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Chapter 8

  • Business disposed of, Mr Swiveller was inwardly reminded of its being nig_inner-time, and to the intent that his health might not be endangered b_onger abstinence, dispached a message to the nearest eating-house requirin_n immediate supply of boiled beef and greens for two. With this demand, however, the eating-house (having experience of its customer) declined t_omply, churlishly sending back for answer that if Mr Swiveller stood in nee_f beef perhaps he would be so obliging as to come there and eat it, bringin_ith him, as grace before meat, the amount of a certin small account which ha_ong been outstanding. Not at all intimidated by this rebuff, but rathe_harpened in wits and appetite, Mr Swiveller forwarded the same message t_nother and more distant eating-house, adding to it by way of rider that th_entleman was induced to send so far, not only by the great fame an_opularity its beef had acquired, but in consequence of the extreme toughnes_f the beef retailed at the obdurant cook's shop, which rendered it quit_nfit not merely for gentlemanly food, but for any human consumption. The goo_ffect of this politic course was demonstrated by the speedy arrive of a smal_ewter pyramid, curously constructed of platters and covers, whereof th_oiled-beef-plates formed the base, and a foaming quart-pot the apex; th_tructure being resolved into its component parts afforded all thing_equisite and necessary for a hearty meal, to which Mr Swiveller and hi_riend applied themselves with great keenness and enjoyment.
  • 'May the present moment,' said Dick, sticking his fork into a larg_arbuncular potato, 'be the worst of our lives! I like the plan of sending 'e_ith the peel on; there's a charm in drawing a poato from its native element (if I may so express it) to which the rich and powerful are strangers. Ah!
  • 'Man wants but little here below, nor wants that little long!' How true tha_t!—after dinner.'
  • 'I hope the eating-house keeper will want but little and that he may not wan_hat little long,' returned his companion; but I suspect you've no means o_aying for this!'
  • 'I shall be passing present, and I'll call,' said Dick, winking his ey_ignificantly. 'The waiter's quite helpless. The goods are gone, Fred, an_here's an end of it.'
  • In point of fact, it would seem that the waiter felt this wholesome truth, fo_hen he returned for the empty plates and dishes and was informed by M_wiveller with dignified carelessness that he would call and setle when h_hould be passing presently, he displayed some pertubation of spirit an_uttered a few remarks about 'payment on delivery' and 'no trust,' and othe_npleasant subjects, but was fain to content himself with inquiring at wha_our it was likely that the gentleman would call, in order that bein_resently responsible for the beef , greens, and sundries, he might take to b_n the way at the time. Mr Swiveller, after mentally calculating hi_ngagements to a nicety, replied that he should look in at from two minute_efore six and seven minutes past; and the man disappearing with this feebl_onsolation, Richards Swiveller took a greasy memorandum-book from his pocke_nd made an entry therein.
  • 'Is that a reminder, in case you should forget to call?' said Trent with _neer.
  • 'Not exactly, Fred,' replied the imperturable Richard, continuing to writ_ith a businesslike air. 'I enter in this little book the names of the street_hat I can't go down while the shops are open. This dinner today closes Lon_cre. I bought a pair of boots in Great Queen Street last week, and made tha_o throughfare too. There's only one avenue to the Strand left often now, an_ shall have to stop up that to-night with a pair of gloves. The roads ar_losing so fast in every direction, that in a month's time, unless my aun_ends me a remittance, I shall have to go three or four miles out of town t_et over the way.'
  • 'There's no fear of failing, in the end?' said Trent.
  • 'Why, I hope not,' returned Mr Swiveller, 'but the average number of letter_t take to soften her is six, and this time we have got as far as eigh_ithout any effect at all. I'll write another tom-morrow morning. I mean t_lot it a good deal and shake some water over it out of the pepper-castor t_ake it look penitent. 'I'm in such a state of mind that I hardly know what _rite'—blot—' if you could see me at this minute shedding tears for my pas_isconduct'—pepper-castor— my hand trembles when I think'—blot again—if tha_on't produce the effect, it's all over.'
  • By this time, Mr Swiveller had finished his entry, and he now replaced hi_encil in its little sheath and closed the book, in a perfectly grave an_erious frame of mind. His friend discovered that it was time for him t_ulfil some other engagement, and Richard Swiveller was accordingly lef_lone, in company with the rosy wine and his own meditations touching Mis_ophy Wackles.
  • 'It's rather sudden,' said Dick shaking his head with a look of infinit_isdom, and running on (as he was accustomed to do) with scraps of verse as i_hey were only prose in a hurry; 'when the heart of a man is depressed wit_ears, the mist is dispelled when Miss Wackles appears; she's a very nic_irl. She's like the red red rose that's newly sprung in June—there's n_enying that—she's also like a melody that's sweetly played in tune. It'_eally very sudden. Not that there's any need, on account of Fred's littl_ister, to turn cool directly, but its better not to go too far. If I begin t_ool at all I must begin at once, I see that. There's the chance of an actio_or breach, that's another. There's the chance of—no, there's no chance o_hat, but it's as well to be on the safe side.'
  • This undeveloped was the possibility, which Richard Swiveller sought t_onceal even from himself, of his not being proof against the charms of Mis_ackles, and in some unguarded moment, by linking his fortunes to her_orever, of putting it out of his own power to further their notable scheme t_hich he had so readily become a party. For all these reasons, he decided t_ick a quarrel with Miss Wackles without delay, and casting about for _retext determined in favour of groundless jealousy. Having made up his min_n this important point, he circulated the glass (from his right hand to left, and back again) pretty freely, to enable him to act his part with the greate_iscretion, and then, after making some slight improvements in his toilet, bent his steps towards the spot hallowed by the fair object of hi_editations.
  • The spot was at Chesea, for there Miss Sophia Wackles resided with her widowe_other and two sisters, in conjunction with whom she maintained a very smal_ay-school for young ladies of proportionate dimensions; a circumstance whic_as made known to the neighbourhood by an oval board over the front first- floor windows, whereupon appeared in circumbmbient flourishes the words
  • 'Ladies' Seminary'; and which was further published and proclaimed a_ntervals between the hours of half-past nine and ten in the morning, by _traggling and solitrary young lady of tender years standing on the scraper o_he tips of her toes and making futile attempts to reach the knocker wit_pelling-book. The several duties of instruction in this establishment wer_his discharged. English grammar, composition, geography, and the use of th_umb-bells, by Miss Melissa Wackles; writing, arthmetic, dancing, music, an_eneral fascination, by Miss Sophia Wackles; the art of needle-work, marking, and samplery, by Miss Jane Wackles; corporal punishment, fasting, and othe_ortures and terrors, by Mrs Wackles. Miss Melissa Wackles was the eldes_aughter, Miss Sophy the next, and Miss Jane the youngest. Miss Melissa migh_ave seen five-and-thirty summers or thereabouts, and verged on the autumnal; Miss Sophy was a fresh, good humoured, busom girl of twenty; and Miss Jan_umbered scarcely sixteen years. Mrs Wackles was an excellent but rathe_emenous old lady of three-score.
  • To this Ladies' Seminary, then, Richard Swiveller hied, with designs obnoxiou_o the peace of the fair Sophia, who, arrayed in virgin white, embelished b_o ornament but one blushing rose, received him on his arrival, in the mids_f very elegant not to say brilliant preparations; such as the embellishmen_f the room with the little flower-pots which always stood on the window-sil_utside, save in windy weather when they blew into the area; the choice attir_f the day-scholars who were allowed to grace the festival; the unwonted curl_f Miss Jane Wackles who had kept her head during the whole of the precedin_ay screwed up tight in a yellow play-bill; and the solemn gentility an_tately bearing of the old lady and her eldest daughter, which struck M_wiveller as being uncommon but made no further impression upon him.
  • The truth is—and, as there is no accounting for tastes, even a taste s_trange as this may be recorded without being looked upon as a wilful an_alicious invention—the truth is that neither Mrs Wackles nor her eldes_aughter had at any time greatly favoured the pretensions of Mr Swiveller, being accustomed to make slight mention of him as 'a gay young man' and t_igh and shake their heads ominously whenever his name was mentioned. M_wiveller's conduct in respect to Miss Sophy having been of that vague an_ilitory kind which is usuaully looked upon as betokening no fixed matrimonia_ntentions, the young lady herself began in course of time to deem it highl_esirable, that it should be brought to an issue one way or other. Hence sh_ad at last consented to play off against Richard Swiveller a stricken market- gardner known to be ready with his offer on the smallest encouragement, an_ence—as this occasion had been specially assigned for the purpose—that grea_nxiety on her part for Richard Swiveller's presence which had occasioned he_o leave the note he has ben seen to receive. 'If he has any expectations a_ll or any means of keeping a wife well,' said Mrs Wackles to her eldes_aughter, 'he'll state 'em to us now or never.'—'If he really cares about me,'
  • thought Miss Sophy, 'he must tell me so, to-night.'
  • But all these sayings and doings and thinkings being unknown to Mr Swiveller, affected him not in the least; he was debating in his mind how he could bes_urn jealous, and wishing that Sophy were for that occasion only far les_retty than she was, or that she were her own sister, which would have serve_is turn as well, when the company came, and among them the market-gardener, whose name was Cheggs. But Mr Cheggs came not alone or unsupported, for h_rudently brought along with him his sister, Miss Cheggs, who making straigh_o Miss Sophy and taking her by both hands, and kissing her on both cheeks, hoped in an audible whisper that they had not come too early.
  • 'Too early, no!' replied Miss Sophy.
  • 'Oh, my dear,' rejoined Miss Cheggs in the same whisper as before, 'I've bee_o tormented, so worried, that it's a mercy we were not here at four o'cloc_n the afternoon. Alick has been in such a state of impatience to come! You'_ardly believe that he was dressed before dinner-time and has been looking a_he clock and teasing me ever since. It's all your fault, you naughty thing.'
  • Hereupon Miss Sophy blushed, and Mr Cheggs (who was bashful before ladies) blushed too, and Miss Sophy's mother and sisters, to prevent Mr Cheggs fro_lushing more, lavished civilities and attentions upon him, and left Richar_wiveller to take care of himself. Here was the very thing he wanted, here wa_ood cause reason and foundation for pretending to be angry; but having thi_ause reason and foundation which he had come expressly to seek, not expectin_o find, Richard Swiveller was angry in sound earnest, and wondered what th_evil Cheggs meant by his impudence.
  • However, Mr Swiveller had Miss Sophy's hand for the first quadrille (country- dances being low, were utterly proscribed) and so gained an advantage over hi_ival, who sat despondingly in a corner and contemplated the glorious figur_f the young lady as she moved through the mazy dance. Nor was this the onl_tart Mr Swiveller had of the market-gardener, for determining to show th_amily what quality of man they trifled with, and influenced perhaps by hi_ate libations, he performed such feats of agility and such spins and twirl_s filled the company with astonishment, and in particular caused a very lon_entleman who was dancing with a very short scholar, to stand quite transfixe_y wonder and admiration. Even Mrs Wackles forgot for the moment to snub_hree small young ladies who were inclined to be happy, and could not repres_ rising thought that to have such a dancer as that in the family would be _ride indeed.
  • At this momentous crisis, Miss Cheggs proved herself a vigourous and usefu_lly, for not confining herself to expressing by scornful smiles a contemp_or Mr Swiveller's accomplishments, she took every opportunity of whisperin_nto Miss Sophy's ear expressions of condolence and sympathy on her bein_orried by such a ridiculous creature, declaring that she was frightened t_eath lest Alick should fall upon, and beat him, in the fulness of his wrath, and entreating Miss Sophy to observe how the eyes of the said Alick gleame_ith love and fury; passions, it may be observed, which being too much for hi_yes rushed into his nose also, and suffused it with a crimson glow.
  • 'You must dance with Miss Chegs,' said Miss Sophy to Dick Swiviller, after sh_ad herself danced twice with Mr Cheggs and made great show of encouraging hi_dvances. 'She's a nice girl—and her brother's quite delightful.'
  • 'Quite delightful, is he?' muttered Dick. 'Quite delighted too, I should say, from the manner in which he's looking this way.'
  • Here Miss Jane (previously instructed for the purpose) interposed her man_urls and whispered her sister to observe how jealous Mr Cheggs was.
  • 'Jealous! Like his impudence!' said Richard Swiviller.
  • 'His impudence, Mr Swiviller!' said Miss Jane, tossing her head. 'Take care h_on't hear you, sir, or you may be sorry for it.'
  • 'Oh, pray, Jane —' said Miss Sophy.
  • 'Nonsense!' replied her sister. 'Why shouldn't Mr Cheggs be jealous if h_ikes? I like that, certainly. Mr Cheggs has a good a right to be jealous a_nyone else has, and perhaps he may have a better right soon if he hasn'_lready. You know best about that, Sophy!'
  • Though this was a concerted plot between Miss Sophy and her sister, originating in humane intenions and having for its object the inducing M_wiviller to declare himself in time, it failed in its effect; for Miss Jan_eing one of those young ladies who are premeturely shrill and shrewish, gav_uch undue importance to her part that Mr Swiviller retired in dudgeon, resigning his mistress to Mr Cheggs and converying a definance into his look_hich that gentleman indignantly returned.
  • 'Did you speak to me, sir?' said Mr Cheggs, following him into a corner. 'Hav_he kindness to smile, sir, in order that we may not be suspected. Did yo_peak to me, sir'?
  • Mr Swiviller looked with a supercilious smile at Mr Chegg's toes, then raise_is eyes from them to his ankles, from that to his shin, from that to hi_nee, and so on very gradually, keeping up his right leg, until he reached hi_aistcoat, when he raised his eyes from button to button until he reached hi_hin, and travelling straight up the middle of his nose came at last to hi_yes, when he said abruptly,
  • 'No, sir, I didn't.'
  • `'Hem!' said Mr Cheggs, glancing over his shoulder, 'have the goodness t_mile again, sir. Perhaps you wished to speak to me, sir.'
  • 'No, sir, I didn't do that, either.'
  • 'Perhaps you may have nothing to say to me now, sir,' said Mr Cheggs fiercely.
  • At these words Richard Swiviller withdrew his eyes from Mr Chegg's face, an_ravelling down the middle of his nose and down his waistcoat and down hi_ight leg, reached his toes again, and carefully surveyed him; this done, h_rossed over, and coming up the other legt and thence approaching by th_aistcoat as before, said when had got to his eyes, 'No sir, I haven't.:'
  • 'Oh, indeed, sir!' said Mr Cheggs. 'I'm glad to hear it. You know where I'm t_e found, I suppose, sir, in case you should have anything to say to me?'
  • 'I can easily inquire, sir, when I want to know.'
  • 'There's nothing more we need say, I believe, sir?'
  • 'Nothing more, sir'—With that they closed the tremendous dialog by frownin_utually. Mr Cheggs hastened to tender his hand to Miss Sophy, and M_wiviller sat himself down in a corner in a very moody state.
  • Hard by this corner, Mrs Wackles and Miss Wackles were seated, looking on a_he dance; and unto Mrs and Miss Wackles, Miss Cheggs occasionally darted whe_er partner was occupied with his share of the figure, and made some remark o_ther which was gall and wormword to Richard Swiviller's soul. Looking int_he eyes of Mrs and Miss Wackles for encouragement, and sitting very uprigh_nd uncomfortable on a couple of hard stools, were two of the day-scholars; and when Miss Wackles smiled, and Mrs Wackles smiled, the two little girls o_he stools sought to curry favour by smiling likewise, in graciou_cknowledgement of which attention the old lady frowned them down instantly, and said that if they dared to be guilty of such an impertinence again, the_hould be sent under convoy to their respective homes. This threat caused on_f the young ladies, she being of a weak and trembling temperament, to she_ears, and for this offense they were both filed off immediately, with _readful promptitude that struck terror into the souls of all the pupils.
  • 'I've got such news for you,' said Miss Cheggs approaching once more, 'Alic_as been saying such things to Sophy. Upon my word, you know, it's quit_erious and in earnest, that's clear.'
  • 'What's he been saying, my dear?' demanded Mrs Wackles.
  • 'All manner of things,' replied Miss Cheggs, 'you can't think how out he ha_een speaking!'
  • Richard Swiviller considered it advisable to hear no more, but takin_dvantage of a pause in the dancing, and the approach of Mr Cheggs to pay hi_ourt to the old lady, swaggered with an extremely careful assumption o_xtreme carelessness toward the door, passing on the way Miss Jane Wackles, who in all the glory of her curls was holding a flirtation, (as good practic_hen no better was to be had) with a feeble old gentleman who lodged in th_arlour. Near the door sat Miss Sophy, still fluttered and confused by th_ttentions of Mr Cheggs, and by her side Richard Swiveller lingered for _oment to exchange a few parting words.
  • 'My boat is on the shore and my bark is on the sea, but before I pass thi_oor I will say farewell to thee,' murmured Dick, looking gloomily upon her.
  • 'Are you going?' said Miss Sophy, whose heart sank within her at the result o_er stratagem, but who affected a light indifference notwithstanding.
  • 'Am I going!' echoed Dick bitterly. 'Yes, I am. What then?'
  • 'Nothing, except that it's very early,' said Miss Sophy; 'but you are your ow_aster, of course.'
  • 'I would that I had been my own mistress too,' said Dick, 'before I had eve_ntertained a thought of you. Miss Wackles, I believed you true, and I wa_lest in so believing, but now I mourn that e'er I knew, a girl so fair yet s_eceiving.'
  • Miss Sophy bit her lip and affected to look with great interest after M_heggs, who was quaffing lemonade in the distance.
  • 'I came here,' said Dick, rather oblivious of the purpose with which he ha_eally come, 'with my bosom expanded, my heart dilated, and my sentiments of _orresponding description. I go away with feelings that may be conceived bu_annot be described, feeling within myself that desolating truth that my bes_ffections have experienced this night a stifler!'
  • 'I am sure I don't know what you mean, Mr Swiviller,' said Miss Sophy wit_owncast eyes. 'I'm very sorry if—'
  • 'Sorry, Ma'am!' said Dick, 'sorry in the possession of a Cheegs! But I wis_ou a very good night, concluding with this slight remark, that there is _oung lady growing up at this present moment for me, who has not only grea_ersonal attractions but great wealth, and who has requested her next of ki_o propose for my hand, which, having a regard for some members of her family, I have consented to promise. It's a gratifying circumstance which you'll b_lad to hear, that a young and lovely girl is growing into a woman expressl_n my account, and is now saving up for me. I thought I'd mention it. I hav_ow merely to apologize for trespassing so long upon your attention. Goo_ight.'
  • 'There's one good thing springs out of all this,' said Richard Swiviller t_imself when he had reached home and was hanging over the candle with th_xtinguisher in his hand, 'which is, that I now go heart and soul, neck an_eels, with Fred in all his scheme about little Nelly, and right glad he'll b_o find me so strong upon it. He shall know all about that to-morrow, and i_he mean time, as it's rather late, I'll try and get a wink of the balmy.'
  • 'The balmy' came almost as soon as it was courted. In a very few minutes M_wiviller was fast asleep, dreaming that he had married Nelly Trent and com_nto the property, and that his first act of power was to lay waste th_arket-garden of Mr Cheggs and turn it into a brick-field.