Daniel Quilp of Tower Hill, and Sampson Brass of Bevis Marks in the City of London, Gentleman, one of her Majesty’s attornies of the Courts of King’s Bench and Common Pleas at Westminster and a solicitor of the High Court of Chancery, slumbered on, unconscious and unsuspicious of any mischance until a knocking at the street-door, often repeated and gradually mounting up from a modest single rap 82 to a perfect battery of knocks, fired in long discharges with a very short interval between, caused the said Daniel Quilp to struggle into a horizontal position, and to stare at the ceiling with a drowsy indifference, betokening that he heard the noise and rather wondered at the same, and couldn’t be at the trouble of bestowing any further thought upon the subject.
As the knocking, however, instead of accommodating itself to his lazy state, increased in vigour and became more importunate, as if in earnest remonstrance against his falling asleep again, now that he had once opened his eyes, Daniel Quilp began by degrees to comprehend the possibility of there being somebody at the door; and thus he gradually came to recollect that it was Friday morning, and he had ordered Mrs. Quilp to be in waiting upon him at an early hour.
Mr. Brass, after writhing about, in a great many strange attitudes, and often twisting his face and eyes into an expression like that which is usually produced by eating gooseberries very early in the season, was by this time awake also. Seeing that Mr. Quilp invested himself in his every-day garments, he hastened to do the like, putting on his shoes before his stockings, and thrusting his legs into his coat-sleeves, and making such other small mistakes in his toilet as are not uncommon to those who dress in a hurry, and labour under the agitation of having been suddenly roused.
While the attorney was thus engaged, the dwarf was groping under the table, muttering desperate imprecations on himself, and mankind in general, and all inanimate objects to boot, which suggested to Mr. Brass the question, “what’s the matter?”
“The key,” said the dwarf, looking viciously at him, “the door-key,—that’s the matter. D’ye know anything of it?”
“How should I know anything of it, sir?” returned Mr. Brass.
“How should you?” repeated Quilp with a sneer. “You’re a nice lawyer, an’t you? Ugh, you idiot!”
Not caring to represent to the dwarf in his present humour, that the loss of a key by another person could scarcely be said to affect his (Brass’s) legal knowledge in any material degree, Mr. Brass humbly suggested that it must have been forgotten overnight, and was, doubtless, at that moment in its native key-hole. Notwithstanding that Mr. Quilp had a strong conviction to the contrary, founded on his recollection of having carefully taken it out, he was fain to admit that this was possible, and therefore went grumbling to the door where, sure enough, he found it.
Now, just as Mr. Quilp laid his hand upon the lock, and saw with great astonishment that the fastenings were undone, the knocking came again with most irritating violence, and the daylight which had been shining through the key-hole was intercepted on the outside by a human eye. The dwarf was very much exasperated, and wanting somebody to wreak his ill-humour upon, determined to dart out 83 suddenly, and favour Mrs. Quilp with a gentle acknowledgment of her attention in making that hideous uproar.
Pugilistic Skill of Mr. Swiveller.
With this view, he drew back the lock very silently and softly, and opening the door all at once, pounced out upon the person on the other side, who had at that moment raised the knocker for another application, and at whom the dwarf ran head first: throwing out his hands and feet together, and biting the air in the fulness of his malice.
So far, however, from rushing upon somebody who offered no resistance and implored his mercy, Mr. Quilp was no sooner in the arms of the individual whom he had taken for his wife than he found himself complimented with two staggering blows on the head, and two more, of the same quality, in the chest; and closing with his assailant, such a shower of buffets rained down upon his person as sufficed to convince him that he was in skilful and experienced hands. Nothing daunted by this reception, he clung tight to his opponent, and bit and hammered away with such good-will and heartiness, that it was at least a couple of minutes before he was dislodged. Then, and not until then, Daniel Quilp found himself, all flushed and dishevelled, in the middle of the street, with Mr. Richard Swiveller performing a kind of dance round him and requiring to know “whether he wanted any more?”84
“There’s plenty more of it at the same shop,” said Mr. Swiveller, by turns advancing and retreating in a threatening attitude, “a large and extensive assortment always on hand—country orders executed with promptitude and despatch—will you have a little more, sir—don’t say no, if you’d rather not.”
“I thought it was somebody else,” said Quilp rubbing his shoulders, “why didn’t you say who you were?”
“Why didn’t you say who you were?” returned Dick, “instead of flying out of the house like a Bedlamite?”
“It was you that—that knocked,” said the dwarf, getting up with a short groan, “was it?”
“Yes, I am the man,” replied Dick. “That lady had begun when I came, but she knocked too soft, so I relieved her.” As he said this, he pointed towards Mrs. Quilp, who stood trembling at a little distance.
“Humph!” muttered the dwarf, darting an angry look at his wife, “I thought it was your fault! And you, sir,—don’t you know there has been somebody ill here, that you knock as if you’d beat the door down?”
“Damme!” answered Dick, “that’s why I did it. I thought there was somebody dead here.”
“You came for some purpose, I suppose,” said Quilp. “What is it you want?”
“I want to know how the old gentleman is,” rejoined Mr. Swiveller, “and to hear from Nell herself, with whom I should like to have a little talk. I’m a friend of the family, sir,—at least I’m the friend of one of the family, and that’s the same thing.”
“You’d better walk in then,” said the dwarf. “Go on, sir, go on. Now, Mrs. Quilp—after you, ma’am.”
Mrs. Quilp hesitated, but Mr. Quilp insisted. And it was not a contest of politeness, or by any means a matter of form, for she knew very well that her husband wished to enter the house in this order, that he might have a favourable opportunity of inflicting a few pinches on her arms, which were seldom free from impressions of his fingers in black and blue colours. Mr. Swiveller, who was not in the secret, was a little surprised to hear a suppressed scream, and, looking round, to see Mrs. Quilp following him with a sudden jerk; but he did not remark on these appearances, and soon forgot them.
“Now, Mrs. Quilp,” said the dwarf when they had entered the shop, “go you up-stairs, if you please, to Nelly’s room, and tell her that she’s wanted.”
“You seem to make yourself at home here,” said Dick, who was unacquainted with Mr. Quilp’s authority.
“I am at home, young gentleman,” returned the dwarf.
Dick was pondering what these words might mean, and still more what the presence of Mr. Brass might mean, when Mrs. Quilp came hurrying down-stairs, declaring that the rooms above were empty.85
Mr. Swiveller discomfited.
“Empty, you fool!” said the dwarf.
“I give you my word, Quilp,” answered his trembling wife, “that I have been into every room and there’s not a soul in any of them.”
“And that,” said Mr. Brass, clapping his hands once, with an emphasis, “explains the mystery of the key!”
Quilp looked frowningly at him, and frowningly at his wife, and frowningly at Richard Swiveller; but, receiving no enlightenment from any of them, hurried up-stairs, whence he soon hurried down again, confirming the report which had been already made.
“It’s a strange way of going,” he said, glancing at Swiveller: “very strange not to communicate with me who am such a close and intimate friend of his! Ah! he’ll write to me no doubt, or he’ll bid Nelly write—yes, yes, that’s what he’ll do. Nelly’s very fond of me. Pretty Nell!”
Mr. Swiveller looked, as he was, all open-mouthed astonishment. Still glancing furtively at him, Quilp turned to Mr. Brass and observed, with assumed carelessness, that this need not interfere with the removal of the goods.
“For indeed,” he added, “we knew that they’d go away to-day, but not that they’d go so early, or so quietly. But they have their reasons, they have their reasons.”
“Where in the devil’s name are they gone?” said the wondering Dick.
Quilp shook his head, and pursed up his lips, in a manner which implied that he knew very well, but was not at liberty to say.
“And what,” said Dick, looking at the confusion about him, “what do you mean by moving the goods?”
“That I have bought ’em, sir,” rejoined Quilp. “Eh? What then?”
“Has the sly old fox made his fortune then, and gone to live in a tranquil cot in a pleasant spot with a distant view of the changing sea?” said Dick, in great bewilderment.
“Keeping his place of retirement very close, that he may not be visited too often by affectionate grandsons and their devoted friends, eh?” added the dwarf, rubbing his hands hard: “I say nothing, but is that your meaning?”
Richard Swiveller was utterly aghast at this unexpected alteration of circumstances, which threatened the complete overthrow of the project in which he bore so conspicuous a part, and seemed to nip his prospects in the bud. Having only received from Frederick Trent, late on the previous night, information of the old man’s illness, he had come upon a visit of condolence and inquiry to Nell, prepared with the first instalment of that long train of fascinations which was to fire her heart at last. And here, when he had been thinking of all kinds of graceful and insinuating approaches, and meditating on the fearful retaliation which was slowly working against Sophy Wackles—here were Nell, the old man, and all the money gone, 86 melted away, decamped he knew not whither, as if with a foreknowledge of the scheme and a resolution to defeat it in the very outset, before a step was taken.
In his secret heart, Daniel Quilp was both surprised and troubled by the flight which had been made. It had not escaped his keen eye that some indispensable articles of clothing were gone with the fugitives, and knowing the old man’s weak state of mind, he marvelled what that course of proceeding might be in which he had so readily procured the concurrence of the child. It must not be supposed (or it would be a gross injustice to Mr. Quilp) that he was tortured by any disinterested anxiety on behalf of either. His uneasiness arose from a misgiving that the old man had some secret store of money which he had not suspected; and the idea of its escaping his clutches, overwhelmed him with mortification and self-reproach.
In this frame of mind, it was some consolation to him to find that Richard Swiveller was, for different reasons, evidently irritated and disappointed by the same cause. It was plain, thought the dwarf, that he had come there, on behalf of his friend, to cajole or frighten the old man out of some small fraction of that wealth of which they supposed him to have an abundance. Therefore, it was a relief to vex his heart with a picture of the riches the old man hoarded, and to expatiate on his cunning in removing himself even beyond the reach of importunity.
“Well,” said Dick, with a blank look, “I suppose it’s of no use my staying here.”
“Not the least in the world,” rejoined the dwarf.
“You’ll mention that I called, perhaps?” said Dick.
Mr. Quilp nodded, and said he certainly would, the very first time he saw them.
“And say,” added Mr. Swiveller, “say, sir, that I was wafted here upon the pinions of concord; that I came to remove, with the rake of friendship, the seeds of mutual wiolence and heart-burning, and to sow in their place, the germs of social harmony. Will you have the goodness to charge yourself with that commission, sir?”
“Certainly!” rejoined Quilp.
“Will you be kind enough to add to it, sir,” said Dick, producing a very small limp card, “that that is my address, and that I am to be found at home every morning. Two distinct knocks, sir, will produce the slavey at any time. My particular friends, sir, are accustomed to sneeze when the door is opened, to give her to understand that they are my friends and have no interested motives in asking if I’m at home. I beg your pardon; will you allow me to look at that card again?”
“Oh! by all means,” rejoined Quilp.
“By a slight and not unnatural mistake, sir,” said Dick, substituting another in its stead, “I had handed you the pass-ticket of a select convivial circle called the Glorious Apollers, of which I have the 87 honour to be Perpetual Grand. That is the proper document, sir, Good-morning.”
Quilp bade him good-day; the perpetual Grand Master of the Glorious Apollers, elevating his hat in honour of Mrs. Quilp, dropped it carelessly on the side of his head again, and disappeared with a flourish.
By this time, certain vans had arrived for the conveyance of the goods, and divers strong men in caps were balancing chests of drawers and other trifles of that nature upon their heads, and performing muscular feats which heightened their complexions considerably. Not to be behindhand in the bustle, Mr. Quilp went to work with surprising vigour: hustling and driving the people about, like an evil spirit; setting Mrs. Quilp upon all kinds of arduous and impracticable tasks; carrying great weights up and down, with no apparent effort; kicking the boy from the wharf, whenever he could get near him; and inflicting, with his loads, a great many sly bumps and blows on the shoulders of Mr. Brass, as he stood upon the door-steps to answer all the inquiries of curious neighbours: which was his department. His presence and example diffused such alacrity among the persons employed, that, in a few hours, the house was emptied of everything, but pieces of matting, empty porter-pots, and scattered fragments of straw.
Seated, like an African chief, on one of these pieces of matting, the dwarf was regaling himself in the parlour, with bread and cheese and beer, when he observed without appearing to do so, that a boy was prying in at the outer door. Assured that it was Kit, though he saw little more than his nose, Mr. Quilp hailed him by his name; whereupon Kit came in and demanded what he wanted.
“Come here, you sir,” said the dwarf. “Well, so your old master and young mistress have gone?”
“Where?” rejoined Kit, looking round.
“Do you mean to say you don’t know where?” answered Quilp sharply. “Where have they gone, eh?”
“I don’t know,” said Kit.
“Come,” retorted Quilp, “let’s have no more of this! Do you mean to say that you don’t know they went away by stealth, as soon as it was light this morning?”
“No,” said the boy, in evident surprise.
“You don’t know that?” cried Quilp. “Don’t I know that you were hanging about the house the other night, like a thief, eh? Weren’t you told then?”
“No,” replied the boy.
“You were not?” said Quilp. “What were you told then; what were you talking about?”
Kit, who knew no particular reason why he should keep the matter secret now, related the purpose for which he had come on that occasion, and the proposal he had made.88
“Oh!” said the dwarf after a little consideration. “Then, I think they’ll come to you yet.”
“Do you think they will?” cried Kit eagerly.
“Aye, I think they returned the dwarf. “Now, when they do, let me know; d’ye hear? Let me know, and I’ll give you something. I want to do ’em a kindness, and I can’t do ’em a kindness unless I know where they are. You hear what I say?”
Kit might have returned some answer which would not have been agreeable to his irascible questioner, if the boy from the wharf, who had been skulking about the room in search of anything that might have been left about by accident, had not happened to cry, “Here’s a bird! What’s to be done with this?”
“Wring its neck,” rejoined Quilp.
“Oh no, don’t do that,” said Kit, stepping forward. “Give it to me.”
“Oh yes, I dare say,” cried the other boy “Come! You let the cage alone, and let me wring its neck will you? He said I was to do it. You let the cage alone will you?”
“Give it here, give it to me, you dogs,” roared Quilp. “Fight for it, you dogs, or I’ll wring its neck myself!”
Without further persuasion, the two boys fell upon each other, tooth and nail, while Quilp, holding up the cage in one hand, and chopping the ground with his knife in an ecstasy, urged them on by his taunts and cries to fight more fiercely. They were a pretty equal match, and rolled about together, exchanging blows which were by no means child’s play, until at length Kit, planting a well-directed hit in his adversary’s chest, disengaged himself, sprung nimbly up, and snatching the cage from Quilp’s hands made off with his prize.
He did not stop once, until he reached home, where his bleeding face occasioned great consternation, and caused the elder child to howl dreadfully.
“Goodness gracious, Kit, what is the matter, what have you been doing?” cried Mrs. Nubbles.
“Never you mind, mother,” answered her son, wiping his face on the jack-towel behind the door. “I’m not hurt, don’t you be afraid for me. I’ve been a fightin’ for a bird and won him, that’s all. Hold your noise, little Jacob. I never see such a naughty boy in all my days!”
“You have been a fighting for a bird!” exclaimed his mother.
“Ah! Fightin’ for a bird!” replied Kit, “and here he is—Miss Nelly’s bird, mother, that they was a goin’ to wring the neck of! I stopped that though—ha ha ha! They wouldn’t wring his neck and me by, no no. It wouldn’t do, mother, it wouldn’t do at all. Ha, ha ha!”
Kit laughing so heartily, with his swoln and bruised face looking out of the towel, made little Jacob laugh, and then his mother laughed, and then the baby crowed and kicked with great glee, and then they 89 all laughed in concert: partly because of Kit’s triumph, and partly because they were very fond of each other. When this fit was over, Kit exhibited the bird to both children, as a great and precious rarity—it was only a poor linnet—and looking about the wall for an old nail, made a scaffolding of a chair and table and twisted it out with great exultation.
“Let me see,” said the boy, “I think I’ll hang him in the winder, because it’s more light and cheerful, and he can see the sky there, if he looks up very much. He’s such a one to sing, I can tell you!”
So, the scaffolding was made again, and Kit, climbing up with the poker for a hammer, knocked in the nail and hung up the cage, to the immeasurable delight of the whole family. When it had been adjusted and straightened a great many times, and he had walked backwards into the fire-place in his admiration of it, the arrangement was pronounced to be perfect.
“And now, mother,” said the boy, “before I rest any more, I’ll go out and see if I can find a horse to hold, and then I can buy some birdseed, and a bit of something nice for you, into the bargain.”
As it was very easy for Kit to persuade himself that the old house was in his way, his way being anywhere, he tried to look upon his passing once more as a matter of imperative and disagreeable necessity, quite apart from any desire of his own, to which he could not choose but yield. It is not uncommon for people who are much better fed and taught than Christopher Nubbles had ever been, to make duties of their inclinations in matters of more doubtful propriety, and to take great credit for the self-denial with which they gratify themselves.
There was no need of any caution this time, and no fear of being detained by having to play out a return match with Daniel Quilp’s boy. The place was entirely deserted, and looked as dusty and dingy as if it had been so for months. A rusty padlock was fastened on the door, ends of discoloured blinds and curtains flapped drearily against the half-opened upper windows, and the crooked holes cut in the closed shutters below, were black with the darkness of the inside. Some of the glass in the window he had so often watched, had been broken in the rough hurry of the morning, and that room looked more deserted and dull than any. A group of idle urchins had taken possession of the door-steps; some were plying the knocker and listening with delighted dread to the hollow sounds it spread through the dismantled house; others were clustered about the key-hole, watching half in jest and half in earnest for “the ghost,” which an 90 hour’s gloom, added to the mystery that hung about the late inhabitants, had already raised. Standing all alone in the midst of the business and bustle of the street, the house looked a picture of cold desolation; and Kit, who remembered the cheerful fire that used to burn there on a winter’s night and the no less cheerful laugh that made the small room ring, turned quite mournfully away.
It must be especially observed in justice to poor Kit that he was by no means of a sentimental turn, and perhaps had never heard that adjective in all his life. He was only a soft-hearted grateful fellow, and had nothing genteel or polite about him; consequently, instead of going home again, in his grief, to kick the children and abuse his mother (for, when your finely-strung people are out of sorts, they must have everybody else unhappy likewise), he turned his thoughts to the vulgar expedient of making them more comfortable if he could.
Bless us, what a number of gentlemen on horseback there were riding up and down, and how few of them wanted their horses held! A good city speculator or a parliamentary commissioner could have told to a fraction, from the crowds that were cantering about, what sum of money was realised in London, in the course of a year, by holding horses alone. And undoubtedly it would have been a very large one, if only a twentieth part of the gentlemen without grooms had had occasion to alight; but they had not; and it is often an ill-natured circumstance like this, which spoils the most ingenious estimate in the world.
Kit walked about, now with quick steps and now with slow; now lingering as some rider slackened his horse’s pace and looked about him; and now darting at full speed up a by-street as he caught a glimpse of some distant horseman going lazily up the shady side of the road, and promising to stop, at every door. But on they all went, one after another, and there was not a penny stirring. “I wonder,” thought the boy, “if one of these gentlemen knew there was nothing in the cupboard at home, whether he’d stop on purpose, and make believe that he wanted to call somewhere, that I might earn a trifle?”
He was quite tired out with pacing the streets, to say nothing of repeated disappointments, and was sitting down upon a step to rest, when there approached towards him a little clattering jingling four-wheeled chaise, drawn by a little obstinate-looking rough-coated pony, and driven by a little fat placid-faced old gentleman. Beside the little old gentleman sat a little old lady, plump and placid like himself, and the pony was coming along at his own pace and doing exactly as he pleased with the whole concern. If the old gentleman remonstrated by shaking the reins, the pony replied by shaking his head. It was plain that the utmost the pony would consent to do, was to go in his own way up any street that the old gentleman particularly wished to traverse, but that it was an understanding between them that he must do this after his own fashion or not at all.
New Friends for Kit.
As they passed where he sat, Kit looked so wistfully at the little 91 turn-out, that the old gentleman looked at him. Kit rising and putting his hand to his hat, the old gentleman intimated to the pony that he wished to stop, to which proposal the pony (who seldom objected to that part of his duty) graciously acceded.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” said Kit. “I’m sorry you stopped, sir. I only meant did you want your horse minded.”
“I’m going to get down in the next street,” returned the old gentleman. “If you like to come on after us, you may have the job.”
Kit thanked him, and joyfully obeyed. The pony ran off at a sharp angle to inspect a lamp-post on the opposite side of the way, and then went off at a tangent to another lamp-post on the other side. Having satisfied himself that they were of the same pattern and materials, he came to a stop apparently absorbed in meditation.
“Will you go on, sir,” said the old gentleman, gravely, “or are we to wait here for you till it’s too late for our appointment?”
The pony remained immoveable.
“Oh you naughty Whisker,” said the old lady. “Fie upon you! I’m ashamed of such conduct.”
The pony appeared to be touched by this appeal to his feelings, for he trotted on directly, though in a sulky manner, and stopped no more until he came to a door whereon was a brass plate with the words “Witherden—Notary.” Here the old gentleman got out and helped out the old lady, and then took from under the seat a nosegay resembling in shape and dimensions a full-sized warming-pan with the handle cut short off. This, the old lady carried into the house with a staid and stately air, and the old gentleman (who had a clubfoot) followed close upon her.
They went, as it was easy to tell from the sound of their voices, into the front-parlour, which seemed to be a kind of office. The day being very warm and the street a quiet one, the windows were wide open; and it was easy to hear through the Venetian blinds all that passed inside.
At first there was a great shaking of hands and shuffling of feet, succeeded by the presentation of the nosegay; for a voice, supposed by the listener to be that of Mr. Witherden, the notary, was heard to exclaim a great many times, “oh, delicious!” “oh, fragrant, indeed!” and a nose, also supposed to be the property of that gentleman, was heard to inhale the scent with a snuffle of exceeding pleasure.
“I brought it in honour of the occasion, sir,” said the old lady.
“Ah! an occasion indeed, ma’am; an occasion which does honour to me, ma’am, honour to me,” rejoined Mr. Witherden, the notary. “I have had many a gentleman articled to me, ma’am, many a one. Some of them are now rolling in riches, unmindful of their old companion and friend, ma’am, others are in the habit of calling upon me to this day and saying, ‘Mr. Witherden, some of the pleasantest hours I ever spent in my life were spent in this office—were spent, sir, upon this very stool;’ but there was never one among the number, ma’am, 92 attached as I have been to many of them, of whom I augured such bright things as I do of your only son.”
“Oh dear!” said the old lady. “How happy you do make us when you tell us that, to be sure!”
“I tell you, ma’am,” said Mr. Witherden, “what I think as an honest man, which, as the poet observes, is the noblest work of God. I agree with the poet in every particular, ma’am. The mountainous Alps on the one hand, or a humming-bird on the other, is nothing, in point of workmanship, to an honest man—or woman—or woman.”
“Anything that Mr. Witherden can say of me,” observed a small quiet voice, “I can say, with interest, of him, I am sure.”
“It’s a happy circumstance, a truly happy circumstance,” said the notary, “to happen too upon his eight-and-twentieth birthday, and I hope I know how to appreciate it. I trust, Mr. Garland, my dear sir, that we may mutually congratulate each other upon this auspicious occasion.”
To this the old gentleman replied that he felt assured they might. There appeared to be another shaking of hands in consequence, and when it was over, the old gentleman said that, though he said it who should not, he believed no son had ever been a greater comfort to his parents than Abel Garland had been to his.
“Marrying as his mother and I did, late in life, sir, after waiting for a great many years, until we were well enough off—coming together when we were no longer young, and then being blessed with one child who has always been dutiful and affectionate—why, it’s a source of great happiness to us both, sir.”
“Of course it is, I have no doubt of it,” returned the notary in a sympathising voice. “It’s the contemplation of this sort of thing, that makes me deplore my fate in being a bachelor. There was a young lady once, sir, the daughter of an outfitting warehouse of the first respectability—but that’s a weakness. Chuckster, bring in Mr. Abel’s articles.”
“You see, Mr. Witherden,” said the old lady, “that Abel has not been brought up like the run of young men. He has always had a pleasure in our society, and always been with us. Abel has never been absent from us, for a day; has he, my dear?”
“Never, my dear,” returned the old gentleman, “except when he went to Margate one Saturday with Mr. Tomkinley that had been a teacher at that school he went to, and came back upon the Monday; but he was very ill after that, you remember, my dear; it was quite a dissipation.”
“He was not used to it, you know,” said the old lady, “and he couldn’t bear it, that’s the truth. Besides, he had no comfort in being there without us, and had nobody to talk to or enjoy himself with.”
“That was it, you know,” interposed the same small quiet voice that had spoken once before. “I was quite abroad, mother, quite 93 desolate, and to think that the sea was between us—oh, I never shall forget what I felt when I first thought that the sea was between us!”
Kit makes an Appointment.
“Very natural under the circumstances,” observed the notary. “Mr. Abel’s feelings did credit to his nature, and credit to your nature, ma’am, and his father’s nature, and human nature. I trace the same current now, flowing through all his quiet and unobtrusive proceedings.—I am about to sign my name, you observe, at the foot of the articles which Mr. Chuckster will witness; and placing my finger upon this blue wafer with the vandyked corners, I am constrained to remark in a distinct tone of voice—don’t be alarmed, ma’am, it is merely a form of law—that I deliver this, as my act and deed. Mr. Abel will place his name against the other wafer, repeating the same cabalistic words, and the business is over. Ha, ha, ha! You see how easily these things are done!”
There was a short silence, apparently, while Mr. Abel went through the prescribed form, and then the shaking of hands and shuffling of feet were renewed, and shortly afterwards there was a clinking of wine-glasses and a great talkativeness on the part of everybody. In about a quarter of an hour Mr. Chuckster (with a pen behind his ear and his face inflamed with wine) appeared at the door, and condescending to address Kit by the jocose appellation of “Young Snob,” informed him that the visitors were coming out.
Out they came forthwith; Mr. Witherden, who was short, chubby, fresh-coloured, brisk, and pompous, leading the old lady with extreme politeness, and the father and son following them, arm-in-arm. Mr. Abel, who had a quaint old-fashioned air about him, looked nearly of the same age as his father, and bore a wonderful resemblance to him in face and figure, though wanting something of his full, round, cheerfulness, and substituting in its place, a timid reserve. In all other respects, in the neatness of the dress, and even in the club-foot, he and the old gentleman were precisely alike.
Having seen the old lady safely in her seat, and assisted in the arrangement of her cloak and a small basket which formed an indispensable portion of her equipage, Mr. Abel got into a little box behind which had evidently been made for his express accommodation, and smiled at everybody present by turns, beginning with his mother and ending with the pony. There was then a great to-do to make the pony hold up his head that the bearing-rein might be fastened; at last even this was effected; and the old gentleman, taking his seat and the reins, put his hand in his pocket to find a sixpence for Kit.
He had no sixpences, neither had the old lady, nor Mr. Abel, nor the notary, nor Mr. Chuckster. The old gentleman thought a shilling too much, but there was no shop in the street to get change at, so he gave it to the boy.
“There,” he said jokingly, “I’m coming here again next Monday at the same time, and mind you’re here, my lad, to work it out.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Kit. “I’ll be sure to be here.”94
He was quite serious, but they all laughed heartily at his saying so, especially Mr. Chuckster, who roared outright and appeared to relish the joke amazingly. As the pony, with a presentiment that he was going home, or a determination that he would not go anywhere else (which was the same thing) trotted away pretty nimbly, Kit had no time to justify himself, and went his way also. Having expended his treasure in such purchases as he knew would be most acceptable at home, not forgetting some seed for the wonderful bird, he hastened back as fast as he could, so elated with his success and great good-fortune, that he more than half expected Nell and the old man would have arrived before him.
Often, while they were yet pacing the silent streets of the town on the morning of their departure, the child trembled with a mingled sensation of hope and fear as in some far-off figure imperfectly seen in the clear distance, her fancy traced a likeness to honest Kit. But although she would gladly have given him her hand and thanked him for what he had said at their last meeting, it was always a relief to find, when they came nearer to each other, that the person who approached was not he, but a stranger; for even if she had not dreaded the effect which the sight of him might have wrought upon her fellow-traveller, she felt that to bid farewell to anybody now, and most of all to him who had been so faithful and so true, was more than she could bear. It was enough to leave dumb things behind, and objects that were insensible both to her love and sorrow. To have parted from her only other friend upon the threshold of that wild journey, would have wrung her heart indeed.
Why is it that we can better bear to part in spirit than in body, and while we have the fortitude to act farewell have not the nerve to say it? On the eve of long voyages or an absence of many years, friends who are tenderly attached will separate with the usual look, the usual pressure of the hand, planning one final interview for the morrow, while each well knows that it is but a poor feint to save the pain of uttering that one word, and that the meeting will never be. Should possibilities be worse to bear than certainties? We do not shun our dying friends; the not having distinctly taken leave of one among them, whom we left in all kindness and affection, will often embitter the whole remainder of a life.
The town was glad with morning light; places that had shown ugly and distrustful all night long, now wore a smile; and sparkling sunbeams dancing on chamber windows, and twinkling through blind and curtain before sleepers’ eyes, shed light even into dreams, and chased away the shadows of the night. Birds in hot rooms, covered up close and dark, felt it was morning, and chafed and grew restless in their little cells; bright-eyed mice crept back to their tiny homes and nestled timidly together; the sleek house-cat, forgetful of her prey, sat winking at the rays of sun starting through key-hole and cranny in the door, and longed for her stealthy run and warm sleek bask outside. The nobler beasts confined in dens, stood motionless behind their bars, and gazed on fluttering boughs, and sunshine peeping through some little window, with eyes in which old forests gleamed—then trod impatiently the track their prisoned feet had worn—and stopped and gazed again. Men in their dungeons stretched their cramped cold limbs and cursed the stone that no bright sky could warm. The flowers that sleep by night, opened their gentle eyes and 96 turned them to the day. The light, creation’s mind, was everywhere, and all things owned its power.
The two pilgrims, often pressing each other’s hands, or exchanging a smile or cheerful look, pursued their way in silence. Bright and happy as it was, there was something solemn in the long, deserted streets, from which, like bodies without souls, all habitual character and expression had departed, leaving but one dead uniform repose, that made them all alike. All was so still at that early hour, that the few pale people whom they met seemed as much unsuited to the scene, as the sickly lamp which had been here and there left burning, was powerless and faint in the full glory of the sun.
Before they had penetrated very far into the labyrinth of men’s abodes which yet lay between them and the outskirts, this aspect began to melt away, and noise and bustle to usurp its place. Some straggling carts and coaches rumbling by, first broke the charm, then others came, then others yet more active, then a crowd. The wonder was, at first, to see a tradesman’s room-window open, but it was a rare thing, to see one closed; then, smoke rose slowly from the chimneys, and sashes were thrown up to let in air, and doors were opened, and servant-girls, looking lazily in all directions but their brooms, scattered brown clouds of dust into the eyes of shrinking passengers, or listened disconsolately to milkmen who spoke of country fairs, and told of waggons in the mews, with awnings and all things complete, and gallant swains to boot, which another hour would see upon their journey.
This quarter passed, they came upon the haunts of commerce and great traffic, where many people were resorting, and business was already rife. The old man looked about him with a startled and bewildered gaze, for these were places that he hoped to shun. He pressed his finger on his lip, and drew the child along by narrow courts and winding ways, nor did he seem at ease until they had left it far behind, often casting a backward look towards it, murmuring that ruin and self-murder were crouching in every street, and would follow if they scented them; and that they could not fly too fast.
Again this quarter passed, they came upon a straggling neighbourhood, where the mean houses parcelled off in rooms, and windows patched with rags and paper, told of the populous poverty that sheltered there. The shops sold goods that only poverty could buy, and sellers and buyers were pinched and griped alike. Here were poor streets where faded gentility essayed with scanty space and shipwrecked means to make its last feeble stand, but tax-gatherer and creditor came there as elsewhere, and the poverty that yet faintly struggled was hardly less squalid and manifest than that which had long ago submitted and given up the game.
This was a wide, wide track—for the humble followers of the camp of wealth pitch their tents round about it for many a mile—but its character was still the same. Damp rotten houses, many to let, many 97 yet building, many half-built and mouldering away—lodgings, where it would be hard to tell which needed pity most, those who let or those who came to take—children, scantily fed and clothed, spread over every street, and sprawling in the dust—scolding mothers, stamping their slipshod feet with noisy threats upon the pavement—shabby fathers, hurrying with dispirited looks to the occupation which brought them “daily bread” and little more—mangling-women, washerwomen, cobblers, tailors, chandlers driving their trades in parlours and kitchens and back rooms and garrets, and sometimes all of them under the same roof—brick-fields skirting gardens paled with staves of old casks, or timber pillaged from houses burnt down, and blackened and blistered by the flames—mounds of dockweed, nettles, coarse grass and oyster-shells, heaped in rank confusion—small dissenting chapels to teach, with no lack of illustration, the miseries of Earth, and plenty of new churches, erected with a little superfluous wealth, to show the way to Heaven.
At length these streets becoming more straggling yet, dwindled and dwindled away, until there were only small garden patches bordering the road, with many a summer-house innocent of paint and built of old timber or some fragments of a boat, green as the tough cabbage-stalks that grew about it, and grottoed at the seams with toadstools and tight-sticking snails. To these succeeded pert cottages, two and two with plots of ground in front, laid out in angular beds with stiff box borders and narrow paths between, where footstep never strayed to make the gravel rough. Then came the public-house, freshly painted in green and white, with tea-gardens and a bowling-green, spurning its old neighbour with the horse-trough where the waggons stopped; then, fields; and then, some houses, one by one, of goodly size with lawns, some even with a lodge where dwelt a porter and his wife. Then, came a turnpike; then fields again with trees and hay-stacks; then, a hill; and on the top of that, the traveller might stop, and—looking back at old Saint Paul’s looming through the smoke, its cross peeping above the cloud (if the day were clear), and glittering in the sun; and casting his eyes upon the Babel out of which it grew until he traced it down to the furthest outposts of the invading army of bricks and mortar whose station lay for the present nearly at his feet—might feel at last that he was clear of London.
Near such a spot as this, and in a pleasant field, the old man and his little guide (if guide she were, who knew not whither they were bound) sat down to rest. She had had the precaution to furnish her basket with some slices of bread and meat, and here they made their frugal breakfast.
The freshness of the day, the singing of the birds, the beauty of the waving grass, the deep green leaves, the wild flowers, and the thousand exquisite scents and sounds that floated in the air,—deep joys to most of us, but most of all to those whose life is in a crowd or who live solitarily in great cities as in the bucket of a human well,—sunk 98 into their breasts and made them very glad. The child had repeated her artless prayers once that morning, more earnestly perhaps than she had ever done in all her life, but as she felt all this, they rose to her lips again. The old man took off his hat—he had no memory for the words—but he said amen, and that they were very good.
There had been an old copy of the Pilgrim’s Progress, with strange plates, upon a shelf at home, over which she had often pored whole evenings, wondering whether it was true in every word, and where those distant countries with the curious names might be. As she looked back upon the place they had left, one part of it came strongly on her mind.
“Dear grandfather,” she said, “only that this place is prettier and a great deal better than the real one, if that in the book is like it, I feel as if we were both Christian, and laid down on this grass all the cares and troubles we brought with us; never to take them up again.”
“No—never to return—never to return”—replied the old man, waving his hand towards the city. “Thou and I are free of it now, Nell. They shall never lure us back.”
“Are you tired?” said the child, “are you sure you don’t feel ill from this long walk?”
“I shall never feel ill again, now that we are once away,” was his reply. “Let us be stirring, Nell. We must be further away—a long, long way further. We are too near to stop, and be at rest. Come!”
There was a pool of clear water in the field, in which the child laved her hands and face, and cooled her before setting forth to walk again. She would have the old man refresh himself in this way too, and making him sit down upon the grass, cast the water on him with her hands, and dried it with her simple dress.
“I can do nothing for myself, my darling,” said the grandfather; “I don’t know how it is, I could once, but the time’s gone. Don’t leave me, Nell; say that thou’lt not leave me. I loved thee all the while, indeed I did. If I lose thee too, my dear, I must die!”
He laid his head upon her shoulder and moaned piteously. The time had been, and a very few days before, when the child could not have restrained her tears and must have wept with him. But now she soothed him with gentle and tender words, smiled at his thinking they could ever part, and rallied him cheerfully upon the jest. He was soon calmed and fell asleep, singing to himself in a low voice, like a little child.
He awoke refreshed, and they continued their journey. The road was pleasant, lying between beautiful pastures and fields of corn, above which, poised high in the clear blue sky, the lark trilled out her happy song. The air came laden with the fragrance it caught upon its way, and the bees, upborne upon its scented breath, hummed forth their drowsy satisfaction as they floated by.
They were now in the open country; the houses were very few and 99 scattered at long intervals, often miles apart. Occasionally they came upon a cluster of poor cottages, some with a chair or low board put across the open door to keep the scrambling children from the road, others shut up close while all the family were working in the fields. These were often the commencement of a little village: and after an interval came a wheelwright’s shed or perhaps a blacksmith’s forge; then a thriving farm with sleepy cows lying about the yard, and horses peering over the low wall and scampering away when harnessed horses passed upon the road, as though in triumph at their freedom. There were dull pigs too, turning up the ground in search of dainty food, and grunting their monotonous grumblings as they prowled about, or crossed each other in their quest; plump pigeons skimming round the roof or strutting on the eaves; and ducks and geese, far more graceful in their own conceit, waddling awkwardly about the edges of the pond or sailing glibly on its surface. The farm-yard passed, then came the little inn; the humbler beer-shop; and the village tradesman’s; then the lawyer’s and the parson’s, at whose dread names the beer-shop trembled; the church then peeped out modestly from a clump of trees; then there were a few more cottages; then the cage, and pound, and not unfrequently, on a bank by the wayside, a deep old dusty well. Then came the trim-hedged fields on either hand, and the open road again.
They walked all day, and slept that night at a small cottage where beds were let to travellers. Next morning they were afoot again, and though jaded at first, and very tired, recovered before long and proceeded briskly forward.
They often stopped to rest, but only for a short space at a time, and still kept on, having had but slight refreshment since the morning. It was nearly five o’clock in the afternoon, when drawing near another cluster of labourers’ huts, the child looked wistfully in each, doubtful at which to ask for permission to rest awhile, and buy a draught of milk.
It was not easy to determine, for she was timid and fearful of being repulsed. Here was a crying child, and there a noisy wife. In this, the people seemed too poor; in that, too many. At length she stopped at one where the family were seated round the table—chiefly because there was an old man sitting in a cushioned chair beside the hearth, and she thought he was a grandfather and would feel for hers.
There were besides, the cottager and his wife, and three young sturdy children, brown as berries. The request was no sooner preferred, than granted. The eldest boy ran out to fetch some milk, the second dragged two stools towards the door, and the youngest crept to his mother’s gown, and looked at the strangers from beneath his sunburnt hand.
“God save you, master,” said the old cottager in a thin piping voice; “are you travelling far?”
“Yes, sir, a long way”—replied the child; for her grandfather appealed to her.100
“From London?” inquired the old man.
The child said yes.
Ah! He had been in London many a time—used to go there often once, with waggons. It was nigh two-and-thirty year since he had been there last, and he did hear say there were great changes. Like enough! He had changed himself since then. Two-and-thirty year was a long time and eighty-four a great age, though there was some he had known that had lived to very hard upon a hundred—and not so hearty as he, neither—no, nothing like it.
“Sit thee down, master, in the elbow-chair,” said the old man, knocking his stick upon the brick floor, and trying to do so sharply. “Take a pinch out o’ that box; I don’t take much myself, for it comes dear, but I find it wakes me up sometimes, and ye’re but a boy to me. I should have a son pretty nigh as old as you if he’d lived, but they ’listed him for a so’ger—he come back home though, for all he had but one poor leg. He always said he’d be buried near the sun-dial he used to climb upon when he was a baby, did my poor boy, and his words come true—you can see the place with your own eyes; we’ve kept the turf up, ever since.”
He shook his head, and looking at his daughter with watery eyes, said she needn’t be afraid that he was going to talk about that, any more. He didn’t wish to trouble nobody, and if he had troubled anybody by what he said, he asked pardon, that was all.
The milk arrived, and the child producing her little basket, and selecting its best fragments for her grandfather, they made a hearty meal. The furniture of the room was very homely of course—a few rough chairs and a table, a corner cupboard with their little stock of crockery and delf, a gaudy tea-tray, representing a lady in bright red, walking out with a very blue parasol, a few common, coloured scripture subjects in frames upon the wall and chimney, an old dwarf clothes-press and an eight-day clock, with a few bright saucepans and a kettle, comprised the whole. But everything was clean and neat, and as the child glanced round, she felt a tranquil air of comfort and content to which she had long been unaccustomed.
“How far is it to any town or village?” she asked of the husband.
“A matter of good five mile, my dear,” was the reply, “but you’re not going on to-night?”
“Yes yes, Nell,” said the old man hastily, urging her too by signs. “Further on, further on, darling, further away if we walk till midnight.”
“There’s a good barn hard by, master,” said the man, “or there’s travellers’ lodging, I know, at the Plow an’ Harrer. Excuse me, but you do seem a little tired, and unless you’re very anxious to get on——”
“Yes yes, we are,” returned the old man fretfully. “Further away, dear Nell, pray further away.”
“We must go on, indeed,” said the child, yielding to his restless 101 wish. “We thank you very much, but we cannot stop so soon. I’m quite ready, grandfather.”
But the woman had observed, from the young wanderer’s gait, that one of her little feet was blistered and sore, and being a woman and a mother too, she would not suffer her to go until she had washed the place and applied some simple remedy, which she did so carefully and with such a gentle hand—rough-grained and hard though it was, with work—that the child’s heart was too full to admit of her saying more than a fervent “God bless you!” nor could she look back nor trust herself to speak, until they had left the cottage some distance behind. When she turned her head, she saw that the whole family, even the old grandfather, were standing in the road watching them as they went, and so, with many waves of the hand, and cheering nods, and on one side at least not without tears, they parted company.
They trudged forward, more slowly and painfully than they had done yet, for another mile or thereabouts, when they heard the sound of wheels behind them, and looking round observed an empty cart approaching pretty briskly. The driver on coming up to them stopped his horse and looked earnestly at Nell.
“Didn’t you stop to rest at a cottage yonder?” he said.
“Yes, sir,” replied the child.
“Ah! They asked me to look out for you,” said the man. “I’m going your way. Give me your hand—jump up, master.”
This was a great relief, for they were very much fatigued and could scarcely crawl along. To them the jolting cart was a luxurious carriage, and the ride the most delicious in the world. Nell had scarcely settled herself on a little heap of straw in one corner, when she fell asleep, for the first time that day.
She was awakened by the stopping of the cart, which was about to turn up a by-lane. The driver kindly got down to help her out, and pointing to some trees at a very short distance before them, said that the town lay there, and that they had better take the path which they would see leading through the churchyard. Accordingly, towards this spot, they directed their weary steps.
The sun was setting when they reached the wicket-gate at which the path began, and, as the rain falls upon the just and unjust alike, it shed its warm tint even upon the resting-places of the dead, and bade them be of good hope for its rising on the morrow. The church was old and grey, with ivy clinging to the walls, and round the porch. Shunning the tombs, it crept about the mounds, beneath which slept poor humble men: twining for them the first wreaths they had ever 102 won, but wreaths less liable to wither and far more lasting in their kind, than some which were graven deep in stone and marble, and told in pompous terms of virtues meekly hidden for many a year, and only revealed at last to executors and mourning legatees.
The clergyman’s horse, stumbling with a dull blunt sound among the graves, was cropping the grass; at once deriving orthodox consolation from the dead parishioners, and enforcing last Sunday’s text that this was what all flesh came to; a lean ass who had sought to expound it also, without being qualified and ordained, was pricking his ears in an empty pound hard by, and looking with hungry eyes upon his priestly neighbour.
The old man and the child quitted the gravel-path, and strayed among the tombs; for there the ground was soft, and easy to their tired feet. As they passed behind the church, they heard voices near at hand, and presently came on those who had spoken.
They were two men who were seated in easy attitudes upon the grass, and so busily engaged as to be at first unconscious of intruders. It was not difficult to divine that they were of a class of itinerant showmen—exhibitors of the freaks of Punch—for, perched cross-legged upon a tombstone behind them, was a figure of that hero himself, his nose and chin as hooked and his face as beaming as usual. 103 Perhaps his imperturbable character was never more strikingly developed, for he preserved his usual equable smile notwithstanding that his body was dangling in a most uncomfortable position, all loose and limp and shapeless, while his long peaked cap, unequally balanced against his exceedingly slight legs, threatened every instant to bring him toppling down.
Punch in the Churchyard.
In part scattered upon the ground at the feet of the two men, and in part jumbled together in a long flat box, were the other persons of the drama. The hero’s wife and one child, the hobby-horse, the doctor, the foreign gentleman who not being familiar with the language is unable in the representation to express his ideas otherwise than by the utterance of the word “Shallabalah” three distinct times, the radical neighbour who will by no means admit that a tin bell is an organ, the executioner, and the devil, were all here. Their owners had evidently come to that spot to make some needful repairs in the stage arrangements, for one of them was engaged in binding together a small gallows with thread, while the other was intent upon fixing a new black wig, with the aid of a small hammer and some tacks, upon the head of the radical neighbour, who had been beaten bald.
They raised their eyes when the old man and his young companion were close upon them, and pausing in their work, returned their looks of curiosity. One of them, the actual exhibitor no doubt, was a little merry-faced man with a twinkling eye and a red nose, who seemed to have unconsciously imbibed something of his hero’s character. The other—that was he who took the money—had rather a careful and cautious look, which was perhaps inseparable from his occupation also.
The merry man was the first to greet the strangers with a nod; and following the old man’s eyes, he observed that perhaps that was the first time he had ever seen a Punch off the stage. (Punch, it may be remarked, seemed to be pointing with the tip of his cap to a most flourishing epitaph, and to be chuckling over it with all his heart.)
“Why do you come here to do this?” said the old man, sitting down beside them, and looking at the figures with extreme delight.
“Why you see,” rejoined the little man, “we’re putting up for tonight at the public-house yonder, and it wouldn’t do to let ’em see the present company undergoing repair.”
“No?” cried the old man, making signs to Nell to listen, “why not, eh? why not?”
“Because it would destroy all the delusion, and take away all the interest, wouldn’t it?” replied the little man. “Would you care a ha’penny for the Lord Chancellor if you know’d him in private and without his wig?—certainly not.”
“Good!” said the old man, venturing to touch one of the puppets, and drawing away his hand with a shrill laugh. “Are you going to show ’em to-night? are you?”
“That is the intention, governor,” replied the other, “and unless 104 I’m much mistaken, Tommy Codlin is a calculating at this minute what we’ve lost through your coming upon us. Cheer up, Tommy, it can’t be much.”
The little man accompanied these latter words with a wink, expressive of the estimate he had formed of the travellers’ finances.
To this Mr. Codlin, who had a surly, grumbling manner, replied, as he twitched Punch off the tombstone and flung him into the box—
“I don’t care if we haven’t lost a farden, but you’re too free. If you stood in front of the curtain and see the public’s faces as I do, you’d know human natur’ better.”
“Ah! it’s been the spoiling of you, Tommy, your taking to that branch,” rejoined his companion. “When you played the ghost in the reg’lar drama in the fairs, you believed in everything—except ghosts. But now you’re a universal mistruster. I never see a man so changed.”
“Never mind,” said Mr. Codlin, with the air of a discontented philosopher. “I know better now, and p’raps I’m sorry for it.”
Turning over the figures in the box like one who knew and despised them, Mr. Codlin drew one forth and held it up for the inspection of his friend.
“Look here; here’s all this Judy’s clothes falling to pieces again. You haven’t got a needle and thread I suppose?”
The little man shook his head, and scratched it ruefully as he contemplated this severe indisposition of a principal performer. Seeing that they were at a loss, the child said timidly—
“I have a needle, sir, in my basket, and thread too. Will you let me try to mend it for you? I think I could do it neater than you could.”
Even Mr. Codlin had nothing to urge against a proposal so seasonable. Nelly, kneeling down beside the box, was soon busily engaged in her task, and accomplishing it to a miracle.
While she was thus engaged, the merry little man looked at her with an interest which did not appear to be diminished when he glanced at her helpless companion. When she had finished her work he thanked her, and inquired whither they were travelling.
“N—no further to-night, I think,” said the child, looking towards her grandfather.
“If you’re wanting a place to stop at,” the man remarked, “I should advise you to take up at the same house with us. That’s it. The long, low, white house there. It’s very cheap.”
The old man, notwithstanding his fatigue, would have remained in the churchyard all night if his new acquaintances had remained there too. As he yielded to this suggestion a ready and rapturous assent, they all rose and walked away together; he keeping close to the box of puppets in which he was quite absorbed, the merry little man carrying it slung over his arm by a strap attached to it for the purpose, Nelly having hold of her grandfather’s hand, and Mr. Codlin 105 sauntering slowly behind, casting up at the church-tower and neighbouring trees such looks as he was accustomed in town-practice to direct to drawing-room and nursery windows, when seeking for a profitable spot on which to plant the show.
With Messrs. Codlin and Short.
The public-house was kept by a fat old landlord and landlady who made no objection to receiving their new guests, but praised Nelly’s beauty and were at once prepossessed in her behalf. There was no other company in the kitchen but the two showmen, and the child felt very thankful that they had fallen upon such good quarters. The landlady was very much astonished to learn that they had come all the way from London, and appeared to have no little curiosity touching their farther destination. The child parried her inquiries as well as she could, and with no great trouble, for finding that they appeared to give her pain, the old lady desisted.
“These two gentlemen have ordered supper in an hour’s time,” she said, taking her into the bar; “and your best plan will be to sup with them. Meanwhile you shall have a little taste of something that’ll do you good, for I’m sure you must want it after all you’ve gone through to-day. Now, don’t look after the old gentleman, because when you’ve drank that, he shall have some too.”
As nothing could induce the child to leave him alone, however, or to touch anything in which he was not the first and greatest sharer, the old lady was obliged to help him first. When they had been thus refreshed, the whole house hurried away into an empty stable where the show stood, and where, by the light of a few flaring candles stuck round a hoop which hung by a line from the ceiling, it was to be forthwith exhibited.
And now Mr. Thomas Codlin, the misanthrope, after blowing away at the Pan’s pipes until he was intensely wretched, took his station on one side of the checked drapery which concealed the mover of the figures, and putting his hands in his pockets prepared to reply to all questions and remarks of Punch, and to make a dismal feint of being his most intimate private friend, of believing in him to the fullest and most unlimited extent, of knowing that he enjoyed day and night a merry and glorious existence in that temple, and that he was at all times and under every circumstance the same intelligent and joyful person that the spectators then beheld him. All this Mr. Codlin did with the air of a man who has made his up mind for the worst and was quite resigned; his eye slowly wandering about during the briskest repartee to observe the effect upon the audience, and particularly the impression made upon the landlord and landlady, which might be productive of very important results in connection with the supper.
Upon this head, however, he had no cause for any anxiety, for the whole performance was applauded to the echo, and voluntary contributions were showered in with a liberality which testified yet more strongly to the general delight. Among the laughter none was more 106 loud and frequent than the old man’s. Nell’s was unheard, for she, poor child, with her head drooping on his shoulder, had fallen asleep, and slept too soundly to be roused by any of his efforts to awaken her to a participation in his glee.
The supper was very good, but she was too tired to eat, and yet would not leave the old man until she had kissed him in his bed. He, happily insensible to every care and anxiety, sat listening with a vacant smile and admiring face to all that his new friends said; and it was not until they retired yawning to their room, that he followed the child up-stairs.
It was but a loft partitioned into two compartments, where they were to rest, but they were well pleased with their lodging and had hoped for none so good. The old man was uneasy when he had lain down, and begged that Nell would come and sit at his bedside as she had done for so many nights. She hastened to him, and sat there till he slept.
There was a little window, hardly more than a chink in the wall, in her room, and when she left him, she opened it, quite wondering at the silence. The sight of the old church and the graves about it in the moonlight, and the dark trees whispering among themselves, made her more thoughtful than before. She closed the window again, and sitting down upon the bed, thought of the life that was before them.
She had a little money, but it was very little, and when that was gone, they must begin to beg. There was one piece of gold among it, and an emergency might come when its worth to them would be increased a hundred-fold. It would be best to hide this coin, and never produce it unless their case was absolutely desperate, and no other resource was left them.
Her resolution taken, she sewed the piece of gold into her dress, and going to bed with a lighter heart sunk into a deep slumber.
Another bright day shining in through the small casement, and claiming fellowship with the kindred eyes of the child, awoke her. At sight of the strange room and its unaccustomed objects she started up in alarm, wondering how she had been moved from the familiar chamber in which she seemed to have fallen asleep last night, and whither she had been conveyed. But, another glance around called to her mind all that had lately passed, and she sprang from her bed, hoping and trustful.
Early Morning in the Churchyard.
It was yet early, and the old man being still asleep, she walked out into the churchyard, brushing the dew from the long grass with her 107 feet, and often turning aside into places where it grew longer than in others, that she might not tread upon the graves. She felt a curious kind of pleasure in lingering among these houses of the dead, and read the inscriptions on the tombs of the good people (a great number of good people were buried there), passing on from one to another with increasing interest.
It was a very quiet place, as such a place should be, save for the cawing of the rooks who had built their nests among the branches of some tall old trees, and were calling to one another, high up in the air. First, one sleek bird, hovering near his ragged house as it swung and dangled in the wind, uttered his hoarse cry, quite by chance as it would seem, and in a sober tone as though he were but talking to himself. Another answered, and he called again, but louder than before; then another spoke and then another; and each time the first, aggravated by contradiction, insisted on his case more strongly. Other voices, silent till now, struck in from boughs lower down and higher up and midway, and to the right and left, and from the tree-tops; and others, arriving hastily from the grey church turrets and old belfry window, joined the clamour which rose and fell, and swelled and dropped again, and still went on; and all this noisy contention amidst a skimming to and fro, and lighting on fresh branches, and frequent change of place, which satirised the old restlessness of those who lay so still beneath the moss and turf below, and the strife in which they had worn away their lives.
Frequently raising her eyes to the trees whence these sounds came down, and feeling as though they made the place more quiet than perfect silence would have done, the child loitered from grave to grave, now stopping to replace with careful hands the bramble which had started from some green mound it helped to keep in shape and now peeping through one of the low latticed windows into the church, with its worm-eaten books upon the desks, and baize of whitened-green mouldering from the pew sides and leaving the naked wood to view. There were the seats where the poor old people sat, worn, spare, and yellow like themselves; the rugged font where children had their names, the homely altar where they knelt in after-life, the plain black tressels that bore their weight on their last visit to the cool old shady church. Everything told of long use and quiet slow decay; the very bell-rope in the porch was frayed into a fringe, and hoary with old age.
She was looking at a humble stone which told of a young man who had died at twenty-three years old, fifty-five years ago, when she heard a faltering step approaching, and looking round saw a feeble woman bent with the weight of years, who tottered to the foot of that same grave and asked her to read the writing on the stone. The old woman thanked her when she had done, saying that she had had the words by heart for many a long, long year, but could not see them now.108
“Were you his mother?” said the child.
“I was his wife, my dear.”
She the wife of a young man of three-and-twenty! Ah, true! It was fifty-five years ago.
“You wonder to hear me say that,” remarked the old woman, shaking her head. “You’re not the first. Older folk than you have wondered at the same thing before now. Yes, I was his wife. Death doesn’t change us more than life, my dear.”
“Do you come here often?” asked the child.
“I sit here very often in the summer time,” she answered, “I used to come here once to cry and mourn, but that was a weary while ago, bless
“I pluck the daisies as they grow, and take them home,” said the old woman after a short silence. “I like no flowers so well as these, and haven’t for five-and-fifty years. It’s a long time, and I’m getting very old!”
Then growing garrulous upon a theme which was new to one listener though it were but a child, she told her how she had wept and moaned and prayed to die herself, when this happened; and how when she first came to that place, a young creature strong in love and grief, she had hoped that her heart was breaking as it seemed to be. But that time passed by, and although she continued to be sad when she came there, still she could bear to come, and so went on until it was pain no longer, but a solemn pleasure, and a duty she had learned to like. And now that five-and-fifty years were gone, she spoke of the dead man as if he had been her son or grandson, with a kind of pity for his youth, growing out of her own old age, and an exalting of his strength and manly beauty as compared with her own weakness and decay; and yet she spoke about him as her husband too, and thinking of herself in connection with him, as she used to be and not as she was now, talked of their meeting in another world, as if he were dead but yesterday, and she, separated from her former self, were thinking of the happiness of that comely girl who seemed to have died with him.
The child left her gathering the flowers that grew upon the grave, and thoughtfully retraced her steps.
The old man was by this time up and dressed. Mr. Codlin, still doomed to contemplate the harsh realities of existence, was packing among his linen the candle-ends which had been saved from the previous night’s performance; while his companion received the compliments of all the loungers in the stable-yard, who, unable to separate him from the master-mind of Punch, set him down as next in importance to that merry outlaw, and loved him scarcely less. When he had sufficiently acknowledged his popularity he came in to breakfast, at which meal they all sat down together.
“And where are you going to-day?” said the little man, addressing himself to Nell.109
“Indeed I hardly know,—we have not determined yet,” replied the child.
“We’re going on to the races,” said the little man. “If that’s your way and you like to have us for company, let us travel together. If you prefer going alone, only say the word and you’ll find that we shan’t trouble you.”
“We’ll go with you,” said the old man. “Nell,—with them, with them.”
The child considered for a moment, and reflecting that she must shortly beg, and could scarcely hope to do so at a better place than where crowds of rich ladies and gentlemen were assembled together for purposes of enjoyment and festivity, determined to accompany these men so far. She therefore thanked the little man for his offer, and said, glancing timidly towards his friend, that if there was no objection to their accompanying them as far as the race-town——
“Objection!” said the little man. “Now be gracious for once, Tommy, and say that you’d rather they went with us. I know you would. Be gracious, Tommy.”
“Trotters,” said Mr. Codlin, who talked very slowly and eat very greedily, as is not uncommon with philosophers and misanthropes; “you’re too free.”
“Why what harm can it do?” urged the other.
“No harm at all in this particular case, perhaps,” replied Mr. Codlin; “but the principle’s a dangerous one, and you’re too free I tell you.”
“Well, are they to go with us or not?”
“Yes, they are,” said Mr. Codlin; “but you might have made a favour of it, mightn’t you?”
The real name of the little man was Harris, but it had gradually merged into the less euphonious one of Trotters, which, with the prefatory adjective, Short, had been conferred upon him by reason of the small size of his legs. Short Trotters, however, being a compound name, inconvenient of use in friendly dialogue, the gentleman on whom it had been bestowed was known among his intimates either as “Short,” or “Trotters,” and was seldom accosted at full length as Short Trotters, except in formal conversations and on occasions of ceremony.
Short, then, or Trotters, as the reader pleases, returned unto the remonstrance of his friend Mr. Thomas Codlin a jocose answer calculated to turn aside his discontent; and applying himself with great relish to the cold boiled beef, the tea, and bread-and-butter, strongly impressed upon his companions that they should do the like. Mr. Codlin indeed required no such persuasion, as he had already eat as much as he could possibly carry and was now moistening his clay with strong ale, whereof he took deep draughts with a silent relish and invited nobody to partake,—thus again strongly indicating his misanthropical turn of mind.110
Breakfast being at length, over, Mr. Codlin called the bill, and charging the ale to the company generally (a practice also savouring of misanthropy) divided the sum-total into two fair and equal parts, assigning one moiety to himself and friend, and the other to Nelly and her grandfather. These being duly discharged and all things ready for their departure, they took farewell of the landlord and landlady and resumed their journey.
And here Mr. Codlin’s false position in society and the effect it wrought upon his wounded spirit, were strongly illustrated; for whereas he had been last night accosted by Mr. Punch as “master,” and had by inference left the audience to understand that he maintained that individual for his own luxurious entertainment and delight, here he was, now, painfully walking beneath the burden of that same Punch’s temple, and bearing it bodily upon his shoulders on a sultry day and along a dusty road. In place of enlivening his patron with a constant fire of wit or the cheerful rattle of his quarter-staff on the heads of his relations and acquaintance, here was that beaming Punch utterly devoid of spine, all slack and drooping in a dark box, with his legs doubled up round his neck, and not one of his social qualities remaining.
Mr. Codlin trudged heavily on, exchanging a word or two at intervals with Short, and stopping to rest and growl occasionally. Short led the way; with the flat box, the private luggage (which was not extensive) tied up in a bundle, and a brazen trumpet slung from his shoulder-blade. Nell and her grandfather walked next him on either hand, and Thomas Codlin brought up the rear.
When they came to any town or village, or even to a detached house of good appearance, Short blew a blast upon the brazen trumpet and carolled a fragment of a song in that hilarious tone common to Punches and their consorts. If people hurried to the windows, Mr. Codlin pitched the temple, and hastily unfurling the drapery and concealing Short therewith, flourished hysterically on the pipes and performed an air. Then the entertainment began as soon as might be; Mr. Codlin having the responsibility of deciding on its length and of protracting or expediting the time for the hero’s final triumph over the enemy of mankind, according as he judged that the after-crop of halfpence would be plentiful or scant. When it had been gathered in to the last farthing, he resumed his load and on they went again.
Sometimes they played out the toll across a bridge or ferry, and once exhibited by particular desire at a turnpike, where the collector, being drunk in his solitude, paid down a shilling to have it to himself. There was one small place of rich promise in which their hopes were blighted, for a favourite character in the play having gold-lace upon his coat and being a meddling wooden-headed fellow was held to be a libel on the beadle, for which reason the authorities enforced a quick retreat; but they were generally well received, and seldom left a town without a troop of ragged children shouting at their heels.111
Among the Showmen.
They made a long day’s journey, despite these interruptions, and were yet upon the road when the moon was shining in the sky. Short beguiled the time with songs and jests, and made the best of everything that happened. Mr. Codlin on the other hand, cursed his fate, and all the hollow things of earth (but Punch especially), and limped along with the theatre on his back, a prey to the bitterest chagrin.
They had stopped to rest beneath a finger-post where four roads met, and Mr. Codlin in his deep misanthropy had let down the drapery and seated himself in the bottom of the show, invisible to mortal eyes and disdainful of the company of his fellow-creatures, when two monstrous shadows were seen stalking towards them from a turning in the road by which they had come. The child was at first quite terrified by the sight of these gaunt giants—for such they looked as they advanced with lofty strides beneath the shadow of the trees—but Short, telling her there was nothing to fear, blew a blast upon the trumpet, which was answered by a cheerful shout.
“It’s Grinder’s lot, an’t it?” cried Mr. Short in a loud key.
“Yes,” replied a couple of shrill voices.
“Come on then,” said Short. “Let’s have a look at you. I thought it was you.”
Thus invited, “Grinder’s lot” approached with redoubled speed and soon came up with the little party.
Mr. Grinder’s company, familiarly termed a lot, consisted of a young gentleman and a young lady on stilts, and Mr. Grinder himself, who used his natural legs for pedestrian purposes and carried at his back a drum. The public costume of the young people was of the Highland kind, but the night being damp and cold, the young gentleman wore over his kilt a man’s pea-jacket reaching to his ankles, and a glazed hat; the young lady too was muffled in an old cloth pelisse and had a handkerchief tied about her head. Their Scotch bonnets, ornamented with plumes of jet-black feathers, Mr. Grinder carried on his instrument.
“Bound for the races, I see,” said Mr. Grinder coming up out of breath. “So are we. How are you, Short?” With that they shook hands in a very friendly manner. The young people being too high up for the ordinary salutations, saluted Short after their own fashion. The young gentleman twisted up his right stilt and patted him on the shoulder, and the young lady rattled her tambourine.
“Practice?” said Short, pointing to the stilts.
“No,” returned Grinder. “It comes either to walkin’ in ’em or carryin’ of ’em, and they like walkin’ in ’em best. It’s wery pleasant for the prospects. Which road are you takin’? We go the nighest.”
“Why, the fact is,” said Short, “that we are going the longest way, because then we could stop for the night, a mile and a half on. But three or four mile gained to-night is so many saved to-morrow, and if you keep on, I think our best way is to do the same.”
“Where’s your partner?” inquired Grinder.112
“Here he is,” cried Mr. Thomas Codlin, presenting his head and face in the proscenium of the stage, and exhibiting an expression of countenance not often seen there; “and he’ll see his partner boiled alive before he’ll go on to-night. That’s what he says.”
“Well, don’t say such things as them, in a spear which is dewoted to something pleasanter,” urged Short. “Respect associations, Tommy, even if you do cut up rough.”
“Rough or smooth,” said Mr. Codlin, beating his hand on the little footboard where Punch, when suddenly struck with the symmetry of his legs and their capacity for silk stockings, is accustomed to exhibit them to popular admiration, “rough or smooth, I won’t go further than the mile and a half to-night. I put up at the Jolly Sandboys and nowhere else. If you like to come there, come there. If you like to go on by yourself, go on by yourself, and do without me if you can.”
So saying, Mr. Codlin disappeared from the scene and immediately presented himself outside the theatre, took it on his shoulders at a jerk, and made off with most remarkable agility.
Any further controversy being now out of the question, Short was fain to part with Mr. Grinder and his pupils and to follow his morose companion. After lingering at the finger-post for a few minutes to see the stilts frisking away in the moonlight and the bearer of the drum toiling slowly after them, he blew a few notes upon the trumpet as a parting salute, and hastened with all speed to follow Mr. Codlin. With this view he gave his unoccupied hand to Nell, and bidding her be of good cheer as they would soon be at the end of their journey for that night, and stimulating the old man with a similar assurance, led them at a pretty swift pace towards their destination, which he was the less unwilling to make for, as the moon was now overcast and the clouds were threatening rain.
The Jolly Sandboys was a small roadside inn of pretty ancient date, with a sign, representing three Sandboys increasing their jollity with as many jugs of ale and bags of gold, creaking and swinging on its post on the opposite side of the road. As the travellers had observed that day many indications of their drawing nearer and nearer to the race-town, such as gipsy camps, carts laden with gambling booths and their appurtenances, itinerant showmen of various kinds, and beggars and trampers of every degree, all wending their way in the same direction, Mr. Codlin was fearful of finding the accommodations forestalled; this fear increasing as he diminished the distance between himself and the hostelry, he quickened his pace, and notwithstanding 113 the burden he had to carry, maintained a round trot until he reached the threshold. Here he had the gratification of finding that his fears were without foundation, for the landlord was leaning against the door-post looking lazily at the rain, which had by this time begun to descend heavily, and no tinkling of cracked bell, nor boisterous shout, nor noisy chorus, gave note of company within.
At the Jolly Sandboys.
“All alone?” said Mr. Codlin, putting down his burden and wiping his forehead.
“All alone as yet,” rejoined the landlord, glancing at the sky, “but we shall have more company to-night I expect. Here one of you boys, carry that show into the barn. Make haste in out of the wet, Tom; when it came on to rain I told ’em to make the fire up, and there’s a glorious blaze in the kitchen, I can tell you.”
Mr. Codlin followed with a willing mind, and soon found that the landlord had not commended his preparations without good reason. A mighty fire was blazing on the hearth and roaring up the wide chimney with a cheerful sound, which a large iron cauldron, bubbling and simmering in the heat, lent its pleasant aid to swell. There was a deep red ruddy blush upon the room, and when the landlord stirred the fire, sending the flames skipping and leaping up—when he took off the lid of the iron pot and there rushed out a savoury smell, while the 114 bubbling sound grew deeper and more rich, and an unctuous steam came floating out, hanging in a delicious mist above their heads—when he did this, Mr. Codlin’s heart was touched. He sat down in the chimney-corner and smiled.
Mr. Codlin sat smiling in the chimney-corner, eyeing the landlord as with a roguish look he held the cover in his hand, and, feigning that his doing so was needful to the welfare of the cookery, suffered the delightful steam to tickle the nostrils of his guest. The glow of the fire was upon the landlord’s bald head, and upon his twinkling eye, and upon his watering mouth, and upon his pimpled face, and upon his round fat figure. Mr. Codlin drew his sleeve across his lips, and said in a murmuring voice, “What is it?”
“It’s a stew of tripe,” said the landlord smacking his lips, “and cow-heel,” smacking them again, “and bacon,” smacking them once more, “and steak,” smacking them for the fourth time, “and peas, cauliflowers, new potatoes, and sparrow-grass, all working up together in one delicious gravy.” Having come to the climax, he smacked his lips a great many times, and taking a long hearty sniff of the fragrance that was hovering about, put on the cover again with the air of one whose toils on earth were over.
“At what time will it be ready?” asked Mr. Codlin faintly.
“It’ll be done to a turn,” said the landlord looking up at the clock—and the very clock had a colour in its fat white face, and looked a clock for Jolly Sandboys to consult—“it’ll be done to a turn at twenty-two minutes before eleven.”
“Then,” said Mr. Codlin, “fetch me a pint of warm ale, and don’t let nobody bring into the room even so much as a biscuit till the time arrives.”
Nodding his approval of this decisive and manly course of procedure, the landlord retired to draw the beer, and presently returning with it, applied himself to warm the same in a small tin-vessel shaped , for the convenience of sticking it far down in the fire and getting at the bright places. This was soon done, and he handed it over to Mr. Codlin with that creamy froth upon the surface which is one of the happy circumstances attendant on mulled malt.
Greatly softened by this soothing beverage, Mr. Codlin now bethought him of his companions, and acquainted mine host of the Sandboys that their arrival might be shortly looked for. The rain was rattling against the windows and pouring down in torrents, and such was Mr. Codlin’s extreme amiability of mind, that he more than once expressed his earnest hope that they would not be so foolish as to get wet.
At length they arrived, drenched with the rain and presenting a most miserable appearance, notwithstanding that Short had sheltered the child as well as he could under the skirts of his own coat, and they were nearly breathless from the haste they had made. But their steps were no sooner heard upon the road than the landlord, who had been at the outer door anxiously watching for their coming, rushed 115 into the kitchen and took the cover off. The effect was electrical. They all came in with smiling faces though the wet was dripping from their clothes upon the floor, and Short’s first remark was, “What a delicious smell!”
It is not very difficult to forget rain and mud by the side of a cheerful fire, and in a bright room. They were furnished with slippers and such dry garments as the house or their own bundles afforded, and ensconcing themselves, as Mr. Codlin had already done, in the warm chimney-corner, soon forgot their late troubles or only remembered them as enhancing the delights of the present time. Overpowered by the warmth and comfort and the fatigue they had undergone, Nelly and the old man had not long taken their seats here, when they fell asleep.
“Who are they?” whispered the landlord.
Short shook his head, and wished he knew himself.
“Don’t you know?” asked the host, turning to Mr. Codlin.
“Not I,” he replied. “They’re no good, I suppose.”
“They’re no harm,” said Short. “Depend upon that. I tell you what—it’s plain that the old man an’t in his right mind——”
“If you haven’t got anything newer than that to say,” growled Mr. Codlin, glancing at the clock, “you’d better let us fix our minds upon the supper, and not disturb us.”
“Hear me out, won’t you?” retorted his friend. “It’s very plain to me, besides, that they’re not used to this way of life. Don’t tell me that that handsome child has been in the habit of prowling about as she’s done these last two or three days. I know better.”
“Well, who does tell you she has?” growled Mr. Codlin, again glancing at the clock and from it to the cauldron, “can’t you think of anything more suitable to present circumstances than saying things and then contradicting ’em?”
“I wish somebody would give you your supper,” returned Short, “for there’ll be no peace till you’ve got it. Have you seen how anxious the old man is to get on—always wanting to be furder away—furder away. Have you seen that?”
“Ah! what then?” muttered Thomas Codlin.
“This, then,” said Short. “He has given his friends the slip. Mind what I say,—he has given his friends the slip, and persuaded this delicate young creetur all along of her fondness for him to be his guide and travelling companion—where to, he knows no more than the man in the moon. Now I’m not a going to stand that.”
“You’re not a going to stand that!” cried Mr. Codlin, glancing at the clock again and pulling his hair with both hands in a kind of frenzy, but whether occasioned by his companion’s observation or the tardy pace of Time, it was difficult to determine. “Here’s a world to live in!”
“I,” repeated Short emphatically and slowly, “am not a going to stand it. I am not a going to see this fair young child a falling into 116 bad hands, and getting among people that she’s no more fit for, than they are to get among angels as their ordinary chums. Therefore when they dewelope an intention of parting company from us, I shall take measures for detaining of ’em, and restoring ’em to their friends, who I dare say have had their disconsolation pasted up on every wall in London by this time.”
“Short,” said Mr. Codlin, who with his head upon his hands, and his elbows on his knees, had been shaking himself impatiently from side to side up to this point and occasionally stamping on the ground, but who now looked up with eager eyes; “it’s possible that there may be uncommon good sense in what you’ve said. If there is, and there should be a reward, Short, remember that we’re partners in everything!”
His companion had only time to nod a brief assent to this position, for the child awoke at the instant. They had drawn close together during the previous whispering, and now hastily separated and were rather awkwardly endeavouring to exchange some casual remarks in their usual tone, when strange footsteps were heard without, and fresh company entered.
These were no other than four very dismal dogs, who came pattering in one after the other, headed by an old bandy dog of particularly mournful aspect, who stopping when the last of his followers had got as far as the door, erected himself upon his hind-legs and looked round at his companions, who immediately stood upon their hind-legs, in a grave and melancholy row. Nor was this the only remarkable circumstance about these dogs, for each of them wore a kind of little coat of some gaudy colour trimmed with tarnished spangles, and one of them had a cap upon his head, tied very carefully under his chin, which had fallen down upon his nose and completely obscured one eye; add to this, that the gaudy coats were all wet through and discoloured with rain, and that the wearers were splashed and dirty, and some idea may be formed of the unusual appearance of these new visitors to the Jolly Sandboys.
Neither Short nor the landlord nor Thomas Codlin, however, was in the least surprised, merely remarking that these were Jerry’s dogs and that Jerry could not be far behind. So there the dogs stood, patiently winking and gaping and looking extremely hard at the boiling pot, until Jerry himself appeared, when they all dropped down at once and walked about the room in their natural manner. This posture it must be confessed did not much improve their appearance, as their own personal tails and their coat tails—both capital things in their way—did not agree together.
Jerry, the manager of these dancing dogs, was a tall black-whiskered man in a velveteen coat, who seemed well known to the landlord and his guests and accosted them with great cordiality. Disencumbering himself of a barrel organ which he placed upon a chair, and retaining in his hand a small whip wherewith to awe his company of 117 comedians, he came up to the fire to dry himself, and entered into conversation.
“Your people don’t usually travel in character, do they?” said Short, pointing to the dresses of the dogs. “It must come expensive if they do?”
“No,” replied Jerry, “no, it’s not the custom with us. But we’ve been playing a little on the road to-day, and we come out with a new wardrobe at the races, so I didn’t think it worth while to stop to undress. Down, Pedro!”
This was addressed to the dog with the cap on, who being a new member of the company, and not quite certain of his duty, kept his unobscured eye anxiously on his master, and was perpetually starting upon his hind-legs when there was no occasion, and falling down again.
“I’ve got a animal here,” said Jerry, putting his hand into the capacious pocket of his coat, and diving into one corner as if he were feeling for a small orange or an apple or some such article, “a animal here, wot I think you know something of, Short.”
“Ah!” cried Short, “let’s have a look at him.”
“Here he is,” said Jerry, producing a little terrier from his pocket. “He was once a Toby of yours, warn’t he?”
In some versions of the great drama of Punch there is a small dog—a modern innovation—supposed to be the property of that gentleman, whose name is always Toby. This Toby has been stolen in youth from another gentleman, and fraudulently sold to the confiding hero, who having no guile himself has no suspicion that it lurks in others; but Toby, entertaining a grateful recollection of his old master, and scorning to attach himself to any new patrons, not only refuses to smoke a pipe at the bidding of Punch, but to mark his old fidelity more strongly, seizes him by the nose and wrings the same with violence, at which instance of canine attachment the spectators are deeply affected. This was the character which the little terrier in question had once sustained; if there had been any doubt upon the subject he would speedily have resolved it by his conduct; for not only did he, on seeing Short, give the strongest tokens of recognition, but catching sight of the flat box he barked so furiously at the pasteboard nose which he knew was inside, that his master was obliged to gather him up and put him into his pocket again, to the great relief of the whole company.
The landlord now busied himself in laying the cloth, in which process Mr. Codlin obligingly assisted by setting forth his own knife and fork in the most convenient place and establishing himself behind them. When everything was ready, the landlord took off the cover for the last time, and then indeed there burst forth such a goodly promise of supper, that if he had offered to put it on again or had hinted at postponement, he would certainly have been sacrificed on his own hearth.118
However, he did nothing of the kind, but instead thereof assisted a stout servant-girl in turning the contents of the cauldron into a large tureen; a proceeding which the dogs, proof against various hot splashes which fell upon their noses, watched with terrible eagerness. At length the dish was lifted on the table, and mugs of ale having been previously set round, little Nell ventured to say grace, and supper began.
At this juncture the poor dogs were standing on their hind-legs quite surprisingly; and the child, having pity on them, was about to cast some morsels of food to them before she tasted it herself, hungry though she was, when their master interposed.
“No, my dear, no, not an atom from anybody’s hand but mine if you please. That dog,” said Jerry, pointing out the old leader of the troop, and speaking in a terrible voice, “lost a halfpenny to-day. He goes without his supper.”
The unfortunate creature dropped upon his fore-legs directly, wagged his tail, and looked imploringly at his master.
“You must be more careful, sir,” said Jerry, walking coolly to the chair where he had placed the organ, and setting the stop. “Come here. Now, sir, you play away at that, while we have supper, and leave off if you dare.”
The dog immediately began to grind most mournful music. His master having shown him the whip resumed his seat and called up the others, who, at his directions, formed in a row, standing upright as a file of soldiers.
“Now, gentlemen,” said Jerry, looking at them attentively. “The dog whose name’s called, eats. The dogs whose names an’t called, keep quiet. Carlo!”
The lucky individual whose name was called, snapped up the morsel thrown towards him, but none of the others moved a muscle. In this manner they were fed at the discretion of their master. Meanwhile the dog in disgrace ground hard at the organ, sometimes in quick time, sometimes in slow, but never leaving off for an instant. When the knives and forks rattled very much, or any of his fellows got an unusually large piece of fat, he accompanied the music with a short howl, but he immediately checked it on his master looking round, and applied himself with increased diligence to the Old Hundredth.119
Supper was not yet over, when there arrived at the Jolly Sandboys two more travellers bound for the same haven as the rest, who had been walking in the rain for some hours, and came in shining and heavy with water. One of these was the proprietor of a giant, and a little lady without legs or arms, who had jogged forward in a van; the other, a silent gentleman who earned his living by showing tricks upon the cards, and who had rather deranged the natural expression of his countenance by putting small leaden lozenges into his eyes and bringing them out at his mouth, which was one of his professional accomplishments. The name of the first of these new-comers was Vuffin; the other, probably, as a pleasant satire upon his ugliness, was called Sweet William. To render them as comfortable as he could, the landlord bestirred himself nimbly, and in a very short time both gentlemen were perfectly at their ease.
“How’s the Giant?” said Short, when they all sat smoking round the fire.
“Rather weak upon his legs,” returned Mr. Vuffin. “I begin to be afraid he’s going at the knees.”
“That’s a bad look-out,” said Short.
“Aye! Bad indeed,” replied Mr. Vuffin, contemplating the fire with a sigh. “Once get a giant shaky on his legs, and the public care no more about him than they do for a dead cabbage-stalk.”
“What becomes of the old giants?” said Short, turning to him again after a little reflection.
“They’re usually kept in carawans to wait upon the dwarfs,” said Mr. Vuffin.
“The maintaining of ’em must come expensive, when they can’t be shown, eh?” remarked Short, eyeing him doubtfully.
“It’s better that, than letting ’em go upon the parish or about the streets,” said Mr. Vuffin. “Once make a giant common and giants will never draw again. Look at wooden legs. If there was only one man with a wooden leg what a property he’d be!”
“So he would!” observed the landlord and Short both together. “That’s very true.”
“Instead of which,” pursued Mr. Vuffin, “if you was to advertise Shakspeare played entirely by wooden legs, it’s my belief you wouldn’t draw a sixpence.”
“I don’t suppose you would,” said Short. And the landlord said so too.
“This shows, you see,” said Mr. Vuffin, waving his pipe with an argumentative air, “this shows the policy of keeping the used-up giants still in the carawans, where they get food and lodging for nothing, all their lives, and in general very glad they are to stop 120 there. There was one giant—a black ’un—as left his carawan some year ago and took to carrying coach-bills about London, making himself as cheap as crossing-sweepers. He died. I make no insinuation against anybody in particular,” said Mr. Vuffin, looking solemnly round, “but he was ruining the trade;—and he died.”
The landlord drew his breath hard, and looked at the owner of the dogs, who nodded and said gruffly that he remembered.
“I know you do, Jerry,” said Mr. Vuffin with profound meaning. “I know you remember it, Jerry, and the universal opinion was, that it served him right. Why, I remember the time when old Maunders as had three-and-twenty wans—I remember the time when old Maunders had in his cottage in Spa Fields in the winter time, when the season was over, eight male and female dwarfs setting down to dinner every day, who was waited on by eight old giants in green coats, red smalls, blue cotton stockings, and high-lows: and there was one dwarf as had grown elderly and wicious who whenever his giant wasn’t quick enough to please him, used to stick pins in his legs, not being able to reach up any higher. I know that’s a fact, for Maunders told it me himself.”
“What about the dwarfs when they get old?” inquired the landlord.
“The older a dwarf is, the better worth he is,” returned Mr. Vuffin; “a grey-headed dwarf, well wrinkled, is beyond all suspicion. But a giant weak in the legs and not standing upright! keep him in the carawan, but never show him, never show him, for any persuasion that can be offered.”
While Mr. Vuffin and his two friends smoked their pipes and beguiled the time with such conversation as this, the silent gentleman sat in a warm corner, swallowing, or seeming to swallow, sixpenny-worth of halfpence for practice, balancing a feather upon his nose, and rehearsing other feats of dexterity of that kind, without paying any regard whatever to the company, who in their turn left him utterly unnoticed. At length the weary child prevailed upon her grandfather to retire, and they withdrew, leaving the company yet seated round the fire, and the dogs fast asleep at a humble distance.
After bidding the old man good-night, Nell retired to her poor garret, but had scarcely closed the door, when it was gently tapped at. She opened it directly, and was a little startled by the sight of Mr. Thomas Codlin, whom she had left, to all appearance, fast asleep down-stairs.
“What is the matter?” said the child.
“Nothing’s the matter, my dear,” returned her visitor. “I’m your friend. Perhaps you haven’t thought so, but it’s me that’s your friend—not him.”
“Not who?” the child inquired.
“Short, my dear. I tell you what,” said Codlin, “for all his having a kind of way with him that you’d be very apt to like, I’m the real, open-hearted man. I mayn’t look it, but I am indeed.”
The child began to be alarmed, considering that the ale had taken effect upon Mr. Codlin, and that this commendation of himself was the consequence.
“Short’s very well, and seems kind,” resumed the misanthrope, “but he overdoes it. Now I don’t.”
Designs of Codlin and Short.
Certainly if there were any fault in Mr. Codlin’s usual deportment, it was that he rather underdid his kindness to those about him, than overdid it. But the child was puzzled, and could not tell what to say.
“Take my advice,” said Codlin: “don’t ask me why, but take it. As long as you travel with us, keep as near me as you can. Don’t offer to leave us—not on any account—but always stick to me and say that I’m your friend. Will you bear that in mind, my dear, and always say that it was me that was your friend?”
“Say so where,—and when?” inquired the child innocently.
“O, nowhere in particular,” replied Codlin a little put out as it seemed by the question; “I’m only anxious that you should think me so, and do me justice. You can’t think what an interest I have in you. Why didn’t you tell me your little history—that about you and the poor old gentleman? I’m the best adviser that ever was, and so interested in you—so much more interested than Short. I think they’re breaking up down-stairs; you needn’t tell Short, you know, that we’ve had this little talk together. God bless you. Recollect the friend. Codlin’s the friend, not Short. Short’s very well as far as he goes, but the real friend is Codlin—not Short.”
Eking out these professions with a number of benevolent and protecting looks and great fervour of manner, Thomas Codlin stole away on tip-toe, leaving the child in a state of extreme surprise. She was still ruminating upon his curious behaviour, when the floor of the crazy stairs and landing cracked beneath the tread of the other travellers who were passing to their beds. When they had all passed, and the sound of their footsteps had died away, one of them returned, and after a little hesitation and rustling in the passage, as if he were doubtful what door to knock at, knocked at hers.
“Yes,” said the child from within.
“It’s me—Short”—a voice called through the keyhole. “I only wanted to say that we must be off early to-morrow morning, my dear, because unless we get the start of the dogs and the conjuror, the villages won’t be worth a penny. You’ll be sure to be stirring early and go with us? I’ll call you.”
The child answered in the affirmative, and returning his “good-night” heard him creep away. She felt some uneasiness at the anxiety of these men, increased by the recollection of their whispering together down-stairs and their slight confusion when she awoke, nor was she quite free from a misgiving that they were not the fittest companions she could have stumbled on. Her uneasiness, however, was nothing, weighed against her fatigue; and she soon forgot it in sleep.122
Very early next morning, Short fulfilled his promise, and knocking softly at her door, entreated that she would get up directly, as the proprietor of the dogs was still snoring, and if they lost no time they might get a good deal in advance both of him and the conjuror, who was talking in his sleep, and from what he could be heard to say, appeared to be balancing a donkey in his dreams. She started from her bed without delay, and roused the old man with so much expedition that they were both ready as soon as Short himself, to that gentleman’s unspeakable gratification and relief.
After a very unceremonious and scrambling breakfast, of which the staple commodities were bacon and bread, and beer, they took leave of the landlord and issued from the door of the Jolly Sandboys. The morning was fine and warm, the ground cool to the feet after the late rain, the hedges gayer and more green, the air clear, and everything fresh and healthful. Surrounded by these influences, they walked on pleasantly enough.
They had not gone very far, when the child was again struck by the altered behaviour of Mr. Thomas Codlin, who instead of plodding on sulkily by himself as he had heretofore done, kept close to her, and when he had an opportunity of looking at her unseen by his companion, warned her by certain wry faces and jerks of the head not to put any trust in Short, but to reserve all confidences for Codlin. Neither did he confine himself to looks and gestures, for when she and her grandfather were walking on beside the aforesaid Short, and that little man was talking with his accustomed cheerfulness on a variety of indifferent subjects, Thomas Codlin testified his jealousy and distrust by following close at her heels, and occasionally admonishing her ankles with the legs of the theatre in a very abrupt and painful manner.
All these proceedings naturally made the child more watchful and suspicious, and she soon observed that whenever they halted to perform outside a village alehouse or other place, Mr. Codlin while he went through his share of the entertainments kept his eyes steadily upon her and the old man, or with a show of great friendship and consideration invited the latter to lean upon his arm, and so held him tight until the representation was over and they again went forward. Even Short seemed to change in this respect, and to mingle with his good-nature something of a desire to keep them in safe custody. This increased the child’s misgivings, and made her yet more anxious and uneasy.
Meanwhile, they were drawing near the town where the races were to begin next day; for, from passing numerous groups of gipsies and trampers on the road, wending their way towards it, and straggling out from every by-way and cross-country lane, they gradually fell into a stream of people, some walking by the side of covered carts, others with horses, others with donkeys, others toiling on with heavy loads upon their backs, but all tending to the same point. The 123 public-houses by the wayside, from being empty and noiseless as those in the remoter parts had been, now sent out boisterous shouts and clouds of smoke; and, from the misty windows, clusters of broad red faces looked down upon the road. On every piece of waste or common ground, some small gambler drove his noisy trade, and bellowed to the idle passers-by to stop and try their chance; the crowd grew thicker and more noisy; gilt gingerbread in blanket-stalls exposed its glories to the dust; and often a four-horse carriage, dashing by, obscured all objects in the gritty cloud it raised, and left them, stunned and blinded, far behind.
On the Race-course.
It was dark before they reached the town itself, and long indeed the few last miles had been. Here all was tumult and confusion; the streets were filled with throngs of people—many strangers were there, it seemed, by the looks they cast about—the church-bells rang out their noisy peals, and flags streamed from windows and house-tops. In the large inn-yards waiters flitted to and fro and ran against each other, horses clattered on the uneven stones, carriage steps fell rattling down, and sickening smells from many dinners came in a heavy lukewarm breath upon the sense. In the smaller public-houses, fiddles with all their might and main were squeaking out the tune to staggering feet; drunken men, oblivious of the burden of their song, joined in a senseless howl, which drowned the tinkling of the feeble bell and made them savage for their drink; vagabond groups assembled round the doors to see the stroller woman dance, and add their uproar to the shrill flageolet and deafening drum.
Through this delirious scene, the child, frightened and repelled by all she saw, led on her bewildered charge, clinging close to her conductor, and trembling lest in the press she should be separated from him and left to find her way alone. Quickening their steps to get clear of all the roar and riot, they at length passed through the town and made for the race-course, which was upon an open heath, situated on an eminence, a full mile distant from its furthest bounds.
Although there were many people here, none of the best favoured or best clad, busily erecting tents and driving stakes in the ground, and hurrying to and fro with dusty feet and many a grumbled oath—although there were tired children cradled on heaps of straw between the wheels of carts, crying themselves to sleep—and poor lean horses and donkeys just turned loose, grazing among the men and women, and pots and kettles, and half-lighted fires, and ends of candles flaring and wasting in the air—for all this, the child felt it an escape from the town and drew her breath more freely. After a scanty supper, the purchase of which reduced her little stock so low, that she had only a few halfpence with which to buy a breakfast on the morrow, she and the old man lay down to rest in a corner of a tent, and slept, despite the busy preparations that were going on around them all night long.
And now they had come to the time when they must beg their 124 bread. Soon after sunrise in the morning she stole out from the tent, and rambling into some fields at a short distance, plucked a few wild roses and such humble flowers, purposing to make them into little nosegays and offer them to the ladies in the carriages when the company arrived. Her thoughts were not idle while she was thus employed; when she returned and was seated beside the old man in one corner of the tent, tying her flowers together, while the two men lay dozing in another corner, she plucked him by the sleeve, and slightly glancing towards them, said, in a low voice—
“Grandfather, don’t look at those I talk of, and don’t seem as if I spoke of anything but what I am about. What was that, you told me before we left the old house? That if they knew what we were going to do, they would say that you were mad, and part us?”
The old man turned to her with an aspect of wild terror; but she checked him by a look, and bidding him hold some flowers while she tied them up, and so bringing her lips closer to his ear, said—
“I know that was what you told me. You needn’t speak, dear. I recollect it very well. It was not likely that I should forget it. Grandfather, these men suspect that we have secretly left our friends, and mean to carry us before some gentleman and have us taken care 125 of and sent back. If you let your hand tremble so, we can never get away from them, but if you’re only quiet now, we shall do so, easily.”
Little Nell resolves on Flight.
“How?” muttered the old man. “Dear Nelly, how? They will shut me up in a stone room, dark and cold, and chain me up to the wall, Nell—flog me with whips, and never let me see thee more!”
“You’re trembling again,” said the child. “Keep close to me all day. Never mind them, don’t look at them, but me. I shall find a time when we can steal away. When I do, mind you come with me, and do not stop or speak a word. Hush! That’s all.”
“Halloa! what are you up to, my dear?” said Mr. Codlin, raising his head, and yawning. Then observing that his companion was fast asleep, he added in an earnest whisper, “Codlin’s the friend, remember—not Short.”
“Making some nosegays,” the child replied; “I am going to try and sell some, these three days of the races. Will you have one—as a present I mean?”
Mr. Codlin would have risen to receive it, but the child hurried towards him and placed it in his hand. He stuck it in his button-hole with an air of ineffable complacency for a misanthrope, and leering exultingly at the unconscious Short, muttered, as he laid himself down again, “Tom Codlin’s the friend by G—!”
As the morning wore on, the tents assumed a gayer and more brilliant appearance, and long lines of carriages came rolling softly on the turf. Men who had lounged about all night in smock-frocks and leather leggings, came out in silken vests and hats and plumes, as jugglers or mountebanks; or in gorgeous liveries as soft-spoken servants at gambling booths; or in sturdy yeoman dress as decoys at unlawful games. Black-eyed gipsy girls, hooded in showy handkerchiefs, sallied forth to tell fortunes, and pale slender women with consumptive faces lingered upon the footsteps of ventriloquists and conjurors, and counted the sixpences with anxious eyes long before they were gained. As many of the children as could be kept within bounds, were stowed away, with all the other signs of dirt and poverty, among the donkeys, carts, and horses; and as many as could not be thus disposed of ran in and out in all intricate spots, crept between people’s legs and carriage-wheels, and came forth unharmed from under horses’ hoofs. The dancing-dogs, the stilts, the little lady and the tall man, and all the other attractions, with organs out of number and bands innumerable, emerged from the holes and corners in which they had passed the night, and flourished boldly in the sun.
Along the uncleared course, Short led his party, sounding the brazen trumpet and revelling in the voice of Punch; and at his heels went Thomas Codlin, bearing the show as usual, and keeping his eye on Nelly and her grandfather, as they rather lingered in the rear. The child bore upon her arm the little basket with her flowers, and sometimes stopped, with timid and modest looks, to offer them at some gay carriage; but alas! there were many bolder beggars there, gipsies 126 who promised husbands, and other adepts in their trade, and although some ladies smiled gently, as they shook their heads, and others cried to the gentlemen beside them “See, what a pretty face!” they let the pretty face pass on, and never thought that it looked tired or hungry.
There was but one lady who seemed to understand the child, and she was one who sat alone in a handsome carriage, while two young men in dashing clothes, who had just dismounted from it, talked and laughed loudly at a little distance, appearing to forget her, quite. There were many ladies all around, but they turned their backs, or looked another way, or at the two young men (not unfavourably at them), and left her to herself. She motioned away a gipsy woman urgent to tell her fortune, saying that it was told already and had been for some years, but called the child towards her, and taking her flowers put money into her trembling hand, and bade her go home and keep at home for God’s sake.
Many a time they went up and down those long, long lines, seeing everything but the horses and the race; when the bell rung to clear the course, going back to rest among the carts and donkeys, and not coming out again until the heat was over. Many a time, too, was Punch displayed in the full zenith of his humour, but all this while the eye of Thomas Codlin was upon them, and to escape without notice was impracticable.
At length, late in the day, Mr. Codlin pitched the show in a convenient spot, and the spectators were soon in the very triumph of the scene. The child, sitting down with the old man close behind it, had been thinking how strange it was that horses who were such fine honest creatures should seem to make vagabonds of all the men they drew about them, when a loud laugh at some extemporaneous witticism of Mr. Short’s, having allusion to the circumstances of the day, roused her from her meditation and caused her to look around.
If they were ever to get away unseen, that was the very moment. Short was plying the quarter-staves vigorously and knocking the characters in the fury of the combat against the sides of the show, the people were looking on with laughing faces, and Mr. Codlin had relaxed into a grim smile as his roving eye detected hands going into waistcoat-pockets and groping secretly for sixpences. If they were ever to get away unseen, that was the very moment. They seized it, and fled.
They made a path through booths and carriages and throngs of people, and never once stopped to look behind. The bell was ringing and the course was cleared by the time they reached the ropes, but they dashed across it insensible to the shouts and screeching that assailed them for breaking in upon its sanctity, and creeping under the brow of the hill at a quick pace, made for the open fields.
favour Mrs. Quilp with a gentle acknowledgment of her attention in making that hideous uproar
[Mrs Quilp, as presented in Chapters IV and V, would never dare obtrude herself on her husband’s notice in this—or any other—way. If this is transparently obvious to the reader, why doesn’t Quilp realize it?]
tranquil cot in a pleasant spot
[Parlor ballad “Come Dwell with Me”, music by Alexander Lee, words by Thomas Haynes Bayly (1797–1839), often spelled “Bayley”. (To add to the fun, you will also see his middle name given as “Maynes” or “Hayley”.)
Come dwell, come dwell with me
And our home shall be, our home shall be
A pleasant cot, in a tranquil spot,
With a distant view of the changing sea, ]
I was wafted here upon the pinions of concord
[Search me. But I can say with confidence that they are not Dick Swiveller’s own words.]
“Aye, I think they will,” returned the dwarf.
text has ? for ,
[Corrected from 1st edition.]
Mr. Cheeryb— Sorry! Mr. Garland’s pony is my favorite character in the whole book. We will meet him again in Chapter XX and periodically in later chapters.
he tried to look upon his passing it once more
text has it at once
[Corrected from 1st and 1876 editions.]
to make the pony hold up his head that the bearing-rein might be fastened
[I’m surprised the pony cooperated; see Black Beauty.]
and cooled her feet before setting forth to walk again
text has feot
the houses were very few and scattered at long intervals, often miles apart
[Within walking distance of London, whose population in the 1841 census was well over 2 million? I think not.]
a corner cupboard with their little stock of crockery and delf
[The same spelling will show up sporadically for many decades to come.]
but that was a weary while ago, bless God!”
[The close quote has no business here, since the next paragraph continues with the same speaker, but other editions have the same.]
the young gentleman wore over his kilt
[Given that he travels on stilts, the real question is what he wore under his kilt.]
[Otherwise known as asparagus.]
a small tin-vessel shaped funnel-wise
text has fnnnel-wise
[Every era has its generic Dog Names. In the mid-20th century it was Spot or Rover, displacing the earlier Fido; in the latter part of the 18th century it was Ball; in the first part of the 19th century it was . . . Carlo.]
Codlin’s the friend, not Short.
[At the very end of Eight Cousins, Rose’s cousins are each trying to persuade her to choose them and none other. Charlie’s argument wraps up with “and remember, ‘Codlin’s your friend’”. Since Codlin is manifestly not a friend, this would seem to be a blunder—either on the author’s part, or Charlie’s.]
And now they had come to the time when they must beg their bread.
[Where’s a social historian when you need one? Not once in nineteen chapters has it occurred to Nell, or to her grandfather, that she might work to support the two of them. Did begging represent less of a loss of caste than factory work or domestic service? It is interesting, too, that in Nell’s mind, making and selling nosegays counts as begging.]
Grandfather, these men suspect that we have secretly left our friends
[This is perfectly correct—but how does Nell know it? Has she been eavesdropping?]
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.