As it was very easy for Kit to persuade himself that the old house was in hi_ay, his way being anywhere, he tried to look upon his passing it once more a_ matter of imperative and disagreeable necessity, quite apart from any desir_f his own, to which he could not choose but yield. It is not uncommon fo_eople who are much better fed and taught than Christopher Nubbles had eve_een, to make duties of their inclinations in matters of more doubtfu_ropriety, and to take great credit for the self-denial with which the_ratify themselves.
There was no need of any caution this time, and no fear of being detained b_aving to play out a return match with Daniel Quilp's boy. The place wa_ntirely deserted, and looked as dusty and dingy as if it had been so fo_onths. A rusty padlock was fastened on the door, ends of discoloured blind_nd curtains flapped drearily against the half-opened upper windows, and th_rooked holes cut in the closed shutters below, were black with the darknes_f the inside. Some of the glass in the window he had so often watched, ha_een broken in the rough hurry of the morning, and that room looked mor_eserted and dull than any. A group of idle urchins had taken possession o_he door-steps; some were plying the knocker and listening with delighte_read to the hollow sounds it spread through the dismantled house; others wer_lustered about the keyhole, watching half in jest and half in earnest for
'the ghost,' which an hour's gloom, added to the mystery that hung about th_ate inhabitants, had already raised. Standing all alone in the midst of th_usiness and bustle of the street, the house looked a picture of col_esolation; and Kit, who remembered the cheerful fire that used to burn ther_n a winter's night and the no less cheerful laugh that made the small roo_ing, turned quite mournfully away.
It must be especially observed in justice to poor Kit that he was by no mean_f a sentimental turn, and perhaps had never heard that adjective in all hi_ife. He was only a soft-hearted grateful fellow, and had nothing genteel o_olite about him; consequently, instead of going home again, in his grief, t_ick the children and abuse his mother (for, when your finely strung peopl_re out of sorts, they must have everybody else unhappy likewise), he turne_is thoughts to the vulgar expedient of making them more comfortable if h_ould.
Bless us, what a number of gentlemen on horseback there were riding up an_own, and how few of them wanted their horses held! A good city speculator o_ parliamentary commissioner could have told to a fraction, from the crowd_hat were cantering about, what sum of money was realised in London, in th_ourse of a year, by holding horses alone. And undoubtedly it would have bee_ very large one, if only a twentieth part of the gentlemen without grooms ha_ad occasion to alight; but they had not; and it is often an ill-nature_ircumstance like this, which spoils the most ingenious estimate in the world.
Kit walked about, now with quick steps and now with slow; now lingering a_ome rider slackened his horse's pace and looked about him; and now darting a_ull speed up a bye-street as he caught a glimpse of some distant horsema_oing lazily up the shady side of the road, and promising to stop, at ever_oor. But on they all went, one after another, and there was not a penn_tirring. 'I wonder,' thought the boy, 'if one of these gentlemen knew ther_as nothing in the cupboard at home, whether he'd stop on purpose, and mak_elieve that he wanted to call somewhere, that I might earn a trifle?'
He was quite tired out with pacing the streets, to say nothing of repeate_isappointments, and was sitting down upon a step to rest, when ther_pproached towards him a little clattering jingling four-wheeled chaise' draw_y a little obstinate-looking rough-coated pony, and driven by a little fa_lacid-faced old gentleman. Beside the little old gentleman sat a little ol_ady, plump and placid like himself, and the pony was coming along at his ow_ace and doing exactly as he pleased with the whole concern. If the ol_entleman remonstrated by shaking the reins, the pony replied by shaking hi_ead. It was plain that the utmost the pony would consent to do, was to go i_is own way up any street that the old gentleman particularly wished t_raverse, but that it was an understanding between them that he must do thi_fter his own fashion or not at all.
As they passed where he sat, Kit looked so wistfully at the little turn-out,
that the old gentleman looked at him. Kit rising and putting his hand to hi_at, the old gentleman intimated to the pony that he wished to stop, to whic_roposal the pony (who seldom objected to that part of his duty) graciousl_cceded.
'I beg your pardon, sir,' said Kit. 'I'm sorry you stopped, sir. I only mean_id you want your horse minded.'
'I'm going to get down in the next street,' returned the old gentleman. 'I_ou like to come on after us, you may have the job.'
Kit thanked him, and joyfully obeyed. The pony ran off at a sharp angle t_nspect a lamp-post on the opposite side of the way, and then went off at _angent to another lamp-post on the other side. Having satisfied himself tha_hey were of the same pattern and materials, he came to a stop apparentl_bsorbed in meditation. 'Will you go on, sir,' said the old gentleman,
gravely, 'or are we to wait here for you till it's too late for ou_ppointment?'
The pony remained immoveable.
'Oh you naughty Whisker,' said the old lady. 'Fie upon you! I'm ashamed o_uch conduct.'
The pony appeared to be touched by this appeal to his feelings, for he trotte_n directly, though in a sulky manner, and stopped no more until he came to _oor whereon was a brass plate with the words 'Witherden—Notary.' Here the ol_entleman got out and helped out the old lady, and then took from under th_eat a nosegay resembling in shape and dimensions a full-sized warming-pa_ith the handle cut short off. This, the old lady carried into the house wit_ staid and stately air, and the old gentleman (who had a club-foot) followe_lose upon her.
They went, as it was easy to tell from the sound of their voices, into th_ront parlour, which seemed to be a kind of office. The day being very war_nd the street a quiet one, the windows were wide open; and it was easy t_ear through the Venetian blinds all that passed inside.
At first there was a great shaking of hands and shuffling of feet, succeede_y the presentation of the nosegay; for a voice, supposed by the listener t_e that of Mr Witherden the Notary, was heard to exclaim a great many times,
'oh, delicious!' 'oh, fragrant, indeed!' and a nose, also supposed to be th_roperty of that gentleman, was heard to inhale the scent with a snuffle o_xceeding pleasure.
'I brought it in honour of the occasion, Sir,' said the old lady.
'Ah! an occasion indeed, ma'am, an occasion which does honour to me, ma'am,
honour to me,' rejoined Mr Witherden, the notary. 'I have had many a gentlema_rticled to me, ma'am, many a one. Some of them are now rolling in riches,
unmindful of their old companion and friend, ma'am, others are in the habit o_alling upon me to this day and saying, "Mr Witherden, some of the pleasantes_ours I ever spent in my life were spent in this office—were spent, Sir, upo_his very stool"; but there was never one among the number, ma'am, attached a_ have been to many of them, of whom I augured such bright things as I do o_our only son.'
'Oh dear!' said the old lady. 'How happy you do make us when you tell us that,
to be sure!'
'I tell you, ma'am,' said Mr Witherden, 'what I think as an honest man, which,
as the poet observes, is the noblest work of God. I agree with the poet i_very particular, ma'am. The mountainous Alps on the one hand, or a humming-
bird on the other, is nothing, in point of workmanship, to an honest man—o_oman—or woman.'
'Anything that Mr Witherden can say of me,' observed a small quiet voice, '_an say, with interest, of him, I am sure.'
'It's a happy circumstance, a truly happy circumstance,' said the Notary, 't_appen too upon his eight-and-twentieth birthday, and I hope I know how t_ppreciate it. I trust, Mr Garland, my dear Sir, that we may mutuall_ongratulate each other upon this auspicious occasion.'
To this the old gentleman replied that he felt assured they might. Ther_ppeared to be another shaking of hands in consequence, and when it was over,
the old gentleman said that, though he said it who should not, he believed n_on had ever been a greater comfort to his parents than Abel Garland had bee_o his.
'Marrying as his mother and I did, late in life, sir, after waiting for _reat many years, until we were well enough off—coming together when we wer_o longer young, and then being blessed with one child who has always bee_utiful and affectionate—why, it's a source of great happiness to us both,
'Of course it is, I have no doubt of it,' returned the Notary in _ympathising voice. 'It's the contemplation of this sort of thing, that make_e deplore my fate in being a bachelor. There was a young lady once, sir, th_aughter of an outfitting warehouse of the first respectability—but that's _eakness. Chuckster, bring in Mr Abel's articles.'
'You see, Mr Witherden,' said the old lady, 'that Abel has not been brought u_ike the run of young men. He has always had a pleasure in our society, an_lways been with us. Abel has never been absent from us, for a day; has he, m_ear?'
'Never, my dear,' returned the old gentleman, 'except when he went to Margat_ne Saturday with Mr Tomkinley that had been a teacher at that school he wen_o, and came back upon the Monday; but he was very ill after that, yo_emember, my dear; it was quite a dissipation.'
'He was not used to it, you know,' said the old lady, 'and he couldn't bea_t, that's the truth. Besides he had no comfort in being there without us, an_ad nobody to talk to or enjoy himself with.'
'That was it, you know,' interposed the same small quiet voice that had spoke_nce before. 'I was quite abroad, mother, quite desolate, and to think tha_he sea was between us—oh, I never shall forget what I felt when I firs_hought that the sea was between us!'
'Very natural under the circumstances,' observed the Notary. 'Mr Abel'_eelings did credit to his nature, and credit to your nature, ma'am, and hi_ather's nature, and human nature. I trace the same current now, flowin_hrough all his quiet and unobtrusive proceedings.—I am about to sign my name,
you observe, at the foot of the articles which Mr Chuckster will witness; an_lacing my finger upon this blue wafer with the vandyked corners, I a_onstrained to remark in a distinct tone of voice—don't be alarmed, ma'am, i_s merely a form of law—that I deliver this, as my act and deed. Mr Abel wil_lace his name against the other wafer, repeating the same cabalistic words,
and the business is over. Ha ha ha! You see how easily these things are done!'
There was a short silence, apparently, while Mr Abel went through th_rescribed form, and then the shaking of hands and shuffling of feet wer_enewed, and shortly afterwards there was a clinking of wine-glasses and _reat talkativeness on the part of everybody. In about a quarter of an hour M_huckster (with a pen behind his ear and his face inflamed with wine) appeare_t the door, and condescending to address Kit by the jocose appellation of
'Young Snob,' informed him that the visitors were coming out.
Out they came forthwith; Mr Witherden, who was short, chubby, fresh-coloured,
brisk, and pompous, leading the old lady with extreme politeness, and th_ather and son following them, arm in arm. Mr Abel, who had a quaint old-
fashioned air about him, looked nearly of the same age as his father, and bor_ wonderful resemblance to him in face and figure, though wanting something o_is full, round, cheerfulness, and substituting in its place a timid reserve.
In all other respects, in the neatness of the dress, and even in the club-
foot, he and the old gentleman were precisely alike.
Having seen the old lady safely in her seat, and assisted in the arrangemen_f her cloak and a small basket which formed an indispensable portion of he_quipage, Mr Abel got into a little box behind which had evidently been mad_or his express accommodation, and smiled at everybody present by turns,
beginning with his mother and ending with the pony. There was then a great to-
do to make the pony hold up his head that the bearing-rein might be fastened;
at last even this was effected; and the old gentleman, taking his seat and th_eins, put his hand in his pocket to find a sixpence for Kit.
He had no sixpence, neither had the old lady, nor Mr Abel, nor the Notary, no_r Chuckster. The old gentleman thought a shilling too much, but there was n_hop in the street to get change at, so he gave it to the boy.
'There,' he said jokingly, 'I'm coming here again next Monday at the sam_ime, and mind you're here, my lad, to work it out.'
'Thank you, Sir,' said Kit. 'I'll be sure to be here.'
He was quite serious, but they all laughed heartily at his saying so,
especially Mr Chuckster, who roared outright and appeared to relish the jok_mazingly. As the pony, with a presentiment that he was going home, or _etermination that he would not go anywhere else (which was the same thing)
trotted away pretty nimbly, Kit had no time to justify himself, and went hi_ay also. Having expended his treasure in such purchases as he knew would b_ost acceptable at home, not forgetting some seed for the wonderful bird, h_astened back as fast as he could, so elated with his success and great goo_ortune, that he more than half expected Nell and the old man would hav_rrived before him.