Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 8 Downward—Deeper and Deeper.

  • As the great bell of St. Paul’s struck the half-hour, George Aspel wa_eminded of the main object of his visit to that part of the City. Descendin_o the street, and pondering in silent wonder on the vast literar_orrespondence of the kingdom, he strode rapidly onward, his long leg_nabling him to pass ahead of the stream of life that flowed with him, an_ausing him to jostle not a few members of the stream that opposed him.
  • “Hallo, sir!” “Look out!” “Mind your eye, stoopid!” “Now, then, you lamp-post, w’ere are you a-goin’ to?” “Wot asylum ’ave _you_ escaped from?” were amon_he mildest remarks with which he was greeted.
  • But Aspel heeded them not. The vendors of penny marvels failed to attract him.
  • Even the print-shop windows had lost their influence for a time; and as fo_onkeys, barrel-organs, and trained birds, they were as the dust under hi_eet, although at other times they formed a perpetual feast to hi_nsophisticated soul. “Letters, letters, letters!”
  • He could think of nothing else. “Fourteen hundred and seventy-seven million_f letters, etcetera, through the Post-Office in one year!” kept ringin_hrough his brain; only varied in its monotony by “that gives thirty-tw_etters per head to the entire population, and as lots of ’em can’t write, o_ourse it’s much more for those who can! Take a man one hundred and sevent_ears to count ’em!”
  • At this point the brilliant glare of a gin-palace reminded him that he ha_alked far and long, and had for some time felt thirsty. Entering, he calle_or a pot of beer. It was not a huge draught for a man of his size. As h_rained it the memory of grand old jovial sea-kings crossed his mind, and h_alled for another pot. As he was about to apply it to his lips, and shoo_ack his flaxen curls, the remembrance of, a Norse drinking-cup in hi_ossession—an heirloom, which could not stand on its bottom, and had therefor_o be emptied before being set down,—induced him to chuckle quietly befor_uaffing his beer.
  • On setting down the empty pot he observed a poor miserable-looking woman, wit_ black eye and a black bottle, gazing at him in undisguised admiration.
  • Instantly he called for a third pot of beer. Being supplied by the wonderin_hop-boy, he handed it to the woman; but she shook her head, and drew bac_ith an air of decision.
  • “No, sir,” she said, “but thank you kindly all the same, sir.”
  • “Very well,” returned the youth, putting the pot and a half-crown on th_ounter, “you may drink it or leave it as you please. I pay for it, and yo_ay take the change—or leave that too if you like,” he added, as he went out, somewhat displeased that his feeling of generosity had been snubbed.
  • After wandering a short distance he was involved in labyrinths of brick an_ortar, and suddenly became convinced that he was lost. This was however _mall matter. To find one’s way by asking it is not difficult, even in London, if one possesses average intelligence.
  • The first man he stopped was a Scot. With characteristic caution that worth_leared his throat, and with national deliberation repeated Aspel’s query, after which, in a marked tone of regret, he said slowly, “Weel, sir, I reall_iv not ken.”
  • Aspel thanked him with a sarcastic smile and passed on. His next effort wa_ith a countryman, who replied, “Troth, sur, that’s more nor I can tell ’ee,” and looked after his questioner kindly as he walked away. A policema_ppearing was tried next. “First to the right, sir, third to the left, and as_gain,” was the sharp reply of that limb of the Executive, as he passed slowl_n, stiff as a post, and stately as a law of fate.
  • Having taken the required turns our wanderer found himself in a peculiarl_ow, dirty, and disagreeable locality. The population was in keeping wit_t—so much so that Aspel looked round inquiringly before proceeding to “as_gain.” He had not quite made up his mind which of the tawdry, half-drunke_reatures around him he would address, when a middle-aged man of respectabl_ppearance, dressed in black, issued from one of the surrounding dens.
  • “A city missionary,” thought George Aspel, as he approached, and asked fo_irection to the abode of a man named Abel Bones.
  • The missionary pointed out the entrance to the desired abode, and looked a_is questioner with a glance which arrested the youth’s attention.
  • “Excuse me, sir,” he said, “but the man you name has a very bad character.”
  • “Well, what then?” demanded Aspel sharply.
  • “Oh! nothing. I only meant to warn you, for he is a dangerous man.”
  • The missionary was a thin but muscular man, with stern black eyes and _owerful nose, which might have rendered his face harsh if it had not bee_ore than redeemed by a large firm mouth, round which played lines that tol_nmistakably of the milk of human kindness. He smiled as he spoke, and Aspe_as disarmed.
  • “Thank you,” he said; “I am well able to take care of myself.”
  • Evidently the missionary thought so too, for, with a quiet bow, he turned an_ent his way.
  • At the end of a remarkably dark passage George Aspel ran his head against _eam and his knee against a door with considerable violence.
  • “Come in,” said a very weak but sweet little voice, as though doors in tha_egion were usually rapped at in that fashion.
  • Lifting the latch and entering, Aspel found himself confronted by Tottie Bone_n her native home.
  • It was a very small, desolate, and dirty home, and barely rendered visible b_ thin “dip” stuck into an empty pint-bottle.
  • Tottie opened her large eyes wide with astonishment, then laid one of he_irty little fingers on her rosy lips and looked imploringly at her visitor.
  • Thus admonished, he spoke, without knowing why in a subdued voice.
  • “You are surprised to see me, Tottie?”
  • “I’m surprised at nothink, sir. ’Taint possible to surprise me with anythin_n _this_ life.”
  • “D’you expect to be surprised by anything in any other life, Tottie?” aske_spel, more amused by the air of the child than by her answer.
  • “P’r’aps. Don’t much know, and don’t much care,” said Tottie.
  • “Well, I’ve come to ask something,” said the youth, sitting down on a low bo_or the convenience of conversation, “and I hope, Tottie, that you’ll tell m_he truth. Here’s a half-crown for you. The truth, mind, whether you think i_ill please me or not; I don’t want to be pleased—I want the truth.”
  • “I’d tell you the truth without _that_ ,” said Tottie, eyeing the half-crow_hich Aspel still held between his fingers, “but hand it over. We want a goo_any o’ these things here, bein’ pretty hard up at times.”
  • She spun the piece deftly in the air, caught it cleverly, and put it in he_ocket.
  • “Well, tell me, now, did you post the letter I gave you the night I took te_ith Miss Lillycrop?”
  • “Yes, I did,” answered the child, with a nod of decision.
  • “You’re telling the truth?”
  • “Yes; as sure as death.”
  • Poor Tottie had made her strongest asseveration, but it did not convey t_spel nearly so much assurance as did the earnest gaze of her bright an_ruthful eyes.
  • “You put it in the pillar?” he continued.
  • “Yes.”
  • “At the end of the street?”
  • “Yes, at the end of the street; and oh, you’ve no idea what an awful time _as about it; the slit was so high, an’ I come down sitch a cropper w’en i_as done!”
  • “But it went in all right?”
  • “Yes, all right.”
  • George Aspel sat for some moments in gloomy silence. He now felt convinced o_hat which at first he had only suspected—namely, that his intending patro_as offended because he had not at once called in person to thank him, instea_f doing so by letter. Probably, also, he had been hurt by the expressions i_he letter to which Philip Maylands had objected when it was read to him.
  • “Well, well,” he exclaimed, suddenly giving a severe slap to his unoffendin_high, “I’ll have nothing to do with him. If he’s so touchy—as that comes to, the less that he and I have to say to each other the better.”
  • “Oh! _please_ , sir, hush!” exclaimed Tottie, pointing with a look of alarm t_ bundle which lay in a dark corner, “you’ll wake ’im.”
  • “Wake who?”
  • “Father,” whispered the child.
  • The visitor rose, took up the pint-bottle, and by the aid of its flarin_andle beheld something that resembled a large man huddled together in a hea_n a straw mattress, as he had last fallen down. His position, together wit_is torn and disarranged garments, had destroyed all semblance to human for_ave where a great limb protruded. His visage was terribly disfigured by th_ffects of drink, besides being partly concealed by his matted hair.
  • “What a wretched spectacle!” exclaimed the young man, touching the heap wit_is foot as he turned away in disgust.
  • Just then a woman with a black eye entered the room with a black bottle in he_and. She was the woman who had refused the beer from Aspel.
  • “Mother,” said Tottie, running up to her, “here’s the gent who—”
  • “’Av-’ee-go’-th’-gin?” growled a deep voice from the dark corner.
  • “Yes, Abel—”
  • “’Ave ’ee got th’ gin, I say, Molly?” roared the voice in rising wrath.
  • “Yes, yes, Abel, here it is,” exclaimed the woman, hastening towards th_orner.
  • The savage who lay there was so eager to obtain the bottle that he made _natch at it and let it slip on the stone floor, where it was broken t_ieces.
  • “O don’t, Abel dear, don’t! I’ll get another,” pleaded the poor woman; bu_bel’s disappointment was too great for endurance; he managed to rise, an_ade a wild blow at the woman,—missed her, and staggered into the middle o_he room. Here he encountered the stern glance of George Aspel. Being a dark, stern man himself, with a bulky powerful frame, he rather rejoiced in th_ight of a man who seemed a worthy foe.
  • “What d’ee wan’ here, you long-legged—hah! would you?” he added, on observin_spel’s face flush and his fists close, “Take that!”
  • He struck out at his adversary’s face with tremendous violence. Aspel parrie_he blow and returned it with such good-will that Abel Bones went headlon_nto the dark corner whence he had risen,—and lay there.
  • “I’m _very_ sorry,” said the instantly-repentant George, turning to Mrs Bones, “but I couldn’t help it; really, I—”
  • “There, there; go away, sir, and thank you kindly,” said the unfortunat_oman, urging—almost pushing—her visitor towards the door. “It’ll do ’im good, p’r’aps. He don’t get that every day, an’ it won’t ’urt ’im.”
  • Aspel found himself suddenly in the dark passage, and heard the door slammed.
  • His first impulse was to turn, dash in the door with his foot, and tak_engeance on Abel Bones, his next to burst into a sardonic laugh. Thereafte_e frowned fiercely, and strode away. In doing so he drew himself up with sea- king-like dignity and assaulted a beam, which all but crushed his hat over hi_yes. This did not improve his temper, but the beer had not yet robbed him o_ll self-control; he stooped to conquer and emerged into the street.
  • Well was it for George Aspel that his blow had been such an effective one, fo_f a riot with Bones had followed the blow, there were numerous kindre_pirits there who would have been only too glad to aid their chum, and th_ntruder would have fared badly among them, despite his physical powers. As i_as, he soon regained a respectable thoroughfare, and hastened away in th_irection of his lodgings.
  • But a dark frown clouded his brow, for as he went along his thoughts were bus_ith what he believed to be the insolent pride of Sir James Clubley. He als_hought of May Maylands, and the resolution with which she so firmly yet s_ently repelled him. The latter thought wounded his pride as well as hi_eelings deeply. While in this mood the spirit of the sea-kings arose withi_im once again. He entered a public-house and had another pot of beer. It wa_ery refreshing—remarkably so! True, the tall and stalwart young frame o_eorge Aspel needed no refreshment at the time, and he would have scorned th_nsinuation that he _required_ anything to support him—but—but—it wa_ecidedly refreshing! There could be no doubt whatever about that, and i_nduced him to take a more amiable view of men in general—of “poor Abel Bones” in particular. He even felt less savagely disposed towards Sir James, thoug_e by no means forgave him, but made up his mind finally to have nothing mor_o do with him, while as to May—hope told him flattering tales.
  • At this point in his walk he was attracted by one of those traps to catch th_nwary, which are so numerous in London—a music-hall. George knew not what i_as, and cared not. It was a place of public entertainment: that was enoug_or him. He wanted entertainment, and in he went.
  • It is not our purpose to describe this place. Enough is told when we have sai_hat there were dazzling lights and gorgeous scenes, and much music, and man_ther things to amuse. There were also many gentlemen, but—no ladies. Ther_as also much smoking and drinking.
  • Aspel soon observed that he was expected either to drink or smoke. He did no_ish to do either, but, disliking singularity, ordered a cigar and a glass o_randy-and-water. These were followed by another cigar and another glass.
  • Towards midnight he had reached that condition when drink stimulates th_esire for more drink. Being aware, from former experience, of the danger o_his condition, and being, as we have said, a man of some strength of will, h_ose to go.
  • At the moment a half-tipsy man at the little table next him carelessly flun_he end of his cigar away. It alighted, probably by accident, on the top o_spel’s head.
  • “Hallo, sir!” shouted the enraged youth, starting up and seizing the man b_is collar.
  • “Hallo, sir!” echoed the man, who had reached his pugnacious cups, “let go.”
  • He struck out at the same moment. Aspel would have parried the blow, but hi_rm had been seized by one of the bystanders, and it took effect on his nose, which instantly sent a red stream over his mouth and down the front of hi_hirt.
  • Good-humour and kindliness usually served Aspel in the place of principle.
  • Remove these qualities temporarily, and he became an unguarde_avage—sometimes a roaring lion.
  • With a shout that suspended the entertainments and drew the attention of th_hole house, he seized his adversary, lifted him in the air, and woul_nfallibly have dashed him on the floor if he had not been caught in the arm_f the crowd. As it was, the offender went down, carrying half-a-dozen friend_nd a couple of tables with their glasses along with him.
  • Aspel was prevented from doing more mischief by three powerful policemen, wh_eized him from behind and led him into the passage. There a noisy explanatio_ook place, which gave the offender time to cool and reflect on his madness.
  • On his talking quietly to the policemen, and readily paying for the damage h_ad done, he was allowed to go free. Descending the stair to the street, wher_he glare of the entrance-lamps fell full upon him, he felt a sudden sensatio_f faintness, caused by the combination of cold air, excitement, drink, an_moke. Seizing the railings with one hand, he stood for a moment with his eye_hut.
  • Re-opening them, and gazing stupidly before him, he encountered the horrifie_aze of May Maylands! She had been spending the evening with Miss Lillycrop, and was on her way home, escorted by Solomon Flint.
  • “Come along, Miss May,” said Solomon, “don’t be afraid of ’im. He can’t ’ur_ou—too far gone for that, bless you. Come on.”
  • May yielded, and was out of sight in a moment.
  • Filled with horror, despair, madness, and self-contempt, George Aspel stoo_olding on to the railings and glaring into vacuity. Recovering himself h_taggered home and went to bed.