Part 11 out of 21
They came out with me directly to look at the boy. The servants
had gathered in the hall too, and he shivered in the window-seat
with Charley standing by him, like some wounded animal that had
been found in a ditch.
"This is a sorrowful case," said my guardian after asking him a
question or two and touching him and examining his eyes. "What do
you say, Harold?"
"You had better turn him out," said Mr. Skimpole.
"What do you mean?" inquired my guardian, almost sternly.
"My dear Jarndyce," said Mr. Skimpole, "you know what I am: I am a
child. Be cross to me if I deserve it. But I have a constitutional
objection to this sort of thing. I always had, when I was a medical
man. He's not safe, you know. There's a very bad sort of fever
Mr. Skimpole had retreated from the hall to the drawing-room again
and said this in his airy way, seated on the music-stool as we
"You'll say it's childish," observed Mr. Skimpole, looking gaily at
us. "Well, I dare say it may be; but I AM a child, and I never
pretend to be anything else. If you put him out in the road, you
only put him where he was before. He will be no worse off than he
was, you know. Even make him better off, if you like. Give him
sixpence, or five shillings, or five pound ten--you are
arithmeticians, and I am not--and get rid of him!"
"And what is he to do then?" asked my guardian.
"Upon my life," said Mr. Skimpole, shrugging his shoulders with his
engaging smile, "I have not the least idea what he is to do then.
But I have no doubt he'll do it."
"Now, is it not a horrible reflection," said my guardian, to whom I
had hastily explained the unavailing efforts of the two women, "is
it not a horrible reflection," walking up and down and rumpling his
hair, "that if this wretched creature were a convicted prisoner,
his hospital would be wide open to him, and he would be as well
taken care of as any sick boy in the kingdom?"
"My dear Jarndyce," returned Mr. Skimpole, "you'll pardon the
simplicity of the question, coming as it does from a creature who
is perfectly simple in worldly matters, but why ISN'T he a prisoner
My guardian stopped and looked at him with a whimsical mixture of
amusement and indignation in his face.
"Our young friend is not to be suspected of any delicacy, I should
imagine," said Mr. Skimpole, unabashed and candid. "It seems to me
that it would be wiser, as well as in a certain kind of way more
respectable, if he showed some misdirected energy that got him into
prison. There would be more of an adventurous spirit in it, and
consequently more of a certain sort of poetry."
"I believe," returned my guardian, resuming his uneasy walk, "that
there is not such another child on earth as yourself."
"Do you really?" said Mr. Skimpole. "I dare say! But I confess I
don't see why our young friend, in his degree, should not seek to
invest himself with such poetry as is open to him. He is no doubt
born with an appetite--probably, when he is in a safer state of
health, he has an excellent appetite. Very well. At our young
friend's natural dinner hour, most likely about noon, our young
friend says in effect to society, 'I am hungry; will you have the
goodness to produce your spoon and feed me?' Society, which has
taken upon itself the general arrangement of the whole system of
spoons and professes to have a spoon for our young friend, does NOT
produce that spoon; and our young friend, therefore, says 'You
really must excuse me if I seize it.' Now, this appears to me a
case of misdirected energy, which has a certain amount of reason in
it and a certain amount of romance; and I don't know but what I
should be more interested in our young friend, as an illustration
of such a case, than merely as a poor vagabond--which any one can
"In the meantime," I ventured to observe, "he is getting worse."
"In the meantime," said Mr. Skimpole cheerfully, "as Miss
Summerson, with her practical good sense, observes, he is getting
worse. Therefore I recommend your turning him out before he gets
The amiable face with which he said it, I think I shall never
"Of course, little woman," observed my guardian, turning to me, "I
can ensure his admission into the proper place by merely going
there to enforce it, though it's a bad state of things when, in his
condition, that is necessary. But it's growing late, and is a very
bad night, and the boy is worn out already. There is a bed in the
wholesome loft-room by the stable; we had better keep him there
till morning, when he can be wrapped up and removed. We'll do
"Oh!" said Mr. Skimpole, with his hands upon the keys of the piano
as we moved away. "Are you going back to our young friend?"
"Yes," said my guardian.
"How I envy you your constitution, Jarndyce!" returned Mr. Skimpole
with playful admiration. "You don't mind these things; neither
does Miss Summerson. You are ready at all times to go anywhere,
and do anything. Such is will! I have no will at all--and no
"You can't recommend anything for the boy, I suppose?" said my
guardian, looking back over his shoulder half angrily; only half
angrily, for he never seemed to consider Mr. Skimpole an
"My dear Jarndyce, I observed a bottle of cooling medicine in his
pocket, and it's impossible for him to do better than take it. You
can tell them to sprinkle a little vinegar about the place where he
sleeps and to keep it moderately cool and him moderately warm. But
it is mere impertinence in me to offer any recommendation. Miss
Summerson has such a knowledge of detail and such a capacity for
the administration of detail that she knows all about it."
We went back into the hall and explained to Jo what we proposed to
do, which Charley explained to him again and which he received with
the languid unconcern I had already noticed, wearily looking on at
what was done as if it were for somebody else. The servants
compassionating his miserable state and being very anxious to help,
we soon got the loft-room ready; and some of the men about the
house carried him across the wet yard, well wrapped up. It was
pleasant to observe how kind they were to him and how there
appeared to be a general impression among them that frequently
calling him "Old Chap" was likely to revive his spirits. Charley
directed the operations and went to and fro between the loft-room
and the house with such little stimulants and comforts as we
thought it safe to give him. My guardian himself saw him before he
was left for the night and reported to me when he returned to the
growlery to write a letter on the boy's behalf, which a messenger
was charged to deliver at day-light in the morning, that he seemed
easier and inclined to sleep. They had fastened his door on the
outside, he said, in case of his being delirious, but had so
arranged that he could not make any noise without being heard.
Ada being in our room with a cold, Mr. Skimpole was left alone all
this time and entertained himself by playing snatches of pathetic
airs and sometimes singing to them (as we heard at a distance) with
great expression and feeling. When we rejoined him in the drawing-
room he said he would give us a little ballad which had come into
his head "apropos of our young friend," and he sang one about a
"Thrown on the wide world, doomed to wander and roam,
Bereft of his parents, bereft of a home."
quite exquisitely. It was a song that always made him cry, he told
He was extremely gay all the rest of the evening, for he absolutely
chirped--those were his delighted words--when he thought by what a
happy talent for business he was surrounded. He gave us, in his
glass of negus, "Better health to our young friend!" and supposed
and gaily pursued the case of his being reserved like Whittington
to become Lord Mayor of London. In that event, no doubt, he would
establish the Jarndyce Institution and the Summerson Almshouses,
and a little annual Corporation Pilgrimage to St. Albans. He had
no doubt, he said, that our young friend was an excellent boy in
his way, but his way was not the Harold Skimpole way; what Harold
Skimpole was, Harold Skimpole had found himself, to his
considerable surprise, when he first made his own acquaintance; he
had accepted himself with all his failings and had thought it sound
philosophy to make the best of the bargain; and he hoped we would
do the same.
Charley's last report was that the boy was quiet. I could see,
from my window, the lantern they had left him burning quietly; and
I went to bed very happy to think that he was sheltered.
There was more movement and more talking than usual a little before
daybreak, and it awoke me. As I was dressing, I looked out of my
window and asked one of our men who had been among the active
sympathizers last night whether there was anything wrong about the
house. The lantern was still burning in the loft-window.
"It's the boy, miss," said he.
"Is he worse?" I inquired.
"Dead, miss? No. Gone clean off."
At what time of the night he had gone, or how, or why, it seemed
hopeless ever to divine. The door remaining as it had been left,
and the lantern standing in the window, it could only be supposed
that he had got out by a trap in the floor which communicated with
an empty cart-house below. But he had shut it down again, if that
were so; and it looked as if it had not been raised. Nothing of
any kind was missing. On this fact being clearly ascertained, we
all yielded to the painful belief that delirium had come upon him
in the night and that, allured by some imaginary object or pursued
by some imaginary horror, he had strayed away in that worse than
helpless state; all of us, that is to say, but Mr. Skimpole, who
repeatedly suggested, in his usual easy light style, that it had
occurred to our young friend that he was not a safe inmate, having
a bad kind of fever upon him, and that he had with great natural
politeness taken himself off.
Every possible inquiry was made, and every place was searched. The
brick-kilns were examined, the cottages were visited, the two women
were particularly questioned, but they knew nothing of him, and
nobody could doubt that their wonder was genuine. The weather had
for some time been too wet and the night itself had been too wet to
admit of any tracing by footsteps. Hedge and ditch, and wall, and
rick and stack, were examined by our men for a long distance round,
lest the boy should be lying in such a place insensible or dead;
but nothing was seen to indicate that he had ever been near. From
the time when he was left in the loft-room, he vanished.
The search continued for five days. I do not mean that it ceased
even then, but that my attention was then diverted into a current
very memorable to me.
As Charley was at her writing again in my room in the evening, and
as I sat opposite to her at work, I felt the table tremble.
Looking up, I saw my little maid shivering from head to foot.
"Charley," said I, "are you so cold?"
"I think I am, miss," she replied. "I don't know what it is. I
can't hold myself still. I felt so yesterday at about this same
time, miss. Don't be uneasy, I think I'm ill."
I heard Ada's voice outside, and I hurried to the door of
communication between my room and our pretty sitting-room, and
locked it. Just in time, for she tapped at it while my hand was
yet upon the key.
Ada called to me to let her in, but I said, "Not now, my dearest.
Go away. There's nothing the matter; I will come to you
presently." Ah! It was a long, long time before my darling girl
and I were companions again.
Charley fell ill. In twelve hours she was very ill. I moved her
to my room, and laid her in my bed, and sat down quietly to nurse
her. I told my guardian all about it, and why I felt it was
necessary that I should seclude myself, and my reason for not
seeing my darling above all. At first she came very often to the
door, and called to me, and even reproached me with sobs and tears;
but I wrote her a long letter saying that she made me anxious and
unhappy and imploring her, as she loved me and wished my mind to be
at peace, to come no nearer than the garden. After that she came
beneath the window even oftener than she had come to the door, and
if I had learnt to love her dear sweet voice before when we were
hardly ever apart, how did I learn to love it then, when I stood
behind the window-curtain listening and replying, but not so much
as looking out! How did I learn to love it afterwards, when the
harder time came!
They put a bed for me in our sitting-room; and by keeping the door
wide open, I turned the two rooms into one, now that Ada had
vacated that part of the house, and kept them always fresh and
airy. There was not a servant in or about the house but was so
good that they would all most gladly have come to me at any hour of
the day or night without the least fear or unwillingness, but I
thought it best to choose one worthy woman who was never to see Ada
and whom I could trust to come and go with all precaution. Through
her means I got out to take the air with my guardian when there was
no fear of meeting Ada, and wanted for nothing in the way of
attendance, any more than in any other respect.
And thus poor Charley sickened and grew worse, and fell into heavy
danger of death, and lay severely ill for many a long round of day
and night. So patient she was, so uncomplaining, and inspired by
such a gentle fortitude that very often as I sat by Charley holding
her head in my arms--repose would come to her, so, when it would
come to her in no other attitude--I silently prayed to our Father
in heaven that I might not forget the lesson which this little
sister taught me.
I was very sorrowful to think that Charley's pretty looks would
change and be disfigured, even if she recovered--she was such a
child with her dimpled face--but that thought was, for the greater
part, lost in her greater peril. When she was at the worst, and
her mind rambled again to the cares of her father's sick bed and
the little children, she still knew me so far as that she would be
quiet in my arms when she could lie quiet nowhere else, and murmur
out the wanderings of her mind less restlessly. At those times I
used to think, how should I ever tell the two remaining babies that
the baby who had learned of her faithful heart to be a mother to
them in their need was dead!
There were other times when Charley knew me well and talked to me,
telling me that she sent her love to Tom and Emma and that she was
sure Tom would grow up to be a good man. At those times Charley
would speak to me of what she had read to her father as well as she
could to comfort him, of that young man carried out to be buried
who was the only son of his mother and she was a widow, of the
ruler's daughter raised up by the gracious hand upon her bed of
death. And Charley told me that when her father died she had
kneeled down and prayed in her first sorrow that he likewise might
be raised up and given back to his poor children, and that if she
should never get better and should die too, she thought it likely
that it might come into Tom's mind to offer the same prayer for
her. Then would I show Tom how these people of old days had been
brought back to life on earth, only that we might know our hope to
be restored to heaven!
But of all the various times there were in Charley's illness, there
was not one when she lost the gentle qualities I have spoken of.
And there were many, many when I thought in the night of the last
high belief in the watching angel, and the last higher trust in
God, on the part of her poor despised father.
And Charley did not die. She flutteringly and slowly turned the
dangerous point, after long lingering there, and then began to
mend. The hope that never had been given, from the first, of
Charley being in outward appearance Charley any more soon began to
be encouraged; and even that prospered, and I saw her growing into
her old childish likeness again.
It was a great morning when I could tell Ada all this as she stood
out in the garden; and it was a great evening when Charley and I at
last took tea together in the next room. But on that same evening,
I felt that I was stricken cold.
Happily for both of us, it was not until Charley was safe in bed
again and placidly asleep that I began to think the contagion of
her illness was upon me. I had been able easily to hide what I
felt at tea-time, but I was past that already now, and I knew that
I was rapidly following in Charley's steps.
I was well enough, however, to be up early in the morning, and to
return my darling's cheerful blessing from the garden, and to talk
with her as long as usual. But I was not free from an impression
that I had been walking about the two rooms in the night, a little
beside myself, though knowing where I was; and I felt confused at
times--with a curious sense of fullness, as if I were becoming too
In the evening I was so much worse that I resolved to prepare
Charley, with which view I said, "You're getting quite strong,
Charley, are you not?'
"Oh, quite!" said Charley.
"Strong enough to be told a secret, I think, Charley?"
"Quite strong enough for that, miss!" cried Charley. But Charley's
face fell in the height of her delight, for she saw the secret in
MY face; and she came out of the great chair, and fell upon my
bosom, and said "Oh, miss, it's my doing! It's my doing!" and a
great deal more out of the fullness of her grateful heart.
"Now, Charley," said I after letting her go on for a little while,
"if I am to be ill, my great trust, humanly speaking, is in you.
And unless you are as quiet and composed for me as you always were
for yourself, you can never fulfil it, Charley."
"If you'll let me cry a little longer, miss," said Charley. "Oh,
my dear, my dear! If you'll only let me cry a little longer. Oh,
my dear!"--how affectionately and devotedly she poured this out as
she clung to my neck, I never can remember without tears--"I'll be
So I let Charley cry a little longer, and it did us both good.
"Trust in me now, if you please, miss," said Charley quietly. "I
am listening to everything you say."
"It's very little at present, Charley. I shall tell your doctor
to-night that I don't think I am well and that you are going to
For that the poor child thanked me with her whole heart. "And in
the morning, when you hear Miss Ada in the garden, if I should not
be quite able to go to the window-curtain as usual, do you go,
Charley, and say I am asleep--that I have rather tired myself, and
am asleep. At all times keep the room as I have kept it, Charley,
and let no one come."
Charley promised, and I lay down, for I was very heavy. I saw the
doctor that night and asked the favour of him that I wished to ask
relative to his saying nothing of my illness in the house as yet.
I have a very indistinct remembrance of that night melting into
day, and of day melting into night again; but I was just able on
the first morning to get to the window and speak to my darling.
On the second morning I heard her dear voice--Oh, how dear now!--
outside; and I asked Charley, with some difficulty (speech being
painful to me), to go and say I was asleep. I heard her answer
softly, "Don't disturb her, Charley, for the world!"
"How does my own Pride look, Charley?" I inquired.
"Disappointed, miss," said Charley, peeping through the curtain.
"But I know she is very beautiful this morning."
"She is indeed, miss," answered Charley, peeping. "Still looking
up at the window."
With her blue clear eyes, God bless them, always loveliest when
raised like that!
I called Charley to me and gave her her last charge.
"Now, Charley, when she knows I am ill, she will try to make her
way into the room. Keep her out, Charley, if you love me truly, to
the last! Charley, if you let her in but once, only to look upon
me for one moment as I lie here, I shall die."
"I never will! I never will!" she promised me.
"I believe it, my dear Charley. And now come and sit beside me for
a little while, and touch me with your hand. For I cannot see you,
Charley; I am blind."
The Appointed Time
It is night in Lincoln's Inn--perplexed and troublous valley of the
shadow of the law, where suitors generally find but little day--and
fat candles are snuffed out in offices, and clerks have rattled
down the crazy wooden stairs and dispersed. The bell that rings at
nine o'clock has ceased its doleful clangour about nothing; the
gates are shut; and the night-porter, a solemn warder with a mighty
power of sleep, keeps guard in his lodge. From tiers of staircase
windows clogged lamps like the eyes of Equity, bleared Argus with a
fathomless pocket for every eye and an eye upon it, dimly blink at
the stars. In dirty upper casements, here and there, hazy little
patches of candlelight reveal where some wise draughtsman and
conveyancer yet toils for the entanglement of real estate in meshes
of sheep-skin, in the average ratio of about a dozen of sheep to an
acre of land. Over which bee-like industry these benefactors of
their species linger yet, though office-hours be past, that they
may give, for every day, some good account at last.
In the neighbouring court, where the Lord Chancellor of the rag and
bottle shop dwells, there is a general tendency towards beer and
supper. Mrs. Piper and Mrs. Perkins, whose respective sons,
engaged with a circle of acquaintance in the game of hide and seek,
have been lying in ambush about the by-ways of Chancery Lane for
some hours and scouring the plain of the same thoroughfare to the
confusion of passengers--Mrs. Piper and Mrs. Perkins have but now
exchanged congratulations on the children being abed, and they
still linger on a door-step over a few parting words. Mr. Krook
and his lodger, and the fact of Mr. Krook's being "continually in
liquor," and the testamentary prospects of the young man are, as
usual, the staple of their conversation. But they have something
to say, likewise, of the Harmonic Meeting at the Sol's Arms, where
the sound of the piano through the partly opened windows jingles
out into the court, and where Little Swills, after keeping the
lovers of harmony in a roar like a very Yorick, may now be heard
taking the gruff line in a concerted piece and sentimentally
adjuring his friends and patrons to "Listen, listen, listen, tew
the wa-ter fall!" Mrs. Perkins and Mrs. Piper compare opinions on
the subject of the young lady of professional celebrity who assists
at the Harmonic Meetings and who has a space to herself in the
manuscript announcement in the window, Mrs. Perkins possessing
information that she has been married a year and a half, though
announced as Miss M. Melvilleson, the noted siren, and that her
baby is clandestinely conveyed to the Sol's Arms every night to
receive its natural nourishment during the entertainments. "Sooner
than which, myself," says Mrs. Perkins, "I would get my living by
selling lucifers." Mrs. Piper, as in duty bound, is of the same
opinion, holding that a private station is better than public
applause, and thanking heaven for her own (and, by implication,
Mrs. Perkins') respectability. By this time the pot-boy of the
Sol's Arms appearing with her supper-pint well frothed, Mrs. Piper
accepts that tankard and retires indoors, first giving a fair good
night to Mrs. Perkins, who has had her own pint in her hand ever
since it was fetched from the same hostelry by young Perkins before
he was sent to bed. Now there is a sound of putting up shop-
shutters in the court and a smell as of the smoking of pipes; and
shooting stars are seen in upper windows, further indicating
retirement to rest. Now, too, the policeman begins to push at
doors; to try fastenings; to be suspicious of bundles; and to
administer his beat, on the hypothesis that every one is either
robbing or being robbed.
It is a close night, though the damp cold is searching too, and
there is a laggard mist a little way up in the air. It is a fine
steaming night to turn the slaughter-houses, the unwholesome
trades, the sewerage, bad water, and burial-grounds to account, and
give the registrar of deaths some extra business. It may be
something in the air--there is plenty in it--or it may be something
in himself that is in fault; but Mr. Weevle, otherwise Jobling, is
very ill at ease. He comes and goes between his own room and the
open street door twenty times an hour. He has been doing so ever
since it fell dark. Since the Chancellor shut up his shop, which
he did very early to-night, Mr. Weevle has been down and up, and
down and up (with a cheap tight velvet skull-cap on his head,
making his whiskers look out of all proportion), oftener than
It is no phenomenon that Mr. Snagsby should be ill at ease too, for
he always is so, more or less, under the oppressive influence of
the secret that is upon him. Impelled by the mystery of which he
is a partaker and yet in which he is not a sharer, Mr. Snagsby
haunts what seems to be its fountain-head--the rag and bottle shop
in the court. It has an irresistible attraction for him. Even
now, coming round by the Sol's Arms with the intention of passing
down the court, and out at the Chancery Lane end, and so
terminating his unpremeditated after-supper stroll of ten minutes'
long from his own door and back again, Mr. Snagsby approaches.
"What, Mr. Weevle?" says the stationer, stopping to speak. "Are
"Aye!" says Weevle, "Here I am, Mr. Snagsby."
"Airing yourself, as I am doing, before you go to bed?" the
"Why, there's not much air to be got here; and what there is, is
not very freshening," Weevle answers, glancing up and down the
"Very true, sir. Don't you observe," says Mr. Snagsby, pausing to
sniff and taste the air a little, "don't you observe, Mr. Weevle,
that you're--not to put too fine a point upon it--that you're
rather greasy here, sir?"
"Why, I have noticed myself that there is a queer kind of flavour
in the place to-night," Mr. Weevle rejoins. "I suppose it's chops
at the Sol's Arms."
"Chops, do you think? Oh! Chops, eh?" Mr. Snagsby sniffs and
tastes again. "Well, sir, I suppose it is. But I should say their
cook at the Sol wanted a little looking after. She has been
burning 'em, sir! And I don't think"--Mr. Snagsby sniffs and
tastes again and then spits and wipes his mouth--"I don't think--
not to put too fine a point upon it--that they were quite fresh
when they were shown the gridiron."
"That's very likely. It's a tainting sort of weather."
"It IS a tainting sort of weather," says Mr. Snagsby, "and I find
it sinking to the spirits."
"By George! I find it gives me the horrors," returns Mr. Weevle.
"Then, you see, you live in a lonesome way, and in a lonesome room,
with a black circumstance hanging over it," says Mr. Snagsby,
looking in past the other's shoulder along the dark passage and
then falling back a step to look up at the house. "I couldn't live
in that room alone, as you do, sir. I should get so fidgety and
worried of an evening, sometimes, that I should be driven to come
to the door and stand here sooner than sit there. But then it's
very true that you didn't see, in your room, what I saw there.
That makes a difference."
"I know quite enough about it," returns Tony.
"It's not agreeable, is it?" pursues Mr. Snagsby, coughing his
cough of mild persuasion behind his hand. "Mr. Krook ought to
consider it in the rent. I hope he does, I am sure."
"I hope he does," says Tony. "But I doubt it."
"You find the rent too high, do you, sir?" returns the stationer.
"Rents ARE high about here. I don't know how it is exactly, but
the law seems to put things up in price. Not," adds Mr. Snagsby
with his apologetic cough, "that I mean to say a word against the
profession I get my living by."
Mr. Weevle again glances up and down the court and then looks at
the stationer. Mr. Snagsby, blankly catching his eye, looks upward
for a star or so and coughs a cough expressive of not exactly
seeing his way out of this conversation.
"It's a curious fact, sir," he observes, slowly rubbing his hands,
"that he should have been--"
"Who's he?" interrupts Mr. Weevle.
"The deceased, you know," says Mr. Snagsby, twitching his head and
right eyebrow towards the staircase and tapping his acquaintance on
"Ah, to be sure!" returns the other as if he were not over-fond of
the subject. "I thought we had done with him."
"I was only going to say it's a curious fact, sir, that he should
have come and lived here, and been one of my writers, and then that
you should come and live here, and be one of my writers too. Which
there is nothing derogatory, but far from it in the appellation,"
says Mr. Snagsby, breaking off with a mistrust that he may have
unpolitely asserted a kind of proprietorship in Mr. Weevle,
"because I have known writers that have gone into brewers' houses
and done really very respectable indeed. Eminently respectable,
sir," adds Mr. Snagsby with a misgiving that he has not improved
"It's a curious coincidence, as you say," answers Weevle, once more
glancing up and down the court.
"Seems a fate in it, don't there?" suggests the stationer.
"Just so," observes the stationer with his confirmatory cough.
"Quite a fate in it. Quite a fate. Well, Mr. Weevle, I am afraid
I must bid you good night"--Mr. Snagsby speaks as if it made him
desolate to go, though he has been casting about for any means of
escape ever since he stopped to speak--"my little woman will be
looking for me else. Good night, sir!"
If Mr. Snagsby hastens home to save his little woman the trouble of
looking for him, he might set his mind at rest on that score. His
little woman has had her eye upon him round the Sol's Arms all this
time and now glides after him with a pocket handkerchief wrapped
over her head, honouring Mr. Weevle and his doorway with a searching
glance as she goes past.
"You'll know me again, ma'am, at all events," says Mr. Weevle to
himself; "and I can't compliment you on your appearance, whoever
you are, with your head tied up in a bundle. Is this fellow NEVER
This fellow approaches as he speaks. Mr. Weevle softly holds up
his finger, and draws him into the passage, and closes the street
door. Then they go upstairs, Mr. Weevle heavily, and Mr. Guppy
(for it is he) very lightly indeed. When they are shut into the
back room, they speak low.
"I thought you had gone to Jericho at least instead of coming
here," says Tony.
"Why, I said about ten."
"You said about ten," Tony repeats. "Yes, so you did say about
ten. But according to my count, it's ten times ten--it's a hundred
o'clock. I never had such a night in my life!"
"What has been the matter?"
"That's it!" says Tony. "Nothing has been the matter. But here
have I been stewing and fuming in this jolly old crib till I have
had the horrors falling on me as thick as hail. THERE'S a blessed-
looking candle!" says Tony, pointing to the heavily burning taper
on his table with a great cabbage head and a long winding-sheet.
"That's easily improved," Mr. Guppy observes as he takes the
snuffers in hand.
"IS it?" returns his friend. "Not so easily as you think. It has
been smouldering like that ever since it was lighted."
"Why, what's the matter with you, Tony?" inquires Mr. Guppy,
looking at him, snuffers in hand, as he sits down with his elbow on
"William Guppy," replies the other, "I am in the downs. It's this
unbearably dull, suicidal room--and old Boguey downstairs, I
suppose." Mr. Weevle moodily pushes the snuffers-tray from him
with his elbow, leans his head on his hand, puts his feet on the
fender, and looks at the fire. Mr. Guppy, observing him, slightly
tosses his head and sits down on the other side of the table in an
"Wasn't that Snagsby talking to you, Tony?"
"Yes, and he--yes, it was Snagsby," said Mr. Weevle, altering the
construction of his sentence.
"No. No business. He was only sauntering by and stopped to
"I thought it was Snagsby," says Mr. Guppy, "and thought it as well
that he shouldn't see me, so I waited till he was gone."
"There we go again, William G.!" cried Tony, looking up for an
instant. "So mysterious and secret! By George, if we were going
to commit a murder, we couldn't have more mystery about it!"
Mr. Guppy affects to smile, and with the view of changing the
conversation, looks with an admiration, real or pretended, round
the room at the Galaxy Gallery of British Beauty, terminating his
survey with the portrait of Lady Dedlock over the mantelshelf, in
which she is represented on a terrace, with a pedestal upon the
terrace, and a vase upon the pedestal, and her shawl upon the vase,
and a prodigious piece of fur upon the shawl, and her arm on the
prodigious piece of fur, and a bracelet on her arm.
"That's very like Lady Dedlock," says Mr. Guppy. "It's a speaking
"I wish it was," growls Tony, without changing his position. "I
should have some fashionable conversation, here, then."
Finding by this time that his friend is not to be wheedled into a
more sociable humour, Mr. Guppy puts about upon the ill-used tack
and remonstrates with him.
"Tony," says he, "I can make allowances for lowness of spirits, for
no man knows what it is when it does come upon a man better than I
do, and no man perhaps has a better right to know it than a man who
has an unrequited image imprinted on his 'eart. But there are
bounds to these things when an unoffending party is in question,
and I will acknowledge to you, Tony, that I don't think your manner
on the present occasion is hospitable or quite gentlemanly."
"This is strong language, William Guppy," returns Mr. Weevle.
"Sir, it may be," retorts Mr. William Guppy, "but I feel strongly
when I use it."
Mr. Weevle admits that he has been wrong and begs Mr. William Guppy
to think no more about it. Mr. William Guppy, however, having got
the advantage, cannot quite release it without a little more
"No! Dash it, Tony," says that gentleman, "you really ought to be
careful how you wound the feelings of a man who has an unrequited
image imprinted on his 'eart and who is NOT altogether happy in
those chords which vibrate to the tenderest emotions. You, Tony,
possess in yourself all that is calculated to charm the eye and
allure the taste. It is not--happily for you, perhaps, and I may
wish that I could say the same--it is not your character to hover
around one flower. The ole garden is open to you, and your airy
pinions carry you through it. Still, Tony, far be it from me, I am
sure, to wound even your feelings without a cause!"
Tony again entreats that the subject may be no longer pursued,
saying emphatically, "William Guppy, drop it!" Mr. Guppy
acquiesces, with the reply, "I never should have taken it up, Tony,
of my own accord."
"And now," says Tony, stirring the fire, "touching this same bundle
of letters. Isn't it an extraordinary thing of Krook to have
appointed twelve o'clock to-night to hand 'em over to me?"
"Very. What did he do it for?"
"What does he do anything for? HE don't know. Said to-day was his
birthday and he'd hand 'em over to-night at twelve o'clock. He'll
have drunk himself blind by that time. He has been at it all day."
"He hasn't forgotten the appointment, I hope?"
"Forgotten? Trust him for that. He never forgets anything. I saw
him to-night, about eight--helped him to shut up his shop--and he
had got the letters then in his hairy cap. He pulled it off and
showed 'em me. When the shop was closed, he took them out of his
cap, hung his cap on the chair-back, and stood turning them over
before the fire. I heard him a little while afterwards, through
the floor here, humming like the wind, the only song he knows--
about Bibo, and old Charon, and Bibo being drunk when he died, or
something or other. He has been as quiet since as an old rat
asleep in his hole."
"And you are to go down at twelve?"
"At twelve. And as I tell you, when you came it seemed to me a
"Tony," says Mr. Guppy after considering a little with his legs
crossed, "he can't read yet, can he?"
"Read! He'll never read. He can make all the letters separately,
and he knows most of them separately when he sees them; he has got
on that much, under me; but he can't put them together. He's too
old to acquire the knack of it now--and too drunk."
"Tony," says Mr. Guppy, uncrossing and recrossing his legs, "how do
you suppose he spelt out that name of Hawdon?"
"He never spelt it out. You know what a curious power of eye he
has and how he has been used to employ himself in copying things by
eye alone. He imitated it, evidently from the direction of a
letter, and asked me what it meant."
"Tony," says Mr. Guppy, uncrossing and recrossing his legs again,
"should you say that the original was a man's writing or a
"A woman's. Fifty to one a lady's--slopes a good deal, and the end
of the letter 'n,' long and hasty."
Mr. Guppy has been biting his thumb-nail during this dialogue,
generally changing the thumb when he has changed the cross leg. As
he is going to do so again, he happens to look at his coat-sleeve.
It takes his attention. He stares at it, aghast.
"Why, Tony, what on earth is going on in this house to-night? Is
there a chimney on fire?"
"Chimney on fire!"
"Ah!" returns Mr. Guppy. "See how the soot's falling. See here,
on my arm! See again, on the table here! Confound the stuff, it
won't blow off--smears like black fat!"
They look at one another, and Tony goes listening to the door, and
a little way upstairs, and a little way downstairs. Comes back and
says it's all right and all quiet, and quotes the remark he lately
made to Mr. Snagsby about their cooking chops at the Sol's Arms.
"And it was then," resumes Mr. Guppy, still glancing with
remarkable aversion at the coat-sleeve, as they pursue their
conversation before the fire, leaning on opposite sides of the
table, with their heads very near together, "that he told you of
his having taken the bundle of letters from his lodger's
"That was the time, sir," answers Tony, faintly adjusting his
whiskers. "Whereupon I wrote a line to my dear boy, the Honourable
William Guppy, informing him of the appointment for to-night and
advising him not to call before, Boguey being a slyboots."
The light vivacious tone of fashionable life which is usually
assumed by Mr. Weevle sits so ill upon him to-night that he
abandons that and his whiskers together, and after looking over his
shoulder, appears to yield himself up a prey to the horrors again.
"You are to bring the letters to your room to read and compare, and
to get yourself into a position to tell him all about them. That's
the arrangement, isn't it, Tony?" asks Mr. Guppy, anxiously biting
"You can't speak too low. Yes. That's what he and I agreed."
"I tell you what, Tony--"
"You can't speak too low," says Tony once more. Mr. Guppy nods his
sagacious head, advances it yet closer, and drops into a whisper.
"I tell you what. The first thing to be done is to make another
packet like the real one so that if he should ask to see the real
one while it's in my possession, you can show him the dummy."
"And suppose he detects the dummy as soon as he sees it, which with
his biting screw of an eye is about five hundred times more likely
than not," suggests Tony.
"Then we'll face it out. They don't belong to him, and they never
did. You found that, and you placed them in my hands--a legal
friend of yours--for security. If he forces us to it, they'll be
producible, won't they?"
"Ye-es," is Mr. Weevle's reluctant admission.
"Why, Tony," remonstrates his friend, "how you look! You don't
doubt William Guppy? You don't suspect any harm?"
"I don't suspect anything more than I know, William," returns the
"And what do you know?" urges Mr. Guppy, raising his voice a
little; but on his friend's once more warning him, "I tell you, you
can't speak too low," he repeats his question without any sound at
all, forming with his lips only the words, "What do you know?"
"I know three things. First, I know that here we are whispering in
secrecy, a pair of conspirators."
"Well!" says Mr. Guppy. "And we had better be that than a pair of
noodles, which we should be if we were doing anything else, for
it's the only way of doing what we want to do. Secondly?"
"Secondly, it's not made out to me how it's likely to be
profitable, after all."
Mr. Guppy casts up his eyes at the portrait of Lady Dedlock over
the mantelshelf and replies, "Tony, you are asked to leave that to
the honour of your friend. Besides its being calculated to serve
that friend in those chords of the human mind which--which need not
be called into agonizing vibration on the present occasion--your
friend is no fool. What's that?"
"It's eleven o'clock striking by the bell of Saint Paul's. Listen
and you'll hear all the bells in the city jangling."
Both sit silent, listening to the metal voices, near and distant,
resounding from towers of various heights, in tones more various
than their situations. When these at length cease, all seems more
mysterious and quiet than before. One disagreeable result of
whispering is that it seems to evoke an atmosphere of silence,
haunted by the ghosts of sound--strange cracks and tickings, the
rustling of garments that have no substance in them, and the tread
of dreadful feet that would leave no mark on the sea-sand or the
winter snow. So sensitive the two friends happen to be that the
air is full of these phantoms, and the two look over their
shoulders by one consent to see that the door is shut.
"Yes, Tony?" says Mr. Guppy, drawing nearer to the fire and biting
his unsteady thumb-nail. "You were going to say, thirdly?"
"It's far from a pleasant thing to be plotting about a dead man in
the room where he died, especially when you happen to live in it."
"But we are plotting nothing against him, Tony."
"May be not, still I don't like it. Live here by yourself and see
how YOU like it."
"As to dead men, Tony," proceeds Mr. Guppy, evading this proposal,
"there have been dead men in most rooms."
"I know there have, but in most rooms you let them alone, and--and
they let you alone," Tony answers.
The two look at each other again. Mr. Guppy makes a hurried remark
to the effect that they may be doing the deceased a service, that
he hopes so. There is an oppressive blank until Mr. Weevle, by
stirring the fire suddenly, makes Mr. Guppy start as if his heart
had been stirred instead.
"Fah! Here's more of this hateful soot hanging about," says he.
"Let us open the window a bit and get a mouthful of air. It's too
He raises the sash, and they both rest on the window-sill, half in
and half out of the room. The neighbouring houses are too near to
admit of their seeing any sky without craning their necks and
looking up, but lights in frowsy windows here and there, and the
rolling of distant carriages, and the new expression that there is
of the stir of men, they find to be comfortable. Mr. Guppy,
noiselessly tapping on the window-sill, resumes his whispering in
quite a light-comedy tone.
"By the by, Tony, don't forget old Smallweed," meaning the younger
of that name. "I have not let him into this, you know. That
grandfather of his is too keen by half. It runs in the family."
"I remember," says Tony. "I am up to all that."
"And as to Krook," resumes Mr. Guppy. "Now, do you suppose he
really has got hold of any other papers of importance, as he has
boasted to you, since you have been such allies?"
Tony shakes his head. "I don't know. Can't Imagine. If we get
through this business without rousing his suspicions, I shall be
better informed, no doubt. How can I know without seeing them,
when he don't know himself? He is always spelling out words from
them, and chalking them over the table and the shop-wall, and
asking what this is and what that is; but his whole stock from
beginning to end may easily be the waste-paper he bought it as, for
anything I can say. It's a monomania with him to think he is
possessed of documents. He has been going to learn to read them
this last quarter of a century, I should judge, from what he tells
"How did he first come by that idea, though? That's the question,"
Mr. Guppy suggests with one eye shut, after a little forensic
meditation. "He may have found papers in something he bought,
where papers were not supposed to be, and may have got it into his
shrewd head from the manner and place of their concealment that
they are worth something."
"Or he may have been taken in, in some pretended bargain. Or he
may have been muddled altogether by long staring at whatever he HAS
got, and by drink, and by hanging about the Lord Chancellor's Court
and hearing of documents for ever," returns Mr. Weevle.
Mr. Guppy sitting on the window-sill, nodding his head and
balancing all these possibilities in his mind, continues
thoughtfully to tap it, and clasp it, and measure it with his hand,
until he hastily draws his hand away.
"What, in the devil's name," he says, "is this! Look at my
A thick, yellow liquor defiles them, which is offensive to the
touch and sight and more offensive to the smell. A stagnant,
sickening oil with some natural repulsion in it that makes them
"What have you been doing here? What have you been pouring out of
"I pouring out of window! Nothing, I swear! Never, since I have
been here!" cries the lodger.
And yet look here--and look here! When he brings the candle here,
from the corner of the window-sill, it slowly drips and creeps away
down the bricks, here lies in a little thick nauseous pool.
"This is a horrible house," says Mr. Guppy, shutting down the
window. "Give me some water or I shall cut my hand off."
He so washes, and rubs, and scrubs, and smells, and washes, that he
has not long restored himself with a glass of brandy and stood
silently before the fire when Saint Paul's bell strikes twelve and
all those other bells strike twelve from their towers of various
heights in the dark air, and in their many tones. When all is
quiet again, the lodger says, "It's the appointed time at last.
Shall I go?"
Mr. Guppy nods and gives him a "lucky touch" on the back, but not
with the washed hand, though it is his right hand.
He goes downstairs, and Mr. Guppy tries to compose himself before
the fire for waiting a long time. But in no more than a minute or
two the stairs creak and Tony comes swiftly back.
"Have you got them?"
"Got them! No. The old man's not there."
He has been so horribly frightened in the short interval that his
terror seizes the other, who makes a rush at him and asks loudly,
"What's the matter?"
"I couldn't make him hear, and I softly opened the door and looked
in. And the burning smell is there--and the soot is there, and the
oil is there--and he is not there!" Tony ends this with a groan.
Mr. Guppy takes the light. They go down, more dead than alive, and
holding one another, push open the door of the back shop. The cat
has retreated close to it and stands snarling, not at them, at
something on the ground before the fire. There is a very little
fire left in the grate, but there is a smouldering, suffocating
vapour in the room and a dark, greasy coating on the walls and
ceiling. The chairs and table, and the bottle so rarely absent
from the table, all stand as usual. On one chair-back hang the old
man's hairy cap and coat.
"Look!" whispers the lodger, pointing his friend's attention to
these objects with a trembling finger. "I told you so. When I saw
him last, he took his cap off, took out the little bundle of old
letters, hung his cap on the back of the chair--his coat was there
already, for he had pulled that off before he went to put the
shutters up--and I left him turning the letters over in his hand,
standing just where that crumbled black thing is upon the floor."
Is he hanging somewhere? They look up. No.
"See!" whispers Tony. "At the foot of the same chair there lies a
dirty bit of thin red cord that they tie up pens with. That went
round the letters. He undid it slowly, leering and laughing at me,
before he began to turn them over, and threw it there. I saw it
"What's the matter with the cat?" says Mr. Guppy. "Look at her!"
"Mad, I think. And no wonder in this evil place."
They advance slowly, looking at all these things. The cat remains
where they found her, still snarling at the something on the ground
before the fire and between the two chairs. What is it? Hold up
Here is a small burnt patch of flooring; here is the tinder from a
little bundle of burnt paper, but not so light as usual, seeming to
be steeped in something; and here is--is it the cinder of a small
charred and broken log of wood sprinkled with white ashes, or is it
coal? Oh, horror, he IS here! And this from which we run away,
striking out the light and overturning one another into the street,
is all that represents him.
Help, help, help! Come into this house for heaven's sake! Plenty
will come in, but none can help. The Lord Chancellor of that
court, true to his title in his last act, has died the death of all
lord chancellors in all courts and of all authorities in all places
under all names soever, where false pretences are made, and where
injustice is done. Call the death by any name your Highness will,
attribute it to whom you will, or say it might have been prevented
how you will, it is the same death eternally--inborn, inbred,
engendered in the corrupted humours of the vicious body itself, and
that only--spontaneous combustion, and none other of all the deaths
that can be died.
Now do those two gentlemen not very neat about the cuffs and
buttons who attended the last coroner's inquest at the Sol's Arms
reappear in the precincts with surprising swiftness (being, in
fact, breathlessly fetched by the active and intelligent beadle),
and institute perquisitions through the court, and dive into the
Sol's parlour, and write with ravenous little pens on tissue-paper.
Now do they note down, in the watches of the night, how the
neighbourhood of Chancery Lane was yesterday, at about midnight,
thrown into a state of the most intense agitation and excitement by
the following alarming and horrible discovery. Now do they set
forth how it will doubtless be remembered that some time back a
painful sensation was created in the public mind by a case of
mysterious death from opium occurring in the first floor of the
house occupied as a rag, bottle, and general marine store shop, by
an eccentric individual of intemperate habits, far advanced in
life, named Krook; and how, by a remarkable coincidence, Krook was
examined at the inquest, which it may be recollected was held on
that occasion at the Sol's Arms, a well-conducted tavern
immediately adjoining the premises in question on the west side and
licensed to a highly respectable landlord, Mr. James George Bogsby.
Now do they show (in as many words as possible) how during some
hours of yesterday evening a very peculiar smell was observed by
the inhabitants of the court, in which the tragical occurrence
which forms the subject of that present account transpired; and
which odour was at one time so powerful that Mr. Swills, a comic
vocalist professionally engaged by Mr. J. G. Bogsby, has himself
stated to our reporter that he mentioned to Miss M. Melvilleson, a
lady of some pretensions to musical ability, likewise engaged by
Mr. J. G. Bogsby to sing at a series of concerts called Harmonic
Assemblies, or Meetings, which it would appear are held at the
Sol's Arms under Mr. Bogsby's direction pursuant to the Act of
George the Second, that he (Mr. Swills) found his voice seriously
affected by the impure state of the atmosphere, his jocose
expression at the time being that he was like an empty post-office,
for he hadn't a single note in him. How this account of Mr. Swills
is entirely corroborated by two intelligent married females
residing in the same court and known respectively by the names of
Mrs. Piper and Mrs. Perkins, both of whom observed the foetid
effluvia and regarded them as being emitted from the premises in
the occupation of Krook, the unfortunate deceased. All this and a
great deal more the two gentlemen who have formed an amicable
partnership in the melancholy catastrophe write down on the spot;
and the boy population of the court (out of bed in a moment) swarm
up the shutters of the Sol's Arms parlour, to behold the tops of
their heads while they are about it.
The whole court, adult as well as boy, is sleepless for that night,
and can do nothing but wrap up its many heads, and talk of the ill-
fated house, and look at it. Miss Flite has been bravely rescued
from her chamber, as if it were in flames, and accommodated with a
bed at the Sol's Arms. The Sol neither turns off its gas nor shuts
its door all night, for any kind of public excitement makes good
for the Sol and causes the court to stand in need of comfort. The
house has not done so much in the stomachic article of cloves or in
brandy-and-water warm since the inquest. The moment the pot-boy
heard what had happened, he rolled up his shirt-sleeves tight to
his shoulders and said, "There'll be a run upon us!" In the first
outcry, young Piper dashed off for the fire-engines and returned in
triumph at a jolting gallop perched up aloft on the Phoenix and
holding on to that fabulous creature with all his might in the
midst of helmets and torches. One helmet remains behind after
careful investigation of all chinks and crannies and slowly paces
up and down before the house in company with one of the two
policemen who have likewise been left in charge thereof. To this
trio everybody in the court possessed of sixpence has an insatiate
desire to exhibit hospitality in a liquid form.
Mr. Weevle and his friend Mr. Guppy are within the bar at the Sol
and are worth anything to the Sol that the bar contains if they
will only stay there. "This is not a time," says Mr. Bogsby, "to
haggle about money," though he looks something sharply after it,
over the counter; "give your orders, you two gentlemen, and you're
welcome to whatever you put a name to."
Thus entreated, the two gentlemen (Mr. Weevle especially) put names
to so many things that in course of time they find it difficult to
put a name to anything quite distinctly, though they still relate
to all new-comers some version of the night they have had of it,
and of what they said, and what they thought, and what they saw.
Meanwhile, one or other of the policemen often flits about the
door, and pushing it open a little way at the full length of his
arm, looks in from outer gloom. Not that he has any suspicions,
but that he may as well know what they are up to in there.
Thus night pursues its leaden course, finding the court still out
of bed through the unwonted hours, still treating and being
treated, still conducting itself similarly to a court that has had
a little money left it unexpectedly. Thus night at length with
slow-retreating steps departs, and the lamp-lighter going his
rounds, like an executioner to a despotic king, strikes off the
little heads of fire that have aspired to lessen the darkness.
Thus the day cometh, whether or no.
And the day may discern, even with its dim London eye, that the
court has been up all night. Over and above the faces that have
fallen drowsily on tables and the heels that lie prone on hard
floors instead of beds, the brick and mortar physiognomy of the
very court itself looks worn and jaded. And now the neighbourhood,
waking up and beginning to hear of what has happened, comes
streaming in, half dressed, to ask questions; and the two policemen
and the helmet (who are far less impressible externally than the
court) have enough to do to keep the door.
"Good gracious, gentlemen!" says Mr. Snagsby, coming up. "What's
this I hear!"
"Why, it's true," returns one of the policemen. "That's what it
is. Now move on here, come!"
"Why, good gracious, gentlemen," says Mr. Snagsby, somewhat
promptly backed away, "I was at this door last night betwixt ten
and eleven o'clock in conversation with the young man who lodges
"Indeed?" returns the policeman. "You will find the young man next
door then. Now move on here, some of you,"
"Not hurt, I hope?" says Mr. Snagsby.
"Hurt? No. What's to hurt him!"
Mr. Snagsby, wholly unable to answer this or any question in his
troubled mind, repairs to the Sol's Arms and finds Mr. Weevle
languishing over tea and toast with a considerable expression on
him of exhausted excitement and exhausted tobacco-smoke.
"And Mr. Guppy likewise!" quoth Mr. Snagsby. "Dear, dear, dear!
What a fate there seems in all this! And my lit--"
Mr. Snagsby's power of speech deserts him in the formation of the
words "my little woman." For to see that injured female walk into
the Sol's Arms at that hour of the morning and stand before the
beer-engine, with her eyes fixed upon him like an accusing spirit,
strikes him dumb.
"My dear," says Mr. Snagsby when his tongue is loosened, "will you
take anything? A little--not to put too fine a point upon it--drop
"No," says Mrs. Snagsby.
"My love, you know these two gentlemen?"
"Yes!" says Mrs. Snagsby, and in a rigid manner acknowledges their
presence, still fixing Mr. Snagsby with her eye.
The devoted Mr. Snagsby cannot bear this treatment. He takes Mrs.
Snagsby by the hand and leads her aside to an adjacent cask.
"My little woman, why do you look at me in that way? Pray don't do
"I can't help my looks," says Mrs. Snagsby, "and if I could I
Mr. Snagsby, with his cough of meekness, rejoins, "Wouldn't you
really, my dear?" and meditates. Then coughs his cough of trouble
and says, "This is a dreadful mystery, my love!" still fearfully
disconcerted by Mrs. Snagsby's eye.
"It IS," returns Mrs. Snagsby, shaking her head, "a dreadful
"My little woman," urges Mr. Snagsby in a piteous manner, "don't
for goodness' sake speak to me with that bitter expression and look
at me in that searching way! I beg and entreat of you not to do
it. Good Lord, you don't suppose that I would go spontaneously
combusting any person, my dear?"
"I can't say," returns Mrs. Snagsby.
On a hasty review of his unfortunate position, Mr. Snagsby "can't
say" either. He is not prepared positively to deny that he may
have had something to do with it. He has had something--he don't
know what--to do with so much in this connexion that is mysterious
that it is possible he may even be implicated, without knowing it,
in the present transaction. He faintly wipes his forehead with his
handkerchief and gasps.
"My life," says the unhappy stationer, "would you have any
objections to mention why, being in general so delicately
circumspect in your conduct, you come into a wine-vaults before
"Why do YOU come here?" inquires Mrs. Snagsby.
"My dear, merely to know the rights of the fatal accident which has
happened to the venerable party who has been--combusted." Mr.
Snagsby has made a pause to suppress a groan. "I should then have
related them to you, my love, over your French roll."
"I dare say you would! You relate everything to me, Mr. Snagsby."
"I should be glad," says Mrs. Snagsby after contemplating his
increased confusion with a severe and sinister smile, "if you would
come home with me; I think you may be safer there, Mr. Snagsby,
than anywhere else."
"My love, I don't know but what I may be, I am sure. I am ready to
Mr. Snagsby casts his eye forlornly round the bar, gives Messrs.
Weevle and Guppy good morning, assures them of the satisfaction
with which he sees them uninjured, and accompanies Mrs. Snagsby
from the Sol's Arms. Before night his doubt whether he may not be
responsible for some inconceivable part in the catastrophe which is
the talk of the whole neighbourhood is almost resolved into
certainty by Mrs. Snagsby's pertinacity in that fixed gaze. His
mental sufferings are so great that he entertains wandering ideas
of delivering himself up to justice and requiring to be cleared if
innocent and punished with the utmost rigour of the law if guilty.
Mr. Weevle and Mr. Guppy, having taken their breakfast, step into
Lincoln's Inn to take a little walk about the square and clear as
many of the dark cobwebs out of their brains as a little walk may.
"There can be no more favourable time than the present, Tony," says
Mr. Guppy after they have broodingly made out the four sides of the
square, "for a word or two between us upon a point on which we
must, with very little delay, come to an understanding."
"Now, I tell you what, William G.!" returns the other, eyeing his
companion with a bloodshot eye. "If it's a point of conspiracy,
you needn't take the trouble to mention it. I have had enough of
that, and I ain't going to have any more. We shall have YOU taking
fire next or blowing up with a bang."
This supposititious phenomenon is so very disagreeable to Mr. Guppy
that his voice quakes as he says in a moral way, "Tony, I should
have thought that what we went through last night would have been a
lesson to you never to be personal any more as long as you lived."
To which Mr. Weevle returns, "William, I should have thought it
would have been a lesson to YOU never to conspire any more as long
as you lived." To which Mr. Guppy says, "Who's conspiring?" To
which Mr. Jobling replies, "Why, YOU are!" To which Mr. Guppy
retorts, "No, I am not." To which Mr. Jobling retorts again, "Yes,
you are!" To which Mr. Guppy retorts, "Who says so?" To which Mr.
Jobling retorts, "I say so!" To which Mr. Guppy retorts, "Oh,
indeed?" To which Mr. Jobling retorts, "Yes, indeed!" And both
being now in a heated state, they walk on silently for a while to
cool down again.
"Tony," says Mr. Guppy then, "if you heard your friend out instead
of flying at him, you wouldn't fall into mistakes. But your temper
is hasty and you are not considerate. Possessing in yourself,
Tony, all that is calculated to charm the eye--"
"Oh! Blow the eye!" cries Mr. Weevle, cutting him short. "Say what
you have got to say!"
Finding his friend in this morose and material condition, Mr. Guppy
only expresses the finer feelings of his soul through the tone of
injury in which he recommences, "Tony, when I say there is a point
on which we must come to an understanding pretty soon, I say so
quite apart from any kind of conspiring, however innocent. You
know it is professionally arranged beforehand in all cases that are
tried what facts the witnesses are to prove. Is it or is it not
desirable that we should know what facts we are to prove on the
inquiry into the death of this unfortunate old mo--gentleman?"
(Mr. Guppy was going to say "mogul," but thinks "gentleman" better
suited to the circumstances.)
"What facts? THE facts."
"The facts bearing on that inquiry. Those are"--Mr. Guppy tells
them off on his fingers--"what we knew of his habits, when you saw
him last, what his condition was then, the discovery that we made,
and how we made it."
"Yes," says Mr. Weevle. "Those are about the facts."
"We made the discovery in consequence of his having, in his
eccentric way, an appointment with you at twelve o'clock at night,
when you were to explain some writing to him as you had often done
before on account of his not being able to read. I, spending the
evening with you, was called down--and so forth. The inquiry being
only into the circumstances touching the death of the deceased,
it's not necessary to go beyond these facts, I suppose you'll
"No!" returns Mr. Weevle. "I suppose not."
"And this is not a conspiracy, perhaps?" says the injured Guppy.
"No," returns his friend; "if it's nothing worse than this, I
withdraw the observation."
"Now, Tony," says Mr. Guppy, taking his arm again and walking him
slowly on, "I should like to know, in a friendly way, whether you
have yet thought over the many advantages of your continuing to
live at that place?"
"What do you mean?" says Tony, stopping.
"Whether you have yet thought over the many advantages of your
continuing to live at that place?" repeats Mr. Guppy, walking him
"At what place? THAT place?" pointing in the direction of the rag
and bottle shop.
Mr. Guppy nods.
"Why, I wouldn't pass another night there for any consideration
that you could offer me," says Mr. Weevle, haggardly staring.
"Do you mean it though, Tony?"
"Mean it! Do I look as if I mean it? I feel as if I do; I know
that," says Mr. Weevle with a very genuine shudder.
"Then the possibility or probability--for such it must be
considered--of your never being disturbed in possession of those
effects lately belonging to a lone old man who seemed to have no
relation in the world, and the certainty of your being able to find
out what he really had got stored up there, don't weigh with you at
all against last night, Tony, if I understand you?" says Mr. Guppy,
biting his thumb with the appetite of vexation.
"Certainly not. Talk in that cool way of a fellow's living there?"
cries Mr. Weevle indignantly. "Go and live there yourself."
"Oh! I, Tony!" says Mr. Guppy, soothing him. "I have never lived
there and couldn't get a lodging there now, whereas you have got
"You are welcome to it," rejoins his friend, "and--ugh!--you may
make yourself at home in it."
"Then you really and truly at this point," says Mr. Guppy, "give up
the whole thing, if I understand you, Tony?"
"You never," returns Tony with a most convincing steadfastness,
"said a truer word in all your life. I do!"
While they are so conversing, a hackney-coach drives into the
square, on the box of which vehicle a very tall hat makes itself
manifest to the public. Inside the coach, and consequently not so
manifest to the multitude, though sufficiently so to the two
friends, for the coach stops almost at their feet, are the
venerable Mr. Smallweed and Mrs. Smallweed, accompanied by their
An air of haste and excitement pervades the party, and as the tall
hat (surmounting Mr. Smallweed the younger) alights, Mr. Smallweed
the elder pokes his head out of window and bawls to Mr. Guppy, "How
de do, sir! How de do!"
"What do Chick and his family want here at this time of the
morning, I wonder!" says Mr. Guppy, nodding to his familiar.
"My dear sir," cries Grandfather Smallweed, "would you do me a
favour? Would you and your friend be so very obleeging as to carry
me into the public-house in the court, while Bart and his sister
bring their grandmother along? Would you do an old man that good
Mr. Guppy looks at his friend, repeating inquiringly, "The public-
house in the court?" And they prepare to bear the venerable burden
to the Sol's Arms.
"There's your fare!" says the patriarch to the coachman with a
fierce grin and shaking his incapable fist at him. "Ask me for a
penny more, and I'll have my lawful revenge upon you. My dear
young men, be easy with me, if you please. Allow me to catch you
round the neck. I won't squeeze you tighter than I can help. Oh,
Lord! Oh, dear me! Oh, my bones!"
It is well that the Sol is not far off, for Mr. Weevle presents an
apoplectic appearance before half the distance is accomplished.
With no worse aggravation of his symptoms, however, than the
utterance of divers croaking sounds expressive of obstructed
respiration, he fulils his share of the porterage and the
benevolent old gentleman is deposited by his own desire in the
parlour of the Sol's Arms.
"Oh, Lord!" gasps Mr. Smallweed, looking about him, breathless,
from an arm-chair. "Oh, dear me! Oh, my bones and back! Oh, my
aches and pains! Sit down, you dancing, prancing, shambling,
scrambling poll-parrot! Sit down!"
This little apostrophe to Mrs. Smallweed is occasioned by a
propensity on the part of that unlucky old lady whenever she finds
herself on her feet to amble about and "set" to inanimate objects,
accompanying herself with a chattering noise, as in a witch dance.
A nervous affection has probably as much to do with these
demonstrations as any imbecile intention in the poor old woman, but
on the present occasion they are so particularly lively in
connexion with the Windsor arm-chair, fellow to that in which Mr.
Smallweed is seated, that she only quite desists when her
grandchildren have held her down in it, her lord in the meanwhile
bestowing upon her, with great volubility, the endearing epithet of
"a pig-headed jackdaw," repeated a surprising number of times.
"My dear sir," Grandfather Smallweed then proceeds, addressing Mr.
Guppy, "there has been a calamity here. Have you heard of it,
either of you?"
"Heard of it, sir! Why, we discovered it."
"You discovered it. You two discovered it! Bart, THEY discovered
The two discoverers stare at the Smallweeds, who return the
"My dear friends," whines Grandfather Smallweed, putting out both
his hands, "I owe you a thousand thanks for discharging the
melancholy office of discovering the ashes of Mrs. Smallweed's
"Eh?" says Mr. Guppy.
"Mrs. Smallweed's brother, my dear friend--her only relation. We
were not on terms, which is to be deplored now, but he never WOULD
be on terms. He was not fond of us. He was eccentric--he was very
eccentric. Unless he has left a will (which is not at all likely)
I shall take out letters of administration. I have come down to
look after the property; it must be sealed up, it must be
protected. I have come down," repeats Grandfather Smallweed,
hooking the air towards him with all his ten fingers at once, "to
look after the property."
"I think, Small," says the disconsolate Mr. Guppy, "you might have
mentioned that the old man was your uncle."
"You two were so close about him that I thought you would like me
to be the same," returns that old bird with a secretly glistening
eye. "Besides, I wasn't proud of him."
"Besides which, it was nothing to you, you know, whether he was or
not," says Judy. Also with a secretly glistening eye.
"He never saw me in his life to know me," observed Small; "I don't
know why I should introduce HIM, I am sure!"
"No, he never communicated with us, which is to be deplored," the
old gentleman strikes in, "but I have come to look after the
property--to look over the papers, and to look after the property.
We shall make good our title. It is in the hands of my solicitor.
Mr. Tulkinghorn, of Lincoln's Inn Fields, over the way there, is so
good as to act as my solicitor; and grass don't grow under HIS
feet, I can tell ye. Krook was Mrs. Smallweed's only brother; she
had no relation but Krook, and Krook had no relation but Mrs.
Smallweed. I am speaking of your brother, you brimstone black-
beetle, that was seventy-six years of age."
Mrs. Smallweed instantly begins to shake her head and pipe up,
"Seventy-six pound seven and sevenpence! Seventy-six thousand bags
of money! Seventy-six hundred thousand million of parcels of bank-
"Will somebody give me a quart pot?" exclaims her exasperated
husband, looking helplessly about him and finding no missile within
his reach. "Will somebody obleege me with a spittoon? Will
somebody hand me anything hard and bruising to pelt at her? You
hag, you cat, you dog, you brimstone barker!" Here Mr. Smallweed,
wrought up to the highest pitch by his own eloquence, actually
throws Judy at her grandmother in default of anything else, by
butting that young virgin at the old lady with such force as he can
muster and then dropping into his chair in a heap.
"Shake me up, somebody, if you'll he so good," says the voice from
within the faintly struggling bundle into which he has collapsed.
"I have come to look after the property. Shake me up, and call in
the police on duty at the next house to be explained to about the
property. My solicitor will be here presently to protect the
property. Transportation or the gallows for anybody who shall
touch the property!" As his dutiful grandchildren set him up,
panting, and putting him through the usual restorative process of
shaking and punching, he still repeats like an echo, "The--the
property! The property! Property!"
Mr. Weevle and Mr. Guppy look at each other, the former as having
relinquished the whole affair, the latter with a discomfited
countenance as having entertained some lingering expectations yet.
But there is nothing to be done in opposition to the Smallweed
interest. Mr. Tulkinghorn's clerk comes down from his official pew
in the chambers to mention to the police that Mr. Tulkinghorn is
answerable for its being all correct about the next of kin and that
the papers and effects will be formally taken possession of in due
time and course. Mr. Smallweed is at once permitted so far to
assert his supremacy as to be carried on a visit of sentiment into
the next house and upstairs into Miss Flite's deserted room, where
he looks like a hideous bird of prey newly added to her aviary.
The arrival of this unexpected heir soon taking wind in the court
still makes good for the Sol and keeps the court upon its mettle.
Mrs. Piper and Mrs. Perkins think it hard upon the young man if
there really is no will, and consider that a handsome present ought
to be made him out of the estate. Young Piper and young Perkins,
as members of that restless juvenile circle which is the terror of
the foot-passengers in Chancery Lane, crumble into ashes behind the
pump and under the archway all day long, where wild yells and
hootings take place over their remains. Little Swills and Miss M.
Melvilleson enter into affable conversation with their patrons,
feeling that these unusual occurrences level the barriers between
professionals and non-professionals. Mr. Bogsby puts up "The
popular song of King Death, with chorus by the whole strength of
the company," as the great Harmonic feature of the week and
announces in the bill that "J. G. B. is induced to do so at a
considerable extra expense in consequence of a wish which has been
very generally expressed at the bar by a large body of respectable
individuals and in homage to a late melancholy event which has
aroused so much sensation." There is one point connected with the
deceased upon which the court is particularly anxious, namely, that
the fiction of a full-sized coffin should be preserved, though
there is so little to put in it. Upon the undertaker's stating in
the Sol's bar in the course of the day that he has received orders
to construct "a six-footer," the general solicitude is much
relieved, and it is considered that Mr. Smallweed's conduct does
him great honour.
Out of the court, and a long way out of it, there is considerable
excitement too, for men of science and philosophy come to look, and
carriages set down doctors at the corner who arrive with the same
intent, and there is more learned talk about inflammable gases and
phosphuretted hydrogen than the court has ever imagined. Some of
these authorities (of course the wisest) hold with indignation that
the deceased had no business to die in the alleged manner; and
being reminded by other authorities of a certain inquiry into the
evidence for such deaths reprinted in the sixth volume of the
Philosophical Transactions; and also of a book not quite unknown on
English medical jurisprudence; and likewise of the Italian case of
the Countess Cornelia Baudi as set forth in detail by one
Bianchini, prebendary of Verona, who wrote a scholarly work or so
and was occasionally heard of in his time as having gleams of
reason in him; and also of the testimony of Messrs. Fodere and
Mere, two pestilent Frenchmen who WOULD investigate the subject;
and further, of the corroborative testimony of Monsieur Le Cat, a
rather celebrated French surgeon once upon a time, who had the
unpoliteness to live in a house where such a case occurred and even
to write an account of it--still they regard the late Mr. Krook's
obstinacy in going out of the world by any such by-way as wholly
unjustifiable and personally offensive. The less the court
understands of all this, the more the court likes it, and the
greater enjoyment it has in the stock in trade of the Sol's Arms.
Then there comes the artist of a picture newspaper, with a
foreground and figures ready drawn for anything from a wreck on the
Cornish coast to a review in Hyde Park or a meeting in Manchester,
and in Mrs. Perkins' own room, memorable evermore, he then and
there throws in upon the block Mr. Krook's house, as large as life;
in fact, considerably larger, making a very temple of it.
Similarly, being permitted to look in at the door of the fatal
chamber, he depicts that apartment as three-quarters of a mile long
by fifty yards high, at which the court is particularly charmed.
All this time the two gentlemen before mentioned pop in and out of
every house and assist at the philosophical disputations--go
everywhere and listen to everybody--and yet are always diving into
the Sol's parlour and writing with the ravenous little pens on the
At last come the coroner and his inquiry, like as before, except
that the coroner cherishes this case as being out of the common way
and tells the gentlemen of the jury, in his private capacity, that
"that would seem to be an unlucky house next door, gentlemen, a
destined house; but so we sometimes find it, and these are
mysteries we can't account for!" After which the six-footer comes
into action and is much admired.
In all these proceedings Mr. Guppy has so slight a part, except
when he gives his evidence, that he is moved on like a private
individual and can only haunt the secret house on the outside,
where he has the mortification of seeing Mr. Smallweed padlocking
the door, and of bitterly knowing himself to be shut out. But
before these proceedings draw to a close, that is to say, on the
night next after the catastrophe, Mr. Guppy has a thing to say that
must be said to Lady Dedlock.
For which reason, with a sinking heart and with that hang-dog sense
of guilt upon him which dread and watching enfolded in the Sol's
Arms have produced, the young man of the name of Guppy presents
himself at the town mansion at about seven o'clock in the evening
and requests to see her ladyship. Mercury replies that she is
going out to dinner; don't he see the carriage at the door? Yes,
he does see the carriage at the door; but he wants to see my Lady
Mercury is disposed, as he will presently declare to a fellow-
gentleman in waiting, "to pitch into the young man"; but his
instructions are positive. Therefore he sulkily supposes that the
young man must come up into the library. There he leaves the young
man in a large room, not over-light, while he makes report of him.
Mr. Guppy looks into the shade in all directions, discovering
everywhere a certain charred and whitened little heap of coal or
wood. Presently he hears a rustling. Is it--? No, it's no ghost,
but fair flesh and blood, most brilliantly dressed.
"I have to beg your ladyship's pardon," Mr. Guppy stammers, very
downcast. "This is an inconvenient time--"
"I told you, you could come at any time." She takes a chair,
looking straight at him as on the last occasion.
"Thank your ladyship. Your ladyship is very affable."
"You can sit down." There is not much affability in her tone.
"I don't know, your ladyship, that it's worth while my sitting down
and detaining you, for I--I have not got the letters that I
mentioned when I had the honour of waiting on your ladyship."
"Have you come merely to say so?"
"Merely to say so, your ladyship." Mr. Guppy besides being
depressed, disappointed, and uneasy, is put at a further
disadvantage by the splendour and beauty of her appearance.
She knows its influence perfectly, has studied it too well to miss
a grain of its effect on any one. As she looks at him so steadily
and coldly, he not only feels conscious that he has no guide in the
least perception of what is really the complexion of her thoughts,
but also that he is being every moment, as it were, removed further
and further from her.
She will not speak, it is plain. So he must.
"In short, your ladyship," says Mr. Guppy like a meanly penitent
thief, "the person I was to have had the letters of, has come to a
sudden end, and--" He stops. Lady Dedlock calmly finishes the
"And the letters are destroyed with the person?"
Mr. Guppy would say no if he could--as he is unable to hide.
"I believe so, your ladyship."
If he could see the least sparkle of relief in her face now? No,
he could see no such thing, even if that brave outside did not
utterly put him away, and he were not looking beyond it and about
He falters an awkward excuse or two for his failure.
"Is this all you have to say?" inquires Lady Dedlock, having heard
him out--or as nearly out as he can stumble.
Mr. Guppy thinks that's all.
"You had better be sure that you wish to say nothing more to me,
this being the last time you will have the opportunity."
Mr. Guppy is quite sure. And indeed he has no such wish at
present, by any means.
"That is enough. I will dispense with excuses. Good evening to
you!" And she rings for Mercury to show the young man of the name
of Guppy out.
But in that house, in that same moment, there happens to be an old
man of the name of Tulkinghorn. And that old man, coming with his
quiet footstep to the library, has his hand at that moment on the
handle of the door--comes in--and comes face to face with the young
man as he is leaving the room.
One glance between the old man and the lady, and for an instant the
blind that is always down flies up. Suspicion, eager and sharp,
looks out. Another instant, close again.
"I beg your pardon, Lady Dedlock. I beg your pardon a thousand
times. It is so very unusual to find you here at this hour. I
supposed the room was empty. I beg your pardon!"
"Stay!" She negligently calls him back. "Remain here, I beg. I
am going out to dinner. I have nothing more to say to this young
The disconcerted young man bows, as he goes out, and cringingly
hopes that Mr. Tulkinghorn of the Fields is well.
"Aye, aye?" says the lawyer, looking at him from under his bent
brows, though he has no need to look again--not he. "From Kenge
and Carboy's, surely?"
"Kenge and Carboy's, Mr. Tulkinghorn. Name of Guppy, sir."
"To be sure. Why, thank you, Mr. Guppy, I am very well!"
"Happy to hear it, sir. You can't be too well, sir, for the credit
of the profession."
"Thank you, Mr. Guppy!"
Mr. Guppy sneaks away. Mr. Tulkinghorn, such a foil in his old-
fashioned rusty black to Lady Dedlock's brightness, hands her down
the staircase to her carriage. He returns rubbing his chin, and
rubs it a good deal in the course of the evening.
A Turn of the Screw
"Now, what," says Mr. George, "may this be? Is it blank cartridge
or ball? A flash in the pan or a shot?"
An open letter is the subject of the trooper's speculations, and it
seems to perplex him mightily. He looks at it at arm's length,
brings it close to him, holds it in his right hand, holds it in his
left hand, reads it with his head on this side, with his head on
that side, contracts his eyebrows, elevates them, still cannot
satisfy himself. He smooths it out upon the table with his heavy
palm, and thoughtfully walking up and down the gallery, makes a
halt before it every now and then to come upon it with a fresh eye.
Even that won't do. "Is it," Mr. George still muses, "blank
cartridge or ball?"
Phil Squod, with the aid of a brush and paint-pot, is employed in
the distance whitening the targets, softly whistling in quick-march
time and in drum-and-fife manner that he must and will go back
again to the girl he left behind him.
"Phil!" The trooper beckons as he calls him.
Phil approaches in his usual way, sidling off at first as if he
were going anywhere else and then bearing down upon his commander
like a bayonet-charge. Certain splashes of white show in high
relief upon his dirty face, and he scrapes his one eyebrow with the
handle of the brush.
"Attention, Phil! Listen to this."
"Steady, commander, steady."
"'Sir. Allow me to remind you (though there is no legal necessity
for my doing so, as you are aware) that the bill at two months'
date drawn on yourself by Mr. Matthew Bagnet, and by you accepted,
for the sum of ninety-seven pounds four shillings and ninepence,
will become due to-morrow, when you will please be prepared to take
up the same on presentation. Yours, Joshua Smallweed.' What do
you make of that, Phil?"
"I think," replies Phil after pensively tracing out a cross-wrinkle
in his forehead with the brush-handle, "that mischeevious
consequences is always meant when money's asked for."
"Lookye, Phil," says the trooper, sitting on the table. "First and
last, I have paid, I may say, half as much again as this principal
in interest and one thing and another."
Phil intimates by sidling back a pace or two, with a very
unaccountable wrench of his wry face, that he does not regard the
transaction as being made more promising by this incident.
"And lookye further, Phil," says the trooper, staying his premature
conclusions with a wave of his hand. "There has always been an
understanding that this bill was to be what they call renewed. And
it has been renewed no end of times. What do you say now?"
"I say that I think the times is come to a end at last."
"You do? Humph! I am much of the same mind myself."
"Joshua Smallweed is him that was brought here in a chair?"
"Guv'ner," says Phil with exceeding gravity, "he's a leech in his
dispositions, he's a screw and a wice in his actions, a snake in
his twistings, and a lobster in his claws."
Having thus expressively uttered his sentiments, Mr. Squod, after
waiting a little to ascertain if any further remark be expected of
him, gets back by his usual series of movements to the target he
has in hand and vigorously signifies through his former musical
medium that he must and he will return to that ideal young lady.
George, having folded the letter, walks in that direction.
"There IS a way, commander," says Phil, looking cunningly at him,
"of settling this."
"Paying the money, I suppose? I wish I could."
Phil shakes his head. "No, guv'ner, no; not so bad as that. There
IS a way," says Phil with a highly artistic turn of his brush;
"what I'm a-doing at present."
"A pretty way that would be! Do you know what would become of the
Bagnets in that case? Do you know they would be ruined to pay off
my old scores? YOU'RE a moral character," says the trooper, eyeing
him in his large way with no small indignation; "upon my life you
Phil, on one knee at the target, is in course of protesting
earnestly, though not without many allegorical scoops of his brush
and smoothings of the white surface round the rim with his thumb,
that he had forgotten the Bagnet responsibility and would not so
much as injure a hair of the head of any member of that worthy
family when steps are audible in the long passage without, and a
cheerful voice is heard to wonder whether George is at home. Phil,
with a look at his master, hobbles up, saying, "Here's the guv'ner,
Mrs. Bagnet! Here he is!" and the old girl herself, accompanied by
Mr. Bagnet, appears.
The old girl never appears in walking trim, in any season of the
year, without a grey cloth cloak, coarse and much worn but very
clean, which is, undoubtedly, the identical garment rendered so
interesting to Mr. Bagnet by having made its way home to Europe
from another quarter of the globe in company with Mrs. Bagnet and
an umbrella. The latter faithful appendage is also invariably a
part of the old girl's presence out of doors. It is of no colour
known in this life and has a corrugated wooden crook for a handle,
with a metallic object let into its prow, or beak, resembling a
little model of a fanlight over a street door or one of the oval
glasses out of a pair of spectacles, which ornamental object has
not that tenacious capacity of sticking to its post that might be
desired in an article long associated with the British army. The
old girl's umbrella is of a flabby habit of waist and seems to be
in need of stays--an appearance that is possibly referable to its
having served through a series of years at home as a cupboard and
on journeys as a carpet bag. She never puts it up, having the
greatest reliance on her well-proved cloak with its capacious hood,
but generally uses the instrument as a wand with which to point out
joints of meat or bunches of greens in marketing or to arrest the
attention of tradesmen by a friendly poke. Without her market-
basket, which is a sort of wicker well with two flapping lids, she
never stirs abroad. Attended by these her trusty companions,
therefore, her honest sunburnt face looking cheerily out of a rough
straw bonnet, Mrs. Bagnet now arrives, fresh-coloured and bright,
in George's Shooting Gallery.
"Well, George, old fellow," says she, "and how do YOU do, this
Giving him a friendly shake of the hand, Mrs. Bagnet draws a long
breath after her walk and sits down to enjoy a rest. Having a
faculty, matured on the tops of baggage-waggons and in other such
positions, of resting easily anywhere, she perches on a rough
bench, unties her bonnet-strings, pushes back her bonnet, crosses
her arms, and looks perfectly comfortable.
Mr. Bagnet in the meantime has shaken hands with his old comrade
and with Phil, on whom Mrs. Bagnet likewise bestows a good-humoured
nod and smile.
"Now, George," said Mrs. Bagnet briskly, "here we are, Lignum and
myself"--she often speaks of her husband by this appellation, on
account, as it is supposed, of Lignum Vitae having been his old
regimental nickname when they first became acquainted, in
compliment to the extreme hardness and toughness of his
physiognomy--"just looked in, we have, to make it all correct as
usual about that security. Give him the new bill to sign, George,
and he'll sign it like a man."
"I was coming to you this morning," observes the trooper
"Yes, we thought you'd come to us this morning, but we turned out
early and left Woolwich, the best of boys, to mind his sisters and
came to you instead--as you see! For Lignum, he's tied so close
now, and gets so little exercise, that a walk does him good. But
what's the matter, George?" asks Mrs. Bagnet, stopping in her
cheerful talk. "You don't look yourself."
"I am not quite myself," returns the trooper; "I have been a little
put out, Mrs. Bagnet."
Her bright quick eye catches the truth directly. "George!" holding
up her forefinger. "Don't tell me there's anything wrong about
that security of Lignum's! Don't do it, George, on account of the
The trooper looks at her with a troubled visage.
"George," says Mrs. Bagnet, using both her arms for emphasis and
occasionally bringing down her open hands upon her knees. "If you
have allowed anything wrong to come to that security of Lignum's,
and if you have let him in for it, and if you have put us in danger
of being sold up--and I see sold up in your face, George, as plain
as print--you have done a shameful action and have deceived us
cruelly. I tell you, cruelly, George. There!"
Mr. Bagnet, otherwise as immovable as a pump or a lamp-post, puts
his large right hand on the top of his bald head as if to defend it
from a shower-bath and looks with great uneasiness at Mrs. Bagnet.
"George," says that old girl, "I wonder at you! George, I am
ashamed of you! George, I couldn't have believed you would have
done it! I always knew you to be a rolling stone that gathered no
moss, but I never thought you would have taken away what little
moss there was for Bagnet and the children to lie upon. You know
what a hard-working, steady-going chap he is. You know what Quebec
and Malta and Woolwich are, and I never did think you would, or
could, have had the heart to serve us so. Oh, George!" Mrs.
Bagnet gathers up her cloak to wipe her eyes on in a very genuine
manner, "How could you do it?"
Mrs. Bagnet ceasing, Mr. Bagnet removes his hand from his head as
if the shower-bath were over and looks disconsolately at Mr.
George, who has turned quite white and looks distressfully at the
grey cloak and straw bonnet.
"Mat," says the trooper in a subdued voice, addressing him but
still looking at his wife, "I am sorry you take it so much to
heart, because I do hope it's not so bad as that comes to. I
certainly have, this morning, received this letter"--which he reads
aloud--"but I hope it may be set right yet. As to a rolling stone,
why, what you say is true. I AM a rolling stone, and I never
rolled in anybody's way, I fully believe, that I rolled the least
good to. But it's impossible for an old vagabond comrade to like
your wife and family better than I like 'em, Mat, and I trust
you'll look upon me as forgivingly as you can. Don't think I've
kept anything from you. I haven't had the letter more than a
quarter of an hour."
"Old girl," murmurs Mr. Bagnet after a short silence, "will you