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The Old Curiosity Shop

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CHAPTER 36

As the single gentleman after some weeks’ occupation of his lodgings, still declined to correspond, by word or gesture, either with Mr Brass or his sister Sally, but invariably chose Richard Swiveller as his channel of communication; and as he proved himself in all respects a highly desirable inmate, paying for everything beforehand, giving very little trouble, making no noise, and keeping early hours; Mr Richard imperceptibly rose to an important position in the family, as one who had influence over this mysterious lodger, and could negotiate with him, for good or evil, when nobody else durst approach his person.

If the truth must be told, even Mr Swiveller’s approaches to the single gentleman were of a very distant kind, and met with small encouragement; but, as he never returned from a monosyllabic conference with the unknown, without quoting such expressions as ‘Swiveller, I know I can rely upon you,’—‘I have no hesitation in saying, Swiveller, that I entertain a regard for you,’—‘Swiveller, you are my friend, and will stand by me I am sure,’ with many other short speeches of the same familiar and confiding kind, purporting to have been addressed by the single gentleman to himself, and to form the staple of their ordinary discourse, neither Mr Brass nor Miss Sally for a moment questioned the extent of his influence, but accorded to him their fullest and most unqualified belief.

But quite apart from, and independent of, this source of popularity, Mr Swiveller had another, which promised to be equally enduring, and to lighten his position considerably.

He found favour in the eyes of Miss Sally Brass. Let not the light scorners of female fascination erect their ears to listen to a new tale of love which shall serve them for a jest; for Miss Brass, however accurately formed to be beloved, was not of the loving kind. That amiable virgin, having clung to the skirts of the Law from her earliest youth; having sustained herself by their aid, as it were, in her first running alone, and maintained a firm grasp upon them ever since; had passed her life in a kind of legal childhood. She had been remarkable, when a tender prattler for an uncommon talent in counterfeiting the walk and manner of a bailiff: in which character she had learned to tap her little playfellows on the shoulder, and to carry them off to imaginary sponging-houses, with a correctness of imitation which was the surprise and delight of all who witnessed her performances, and which was only to be exceeded by her exquisite manner of putting an execution into her doll’s house, and taking an exact inventory of the chairs and tables. These artless sports had naturally soothed and cheered the decline of her widowed father: a most exemplary gentleman (called ‘old Foxey’ by his friends from his extreme sagacity,) who encouraged them to the utmost, and whose chief regret, on finding that he drew near to Houndsditch churchyard, was, that his daughter could not take out an attorney’s certificate and hold a place upon the roll. Filled with this affectionate and touching sorrow, he had solemnly confided her to his son Sampson as an invaluable auxiliary; and from the old gentleman’s decease to the period of which we treat, Miss Sally Brass had been the prop and pillar of his business.

It is obvious that, having devoted herself from infancy to this one pursuit and study, Miss Brass could know but little of the world, otherwise than in connection with the law; and that from a lady gifted with such high tastes, proficiency in those gentler and softer arts in which women usually excel, was scarcely to be looked for. Miss Sally’s accomplishments were all of a masculine and strictly legal kind. They began with the practice of an attorney and they ended with it. She was in a state of lawful innocence, so to speak. The law had been her nurse. And, as bandy-legs or such physical deformities in children are held to be the consequence of bad nursing, so, if in a mind so beautiful any moral twist or handiness could be found, Miss Sally Brass’s nurse was alone to blame.

It was upon this lady, then, that Mr Swiveller burst in full freshness as something new and hitherto undreamed of, lighting up the office with scraps of song and merriment, conjuring with inkstands and boxes of wafers, catching three oranges in one hand, balancing stools upon his chin and penknives on his nose, and constantly performing a hundred other feats with equal ingenuity; for with such unbendings did Richard, in Mr Brass’s absence, relieve the tedium of his confinement. These social qualities, which Miss Sally first discovered by accident, gradually made such an impression upon her, that she would entreat Mr Swiveller to relax as though she were not by, which Mr Swiveller, nothing loth, would readily consent to do. By these means a friendship sprung up between them. Mr Swiveller gradually came to look upon her as her brother Sampson did, and as he would have looked upon any other clerk. He imparted to her the mystery of going the odd man or plain Newmarket for fruit, ginger-beer, baked potatoes, or even a modest quencher, of which Miss Brass did not scruple to partake. He would often persuade her to undertake his share of writing in addition to her own; nay, he would sometimes reward her with a hearty slap on the back, and protest that she was a devilish good fellow, a jolly dog, and so forth; all of which compliments Miss Sally would receive in entire good part and with perfect satisfaction.

One circumstance troubled Mr Swiveller’s mind very much, and that was that the small servant always remained somewhere in the bowels of the earth under Bevis Marks, and never came to the surface unless the single gentleman rang his bell, when she would answer it and immediately disappear again. She never went out, or came into the office, or had a clean face, or took off the coarse apron, or looked out of any one of the windows, or stood at the street-door for a breath of air, or had any rest or enjoyment whatever. Nobody ever came to see her, nobody spoke of her, nobody cared about her. Mr Brass had said once, that he believed she was a ‘love-child’ (which means anything but a child of love), and that was all the information Richard Swiveller could obtain.

‘It’s of no use asking the dragon,’ thought Dick one day, as he sat contemplating the features of Miss Sally Brass. ‘I suspect if I asked any questions on that head, our alliance would be at an end. I wonder whether she is a dragon by-the-bye, or something in the mermaid way. She has rather a scaly appearance. But mermaids are fond of looking at themselves in the glass, which she can’t be. And they have a habit of combing their hair, which she hasn’t. No, she’s a dragon.’

‘Where are you going, old fellow?’ said Dick aloud, as Miss Sally wiped her pen as usual on the green dress, and uprose from her seat.

‘To dinner,’ answered the dragon.

‘To dinner!’ thought Dick, ‘that’s another circumstance. I don’t believe that small servant ever has anything to eat.’

‘Sammy won’t be home,’ said Miss Brass. ‘Stop till I come back. I sha’n’t be long.’

Dick nodded, and followed Miss Brass—with his eyes to the door, and with his ears to a little back parlour, where she and her brother took their meals.

‘Now,’ said Dick, walking up and down with his hands in his pockets, ‘I’d give something—if I had it—to know how they use that child, and where they keep her. My mother must have been a very inquisitive woman; I have no doubt I’m marked with a note of interrogation somewhere. My feelings I smother, but thou hast been the cause of this anguish, my—upon my word,’ said Mr Swiveller, checking himself and falling thoughtfully into the client’s chair, ‘I should like to know how they use her!’

After running on, in this way, for some time, Mr Swiveller softly opened the office door, with the intention of darting across the street for a glass of the mild porter. At that moment he caught a parting glimpse of the brown head-dress of Miss Brass flitting down the kitchen stairs. ‘And by Jove!’ thought Dick, ‘she’s going to feed the small servant. Now or never!’

First peeping over the handrail and allowing the head-dress to disappear in the darkness below, he groped his way down, and arrived at the door of a back kitchen immediately after Miss Brass had entered the same, bearing in her hand a cold leg of mutton. It was a very dark miserable place, very low and very damp: the walls disfigured by a thousand rents and blotches. The water was trickling out of a leaky butt, and a most wretched cat was lapping up the drops with the sickly eagerness of starvation. The grate, which was a wide one, was wound and screwed up tight, so as to hold no more than a little thin sandwich of fire. Everything was locked up; the coal-cellar, the candle-box, the salt-box, the meat-safe, were all padlocked. There was nothing that a beetle could have lunched upon. The pinched and meagre aspect of the place would have killed a chameleon. He would have known, at the first mouthful, that the air was not eatable, and must have given up the ghost in despair. The small servant stood with humility in presence of Miss Sally, and hung her head.

‘Are you there?’ said Miss Sally.

‘Yes, ma’am,’ was the answer in a weak voice.

‘Go further away from the leg of mutton, or you’ll be picking it, I know,’ said Miss Sally.

The girl withdrew into a corner, while Miss Brass took a key from her pocket, and opening the safe, brought from it a dreary waste of cold potatoes, looking as eatable as Stonehenge. This she placed before the small servant, ordering her to sit down before it, and then, taking up a great carving-knife, made a mighty show of sharpening it upon the carving-fork.

‘Do you see this?’ said Miss Brass, slicing off about two square inches of cold mutton, after all this preparation, and holding it out on the point of the fork.

The small servant looked hard enough at it with her hungry eyes to see every shred of it, small as it was, and answered, ‘yes.’

‘Then don’t you ever go and say,’ retorted Miss Sally, ‘that you hadn’t meat here. There, eat it up.’

This was soon done. ‘Now, do you want any more?’ said Miss Sally.

The hungry creature answered with a faint ‘No.’ They were evidently going through an established form.

‘You’ve been helped once to meat,’ said Miss Brass, summing up the facts; ‘you have had as much as you can eat, you’re asked if you want any more, and you answer, ‘no!’ Then don’t you ever go and say you were allowanced, mind that.’

With those words, Miss Sally put the meat away and locked the safe, and then drawing near to the small servant, overlooked her while she finished the potatoes.

It was plain that some extraordinary grudge was working in Miss Brass’s gentle breast, and that it was that which impelled her, without the smallest present cause, to rap the child with the blade of the knife, now on her hand, now on her head, and now on her back, as if she found it quite impossible to stand so close to her without administering a few slight knocks. But Mr Swiveller was not a little surprised to see his fellow-clerk, after walking slowly backwards towards the door, as if she were trying to withdraw herself from the room but could not accomplish it, dart suddenly forward, and falling on the small servant give her some hard blows with her clenched hand. The victim cried, but in a subdued manner as if she feared to raise her voice, and Miss Sally, comforting herself with a pinch of snuff, ascended the stairs, just as Richard had safely reached the office.





CHAPTER 37

The single gentleman among his other peculiarities—and he had a very plentiful stock, of which he every day furnished some new specimen—took a most extraordinary and remarkable interest in the exhibition of Punch. If the sound of a Punch’s voice, at ever so remote a distance, reached Bevis Marks, the single gentleman, though in bed and asleep, would start up, and, hurrying on his clothes, make for the spot with all speed, and presently return at the head of a long procession of idlers, having in the midst the theatre and its proprietors. Straightway, the stage would be set up in front of Mr Brass’s house; the single gentleman would establish himself at the first floor window; and the entertainment would proceed, with all its exciting accompaniments of fife and drum and shout, to the excessive consternation of all sober votaries of business in that silent thoroughfare. It might have been expected that when the play was done, both players and audience would have dispersed; but the epilogue was as bad as the play, for no sooner was the Devil dead, than the manager of the puppets and his partner were summoned by the single gentleman to his chamber, where they were regaled with strong waters from his private store, and where they held with him long conversations, the purport of which no human being could fathom. But the secret of these discussions was of little importance. It was sufficient to know that while they were proceeding, the concourse without still lingered round the house; that boys beat upon the drum with their fists, and imitated Punch with their tender voices; that the office-window was rendered opaque by flattened noses, and the key-hole of the street-door luminous with eyes; that every time the single gentleman or either of his guests was seen at the upper window, or so much as the end of one of their noses was visible, there was a great shout of execration from the excluded mob, who remained howling and yelling, and refusing consolation, until the exhibitors were delivered up to them to be attended elsewhere. It was sufficient, in short, to know that Bevis Marks was revolutionised by these popular movements, and that peace and quietness fled from its precincts.

Nobody was rendered more indignant by these proceedings than Mr Sampson Brass, who, as he could by no means afford to lose so profitable an inmate, deemed it prudent to pocket his lodger’s affront along with his cash, and to annoy the audiences who clustered round his door by such imperfect means of retaliation as were open to him, and which were confined to the trickling down of foul water on their heads from unseen watering pots, pelting them with fragments of tile and mortar from the roof of the house, and bribing the drivers of hackney cabriolets to come suddenly round the corner and dash in among them precipitately. It may, at first sight, be matter of surprise to the thoughtless few that Mr Brass, being a professional gentleman, should not have legally indicted some party or parties, active in the promotion of the nuisance, but they will be good enough to remember, that as Doctors seldom take their own prescriptions, and Divines do not always practise what they preach, so lawyers are shy of meddling with the Law on their own account: knowing it to be an edged tool of uncertain application, very expensive in the working, and rather remarkable for its properties of close shaving, than for its always shaving the right person.

‘Come,’ said Mr Brass one afternoon, ‘this is two days without a Punch. I’m in hopes he has run through ‘em all, at last.’

‘Why are you in hopes?’ returned Miss Sally. ‘What harm do they do?’

‘Here’s a pretty sort of a fellow!’ cried Brass, laying down his pen in despair. ‘Now here’s an aggravating animal!’

‘Well, what harm do they do?’ retorted Sally.

‘What harm!’ cried Brass. ‘Is it no harm to have a constant hallooing and hooting under one’s very nose, distracting one from business, and making one grind one’s teeth with vexation? Is it no harm to be blinded and choked up, and have the king’s highway stopped with a set of screamers and roarers whose throats must be made of—of—’

‘Brass,’ suggested Mr Swiveller.

‘Ah! of brass,’ said the lawyer, glancing at his clerk, to assure himself that he had suggested the word in good faith and without any sinister intention. ‘Is that no harm?’

The lawyer stopped short in his invective, and listening for a moment, and recognising the well-known voice, rested his head upon his hand, raised his eyes to the ceiling, and muttered faintly, ‘There’s another!’

Up went the single gentleman’s window directly.

‘There’s another,’ repeated Brass; ‘and if I could get a break and four blood horses to cut into the Marks when the crowd is at its thickest, I’d give eighteen-pence and never grudge it!’

The distant squeak was heard again. The single gentleman’s door burst open. He ran violently down the stairs, out into the street, and so past the window, without any hat, towards the quarter whence the sound proceeded—bent, no doubt, upon securing the strangers’ services directly.

‘I wish I only knew who his friends were,’ muttered Sampson, filling his pocket with papers; ‘if they’d just get up a pretty little Commission de lunatico at the Gray’s Inn Coffee House and give me the job, I’d be content to have the lodgings empty for one while, at all events.’

With which words, and knocking his hat over his eyes as if for the purpose of shutting out even a glimpse of the dreadful visitation, Mr Brass rushed from the house and hurried away.

As Mr Swiveller was decidedly favourable to these performances, upon the ground that looking at a Punch, or indeed looking at anything out of window, was better than working; and as he had been, for this reason, at some pains to awaken in his fellow clerk a sense of their beauties and manifold deserts; both he and Miss Sally rose as with one accord and took up their positions at the window: upon the sill whereof, as in a post of honour, sundry young ladies and gentlemen who were employed in the dry nurture of babies, and who made a point of being present, with their young charges, on such occasions, had already established themselves as comfortably as the circumstances would allow.

The glass being dim, Mr Swiveller, agreeably to a friendly custom which he had established between them, hitched off the brown head-dress from Miss Sally’s head, and dusted it carefully therewith. By the time he had handed it back, and its beautiful wearer had put it on again (which she did with perfect composure and indifference), the lodger returned with the show and showmen at his heels, and a strong addition to the body of spectators. The exhibitor disappeared with all speed behind the drapery; and his partner, stationing himself by the side of the Theatre, surveyed the audience with a remarkable expression of melancholy, which became more remarkable still when he breathed a hornpipe tune into that sweet musical instrument which is popularly termed a mouth-organ, without at all changing the mournful expression of the upper part of his face, though his mouth and chin were, of necessity, in lively spasms.

The drama proceeded to its close, and held the spectators enchained in the customary manner. The sensation which kindles in large assemblies, when they are relieved from a state of breathless suspense and are again free to speak and move, was yet rife, when the lodger, as usual, summoned the men up stairs.

‘Both of you,’ he called from the window; for only the actual exhibitor—a little fat man—prepared to obey the summons. ‘I want to talk to you. Come both of you!’

‘Come, Tommy,’ said the little man.

‘I an’t a talker,’ replied the other. ‘Tell him so. What should I go and talk for?’

‘Don’t you see the gentleman’s got a bottle and glass up there?’ returned the little man.

‘And couldn’t you have said so at first?’ retorted the other with sudden alacrity. ‘Now, what are you waiting for? Are you going to keep the gentleman expecting us all day? haven’t you no manners?’

With this remonstrance, the melancholy man, who was no other than Mr Thomas Codlin, pushed past his friend and brother in the craft, Mr Harris, otherwise Short or Trotters, and hurried before him to the single gentleman’s apartment.

‘Now, my men,’ said the single gentleman; ‘you have done very well. What will you take? Tell that little man behind, to shut the door.’

‘Shut the door, can’t you?’ said Mr Codlin, turning gruffly to his friend. ‘You might have knowed that the gentleman wanted the door shut, without being told, I think.’

Mr Short obeyed, observing under his breath that his friend seemed unusually ‘cranky,’ and expressing a hope that there was no dairy in the neighbourhood, or his temper would certainly spoil its contents.

The gentleman pointed to a couple of chairs, and intimated by an emphatic nod of his head that he expected them to be seated. Messrs Codlin and Short, after looking at each other with considerable doubt and indecision, at length sat down—each on the extreme edge of the chair pointed out to him—and held their hats very tight, while the single gentleman filled a couple of glasses from a bottle on the table beside him, and presented them in due form.

‘You’re pretty well browned by the sun, both of you,’ said their entertainer. ‘Have you been travelling?’

Mr Short replied in the affirmative with a nod and a smile. Mr Codlin added a corroborative nod and a short groan, as if he still felt the weight of the Temple on his shoulders.

‘To fairs, markets, races, and so forth, I suppose?’ pursued the single gentleman.

‘Yes, sir,’ returned Short, ‘pretty nigh all over the West of England.’

‘I have talked to men of your craft from North, East, and South,’ returned their host, in rather a hasty manner; ‘but I never lighted on any from the West before.’

‘It’s our reg’lar summer circuit is the West, master,’ said Short; ‘that’s where it is. We takes the East of London in the spring and winter, and the West of England in the summer time. Many’s the hard day’s walking in rain and mud, and with never a penny earned, we’ve had down in the West.’

‘Let me fill your glass again.’

‘Much obleeged to you sir, I think I will,’ said Mr Codlin, suddenly thrusting in his own and turning Short’s aside. ‘I’m the sufferer, sir, in all the travelling, and in all the staying at home. In town or country, wet or dry, hot or cold, Tom Codlin suffers. But Tom Codlin isn’t to complain for all that. Oh, no! Short may complain, but if Codlin grumbles by so much as a word—oh dear, down with him, down with him directly. It isn’t his place to grumble. That’s quite out of the question.’

‘Codlin an’t without his usefulness,’ observed Short with an arch look, ‘but he don’t always keep his eyes open. He falls asleep sometimes, you know. Remember them last races, Tommy.’

‘Will you never leave off aggravating a man?’ said Codlin. ‘It’s very like I was asleep when five-and-tenpence was collected, in one round, isn’t it? I was attending to my business, and couldn’t have my eyes in twenty places at once, like a peacock, no more than you could. If I an’t a match for an old man and a young child, you an’t neither, so don’t throw that out against me, for the cap fits your head quite as correct as it fits mine.’

‘You may as well drop the subject, Tom,’ said Short. ‘It isn’t particular agreeable to the gentleman, I dare say.’

‘Then you shouldn’t have brought it up,’ returned Mr Codlin; ‘and I ask the gentleman’s pardon on your account, as a giddy chap that likes to hear himself talk, and don’t much care what he talks about, so that he does talk.’

Their entertainer had sat perfectly quiet in the beginning of this dispute, looking first at one man and then at the other, as if he were lying in wait for an opportunity of putting some further question, or reverting to that from which the discourse had strayed. But, from the point where Mr Codlin was charged with sleepiness, he had shown an increasing interest in the discussion: which now attained a very high pitch.

‘You are the two men I want,’ he said, ‘the two men I have been looking for, and searching after! Where are that old man and that child you speak of?’

‘Sir?’ said Short, hesitating, and looking towards his friend.

‘The old man and his grandchild who travelled with you—where are they? It will be worth your while to speak out, I assure you; much better worth your while than you believe. They left you, you say—at those races, as I understand. They have been traced to that place, and there lost sight of. Have you no clue, can you suggest no clue, to their recovery?’

‘Did I always say, Thomas,’ cried Short, turning with a look of amazement to his friend, ‘that there was sure to be an inquiry after them two travellers?’

‘You said!’ returned Mr Codlin. ‘Did I always say that that ‘ere blessed child was the most interesting I ever see? Did I always say I loved her, and doated on her? Pretty creetur, I think I hear her now. “Codlin’s my friend,” she says, with a tear of gratitude a trickling down her little eye; “Codlin’s my friend,” she says—“not Short. Short’s very well,” she says; “I’ve no quarrel with Short; he means kind, I dare say; but Codlin,” she says, “has the feelings for my money, though he mayn’t look it.”’

Repeating these words with great emotion, Mr Codlin rubbed the bridge of his nose with his coat-sleeve, and shaking his head mournfully from side to side, left the single gentleman to infer that, from the moment when he lost sight of his dear young charge, his peace of mind and happiness had fled.

‘Good Heaven!’ said the single gentleman, pacing up and down the room, ‘have I found these men at last, only to discover that they can give me no information or assistance! It would have been better to have lived on, in hope, from day to day, and never to have lighted on them, than to have my expectations scattered thus.’

‘Stay a minute,’ said Short. ‘A man of the name of Jerry—you know Jerry, Thomas?’

‘Oh, don’t talk to me of Jerrys,’ replied Mr Codlin. ‘How can I care a pinch of snuff for Jerrys, when I think of that ‘ere darling child? “Codlin’s my friend,” she says, “dear, good, kind Codlin, as is always a devising pleasures for me! I don’t object to Short,” she says, “but I cotton to Codlin.” Once,’ said that gentleman reflectively, ‘she called me Father Codlin. I thought I should have bust!’

‘A man of the name of Jerry, sir,’ said Short, turning from his selfish colleague to their new acquaintance, ‘wot keeps a company of dancing dogs, told me, in a accidental sort of way, that he had seen the old gentleman in connexion with a travelling wax-work, unbeknown to him. As they’d given us the slip, and nothing had come of it, and this was down in the country that he’d been seen, I took no measures about it, and asked no questions—But I can, if you like.’

‘Is this man in town?’ said the impatient single gentleman. ‘Speak faster.’

‘No he isn’t, but he will be to-morrow, for he lodges in our house,’ replied Mr Short rapidly.

‘Then bring him here,’ said the single gentleman. ‘Here’s a sovereign a-piece. If I can find these people through your means, it is but a prelude to twenty more. Return to me to-morrow, and keep your own counsel on this subject—though I need hardly tell you that; for you’ll do so for your own sakes. Now, give me your address, and leave me.’

The address was given, the two men departed, the crowd went with them, and the single gentleman for two mortal hours walked in uncommon agitation up and down his room, over the wondering heads of Mr Swiveller and Miss Sally Brass.





CHAPTER 38

Kit—for it happens at this juncture, not only that we have breathing time to follow his fortunes, but that the necessities of these adventures so adapt themselves to our ease and inclination as to call upon us imperatively to pursue the track we most desire to take—Kit, while the matters treated of in the last fifteen chapters were yet in progress, was, as the reader may suppose, gradually familiarising himself more and more with Mr and Mrs Garland, Mr Abel, the pony, and Barbara, and gradually coming to consider them one and all as his particular private friends, and Abel Cottage, Finchley, as his own proper home.

Stay—the words are written, and may go, but if they convey any notion that Kit, in the plentiful board and comfortable lodging of his new abode, began to think slightingly of the poor fare and furniture of his old dwelling, they do their office badly and commit injustice. Who so mindful of those he left at home—albeit they were but a mother and two young babies—as Kit? What boastful father in the fulness of his heart ever related such wonders of his infant prodigy, as Kit never wearied of telling Barbara in the evening time, concerning little Jacob? Was there ever such a mother as Kit’s mother, on her son’s showing; or was there ever such comfort in poverty as in the poverty of Kit’s family, if any correct judgment might be arrived at, from his own glowing account!

And let me linger in this place, for an instant, to remark that if ever household affections and loves are graceful things, they are graceful in the poor. The ties that bind the wealthy and the proud to home may be forged on earth, but those which link the poor man to his humble hearth are of the truer metal and bear the stamp of Heaven. The man of high descent may love the halls and lands of his inheritance as part of himself: as trophies of his birth and power; his associations with them are associations of pride and wealth and triumph; the poor man’s attachment to the tenements he holds, which strangers have held before, and may to-morrow occupy again, has a worthier root, struck deep into a purer soil. His household gods are of flesh and blood, with no alloy of silver, gold, or precious stone; he has no property but in the affections of his own heart; and when they endear bare floors and walls, despite of rags and toil and scanty fare, that man has his love of home from God, and his rude hut becomes a solemn place.

Oh! if those who rule the destinies of nations would but remember this—if they would but think how hard it is for the very poor to have engendered in their hearts, that love of home from which all domestic virtues spring, when they live in dense and squalid masses where social decency is lost, or rather never found—if they would but turn aside from the wide thoroughfares and great houses, and strive to improve the wretched dwellings in bye-ways where only Poverty may walk—many low roofs would point more truly to the sky, than the loftiest steeple that now rears proudly up from the midst of guilt, and crime, and horrible disease, to mock them by its contrast. In hollow voices from Workhouse, Hospital, and jail, this truth is preached from day to day, and has been proclaimed for years. It is no light matter—no outcry from the working vulgar—no mere question of the people’s health and comforts that may be whistled down on Wednesday nights. In love of home, the love of country has its rise; and who are the truer patriots or the better in time of need—those who venerate the land, owning its wood, and stream, and earth, and all that they produce? or those who love their country, boasting not a foot of ground in all its wide domain!

Kit knew nothing about such questions, but he knew that his old home was a very poor place, and that his new one was very unlike it, and yet he was constantly looking back with grateful satisfaction and affectionate anxiety, and often indited square-folded letters to his mother, enclosing a shilling or eighteenpence or such other small remittance, which Mr Abel’s liberality enabled him to make. Sometimes being in the neighbourhood, he had leisure to call upon her, and then great was the joy and pride of Kit’s mother, and extremely noisy the satisfaction of little Jacob and the baby, and cordial the congratulations of the whole court, who listened with admiring ears to the accounts of Abel Cottage, and could never be told too much of its wonders and magnificence.

Although Kit was in the very highest favour with the old lady and gentleman, and Mr Abel, and Barbara, it is certain that no member of the family evinced such a remarkable partiality for him as the self-willed pony, who, from being the most obstinate and opinionated pony on the face of the earth, was, in his hands, the meekest and most tractable of animals. It is true that in exact proportion as he became manageable by Kit he became utterly ungovernable by anybody else (as if he had determined to keep him in the family at all risks and hazards), and that, even under the guidance of his favourite, he would sometimes perform a great variety of strange freaks and capers, to the extreme discomposure of the old lady’s nerves; but as Kit always represented that this was only his fun, or a way he had of showing his attachment to his employers, Mrs Garland gradually suffered herself to be persuaded into the belief, in which she at last became so strongly confirmed, that if, in one of these ebullitions, he had overturned the chaise, she would have been quite satisfied that he did it with the very best intentions.

Besides becoming in a short time a perfect marvel in all stable matters, Kit soon made himself a very tolerable gardener, a handy fellow within doors, and an indispensable attendant on Mr Abel, who every day gave him some new proof of his confidence and approbation. Mr Witherden the notary, too, regarded him with a friendly eye; and even Mr Chuckster would sometimes condescend to give him a slight nod, or to honour him with that peculiar form of recognition which is called ‘taking a sight,’ or to favour him with some other salute combining pleasantry with patronage.

One morning Kit drove Mr Abel to the Notary’s office, as he sometimes did, and having set him down at the house, was about to drive off to a livery stable hard by, when this same Mr Chuckster emerged from the office door, and cried ‘Woa-a-a-a-a-a!’—dwelling upon the note a long time, for the purpose of striking terror into the pony’s heart, and asserting the supremacy of man over the inferior animals.

‘Pull up, Snobby,’ cried Mr Chuckster, addressing himself to Kit. ‘You’re wanted inside here.’

‘Has Mr Abel forgotten anything, I wonder?’ said Kit as he dismounted.

‘Ask no questions, Snobby,’ returned Mr Chuckster, ‘but go and see. Woa-a-a then, will you? If that pony was mine, I’d break him.’

‘You must be very gentle with him, if you please,’ said Kit, ‘or you’ll find him troublesome. You’d better not keep on pulling his ears, please. I know he won’t like it.’

To this remonstrance Mr Chuckster deigned no other answer, than addressing Kit with a lofty and distant air as ‘young feller,’ and requesting him to cut and come again with all speed. The ‘young feller’ complying, Mr Chuckster put his hands in his pockets, and tried to look as if he were not minding the pony, but happened to be lounging there by accident.

Kit scraped his shoes very carefully (for he had not yet lost his reverence for the bundles of papers and the tin boxes,) and tapped at the office-door, which was quickly opened by the Notary himself.

‘Oh! come in, Christopher,’ said Mr Witherden.

‘Is that the lad?’ asked an elderly gentleman, but of a stout, bluff figure—who was in the room.

‘That’s the lad,’ said Mr Witherden. ‘He fell in with my client, Mr Garland, sir, at this very door. I have reason to think he is a good lad, sir, and that you may believe what he says. Let me introduce Mr Abel Garland, sir—his young master; my articled pupil, sir, and most particular friend:—my most particular friend, sir,’ repeated the Notary, drawing out his silk handkerchief and flourishing it about his face.

‘Your servant, sir,’ said the stranger gentleman.

‘Yours, sir, I’m sure,’ replied Mr Abel mildly. ‘You were wishing to speak to Christopher, sir?’

‘Yes, I was. Have I your permission?’

‘By all means.’

‘My business is no secret; or I should rather say it need be no secret here,’ said the stranger, observing that Mr Abel and the Notary were preparing to retire. ‘It relates to a dealer in curiosities with whom he lived, and in whom I am earnestly and warmly interested. I have been a stranger to this country, gentlemen, for very many years, and if I am deficient in form and ceremony, I hope you will forgive me.’

‘No forgiveness is necessary, sir;—none whatever,’ replied the Notary. And so said Mr Abel.

‘I have been making inquiries in the neighbourhood in which his old master lived,’ said the stranger, ‘and I learn that he was served by this lad. I have found out his mother’s house, and have been directed by her to this place as the nearest in which I should be likely to find him. That’s the cause of my presenting myself here this morning.’

‘I am very glad of any cause, sir,’ said the Notary, ‘which procures me the honour of this visit.’

‘Sir,’ retorted the stranger, ‘you speak like a mere man of the world, and I think you something better. Therefore, pray do not sink your real character in paying unmeaning compliments to me.’

‘Hem!’ coughed the Notary. ‘You’re a plain speaker, sir.’

‘And a plain dealer,’ returned the stranger. ‘It may be my long absence and inexperience that lead me to the conclusion; but if plain speakers are scarce in this part of the world, I fancy plain dealers are still scarcer. If my speaking should offend you, sir, my dealing, I hope, will make amends.’

Mr Witherden seemed a little disconcerted by the elderly gentleman’s mode of conducting the dialogue; and as for Kit, he looked at him in open-mouthed astonishment: wondering what kind of language he would address to him, if he talked in that free and easy way to a Notary. It was with no harshness, however, though with something of constitutional irritability and haste, that he turned to Kit and said:

‘If you think, my lad, that I am pursuing these inquiries with any other view than that of serving and reclaiming those I am in search of, you do me a very great wrong, and deceive yourself. Don’t be deceived, I beg of you, but rely upon my assurance. The fact is, gentlemen,’ he added, turning again to the Notary and his pupil, ‘that I am in a very painful and wholly unexpected position. I came to this city with a darling object at my heart, expecting to find no obstacle or difficulty in the way of its attainment. I find myself suddenly checked and stopped short, in the execution of my design, by a mystery which I cannot penetrate. Every effort I have made to penetrate it, has only served to render it darker and more obscure; and I am afraid to stir openly in the matter, lest those whom I anxiously pursue, should fly still farther from me. I assure you that if you could give me any assistance, you would not be sorry to do so, if you knew how greatly I stand in need of it, and what a load it would relieve me from.’

There was a simplicity in this confidence which occasioned it to find a quick response in the breast of the good-natured Notary, who replied, in the same spirit, that the stranger had not mistaken his desire, and that if he could be of service to him, he would, most readily.

Kit was then put under examination and closely questioned by the unknown gentleman, touching his old master and the child, their lonely way of life, their retired habits, and strict seclusion. The nightly absence of the old man, the solitary existence of the child at those times, his illness and recovery, Quilp’s possession of the house, and their sudden disappearance, were all the subjects of much questioning and answer. Finally, Kit informed the gentleman that the premises were now to let, and that a board upon the door referred all inquirers to Mr Sampson Brass, Solicitor, of Bevis Marks, from whom he might perhaps learn some further particulars.

‘Not by inquiry,’ said the gentleman shaking his head. ‘I live there.’

‘Live at Brass’s the attorney’s!’ cried Mr Witherden in some surprise: having professional knowledge of the gentleman in question.

‘Aye,’ was the reply. ‘I entered on his lodgings t’other day, chiefly because I had seen this very board. It matters little to me where I live, and I had a desperate hope that some intelligence might be cast in my way there, which would not reach me elsewhere. Yes, I live at Brass’s—more shame for me, I suppose?’

‘That’s a mere matter of opinion,’ said the Notary, shrugging his shoulders. ‘He is looked upon as rather a doubtful character.’

‘Doubtful?’ echoed the other. ‘I am glad to hear there’s any doubt about it. I supposed that had been thoroughly settled, long ago. But will you let me speak a word or two with you in private?’

Mr Witherden consenting, they walked into that gentleman’s private closet, and remained there, in close conversation, for some quarter of an hour, when they returned into the outer office. The stranger had left his hat in Mr Witherden’s room, and seemed to have established himself in this short interval on quite a friendly footing.

‘I’ll not detain you any longer now,’ he said, putting a crown into Kit’s hand, and looking towards the Notary. ‘You shall hear from me again. Not a word of this, you know, except to your master and mistress.’

‘Mother, sir, would be glad to know—’ said Kit, faltering.

‘Glad to know what?’

‘Anything—so that it was no harm—about Miss Nell.’

‘Would she? Well then, you may tell her if she can keep a secret. But mind, not a word of this to anybody else. Don’t forget that. Be particular.’

‘I’ll take care, sir,’ said Kit. ‘Thankee, sir, and good morning.’

Now, it happened that the gentleman, in his anxiety to impress upon Kit that he was not to tell anybody what had passed between them, followed him out to the door to repeat his caution, and it further happened that at that moment the eyes of Mr Richard Swiveller were turned in that direction, and beheld his mysterious friend and Kit together.

It was quite an accident, and the way in which it came about was this. Mr Chuckster, being a gentleman of a cultivated taste and refined spirit, was one of that Lodge of Glorious Apollos whereof Mr Swiveller was Perpetual Grand. Mr Swiveller, passing through the street in the execution of some Brazen errand, and beholding one of his Glorious Brotherhood intently gazing on a pony, crossed over to give him that fraternal greeting with which Perpetual Grands are, by the very constitution of their office, bound to cheer and encourage their disciples. He had scarcely bestowed upon him his blessing, and followed it with a general remark touching the present state and prospects of the weather, when, lifting up his eyes, he beheld the single gentleman of Bevis Marks in earnest conversation with Christopher Nubbles.

‘Hallo!’ said Dick, ‘who is that?’

‘He called to see my Governor this morning,’ replied Mr Chuckster; ‘beyond that, I don’t know him from Adam.’

‘At least you know his name?’ said Dick.

To which Mr Chuckster replied, with an elevation of speech becoming a Glorious Apollo, that he was ‘everlastingly blessed’ if he did.

‘All I know, my dear feller,’ said Mr Chuckster, running his fingers through his hair, ‘is, that he is the cause of my having stood here twenty minutes, for which I hate him with a mortal and undying hatred, and would pursue him to the confines of eternity if I could afford the time.’

While they were thus discoursing, the subject of their conversation (who had not appeared to recognise Mr Richard Swiveller) re-entered the house, and Kit came down the steps and joined them; to whom Mr Swiveller again propounded his inquiry with no better success.

‘He is a very nice gentleman, Sir,’ said Kit, ‘and that’s all I know about him.’

Mr Chuckster waxed wroth at this answer, and without applying the remark to any particular case, mentioned, as a general truth, that it was expedient to break the heads of Snobs, and to tweak their noses. Without expressing his concurrence in this sentiment, Mr Swiveller after a few moments of abstraction inquired which way Kit was driving, and, being informed, declared it was his way, and that he would trespass on him for a lift. Kit would gladly have declined the proffered honour, but as Mr Swiveller was already established in the seat beside him, he had no means of doing so, otherwise than by a forcible ejectment, and therefore, drove briskly off—so briskly indeed, as to cut short the leave-taking between Mr Chuckster and his Grand Master, and to occasion the former gentleman some inconvenience from having his corns squeezed by the impatient pony.

As Whisker was tired of standing, and Mr Swiveller was kind enough to stimulate him by shrill whistles, and various sporting cries, they rattled off at too sharp a pace to admit of much conversation: especially as the pony, incensed by Mr Swiveller’s admonitions, took a particular fancy for the lamp-posts and cart-wheels, and evinced a strong desire to run on the pavement and rasp himself against the brick walls. It was not, therefore, until they had arrived at the stable, and the chaise had been extricated from a very small doorway, into which the pony dragged it under the impression that he could take it along with him into his usual stall, that Mr Swiveller found time to talk.

‘It’s hard work,’ said Richard. ‘What do you say to some beer?’

Kit at first declined, but presently consented, and they adjourned to the neighbouring bar together.

‘We’ll drink our friend what’s-his-name,’ said Dick, holding up the bright frothy pot; ‘—that was talking to you this morning, you know—I know him—a good fellow, but eccentric—very—here’s what’s-his-name!’

Kit pledged him.

‘He lives in my house,’ said Dick; ‘at least in the house occupied by the firm in which I’m a sort of a—of a managing partner—a difficult fellow to get anything out of, but we like him—we like him.’

‘I must be going, sir, if you please,’ said Kit, moving away.

‘Don’t be in a hurry, Christopher,’ replied his patron, ‘we’ll drink your mother.’

‘Thank you, sir.’

‘An excellent woman that mother of yours, Christopher,’ said Mr Swiveller. ‘Who ran to catch me when I fell, and kissed the place to make it well? My mother. A charming woman. He’s a liberal sort of fellow. We must get him to do something for your mother. Does he know her, Christopher?’

Kit shook his head, and glancing slyly at his questioner, thanked him, and made off before he could say another word.

‘Humph!’ said Mr Swiveller pondering, ‘this is queer. Nothing but mysteries in connection with Brass’s house. I’ll keep my own counsel, however. Everybody and anybody has been in my confidence as yet, but now I think I’ll set up in business for myself. Queer—very queer!’

After pondering deeply and with a face of exceeding wisdom for some time, Mr Swiveller drank some more of the beer, and summoning a small boy who had been watching his proceedings, poured forth the few remaining drops as a libation on the gravel, and bade him carry the empty vessel to the bar with his compliments, and above all things to lead a sober and temperate life, and abstain from all intoxicating and exciting liquors. Having given him this piece of moral advice for his trouble (which, as he wisely observed, was far better than half-pence) the Perpetual Grand Master of the Glorious Apollos thrust his hands into his pockets and sauntered away: still pondering as he went.





CHAPTER 39

All that day, though he waited for Mr Abel until evening, Kit kept clear of his mother’s house, determined not to anticipate the pleasures of the morrow, but to let them come in their full rush of delight; for to-morrow was the great and long looked-for epoch in his life—to-morrow was the end of his first quarter—the day of receiving, for the first time, one fourth part of his annual income of Six Pounds in one vast sum of Thirty Shillings—to-morrow was to be a half-holiday devoted to a whirl of entertainments, and little Jacob was to know what oysters meant, and to see a play.

All manner of incidents combined in favour of the occasion: not only had Mr and Mrs Garland forewarned him that they intended to make no deduction for his outfit from the great amount, but to pay it him unbroken in all its gigantic grandeur; not only had the unknown gentleman increased the stock by the sum of five shillings, which was a perfect god-send and in itself a fortune; not only had these things come to pass which nobody could have calculated upon, or in their wildest dreams have hoped; but it was Barbara’s quarter too—Barbara’s quarter, that very day—and Barbara had a half-holiday as well as Kit, and Barbara’s mother was going to make one of the party, and to take tea with Kit’s mother, and cultivate her acquaintance.

To be sure Kit looked out of his window very early that morning to see which way the clouds were flying, and to be sure Barbara would have been at hers too, if she had not sat up so late over-night, starching and ironing small pieces of muslin, and crimping them into frills, and sewing them on to other pieces to form magnificent wholes for next day’s wear. But they were both up very early for all that, and had small appetites for breakfast and less for dinner, and were in a state of great excitement when Barbara’s mother came in, with astonishing accounts of the fineness of the weather out of doors (but with a very large umbrella notwithstanding, for people like Barbara’s mother seldom make holiday without one), and when the bell rang for them to go up stairs and receive their quarter’s money in gold and silver.

Well, wasn’t Mr Garland kind when he said ‘Christopher, here’s your money, and you have earned it well;’ and wasn’t Mrs Garland kind when she said ‘Barbara, here’s yours, and I’m much pleased with you;’ and didn’t Kit sign his name bold to his receipt, and didn’t Barbara sign her name all a trembling to hers; and wasn’t it beautiful to see how Mrs Garland poured out Barbara’s mother a glass of wine; and didn’t Barbara’s mother speak up when she said ‘Here’s blessing you, ma’am, as a good lady, and you, sir, as a good gentleman, and Barbara, my love to you, and here’s towards you, Mr Christopher;’ and wasn’t she as long drinking it as if it had been a tumblerful; and didn’t she look genteel, standing there with her gloves on; and wasn’t there plenty of laughing and talking among them as they reviewed all these things upon the top of the coach, and didn’t they pity the people who hadn’t got a holiday!

But Kit’s mother, again—wouldn’t anybody have supposed she had come of a good stock and been a lady all her life! There she was, quite ready to receive them, with a display of tea-things that might have warmed the heart of a china-shop; and little Jacob and the baby in such a state of perfection that their clothes looked as good as new, though Heaven knows they were old enough! Didn’t she say before they had sat down five minutes that Barbara’s mother was exactly the sort of lady she expected, and didn’t Barbara’s mother say that Kit’s mother was the very picture of what she had expected, and didn’t Kit’s mother compliment Barbara’s mother on Barbara, and didn’t Barbara’s mother compliment Kit’s mother on Kit, and wasn’t Barbara herself quite fascinated with little Jacob, and did ever a child show off when he was wanted, as that child did, or make such friends as he made!

‘And we are both widows too!’ said Barbara’s mother. ‘We must have been made to know each other.’

‘I haven’t a doubt about it,’ returned Mrs Nubbles. ‘And what a pity it is we didn’t know each other sooner.’

‘But then, you know, it’s such a pleasure,’ said Barbara’s mother, ‘to have it brought about by one’s son and daughter, that it’s fully made up for. Now, an’t it?’

To this, Kit’s mother yielded her full assent, and tracing things back from effects to causes, they naturally reverted to their deceased husbands, respecting whose lives, deaths, and burials, they compared notes, and discovered sundry circumstances that tallied with wonderful exactness; such as Barbara’s father having been exactly four years and ten months older than Kit’s father, and one of them having died on a Wednesday and the other on a Thursday, and both of them having been of a very fine make and remarkably good-looking, with other extraordinary coincidences. These recollections being of a kind calculated to cast a shadow on the brightness of the holiday, Kit diverted the conversation to general topics, and they were soon in great force again, and as merry as before. Among other things, Kit told them about his old place, and the extraordinary beauty of Nell (of whom he had talked to Barbara a thousand times already); but the last-named circumstance failed to interest his hearers to anything like the extent he had supposed, and even his mother said (looking accidentally at Barbara at the same time) that there was no doubt Miss Nell was very pretty, but she was but a child after all, and there were many young women quite as pretty as she; and Barbara mildly observed that she should think so, and that she never could help believing Mr Christopher must be under a mistake—which Kit wondered at very much, not being able to conceive what reason she had for doubting him. Barbara’s mother too, observed that it was very common for young folks to change at about fourteen or fifteen, and whereas they had been very pretty before, to grow up quite plain; which truth she illustrated by many forcible examples, especially one of a young man, who, being a builder with great prospects, had been particular in his attentions to Barbara, but whom Barbara would have nothing to say to; which (though everything happened for the best) she almost thought was a pity. Kit said he thought so too, and so he did honestly, and he wondered what made Barbara so silent all at once, and why his mother looked at him as if he shouldn’t have said it.

However, it was high time now to be thinking of the play; for which great preparation was required, in the way of shawls and bonnets, not to mention one handkerchief full of oranges and another of apples, which took some time tying up, in consequence of the fruit having a tendency to roll out at the corners. At length, everything was ready, and they went off very fast; Kit’s mother carrying the baby, who was dreadfully wide awake, and Kit holding little Jacob in one hand, and escorting Barbara with the other—a state of things which occasioned the two mothers, who walked behind, to declare that they looked quite family folks, and caused Barbara to blush and say, ‘Now don’t, mother!’ But Kit said she had no call to mind what they said; and indeed she need not have had, if she had known how very far from Kit’s thoughts any love-making was. Poor Barbara!

At last they got to the theatre, which was Astley’s: and in some two minutes after they had reached the yet unopened door, little Jacob was squeezed flat, and the baby had received divers concussions, and Barbara’s mother’s umbrella had been carried several yards off and passed back to her over the shoulders of the people, and Kit had hit a man on the head with the handkerchief of apples for ‘scrowdging’ his parent with unnecessary violence, and there was a great uproar. But, when they were once past the pay-place and tearing away for very life with their checks in their hands, and, above all, when they were fairly in the theatre, and seated in such places that they couldn’t have had better if they had picked them out, and taken them beforehand, all this was looked upon as quite a capital joke, and an essential part of the entertainment.

Dear, dear, what a place it looked, that Astley’s; with all the paint, gilding, and looking-glass; the vague smell of horses suggestive of coming wonders; the curtain that hid such gorgeous mysteries; the clean white sawdust down in the circus; the company coming in and taking their places; the fiddlers looking carelessly up at them while they tuned their instruments, as if they didn’t want the play to begin, and knew it all beforehand! What a glow was that, which burst upon them all, when that long, clear, brilliant row of lights came slowly up; and what the feverish excitement when the little bell rang and the music began in good earnest, with strong parts for the drums, and sweet effects for the triangles! Well might Barbara’s mother say to Kit’s mother that the gallery was the place to see from, and wonder it wasn’t much dearer than the boxes; well might Barbara feel doubtful whether to laugh or cry, in her flutter of delight.

Then the play itself! the horses which little Jacob believed from the first to be alive, and the ladies and gentlemen of whose reality he could be by no means persuaded, having never seen or heard anything at all like them—the firing, which made Barbara wink—the forlorn lady, who made her cry—the tyrant, who made her tremble—the man who sang the song with the lady’s-maid and danced the chorus, who made her laugh—the pony who reared up on his hind legs when he saw the murderer, and wouldn’t hear of walking on all fours again until he was taken into custody—the clown who ventured on such familiarities with the military man in boots—the lady who jumped over the nine-and-twenty ribbons and came down safe upon the horse’s back—everything was delightful, splendid, and surprising! Little Jacob applauded till his hands were sore; Kit cried ‘an-kor’ at the end of everything, the three-act piece included; and Barbara’s mother beat her umbrella on the floor, in her ecstasies, until it was nearly worn down to the gingham.

In the midst of all these fascinations, Barbara’s thoughts seemed to have been still running on what Kit had said at tea-time; for, when they were coming out of the play, she asked him, with an hysterical simper, if Miss Nell was as handsome as the lady who jumped over the ribbons.

‘As handsome as her?’ said Kit. ‘Double as handsome.’

‘Oh Christopher! I’m sure she was the beautifullest creature ever was,’ said Barbara.

‘Nonsense!’ returned Kit. ‘She was well enough, I don’t deny that; but think how she was dressed and painted, and what a difference that made. Why you are a good deal better looking than her, Barbara.’

‘Oh Christopher!’ said Barbara, looking down.

‘You are, any day,’ said Kit, ‘—and so’s your mother.’

Poor Barbara!

What was all this though—even all this—to the extraordinary dissipation that ensued, when Kit, walking into an oyster-shop as bold as if he lived there, and not so much as looking at the counter or the man behind it, led his party into a box—a private box, fitted up with red curtains, white table-cloth, and cruet-stand complete—and ordered a fierce gentleman with whiskers, who acted as waiter and called him, him Christopher Nubbles, ‘sir,’ to bring three dozen of his largest-sized oysters, and to look sharp about it! Yes, Kit told this gentleman to look sharp, and he not only said he would look sharp, but he actually did, and presently came running back with the newest loaves, and the freshest butter, and the largest oysters, ever seen. Then said Kit to this gentleman, ‘a pot of beer’—just so—and the gentleman, instead of replying, ‘Sir, did you address that language to me?’ only said, ‘Pot o’ beer, sir? Yes, sir,’ and went off and fetched it, and put it on the table in a small decanter-stand, like those which blind-men’s dogs carry about the streets in their mouths, to catch the half-pence in; and both Kit’s mother and Barbara’s mother declared as he turned away that he was one of the slimmest and gracefullest young men she had ever looked upon.

Then they fell to work upon the supper in earnest; and there was Barbara, that foolish Barbara, declaring that she could not eat more than two, and wanting more pressing than you would believe before she would eat four: though her mother and Kit’s mother made up for it pretty well, and ate and laughed and enjoyed themselves so thoroughly that it did Kit good to see them, and made him laugh and eat likewise from strong sympathy. But the greatest miracle of the night was little Jacob, who ate oysters as if he had been born and bred to the business—sprinkled the pepper and the vinegar with a discretion beyond his years—and afterwards built a grotto on the table with the shells. There was the baby too, who had never closed an eye all night, but had sat as good as gold, trying to force a large orange into his mouth, and gazing intently at the lights in the chandelier—there he was, sitting up in his mother’s lap, staring at the gas without winking, and making indentations in his soft visage with an oyster-shell, to that degree that a heart of iron must have loved him! In short, there never was a more successful supper; and when Kit ordered in a glass of something hot to finish with, and proposed Mr and Mrs Garland before sending it round, there were not six happier people in all the world.

But all happiness has an end—hence the chief pleasure of its next beginning—and as it was now growing late, they agreed it was time to turn their faces homewards. So, after going a little out of their way to see Barbara and Barbara’s mother safe to a friend’s house where they were to pass the night, Kit and his mother left them at the door, with an early appointment for returning to Finchley next morning, and a great many plans for next quarter’s enjoyment. Then, Kit took little Jacob on his back, and giving his arm to his mother, and a kiss to the baby, they all trudged merrily home together.





CHAPTER 40

Full of that vague kind of penitence which holidays awaken next morning, Kit turned out at sunrise, and, with his faith in last night’s enjoyments a little shaken by cool daylight and the return to every-day duties and occupations, went to meet Barbara and her mother at the appointed place. And being careful not to awaken any of the little household, who were yet resting from their unusual fatigues, Kit left his money on the chimney-piece, with an inscription in chalk calling his mother’s attention to the circumstance, and informing her that it came from her dutiful son; and went his way, with a heart something heavier than his pockets, but free from any very great oppression notwithstanding.

Oh these holidays! why will they leave us some regret? why cannot we push them back, only a week or two in our memories, so as to put them at once at that convenient distance whence they may be regarded either with a calm indifference or a pleasant effort of recollection! why will they hang about us, like the flavour of yesterday’s wine, suggestive of headaches and lassitude, and those good intentions for the future, which, under the earth, form the everlasting pavement of a large estate, and, upon it, usually endure until dinner-time or thereabouts!

Who will wonder that Barbara had a headache, or that Barbara’s mother was disposed to be cross, or that she slightly underrated Astley’s, and thought the clown was older than they had taken him to be last night? Kit was not surprised to hear her say so—not he. He had already had a misgiving that the inconstant actors in that dazzling vision had been doing the same thing the night before last, and would do it again that night, and the next, and for weeks and months to come, though he would not be there. Such is the difference between yesterday and today. We are all going to the play, or coming home from it.

However, the Sun himself is weak when he first rises, and gathers strength and courage as the day gets on. By degrees, they began to recall circumstances more and more pleasant in their nature, until, what between talking, walking, and laughing, they reached Finchley in such good heart, that Barbara’s mother declared she never felt less tired or in better spirits. And so said Kit. Barbara had been silent all the way, but she said so too. Poor little Barbara! She was very quiet.

They were at home in such good time that Kit had rubbed down the pony and made him as spruce as a race-horse, before Mr Garland came down to breakfast; which punctual and industrious conduct the old lady, and the old gentleman, and Mr Abel, highly extolled. At his usual hour (or rather at his usual minute and second, for he was the soul of punctuality) Mr Abel walked out, to be overtaken by the London coach, and Kit and the old gentleman went to work in the garden.

This was not the least pleasant of Kit’s employments. On a fine day they were quite a family party; the old lady sitting hard by with her work-basket on a little table; the old gentleman digging, or pruning, or clipping about with a large pair of shears, or helping Kit in some way or other with great assiduity; and Whisker looking on from his paddock in placid contemplation of them all. To-day they were to trim the grape-vine, so Kit mounted half-way up a short ladder, and began to snip and hammer away, while the old gentleman, with a great interest in his proceedings, handed up the nails and shreds of cloth as he wanted them. The old lady and Whisker looked on as usual.

‘Well, Christopher,’ said Mr Garland, ‘and so you have made a new friend, eh?’

‘I beg your pardon, Sir?’ returned Kit, looking down from the ladder.

‘You have made a new friend, I hear from Mr Abel,’ said the old gentleman, ‘at the office!’

‘Oh! Yes Sir, yes. He behaved very handsome, Sir.’

‘I’m glad to hear it,’ returned the old gentlemen with a smile. ‘He is disposed to behave more handsomely still, though, Christopher.’

‘Indeed, Sir! It’s very kind in him, but I don’t want him to, I’m sure,’ said Kit, hammering stoutly at an obdurate nail.

‘He is rather anxious,’ pursued the old gentleman, ‘to have you in his own service—take care what you’re doing, or you will fall down and hurt yourself.’

‘To have me in his service, Sir?’ cried Kit, who had stopped short in his work and faced about on the ladder like some dexterous tumbler. ‘Why, Sir, I don’t think he can be in earnest when he says that.’

‘Oh! But he is indeed,’ said Mr Garland. ‘And he has told Mr Abel so.’

‘I never heard of such a thing!’ muttered Kit, looking ruefully at his master and mistress. ‘I wonder at him; that I do.’

‘You see, Christopher,’ said Mr Garland, ‘this is a point of much importance to you, and you should understand and consider it in that light. This gentleman is able to give you more money than I—not, I hope, to carry through the various relations of master and servant, more kindness and confidence, but certainly, Christopher, to give you more money.’

‘Well,’ said Kit, ‘after that, Sir—’

‘Wait a moment,’ interposed Mr Garland. ‘That is not all. You were a very faithful servant to your old employers, as I understand, and should this gentleman recover them, as it is his purpose to attempt doing by every means in his power, I have no doubt that you, being in his service, would meet with your reward. Besides,’ added the old gentleman with stronger emphasis, ‘besides having the pleasure of being again brought into communication with those to whom you seem to be very strongly and disinterestedly attached. You must think of all this, Christopher, and not be rash or hasty in your choice.’

Kit did suffer one twinge, one momentary pang, in keeping the resolution he had already formed, when this last argument passed swiftly into his thoughts, and conjured up the realization of all his hopes and fancies. But it was gone in a minute, and he sturdily rejoined that the gentleman must look out for somebody else, as he did think he might have done at first.

‘He has no right to think that I’d be led away to go to him, sir,’ said Kit, turning round again after half a minute’s hammering. ‘Does he think I’m a fool?’

‘He may, perhaps, Christopher, if you refuse his offer,’ said Mr Garland gravely.

‘Then let him, sir,’ retorted Kit; ‘what do I care, sir, what he thinks? why should I care for his thinking, sir, when I know that I should be a fool, and worse than a fool, sir, to leave the kindest master and mistress that ever was or can be, who took me out of the streets a very poor and hungry lad indeed—poorer and hungrier perhaps than even you think for, sir—to go to him or anybody? If Miss Nell was to come back, ma’am,’ added Kit, turning suddenly to his mistress, ‘why that would be another thing, and perhaps if she wanted me, I might ask you now and then to let me work for her when all was done at home. But when she comes back, I see now that she’ll be rich as old master always said she would, and being a rich young lady, what could she want of me? No, no,’ added Kit, shaking his head sorrowfully, ‘she’ll never want me any more, and bless her, I hope she never may, though I should like to see her too!’

Here Kit drove a nail into the wall, very hard—much harder than was necessary—and having done so, faced about again.

‘There’s the pony, sir,’ said Kit—‘Whisker, ma’am (and he knows so well I’m talking about him that he begins to neigh directly, Sir)—would he let anybody come near him but me, ma’am? Here’s the garden, sir, and Mr Abel, ma’am. Would Mr Abel part with me, Sir, or is there anybody that could be fonder of the garden, ma’am? It would break mother’s heart, Sir, and even little Jacob would have sense enough to cry his eyes out, ma’am, if he thought that Mr Abel could wish to part with me so soon, after having told me, only the other day, that he hoped we might be together for years to come—’

There is no telling how long Kit might have stood upon the ladder, addressing his master and mistress by turns, and generally turning towards the wrong person, if Barbara had not at that moment come running up to say that a messenger from the office had brought a note, which, with an expression of some surprise at Kit’s oratorical appearance, she put into her master’s hand.

‘Oh!’ said the old gentleman after reading it, ‘ask the messenger to walk this way.’ Barbara tripping off to do as she was bid, he turned to Kit and said that they would not pursue the subject any further, and that Kit could not be more unwilling to part with them, than they would be to part with Kit; a sentiment which the old lady very generously echoed.

‘At the same time, Christopher,’ added Mr Garland, glancing at the note in his hand, ‘if the gentleman should want to borrow you now and then for an hour or so, or even a day or so, at a time, we must consent to lend you, and you must consent to be lent.—Oh! here is the young gentleman. How do you do, Sir?’

This salutation was addressed to Mr Chuckster, who, with his hat extremely on one side, and his hair a long way beyond it, came swaggering up the walk.

‘Hope I see you well sir,’ returned that gentleman. ‘Hope I see you well, ma’am. Charming box this, sir. Delicious country to be sure.’

‘You want to take Kit back with you, I find?’ observed Mr Garland.

‘I have got a chariot-cab waiting on purpose,’ replied the clerk. ‘A very spanking grey in that cab, sir, if you’re a judge of horse-flesh.’

Declining to inspect the spanking grey, on the plea that he was but poorly acquainted with such matters, and would but imperfectly appreciate his beauties, Mr Garland invited Mr Chuckster to partake of a slight repast in the way of lunch. That gentleman readily consenting, certain cold viands, flanked with ale and wine, were speedily prepared for his refreshment.

At this repast, Mr Chuckster exerted his utmost abilities to enchant his entertainers, and impress them with a conviction of the mental superiority of those who dwelt in town; with which view he led the discourse to the small scandal of the day, in which he was justly considered by his friends to shine prodigiously. Thus, he was in a condition to relate the exact circumstances of the difference between the Marquis of Mizzler and Lord Bobby, which it appeared originated in a disputed bottle of champagne, and not in a pigeon-pie, as erroneously reported in the newspapers; neither had Lord Bobby said to the Marquis of Mizzler, ‘Mizzler, one of us two tells a lie, and I’m not the man,’ as incorrectly stated by the same authorities; but ‘Mizzler, you know where I’m to be found, and damme, sir, find me if you want me’—which, of course, entirely changed the aspect of this interesting question, and placed it in a very different light. He also acquainted them with the precise amount of the income guaranteed by the Duke of Thigsberry to Violetta Stetta of the Italian Opera, which it appeared was payable quarterly, and not half-yearly, as the public had been given to understand, and which was exclusive, and not inclusive (as had been monstrously stated,) of jewellery, perfumery, hair-powder for five footmen, and two daily changes of kid-gloves for a page. Having entreated the old lady and gentleman to set their minds at rest on these absorbing points, for they might rely on his statement being the correct one, Mr Chuckster entertained them with theatrical chit-chat and the court circular; and so wound up a brilliant and fascinating conversation which he had maintained alone, and without any assistance whatever, for upwards of three-quarters of an hour.

‘And now that the nag has got his wind again,’ said Mr Chuckster rising in a graceful manner, ‘I’m afraid I must cut my stick.’

Neither Mr nor Mrs Garland offered any opposition to his tearing himself away (feeling, no doubt, that such a man could ill be spared from his proper sphere of action), and therefore Mr Chuckster and Kit were shortly afterwards upon their way to town; Kit being perched upon the box of the cabriolet beside the driver, and Mr Chuckster seated in solitary state inside, with one of his boots sticking out at each of the front windows.

When they reached the Notary’s house, Kit followed into the office, and was desired by Mr Abel to sit down and wait, for the gentleman who wanted him had gone out, and perhaps might not return for some time. This anticipation was strictly verified, for Kit had had his dinner, and his tea, and had read all the lighter matter in the Law-List, and the Post-Office Directory, and had fallen asleep a great many times, before the gentleman whom he had seen before, came in; which he did at last in a very great hurry.

He was closeted with Mr Witherden for some little time, and Mr Abel had been called in to assist at the conference, before Kit, wondering very much what he was wanted for, was summoned to attend them.

‘Christopher,’ said the gentleman, turning to him directly he entered the room, ‘I have found your old master and young mistress.’

‘No, Sir! Have you, though?’ returned Kit, his eyes sparkling with delight. ‘Where are they, Sir? How are they, Sir? Are they—are they near here?’

‘A long way from here,’ returned the gentleman, shaking his head. ‘But I am going away to-night to bring them back, and I want you to go with me.’

‘Me, Sir?’ cried Kit, full of joy and surprise.

‘The place,’ said the strange gentleman, turning thoughtfully to the Notary, ‘indicated by this man of the dogs, is—how far from here—sixty miles?’

‘From sixty to seventy.’

‘Humph! If we travel post all night, we shall reach there in good time to-morrow morning. Now, the only question is, as they will not know me, and the child, God bless her, would think that any stranger pursuing them had a design upon her grandfather’s liberty—can I do better than take this lad, whom they both know and will readily remember, as an assurance to them of my friendly intentions?’

‘Certainly not,’ replied the Notary. ‘Take Christopher by all means.’

‘I beg your pardon, Sir,’ said Kit, who had listened to this discourse with a lengthening countenance, ‘but if that’s the reason, I’m afraid I should do more harm than good—Miss Nell, Sir, she knows me, and would trust in me, I am sure; but old master—I don’t know why, gentlemen; nobody does—would not bear me in his sight after he had been ill, and Miss Nell herself told me that I must not go near him or let him see me any more. I should spoil all that you were doing if I went, I’m afraid. I’d give the world to go, but you had better not take me, Sir.’

‘Another difficulty!’ cried the impetuous gentleman. ‘Was ever man so beset as I? Is there nobody else that knew them, nobody else in whom they had any confidence? Solitary as their lives were, is there no one person who would serve my purpose?’

‘Is there, Christopher?’ said the Notary.

‘Not one, Sir,’ replied Kit.—‘Yes, though—there’s my mother.’

‘Did they know her?’ said the single gentleman.

‘Know her, Sir! why, she was always coming backwards and forwards. They were as kind to her as they were to me. Bless you, Sir, she expected they’d come back to her house.’

‘Then where the devil is the woman?’ said the impatient gentleman, catching up his hat. ‘Why isn’t she here? Why is that woman always out of the way when she is most wanted?’

In a word, the single gentleman was bursting out of the office, bent upon laying violent hands on Kit’s mother, forcing her into a post-chaise, and carrying her off, when this novel kind of abduction was with some difficulty prevented by the joint efforts of Mr Abel and the Notary, who restrained him by dint of their remonstrances, and persuaded him to sound Kit upon the probability of her being able and willing to undertake such a journey on so short a notice.

This occasioned some doubts on the part of Kit, and some violent demonstrations on that of the single gentleman, and a great many soothing speeches on that of the Notary and Mr Abel. The upshot of the business was, that Kit, after weighing the matter in his mind and considering it carefully, promised, on behalf of his mother, that she should be ready within two hours from that time to undertake the expedition, and engaged to produce her in that place, in all respects equipped and prepared for the journey, before the specified period had expired.

Having given this pledge, which was rather a bold one, and not particularly easy of redemption, Kit lost no time in sallying forth, and taking measures for its immediate fulfilment.