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The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

Part 9 out of 13

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dismounting with her son's assistance, 'but he has been a
terrifying of me out of my seven senses all this blessed day.'

'He has?' cried Kit.

'You wouldn't believe it, that you wouldn't,' replied his mother,
'but don't say a word to him, for I really don't believe he's
human. Hush! Don't turn round as if I was talking of him, but
he's a squinting at me now in the full blaze of the coach-lamp,
quite awful!'

In spite of his mother's injunction, Kit turned sharply round to
look. Mr Quilp was serenely gazing at the stars, quite absorbed in
celestial contemplation.

'Oh, he's the artfullest creetur!' cried Mrs Nubbles. 'But come
away. Don't speak to him for the world.'

'Yes I will, mother. What nonsense. I say, sir--'

Mr Quilp affected to start, and looked smilingly round.

'You let my mother alone, will you?' said Kit. 'How dare you tease
a poor lone woman like her, making her miserable and melancholy as
if she hadn't got enough to make her so, without you. An't you
ashamed of yourself, you little monster?'

'Monster!' said Quilp inwardly, with a smile. 'Ugliest dwarf that
could be seen anywhere for a penny--monster--ah!'

'You show her any of your impudence again,' resumed Kit,
shouldering the bandbox, 'and I tell you what, Mr Quilp, I won't
bear with you any more. You have no right to do it; I'm sure we
never interfered with you. This isn't the first time; and if ever
you worry or frighten her again, you'll oblige me (though I should
be very sorry to do it, on account of your size) to beat you.'

Quilp said not a word in reply, but walking so close to Kit as to
bring his eyes within two or three inches of his face, looked
fixedly at him, retreated a little distance without averting his
gaze, approached again, again withdrew, and so on for half-a-dozen
times, like a head in a phantasmagoria. Kit stood his ground as if
in expectation of an immediate assault, but finding that nothing
came of these gestures, snapped his fingers and walked away; his
mother dragging him off as fast as she could, and, even in the
midst of his news of little Jacob and the baby, looking anxiously
over her shoulder to see if Quilp were following.

CHAPTER 49

Kit's mother might have spared herself the trouble of looking back
so often, for nothing was further from Mr Quilp's thoughts than any
intention of pursuing her and her son, or renewing the quarrel with
which they had parted. He went his way, whistling from time to
time some fragments of a tune; and with a face quite tranquil and
composed, jogged pleasantly towards home; entertaining himself as
he went with visions of the fears and terrors of Mrs Quilp, who,
having received no intelligence of him for three whole days and two
nights, and having had no previous notice of his absence, was
doubtless by that time in a state of distraction, and constantly
fainting away with anxiety and grief.

This facetious probability was so congenial to the dwarf's humour,
and so exquisitely amusing to him, that he laughed as he went along
until the tears ran down his cheeks; and more than once, when he
found himself in a bye-street, vented his delight in a shrill
scream, which greatly terrifying any lonely passenger, who happened
to be walking on before him expecting nothing so little, increased
his mirth, and made him remarkably cheerful and light-hearted.

In this happy flow of spirits, Mr Quilp reached Tower Hill, when,
gazing up at the window of his own sitting-room, he thought he
descried more light than is usual in a house of mourning. Drawing
nearer, and listening attentively, he could hear several voices in
earnest conversation, among which he could distinguish, not only
those of his wife and mother-in-law, but the tongues of men.

'Ha!' cried the jealous dwarf, 'What's this! Do they entertain
visitors while I'm away!'

A smothered cough from above, was the reply. He felt in his
pockets for his latch-key, but had forgotten it. There was no
resource but to knock at the door.

'A light in the passage,' said Quilp, peeping through the keyhole.
'A very soft knock; and, by your leave, my lady, I may yet steal
upon you unawares. Soho!'

A very low and gentle rap received no answer from within. But
after a second application to the knocker, no louder than the
first, the door was softly opened by the boy from the wharf, whom
Quilp instantly gagged with one hand, and dragged into the street
with the other.

'You'll throttle me, master,' whispered the boy. 'Let go, will
you.'

'Who's up stairs, you dog?' retorted Quilp in the same tone. 'Tell
me. And don't speak above your breath, or I'll choke you in good
earnest.'

The boy could only point to the window, and reply with a stifled
giggle, expressive of such intense enjoyment, that Quilp clutched
him by the throat and might have carried his threat into execution,
or at least have made very good progress towards that end, but for
the boy's nimbly extricating himself from his grasp, and fortifying
himself behind the nearest post, at which, after some fruitless
attempts to catch him by the hair of the head, his master was
obliged to come to a parley.

'Will you answer me?' said Quilp. 'What's going on, above?'

'You won't let one speak,' replied the boy. 'They--ha, ha, ha!--
they think you're--you're dead. Ha ha ha!'

'Dead!' cried Quilp, relaxing into a grim laugh himself. 'No. Do
they? Do they really, you dog?'

'They think you're--you're drowned,' replied the boy, who in his
malicious nature had a strong infusion of his master. 'You was
last seen on the brink of the wharf, and they think you tumbled
over. Ha ha!'

The prospect of playing the spy under such delicious circumstances,
and of disappointing them all by walking in alive, gave more
delight to Quilp than the greatest stroke of good fortune could
possibly have inspired him with. He was no less tickled than his
hopeful assistant, and they both stood for some seconds, grinning
and gasping and wagging their heads at each other, on either side
of the post, like an unmatchable pair of Chinese idols.

'Not a word,' said Quilp, making towards the door on tiptoe. 'Not
a sound, not so much as a creaking board, or a stumble against a
cobweb. Drowned, eh, Mrs Quilp! Drowned!'

So saying, he blew out the candle, kicked off his shoes, and groped
his way up stairs; leaving his delighted young friend in an ecstasy
of summersets on the pavement.

The bedroom-door on the staircase being unlocked, Mr Quilp slipped
in, and planted himself behind the door of communication between
that chamber and the sitting-room, which standing ajar to render
both more airy, and having a very convenient chink (of which he had
often availed himself for purposes of espial, and had indeed
enlarged with his pocket-knife), enabled him not only to hear, but
to see distinctly, what was passing.

Applying his eye to this convenient place, he descried Mr Brass
seated at the table with pen, ink, and paper, and the case-bottle
of rum--his own case-bottle, and his own particular Jamaica--
convenient to his hand; with hot water, fragrant lemons, white lump
sugar, and all things fitting; from which choice materials,
Sampson, by no means insensible to their claims upon his attention,
had compounded a mighty glass of punch reeking hot; which he was at
that very moment stirring up with a teaspoon, and contemplating
with looks in which a faint assumption of sentimental regret,
struggled but weakly with a bland and comfortable joy. At the same
table, with both her elbows upon it, was Mrs Jiniwin; no longer
sipping other people's punch feloniously with teaspoons, but taking
deep draughts from a jorum of her own; while her daughter--not
exactly with ashes on her head, or sackcloth on her back, but
preserving a very decent and becoming appearance of sorrow
nevertheless--was reclining in an easy chair, and soothing her
grief with a smaller allowance of the same glib liquid. There were
also present, a couple of water-side men, bearing between them
certain machines called drags; even these fellows were accommodated
with a stiff glass a-piece; and as they drank with a great relish,
and were naturally of a red-nosed, pimple-faced, convivial look,
their presence rather increased than detracted from that decided
appearance of comfort, which was the great characteristic of the
party.

'If I could poison that dear old lady's rum and water,' murmured
Quilp, 'I'd die happy.'

'Ah!' said Mr Brass, breaking the silence, and raising his eyes to
the ceiling with a sigh, 'Who knows but he may be looking down upon
us now! Who knows but he may be surveying of us from--from
somewheres or another, and contemplating us with a watchful eye!
Oh Lor!'

Here Mr Brass stopped to drink half his punch, and then resumed;
looking at the other half, as he spoke, with a dejected smile.

'I can almost fancy,' said the lawyer shaking his head, 'that I see
his eye glistening down at the very bottom of my liquor. When
shall we look upon his like again? Never, never!' One minute we
are here' --holding his tumbler before his eyes--'the next we are
there'-- gulping down its contents, and striking himself
emphatically a little below the chest--'in the silent tomb. To
think that I should be drinking his very rum! It seems like a
dream.'

With the view, no doubt, of testing the reality of his position, Mr
Brass pushed his tumbler as he spoke towards Mrs Jiniwin for the
purpose of being replenished; and turned towards the attendant
mariners.

'The search has been quite unsuccessful then?'

'Quite, master. But I should say that if he turns up anywhere,
he'll come ashore somewhere about Grinidge to-morrow, at ebb tide,
eh, mate?'

The other gentleman assented, observing that he was expected at the
Hospital, and that several pensioners would be ready to
receive him whenever he arrived.

'Then we have nothing for it but resignation,' said Mr Brass;
'nothing but resignation and expectation. It would be a comfort to
have his body; it would be a dreary comfort.'

'Oh, beyond a doubt,' assented Mrs Jiniwin hastily; 'if we once had
that, we should be quite sure.'

'With regard to the descriptive advertisement,' said Sampson Brass,
taking up his pen. 'It is a melancholy pleasure to recall his
traits. Respecting his legs now--?'

'Crooked, certainly,' said Mrs Jiniwin.
'Do you think they WERE crooked?' said Brass, in an insinuating
tone. 'I think I see them now coming up the street very wide
apart, in nankeen' pantaloons a little shrunk and without straps.
Ah! what a vale of tears we live in. Do we say crooked?'

'I think they were a little so,' observed Mrs Quilp with a sob.

'Legs crooked,' said Brass, writing as he spoke. 'Large head,
short body, legs crooked--'

Very crooked,' suggested Mrs Jiniwin.

'We'll not say very crooked, ma'am,' said Brass piously. 'Let us
not bear hard upon the weaknesses of the deceased. He is gone,
ma'am, to where his legs will never come in question. --We will
content ourselves with crooked, Mrs Jiniwin.'

'I thought you wanted the truth,' said the old lady. 'That's all.'

'Bless your eyes, how I love you,' muttered Quilp. 'There she goes
again. Nothing but punch!'

'This is an occupation,' said the lawyer, laying down his pen and
emptying his glass, 'which seems to bring him before my eyes like
the Ghost of Hamlet's father, in the very clothes that he wore on
work-a-days. His coat, his waistcoat, his shoes and stockings, his
trousers, his hat, his wit and humour, his pathos and his umbrella,
all come before me like visions of my youth. His linen!' said Mr
Brass smiling fondly at the wall, 'his linen which was always of a
particular colour, for such was his whim and fancy--how plain I
see his linen now!'

'You had better go on, sir,' said Mrs Jiniwin impatiently.

'True, ma'am, true,' cried Mr Brass. 'Our faculties must not
freeze with grief. I'll trouble you for a little more of that,
ma'am. A question now arises, with relation to his nose.'

'Flat,' said Mrs Jiniwin.

'Aquiline!' cried Quilp, thrusting in his head, and striking the
feature with his fist. 'Aquiline, you hag. Do you see it? Do you
call this flat? Do you? Eh?'

'Oh capital, capital!' shouted Brass, from the mere force of habit.
'Excellent! How very good he is! He's a most remarkable man--so
extremely whimsical! Such an amazing power of taking people by
surprise!'

Quilp paid no regard whatever to these compliments, nor to the
dubious and frightened look into which the lawyer gradually
subsided, nor to the shrieks of his wife and mother-in-law, nor to
the latter's running from the room, nor to the former's fainting
away. Keeping his eye fixed on Sampson Brass, he walked up to the
table, and beginning with his glass, drank off the contents, and
went regularly round until he had emptied the other two, when he
seized the case-bottle, and hugging it under his arm, surveyed him
with a most extraordinary leer.

'Not yet, Sampson,' said Quilp. 'Not just yet!'

'Oh very good indeed!' cried Brass, recovering his spirits a
little. 'Ha ha ha! Oh exceedingly good! There's not another man
alive who could carry it off like that. A most difficult position
to carry off. But he has such a flow of good-humour, such an
amazing flow!'

'Good night,' said the dwarf, nodding expressively.

'Good night, sir, good night,' cried the lawyer, retreating
backwards towards the door. 'This is a joyful occasion indeed,
extremely joyful. Ha ha ha! oh very rich, very rich indeed,
remarkably so!'

Waiting until Mr Brass's ejaculations died away in the distance
(for he continued to pour them out, all the way down stairs), Quilp
advanced towards the two men, who yet lingered in a kind of stupid
amazement.

'Have you been dragging the river all day, gentlemen?' said the
dwarf, holding the door open with great politeness.

'And yesterday too, master.'

'Dear me, you've had a deal of trouble. Pray consider everything
yours that you find upon the--upon the body. Good night!'

The men looked at each other, but had evidently no inclination to
argue the point just then, and shuffled out of the room. The
speedy clearance effected, Quilp locked the doors; and still
embracing the case-bottle with shrugged-up shoulders and folded
arms, stood looking at his insensible wife like a dismounted
nightmare.

CHAPTER 50

Matrimonial differences are usually discussed by the parties
concerned in the form of dialogue, in which the lady bears at least
her full half share. Those of Mr and Mrs Quilp, however, were an
exception to the general rule; the remarks which they occasioned
being limited to a long soliloquy on the part of the gentleman,
with perhaps a few deprecatory observations from the lady, not
extending beyond a trembling monosyllable uttered at long
intervals, and in a very submissive and humble tone. On the
present occasion, Mrs Quilp did not for a long time venture even on
this gentle defence, but when she had recovered from her
fainting-fit, sat in a tearful silence, meekly listening to the
reproaches of her lord and master.

Of these Mr Quilp delivered himself with the utmost animation and
rapidity, and with so many distortions of limb and feature, that
even his wife, although tolerably well accustomed to his
proficiency in these respects, was well-nigh beside herself with
alarm. But the Jamaica rum, and the joy of having occasioned a
heavy disappointment, by degrees cooled Mr Quilp's wrath; which
from being at savage heat, dropped slowly to the bantering or
chuckling point, at which it steadily remained.

'So you thought I was dead and gone, did you?' said Quilp. 'You
thought you were a widow, eh? Ha, ha, ha, you jade."

'Indeed, Quilp,' returned his wife. 'I'm very sorry--'

'Who doubts it!' cried the dwarf. 'You very sorry! to be sure you
are. Who doubts that you're VERY sorry!'

'I don't mean sorry that you have come home again alive and well,'
said his wife, 'but sorry that I should have been led into such a
belief. I am glad to see you, Quilp; indeed I am.'

In truth Mrs Quilp did seem a great deal more glad to behold her
lord than might have been expected, and did evince a degree of
interest in his safety which, all things considered, was rather
unaccountable. Upon Quilp, however, this circumstance made no
impression, farther than as it moved him to snap his fingers close
to his wife's eyes, with divers grins of triumph and derision.

'How could you go away so long, without saying a word to me or
letting me hear of you or know anything about you?' asked the poor
little woman, sobbing. 'How could you be so cruel, Quilp?'

'How could I be so cruel! cruel!' cried the dwarf. 'Because I was
in the humour. I'm in the humour now. I shall be cruel
when I like. I'm going away again.'

'Not again!'

'Yes, again. I'm going away now. I'm off directly. I mean to go
and live wherever the fancy seizes me--at the wharf--at the
counting-house--and be a jolly bachelor. You were a widow in
anticipation. Damme,' screamed the dwarf, 'I'll be a bachelor in
earnest.'

'You can't be serious, Quilp,' sobbed his wife.

'I tell you,' said the dwarf, exulting in his project, 'that I'll
be a bachelor, a devil-may-care bachelor; and I'll have my
bachelor's hall at the counting-house, and at such times come near
it if you dare. And mind too that I don't pounce in upon you at
unseasonable hours again, for I'll be a spy upon you, and come and
go like a mole or a weazel. Tom Scott--where's Tom Scott?'

'Here I am, master,' cried the voice of the boy, as Quilp threw up
the window.

'Wait there, you dog,' returned the dwarf, 'to carry a bachelor's
portmanteau. Pack it up, Mrs Quilp. Knock up the dear old lady to
help; knock her up. Halloa there! Halloa!'

With these exclamations, Mr Quilp caught up the poker, and hurrying
to the door of the good lady's sleeping-closet, beat upon it
therewith until she awoke in inexpressible terror, thinking that
her amiable son-in-law surely intended to murder her in
justification of the legs she had slandered. Impressed with this
idea, she was no sooner fairly awake than she screamed violently,
and would have quickly precipitated herself out of the window and
through a neighbouring skylight, if her daughter had not hastened
in to undeceive her, and implore her assistance. Somewhat
reassured by her account of the service she was required to render,
Mrs Jiniwin made her appearance in a flannel dressing-gown; and
both mother and daughter, trembling with terror and cold--for the
night was now far advanced--obeyed Mr Quilp's directions in
submissive silence. Prolonging his preparations as much as
possible, for their greater comfort, that eccentric gentleman
superintended the packing of his wardrobe, and having added to it
with his own hands, a plate, knife and fork, spoon, teacup and
saucer, and other small household matters of that nature, strapped
up the portmanteau, took it on his shoulders, and actually marched
off without another word, and with the case-bottle (which he had
never once put down) still tightly clasped under his arm.
Consigning his heavier burden to the care of Tom Scott when he
reached the street, taking a dram from the bottle for his own
encouragement, and giving the boy a rap on the head with it as a
small taste for himself, Quilp very deliberately led the way to the
wharf, and reached it at between three and four o'clock in the
morning.

'Snug!' said Quilp, when he had groped his way to the wooden
counting-house, and opened the door with a key he carried about
with him. 'Beautifully snug! Call me at eight, you dog.'

With no more formal leave-taking or explanation, he clutched the
portmanteau, shut the door on his attendant, and climbing on the
desk, and rolling himself up as round as a hedgehog, in an old
boat-cloak, fell fast asleep.

Being roused in the morning at the appointed time, and roused with
difficulty, after his late fatigues, Quilp instructed Tom Scott to
make a fire in the yard of sundry pieces of old timber, and to
prepare some coffee for breakfast; for the better furnishing of
which repast he entrusted him with certain small moneys, to be
expended in the purchase of hot rolls, butter, sugar, Yarmouth
bloaters, and other articles of housekeeping; so that in a few
minutes a savoury meal was smoking on the board. With this
substantial comfort, the dwarf regaled himself to his heart's
content; and being highly satisfied with this free and gipsy mode
of life (which he had often meditated, as offering, whenever he
chose to avail himself of it, an agreeable freedom from the
restraints of matrimony, and a choice means of keeping Mrs Quilp
and her mother in a state of incessant agitation and suspense),
bestirred himself to improve his retreat, and render it more
commodious and comfortable.

With this view, he issued forth to a place hard by, where sea-
stores were sold, purchased a second-hand hammock, and had it slung
in seamanlike fashion from the ceiling of the counting-house. He
also caused to be erected, in the same mouldy cabin, an old ship's
stove with a rusty funnel to carry the smoke through the roof; and
these arrangements completed, surveyed them with ineffable delight.

'I've got a country-house like Robinson Crusoe," said the dwarf,
ogling the accommodations; 'a solitary, sequestered,
desolate-island sort of spot, where I can be quite alone when I
have business on hand, and be secure from all spies and listeners.
Nobody near me here, but rats, and they are fine stealthy secret
fellows. I shall be as merry as a grig among these gentry. I'll
look out for one like Christopher, and poison him--ha, ha, ha!
Business though--business--we must be mindful of business in the
midst of pleasure, and the time has flown this morning, I declare.'

Enjoining Tom Scott to await his return, and not to stand upon his
head, or throw a summerset, or so much as walk upon his hands
meanwhile, on pain of lingering torments, the dwarf threw himself
into a boat, and crossing to the other side of the river, and then
speeding away on foot, reached Mr Swiveller's usual house of
entertainment in Bevis Marks, just as that gentleman sat down alone
to dinner in its dusky parlour.

'Dick'- said the dwarf, thrusting his head in at the door, 'my pet,
my pupil, the apple of my eye, hey, hey!'

'Oh you're there, are you?' returned Mr Swiveller; 'how are you?'

'How's Dick?' retorted Quilp. 'How's the cream of clerkship, eh?'

'Why, rather sour, sir,' replied Mr Swiveller. 'Beginning to
border upon cheesiness, in fact.'

'What's the matter?' said the dwarf, advancing. 'Has Sally proved
unkind. "Of all the girls that are so smart, there's none like--"
eh, Dick!'

'Certainly not,' replied Mr Swiveller, eating his dinner with great
gravity, 'none like her. She's the sphynx of private life, is
Sally B.'

'You're out of spirits,' said Quilp, drawing up a chair. 'What's
the matter?'

'The law don't agree with me,' returned Dick. 'It isn't moist
enough, and there's too much confinement. I have been thinking of
running away.'

'Bah!' said the dwarf. 'Where would you run to, Dick?'

'I don't know' returned Mr Swiveller. 'Towards Highgate, I
suppose. Perhaps the bells might strike up "Turn again Swiveller,
Lord Mayor of London." Whittington's name was Dick. I wish cats
were scarcer."

Quilp looked at his companion with his eyes screwed up into a
comical expression of curiosity, and patiently awaited his further
explanation; upon which, however, Mr Swiveller appeared in no hurry
to enter, as he ate a very long dinner in profound silence, finally
pushed away his plate, threw himself back into his chair, folded
his arms, and stared ruefully at the fire, in which some ends of
cigars were smoking on their own account, and sending up a fragrant
odour.

'Perhaps you'd like a bit of cake'--said Dick, at last turning to
the dwarf. 'You're quite welcome to it. You ought to be, for it's
of your making.'

'What do you mean?' said Quilp.

Mr Swiveller replied by taking from his pocket a small and very
greasy parcel, slowly unfolding it, and displaying a little slab of
plum-cake extremely indigestible in appearance, and bordered with
a paste of white sugar an inch and a half deep.

'What should you say this was?' demanded Mr Swiveller.

'It looks like bride-cake,' replied the dwarf, grinning.

'And whose should you say it was?' inquired Mr Swiveller, rubbing
the pastry against his nose with a dreadful calmness. 'Whose?'

'Not--'

'Yes,' said Dick, 'the same. You needn't mention her name.
There's no such name now. Her name is Cheggs now, Sophy Cheggs.
Yet loved I as man never loved that hadn't wooden legs, and my
heart, my heart is breaking for the love of Sophy Cheggs.'

With this extemporary adaptation of a popular ballad to the
distressing circumstances of his own case, Mr Swiveller folded up
the parcel again, beat it very flat between the palms of his hands,
thrust it into his breast, buttoned his coat over it, and folded
his arms upon the whole.

'Now, I hope you're satisfied, sir,' said Dick; 'and I hope Fred's
satisfied. You went partners in the mischief, and I hope you like
it. This is the triumph I was to have, is it? It's like the old
country-dance of that name, where there are two gentlemen to one
lady, and one has her, and the other hasn't, but comes limping up
behind to make out the figure. But it's Destiny, and mine's a
crusher.'

Disguising his secret joy in Mr Swiveller's defeat, Daniel Quilp
adopted the surest means of soothing him, by ringing the bell, and
ordering in a supply of rosy wine (that is to say, of its usual
representative), which he put about with great alacrity, calling
upon Mr Swiveller to pledge him in various toasts derisive of
Cheggs, and eulogistic of the happiness of single men. Such was
their impression on Mr Swiveller, coupled with the reflection that
no man could oppose his destiny, that in a very short space of time
his spirits rose surprisingly, and he was enabled to give the dwarf
an account of the receipt of the cake, which, it appeared, had been
brought to Bevis Marks by the two surviving Miss Wackleses in
person, and delivered at the office door with much giggling and
joyfulness.

'Ha!' said Quilp. 'It will be our turn to giggle soon. And that
reminds me--you spoke of young Trent--where is he?'

Mr Swiveller explained that his respectable friend had recently
accepted a responsible situation in a locomotive gaming-house, and
was at that time absent on a professional tour among the
adventurous spirits of Great Britain.

'That's unfortunate,' said the dwarf, 'for I came, in fact, to ask
you about him. A thought has occurred to me, Dick; your friend
over the way--'

'Which friend?'

'In the first floor.'

'Yes?'

'Your friend in the first floor, Dick, may know him.'

'No, he don't,' said Mr Swiveller, shaking his head.

'Don't! No, because he has never seen him,' rejoined Quilp; 'but
if we were to bring them together, who knows, Dick, but Fred,
properly introduced, would serve his turn almost as well as little
Nell or her grandfather--who knows but it might make the young
fellow's fortune, and, through him, yours, eh?'

'Why, the fact is, you see,' said Mr Swiveller, 'that they HAVE
been brought together.'

'Have been!' cried the dwarf, looking suspiciously at his
companion. 'Through whose means?'
'Through mine,' said Dick, slightly confused. 'Didn't I mention it
to you the last time you called over yonder?'

'You know you didn't,' returned the dwarf.

'I believe you're right,' said Dick. 'No. I didn't, I recollect.
Oh yes, I brought 'em together that very day. It was Fred's
suggestion.'

'And what came of it?'

'Why, instead of my friend's bursting into tears when he knew who
Fred was, embracing him kindly, and telling him that he was his
grandfather, or his grandmother in disguise (which we fully
expected), he flew into a tremendous passion; called him all manner
of names; said it was in a great measure his fault that little Nell
and the old gentleman had ever been brought to poverty; didn't hint
at our taking anything to drink; and--and in short rather turned
us out of the room than otherwise.'

'That's strange,' said the dwarf, musing.

'So we remarked to each other at the time,' returned Dick coolly,
'but quite true.'

Quilp was plainly staggered by this intelligence, over which he
brooded for some time in moody silence, often raising his eyes to
Mr Swiveller's face, and sharply scanning its expression. As he
could read in it, however, no additional information or anything to
lead him to believe he had spoken falsely; and as Mr Swiveller,
left to his own meditations, sighed deeply, and was evidently
growing maudlin on the subject of Mrs Cheggs; the dwarf soon broke
up the conference and took his departure, leaving the bereaved one
to his melancholy ruminations.

'Have been brought together, eh?' said the dwarf as he walked the
streets alone. 'My friend has stolen a march upon me. It led him
to nothing, and therefore is no great matter, save in the
intention. I'm glad he has lost his mistress. Ha ha! The
blockhead mustn't leave the law at present. I'm sure of him where
he is, whenever I want him for my own purposes, and, besides, he's
a good unconscious spy on Brass, and tells, in his cups, all that
he sees and hears. You're useful to me, Dick, and cost nothing but
a little treating now and then. I am not sure that it may not be
worth while, before long, to take credit with the stranger, Dick,
by discovering your designs upon the child; but for the present
we'll remain the best friends in the world, with your good leave.'

Pursuing these thoughts, and gasping as he went along, after his
own peculiar fashion, Mr Quilp once more crossed the Thames, and
shut himself up in his Bachelor's Hall, which, by reason of its
newly-erected chimney depositing the smoke inside the room and
carrying none of it off, was not quite so agreeable as more
fastidious people might have desired. Such inconveniences,
however, instead of disgusting the dwarf with his new abode, rather
suited his humour; so, after dining luxuriously from the
public-house, he lighted his pipe, and smoked against the chimney
until nothing of him was visible through the mist but a pair of red
and highly inflamed eyes, with sometimes a dim vision of his head
and face, as, in a violent fit of coughing, he slightly stirred the
smoke and scattered the heavy wreaths by which they were obscured.
In the midst of this atmosphere, which must infallibly have
smothered any other man, Mr Quilp passed the evening with great
cheerfulness; solacing himself all the time with the pipe and the
case-bottle; and occasionally entertaining himself with a melodious
howl, intended for a song, but bearing not the faintest resemblance
to any scrap of any piece of music, vocal or instrumental, ever
invented by man. Thus he amused himself until nearly midnight,
when he turned into his hammock with the utmost satisfaction.

The first sound that met his ears in the morning--as he half
opened his eyes, and, finding himself so unusually near the
ceiling, entertained a drowsy idea that he must have been
transformed into a fly or blue-bottle in the course of the night,
--was that of a stifled sobbing and weeping in the room. Peeping
cautiously over the side of his hammock, he descried Mrs Quilp, to
whom, after contemplating her for some time in silence, he
communicated a violent start by suddenly yelling out--'Halloa!'

'Oh, Quilp!' cried his poor little wife, looking up. 'How you
frightened me!'

'I meant to, you jade,' returned the dwarf. 'What do you want
here? I'm dead, an't I?'

'Oh, please come home, do come home,' said Mrs Quilp, sobbing;
'we'll never do so any more, Quilp, and after all it was only a
mistake that grew out of our anxiety.'

'Out of your anxiety,' grinned the dwarf. 'Yes, I know that--out
of your anxiety for my death. I shall come home when I please, I
tell you. I shall come home when I please, and go when I please.
I'll be a Will o' the Wisp, now here, now there, dancing about you
always, starting up when you least expect me, and keeping you in a
constant state of restlessness and irritation. Will you begone?'

Mrs Quilp durst only make a gesture of entreaty.

'I tell you no,' cried the dwarf. 'No. If you dare to come here
again unless you're sent for, I'll keep watch-dogs in the yard
that'll growl and bite--I'll have man-traps, cunningly altered and
improved for catching women--I'll have spring guns, that shall
explode when you tread upon the wires, and blow you into little
pieces. Will you begone?'

'Do forgive me. Do come back,' said his wife, earnestly.

'No-o-o-o-o!' roared Quilp. 'Not till my own good time, and then
I'll return again as often as I choose, and be accountable to
nobody for my goings or comings. You see the door there. Will you
go?'

Mr Quilp delivered this last command in such a very energetic
voice, and moreover accompanied it with such a sudden gesture,
indicative of an intention to spring out of his hammock, and,
night-capped as he was, bear his wife home again through the public
streets, that she sped away like an arrow. Her worthy lord
stretched his neck and eyes until she had crossed the yard, and
then, not at all sorry to have had this opportunity of carrying his
point, and asserting the sanctity of his castle, fell into an
immoderate fit of laughter, and laid himself down to sleep again.

CHAPTER 51

The bland and open-hearted proprietor of Bachelor's Hall slept on
amidst the congenial accompaniments of rain, mud, dirt, damp, fog,
and rats, until late in the day; when, summoning his valet Tom
Scott to assist him to rise, and to prepare breakfast, he quitted
his couch, and made his toilet. This duty performed, and his
repast ended, he again betook himself to Bevis Marks.

This visit was not intended for Mr Swiveller, but for his friend
and employer Mr Sampson Brass. Both gentlemen however were from
home, nor was the life and light of law, Miss Sally, at her post
either. The fact of their joint desertion of the office was made
known to all comers by a scrap of paper in the hand-writing of Mr
Swiveller, which was attached to the bell-handle, and which, giving
the reader no clue to the time of day when it was first posted,
furnished him with the rather vague and unsatisfactory information
that that gentleman would 'return in an hour.'

'There's a servant, I suppose,' said the dwarf, knocking at the
house-door. 'She'll do.'

After a sufficiently long interval, the door was opened, and a
small voice immediately accosted him with, 'Oh please will you
leave a card or message?'

'Eh?' said the dwarf, looking down, (it was something quite new to
him) upon the small servant.

To this, the child, conducting her conversation as upon the
occasion of her first interview with Mr Swiveller, again replied,
'Oh please will you leave a card or message?'

'I'll write a note,' said the dwarf, pushing past her into the
office; 'and mind your master has it directly he comes home.' So
Mr Quilp climbed up to the top of a tall stool to write the note,
and the small servant, carefully tutored for such emergencies,
looked on with her eyes wide open, ready, if he so much as
abstracted a wafer, to rush into the street and give the alarm to
the police.

As Mr Quilp folded his note (which was soon written: being a very
short one) he encountered the gaze of the small servant. He looked
at her, long and earnestly.

'How are you?' said the dwarf, moistening a wafer with horrible
grimaces.

The small servant, perhaps frightened by his looks, returned no
audible reply; but it appeared from the motion of her lips that she
was inwardly repeating the same form of expression concerning the
note or message.

'Do they use you ill here? is your mistress a Tartar?' said Quilp
with a chuckle.

In reply to the last interrogation, the small servant, with a look
of infinite cunning mingled with fear, screwed up her mouth very
tight and round, and nodded violently. Whether there was anything
in the peculiar slyness of her action which fascinated Mr Quilp, or
anything in the expression of her features at the moment which
attracted his attention for some other reason; or whether it merely
occurred to him as a pleasant whim to stare the small servant out
of countenance; certain it is, that he planted his elbows square
and firmly on the desk, and squeezing up his cheeks with his hands,
looked at her fixedly.

'Where do you come from?' he said after a long pause, stroking his
chin.

'I don't know.'

'What's your name?'

'Nothing.'

'Nonsense!' retorted Quilp. 'What does your mistress call you when
she wants you?'

'A little devil,' said the child.

She added in the same breath, as if fearful of any further
questioning, 'But please will you leave a card or message?'

These unusual answers might naturally have provoked some more
inquiries. Quilp, however, without uttering another word, withdrew
his eyes from the small servant, stroked his chin more thoughtfully
than before, and then, bending over the note as if to direct it
with scrupulous and hair-breadth nicety, looked at her, covertly
but very narrowly, from under his bushy eyebrows. The result of
this secret survey was, that he shaded his face with his hands, and
laughed slyly and noiselessly, until every vein in it was swollen
almost to bursting. Pulling his hat over his brow to conceal his
mirth and its effects, he tossed the letter to the child, and
hastily withdrew.

Once in the street, moved by some secret impulse, he laughed, and
held his sides, and laughed again, and tried to peer through the
dusty area railings as if to catch another glimpse of the child,
until he was quite tired out. At last, he travelled back to the
Wilderness, which was within rifle-shot of his bachelor retreat,
and ordered tea in the wooden summer-house that afternoon for three
persons; an invitation to Miss Sally Brass and her brother to
partake of that entertainment at that place, having been the object
both of his journey and his note.

It was not precisely the kind of weather in which people usually
take tea in summer-houses, far less in summer-houses in an advanced
state of decay, and overlooking the slimy banks of a great river at
low water. Nevertheless, it was in this choice retreat that Mr
Quilp ordered a cold collation to be prepared, and it was beneath
its cracked and leaky roof that he, in due course of time, received
Mr Sampson and his sister Sally.

'You're fond of the beauties of nature,' said Quilp with a grin.
'Is this charming, Brass? Is it unusual, unsophisticated,
primitive?'

'It's delightful indeed, sir,' replied the lawyer.

'Cool?' said Quilp.

'N-not particularly so, I think, sir,' rejoined Brass, with his
teeth chattering in his head.

'Perhaps a little damp and ague-ish?' said Quilp.

'Just damp enough to be cheerful, sir,' rejoined Brass. 'Nothing
more, sir, nothing more.'

'And Sally?' said the delighted dwarf. 'Does she like it?'

'She'll like it better,' returned that strong-minded lady, 'when
she has tea; so let us have it, and don't bother.'

'Sweet Sally!' cried Quilp, extending his arms as if about to
embrace her. 'Gentle, charming, overwhelming Sally.'

'He's a very remarkable man indeed!' soliloquised Mr Brass. 'He's
quite a Troubadour, you know; quite a Troubadour!'

These complimentary expressions were uttered in a somewhat absent
and distracted manner; for the unfortunate lawyer, besides having
a bad cold in his head, had got wet in coming, and would have
willingly borne some pecuniary sacrifice if he could have shifted
his present raw quarters to a warm room, and dried himself at a
fire. Quilp, however--who, beyond the gratification of his demon
whims, owed Sampson some acknowledgment of the part he had played
in the mourning scene of which he had been a hidden witness, marked
these symptoms of uneasiness with a delight past all expression,
and derived from them a secret joy which the costliest banquet
could never have afforded him.

It is worthy of remark, too, as illustrating a little feature in
the character of Miss Sally Brass, that, although on her own
account she would have borne the discomforts of the Wilderness with
a very ill grace, and would probably, indeed, have walked off
before the tea appeared, she no sooner beheld the latent uneasiness
and misery of her brother than she developed a grim satisfaction,
and began to enjoy herself after her own manner. Though the wet
came stealing through the roof and trickling down upon their heads,
Miss Brass uttered no complaint, but presided over the tea equipage
with imperturbable composure. While Mr Quilp, in his uproarious
hospitality, seated himself upon an empty beer-barrel, vaunted the
place as the most beautiful and comfortable in the three kingdoms,
and elevating his glass, drank to their next merry-meeting in that
jovial spot; and Mr Brass, with the rain plashing down into his
tea-cup, made a dismal attempt to pluck up his spirits and appear
at his ease; and Tom Scott, who was in waiting at the door under an
old umbrella, exulted in his agonies, and bade fair to split his
sides with laughing; while all this was passing, Miss Sally Brass,
unmindful of the wet which dripped down upon her own feminine
person and fair apparel, sat placidly behind the tea-board, erect
and grizzly, contemplating the unhappiness of her brother with a
mind at ease, and content, in her amiable disregard of self, to sit
there all night, witnessing the torments which his avaricious and
grovelling nature compelled him to endure and forbade him to
resent. And this, it must be observed, or the illustration would
be incomplete, although in a business point of view she had the
strongest sympathy with Mr Sampson, and would have been beyond
measure indignant if he had thwarted their client in any one
respect.

In the height of his boisterous merriment, Mr Quilp, having on some
pretence dismissed his attendant sprite for the moment, resumed his
usual manner all at once, dismounted from his cask, and laid his
hand upon the lawyer's sleeve.

'A word,' said the dwarf, 'before we go farther. Sally, hark'ee
for a minute.'

Miss Sally drew closer, as if accustomed to business conferences
with their host which were the better for not having air.

'Business,' said the dwarf, glancing from brother to sister. 'Very
private business. Lay your heads together when you're by
yourselves.'

'Certainly, sir,' returned Brass, taking out his pocket-book and
pencil. 'I'll take down the heads if you please, sir. Remarkable
documents,' added the lawyer, raising his eyes to the ceiling,
'most remarkable documents. He states his points so clearly that
it's a treat to have 'em! I don't know any act of parliament
that's equal to him in clearness.'

'I shall deprive you of a treat,' said Quilp. 'Put up your book.
We don't want any documents. So. There's a lad named Kit--'

Miss Sally nodded, implying that she knew of him.

'Kit!' said Mr Sampson. --'Kit! Ha! I've heard the name before,
but I don't exactly call to mind--I don't exactly--'

'You're as slow as a tortoise, and more thick-headed than a
rhinoceros,' returned his obliging client with an impatient
gesture.

'He's extremely pleasant!' cried the obsequious Sampson. 'His
acquaintance with Natural History too is surprising. Quite a
Buffoon, quite!'

There is no doubt that Mr Brass intended some compliment or other;
and it has been argued with show of reason that he would have said
Buffon, but made use of a superfluous vowel. Be this as it may,
Quilp gave him no time for correction, as he performed that office
himself by more than tapping him on the head with the handle of his
umbrella.

'Don't let's have any wrangling,' said Miss Sally, staying his
hand. 'I've showed you that I know him, and that's enough.'

'She's always foremost!' said the dwarf, patting her on the back
and looking contemptuously at Sampson. 'I don't like Kit, Sally.'

'Nor I,' rejoined Miss Brass.

'Nor I,' said Sampson.

'Why, that's right!' cried Quilp. 'Half our work is done already.
This Kit is one of your honest people; one of your fair characters;
a prowling prying hound; a hypocrite; a double- faced, white-
livered, sneaking spy; a crouching cur to those that feed and coax
him, and a barking yelping dog to all besides.'

'Fearfully eloquent!' cried Brass with a sneeze. 'Quite
appalling!'

'Come to the point,' said Miss Sally, 'and don't talk so much.'

'Right again!' exclaimed Quilp, with another contemptuous look at
Sampson, 'always foremost! I say, Sally, he is a yelping, insolent
dog to all besides, and most of all, to me. In short, I owe him a
grudge.'
'That's enough, sir,' said Sampson.

'No, it's not enough, sir,' sneered Quilp; 'will you hear me out?
Besides that I owe him a grudge on that account, he thwarts me at
this minute, and stands between me and an end which might otherwise
prove a golden one to us all. Apart from that, I repeat that he
crosses my humour, and I hate him. Now, you know the lad, and can
guess the rest. Devise your own means of putting him out of my
way, and execute them. Shall it be done?'

'It shall, sir,' said Sampson.

'Then give me your hand,' retorted Quilp. 'Sally, girl, yours. I
rely as much, or more, on you than him. Tom Scott comes back.
Lantern, pipes, more grog, and a jolly night of it!'

No other word was spoken, no other look exchanged, which had the
slightest reference to this, the real occasion of their meeting.
The trio were well accustomed to act together, and were linked to
each other by ties of mutual interest and advantage, and nothing
more was needed. Resuming his boisterous manner with the same ease
with which he had thrown it off, Quilp was in an instant the same
uproarious, reckless little savage he had been a few seconds
before. It was ten o'clock at night before the amiable Sally
supported her beloved and loving brother from the Wilderness, by
which time he needed the utmost support her tender frame could
render; his walk being from some unknown reason anything but
steady, and his legs constantly doubling up in unexpected places.

Overpowered, notwithstanding his late prolonged slumbers, by the
fatigues of the last few days, the dwarf lost no time in creeping
to his dainty house, and was soon dreaming in his hammock. Leaving
him to visions, in which perhaps the quiet figures we quitted in
the old church porch were not without their share, be it our task
to rejoin them as they sat and watched.

CHAPTER 57

After a long time, the schoolmaster appeared at the wicket-gate of
the churchyard, and hurried towards them, Tingling in his hand, as
he came along, a bundle of rusty keys. He was quite breathless
with pleasure and haste when he reached the porch, and at first
could only point towards the old building which the child had been
contemplating so earnestly.

'You see those two old houses,' he said at last.

'Yes, surely,' replied Nell. 'I have been looking at them nearly
all the time you have been away.'

'And you would have looked at them more curiously yet, if you could
have guessed what I have to tell you,' said her friend. 'One of
those houses is mine.'

Without saying any more, or giving the child time to reply, the
schoolmaster took her hand, and, his honest face quite radiant with
exultation, led her to the place of which he spoke.

They stopped before its low arched door. After trying several of
the keys in vain, the schoolmaster found one to fit the huge lock,
which turned back, creaking, and admitted them into the house.

The room into which they entered was a vaulted chamber once nobly
ornamented by cunning architects, and still retaining, in its
beautiful groined roof and rich stone tracery, choice remnants of
its ancient splendour. Foliage carved in the stone, and emulating
the mastery of Nature's hand, yet remained to tell how many times
the leaves outside had come and gone, while it lived on unchanged.
The broken figures supporting the burden of the chimney-piece,
though mutilated, were still distinguishable for what they had
been--far different from the dust without--and showed sadly by the
empty hearth, like creatures who had outlived their kind, and
mourned their own too slow decay.

In some old time--for even change was old in that old place--a
wooden partition had been constructed in one part of the chamber to
form a sleeping-closet, into which the light was admitted at the
same period by a rude window, or rather niche, cut in the solid
wall. This screen, together with two seats in the broad chimney,
had at some forgotten date been part of the church or convent; for
the oak, hastily appropriated to its present purpose, had been
little altered from its former shape, and presented to the eye a
pile of fragments of rich carving from old monkish stalls.

An open door leading to a small room or cell, dim with the light
that came through leaves of ivy, completed the interior of this
portion of the ruin. It was not quite destitute of furniture. A
few strange chairs, whose arms and legs looked as though they had
dwindled away with age; a table, the very spectre of its race: a
great old chest that had once held records in the church, with
other quaintly-fashioned domestic necessaries, and store of
fire-wood for the winter, were scattered around, and gave evident
tokens of its occupation as a dwelling-place at no very distant
time.

The child looked around her, with that solemn feeling with which we
contemplate the work of ages that have become but drops of water in
the great ocean of eternity. The old man had followed them, but
they were all three hushed for a space, and drew their breath
softly, as if they feared to break the silence even by so slight a
sound.

'It is a very beautiful place!' said the child, in a low voice.

'I almost feared you thought otherwise,' returned the schoolmaster.
'You shivered when we first came in, as if you felt it cold or
gloomy.'

'It was not that,' said Nell, glancing round with a slight shudder.
'Indeed I cannot tell you what it was, but when I saw the outside,
from the church porch, the same feeling came over me. It is its
being so old and grey perhaps.'

'A peaceful place to live in, don't you think so)' said her friend.

'Oh yes,' rejoined the child, clasping her hands earnestly. 'A
quiet, happy place--a place to live and learn to die in!' She
would have said more, but that the energy of her thoughts caused
her voice to falter, and come in trembling whispers from her lips.

'A place to live, and learn to live, and gather health of mind and
body in,' said the schoolmaster; 'for this old house is yours.'

'Ours!' cried the child.

'Ay,' returned the schoolmaster gaily, 'for many a merry year to
come, I hope. I shall be a close neighbour--only next door--but
this house is yours.'

Having now disburdened himself of his great surprise, the
schoolmaster sat down, and drawing Nell to his side, told her how
he had learnt that ancient tenement had been occupied for a very
long time by an old person, nearly a hundred years of age, who kept
the keys of the church, opened and closed it for the services, and
showed it to strangers; how she had died not many weeks ago, and
nobody had yet been found to fill the office; how, learning all
this in an interview with the sexton, who was confined to his bed
by rheumatism, he had been bold to make mention of his
fellow-traveller, which had been so favourably received by that
high authority, that he had taken courage, acting on his advice, to
propound the matter to the clergyman. In a word, the result of his
exertions was, that Nell and her grandfather were to be carried
before the last-named gentleman next day; and, his approval of
their conduct and appearance reserved as a matter of form, that
they were already appointed to the vacant post.

'There's a small allowance of money,' said the schoolmaster. 'It
is not much, but still enough to live upon in this retired spot.
By clubbing our funds together, we shall do bravely; no fear of
that.'

'Heaven bless and prosper you!' sobbed the child.

'Amen, my dear,' returned her friend cheerfully; 'and all of us, as
it will, and has, in leading us through sorrow and trouble to this
tranquil life. But we must look at MY house now. Come!'

They repaired to the other tenement; tried the rusty keys as
before; at length found the right one; and opened the worm-eaten
door. It led into a chamber, vaulted and old, like that from which
they had come, but not so spacious, and having only one other
little room attached. It was not difficult to divine that the
other house was of right the schoolmaster's, and that he had chosen
for himself the least commodious, in his care and regard for them.
Like the adjoining habitation, it held such old articles of
furniture as were absolutely necessary, and had its stack of
fire-wood.

To make these dwellings as habitable and full of comfort as they
could, was now their pleasant care. In a short time, each had its
cheerful fire glowing and crackling on the hearth, and reddening
the pale old wall with a hale and healthy blush. Nell, busily
plying her needle, repaired the tattered window-hangings, drew
together the rents that time had worn in the threadbare scraps of
carpet, and made them whole and decent. The schoolmaster swept and
smoothed the ground before the door, trimmed the long grass,
trained the ivy and creeping plants which hung their drooping heads
in melancholy neglect; and gave to the outer walls a cheery air of
home. The old man, sometimes by his side and sometimes with the
child, lent his aid to both, went here and there on little patient
services, and was happy. Neighbours, too, as they came from work,
proffered their help; or sent their children with such small
presents or loans as the strangers needed most. It was a busy day;
and night came on, and found them wondering that there was yet so
much to do, and that it should be dark so soon.

They took their supper together, in the house which may be
henceforth called the child's; and, when they had finished their
meal, drew round the fire, and almost in whispers--their hearts
were too quiet and glad for loud expression--discussed their
future plans. Before they separated, the schoolmaster read some
prayers aloud; and then, full of gratitude and happiness, they
parted for the night.

At that silent hour, when her grandfather was sleeping peacefully
in his bed, and every sound was hushed, the child lingered before
the dying embers, and thought of her past fortunes as if they had
been a dream And she only now awoke. The glare of the sinking
flame, reflected in the oaken panels whose carved tops were dimly
seen in the dusky roof--the aged walls, where strange shadows came
and went with every flickering of the fire--the solemn presence,
within, of that decay which falls on senseless things the most
enduring in their nature: and, without, and round about on every
side, of Death--filled her with deep and thoughtful feelings, but
with none of terror or alarm. A change had been gradually stealing
over her, in the time of her loneliness and sorrow. With failing
strength and heightening resolution, there had sprung up a purified
and altered mind; there had grown in her bosom blessed thoughts and
hopes, which are the portion of few but the weak and drooping.
There were none to see the frail, perishable figure, as it glided
from the fire and leaned pensively at the open casement; none but
the stars, to look into the upturned face and read its history.
The old church bell rang out the hour with a mournful sound, as if
it had grown sad from so much communing with the dead and unheeded
warning to the living; the fallen leaves rustled; the grass stirred
upon the graves; all else was still and sleeping.

Some of those dreamless sleepers lay close within the shadow of the
church--touching the wall, as if they clung to it for comfort and
protection. Others had chosen to lie beneath the changing shade of
trees; others by the path, that footsteps might come near them;
others, among the graves of little children. Some had desired to
rest beneath the very ground they had trodden in their daily walks;
some, where the setting sun might shine upon their beds; some,
where its light would fall upon them when it rose. Perhaps not one
of the imprisoned souls had been able quite to separate itself in
living thought from its old companion. If any had, it had still
felt for it a love like that which captives have been known to bear
towards the cell in which they have been long confined, and, even
at parting, hung upon its narrow bounds affectionately.

It was long before the child closed the window, and approached her
bed. Again something of the same sensation as before--an
involuntary chill--a momentary feeling akin to fear--but
vanishing directly, and leaving no alarm behind. Again, too,
dreams of the little scholar; of the roof opening, and a column of
bright faces, rising far away into the sky, as she had seen in some
old scriptural picture once, and looking down on her, asleep. It
was a sweet and happy dream. The quiet spot, outside, seemed to
remain the same, saving that there was music in the air, and a
sound of angels' wings. After a time the sisters came there, hand
in hand, and stood among the graves. And then the dream grew dim,
and faded.

With the brightness and joy of morning, came the renewal of
yesterday's labours, the revival of its pleasant thoughts, the
restoration of its energies, cheerfulness, and hope. They worked
gaily in ordering and arranging their houses until noon, and then
went to visit the clergyman.

He was a simple-hearted old gentleman, of a shrinking, subdued
spirit, accustomed to retirement, and very little acquainted with
the world, which he had left many years before to come and settle
in that place. His wife had died in the house in which he still
lived, and he had long since lost sight of any earthly cares or
hopes beyond it.

He received them very kindly, and at once showed an interest in
Nell; asking her name, and age, her birthplace, the circumstances
which had led her there, and so forth. The schoolmaster had
already told her story. They had no other friends or home to
leave, he said, and had come to share his fortunes. He loved the
child as though she were his own.

'Well, well,' said the clergyman. 'Let it be as you desire. She
is very young.'
'Old in adversity and trial, sir,' replied the schoolmaster.

'God help her. Let her rest, and forget them,' said the old
gentleman. 'But an old church is a dull and gloomy place for one
so young as you, my child.'

'Oh no, sir,' returned Nell. 'I have no such thoughts, indeed.'

'I would rather see her dancing on the green at nights,' said the
old gentleman, laying his hand upon her head, and smiling sadly,
'than have her sitting in the shadow of our mouldering arches. You
must look to this, and see that her heart does not grow heavy among
these solemn ruins. Your request is granted, friend.'

After more kind words, they withdrew, and repaired to the child's
house; where they were yet in conversation on their happy fortune,
when another friend appeared.

This was a little old gentleman, who lived in the parsonage-house,
and had resided there (so they learnt soon afterwards) ever since
the death of the clergyman's wife, which had happened fifteen years
before. He had been his college friend and always his close
companion; in the first shock of his grief he had come to console
and comfort him; and from that time they had never parted company.
The little old gentleman was the active spirit of the place, the
adjuster of all differences, the promoter of all merry-makings, the
dispenser of his friend's bounty, and of no small charity of his
own besides; the universal mediator, comforter, and friend. None
of the simple villagers had cared to ask his name, or, when they
knew it, to store it in their memory. Perhaps from some vague
rumour of his college honours which had been whispered abroad on
his first arrival, perhaps because he was an unmarried,
unencumbered gentleman, he had been called the bachelor. The name
pleased him, or suited him as well as any other, and the Bachelor
he had ever since remained. And the bachelor it was, it may be
added, who with his own hands had laid in the stock of fuel which
the wanderers had found in their new habitation.

The bachelor, then--to call him by his usual appellation--lifted
the latch, showed his little round mild face for a moment at the
door, and stepped into the room like one who was no stranger to it.

'You are Mr Marton, the new schoolmaster?' he said, greeting Nell's
kind friend.

'I am, sir.'

'You come well recommended, and I am glad to see you. I should
have been in the way yesterday, expecting you, but I rode across
the country to carry a message from a sick mother to her daughter
in service some miles off, and have but just now returned. This is
our young church-keeper? You are not the less welcome, friend, for
her sake, or for this old man's; nor the worse teacher for having
learnt humanity.'
'She has been ill, sir, very lately,' said the schoolmaster, in
answer to the look with which their visitor regarded Nell when he
had kissed her cheek.

'Yes, yes. I know she has,' he rejoined. 'There have been
suffering and heartache here.'

'Indeed there have, sir.'

The little old gentleman glanced at the grandfather, and back again
at the child, whose hand he took tenderly in his, and held.

'You will be happier here,' he said; 'we will try, at least, to
make you so. You have made great improvements here already. Are
they the work of your hands?'

'Yes, sir.'

'We may make some others--not better in themselves, but with
better means perhaps,' said the bachelor. 'Let us see now, let us
see.'

Nell accompanied him into the other little rooms, and over both the
houses, in which he found various small comforts wanting, which he
engaged to supply from a certain collection of odds and ends he had
at home, and which must have been a very miscellaneous and
extensive one, as it comprehended the most opposite articles
imaginable. They all came, however, and came without loss of time;
for the little old gentleman, disappearing for some five or ten
minutes, presently returned, laden with old shelves, rugs,
blankets, and other household gear, and followed by a boy bearing
a similar load. These being cast on the floor in a promiscuous
heap, yielded a quantity of occupation in arranging, erecting, and
putting away; the superintendence of which task evidently afforded
the old gentleman extreme delight, and engaged him for some time
with great briskness and activity. When nothing more was left to
be done, he charged the boy to run off and bring his schoolmates to
be marshalled before their new master, and solemnly reviewed.

'As good a set of fellows, Marton, as you'd wish to see,' he said,
turning to the schoolmaster when the boy was gone; 'but I don't let
'em know I think so. That wouldn't do, at all.'

The messenger soon returned at the head of a long row of urchins,
great and small, who, being confronted by the bachelor at the house
door, fell into various convulsions of politeness; clutching their
hats and caps, squeezing them into the smallest possible
dimensions, and making all manner of bows and scrapes, which the
little old gentleman contemplated with excessive satisfaction, and
expressed his approval of by a great many nods and smiles. Indeed,
his approbation of the boys was by no means so scrupulously
disguised as he had led the schoolmaster to suppose, inasmuch as it
broke out in sundry loud whispers and confidential remarks which
were perfectly audible to them every one.
'This first boy, schoolmaster,' said the bachelor, 'is John Owen;
a lad of good parts, sir, and frank, honest temper; but too
thoughtless, too playful, too light-headed by far. That boy, my
good sir, would break his neck with pleasure, and deprive his
parents of their chief comfort--and between ourselves, when you
come to see him at hare and hounds, taking the fence and ditch by
the finger-post, and sliding down the face of the little quarry,
you'll never forget it. It's beautiful!'

John Owen having been thus rebuked, and being in perfect possession
of the speech aside, the bachelor singled out another boy.

'Now, look at that lad, sir,' said the bachelor. 'You see that
fellow? Richard Evans his name is, sir. An amazing boy to learn,
blessed with a good memory, and a ready understanding, and moreover
with a good voice and ear for psalm-singing, in which he is the
best among us. Yet, sir, that boy will come to a bad end; he'll
never die in his bed; he's always falling asleep in sermon-time--
and to tell you the truth, Mr Marton, I always did the same at his
age, and feel quite certain that it was natural to my constitution
and I couldn't help it.'

This hopeful pupil edified by the above terrible reproval, the
bachelor turned to another.

'But if we talk of examples to be shunned,' said he, 'if we come to
boys that should be a warning and a beacon to all their fellows,
here's the one, and I hope you won't spare him. This is the lad,
sir; this one with the blue eyes and light hair. This is a
swimmer, sir, this fellow--a diver, Lord save us! This is a boy,
sir, who had a fancy for plunging into eighteen feet of water, with
his clothes on, and bringing up a blind man's dog, who was being
drowned by the weight of his chain and collar, while his master
stood wringing his hands upon the bank, bewailing the loss of his
guide and friend. I sent the boy two guineas anonymously, sir,'
added the bachelor, in his peculiar whisper, 'directly I heard of
it; but never mention it on any account, for he hasn't the least
idea that it came from me. '

Having disposed of this culprit, the bachelor turned to another,
and from him to another, and so on through the whole array, laying,
for their wholesome restriction within due bounds, the same cutting
emphasis on such of their propensities as were dearest to his heart
and were unquestionably referrable to his own precept and example.
Thoroughly persuaded, in the end, that he had made them miserable
by his severity, he dismissed them with a small present, and an
admonition to walk quietly home, without any leapings, scufflings,
or turnings out of the way; which injunction, he informed the
schoolmaster in the same audible confidence, he did not think he
could have obeyed when he was a boy, had his life depended on it.

Hailing these little tokens of the bachelor's disposition as so
many assurances of his own welcome course from that time, the
schoolmaster parted from him with a light heart and joyous spirits,
and deemed himself one of the happiest men on earth. The windows
of the two old houses were ruddy again, that night, with the
reflection of the cheerful fires that burnt within; and the
bachelor and his friend, pausing to look upon them as they returned
from their evening walk, spoke softly together of the beautiful
child, and looked round upon the churchyard with a sigh.

CHAPTER 53

Nell was stirring early in the morning, and having discharged her
household tasks, and put everything in order for the good
schoolmaster (though sorely against his will, for he would have
spared her the pains), took down, from its nail by the fireside, a
little bundle of keys with which the bachelor had formally invested
her on the previous day, and went out alone to visit the old
church.

The sky was serene and bright, the air clear, perfumed with the
fresh scent of newly fallen leaves, and grateful to every sense.
The neighbouring stream sparkled, and rolled onward with a tuneful
sound; the dew glistened on the green mounds, like tears shed by
Good Spirits over the dead. Some young children sported among the
tombs, and hid from each other, with laughing faces. They had an
infant with them, and had laid it down asleep upon a child's grave,
in a little bed of leaves. It was a new grave--the resting-place,
perhaps, of some little creature, who, meek and patient in its
illness, had often sat and watched them, and now seemed, to their
minds, scarcely changed.

She drew near and asked one of them whose grave it was. The child
answered that that was not its name; it was a garden--his
brother's. It was greener, he said, than all the other gardens,
and the birds loved it better because he had been used to feed
them. When he had done speaking, he looked at her with a smile,
and kneeling down and nestling for a moment with his cheek against
the turf, bounded merrily away.

She passed the church, gazing upward at its old tower, went through
the wicket gate, and so into the village. The old sexton, leaning
on a crutch, was taking the air at his cottage door, and gave her
good morrow.

'You are better?' said the child, stopping to speak with him.

'Ay surely,' returned the old man. 'I'm thankful to say, much
better.'

'YOU will be quite well soon.'

'With Heaven's leave, and a little patience. But come in, come
in!'
The old man limped on before, and warning her of the downward step,
which he achieved himself with no small difficulty, led the way
into his little cottage.

'It is but one room you see. There is another up above, but the
stair has got harder to climb o' late years, and I never use it.
I'm thinking of taking to it again, next summer, though.'

The child wondered how a grey-headed man like him--one of his
trade too--could talk of time so easily. He saw her eyes
wandering to the tools that hung upon the wall, and smiled.

'I warrant now,' he said, 'that you think all those are used in
making graves.'

'Indeed, I wondered that you wanted so many.'

'And well you might. I am a gardener. I dig the ground, and plant
things that are to live and grow. My works don't all moulder away,
and rot in the earth. You see that spade in the centre?'

'The very old one--so notched and worn? Yes.'

'That's the sexton's spade, and it's a well-used one, as you see.
We're healthy people here, but it has done a power of work. If it
could speak now, that spade, it would tell you of many an
unexpected job that it and I have done together; but I forget 'em,
for my memory's a poor one. --That's nothing new,' he added
hastily. 'It always was.'

'There are flowers and shrubs to speak to your other work,' said
the child.

'Oh yes. And tall trees. But they are not so separate from the
sexton's labours as you think.'

'No!'

'Not in my mind, and recollection--such as it is,' said the old
man. 'Indeed they often help it. For say that I planted such a
tree for such a man. There it stands, to remind me that he died.
When I look at its broad shadow, and remember what it was in his
time, it helps me to the age of my other work, and I can tell you
pretty nearly when I made his grave.'

'But it may remind you of one who is still alive,' said the child.

'Of twenty that are dead, in connexion with that one who lives,
then,' rejoined the old man; 'wife, husband, parents, brothers,
sisters, children, friends--a score at least. So it happens that
the sexton's spade gets worn and battered. I shall need a new one
--next summer.'

The child looked quickly towards him, thinking that he jested with
his age and infirmity: but the unconscious sexton was quite in
earnest.

'Ah!' he said, after a brief silence. 'People never learn. They
never learn. It's only we who turn up the ground, where nothing
grows and everything decays, who think of such things as these--
who think of them properly, I mean. You have been into the
church?'

'I am going there now,' the child replied.

'There's an old well there,' said the sexton, 'right underneath the
belfry; a deep, dark, echoing well. Forty year ago, you had only
to let down the bucket till the first knot in the rope was free of
the windlass, and you heard it splashing in the cold dull water.
By little and little the water fell away, so that in ten year after
that, a second knot was made, and you must unwind so much rope, or
the bucket swung tight and empty at the end. In ten years' time,
the water fell again, and a third knot was made. In ten years
more, the well dried up; and now, if you lower the bucket till your
arms are tired, and let out nearly all the cord, you'll hear it, of
a sudden, clanking and rattling on the ground below; with a sound
of being so deep and so far down, that your heart leaps into your
mouth, and you start away as if you were falling in.'

'A dreadful place to come on in the dark!' exclaimed the child, who
had followed the old man's looks and words until she seemed to
stand upon its brink.

'What is it but a grave!' said the sexton. 'What else! And which
of our old folks, knowing all this, thought, as the spring
subsided, of their own failing strength, and lessening life? Not
one!'

'Are you very old yourself?' asked the child, involuntarily.

'I shall be seventy-nine--next summer.'

'You still work when you are well?'

'Work! To be sure. You shall see my gardens hereabout. Look at
the window there. I made, and have kept, that plot of ground
entirely with my own hands. By this time next year I shall hardly
see the sky, the boughs will have grown so thick. I have my winter
work at night besides.'

He opened, as he spoke, a cupboard close to where he sat, and
produced some miniature boxes, carved in a homely manner and made
of old wood.

'Some gentlefolks who are fond of ancient days, and what belongs to
them,' he said, 'like to buy these keepsakes from our church and
ruins. Sometimes, I make them of scraps of oak, that turn up here
and there; sometimes of bits of coffins which the vaults have long
preserved. See here--this is a little chest of the last kind,
clasped at the edges with fragments of brass plates that had
writing on 'em once, though it would be hard to read it now. I
haven't many by me at this time of year, but these shelves will be
full--next summer.'

The child admired and praised his work, and shortly afterwards
departed; thinking, as she went, how strange it was, that this old
man, drawing from his pursuits, and everything around him, one
stern moral, never contemplated its application to himself; and,
while he dwelt upon the uncertainty of human life, seemed both in
word and deed to deem himself immortal. But her musings did not
stop here, for she was wise enough to think that by a good and
merciful adjustment this must be human nature, and that the old
sexton, with his plans for next summer, was but a type of all
mankind.

Full of these meditations, she reached the church. It was easy to
find the key belonging to the outer door, for each was labelled on
a scrap of yellow parchment. Its very turning in the lock awoke a
hollow sound, and when she entered with a faltering step, the
echoes that it raised in closing, made her start.

If the peace of the simple village had moved the child more
strongly, because of the dark and troubled ways that lay beyond,
and through which she had journeyed with such failing feet, what
was the deep impression of finding herself alone in that solemn
building, where the very light, coming through sunken windows,
seemed old and grey, and the air, redolent of earth and mould,
seemed laden with decay, purified by time of all its grosser
particles, and sighing through arch and aisle, and clustered
pillars, like the breath of ages gone! Here was the broken
pavement, worn, so long ago, by pious feet, that Time, stealing on
the pilgrims' steps, had trodden out their track, and left but
crumbling stones. Here were the rotten beam, the sinking arch, the
sapped and mouldering wall, the lowly trench of earth, the stately
tomb on which no epitaph remained--all--marble, stone, iron,
wood, and dust--one common monument of ruin. The best work and the
worst, the plainest and the richest, the stateliest and the least
imposing--both of Heaven's work and Man's--all found one common
level here, and told one common tale.

Some part of the edifice had been a baronial chapel, and here were
effigies of warriors stretched upon their beds of stone with folded
hands--cross-legged, those who had fought in the Holy Wars--
girded with their swords, and cased in armour as they had lived.
Some of these knights had their own weapons, helmets, coats of
mail, hanging upon the walls hard by, and dangling from rusty
hooks. Broken and dilapidated as they were, they yet retained
their ancient form, and something of their ancient aspect. Thus
violent deeds live after men upon the earth, and traces of war and
bloodshed will survive in mournful shapes long after those who
worked the desolation are but atoms of earth themselves.

The child sat down, in this old, silent place, among the stark
figures on the tombs--they made it more quiet there, than
elsewhere, to her fancy--and gazing round with a feeling of awe,
tempered with a calm delight, felt that now she was happy, and at
rest. She took a Bible from the shelf, and read; then, laying it
down, thought of the summer days and the bright springtime that
would come--of the rays of sun that would fall in aslant, upon the
sleeping forms--of the leaves that would flutter at the window,
and play in glistening shadows on the pavement--of the songs of
birds, and growth of buds and blossoms out of doors--of the sweet
air, that would steal in, and gently wave the tattered banners
overhead. What if the spot awakened thoughts of death! Die who
would, it would still remain the same; these sights and sounds
would still go on, as happily as ever. It would be no pain to
sleep amidst them.

She left the chapel--very slowly and often turning back to gaze
again--and coming to a low door, which plainly led into the tower,
opened it, and climbed the winding stair in darkness; save where
she looked down, through narrow loopholes, on the place she had
left, or caught a glimmering vision of the dusty bells. At length
she gained the end of the ascent and stood upon the turret top.

Oh! the glory of the sudden burst of light; the freshness of the
fields and woods, stretching away on every side, and meeting the
bright blue sky; the cattle grazing in the pasturage; the smoke,
that, coming from among the trees, seemed to rise upward from the
green earth; the children yet at their gambols down below--all,
everything, so beautiful and happy! It was like passing from death
to life; it was drawing nearer Heaven.

The children were gone, when she emerged into the porch, and locked
the door. As she passed the school-house she could hear the busy
hum of voices. Her friend had begun his labours only on that day.
The noise grew louder, and, looking back, she saw the boys come
trooping out and disperse themselves with merry shouts and play.
'It's a good thing,' thought the child, 'I am very glad they pass
the church.' And then she stopped, to fancy how the noise would
sound inside, and how gently it would seem to die away upon the
ear.

Again that day, yes, twice again, she stole back to the old chapel,
and in her former seat read from the same book, or indulged the
same quiet train of thought. Even when it had grown dusk, and the
shadows of coming night made it more solemn still, the child
remained, like one rooted to the spot, and had no fear or thought
of stirring.

They found her there, at last, and took her home. She looked pale
but very happy, until they separated for the night; and then, as
the poor schoolmaster stooped down to kiss her cheek, he thought he
felt a tear upon his face.

CHAPTER 54

The bachelor, among his various occupations, found in the old
church a constant source of interest and amusement. Taking that
pride in it which men conceive for the wonders of their own little
world, he had made its history his study; and many a summer day
within its walls, and many a winter's night beside the parsonage
fire, had found the bachelor still poring over, and adding to, his
goodly store of tale and legend.

As he was not one of those rough spirits who would strip fair Truth
of every little shadowy vestment in which time and teeming fancies
love to array her--and some of which become her pleasantly enough,
serving, like the waters of her well, to add new graces to the
charms they half conceal and half suggest, and to awaken interest
and pursuit rather than languor and indifference--as, unlike this
stern and obdurate class, he loved to see the goddess crowned with
those garlands of wild flowers which tradition wreathes for her
gentle wearing, and which are often freshest in their homeliest
shapes--he trod with a light step and bore with a light hand upon
the dust of centuries, unwilling to demolish any of the airy
shrines that had been raised above it, if any good feeling or
affection of the human heart were hiding thereabouts. Thus, in the
case of an ancient coffin of rough stone, supposed, for many
generations, to contain the bones of a certain baron, who, after
ravaging, with cut, and thrust, and plunder, in foreign lands, came
back with a penitent and sorrowing heart to die at home, but which
had been lately shown by learned antiquaries to be no such thing,
as the baron in question (so they contended) had died hard in
battle, gnashing his teeth and cursing with his latest breath--
the bachelor stoutly maintained that the old tale was the true one;
that the baron, repenting him of the evil, had done great charities
and meekly given up the ghost; and that, if ever baron went to
heaven, that baron was then at peace. In like manner, when the
aforesaid antiquaries did argue and contend that a certain secret
vault was not the tomb of a grey-haired lady who had been hanged
and drawn and quartered by glorious Queen Bess for succouring a
wretched priest who fainted of thirst and hunger at her door, the
bachelor did solemnly maintain, against all comers, that the church
was hallowed by the said poor lady's ashes; that her remains had
been collected in the night from four of the city's gates, and
thither in secret brought, and there deposited; and the bachelor
did further (being highly excited at such times) deny the glory of
Queen Bess, and assert the immeasurably greater glory of the
meanest woman in her realm, who had a merciful and tender heart.
As to the assertion that the flat stone near the door was not the
grave of the miser who had disowned his only child and left a sum
of money to the church to buy a peal of bells, the bachelor did
readily admit the same, and that the place had given birth to no
such man. In a word, he would have had every stone, and plate of
brass, the monument only of deeds whose memory should survive. All
others he was willing to forget. They might be buried in
consecrated ground, but he would have had them buried deep, and
never brought to light again.

It was from the lips of such a tutor, that the child learnt her
easy task. Already impressed, beyond all telling, by the silent
building and the peaceful beauty of the spot in which it stood--
majestic age surrounded by perpetual youth--it seemed to her, when
she heard these things, sacred to all goodness and virtue. It was
another world, where sin and sorrow never came; a tranquil place of
rest, where nothing evil entered.

When the bachelor had given her in connection with almost every
tomb and flat grave-stone some history of its own, he took her down
into the old crypt, now a mere dull vault, and showed her how it
had been lighted up in the time of the monks, and how, amid lamps
depending from the roof, and swinging censers exhaling scented
odours, and habits glittering with gold and silver, and pictures,
and precious stuffs, and jewels all flashing and glistening through
the low arches, the chaunt of aged voices had been many a time
heard there, at midnight, in old days, while hooded figures knelt
and prayed around, and told their rosaries of beads. Thence, he
took her above ground again, and showed her, high up in the old
walls, small galleries, where the nuns had been wont to glide along
--dimly seen in their dark dresses so far off--or to pause like
gloomy shadows, listening to the prayers. He showed her too, how
the warriors, whose figures rested on the tombs, had worn those
rotting scraps of armour up above--how this had been a helmet, and
that a shield, and that a gauntlet--and how they had wielded the
great two-handed swords, and beaten men down, with yonder iron
mace. All that he told the child she treasured in her mind; and
sometimes, when she awoke at night from dreams of those old times,
and rising from her bed looked out at the dark church, she almost
hoped to see the windows lighted up, and hear the organ's swell,
and sound of voices, on the rushing wind.

The old sexton soon got better, and was about again. From him the
child learnt many other things, though of a different kind. He was
not able to work, but one day there was a grave to be made, and he
came to overlook the man who dug it. He was in a talkative mood;
and the child, at first standing by his side, and afterwards
sitting on the grass at his feet, with her thoughtful face raised
towards his, began to converse with him.

Now, the man who did the sexton's duty was a little older than he,
though much more active. But he was deaf; and when the sexton (who
peradventure, on a pinch, might have walked a mile with great
difficulty in half-a-dozen hours) exchanged a remark with him about
his work, the child could not help noticing that he did so with an
impatient kind of pity for his infirmity, as if he were himself the
strongest and heartiest man alive.

'I'm sorry to see there is this to do,' said the child when she
approached. 'I heard of no one having died.'

'She lived in another hamlet, my dear,' returned the sexton.
'Three mile away.'

'Was she young?'

'Ye-yes' said the sexton; not more than sixty-four, I think.
David, was she more than sixty-four?'

David, who was digging hard, heard nothing of the question. The
sexton, as he could not reach to touch him with his crutch, and was
too infirm to rise without assistance, called his attention by
throwing a little mould upon his red nightcap.

'What's the matter now?' said David, looking up.

'How old was Becky Morgan?' asked the sexton.

'Becky Morgan?' repeated David.

'Yes,' replied the sexton; adding in a half compassionate, half
irritable tone, which the old man couldn't hear, 'you're getting
very deaf, Davy, very deaf to be sure!'

The old man stopped in his work, and cleansing his spade with a
piece of slate he had by him for the purpose--and scraping off, in
the process, the essence of Heaven knows how many Becky Morgans--
set himself to consider the subject.

'Let me think' quoth he. 'I saw last night what they had put upon
the coffin--was it seventy-nine?'

'No, no,' said the sexton.

'Ah yes, it was though,' returned the old man with a sigh. 'For I
remember thinking she was very near our age. Yes, it was
seventy-nine.'

'Are you sure you didn't mistake a figure, Davy?' asked the sexton,
with signs of some emotion.

'What?' said the old man. 'Say that again.'

'He's very deaf. He's very deaf indeed,' cried the sexton
petulantly; 'are you sure you're right about the figures?'

'Oh quite,' replied the old man. 'Why not?'

'He's exceedingly deaf,' muttered the sexton to himself. 'I think
he's getting foolish.'

The child rather wondered what had led him to this belief, as, to
say the truth, the old man seemed quite as sharp as he, and was
infinitely more robust. As the sexton said nothing more just then,
however, she forgot it for the time, and spoke again.

'You were telling me,' she said, 'about your gardening. Do you
ever plant things here?'

'In the churchyard?' returned the sexton, 'Not I.'

'I have seen some flowers and little shrubs about,' the child
rejoined; 'there are some over there, you see. I thought they were
of your rearing, though indeed they grow but poorly.'

'They grow as Heaven wills,' said the old man; 'and it kindly
ordains that they shall never flourish here.'

'I do not understand you.'

'Why, this it is,' said the sexton. 'They mark the graves of those
who had very tender, loving friends.'

'I was sure they did!' the child exclaimed. 'I am very glad to
know they do!'

'Aye,' returned the old man, 'but stay. Look at them. See how
they hang their heads, and droop, and wither. Do you guess the
reason?'

'No,' the child replied.

'Because the memory of those who lie below, passes away so soon.
At first they tend them, morning, noon, and night; they soon begin
to come less frequently; from once a day, to once a week; from once
a week to once a month; then, at long and uncertain intervals;
then, not at all. Such tokens seldom flourish long. I have known
the briefest summer flowers outlive them.'

'I grieve to hear it,' said the child.

'Ah! so say the gentlefolks who come down here to look about them,'
returned the old man, shaking his head, 'but I say otherwise.
"It's a pretty custom you have in this part of the country," they
say to me sometimes, "to plant the graves, but it's melancholy to
see these things all withering or dead." I crave their pardon and
tell them that, as I take it, 'tis a good sign for the happiness of
the living. And so it is. It's nature.'

'Perhaps the mourners learn to look to the blue sky by day, and to
the stars by night, and to think that the dead are there, and not
in graves,' said the child in an earnest voice.

'Perhaps so,' replied the old man doubtfully. 'It may be.'

'Whether it be as I believe it is, or no,' thought the child within
herself, 'I'll make this place my garden. It will be no harm at
least to work here day by day, and pleasant thoughts will come of
it, I am sure.'

Her glowing cheek and moistened eye passed unnoticed by the sexton,
who turned towards old David, and called him by his name. It was
plain that Becky Morgan's age still troubled him; though why, the
child could scarcely understand.

The second or third repetition of his name attracted the old man's
attention. Pausing from his work, he leant on his spade, and put
his hand to his dull ear.

'Did you call?' he said.

'I have been thinking, Davy,' replied the sexton, 'that she,' he
pointed to the grave, 'must have been a deal older than you or me.'

'Seventy-nine,' answered the old man with a shake of the head, 'I
tell you that I saw it.'

'Saw it?' replied the sexton; 'aye, but, Davy, women don't always
tell the truth about their age.'

'That's true indeed,' said the other old man, with a sudden sparkle
in his eye. 'She might have been older.'

'I'm sure she must have been. Why, only think how old she looked.
You and I seemed but boys to her.'

'She did look old,' rejoined David. 'You're right. She did look
old.'

'Call to mind how old she looked for many a long, long year, and
say if she could be but seventy-nine at last--only our age,' said
the sexton.

'Five year older at the very least!' cried the other.

'Five!' retorted the sexton. 'Ten. Good eighty-nine. I call to
mind the time her daughter died. She was eighty-nine if she was a
day, and tries to pass upon us now, for ten year younger. Oh!
human vanity!'

The other old man was not behindhand with some moral reflections on
this fruitful theme, and both adduced a mass of evidence, of such
weight as to render it doubtful--not whether the deceased was of
the age suggested, but whether she had not almost reached the
patriarchal term of a hundred. When they had settled this question
to their mutual satisfaction, the sexton, with his friend's
assistance, rose to go.

'It's chilly, sitting here, and I must be careful--till the
summer,' he said, as he prepared to limp away.

'What?' asked old David.

'He's very deaf, poor fellow!' cried the sexton. 'Good-bye!'
'Ah!' said old David, looking after him. 'He's failing very fast.
He ages every day.'

And so they parted; each persuaded that the other had less life in
him than himself; and both greatly consoled and comforted by the
little fiction they had agreed upon, respecting Becky Morgan, whose
decease was no longer a precedent of uncomfortable application, and
would be no business of theirs for half a score of years to come.

The child remained, for some minutes, watching the deaf old man as
he threw out the earth with his shovel, and, often stopping to
cough and fetch his breath, still muttered to himself, with a kind
of sober chuckle, that the sexton was wearing fast. At length she
turned away, and walking thoughtfully through the churchyard, came
unexpectedly upon the schoolmaster, who was sitting on a green
grave in the sun, reading.

'Nell here?' he said cheerfully, as he closed his book. 'It does
me good to see you in the air and light. I feared you were again
in the church, where you so often are.'

'Feared!' replied the child, sitting down beside him. 'Is it not
a good place?'

'Yes, yes,' said the schoolmaster. 'But you must be gay
sometimes--nay, don't shake your head and smile so sadly.'

'Not sadly, if you knew my heart. Do not look at me as if you
thought me sorrowful. There is not a happier creature on earth,
than I am now.'

Full of grateful tenderness, the child took his hand, and folded it
between her own. 'It's God's will!' she said, when they had been
silent for some time.

'What?'

'All this,' she rejoined; 'all this about us. But which of us is
sad now? You see that I am smiling.'

'And so am I,' said the schoolmaster; 'smiling to think how often
we shall laugh in this same place. Were you not talking yonder?'

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