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.