving up for me. I thought I’d mention it. I have now merely to apologise for trespassing so long upon your attention. Good-night!”
“There’s one good thing springs out of all this,” said Richard Swiveller to himself when he had reached home and was hanging over the candle with the extinguisher in his hand, “which is, that I now go heart and soul, neck and heels, with Fred in all his scheme about little Nelly, and right glad he’ll be to find me so strong upon 57 it. He shall know all about that to-morrow, and in the meantime, as it’s rather late, I’ll try and get a wink or two of the balmy.”
“The balmy” came almost as soon as it was courted. In a very few minutes Mr. Swiveller was fast asleep, dreaming that he had married Nelly Trent and come into the property, and that his first act of power was to lay waste the market-garden of Mr. Cheggs and turn it into a brick-field.
Again, the Solitary Child.
The child, in her confidence with Mrs. Quilp, had but feebly described the sadness and sorrow of her thoughts, or the heaviness of the cloud which overhung her home, and cast dark shadows on its hearth. Besides that it was very difficult to impart to any person not intimately acquainted with the life she led, an adequate sense of its gloom and loneliness, a constant fear of in some way committing or injuring the old man to whom she was so tenderly attached, had restrained her, even in the midst of her heart’s overflowing, and made her timid of allusion to the main cause of her anxiety and distress.
For, it was not the monotonous days unchequered by variety and uncheered by pleasant companionship, it was not the dark dreary evenings or the long solitary nights, it was not the absence of every slight and easy pleasure for which young hearts beat high, or the knowing nothing of childhood but its weakness and its easily wounded spirit, that had wrung such tears from Nell. To see the old man struck down beneath the pressure of some hidden grief, to mark his wavering and unsettled state, to be agitated at times with a dreadful fear that his mind was wandering, and to trace in his words and looks the dawning of despondent madness; to watch and wait and listen for confirmation of these things day after day, and to feel and know that, come what might, they were alone in the world with no one to help or advise or care about them—these were causes of depression and anxiety that might have sat heavily on an older breast with many influences at work to cheer and gladden it, but how heavily on the mind of a young child to whom they were ever present, and who was constantly surrounded by all that could keep such thoughts in restless action!
And yet, to the old man’s vision, Nell was still the same. When he could, for a moment, disengage his mind from the phantom that haunted and brooded on it always, there was his young companion with the same smile for him, the same earnest words, the same merry laugh, the same love and care that, sinking deep into his soul, seemed to have been present to him through his whole life. And so he went on, content to read the book of her heart from the page first presented 58 to him, little dreaming of the story that lay hidden in its other leaves, and murmuring within himself that at least the child was happy.
She had been once. She had gone singing through the dim rooms, and moving with gay and lightsome step among their dusty treasures, making them older by her young life, and sterner and more grim by her gay and cheerful presence. But, now, the chambers were cold and gloomy, and when she left her own little room to while away the tedious hours, and sat in one of them, she was still and motionless as their inanimate occupants, and had no heart to startle the echoes—hoarse from their long silence—with her voice.
In one of these rooms, was a window looking into the street, where the child sat, many and many a long evening, and often far into the night, alone and thoughtful. None are so anxious as those who watch and wait; at these times, mournful fancies came flocking on her mind, in crowds.
She would take her station here, at dusk, and watch the people as they passed up and down the street, or appeared at the windows of the opposite houses; wondering whether those rooms were as lonesome as that in which she sat, and whether those people felt it company to see her sitting there, as she did only to see them look out and draw in their heads again. There was a crooked stack of chimneys on one of the roofs, in which, by often looking at them, she had fancied ugly faces that were frowning over at her and trying to peer into the room; and she felt glad when it grew too dark to make them out, though she was sorry too, when the man came to light the lamps in the street—for it made it late, and very dull inside. Then, she would draw in her head to look round the room and see that everything was in its place and hadn’t moved; and looking out into the street again, would perhaps see a man passing with a coffin on his back, and two or three others silently following him to a house where somebody lay dead; which made her shudder and think of such things until they suggested afresh the old man’s altered face and manner, and a new train of fears and speculations. If he were to die— sudden illness had happened to him, and he were never to come home again, alive—if, one night, he should come home, and kiss and bless her as usual, and after she had gone to bed and had fallen asleep and was perhaps dreaming pleasantly, and smiling in her sleep, he should kill himself and his blood come creeping, creeping, on the ground to her own bedroom door! These thoughts were too terrible to dwell upon, and again she would have recourse to the street, now trodden by fewer feet, and darker and more silent than before. The shops were closing fast, and lights began to shine from the upper windows, as the neighbours went to bed. By degrees, these dwindled away and disappeared, or were replaced, here and there, by a feeble rush-candle which was to burn all night. Still, there was one late shop at no great distance which sent forth a ruddy glare upon the pavement even yet, and looked bright and companionable. But, in a little time, this closed, the light 59 was extinguished, and all was gloomy and quiet, except when some stray footsteps sounded on the pavement, or a neighbour, out later than his wont, knocked lustily at his house-door to rouse the sleeping inmates.
Little Nell consoles her Grandfather.
When the night had worn away thus far (and seldom now until it had) the child would close the window, and steal softly down-stairs, thinking as she went that if one of those hideous faces below, which often mingled with her dreams, were to meet her by the way, rendering itself visible by some strange light of its own, how terrified she would be. But these fears vanished before a well-trimmed lamp and the aspect of her own room. After praying fervently, and with many bursting tears, for the old man, and the restoration of his peace of mind and the happiness they had once enjoyed, she would lay her head upon the pillow and sob herself to sleep: often starting up again, before the daylight came, to listen for the bell, and respond to the imaginary summons which had roused her from her slumber.
One night, the third after Nelly’s interview with Mrs. Quilp, the old man, who had been weak and ill all day, said he should not leave home. The child’s eyes sparkled at the intelligence, but her joy subsided when they reverted to his worn and sickly face.
“Two days,” he said, “two whole, clear, days have passed, and there is no reply. What did he tell thee, Nell?”
“Exactly what I told you, dear grandfather, indeed.”
“True,” said the old man, faintly. “Yes. But tell me again, Nell. My head fails me. What was it that he told thee? Nothing more than that he would see me to-morrow or next day? That was in the note.”
“Nothing more,” said the child. “Shall I go to him again tomorrow, dear grandfather? Very early? I will be there and back, before breakfast.”
The old man shook his head, and sighing mournfully, drew her towards him.
“’Twould be of no use, my dear, no earthly use. But if he deserts me, Nell, at this moment—if he deserts me now, when I should, with his assistance, be recompensed for all the time and money I have lost, and all the agony of mind I have undergone, which makes me what you see, I am ruined, and—worse, far worse than that—have ruined thee, for whom I ventured all. If we are beggars——!”
“What if we are?” said the child boldly. “Let us be beggars, and be happy.”
“Beggars—and happy!” said the old man. “Poor child!”
“Dear grandfather,” cried the girl with an energy which shone in her flushed face, trembling voice, and impassioned gesture, “I am not a child in that I think, but even if I am, oh hear me pray that we may beg, or work in open roads or fields, to earn a scanty living, rather than live as we do now.”
“Nelly!” said the old60
“Yes, yes, rather than live as we do now,” the child repeated, more earnestly than before. “If you are sorrowful, let me know why and be sorrowful too; if you waste away and are paler and weaker every day, let me be your nurse and try to comfort you. If you are poor, let us be poor together; but let me be with you, do let me be with you; do not let me see such change and not know why, or I shall break my heart and die. Dear grandfather, let us leave this sad place to-morrow, and beg our way from door to door.”
The old man covered his face with his hands, and hid it in the pillow of the couch on which he lay.
“Let us be beggars,” said the child passing an arm round his neck, “I have no fear but we shall have enough, I am sure we shall. Let us walk through country places, and sleep in fields and under trees, and never think of money again, or anything that can make you sad, but rest at nights, and have the sun and wind upon our faces in the day, and thank God together! Let us never set foot in dark rooms or melancholy houses, any more, but wander up and down wherever we like to go; and when you are tired, you shall stop to rest in the pleasantest place that we can find, and I will go and beg for both.”
The child’s voice was lost in sobs as she dropped upon the old man’s neck; nor did she weep alone.
These were not words for other ears, nor was it a scene for other eyes. And yet other ears and eyes were there and greedily taking in all that passed, and moreover they were the ears and eyes of no less a person than Mr. Daniel Quilp, who, having entered unseen when the child first placed herself at the old man’s side, refrained—actuated, no doubt, by motives of the purest delicacy—from interrupting the conversation, and stood looking on with his accustomed grin. Standing, however, being a tiresome attitude to a gentleman already fatigued with walking, and the dwarf being one of that kind of persons who usually make themselves at home, he soon cast his eyes upon a chair, into which he skipped with uncommon agility, and perching himself on the back with his feet upon the seat, was thus enabled to look on and listen with greater comfort to himself, besides gratifying at the same time that taste for doing something fantastic and monkey-like, which on all occasions had strong possession of him. Here, then, he sat, one leg cocked carelessly over the other, his chin resting on the palm of his hand, his head turned a little on one side, and his ugly features twisted into a complacent grimace. And in this position the old man, happening in course of time to look that way, at length chanced to see him: to his unbounded astonishment.
The child uttered a suppressed shriek on beholding this agreeable figure; in their first surprise both she and the old man, not knowing what to say, and half doubting its reality, looked shrinkingly at it. Not at all disconcerted by this reception, Daniel Quilp preserved the same attitude, merely nodding twice or thrice with great condescension. 61 At length, the old man pronounced his name, and inquired how he came there.
More Money wanted—
“Through the door,” said Quilp pointing over his shoulder with his thumb. “I’m not quite small enough to get through key-holes. I wish I was. I want to have some talk with you, particularly, and in private. With nobody present, neighbour. Good-bye, little Nelly.”
Nell looked at the old man, who nodded to her to retire, and kissed her cheek.
“Ah!” said the dwarf, smacking his lips, “what a nice kiss that was—just upon the rosy part. What a capital kiss!”
Nell was none the slower in going away, for this remark. Quilp looked after her with an admiring leer, and when she had closed the door, fell to complimenting the old man upon her charms.
“Such a fresh, blooming, modest little bud, neighbour,” said Quilp, nursing his short leg, and making his eyes twinkle very much; “such a chubby, rosy, cosy, little Nell!”
The old man answered by a forced smile, and was plainly struggling with a feeling of the keenest and most exquisite impatience. It was not lost upon Quilp, who delighted in torturing him, or indeed anybody else, when he could.
“She’s so,” said Quilp, speaking very slowly, and feigning to be quite absorbed in the subject, “so small, so compact, so beautifully modelled, so fair, with such blue veins and such a transparent skin, and such little feet, and such winning ways—but bless me, you’re nervous! Why neighbour, what’s the matter? I swear to you,” continued the dwarf dismounting from the chair and sitting down in it, with a careful slowness of gesture very different from the rapidity with which he had sprung up unheard, “I swear to you that I had no idea old blood ran so fast or kept so warm. I thought it was sluggish in its course, and cool, quite cool. I am pretty sure it ought to be. Yours must be out of order, neighbour.”
“I believe it is,” groaned the old man, clasping his head with both hands. “There’s burning fever here, and something now and then to which I fear to give a name.”
The dwarf said never a word, but watched his companion as he paced restlessly up and down the room, and presently returned to his seat. Here he remained, with his head bowed upon his breast for some time, and then suddenly raising it, said—
“Once, and once for all, have you brought me any money?”
“No!” returned Quilp.
“Then,” said the old man, clenching his hands desperately, and looking upward, “the child and I are lost!”
“Neighbour,” said Quilp glancing sternly at him, and beating his hand twice or thrice upon the table to attract his wandering attention, “let me be plain with you, and play a fairer game than when you held all the cards, and I saw but the backs and nothing more. You have no secret from me now.”62
The old man looked up, trembling.
“You are surprised,” said Quilp. “Well, perhaps that’s natural. You have no secret from me now, I say; no, not one. For I know, that all those sums of money, that all those loans, advances, and supplies that you have had from me, have found their way to—shall I say the word?”
“Aye!” replied the old man, “say it, if you will.”
“To the gaming-table,” rejoined Quilp, “your nightly haunt. This was the precious scheme to make your fortune, was it; this was the secret certain source of wealth in which I was to have sunk my money (if I had been the fool you took me for); this was your inexhaustible mine of gold, your El Dorado, eh?”
“Yes,” cried the old man, turning upon him with gleaming eyes, “it was. It is. It will be, till I die.”
“That I should have been blinded,” said Quilp looking contemptuously at him, “by a mere shallow gambler!”
“I am no gambler,” cried the old man fiercely. “I call Heaven to witness that I never played for gain of mine, or love of play; that at every piece I staked, I whispered to myself that orphan’s name and called on Heaven to bless the venture; which it never did. Whom did it prosper? Who were those with whom I played? Men who lived by plunder, profligacy, and riot; squandering their gold in doing ill, and propagating vice and evil. My winnings would have been from them, my winnings would have been bestowed to the last farthing on a young sinless child whose life they would have sweetened and made happy. What would they have contracted? The means of corruption, wretchedness, and misery. Who would not have hoped in such a cause? Tell me that! Who would not have hoped as I did?”
“When did you first begin this mad career?” asked Quilp, his taunting inclination subdued, for a moment, by the old man’s grief and wildness.
“When did I first begin?” he rejoined, passing his hand across his brow. “When was it, that I first began? When should it be, but when I began to think how little I had saved, how long a time it took to save at all, how short a time I might have at my age to live, and how she would be left to the rough mercies of the world, with barely enough to keep her from the sorrows that wait on poverty; then it was, that I began to think about it.”
“After you first came to me to get your precious grandson packed off to sea?” said Quilp.
“Shortly after that,” replied the old man. “I thought of it a long time, and had it in my sleep for months. Then I began. I found no pleasure in it, I expected none. What has it ever brought me but anxious days and sleepless nights; but loss of health and peace of mind, and gain of feebleness and sorrow!”
—But none obtained.
“You lost what money you had laid by, first, and then came to me. 63 While I thought you were making your fortune (as you said you were) you were making yourself a beggar, eh? Dear me! And so it comes to pass that I hold every security you could scrape together, and a bill of sale upon the—upon the stock and property,” said Quilp standing up and looking about him, as if to assure himself that none of it had been taken away. “But did you never win?”
“Never!” groaned the old man. “Never won back my loss!”
“I thought,” sneered the dwarf, “that if a man played long enough he was sure to win at last, or, at the worst, not to come off a loser.”
“And so he is,” cried the old man, suddenly rousing himself from his state of despondency, and lashed into the most violent excitement, “so he is; I have felt that from the first, I have always known it, I’ve seen it, I never felt it half so strongly as I feel it now. Quilp, I have dreamed, three nights, of winning the same large sum, I never could dream that dream before, though I have often tried. Do not desert me, now I have this chance. I have no resource but you, give me some help, let me try this one last hope.”
The dwarf shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.
“See Quilp, good tender-hearted Quilp,” said the old man, drawing some scraps of paper from his pocket with a trembling hand, and clasping the dwarf’s arm, “only see here. Look at these figures, the result of long calculation, and painful and hard experience. I must win. I only want a little help once more, a few pounds, but two score pounds, dear Quilp.”
“The last advance was seventy,” said the dwarf; “and it went in one night.”
“I know it did,” answered the old man, “but that was the very worst fortune of all, and the time had not come then. Quilp, consider, consider,” the old man cried, trembling so much the while, that the papers in his hand fluttered as if they were shaken by the wind, “that orphan child! If I were alone, I could die with gladness—perhaps even anticipate that doom which is dealt out so unequally: coming, as it does, on the proud and happy in their strength, and shunning the needy and afflicted, and all who court it in their despair—but what I have done, has been for her. Help me for her sake I implore you; not for mine; for hers!”
“I’m sorry I’ve got an appointment in the City,” said Quilp, looking at his watch with perfect self-possession, “or I should have been very glad to have spent half-an-hour with you while you composed yourself, very glad.”
“Nay, Quilp, good Quilp,” gasped the old man, catching at his skirts, “you and I have talked together, more than once, of her poor mother’s story. The fear of her coming to poverty has perhaps been bred in me by that. Do not be hard upon me, but take that into account. You are a great gainer by me. Oh spare me the money for this one last hope!”
“I couldn’t do it really,” said Quilp with unusual politeness, 64 “though I tell you what—and this is a circumstance worth bearing in mind as showing how the sharpest among us may be taken in sometimes—I was so deceived by the penurious way in which you lived, alone with Nelly——”
“All done to save money for tempting fortune, and to make her triumph greater,” cried the old man.
“Yes yes, I understand that now,” said Quilp; “but I was going to say, I was so deceived by that, your miserly way, the reputation you had among those who knew you of being rich, and your repeated assurances that you would make of my advances treble and quadruple the interest you paid me, that I’d have advanced you, even now, what you want, on your simple note of hand, if I hadn’t unexpectedly become acquainted with your secret way of life.”
“Who is it,” retorted the old man desperately, “that, notwithstanding all my caution, told you? Come. Let me know the name—the person.”
The crafty dwarf, bethinking himself that his giving up the child would lead to the disclosure of the artifice he had employed, which, as nothing was to be gained by it, it was well to conceal, stopped short in his answer and said, “Now, who do you think?”
“It was Kit, it must have been the boy; he played the spy, and you tampered with him?” said the old man.
“How came you to think of him?” said the dwarf in a tone of great commiseration. “Yes, it was Kit. Poor Kit!”
So saying, he nodded in a friendly manner, and took his leave: stopping when he had passed the outer door a little distance, and grinning with extraordinary delight.
“Poor Kit!” muttered Quilp. “I think it was Kit who said I was an uglier dwarf than could be seen anywhere for a penny, wasn’t it? Ha ha ha! Poor Kit!”
And with that he went his way, still chuckling as he went.
Daniel Quilp neither entered nor left the old man’s house, unobserved. In the shadow of an archway nearly opposite, leading to one of the many passages which diverged from the main street, there lingered one, who, having taken up his position when the twilight first came on, still maintained it with undiminished patience, and leaning against the wall with the manner of a person who had a long time to wait, and being well used to it was quite resigned, scarcely changed his attitude for the hour together.
This patient lounger attracted little attention from any of those who passed, and bestowed as little upon them. His eyes were constantly 65 directed towards one object; the window at which the child was accustomed to sit. If he withdrew them for a moment, it was only to glance at a clock in some neighbouring shop, and then to strain his sight once more in the old quarter with increased earnestness and attention.
Kit at Home.
It had been remarked that this personage evinced no weariness in his place of concealment; nor did he, long as his waiting was. But as the time went on, he manifested some anxiety and surprise, glancing at the clock more frequently and at the window less hopefully than before. At length, the clock was hidden from his sight by some envious shutters, then the church-steeples proclaimed eleven at night, then the quarter past, and then the conviction seemed to obtrude itself on his mind that it was of no use tarrying there any longer.
That the conviction was an unwelcome one, and that he was by no means willing to yield to it, was apparent from his reluctance to quit the spot; from the tardy steps with which he often left it, still looking over his shoulder at the same window; and from the precipitation with which he as often returned, when a fancied noise or the changing and imperfect light induced him to suppose it had been softly raised. At length, he gave the matter up, as hopeless for that night, and suddenly breaking into a run as though to force himself away, scampered off at his utmost speed, nor once ventured to look behind him lest he should be tempted back again.
Without relaxing his pace, or stopping to take breath, this mysterious individual dashed on through a great many alleys and narrow ways until he at length arrived in a square paved court, when he subsided into a walk, and making for a small house from the window of which a light was shining, lifted the latch of the door and passed in.
“Bless us!” cried a woman turning sharply round, “who’s that? Oh! It’s you, Kit!”
“Yes, mother, it’s me.”
“Why, how tired you look, my dear!”
“Old master an’t gone out to-night,” said Kit; “and so she hasn’t been at the window at all.” With which words, he sat down by the fire and looked very mournful and discontented.
The room in which Kit sat himself down, in this condition, was an extremely poor and homely place, but with that air of comfort about it, nevertheless, which—or the spot must be a wretched one indeed—cleanliness and order can always impart in some degree. Late as the Dutch clock showed it to be, the poor woman was still hard at work at an ironing-table; a young child lay sleeping in a cradle near the fire; and another, a sturdy boy of two or three years old, very wide awake, with a very tight night-cap on his head, and a night-gown very much too small for him on his body, was sitting bolt upright in a clothes-basket, staring over the rim with his great round eyes, and looking as if he had thoroughly made up his mind never to go to sleep any more; which, as he had already declined to take his natural rest 66 and had been brought out of bed in consequence, opened a cheerful prospect for his relations and friends. It was rather a queer-looking family: Kit, his mother, and the children, being all strongly alike.
Kit was disposed to be out of temper, as the best of us are too often—but he looked at the youngest child who was sleeping soundly, and from him to his other brother in the clothes-basket, and from him to their mother, who had been at work without complaint since morning, and thought it would be a better and kinder thing to be good-humoured. So he rocked the cradle with his foot; made a face at the rebel in the clothes-basket, which put him in high good-humour directly; and stoutly determined to be talkative and make himself agreeable.
“Ah mother!” said Kit, taking out his clasp-knife and falling upon a great piece of bread and meat which she had had ready for him, hours before, “what a one you are! There an’t many such as you, I know.”
“I hope there are many a great deal better, Kit,” said Mrs. Nubbles; “and that there are, or ought to be, accordin’ to what the parson at chapel says.”
“Much he knows about it,” returned Kit contemptuously. “Wait till he’s a widder and works like you do, and gets as little, and does 67 as much, and keeps his spirit up the same, and then I’ll ask him what’s o’clock and trust him for being right to half a second.”
Kit and his Mother.
“Well,” said Mrs. Nubbles, evading the point, “your beer’s down there by the fender, Kit.”
“I see,” replied her son, taking up the porter-pot, “my love to you, mother. And the parson’s health too if you like. I don’t bear him any malice, not I!”
“Did you tell me, just now, that your master hadn’t gone out tonight?” inquired Mrs. Nubbles.
“Yes,” said Kit, “worse luck!”
“You should say better luck, I think,” returned his mother, “because Miss Nelly won’t have been left alone.”
“Ah!” said Kit, “I forgot that. I said worse luck, because I’ve been watching ever since eight o’clock, and seen nothing of her.”
“I wonder what she’d say,” cried his mother, stopping in her work and looking round, “if she knew that every night, when she—poor thing—is sitting alone at that window, you are watching in the open street for fear any harm should come to her, and that you never leave the place or come home to your bed though you’re ever so tired, till such time as you think she’s safe in hers.”
“Never mind what she’d say,” replied Kit, with something like a blush on his uncouth face; “she’ll never know nothing, and consequently, she’ll never say nothing.”
Mrs. Nubbles ironed away in silence for a minute or two, and coming to the fire-place for another iron, glanced stealthily at Kit while she rubbed it on a board and dusted it with a duster, but said nothing until she had returned to her table again: when, holding the iron at an alarmingly short distance from her cheek, to test its temperature, and looking round with a smile, she observed—
“I know what some people would say, Kit——”
“Nonsense,” interposed Kit with a perfect apprehension of what was to follow.
“No, but they would indeed. Some people would say that you’d fallen in love with her, I know they would.”
To this, Kit only replied by bashfully bidding his mother “get out,” and forming sundry strange figures with his legs and arms, accompanied by sympathetic contortions of his face. Not deriving from these means the relief which he sought, he bit off an immense mouthful from the bread and meat, and took a quick drink of the porter; by which artificial aids he choked himself and effected a diversion of the subject.
“Speaking seriously though, Kit,” said his mother taking up the theme afresh, after a time, “for of course I was only in joke just now, it’s very good and thoughtful, and like you, to do this, and never let anybody know it, though some day I hope she may come to know it, for I’m sure she would be very grateful to you and feel it very much. 68 It’s a cruel thing to keep the dear child shut up there. I don’t wonder that the old gentleman wants to keep it from you.”
“He don’t think it’s cruel, bless you,” said Kit, “and don’t mean it to be so, or he wouldn’t do it—I do consider, mother, that he wouldn’t do it for all the gold and silver in the world. No, no, that he wouldn’t. I know him better than that.”
“Then what does he do it for, and why does he keep it so close from you?” said Mrs. Nubbles.
“That I don’t know,” returned her son. “If he hadn’t tried to keep it so close though, I should never have found it out, for it was his getting me away at night and sending me off so much earlier than he used to, that first made me curious to know what was going on. Hark! what’s that?”
“It’s only somebody outside.”
“It’s somebody crossing over here,” said Kit, standing up to listen, “and coming very fast too. He can’t have gone out after I left, and the house caught fire, mother!”
The boy stood, for a moment, really bereft, by the apprehension he had conjured up, of the power to move. The footsteps drew nearer, the door was opened with a hasty hand, and the child herself, pale and breathless, and hastily wrapped in a few disordered garments, hurried into the room.
“Miss Nelly! What is the matter?” cried mother and son together.
“I must not stay a moment,” she returned, “grandfather has been taken very ill. I found him in a fit upon the floor——”
“I’ll run for a doctor”—said Kit, seizing his brimless hat. “I’ll be there directly, I’ll——”
“No, no,” cried Nell, “there is one there, you’re not wanted, you—you must never come near us any more!”
“What?” roared Kit.
“Never again,” said the child. “Don’t ask me why, for I don’t know. Pray don’t ask me why, pray don’t be sorry, pray don’t be vexed with me! I have nothing to do with it indeed!”
Kit looked at her with his eyes stretched wide; and opened and shut his mouth a great many times; but couldn’t get out one word.
“He complains and raves of you,” said the child, “I don’t know what you have done, but I hope it’s nothing very bad.”
“I done!” roared Kit.
“He cries that you’re the cause of all his misery,” returned the child with tearful eyes; “he screamed and called for you; they say you must not come near him or he will die. You must not return to us any more. I came to tell you. I thought it would be better that I should come than somebody quite strange. Oh, Kit, what have you done? You, in whom I trusted so much, and who were almost the only friend I had!”
The unfortunate Kit looked at his young mistress harder and 69 harder, and with eyes growing wider and wider, but was perfectly motionless and silent.
“I have brought his money for the week,” said the child, looking to the woman and laying it on the table—“and—and—a little more, for he was always good and kind to me. I hope he will be sorry and do well somewhere else and not take this to heart too much. It grieves me very much to part with him like this, but there is no help. It must be done. Good-night!”
With the tears streaming down her face, and her slight figure trembling with the agitation of the scene she had left, the shock she had received, the errand she had just discharged, and a thousand painful and affectionate feelings, the child hastened to the door, and disappeared as rapidly as she had come.
The poor woman, who had no cause to doubt her son, but every reason for relying on his honesty and truth, was staggered, notwithstanding, by his not having advanced one word in his defence. Visions of gallantry, knavery, robbery; and of the nightly absences from home for which he had accounted so strangely, having been occasioned by some unlawful pursuit; flocked into her brain and rendered her afraid to question him. She rocked herself upon a chair, wringing her hands and weeping bitterly, but Kit made no attempt to comfort her and remained quite bewildered. The baby in the cradle woke up and cried; the boy in the clothes-basket fell over on his back with the basket upon him, and was seen no more; the mother wept louder yet and rocked faster; but Kit, insensible to all the din and tumult, remained in a state of utter stupefaction.
Quiet and solitude were destined to hold uninterrupted rule no longer, beneath the roof that sheltered the child. Next morning, the old man was in a raging fever accompanied with delirium; and sinking under the influence of this disorder he lay for many weeks in imminent peril of his life. There was watching enough, now, but it was the watching of strangers who made a greedy trade of it, and who, in the intervals of their attendance upon the sick man huddled together with a ghastly good-fellowship, and ate and drank and made merry; for disease and death were their ordinary household gods.
Yet, in all the hurry and crowding of such a time, the child was more alone than she had ever been before; alone in spirit, alone in her devotion to him who was wasting away upon his burning bed; alone in her unfeigned sorrow, and her unpurchased sympathy. Day after day, and night after night, found her still by the pillow of the unconscious sufferer, still anticipating his every want, still listening 70 to those repetitions of her name and those anxieties and cares for her, which were ever uppermost among his feverish wanderings.
The house was no longer theirs. Even the sick chamber seemed to be retained, on the uncertain tenure of Mr. Quilp’s favour. The old man’s illness had not lasted many days when he took formal possession of the premises and all upon them, in virtue of certain legal powers to that effect, which few understood and none presumed to call in question. This important step secured, with the assistance of a man of law whom he brought with him for the purpose, the dwarf proceeded to establish himself and his coadjutor in the house, as an assertion of his claim against all comers; and then set about making his quarters comfortable, after his own fashion.
To this end, Mr. Quilp encamped in the back-parlour, having first put an effectual stop to any further business by shutting up the shop. Having looked out, from among the old furniture, the handsomest and most commodious chair he could possibly find (which he reserved for his own use) and an especially hideous and uncomfortable one (which he considerately appropriated to the accommodation of his friend) he caused them to be carried into this room, and took up his position in 71 great state. The apartment was very far removed from the old man’s chamber, but Mr. Quilp deemed it prudent, as a precaution against infection from fever, and a means of wholesome fumigation, not only to smoke, himself, without cessation, but to insist upon it that his legal friend did the like. Moreover, he sent an express to the wharf for the tumbling boy, who arriving with all despatch was enjoined, to sit himself down in another chair just inside the door, continually to smoke a great pipe which the dwarf had provided for the purpose, and to take it from his lips under any pretence whatever, were it only for one minute at a time, if he dared. These arrangements completed, Mr. Quilp looked round him with chuckling satisfaction, and remarked that he called that comfort.
Mr. Sampson Brass.
The legal gentleman, whose melodious name was Brass, might have called it comfort also but for two drawbacks: one was, that he could by no exertion sit easy in his chair, the seat of which was very hard, angular, slippery, and sloping; the other, that tobacco-smoke always caused him great internal discomposure and annoyance. But as he was quite a creature of Mr. Quilp’s and had a thousand reasons for conciliating his good opinion, he tried to smile, and nodded his acquiescence with the best grace he could assume.
This Brass was an attorney of no very good repute, from Bevis Marks in the City of London; he was a tall, meagre man, with a nose like a wen, a protruding forehead, retreating eyes, and hair of a deep red. He wore a long black surtout reaching nearly to his ankles, short black trousers, high shoes, and cotton stockings of a bluish-grey. He had a cringing manner, but a very harsh voice; and his blandest smiles were so extremely forbidding, that to have had his company under the least repulsive circumstances, one would have wished him to be out of temper that he might only scowl.
Quilp looked at his legal adviser, and seeing that he was winking very much in the anguish of his pipe, that he sometimes shuddered when he happened to inhale its full flavour, and that he constantly fanned the smoke from him, was quite overjoyed and rubbed his hands with glee.
“Smoke away, you dog,” said Quilp turning to the boy; “fill your pipe again and smoke it fast, down to the last whiff, or I’ll put the sealing-waxed end of it in the fire and rub it red-hot upon your tongue.”
Luckily the boy was case-hardened, and would have smoked a small lime-kiln if anybody had treated him with it. Wherefore, he only muttered a brief defiance of his master, and did as he was ordered.
“Is it good, Brass, is it nice, is it fragrant, do you feel like the Grand Turk?” said Quilp.
Mr. Brass thought that if he did, the Grand Turk’s feelings were by no means to be envied, but he said it was famous, and he had no doubt he felt very like that Potentate.72
“This is the way to keep off fever,” said Quilp, “this is the way to keep off every calamity of life! We’ll never leave off, all the time we stop here—smoke away, you dog, or you shall swallow the pipe!”
“Shall we stop here long, Mr. Quilp?” inquired his legal friend, when the dwarf had given his boy this gentle admonition.
“We must stop, I suppose, till the old gentleman up-stairs is dead,” returned Quilp.
“He he he!” laughed Mr. Brass, “oh! very good!”
“Smoke away!” cried Quilp. “Never stop! you can talk as you smoke. Don’t lose time.”
“He he he!” cried Brass faintly, as he again applied himself to the odious pipe. “But if he should get better, Mr. Quilp?”
“Then we shall stop till he does, and no longer,” returned the dwarf.
“How kind it is of you, sir, to wait till then!” said Brass. “Some people, sir, would have sold or removed the goods—oh dear, the very instant the law allowed ’em. Some people, sir, would have been all flintiness and granite. Some people, sir, would have——”
“Some people would have spared themselves the jabbering of such a parrot as you,” interposed the dwarf.
“He he he!” cried Brass. “You have such spirits!”
The smoking sentinel at the door interposed in this place, and without taking his pipe from his lips, growled—
“Here’s the gal a comin’ down.”
“The what, you dog?” said Quilp.
“The gal,” returned the boy. “Are you deaf?”
“Oh!” said Quilp, drawing in his breath with great relish as if he were taking soup, “you and I will have such a settling presently; there’s such a scratching and bruising in store for you, my dear young friend! Aha! Nelly! How is he now, my duck of diamonds?”
“He’s very bad,” replied the weeping child.
“What a pretty little Nell!” cried Quilp.
“Oh beautiful, sir, beautiful indeed,” said Brass. “Quite charming!”
“Has she come to sit upon Quilp’s knee,” said the dwarf, in what he meant to be a soothing tone, “or is she going to bed in her own little room inside here? Which is poor Nelly going to do?”
“What a remarkable pleasant way he has with children!” muttered Brass, as if in confidence between himself and the ceiling; “upon my word it’s quite a treat to hear him.”
“I’m not going to stay at all,” faltered Nell. “I want a few things out of that room, and then I—I—won’t come down here any more.”
“And a very nice little room it is!” said the dwarf looking into it as the child entered. “Quite a bower! You’re sure you’re not going to use it; you’re sure you’re not coming back, Nelly?”
“No,” replied the child, hurrying away, with the few articles of dress she had come to remove; “never again! Never again.”73
Mr. Quilp takes to his Bed.
“She’s very sensitive,” said Quilp, looking after her. “Very sensitive; that’s a pity. The bedstead is much about my size. I think I shall make it my little room.”
Mr. Brass encouraging this idea, as he would have encouraged any other emanating from the same source, the dwarf walked in to try the effect. This he did, by throwing himself on his back upon the bed with his pipe in his mouth, and then kicking up his legs and smoking violently. Mr. Brass applauding this picture very much, and the bed being soft and comfortable, Mr. Quilp determined to use it, both as a sleeping place by night and as a kind of Divan by day; and in order that it might be converted to the latter purpose at once, remained where he was, and smoked his pipe out. The legal gentleman being by this time rather giddy and perplexed in his ideas (for this was one of the operations of the tobacco on his nervous system), took the opportunity of slinking away into the open air, where, in course of time, he recovered sufficiently to return with a countenance of tolerable composure. He was soon led on by the malicious dwarf to smoke himself into a relapse, and in that state stumbled upon a settee where he slept till morning.
Such were Mr. Quilp’s first proceedings on entering upon his new property. He was, for some days, restrained by business from performing any particular pranks, as his time was pretty well occupied between taking, with the assistance of Mr. Brass, a minute inventory of all the goods in the place, and going abroad upon his other concerns which happily engaged him for several hours at a time. His avarice and caution being, now, thoroughly awakened, however, he was never absent from the house one night; and his eagerness for some termination, good or bad, to the old man’s disorder, increasing rapidly, as the time passed by, soon began to vent itself in open murmurs and exclamations of impatience.
Nell shrunk timidly from all the dwarf’s advances towards conversation, and fled from the very sound of his voice; nor were the lawyer’s smiles less terrible to her than Quilp’s grimaces. She lived in such continual dread and apprehension of meeting one or other of them on the stairs or in the passages if she stirred from her grandfather’s chamber, that she seldom left it, for a moment, until late at night, when the silence encouraged her to venture forth and breathe the purer air of some empty room.
One night, she had stolen to her usual window, and was sitting there very sorrowfully—for the old man had been worse that day—when she thought she heard her name pronounced by a voice in the street. Looking down, she recognised Kit, whose endeavours to attract her attention had roused her from her sad reflections.
“Miss Nell!” said the boy in a low voice.
“Yes,” replied the child, doubtful whether she ought to hold any communication with the supposed culprit, but inclining to her old favourite still; “what do you want?”74
“I have wanted to say a word to you, for a long time,” the boy replied, “but the people below have driven me away and wouldn’t let me see you. You don’t believe—I hope you don’t really believe—that I deserve to be cast off as I have been; do you, miss?”
“I must believe it,” returned the child. “Or why would grandfather have been so angry with you?”
“I don’t know,” replied Kit. “I’m sure I never deserved it from him, no, nor from you. I can say that, with a true and honest heart any way. And then to be driven from the door, when I only came to ask how old master was—!”
“They never told me that,” said the child. “I didn’t know it indeed. I wouldn’t have had them do it for the world.”
“Thank’ee, miss,” returned Kit, “it’s comfortable to hear you say that. I said I never would believe that it was your doing.”
“That was right!” said the child eagerly.
“Miss Nell,” cried the boy coming under the window, and speaking in a lower tone, “there are new masters down-stairs. It’s a change for you.”
“It is indeed,” replied the child.
“And so it will be for him when he gets better,” said the boy, pointing towards the sick room.
“—If he ever does,” added the child, unable to restrain her tears.
“Oh, he’ll do that, he’ll do that,” said Kit, “I’m sure he will. You mustn’t be cast down, Miss Nell. Now don’t be, pray!”
These words of encouragement and consolation were few and roughly said, but they affected the child and made her, for the moment, weep the more.
“He’ll be sure to get better now,” said the boy anxiously, “if you don’t give way to low spirits and turn ill yourself, which would make him worse and throw him back, just as he was recovering. When he does, say a good word—say a kind word for me, Miss Nell!”
“They tell me I must not even mention your name to him for a long, long time,” rejoined the child, “I dare not; and even if I might, what good would a kind word do you, Kit? We shall be very poor. We shall scarcely have bread to eat.”
“It’s not that I may be taken back,” said the boy, “that I ask the favour of you. It isn’t for the sake of food and wages that I’ve been waiting about, so long, in hopes to see you. Don’t think that I’d come in a time of trouble to talk of such things as them.”
The child looked gratefully and kindly at him, but waited that he might speak again.
“No, it’s not that,” said Kit hesitating, “it’s something very different from that. I haven’t got much sense I know, but if he could be brought to believe that I’d been a faithful servant to him, doing the best I could and never meaning harm, perhaps he mightn’t——”
Here Kit faltered so long that the child entreated him to speak out, and quickly, for it was very late, and time to shut the window.75
“Perhaps he mightn’t think it over-venturesome of me to say—well then, to say this,” cried Kit with sudden boldness. “This home is gone from you and him. Mother and I have got a poor one, but that’s better than this with all these people here; and why not come there, till he’s had time to look about, and find a better?”
The child did not speak. Kit, in the relief of having made his proposition, found his tongue loosened, and spoke out in its favour with his utmost eloquence.
“You think,” said the boy, “that it’s very small and inconvenient. So it is, but it’s very clean. Perhaps you think it would be noisy, but there’s not a quieter court than ours in all the town. Don’t be afraid of the children; the baby hardly ever cries, and the other one is very good—besides, I’d mind ’em. They wouldn’t vex you much, I’m sure. Do try, Miss Nell, do try. The little front-room up-stairs is very pleasant. You can see a piece of the church-clock, through the chimneys, and almost tell the time; mother says it would be just the thing for you, and so it would, and you’d have her to wait upon you both, and me to run of errands. We don’t mean money, bless you; you’re not to think of that! Will you try him, Miss Nell? Only say you’ll try him. Do try to make old master come, and ask him first what I have done. Will you only promise that, Miss Nell?”
Before the child could reply to this earnest solicitation, the street-door opened, and Mr. Brass thrusting out his night-capped head called in a surly voice, “Who’s there?” Kit immediately glided away, and Nell, closing the window softly, drew back into the room.
Before Mr. Brass had repeated his inquiry many times, Mr. Quilp, also embellished with a night-cap, emerged from the same door and looked carefully up and down the street, and up at all the windows of the house, from the opposite side. Finding that there was nobody in sight, he presently returned into the house with his legal friend, protesting (as the child heard from the staircase), that there was a league and plot against him; that he was in danger of being robbed and plundered by a band of conspirators who prowled about the house at all seasons; and that he would delay no longer but take immediate steps for disposing of the property and returning to his own peaceful roof. Having growled forth these, and a great many other threats of the same nature, he coiled himself once more in the child’s little bed, and Nell crept softly up the stairs.
It was natural enough that her short and unfinished dialogue with Kit should leave a strong impression on her mind, and influence her dreams that night and her recollections for a long, long time. Surrounded by unfeeling creditors, and mercenary attendants upon the sick, and meeting in the height of her anxiety and sorrow with little regard or sympathy even from the women about her, it is not surprising that the affectionate heart of the child should have been touched to the quick by one kind and generous spirit, however uncouth the 76 temple in which it dwelt. Thank Heaven that the temples of such spirits are not made with hands, and that they may be even more worthily hung with poor patchwork than with purple and fine linen!
At length, the crisis of the old man’s disorder was past, and he began to mend. By very slow and feeble degrees his consciousness came back; but the mind was weakened and its functions were impaired. He was patient, and quiet; often sat brooding, but not despondently, for a long space; was easily amused, even by a sunbeam on the wall or ceiling; made no complaint that the days were long, or the nights tedious; and appeared indeed to have lost all count of time, and every sense of care or weariness. He would sit, for hours together, with Nell’s small hand in his, playing with the fingers and stopping sometimes to smooth her hair or kiss her brow; and, when he saw that tears were glistening in her eyes, would look, amazed, about him for the cause, and forget his wonder even while he looked.
The child and he rode out: the old man propped up with pillows, and the child beside him. They were hand in hand as usual. The noise and motion in the streets fatigued his brain at first, but he was not surprised, or curious, or pleased, or irritated. He was asked if he remembered this, or that. “Oh yes,” he said, “quite well—why not?” Sometimes he turned his head, and looked, with earnest gaze and outstretched neck, after some stranger in the crowd, until he disappeared from sight; but, to the question why he did this, he answered not a word.
He was sitting in his easy-chair one day, and Nell upon a stool beside him, when a man outside the door inquired if he might enter. “Yes,” he said without emotion, “it was Quilp he knew. Quilp was master there. Of course he might come in.” And so he did.
“I’m glad to see you well again at last, neighbour,” said the dwarf, sitting down opposite to him. “You’re quite strong now?”
“Yes,” said the old man feebly, “yes.”
“I don’t want to hurry you, you know, neighbour,” said the dwarf, raising his voice, for the old man’s senses were duller than they had been; “but, as soon as you can arrange your future proceedings, the better.”
“Surely,” said the old man. “The better for all parties.”
“You see,” pursued Quilp after a short pause, “the goods being once removed, this house would be uncomfortable; uninhabitable in fact.”
“You say true,” returned the old man. “Poor Nell too, what would she do?”77
The Dawn of a better Day.
“Exactly,” bawled the dwarf nodding his head; “that’s very well observed. Then will you consider about it, neighbour?”
“I will, certainly,” replied the old man. “We shall not stop here.”
“So I supposed,” said the dwarf. “I have sold the things. They have not yielded quite as much as they might have done, but pretty well—pretty well. To-day’s Tuesday. When shall they be moved? There’s no hurry—shall we say this afternoon?”
“Say Friday morning,” returned the old man.
“Very good,” said the dwarf. “So be it,—with the understanding that I can’t go beyond that day, neighbour, on any account.”
“Good,” returned the old man. “I shall remember it.”
Mr. Quilp seemed rather puzzled by the strange, even spiritless way in which all this was said; but as the old man nodded his head and repeated “on Friday morning. I shall remember it,” he had no excuse for dwelling on the subject any further, and so took a friendly leave with many expressions of good-will and many compliments to his friend on his looking so remarkably well; and went below-stairs to report progress to Mr. Brass.
All that day, and all the next, the old man remained in this state. He wandered up and down the house and into and out of the various rooms, as if with some vague intent of bidding them adieu, but he referred neither by direct allusions nor in any other manner to the interview of the morning or the necessity of finding some other shelter. An indistinct idea he had, that the child was desolate and in want of help; for he often drew her to his bosom and bade her be of good cheer, saying that they would not desert each other; but he seemed unable to contemplate their real position more distinctly, and was still the listless, passionless creature, that suffering of mind and body had left him.
We call this a state of childishness, but it is the same poor hollow mockery of it, that death is of sleep. Where, in the dull eyes of doting men, are the laughing light and life of childhood, the gaiety that has known no check, the frankness that has felt no chill, the hope that has never withered, the joys that fade in blossoming? Where, in the sharp lineaments of rigid and unsightly death, is the calm beauty of slumber, telling of rest for the waking hours that are past, and gentle hopes and loves for those which are to come? Lay death and sleep down, side by side, and say who shall find the two akin. Send forth the child and childish man together, and blush for the pride that libels our own old happy state, and gives its title to an ugly and distorted image.
Thursday arrived, and there was no alteration in the old man. But, a change came upon him that evening, as he and the child sat silently together.
In a small dull yard below his window, there was a tree—green and flourishing enough, for such a place—and as the air stirred among its leaves, it threw a rippling shadow on the white wall. The old man 78 sat watching the shadows as they trembled in this patch of light, until the sun went down; and when it was night, and the moon was slowly rising, he still sat in the same spot.
To one who had been tossing on a restless bed so long, even these few green leaves and this tranquil light, although it languished among chimneys and house-tops, were pleasant things. They suggested quiet places afar off, and rest, and peace.
The child thought, more than once that he was moved: and had forborne to speak. But, now, he shed tears—tears that it lightened her aching heart to see—and making as though he would fall upon his knees, besought her to forgive him.
“Forgive you—what?” said Nell, interposing to prevent his purpose. “Oh grandfather, what should I forgive?”
“All that is past, all that has come upon thee, Nell, all that was done in that uneasy dream,” returned the old man.
“Do not talk so,” said the child. “Pray do not. Let us speak of something else.”
“Yes, yes, we will,” he rejoined. “And it shall be of what we talked of long ago—many months—months is it, or weeks, or days? which is it Nell?”
“I do not understand you,” said the child.
“It has come back upon me to-day, it has all come back since we have been sitting here. I bless thee for it, Nell!”
“For what, dear grandfather?”
“For what you said when we were first made beggars, Nell. Let us speak softly. Hush! for if they knew our purpose down-stairs, they would cry that I was mad and take thee from me. We will not stop here, another day. We will go far away from here.”
“Yes, let us go,” said the child earnestly. “Let us begone from this place, and never turn back or think of it again. Let us wander barefoot through the world, rather than linger here.”
“We will,” answered the old man, “we will travel afoot through the fields and woods, and by the side of rivers, and trust ourselves to God in the places where He dwells. It is far better to lie down at night beneath an open sky like that yonder—see how bright it is!—than to rest in close rooms which are always full of care and weary dreams. Thou and I together, Nell, may be cheerful and happy yet, and learn to forget this time, as if it had never been.”
“We will be happy,” cried the child. “We never can be here.”
“No, we never can again—never again—that’s truly said,” rejoined the old man. “Let us steal away to-morrow morning—early and softly, that we may not be seen or heard—and leave no trace or track for them to follow by. Poor Nell! Thy cheek is pale, and thy eyes are heavy with watching and weeping for me—I know—for me; but thou wilt be well again, and merry too, when we are far away. To-morrow morning, dear, we’ll turn our faces from this scene of sorrow, and be as free and happy as the birds.”79
Farewell to the old Home.
And then, the old man clasped his hands above her head, and said, in a few broken words, that from that time forth they would wander up and down together, and never part more until Death took one or other of the twain.
The child’s heart beat high with hope and confidence. She had no thought of hunger, or cold, or thirst, or suffering. She saw in this, but a return of the simple pleasures they had once enjoyed, a relief from the gloomy solitude in which she had lived, an escape from the heartless people by whom she had been surrounded in her late time of trial, the restoration of the old man’s health and peace, and a life of tranquil happiness. Sun, and stream, and meadow, and summer days, shone brightly in her view, and there was no dark tint in all the sparkling picture.
The old man had slept, for some hours, soundly in his bed, and she was yet busily engaged in preparing for their flight. There were a few articles of clothing for herself to carry, and a few for him; old garments, such as became their fallen fortunes, laid out to wear; and a staff to support his feeble steps, put ready for his use. But this was not all her task; for now she must visit the old rooms for the last time.
And how different the parting with them was, from any she had expected, and most of all from that which she had oftenest pictured to herself. How could she ever have thought of bidding them farewell in triumph, when the recollection of the many hours she had passed among them rose to her swelling heart, and made her feel the wish a cruelty: lonely and sad though many of those hours had been! She sat down at the window where she had spent so many evenings—darker far than this—and every thought of hope or cheerfulness that had occurred to her in that place came vividly upon her mind, and blotted out all its dull and mournful associations in an instant.
Her own little room too, where she had so often knelt down and prayed at night—prayed for the time which she hoped was dawning now—the little room where she had slept so peacefully, and dreamed such pleasant dreams! It was hard not to be able to glance round it once more, and to be forced to leave it without one kind look or grateful tear. There were some trifles there—poor useless things—that she would have liked to take away; but that was impossible.
This brought to mind her bird, her poor bird, who hung there yet. She wept bitterly for the loss of this little creature—until the idea occurred to her—she did not know how, or why, it came into her head—that it might, by some means, fall into the hands of Kit who would keep it for her sake, and think, perhaps, that she had left it behind in the hope that he might have it, and as an assurance that she was grateful to him. She was calmed and comforted by the thought, and went to rest with a lighter heart.
From many dreams of rambling through light and sunny places, but with some vague object unattained which ran indistinctly through 80 them all, she awoke to find that it was yet night, and that the stars were shining brightly in the sky. At length, the day began to glimmer, and the stars to grow pale and dim. As soon as she was sure of this, she arose, and dressed herself for the journey.
The old man was yet asleep, and as she was unwilling to disturb him, she left him to slumber on, until the sun rose. He was anxious that they should leave the house without a minute’s loss of time, and was soon ready.
The child then took him by the hand, and they trod lightly and cautiously down the stairs, trembling whenever a board creaked, and often stopping to listen. The old man had forgotten a kind of wallet which contained the light burden he had to carry; and the going back a few steps to fetch it, seemed an interminable delay.
At last, they reached the passage on the ground-floor, where the snoring of Mr. Quilp and his legal friend sounded more terrible in their ears than the roars of lions. The bolts of the door were rusty, and difficult to unfasten without noise. When they were all drawn back, it was found to be locked, and worst of all, the key was gone. Then the child remembered, for the first time, one of the nurses having told her that Quilp always locked both the house-doors at night, and kept the keys on the table in his bedroom.
It was not without great fear and trepidation, that little Nell slipped off her shoes and gliding through the store-room of old curiosities, where Mr. Brass—the ugliest piece of goods in all the stock—lay sleeping on a mattress, passed into her own little chamber.
Here she stood, for a few moments, quite transfixed with terror at the sight of Mr. Quilp, who was hanging so far out of bed that he almost seemed to be standing on his head, and who, either from the uneasiness of this posture, or in one of his agreeable habits, was gasping and growling with his mouth wide open, and the whites (or rather the dirty yellows) of his eyes distinctly visible. It was no time, however, to ask whether anything ailed him; so, possessing herself of the key after one hasty glance about the room, and repassing the prostrate Mr. Brass, she rejoined the old man in safety. They got the door open without noise, and passing into the street, stood still.
“Which way?” said the child.
The old man looked, irresolutely and helplessly, first at her, then to the right and left, then at her again, and shook his head. It was plain that she was thenceforth his guide and leader. The child felt it, but had no doubts or misgiving, and putting her hand in his, led him gently away.
It was the beginning of a day in June; the deep blue sky unsullied by a cloud, and teeming with brilliant light. The streets were, as yet, nearly free from passengers, the houses and shops were closed, and the healthy air of morning fell like breath from angels, on the sleeping town.
The Pilgrimage begins.
The old man and the child passed on through the glad silence, elate 81 With hope and pleasure. They were alone together, once again; every object was bright and fresh; nothing reminded them, otherwise than by contrast, of the monotony and constraint they had left behind; church towers and steeples, frowning and dark at other times, now shone in the sun; each humble nook and corner rejoiced in light; and the sky, dimmed only by excessive distance, shed its placid smile on everything beneath.
Forth from the city, while it yet slumbered, went the two poor adventurers, wandering they knew not whither.
In the course of this and the following chapter, it becomes obvious that Dick Swiveller is the 1841 equivalent of the man who knows the lyrics to every song released in the last five years, thereby saving himself the trouble of putting his own thoughts into his own words.
remember the once-popular melody of ‘Begone dull care;’
[I wish I did remember it, because then I wouldn’t have to dig past descriptions of the 1949 NFB short—to say nothing of several thousand “do my homework for me” references to this very passage. The English ballad “Begone Dull Care” dates back to the 16th or 17th century, and was revived in a 1793 pantomime. But there’s nothing about sinking flames and rosy wine.]
fan the sinking flame of hilarity with the wing of friendship
[If that sounds familiar, it is because Dick Swiveller used the phrase three separate times in Chapter II, when we first met him. A few years after The Old Curiosity Shop, Walter Scott referred to the kindling flame of hilarity in Anne of Geierstein, one of the last Waverley novels.]
the habitual carelessness of his disposition
text has carelessess
Mr. Swiveller was in the act of stating in flowery terms
. in “Mr.” missing
She’s all my fancy painted her
[Parlor ballad “Alice Gray”, by William Mee (1788–1862), writing as Richard Sparkle. At one time everyone recognized the lines—whether they wanted to or not—but today it survives only as a footnote to Alice in Wonderland. We’ll meet the lines again in Chapter L (fifty).
She’s all my fancy painted her,
She’s lovely, she's divine,
But her heart it is another’s,
She never can be mine;
Yet lov’d I as man never loved, a love without decay,
Oh my heart, my heart is breaking for the love of Alice Gray,
Oh my heart, my heart is breaking for the love of Alice Gray. ]
“She is lovely, she’s divine. You know her.”
final . invisible
‘Man wants but little here below, nor wants that little long!’
[From “Edwin and Angelina” or “The Hermit”, the narrative poem that takes up much of Chapter VIII of The Vicar of Wakefield.]
when the heart of a man is depressed with fears
[I really ought to have recognized this; it’s from the Beggar’s Opera:
If the heart of a man is depressed with care,
The mist is dispelled when a woman appears
Did Dick intentionally replace an 18th-century rhyme (care:appear) with a 19th-century one (fears:appears), or did shaky memory make the substitution for him?]
Miss Melissa might have seen five-and-thirty summers or thereabouts . . . Miss Sophy was a fresh, good-humoured, buxom girl of twenty
[If this were a different kind of book by a different kind of author, it would eventually turn out that this large age difference is because Melissa is not, in fact, the sister but the mother of Sophia and Jane. (Later on, we see that Kit Nubbles’s family has a similar age distribution.)]
My boat is on the shore and my bark is on the sea
[Opening lines of “To Thomas Moore” by Byron:
My boat is on the shore,
And my bark is on the sea;
But, before I go, Tom Moore,
Here’s a double health to thee! ]
Miss Wackles, I believed you true
[Appropriately enough, this one is actually by Thomas Moore:
Mary, I believed thee true,
And I was blest in thus believing;
But now I mourn that e’er I knew
A girl so fair and so deceiving!
Fare thee well! ]
mournful fancies came flocking on her mind
[I believe this is the first time we have been allowed to see Nell herself, from the inside, rather than from the outside as “the child”.]
if sudden illness had happened to him
text has if, with superfluous comma
[Corrected from 1876 edition. (This edition also omits the comma in “come home again, alive”—but that’s more of an editorial decision than a clear-cut error.)]
the familiar aspect of her own room
text has familar
“Nelly! said the old man.
final . missing
For now I know
text has For now, with superfluous comma
[Corrected from 1876 edition.]
“How came you to think of him?” said the dwarf in a tone of great commiseration.
[Later on, this will prove to be a blunder on Quilp’s part.]
Food for thought raised by this chapter: Does Kit believe that Nell is in greater danger inside her home than out in the streets? I can’t help but notice that he raises no protest at her unaccompanied midnight visit, and he neither insists on escorting her home, nor furtively follows her.
The legal gentleman, whose melodious name was Brass
[Mr Brass, meet Mr Chaffanbrass of Orley Farm. Mr Chaffanbrass, meet Mr Brass.]
cotton stockings of a bluish-grey
[Fun fact: The term “bluestocking” was first applied to male scholars who had to make do with humble worsted, instead of elegant silk like their more affluent colleagues.]
[her bird] might, by some means, fall into the hands of Kit who would keep it for her sake
[Nell is a little way ahead of her literary successor, Beth March, who simply forgets about her bird Pip until he starves to death.]
It was the beginning of a day in June
[Remember this date; it is the only one we will get.]
The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.