"No. 9, Closet Court, Oxford Street.
"To Messrs. QUERK & CO.
"Gents,—Am Sorry to Trouble You, But Being Drove quite desperate at my Troubles (which have bro^t me to my Last Penny a Week ago) and Mrs. Squallop my Landlady w^d distrain on Me only that There Is nothing to distrain on, Am Determined to Go Abroad in a Week's Time, and shall Never come Any More back again with Great Grief w^h Is What I now Write To tell You Of (Hoping you will please Take No notice of It) So Need give Yourselves No Further Concern with my Concerns Seeing The Estate is Not To Be Had and Am Sorry you Sh^d Have Had so Much trouble with My Affairs w^h c^d not Help. Sh^d have Much liked The Thing, only it Was Not worth Stopping For, or Would, but Since It Was not God's Will be Done which it Will. Hav^g raised a Trifle On my Future Prospects (w^h am Certain There is Nothing In) from a True Friend" [need it be guessed at whose instance these words had found their way into the letter?] "w^h was certainly uncommon inconvenient to That Person But He w^d do Anything to Do me good As he says Am going to raise A Little More from a Gent That does Things of That Nature w^h will help me with Expense in Going Abroad (which place I Never mean to Return from.) Have fixed for the 10th To Go on w^h Day Shall Take leave Of Mr. Tag-rag (who on my Return Shall be glad to See Buried or in the Workhouse.) Have wrote This letter Only to Save Y^r Respectable Selves trouble w^h Trust You w^d not have Taken.
"And Remain, "Gents, "Y^r humble Unworthy servant, "T. TITMOUSE.
"P. S.—Hope you will Particularly Remember me to Mr. Gamon. What is to become of me, know nothing, being so troubled. Am Humbly Determined not to employ any Gents in This matter except y^r most Respectable House, and sh^d be most Truly Sorry to Go Abroad wh^h am really Often thinking of in Earnest. Unless something Speedily Turns Up, favorable, T. T.—Sh^d like (By the way) to know if you sh^d be so Disposed what y^r resp^e house w^d take for my Chances Down (Out and out) In a Round Sum (Ready money). And hope if they Write It will be by Next Post or Shall be Gone Abroad."
Old Mr. Quirk, as soon as he had finished the perusal of this skilful document, started, a little disturbed, from his seat, and bustled into Mr. Gammon's room with Mr. Titmouse's open letter in his hand.—"Gammon," said he, "just cast your eye over this, will you? Really, we must look after Titmouse, or, by Jove! he'll be gone!" Mr. Gammon took the letter rather eagerly, read deliberately through it, and then looked up at his fidgety partner, who stood anxiously eying him, and smiled.
"Well, Gammon, I really think—eh? Don't you"——
"Upon my word, Mr. Quirk, this nearly equals his last letter; and it also seems to have produced on you the effect desired by its gifted writer!"
"Well, Gammon, and what of that? Because my heart don't happen to be quite a piece of flint, you're always"—
"You might have been a far wealthier man than you are but for that soft heart of yours, Mr. Quirk," said Gammon, with a bland smile.(!)
"I know I might, Gammon—I know it. I thank my God I'm not so keen after business that I can't feel for this poor soul—really, his state's quite deplorable."
"Then, my dear sir, put your hand into your pocket at once, as I was suggesting last night, and allow him a weekly sum."
"A—hem! hem! Gammon"—said Quirk, sitting down, thrusting his hands into his waistcoat pockets, and looking very earnestly at Gammon.
"Well, then," replied that gentleman, shrugging his shoulders, in answer to the mute appeal—"write and say you won't—'tis soon done, and so the matter ends."
"Why, Gammon, you see, if he goes abroad," said Quirk, after a long pause—"we lose him forever."
"Pho!—go abroad! He's too much for you, Mr. Quirk—he is indeed, ha, ha!"
"You're fond of a laugh at my expense, Gammon; it's quite pleasant—you can't think how I like that laugh of yours!"
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Quirk—but you really misunderstand me; I was laughing only at the absurd inconsistency of the fellow: he's a most transparent little fool, and takes us for such. Go abroad! Ridiculous pretence!—In his precious postscript he undoes all—he says he is only often thinking of going—- pshaw!—That the wretch is in great distress, is very probable; but it must go hard with him before he either commits suicide or goes abroad, I warrant him: I've no fears on that score—but there is a point in the letter that may be worth considering—I mean the fellow's hint about borrowing money on his prospects."
"Yes, to be sure—the very thing that struck me." [Gammon faintly smiled.] "I never thought much about the other part of the letter—all stuff about going abroad—pho!—But to be sure, if he's trying to raise money, he may get into keen hands.—Do you really think he has been trying on anything of the sort?"
"Oh no—of course it's only a little lie of his—or he must have found out some greater fool than himself, which I had not supposed possible. But however that may be, I really think, Mr. Quirk, it's high time that we should take some decided step."
"Well,—yes, it may be," said Quirk, slowly—"and I must say that Mortmain encouraged me a good deal the day before yesterday."
"Well, and you know what Mr. Frankpledge"——
"Oh, as to Frankpledge—hem!"
"What of Mr. Frankpledge, Mr. Quirk?" inquired Gammon, rather tartly.
"There! there!—Always the way—but what does it signify? Come, come, Gammon, we know each other too well to quarrel!—I don't mean anything disrespectful to Mr. Frankpledge, but when Mortmain has been one's conveyancer these twenty years, and never once—hem!—but, however, he tells me that we are now standing on sure ground, or that he don't know what sure ground is, and sees no objection to our even taking preliminary steps in the matter, which indeed I begin to think it high time to do!—And as for securing ourselves in respect of any advances to Titmouse—he suggests our taking a bond, conditioned—say, for the payment of L500 or L1,000 on demand, under cover of which one might advance him, you know, just such sums as, and when we pleased; one could stop when one thought fit; one could begin with three or four pounds a-week, and increase as his prospects improved—eh!"
"You know I've no objection to such an arrangement; but consider, Mr. Quirk, we must have patience; it will take a long while to get our verdict, you know, and perhaps as long to secure it afterwards; and this horrid little wretch all the while on our hands; what the deuce to do with him, I really don't know!"
"Humph, humph!" grunted Quirk, looking very earnestly and uneasily at Gammon.
"And what I chiefly fear is this,—suppose he should get dissatisfied with the amount of our advances, and, knowing the state and prospects of the cause, should then turn restive?"
"Ay, confound it, Gammon, all that should be looked to, shouldn't it?" interrupted Quirk, with an exceedingly chagrined air. "I always like to look a long way a-head!"
"To be sure," continued Gammon, thoughtfully; "by that time he may have got substantial friends about him, whom he could persuade to become security to us for further and past advances."
"Nay, now you name the thing, Gammon; it was what I was thinking of only the other day:" he dropped his voice—"Isn't there one or two of our own clients, hem!"——
"Why, certainly, there's old Fang; I don't think it impossible he might be induced to do a little usury—it's all he lives for, Mr. Quirk; and the security is good in reality, though perhaps not exactly marketable."
"Nay; but, on second thoughts, why not do it myself, if anything can be made of it?"
"That, however, will be for future consideration. In the mean time, we'd better send for Titmouse, and manage him a little more—discreetly, eh? We did not exactly hit it off last time, did we, Mr. Quirk?" said Gammon, smiling rather sarcastically. "We must keep him at Tag-rag's, if the thing can be done for the present, at all events."
"To be sure; he couldn't then come buzzing about us, like a gad-fly; he'd drive us mad in a week, I'm sure."
"Oh, I'd rather give up everything than submit to it. It can't be difficult for us, I should think, to bind him to our own terms—to put a bridle in the ass's mouth? Let us say that we insist on his signing an undertaking to act implicitly according to our directions in everything."
"Ay, to be sure; on pain of our instantly turning him to the right about. I fancy it will do now! It was just what I was thinking of!"
"And, now, Mr. Quirk," said Gammon, with as much of peremptoriness in his tone as he could venture upon to Mr. Quirk, "you really must do me the favor to leave the management of this little wretch to me. You see, he seems to have taken—Heaven save the mark!—a fancy to me, poor fool!—and—and—it must be owned we miscarried sadly, the other night, on a certain grand occasion—eh?"
Quirk shook his head dissentingly.
"Well, then," continued Gammon, "upon one thing I am fixedly determined; one or the other of us shall undertake Titmouse, solely and singly. Pray, for Heaven's sake, tackle him yourself—a disagreeable duty! You know, my dear sir, how invariably I leave everything of real importance and difficulty to your very superior tact and experience; but this little matter—pshaw!"
"Come, come, Gammon, that's a drop of sweet oil"—
Quirk might well say so, for he felt its softening, smoothing effects already.
"Upon my word and honor, Mr. Quirk, I'm in earnest. Pshaw!—and you must know it. I know you too well, my dear sir, to attempt to"——
"Certainly," quoth Quirk, smiling shrewdly, "I must say, those must get up very early that can find Caleb Quirk napping."—Gammon felt at that moment that for several years he must have been a very early riser! And so the matter was arranged in the manner which Gammon had from the first wished and determined upon, i. e. that Mr. Titmouse should be left entirely to his management; and, after some little discussion as to the time and manner of the meditated advances, the partners parted. On entering his own room, Quirk, closing his door, stood for some time leaning against the side of the window, with his hands in his pockets, and his eyes instinctively resting on his banker's book, which lay on the table. He was in a very brown study, the subject on which his thoughts were busied, being the prudence or imprudence of leaving Titmouse thus in the hands of Gammon. It might be all very well for Quirk to assert his self-confidence when in Gammon's presence; but he did not really feel it. He never left Gammon after any little difference of opinion, however friendly, without a secret suspicion that somehow or another Gammon had been too much for him, and always gained his purposes without giving Quirk any handle of dissatisfaction. In fact, Quirk was thoroughly afraid of Gammon, and Gammon knew it. In the present instance, an undefinable but increasing suspicion and discomfort forced him presently back again into Gammon's room.
"I say, Gammon, you understand, eh?—Fair play, you know," he commenced, with a shy embarrassed air, ill concealed under a forced smile.
"Pray, Mr. Quirk, what may be your meaning?" inquired Gammon, with unusual tartness, with an astonished air, and blushing violently, which was not surprising; for ever since Quirk had quitted him, Gammon's thoughts had been occupied with only one question, viz. how he should go to work with Titmouse to satisfy him that he (Gammon) was the only member of the firm that had a real disinterested regard for him, and so acquire a valuable control over him! Thus occupied, the observation of Quirk had completely taken Gammon aback; and he lost his presence of mind, of course in such case his temper quickly following. "Will you favor me, Mr. Quirk, with an explanation of your extraordinarily absurd and offensive observation?" said he, reddening more and more as he looked at Mr. Quirk.
"You're a queer hand, Gammon," replied Quirk, with almost an equally surprised and embarrassed air, for he could not resist a sort of conviction that Gammon had fathomed what had been passing in his mind.
"What did you mean, Mr. Quirk, by your singular observation just now?" said Gammon, calmly, having recovered his presence of mind.
"Mean? Why, that—we're both queer hands, Gammon, ha, ha, ha!" answered Quirk, with an anxious laugh.
"I shall leave Titmouse entirely—entirely, Mr. Quirk, in your hands; I will have nothing henceforth whatever to do with him. I am quite sick of him and his concerns already; I cannot bring myself to undertake such an affair, and that was what I was thinking of,—when"——
"Eh? indeed! Well, to be sure! Only think!" said Quirk, dropping his voice, looking to see that the two doors were shut, and resuming the chair which he had lately quitted, "What do you think has been occurring to me in my own room, just now? Whether it would suit us better to throw this monkey overboard, put ourselves confidentially in communication with the party in possession, and tell him that—hem!—for a—eh? You understand—eh? a con-si-de-ra-tion—a suitable con-si-de-ra-tion!"
"Mr. Quirk! Heavens!" Gammon was really amazed.
"Well? You needn't open your eyes so very wide, Mr. Gammon—why shouldn't it be done? You know we wouldn't be satisfied with a trifle, of course. But suppose he'd agreed to buy our silence with four or five thousand pounds, really, it's well worth considering! Upon my soul, Gammon, it is a hard thing on him when one makes the case one's own!—no fault of his, and it is very hard for him to turn out, and for such a—eugh!—such a wretch as Titmouse; you'd feel it yourself, Gammon, if you were in his place, and I'm sure you'd think that four or five thous"——
"But is not Titmouse our POOR NEIGHBOR?" said Gammon, with a sly smile.
"Why, that's only one way of looking at it, Gammon! Perhaps the man we are going to eject does a vast deal of good with the property; certainly he bears a very high name in the county—and fancy Titmouse with ten thousand a-year!"——
"Mr. Quirk, Mr. Quirk, it's not to be thought of for a moment—not for a moment," interrupted Gammon, seriously, and even somewhat peremptorily—"nothing should persuade me to be any party to such"——
At this moment Snap burst into the room with a heated appearance, and a chagrined air——
"Pitch v. Grub——" he commenced breathlessly—
[This was a little pet action of poor Snap's: it was for slander uttered by the defendant (an hostler) against the plaintiff, (a waterman on a coach stand,) charging the plaintiff with having the mange, on account of which a woman refused to marry him.]
"Pitch v. Grub—just been tried at Guildhall. Witness bang up to the mark—words and special damage proved; slapping speech from Sergeant Shout. Verdict for plaintiff—but only one farthing damages; and Lord Widdrington said, as the jury had given one farthing for damages, he would give him another for costs, and that would make a halfpenny; on which the defendant's attorney tendered me—a halfpenny on the spot. Laughter in court—move for new trial first day of next term, and tip his lordship a rattler in the next Sunday's Flash!"
"Mr. Quirk," said Gammon, sternly, "once for all, if this sort of low business is to go on, I'll leave the firm, come what will!" [It flickered across his mind that Titmouse would be a capital client to start with on his own account.] "I protest our names will quite stink in the profession."
"Good, Mr. Gammon, good!" interposed Snap, warmly; "your little action for the usury penalties the other day came off so uncommon well! the judge's compliment to you was so nice"——
"Let me tell you, Mr. Snap," interrupted Gammon, reddening——
"Pho! Come! Can't be helped—fortune of the war,"—interrupted the head of the firm,—"there's only one thing to be looked to,—Is Pitch solvent?—of course we've security for costs out of pocket—eh, Snap?"
Now the fact was, that poor Snap had picked up Pitch at one of the police offices, and, in his zeal for business, had undertaken his case on pure speculation, relying on the apparent strength of the plaintiff's case—Pitch being only a waterman attached to a coach stand. When, therefore, the very ominous question of Mr. Quirk met Snap's ear, he suddenly happened (at least, he chose to appear to think so) to hear himself called for from the clerk's room, and bolted out of Mr. Gammon's room rather unceremoniously.
"Snap will be the ruin of the firm, Mr. Quirk," said Gammon, with an air of disgust. "But I really must get on with the brief I'm drawing; so, Mr. Quirk, we can talk about Titmouse to-morrow!"
The brief he was drawing up was for a defendant who was going to nonsuit the plaintiff, (a man with a large family, who had kindly lent the defendant a considerable sum of money,) solely because of the want of a stamp.
Quirk differed in opinion with Gammon, and, as he resumed his seat at his desk, he could not help writing the words, "Quirk and Snap," and thinking how well such a firm would sound and work—for Snap was verily a chip of the old block!
There will probably never be wanting those who will join in abusing and ridiculing attorneys and solicitors. Why? In almost every action at law, or suit in equity, or proceeding which may, or may not, lead to one, each client conceives a natural dislike for his opponent's attorney or solicitor. If the plaintiff succeeds, he hates the defendant's attorney for putting him (the said plaintiff) to so much expense, and causing him so much vexation and danger; and, when he comes to settle with his own attorney, there is not a little heart-burning in looking at his bill of costs, however reasonable. If the plaintiff fails, of course it is through the ignorance and unskilfulness of his attorney or solicitor! and he hates almost equally his own, and his opponent's attorney!—Precisely so is it with a successful or unsuccessful defendant. In fact, an attorney or solicitor is almost always obliged to be acting adversely to some one of whom he at once makes an enemy; for an attorney's weapons must necessarily be pointed almost invariably at our pockets! He is necessarily, also, called into action in cases when all the worst passions of our nature—our hatred and revenge, and our self-interest—are set in motion. Consider the mischief which might be constantly done on a grand scale in society, if the vast majority of attorneys and solicitors were not honorable, and able men! Conceive them, for a moment, disposed everywhere to stir up litigation, by availing themselves of their perfect acquaintance with almost all men's circumstances—artfully inflaming irritable and vindictive clients, kindling, instead of stifling, family dissensions, and fomenting public strife—why, were they to do only a hundredth part of what it is thus in their power to do, our courts of justice would soon be doubled, together with the number of our judges, counsel, and attorneys; new jails must be built to hold the ruined litigants—and the insolvent court enlarged, and in constant session throughout the year.
But not all of this body of honorable and valuable men are entitled to this tribute of praise. There are a few QUIRKS, several GAMMONS, and many SNAPS, in the profession of the law—men whose characters and doings often make fools visit the sins of individuals upon the whole species; nay, there are far worse, as I have heard—but I must return to my narrative.
On Friday night, the 28th July 18—, the state of Mr. Titmouse's affairs was this; he owed his landlady L1, 9s.; his washerwoman, 6s.; his tailor, L1, 8s.—in all, three guineas; besides 10s. to Huckaback, (for Tittlebat's notion was, that on repayment at any time of 10s., Huckaback would be bound to deliver up to him the document or voucher which he had given that gentleman,) and a weekly accruing rent of 7s. to his landlady, besides some very small sums for coffee, (alias chiccory,) tea, bread, and butter, &c. To meet these serious liabilities, he had literally—not one farthing.
On returning to his lodgings that night, he found a line from Thumbscrew, his landlady's broker, informing him that, unless by ten o'clock on the next morning his arrears of rent were paid, he should distrain, and she would also give him notice to quit at the end of the week; that nothing could induce her to give him further time. He sat down in dismay on reading this threatening document; and, in sitting down, his eye fell on a bit of paper lying on the floor, which must have been thrust under the door. From the marks on it, it was evident that he must have trod upon it in entering. It proved to be a summons from the Court of Requests, for L1, 8s. due to Job Cox, his tailor. He deposited it mechanically on the table; and for a minute he dared hardly breathe.
This seemed something really like a crisis.
After a silent agony of half an hour's duration, he rose trembling from his chair, blew out his candle, and, in a few minutes' time, might have been seen standing with a pale and troubled face before the window of old Balls, the pawnbroker, peering through the suspended articles—watches, sugar-tongs, rings, brooches, spoons, pins, bracelets, knives and forks, seals, chains, &c.—to see whether any one else than old Balls were within. Having at length watched out a very pale and wretched-looking woman, Titmouse entered to take her place; and after interchanging a few faltering words with the white-haired and hard-hearted old pawnbroker, produced his guard-chain, his breast-pin, and his ring, and obtained three pounds two shillings and sixpence on the security of them.
With this sum he slunk out of the shop, and calling on Cox, his tailor, paid his trembling old creditor the full amount of his claim (L1, 8s.) together with 4s., the expense of the summons—simply asking for a receipt, without uttering another word, for he felt almost choked. In the same way he dealt with Mrs. Squallop, his landlady—not uttering one word in reply to her profuse and voluble apologies, but pressing his lips between his teeth till the blood came from them, while his little heart seemed splitting within him. Then he walked up-stairs, with a desperate air—having just eighteen pence in his pocket—all his ornaments gone—his washerwoman yet unpaid—his rent going on—several other little matters unsettled; and the 10th of August approaching, when he expected to be dismissed penniless from Mr. Tag-rag's and thrown on his own resources for subsistence. When he had regained his room, and having shut the door, had re-seated himself at his table, he felt for a moment as if he could have yelled. Starvation and Despair, two fiends, seemed sitting beside him in shadowy ghastliness, chilling and palsying him—petrifying his heart within him. WHAT WAS HE TO DO? Why had he been born? Why was he so much more persecuted and miserable than any one else? Visions of his ring, his breast-pin, his studs, stuck in a bit of card, with their price written above them, and hanging exposed to his view in old Balls' window, almost frenzied him. Thoughts such as these at length began to suggest others of a dreadful nature.... The means were at that instant within his reach.... A sharp knock at the door startled him out of the stupor into which he was sinking. He listened for a moment as if he were not certain that the sound was a real one. There seemed a ton-weight upon his heart, which a mighty sigh could lift for an instant, but not remove; and he was in the act of heaving a second such sigh, as he languidly opened the door—expecting to encounter Mr. Thumbscrew, or some of his myrmidons, who might not know of his recent settlement with his landlady.
"Is this Mr.—Tit—Titmouse's?" inquired a genteel-looking young man.
"Yes," replied Titmouse, sadly.
"Are you Mr. Titmouse?"
"Yes," he replied, more faintly than before.
"Oh—I have brought you, sir, a letter from Mr. Gammon, of the firm of Quirk, Gammon, and Snap, solicitors, Saffron Hill," said the stranger, unconscious that his words shot a flash of light into a little abyss of grief and despair before him. "He begged me to give this letter into your own hands, and said he hoped you'd send him an answer by the first morning's post."
"Yes—oh—I see—certainly—to be sure—with pleasure—how is Mr. Gammon?—uncommon kind of him—very humble respects to him—take care to answer it," stammered Titmouse, in a breath, hardly knowing whether he were standing on his head or his heels, and not quite certain where he was.
"Good-evening, sir," replied the stranger, evidently a little surprised at Titmouse's manner, and withdrew. Titmouse shut his door. With prodigious trepidation of hand and flutter of spirits, he opened the letter—an enclosure meeting his eyes in the shape of a bank-note.
"Oh Lord!" he murmured, turning white as the sheet of paper he held. Then the letter dropped from his hand, and he stood as if stupefied for some moments; but presently rapture darted through him; a five-pound bank-note was in his hand, and it had been enclosed in the following letter:—
"35, Thavies' Inn, 29th July 18—.
"MY DEAR MR. TITMOUSE,
"Your last note addressed to our firm, has given me the greatest pain, and I hasten, on my return from the country, to forward you the enclosed trifle, out of my own personal resources—and I sincerely hope it will be of temporary service to you. May I beg the favor of your company on Sunday evening next, at seven o'clock, to take a glass of wine with me? I shall be quite alone and disengaged, and may have it in my power to make you some important communications, concerning matters in which, I assure you, I feel a very deep interest on your account. Begging the favor of an early answer to-morrow morning, I trust you will believe me, ever, my dear sir, your most faithful humble servant, "OILY GAMMON.
"TITTLEBAT TITMOUSE, ESQ."
The first balmy drop of the long-expected golden shower had at length fallen upon the panting Titmouse. How polite—nay, how affectionate and respectful—was the note of Mr. Gammon! and, for the first time in his life, he saw himself addressed
"TITTLEBAT TITMOUSE, ESQUIRE."
If his room had been large enough to admit of it, he would have skipped round it again and again in his frantic ecstasy. Having read over several times the blessed letter of Mr. Gammon, he hastily folded it up, crumpled up the bank-note in his hand, clapped his hat on his head, blew out his candle, rushed down-stairs as if a mad dog were at his heels, and in three or four minutes' time might have been seen standing breathless before old Balls, whom he had almost electrified by asking, with an eager and joyous air, for a return of the articles which he had only an hour before pawned with him; at the same time laying down the duplicates and the bank-note. The latter, old Balls scrutinized with most anxious exactness, and even suspicion—but it seemed perfectly unexceptionable; so he re-delivered to Titmouse his precious ornaments, and the change out of his note, minus a trifling sum for interest. Titmouse then started off at top speed to Huckaback; but it suddenly occurring to him as possible that that gentleman, on hearing of his good fortune, might look for an immediate repayment of the ten shillings he had recently lent to Titmouse, he stopped short—paused—and returned home. There he had hardly been seated a moment, when down he pelted again, to buy a sheet of paper and a wafer or two, to write his letter to Mr. Gammon; which having obtained, he returned at the same speed, almost overturning his fat landlady, who looked after him as though he were a mad cat scampering up and down-stairs, and fearing that he had gone suddenly crazy. The note he wrote to Mr. Gammon was so exceedingly extravagant, that, candid as I have (I trust) hitherto shown myself in the delineation of Mr. Titmouse's character, I cannot bring myself to give the aforesaid letter to the reader—making all allowances for the extraordinary excitement of its writer.
Sleep, that night and morning, found and left Mr. Titmouse the assured exulting master of TEN THOUSAND A-YEAR. Of this fact, the oftener he read Mr. Gammon's letter, the stronger became his convictions. 'Twas undoubtedly rather a large inference from small premises; but it secured him unspeakable happiness, for a time, at a possible cost of future disappointment and misery, which he did not pause to consider. The fact is that logic (according to Dr. Watts, but not according to Dr. Whateley, the right use of reason) is not a practical art. No one regards it in actual life; observe, therefore, folks on all hands constantly acting like Tittlebat Titmouse in the case before us. His conclusion was—that he had become the certain master of ten thousand a-year; his premises were—what the reader has seen. I do not, however, mean to say, that if the reader be a youth hot from Oxford, he may not be able to prove, by a very refined and ingenious argument, that Titmouse was, in what he did above, a fine natural logician; for I recollect that some great philosopher hath demonstrated, by a famous argument, that there is NOTHING ANYWHERE: and no one that I have heard of, hath ever been able to prove the contrary.
By six o'clock the next morning, Titmouse had, with his own hand, dropped his answer into the letter-box upon the door of Mr. Gammon's chambers in Thavies' Inn; in which answer he had, with numerous expressions of profound respect and gratitude, accepted Mr. Gammon's polite invitation. A very happy man felt Titmouse as he returned to Oxford Street; entering Messrs. Tag-rag's premises with alacrity, just as they were being opened, and volunteering his assistance in numerous things beyond his usual province, with singular briskness and energy; as if conscious that by doing so he was greatly gratifying Messrs. Quirk, Gammon, and Snap, whose wishes upon the subject he knew. He displayed such unwonted cheerfulness and patient good-nature throughout the day, that one of his companions, a serious youth, in a white neckerchief, black clothes, and with a blessed countenance—the only professing pious person in the establishment—took an occasion to ask him, in a mysterious whisper, "whether he had not got converted:" and whether he would, at six o'clock in the morning, accompany the speaker to a room in the neighborhood, where he (the youth aforesaid) was going to conduct an exhortation and prayer meeting! Titmouse refused—but not without a few qualms; for luck certainly seemed to be smiling on him, and he felt that he ought to be grateful for it; but then, he at length reflected, the proper place for that sort of thing would be a regular church—to which he accordingly resolved to go. This change of manners Tag-rag, however, looked upon as assumed only to affront him; seeing nothing but impertinence and defiance in all that Titmouse did—as if the nearer Titmouse got to the end of his bondage—i. e. the 10th of August—the lighter-hearted he grew! Titmouse resolved religiously to keep his own counsel; to avoid even—at all events for the present—communicating with Huckaback.
On the ensuing Sunday he rose very early, and took nearly twice as long a time as usual to dress—by reason of his often falling into many delicious and momentarily intoxicating reveries. By eleven o'clock he might have been seen entering the gallery of St. Andrew's Church, Holborn; where he considered that doubtless Mr. Gammon, who lived in the neighborhood, might have a seat. He asked three or four pew-openers, both below and above stairs, if they knew which was Mr. Gammon's pew—Mr. Gammon of Thavies' Inn; not dreaming of presumptuously going to the pew, but of sitting in some place which commanded a view of it. Mr. Gammon, I need hardly say, was quite unknown there—no one had ever heard of such a person; nevertheless Titmouse, (albeit a little galled at being, in spite of his elegant appearance, slipped into a back seat in the gallery,) remained to the close of the service—but his thoughts wandered grievously the whole time. Having quitted the church in a buoyant humor, he sauntered in the direction of Hyde Park. How soon might he become, instead of a mere spectator as heretofore, a partaker in its glories! The dawn of the day of fortune was on his long-benighted soul; and he could hardly subdue his excited feelings. Having eaten nothing but a couple of biscuits during the day, as the clock struck seven he made his punctual appearance at Mr. Gammon's, with a pair of span-new white kid gloves on; and somewhat flurried, was speedily ushered, by a comfortable-looking elderly female servant, into Mr. Gammon's room. Mr. Titmouse was dressed just as he had been when first presented to the reader, sallying forth into Oxford Street. Mr. Gammon, who was sitting reading the Sunday Flash at a table on which stood a couple of decanters, several wine-glasses, and one or two dishes of fruit, rose and received his distinguished visitor with the most delightful affability.
"I am most happy, Mr. Titmouse, to see you in this friendly way," said he, shaking him cordially by the hand.
"Oh, don't name it, sir!" quoth Titmouse, rather indistinctly, and hastily running his hand through his hair.
"I've nothing, you see, to offer you but a little fruit and a glass of fair port or sherry. You see I am a very quiet man on Sundays!"
"Particular fond of them, sir," replied Titmouse, endeavoring to clear his throat; for in spite of a strong effort to appear at his ease, he was unsuccessful; so that, when Gammon's keen eye glanced at the bedizened figure of his guest, a bitter smile passed over his face, without having been observed by Titmouse. "This," thought he, as his eye passed from the ring glittering on the little finger of the right hand, to the studs and breast-pin in the shirt-front, and thence to the guard-chain glaring entirely outside a damson-colored satin waistcoat, and the spotless white glove which yet glistened on the left hand—"This is the writer of the dismal epistle of the other day, announcing his desperation and destitution!"
"Your health, Mr. Titmouse!—help yourself!" said Mr. Gammon, in a cheerful and cordial tone; Titmouse pouring out a glass only three-quarters full, raised it to his lips with a slightly tremulous hand, and returned Mr. Gammon's salutation. When had Titmouse tasted a glass of wine before? a reflection occurring not only to himself, but also to Gammon, to whom it was a circumstance that might be serviceable.
"You see, Mr. Titmouse, mine's only a small bachelor's establishment, and I cannot put my old servant out of the way by having my friends to dinner"—[quite forgetting that the day before he had entertained at least six friends, including Mr. Frankpledge—but, the idea of going through a dinner with Mr. Titmouse!]
And now, O inexperienced Titmouse! unacquainted with the potent qualities of wine, I warn you to be cautious how you drink many glasses, for you cannot calculate the effect which they will have upon you; and, indeed, methinks that with this man you have a game to play which will not admit of much wine being drunk. Be you, therefore, on your guard; for wine is like a strong serpent, who will creep unperceivedly into your empty head, and coil himself up therein, until at length he begins to move about—and all things are as nought to you!
"Oh, sir, 'pon my honor, beg you won't name it—all one to me, sir!—Beautiful wine this, sir."
"Pretty fair, I think—certainly rather old;—but what fruit will you take—raspberries or cherries?"
"Why—a—I've so lately dined," replied Titmouse, alluding to the brace of biscuits on which he had luxuriated several hours before. He would have preferred the cherries, but did not feel quite at his ease how to dispose of the stones nicely—gracefully—so he took a very few raspberries upon his plate, and ate them slowly, and with a modest and timid air.
"Well, Mr. Titmouse," commenced Gammon, with an air of concern, "I was really much distressed by your last letter!"
"Uncommon glad to hear it, sir—knew you would, sir—you're so kind-hearted;—all quite true, sir!"
"I had no idea that you were reduced to such straits," said Gammon, in a sympathizing tone, but settling his eye involuntarily on the ring of Titmouse.
"Quite dreadful, sir—'pon my soul, dreadful; and such usage at Mr. Tag-rag's!"
"But you mustn't think of going abroad—away from all your friends, Mr. Titmouse."
"Abroad, sir!" interrupted Titmouse, with anxious but subdued eagerness; "never thought of such a thing!"
"Oh! I—I thought"——
"There isn't a word of truth in it, sir; and if you've heard so, it must have been from that oudacious fellow that called on you—he's such a liar—if you knew him as well as I do, sir!" said Titmouse, with a confident air, quite losing sight of his piteous letter to Messrs. Quirk, Gammon, and Snap—"No, sir—shall stay, and stick to friends that stick to me."
"Take another glass of wine, Mr. Titmouse," interrupted Gammon, cordially, and Titmouse obeyed him; but while he was pouring it out, a sudden recollection of his letter flashing across his mind, satisfied him that he stood detected in a flat lie before Mr. Gammon, and he blushed scarlet.
"Do you like the sherry?" inquired Gammon, perfectly aware of what was passing through the little mind of his guest, and wishing to divert his thoughts. Titmouse answered in the affirmative: and proceeded to pour forth such a number of apologies for his own behavior at Saffron Hill, and that of Huckaback on the subsequent occasion, as Gammon found it difficult to stop, over and over again assuring him that all had been entirely forgiven and even forgotten. When Titmouse came to the remittance of the five pounds——
"Don't mention it, my dear sir," interrupted Gammon, very blandly; "it gave me, I assure you, far greater satisfaction to send it, than you to receive it. I hope it has a little relieved you?"
"I think so, sir! I was, 'pon my life, on my very last legs."
"When things come to the worst, they often mend, Mr. Titmouse! I told Mr. Quirk (who, to do him justice, came at last into my views) that, however premature, and perhaps imprudent it might be in us to go so far, I could not help relieving your present necessities, even out of my own resources."
[Oh, Gammon, Gammon!]
"How very uncommon kind of you, sir!" exclaimed Titmouse.
"Not in the least, my dear sir—(pray fill another glass, Mr. Titmouse!) You see Mr. Quirk is quite a man of business—and our profession too often affords instances of persons whose hearts contract as their purses expand, Mr. Titmouse—ha! ha! Indeed, those who make their money as hard as Mr. Quirk, are apt to be slow at parting with it, and very suspicious!"
"Well, I hope no offence, sir; but really I thought as much, directly I saw that old gent."
"Ah—but now he is embarked, heart and soul, in the affair."
"No! Is he really, sir?" inquired Titmouse, eagerly.
"That is," replied Gammon, quickly, "so long as I am at his elbow, urging him on—for he wants some one who—hem! In fact, my dear sir, ever since I had the good fortune to make the discovery, which happily brought us acquainted with each other, Mr. Titmouse," [it was old Quirk, as the reader will by and by find, who had made the discovery, and Gammon had for a long time thrown cold water on it,] "I have been doing all I could with him, and I trust I may say, have at last got the thing into shape."
"I'll take my oath, sir," said Titmouse, excitedly, "I never was so much struck with any one in all my born days as I was with you, sir, when you first came to my emp—to Mr. Tag-rag's, sir—Lord, sir, how uncommon sharp you seemed!" Gammon smiled with a deprecating air, and sipped his wine in silence; but there was great sweetness in the expression of his countenance. Poor Titmouse's doubts, hopes, and fears, were rapidly being sublimed into a reverence for Gammon....
"I certainly quite agree with Mr. Quirk," said Gammon, presently, "that the difficulties in our way are of the most serious description. To speak, for an instant only, of the risks we ourselves incur personally—would you believe it, my dear Mr. Titmouse?—in such a disgraceful state are our laws, that we can't gratify our feelings by taking up your cause, without rendering ourselves liable to imprisonment for Heaven knows how long, and a fine that would be ruin itself, if we should be found out!"
Titmouse continued silent, his wine-glass in his hand arrested in its way to his mouth; which, together with his eyes, was opened to its widest extent, as he stared with a kind of terror upon Mr. Gammon.—"Are we, then, unreasonable, my dear sir, in entreating you to be cautious—nay, in insisting on your compliance with our wishes, in all that we shall deem prudent and necessary, when not only your own best interests, but our characters, liberties, and fortunes are staked on the issue of this great enterprise? I am sure," continued Gammon, with great emotion, "you will feel for us, Mr. Titmouse. I see you do!" Gammon put his hand over his eyes, in order, apparently, to conceal his emotion, but really to observe what effect he had produced upon Titmouse. The conjoint influence of Gammon's wine and eloquence not a little agitated Titmouse, in whose eyes stood tears.
"I'll do anything—anything, sir," Titmouse almost sobbed.
"Oh! all we wish is to be allowed to serve you effectually; and to enable us to do that"——
"Tell me to get into a soot-bag, and lie hid in a coal-hole, and see if I won't do it!"
"What! a coal-hole? Would you, then, even stop at Tag-rag and Co.'s?"
"Ye-e-e-e-s, sir—hem! hem! That is, till the tenth of next month, when my time's up."
"Ah!—ay!—oh, I understand! Another glass, Mr. Titmouse," said Gammon, pouring himself out some more wine; and observing, while Titmouse followed his example, that there was an unsteadiness in his motions of a very different description from that which he had exhibited at the commencement of the evening—at the same time wondering what the deuce they should do with him after the tenth of August.
"You see, I have the utmost confidence in you, and had so from the first happy moment when we met; but Mr. Quirk is rather sus—In short to prevent misunderstanding (as he says,) Mr. Quirk is anxious that you should give a written promise." (Titmouse looked eagerly about for writing materials.) "No, not now, but in a day or two's time. I confess, my dear Mr. Titmouse, if I might have decided on the matter, I should have been satisfied with your verbal promise; but I must say, Mr. Quirk's gray hairs seem to have made him quite—eh! you understand? Don't you think so, Mr. Titmouse?"
"To be sure! 'pon my honor, Mr. Gammon!" replied Titmouse; not very distinctly understanding, however, what he was so energetically assenting to.
"I dare say you wonder why we wish you to stop a few months longer at your present hiding-place at Tag-rag's?"
"Can't, possibly!—after the tenth of next month, sir," replied Titmouse, eagerly.
"But as soon as we begin to fire off our guns against the enemy—Lord, my dear sir, if they could only find out, you know, where to get at you—you would never live to enjoy your ten thousand a-year! They'd either poison or kidnap you—get you out of the way, unless you keep out of their way: and if you will but consent to keep snug at Tag-rag's for a while, who'd suspect where you was? We could easily arrange with your friend Tag-rag that you should"——
"My stars! I'd give something to hear you tell Tag-rag—why, I wonder what he'll do!"
"Make you very comfortable, and let you have your own way in everything—that you may rely upon!"
"Go to the play, for instance, whenever I want, and do all that sort of thing?"
"Nay, try! anything! And as for money, I've persuaded Mr. Quirk to consent to our advancing you a certain sum per week, from the present time, while the cause is going on,"—(Titmouse's heart began to beat fast,)—"in order to place you above absolute inconvenience; and when you consider the awful sums we shall have to disburse—cash out of pocket—(the tongues of counsel, you know, are set on gold springs, and only gold keys open their lips!)—for court-fees, and a thousand other indispensable matters, I should candidly say that four thousand pounds of hard cash out of pocket, advanced by our firm in your case, would be the very lowest." (Titmouse stared at him with an expression of stupid wonder.) "Yes—four thousand pounds, Mr. Titmouse, at the very least—the very least." Again he paused, keenly scrutinizing Titmouse's features by the light of the candles, which just then were brought in. "You seem surprised, Mr. Titmouse."
"Why—why—where's all the money to come from, sir?" exclaimed Titmouse, aghast.
"Ah! that is indeed a fearful question,"—replied Gammon, with a very serious air; "but at my request, our firm has agreed to make the necessary advances; and also (for I could not bear the sight of your distress, Mr. Titmouse!) to supply your necessities liberally in the mean time, as I was saying."
"Won't you take another glass of wine, Mr. Gammon?" suddenly inquired Titmouse, with a confident air.
"With all my heart, Mr. Titmouse! I'm delighted that you approve of it. I paid enough for it, I can warrant you."
"Cuss me if ever I tasted such wine! Uncommon! Come—no heel-taps, Mr. Gammon—here goes—let's drink—success to the affair!"
"With all my heart, my dear sir—with all my heart. Success to the thing—amen!" and Gammon drained his glass; so did Titmouse. "Ah! Mr. Titmouse, you'll soon have wine enough to float a frigate—and indeed what not—with ten thousand a-year?"
"And all the back-rents, you know—ha, ha!"
"Yes—to be sure!—the back-rents! The sweetest estate that is to be found in all Yorkshire! Gracious, Mr. Titmouse!" continued Gammon, with an excited air—"What may you not do? Go where you like—do what you like—get into Parliament—marry some lovely woman of high rank!"
"Lord, Mr. Gammon!—you a'n't dreaming? Nor I? But now, in course, you must be paid handsome for your trouble!—Only say how much—Name your sum! What you please! You only get me all you've said—and I'll"——
"For my part, I wish to rely entirely on your mere word of honor. Between gentlemen, you know—my dear sir"——
"You only try me, sir."
"But you see, Mr. Quirk's getting old, and naturally is anxious to provide for those whom he will leave behind him—and so Mr. Snap agreed with him—two to one against me, Mr. Titmouse—of course they carried the day—two to one."
"Never mind that!—only say the figure, sir!" cried Titmouse, eagerly.
"A single year's income, only—ten thousand pounds will hardly"——
"Ten thousand pounds! By jingo, but that is a slice out of the cake! Oh, Lord!" quoth Titmouse, looking aghast.
"A mere crumb, my dear sir!—a trifle! Why, we are going to give you that sum at least every year—and indeed it was suggested to our firm, that unless you gave us at least a sum of twenty-five thousand pounds—in fact, we were recommended to look out for some other heir."
"Oh dear! oh Mr. Gammon," cried Titmouse, hastily—"it's not to be thought of, sir."
"So I said; and as for throwing it up—to be sure we shall have ourselves to borrow large sums to carry on the war—and unless we have your bond for at least ten thousand pounds, we cannot raise a farthing."
"Well—curse me, if you sha'n't do what you like!—Give me your hand, and do what you like, Mr. Gammon!"
"Thank you, Mr. Titmouse! How I like a glass of wine with a friend in this quiet way!—you'll always find me rejoiced to show"——
"Your hand! By George—Didn't I take a liking to you from the first? But to speak my mind a bit—as for Mr. Quirk—excuse me—but he's a cur—cur—cur—mudg—mudg—mudg—eon—hem!"
"Hope you've not been so imprudent, my dear Titmouse," threw in Mr. Gammon, rather anxiously, "as to borrow money—eh?"
"Devil knows, and devil cares! No stamp, I know—bang up to the mark"—here he winked an eye, and put his finger to his nose—"wide awake—Huck—uck—uck—uck! how his name sti—sticks. Your hand, Mr. Gammon—here—this, this way—what are you bobbing your head about for? Ah, ha!—The floor—'pon my life!—how funny—it's like being at sea—up, down—oh dear!"—he clapped his hand to his head.
[Pythagoras has finely observed, that a man is not to be considered dead drunk till he lies on the floor, and stretches out his arms and legs to prevent his going lower.]
See-saw, see-saw, up and down, up and down, went everything about him. Now he felt sinking through the floor, then gently rising towards the ceiling. Mr. Gammon seemed getting into a mist, and waving about the candles in it. Mr. Titmouse's head swam; his chair seemed to be resting on the waves of the sea.
"I'm afraid the room's rather close, Mr. Titmouse," hastily observed Gammon, perceiving from Titmouse's sudden paleness and silence, but too evident symptoms that his powerful intellect was for a while paralyzed. Gammon started to the window and opened it. Paler, however, and paler became Titmouse. Gammon's game was up much sooner than he had calculated on.
"Mrs. Brown! Mrs. Brown!" he called out, opening the sitting-room door—"order a coach instantly, and tell Tomkins"—that was the inn porter—"to get his son ready to go home with this gentleman—he's not very well." He was quickly obeyed. It was, in truth, "all up" with Titmouse—at least for a while.
As soon as Gammon had thus got rid of his distinguished guest, he ordered the table to be cleared of the glasses, and tea to be ready within half an hour. He then walked out to enjoy the cool evening; on returning, sat pleasantly sipping his tea, now and then dipping into the edifying columns of the Sunday Flash, but oftener ruminating upon his recent conversation with Titmouse, and speculating upon certain possible results to himself personally; and a little after eleven o'clock, that good man, at peace with all the world—calm and serene—retired to repose. He had that night rather a singular dream; it was of a snake encircling a monkey, as if in gentle and playful embrace. Suddenly tightening its folds, a crackling sound was heard; the writhing coils were then slowly unwound—and, with a shudder, he beheld the monster licking over the motionless figure, till it was covered with a viscid slime. Then the serpent began to devour his prey; and, when gorged and helpless, behold, it was immediately fallen upon by two other snakes. To his disturbed fancy, there was a dim resemblance between their heads and those of Quirk and Snap—they all three became intertwisted together—and writhed and struggled till they fell over the edge of a dark and frightful precipice—he woke—thank God! it was only a dream.
When, after his return from Mr. Gammon's chambers, at Thavies' Inn, Titmouse woke at an early hour in the morning, he was laboring under the ordinary effects of unaccustomed inebriety. His lips were perfectly parched; his tongue clave to the roof of his mouth; there was a horrid weight pressing on his aching eyes, and upon his throbbing head. His pillow seemed undulating beneath him, and everything swimming around him; but when, to crown the whole, he was roused from a momentary nap by the insupportable—the loathed importunities of Mrs. Squallop, that he would just sit up and partake of three thick rounds of hot buttered toast, and a great basin of smoking tea, which would do him so much good, and settle his stomach—at all events, if he'd only have a thimbleful of gin in it—poor Titmouse was fairly overcome!... He lay in bed all that day, during which he underwent very severe sufferings; and it was not till towards night that he began to have anything like a distinct recollection of the events of the evening which he had spent with Mr. Gammon; who, by the way, had sent one of the clerks, during the afternoon, to inquire after him. He did not get out of bed on the Tuesday till past twelve o'clock, when, in a very rickety condition, he made his appearance at the shop of Messrs. Tag-rag and Co.; on approaching which he felt a sudden faintness, arising from mingled apprehension and disgust.
"What are you doing here, sir?—You're no longer in my employment, sir," exclaimed Tag-rag, attempting to speak calmly, as he hurried down the shop, white with rage, to meet Titmouse, and planted himself right in the way of his languid and pallid shopman.
"Sir!"—faintly exclaimed Titmouse, with his hat in his hand.
"Very much obliged, sir—very! by the offer of your valuable services," said Tag-rag. "But—that's the way out again, sir—that!—there!—good-morning, sir—good-morning, sir!—that's the way out"—and he egged on Titmouse, till he had got him fairly into the street—with infinite difficulty restraining himself from giving the extruded sinner a parting kick! Titmouse stood for a moment before the door, trembling and aghast, looking in a bewildered manner at the shop: but Tag-rag again making his appearance, Titmouse slowly walked away and returned to his lodgings. Oh that Mr. Gammon had witnessed the scene—thought he—and so have been satisfied that it had been Tag-rag who had put an end to his service, not he himself who had quitted it!
The next day, about the same hour, Mr. Gammon made his appearance at the establishment from which Titmouse had been expelled so summarily, and inquired for Mr. Tag-rag, who presently presented himself—and recognizing Mr. Gammon, whose presence naturally suggested the previous day's transaction with Titmouse, changed color a little.
"What did you please to want, sir?" inquired Mr. Tag-rag, with a would-be resolute air, twirling round his watch-key with some energy.
"Only a few minutes' conversation, sir, if you please," said Mr. Gammon, with such a significant manner as a little disturbed Mr. Tag-rag; who, with an ill-supported sneer, bowed very low, and led the way to his own little room. Having closed the door, he, with an exceedingly civil air, begged Mr. Gammon to be seated; and then occupied the chair opposite to him, and awaited the issue with ill-disguised anxiety.
"I am very sorry, Mr. Tag-rag," commenced Gammon, in his usual elegant and feeling manner, "that any misunderstanding should have arisen between you and Mr. Titmouse!"
"You're a lawyer, sir, I suppose?" Mr. Gammon bowed. "Then you must know, sir, that there are always two sides to a quarrel," said Mr. Tag-rag, anxiously.
"Yes—you are right, Mr. Tag-rag; and, having already heard Mr. Titmouse's version, may I be favored with your account of your reasons for discharging him? For he tells us that yesterday you dismissed him suddenly from your employment, without giving him any warn"——
"So I did, sir; and what of that?" inquired Tag-rag, tossing his head with a sudden air of defiance. "Things are come to a pretty pass indeed, when a man at the head of such an establishment as mine, can't dismiss a drunken, idle, impertinent—abusive vagabond." Here Mr. Gammon somewhat significantly took out his tablets—as if to note down the language of his companion.
"Do you seriously," inquired Mr. Gammon, "charge him with being such a character, and can you prove your charges, Mr. Tag-rag?"
"Prove 'em! yes, sir, a hundred times over; so will all my young men!" replied Tag-rag, vehemently.
"And in a court of justice, Mr. Tag-rag?" said Mr. Gammon, emphatically.
"Oh! he is going to law, is he? Ah, ha! Bless my soul!—So that's why you're come here—ah, ha!—when you can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, you may get your bill out of Mr. Tittlebat Titmouse!—ha, ha, ha!" laughed Tag-rag, hoping thereby to conceal how much he was really startled.
"Well—that's our look-out, Mr. Tag-rag: to Mr. Titmouse, his character is as valuable as Mr. Tag-rag's is to him. In short, Mr. Titmouse has placed himself in our hands, and we are resolved to go on with the case, if it cost us a hundred pounds—we are indeed, Mr. Tag-rag."
"Why—he's not a penny in the world to go to law with!" exclaimed Tag-rag, with an air of mingled wonder, scorn, and alarm.
"But you forget, Mr. Tag-rag, that if Mr. Titmouse's account of the business should turn out to be correct, it will be your pocket that must pay all the expenses, amounting probably to twenty times the sum which the law may award to him!"
"Law, sir?—It's not justice!—I hate law.—Give me common sense and common honesty!" said Mr. Tag-rag, with a little agitation.
"Both of them would condemn your conduct, Mr. Tag-rag; for I have heard a full account of what Mr. Titmouse has suffered at your hands—of the cause of your sudden warning to him, and your still more sudden dismissal of yesterday. Oh, Mr. Tag-rag! upon my honor, it won't do—not for a moment—and should you go on, rely upon what I tell you, that it will cost you dear."
"And suppose, sir," said Tag-rag, in a would-be contemptuous tone—"I should have witnesses to prove all I've said—which of us will look funny then, sir?"
"Which, indeed! However, since that is your humor, I can only assure you that it is very possible we may be, by the time of the trial, possessed of some evidence which will surprise you: and that Mr. Titmouse defies you to prove any misconduct on his part. We have, in short, taken up his cause, and, as you may perhaps find by and by, to your cost, we shall not easily let it drop."
"I mean no offence, sir," said Tag-rag, in a mitigated tone; "but I must say, that ever since you first came here, Titmouse has been quite another person. He seems not to know who I am, nor to care either—and he's perfectly unbearable."
"My dear sir, what has he said or done?—that, you know, is what you must be prepared to prove, when you come into court!"
"Well, sir! and which of us is likely to be best off for witnesses?—Think of that, sir—I've eighteen young men"——
"We shall chance that, sir," replied Gammon, shrugging his shoulders, and smiling very bitterly; "but again, I ask, what did you dismiss him for? and, sir, I request a plain, straightforward answer."
"What did I dismiss him for?—Haven't I eyes and ears?—First and foremost, he's the most odious-mannered fellow I ever came near—and—he hadn't a shirt to his back when I first took him—the ungrateful wretch!—Sir, it's at any rate not against the law, I suppose, to hate a man;—and if it isn't, how I HATE Titmouse!"
"Mr. Tag-rag"—said Gammon, lowering his voice, and looking very earnestly at his companion—"can I say a word to you in confidence—the strictest confidence?"
"What's it about, sir?" inquired Tag-rag, somewhat apprehensively.
"I dare say you may have felt, perhaps, rather surprised at the interest which I—in fact our office, the office of Quirk, Gammon, and Snap, in Saffron Hill—appear to have taken in Mr. Titmouse."
"Why, sir, it's your look-out to see how you're to be paid for what you're doing—and I dare say lawyers generally keep a pretty sharp look-out in that direction!"
Gammon smiled, and continued—"It may, perhaps, a little surprise you, Mr. Tag-rag, to hear that your present (ought I to say, your late?) shopman, Mr. Tittlebat Titmouse, is at this moment probably the very luckiest man—and one among the richest, too—in this kingdom."
"Why—you don't mean to say he's drawn a prize in the lottery?"—exclaimed Tag-rag, pricking up his ears, and manifestly changing color.
"Pho! my dear sir, that is a mere bagatelle compared with the good fortune which has just fallen to his lot. I solemnly assure you, that I believe it will very shortly turn out that he is at this moment the undoubted owner of an estate worth at least ten thousand a-year, besides a vast accumulation of ready money!"
"Ten thousand a-year, sir!—My Titmouse!—Tittlebat Titmouse!—Ten thousand a-year! it's quite impossible!" faltered Tag-rag, after a pause, having gone as pale as death.
"I have as little doubt of the fact, however, sir, as I have that you yesterday turned him out of doors, Mr. Tag-rag!"
"But"—said Mr. Tag-rag, in a low tone—"who could have dreamed it?—How was—really, Mr. Gammon!—how was I to know it?"
"That's the fact, however," said Gammon, shrugging his shoulders. Tag-rag wriggled about in his chair, put his hands in and out of his pockets, scratched his head, and continued staring open-mouthed at the bearer of such astounding intelligence. "Perhaps, however, all this is meant as a joke, sir,"—said he—"And if so—it's—it's—a very"——
"It's one of his solicitors who were fortunate enough to make the discovery, that tells you, sir," interrupted Gammon, calmly. "I repeat what I have already told you, Mr. Tag-rag, that an estate of ten thousand a-year is the very least"——
"Why, that's two hundred thousand pounds, sir!"—exclaimed Tag-rag, with an awe-struck air.
"At the very least"——
"Lord, Mr. Gammon!—Excuse me, sir, but how did you find it out?"
"Mere accident—a mere accidental discovery, sir, in the course of other professional inquiries!"
"And does Mr. Titmouse know it?"
"Ever since the day, Mr. Tag-rag, after that on which I called on him here!" replied Gammon, pointedly.
"You—don't—say—so!"—exclaimed Tag-rag, and then continued silent for nearly half a minute, evidently amazed beyond all power of expression.
"Well,"—at length he observed—"I will say this—with all his few faults—he's the most amiable young gentleman—the very amiablest young gentleman I—ever—came near. I always thought there was something uncommon superior-like in his looks."
"Yes—I think he is of rather an amiable turn," observed Gammon, with an expressive smile—"very gentlemanlike—and so intelligent"——
"Intelligent! Mr. Gammon! you should only have known him as I have known him!—Well, to be sure!—Lord! His only fault was, that he was above his business; but when one comes to think of it, how could it be otherwise? From the time I first clapped eyes on him—I—I—knew he was—a superior article—quite superior—you know what I mean, sir?—he couldn't help it, of course!—to be sure—he never was much liked by the other young men; but that was jealousy!—all jealousy; I saw that all the while." Here he looked at the door, and added in a very low tone, "Many sleepless nights has their bad treatment of Mr. Titmouse cost me!—Even I, now and then, used to look and speak sharply to him—just to keep him, as it were, down to the mark of the others—he was so uncommon handsome and genteel in his manner, sir. I remember telling my good lady the very first day he came to me, that he was a gentleman born—or ought to have been one."
Now, do you suppose, acute reader, that Mr. Tag-rag was insincere in all this? By no means. He spoke the real dictates of his heart, unaware of the sudden change which had taken place in his feelings. It certainly has an ugly look of improbability—but it was the nature of the beast; his eye suddenly caught a glimpse of the golden calf, and he instinctively fell down and worshipped it. "Well—at all events," said Mr. Gammon, scarcely able to keep a serious expression on his face—"though he's not lived much like a gentleman hitherto, yet he will live for the future like a very great gentleman—and spend his money like one, too."
"I—I—dare say—- he will!—I wonder how he will get through a quarter of it!—what do you think he'll do, sir?"
"Heaven only knows—he may very shortly do just what he likes! Go into the House of Commons, or—perhaps—have a peerage given him"——
"Lord, sir!—I feel as if I shouldn't be quite right again for the rest of the day!—I own to you, sir, that all yesterday and to-day I've been on the point of going to Mr. Titmouse's lodgings to apologize for—for—— Good gracious me! one can't take it all in at once—Ten thousand a-year!—Many a lord hasn't got more—some not half as much, I'll be bound!—Dear me, what will he do!—Well, one thing I'm sure of—he'll never have a truer friend than plain Thomas Tag-rag, though I've not always been a-flattering him—I respected him too much!—The many little things I've borne with in Titmouse, that in any one else I'd have—But why didn't he tell me, sir? We should have understood one another in a moment."—Here he paused abruptly; for his breath seemed suddenly taken away, as he reviewed the series of indignities which he had latterly inflicted on Titmouse—the kind of life which that amiable young gentleman had led in his establishment.
Never had the keen Gammon enjoyed anything more exquisitely than the scene which I have been describing. To a man of his practical sagacity in the affairs of life, and knowledge of human nature, nothing could appear more ludicrously contemptible than the conduct of poor Tag-rag. How differently are the minds of men constituted! How Gammon despised Tag-rag! And what opinion has the acute reader by this time formed of Gammon?
"Now, may I take for granted, Mr. Tag-rag, that we understand each other?" inquired Gammon.
"Yes, sir," replied Tag-rag, meekly. "But do you think Mr. Titmouse will ever forgive or forget the little misunderstanding we've lately had? If I could but explain to him how I have been acting a part towards him—all for his good!"
"You may have opportunities for doing so, if you are really so disposed, Mr. Tag-rag; for I have something seriously to propose to you. Circumstances render it desirable that for some little time this important affair should be kept as quiet as possible; and it is Mr. Titmouse's wish and ours—as his confidential professional advisers—that for some few months he should continue in your establishment, and apparently in your service as before."
"In my service!—my service!" interrupted Tag-rag, opening his eyes to their utmost. "I sha'n't know how to behave in my own premises! Have a man with ten thousand a-year behind my counter, sir? I might as well have the Lord Mayor! Sir, it can't—it can't be. Now, if Mr. Titmouse chose to become a partner in the house—ay, there might be something in that—he needn't have any trouble—be only a sleeping partner." Tag-rag warmed with the thought. "Really, sir, that wouldn't be so much amiss—would it?" Gammon assured him that it was out of the question; and gave him some of the reasons for the proposal which he (Mr. Gammon) had been making. While Gammon fancied that Tag-rag was paying profound attention to what he was saying, Tag-rag's thoughts had shot far ahead. He had an only child—a daughter, about twenty years old—Miss Tabitha Tag-rag; and the delightful possibility of her by-and-by becoming MRS. TITMOUSE, put her aspiring parent into a perspiration. Into the proposal just made by Mr. Gammon, Tag-rag fell with great eagerness, which he attempted to conceal—for what innumerable opportunities would it not afford him for bringing about the desire of his heart—for throwing the lovely young couple into each other's way,—endearing them to each other! Oh, delightful! It really looked almost as if it had been determined by the powers above that the thing should come to pass! If Mr. Titmouse did not dine with him, Mrs. and Miss Tag-rag, at Satin Lodge, Clapham, on the very next Sunday, it should, Tag-rag resolved, be owing to no fault of his.—
Mr. Gammon having arranged everything exactly as he had desired, and having again enjoined Mr. Tag-rag to absolute secrecy, took his departure. Mr. Tag-rag, in his excitement, thrust out his hand, and grasped that of Gammon, which was extended towards him somewhat coldly and reluctantly. Tag-rag attended him with extreme obsequiousness to the door; and on his departure, walked back rapidly to his own room, and sat down for nearly half an hour in a sort of turbid but delicious revery. Abruptly rising, at length, he clapped his hat on his head, and saying, as he passed along the shop, that he should soon be back, hurried out to call upon his future son-in-law, full of affectionate anxiety concerning his health—and vowing within himself, that henceforth it should be the study of his life to make his daughter and Titmouse happy! There could be no doubt of the reality of the event just communicated to him by Mr. Gammon; for he was one of a well-known firm of solicitors; he had had an interview on "important business" with Titmouse a fortnight before, and that could have been nothing but the prodigious event just communicated to himself. Such things had happened to others—why not to Tittlebat Titmouse? In short, Tag-rag had no doubt on the matter; and his heart really yearned towards Titmouse.
Finding that gentleman not at home, Mr. Tag-rag left a most particularly civil message, half a dozen times repeated, with Mrs. Squallop (to whom also he was specially civil,) to the effect that he, Mr. Tag-rag, would be only too happy to see Mr. Titmouse at No. 375, Oxford Street, whenever it might suit his convenience; that Mr. Tag-rag had something very particular to say to him about the unpleasant and unaccountable[!] occurrence of yesterday; that Mr. Tag-rag was most deeply concerned to hear of Mr. Titmouse's indisposition, and anxious to learn from himself that he had recovered, &c. &c. &c.;—all which, together with one or two other little matters, which Mrs. Squallop could not help putting together, satisfied that shrewd lady that "something was in the wind about Mr. Titmouse;" and made her reflect rather anxiously on one or two violent scenes she had had with him, and which she was now ready entirely to forget and forgive. Having thus done all that at present was in his power to forward the affair, the anxious and excited Tag-rag returned to his shop; on entering which, one Lutestring, his principal young man, eagerly apprised him of a claim which he had, as he imagined, only the moment before, established to the thanks of Mr. Tag-rag, by having "bundled off, neck and crop, that hodious Titmouse," who, about five minutes before, had, it seemed, had the "impudence" to present himself at the shop-door, and walk in as if nothing had happened!! [Titmouse had so presented himself in consequence of a call from Mr. Gammon, immediately after his interview with Tag-rag.]
"You—ordered—Mr. Titmouse—off!!" exclaimed Tag-rag, starting back aghast, and almost petrifying his voluble and officious assistant.
"Of course, sir," at length exclaimed that person, meekly—"after what happened yester"——
"Who authorized you, Mr. Lutestring?" inquired Tag-rag, striving to choke down the rage rising within him.
"Why, sir, I really supposed that"——
"You supposed!! You're a meddling, impertinent, disgusting"—— Suddenly his face was overspread with smiles, as three or four elegantly dressed customers entered, whom he received with profuse obeisances. But when their backs were turned, he directed a lightning look towards Lutestring, and retreated once more to his room, to meditate on the agitating events of the last hour. The extraordinary alteration in Mr. Tag-rag's behavior was attributed by his shopmen to his having been frightened out of his wits by the threats of Titmouse's lawyer—for such it was clear the stranger was; and more than one of them stored it up in their minds as a useful precedent against some future occasion.
Twice afterwards during the day did Tag-rag call at Mr. Titmouse's lodgings—but in vain; and on returning the third time he felt not a little disquieted. He determined, however, to call the first thing on the ensuing morning; if he should then fail of seeing Mr. Titmouse, he was resolved to go to Messrs. Quirk, Gammon, and Snap—and besides, address a very affectionate letter to Mr. Titmouse. How totally changed had become all his feelings towards that gentleman within the last few hours. The more that Tag-rag reflected on Titmouse's conduct, the more he saw in it to approve of. How steady and regular had he been in his habits! how civil and obliging! how patient of rebuke! how pleasing in his manners to the customers! Surely, surely, thought Tag-rag, Titmouse can't have been four long years in my employ without getting a—sort of a—feeling—of attachment to me—he'd have left long ago if he hadn't! It was true there had now and then been tiffs between them; but who could agree always? Even Mrs. Tag-rag and he, when they were courting, often fell out with one another!—Tag-rag was now ready to forget and forgive all—he had never meant any harm to Titmouse. He believed that poor Tittlebat was an orphan, unhappy soul! alone in the wide world—now he would become the prey of designing strangers and adventurers. Tag-rag did not like the appearance of Gammon. No doubt that person would try and ingratiate himself as much as possible with Titmouse! Then Titmouse was remarkably good-looking. "I wonder what Tabby will think of him when she sees him!" How anxious Tittlebat must be to see her—his daughter! How could Tag-rag make Tittlebat's stay at his premises (for he could not bring himself to believe that on the morrow he could not set all right, and disavow the abominable conduct of Lutestring) agreeable and delightful? He would discharge the first of his young men that did not show Titmouse proper respect.—What low lodgings poor Tittlebat lived in!—Why could he not take up his quarters at Satin Lodge? They always had a nice spare bedroom. Ah! that would be a stroke! How Tabby could endear herself to him! What a number of things Mrs. Tag-rag could do to make him comfortable!
About seven o'clock Tag-rag quitted his premises in Oxford Street, for his country house; and, occupied with these and similar delightful and anxious thoughts and speculations, hurried along Oxford Street on his way to the Clapham stage, without thinking of his umbrella, though it rained fast. When he had taken his place on the coach-box, beside old Crack, (as he had done almost every night for years,) he was so unusually silent that Crack naturally thought his best passenger was going to become bankrupt, or compound with his creditors, or do something in that line, shortly. Mr. Tag-rag could hardly keep his temper at the slow pace old Crack was driving at—just when Mr. Tag-rag would have wished to gallop the whole way. Never had he descended with so much briskness, as when the coach at length drew up before the little green gate, which opened on the tidy little gravel walk, which led up to the little green wooden porch, which sheltered the little door which admitted you into little Satin Lodge. As Tag-rag stood for a moment wiping his wet shoes upon the mat, he could not help observing, for the first time, by the inward light of ten thousand a-year, how uncommon narrow the passage was; and thinking that Satin Lodge would never do, when he should be the father-in-law of a man worth ten thousand a-year—but he could easily let that house then, and take a large one. As he hung his hat upon the peg, the perilous insolence of Lutestring occurred to him; and he deposited such a prodigious, but half-suppressed execration upon that gentleman's name, as must have sunk a far more buoyant sinner many fathoms deeper than usual into a certain hot and deep place that shall be nameless.
Mrs. and Miss Tag-rag were sitting in the front parlor, intending to take tea as soon as Mr. Tag-rag should have arrived. It was not a large room, but sweetly furnished, according to the taste of the owners. There was only one window, and it had a flaunting white summer curtain. The walls were ornamented with three pictures, in ponderous gilt frames, being portraits of Mr., Mrs., and Miss Tag-rag; and I do not feel disposed to say more concerning these pictures, than that in each of them the dress was done with elaborate exactness—the faces seeming to have been painted in, for the purpose of setting off and completing the picture of the dress. The skinny little Miss Tag-rag sat at the worn-out, jingling pianoforte, causing it to utter—oh, horrid and doleful sound!—"The Battle of Prague." Mrs. Tag-rag, a fat, showily dressed woman of about fifty, her cap having a prodigious number of artificial flowers in it, sat reading a profitable volume, entitled "Groans from the Bottomless Pit to Awaken Sleeping Sinners," by (as he was pleased to dignify himself) the Rev. DISMAL HORROR—a very rousing young dissenting preacher lately come into that neighborhood, and who had almost frightened into fits half the women and children, and one or two old men, of his congregation; giving out, among several similarly cheering intimations, that they must all necessarily be damned unless they immediately set about making themselves as miserable as possible in this world. Only the Sunday before, he had pointed out, with awful force and distinctness, how cards and novels were the devil's traps to catch souls; and balls and theatres short and easy cuts to——!
He had proved to his trembling female hearers, in effect, that there was only one way to heaven, i. e. through his chapel; that the only safe mode of spending their time on earth was reading such blessed works as that which he had just published, and going daily to prayer-meetings. When, however, a Sunday or two before, he had the assurance to preach a funeral sermon, to "improve the death"—such being his impressive phrase—of a Miss Snooks, (who had kept a circulating library in the neighborhood, but had not been a member of his congregation;) and who, having been to the theatre on the Thursday night, was taken ill of a bowel attack on the Friday, and was a "lifeless corpse when the next Sabbath dawned"—you might have heard a beetle sneeze within any of the walls, all over the crowded chapel. Two-thirds of the women present, struck with the awful judgment upon the deceased Miss Snooks, inwardly made solemn vows never again to enter the accursed walls of a theatre or concert-room; many determined no longer to subscribe to the circulating library, ruining their precious souls with light and amusing reading; and almost all resolved forthwith to become active members of a sort of religious tract society, which "dear Mr. Horror" had just established in the neighborhood, for the purpose of giving the sick and starving poor spiritual food, in the shape of tracts, (chiefly written by himself,) which might "wean their affections away from this vain world," and "fix them on better things," rejoicing, in the meanwhile, in the bitter pangs of destitution—and able to bear them! All this sort of thing Mr. Horror possibly imagined to be calculated to advance the cause of real religion! In short, he had created a sort of spiritual fever about the place which was then just at its height in worthy Mrs. Tag-rag.
"Well, Dolly, how are you to-night?" inquired Tag-rag, with unusual briskness, on entering the room.
"Tolerable, thank you, Tag," replied Mrs. Tag-rag, mournfully, with a sigh, closing the cheerful volume she had been perusing—it having been recommended the preceding Sunday from the pulpit by its pious and gifted author, to be read and prayed over every day by every member of his congregation!
"And how are you, Tabby?" said Tag-rag, addressing his daughter. "Come and kiss me, you little slut—come!"
"No, I sha'n't, pa! Do let me go on with my practising," said Miss Tag-rag—and twang! twang! went those infernal keys.
"D' ye hear, Tab? Come and kiss me, you little minx"——
"Really, pa, how provoking—just as I am in the middle of the Cries of the Wounded! I sha'n't—that's flat."
The doting parent could not, however, be denied; so he stepped to the piano, put his arm around his dutiful daughter's neck, kissed her fondly, and then stood for a moment behind her, admiring her brilliant execution of The Trumpet of Victory. Having changed his coat, and put on an old pair of shoes, Mr. Tag-rag was comfortable for the evening.
"Tabby plays wonderful well, Dolly, don't she?" said Tag-rag, as the tea-things were being brought in, by way of beginning a conversation, while he drew his chair nearer to his wife.
"Ah! I'd a deal rather see her reading something serious—for life is short, Tag, and eternity's long."
"Botheration!—Stuff!—Tut!" exclaimed Tag-rag!
"You may find it out one day, my dear, when, alas! it's too late"—
"I'll tell you what, Dolly," said Tag-rag, angrily, "you're doing a great deal too much in this line of business—my house is getting like a Methodist meeting-house. I can't bear it—I can't! What the deuce is come to you all in these parts, lately?" Mr. Tag-rag, I should apprise the reader, had been induced, some three years before, to quit the Church of England and take up with Mr. Dismal Horror; but his zeal had by no means kept pace with that of his wife.
"Ah, Tag-rag," replied his wife, with a sigh, "I can only pray for you—I can do no more"——
"Oh!" exclaimed Tag-rag, with an air of desperate disgust, thrusting his hands into his pockets, and stretching his legs to their utmost extent under the table. "I'll tell you what, Mrs. T." he added after a while, "I like religion well enough—but too much of it no one can stand. Too much of one thing is good for nothing; you may choke a dog with pudding;—I sha'n't renew my sittings at Mr. Horror's."
"Oh, dear, dear pa, do! That's a love of a pa!" interposed Miss Tag-rag, twirling round on her music-stool. "All Clapham's running after him—he's quite the rage! There's the Dugginses, the Pips, the Jones, the Maggots,—and, really, Mr. Horror does preach such dreadful things, it's quite delightful to look round and see all the people with their eyes and mouths wide open—and ours is such a good pew for seeing—and Mr. Horror is such a bee—yeautiful preacher—isn't he, ma?"
"Yes, love, he is—but I wish I could see you profit by him, and preparing for death"——
"Why, ma, how can you go on in that ridiculous way? You know I'm not twenty yet, however old you and pa may be!"
"Well, well! poor Tabby!" here Mrs. Tag-rag's voice faltered—"a day will come, when"——
"Play me the Devil among the Tailors, or Copenhagen Waltz, or something of that sort, Tabby," said her father, furiously, "or I shall be sick!—I can't bear it! Curse Mr. Hor"——
"Well!—Oh, my!!—I never!—Mr. Tag-rag!" exclaimed his astounded wife.
"Play away, Tab, or I'll go and sit in the kitchen! They're cheerful there! The next time I come across Mr. Horror, if I don't give him a bit of my mind"—here he paused, and slapped his hand with much energy upon the table. Mrs. Tag-rag wiped her eyes, sighed, and resumed her book. Miss Tag-rag began to make tea, her papa gradually forgetting his rage, as he fixed his dull gray eyes fondly on the pert skinny countenance of his daughter.
"By the way, Tag," exclaimed Mrs. Tag-rag, suddenly, but in the same mournful tone, addressing her husband, "you haven't of course forgot the flowers for my new bonnet?"
"Never once thought of it," replied Tag-rag, doggedly.
"You haven't! Good gracious! what am I to go to chapel in next Sunday?" she exclaimed with sudden alarm, closing her book, "and our seat in the very front of the gallery!—bless me! I shall have a hundred eyes on me!"
"Now that you're coming down a bit, and dropped out of the clouds—or p'r'aps I should say—come up from beneath!—Dolly," said her husband, much relieved, "I'll tell you a bit of news that will, I fancy, rather"——
"Come! what is it, Tag?" she inquired with a sort of languid curiosity.
"What should you say of a chance of a certain somebody" (here he looked unutterable things at his daughter) "that shall be nameless, becoming mistress of ten thousand a-year?"
"Why"—Mrs. Tag-rag changed color—"has any one fallen in love with Tab?"
"What should you say, Mrs. T., of our Tab marrying a man with ten thousand a-year? There's for you! Isn't that better than all your rel—— hem!"
"Oh, Tag, don't say that; but"—here she hastily turned down the leaf of Groans from the Bottomless Pit, and tossed that inestimable work upon the sofa—"do tell me, lovey! what are you talking about?"
"What indeed, Dolly!—I'm going to have him here to dinner next Sunday."
Miss Tag-rag having been listening with breathless eagerness to this little colloquy between her prudent and amiable parents, unconscious of what she was about, poured almost all the contents of the tea-pot into the sugar-basin, instead of her papa's and mamma's tea-cups.
"Have who, dear Tag?" inquired Mrs. Tag-rag, impatiently.
"Who? why whom but my Tittlebat Titmouse!! You've seen him, and heard me speak of him often, you know"——
"What!—that odious, nasty"——
"Hush, hush!" involuntarily exclaimed Tag-rag, with an apprehensive air—"That's all past and gone—I was always a little too hard on him. Well, anyhow, he's turned up all of a sudden master of ten thousand a-year. He has indeed—may this piece of toast choke me if he hasn't!"
Mrs. Tag-rag and her daughter sat in speechless wonder.
"Where did he see Tab, Taggy?" inquired at length Mrs. Tag-rag.
"Oh—I—I—why—you see—I don't exactly think that signifies so much—he will see her, you know, next Sunday."
"So, then, he's positively coming?" inquired Mrs. Tag-rag, with a fluttered air.
"Y—e—s—I've no doubt."—(I'll discharge Lutestring to-morrow, thought Tag-rag, with a sharp inward spasm.)
"But aren't we counting our chickens, Taggy, before they're hatched? If Titmouse is all of a sudden become such a catch, he'll be snapped up in a minute, you know, of course"——
"Why, you see, Dolly—we're first in the market, I'm sure of that—his attorney tells me he's to be kept quite snug and quiet under my care for months, and see no one"——
"My gracious!" exclaimed Mrs. Tag-rag, holding up both her hands—"if that don't look like a special interposition of Providence, now"——
"So I thought, Tabby, while Mr. Gammon was telling me!" replied her husband.
"Ah, Tag, there are many of 'em, if we were only to be on the look-out for them!" said Mrs. Tag-rag, excitedly.
"I do see it all! It's designed by Providence to get them soon together! When once Mr. Titmouse gets sight of Tabby, and gets into her company—eh! Tab, lovey! you'll do the rest, hem!" said Tag-rag, fondly.
"La, pa! how you do go on!" simpered Miss Tag-rag.
"You must do your part, Tab," said her father—"we'll do ours. He'll bite, you may depend on it, if you manage well!"
"What sort of a looking young man is he, dear pa?" inquired Miss Tag-rag, blushing, and her heart fluttering very fast.
"Oh, you must have seen him, sweetest"——
"How should I ever notice any one of the lots of young men at the shop, pa?—I don't at all know him."
"Well—he's the handsomest, most genteel-looking young fellow I ever came across; he's long been an ornament to my establishment, for his good looks and civil and obliging manners—quite a treasure! You should have seen how he took with the ladies of rank always!"——
"Dear me," interrupted Mrs. Tag-rag, anxiously addressing her daughter, "I hope, Tabby, that Miss Nix will send home your lilac-colored frock by next Sunday!"
"If she don't, ma, I'll take care she never makes anything more for me, that's poz!" replied Miss Tag-rag, earnestly.
"We'll call there to-morrow, love, and hurry her on," said her mother; and from that moment until eleven o'clock, when the amiable and interesting trio retired to rest, nothing was talked of but the charming Titmouse, and the good fortune he so richly deserved, and how long the courtship was likely to last. Mrs. Tag-rag, who, for the last month or so, had always remained on her knees before getting into bed, for at least ten minutes, on this eventful evening compressed her prayers, I regret to say, into one minute and a half's time, (as for Tag-rag, a hardened heathen, for all he had taken to hearing Mr. Horror, he always tumbled prayerless into bed, the moment he was undressed;) while, for once in a way, Miss Tag-rag, having taken only five minutes to put her hair into papers, popped into bed directly she had blown the candle out, without saying any prayers—or even thinking of finishing the novel which lay under her pillow, and which she had got on the sly from the circulating library of the late Miss Snooks. For several hours she lay in a delicious revery, imagining herself become Mrs. Tittlebat Titmouse, riding about Clapham in a handsome carriage, going to the play every night; and what would the three Miss Knippses say when they heard of it?—they'd burst. And such a handsome man, too!
She sank, at length, into unconsciousness, amid a soft confusion of glistening white satin—favors—bridesmaids—Mrs. Tittlebat Tit—Tit—Tit—Tit—mouse.
Titmouse, about half-past nine o'clock on the ensuing morning, was sitting in his little room in a somewhat troubled humor, musing on many things, and little imagining the intense interest he had excited in the feelings of the amiable occupants of Satin Lodge, when a knock at his door startled him out of his revery. Guess his amazement to see, on opening it, Mr. Tag-rag!
"Your most obedient, sir," commenced that gentleman, in a subdued and obsequious manner, plucking off his hat the instant that he saw Titmouse. "I hope you're better, sir!—Been very uneasy, sir, about you."
"Please to walk in, sir," replied Titmouse, not a little flustered—"I'm better, sir, thank you."
"Happy to hear it, sir?—But am also come to offer humble apologies for the rudeness of that upstart that was so rude to you yesterday, at my premises—know whom I mean, eh?—Lutestring—I shall get rid of him, I do think"——
"Thank you, sir—— But—but—when I was in your employ"——
"Was in my employ!" interrupted Tag-rag, with a sigh, gazing earnestly at him—"It's no use trying to hide it any longer! I've all along seen you was a world too good for—in fact, quite above your situation in my poor shop! I may have been wrong, Mr. Titmouse," he continued diffidently, as he placed himself on what seemed the only chair in the room, (Titmouse sitting on a common wooden stool)—"but I did it for the best—eh?—don't you understand me, Mr. Titmouse?" Titmouse continued looking on the floor incredulously, sheepishly, and somewhat sullenly.
"Very much obliged, sir," at length he answered—"but must say you've rather a funny way of showing it, sir. Look at the sort of life you've led me for this"——
"Ah! knew you'd say so! But I can lay my hand on my heart, Mr. Titmouse, and declare to God—I can, indeed, Mr. Titmouse"—— Titmouse preserved a very embarrassing silence.—"See I'm out of your good books—But—won't you forget and forgive, Mr. Titmouse? I meant well. Nay, I humbly beg forgiveness for everything you've not liked in me. Can I say more? Come, Mr. Titmouse, you've a noble nature, and I ask forgiveness!" cried Tag-rag, softly and earnestly: you would have thought that his life depended on his success in what he was doing!
"You—you ought to do it before the whole shop, if you're in earnest," replied Titmouse, a little relenting—"for they've all seen your goings on."
"Them!—the brutes!—the vulgar fellows, eugh!—you and I, Mr. Titmouse, are a leetle above such cattle as them! D' ye think we ought to mind what servants say?—Only you say the word, and I make a clean sweep of 'em all; you shall have the premises to yourself, Mr. Titmouse, within an hour after any of those chaps shows you the least glimmer of disrespect."
"Ah! I don't know—you've used me most uncommon bad, 'pon my soul!—far worse than they have—you've nearly broke my heart, sir! You have!"
"Well, my womankind at home are right, after all! They told me all along I was going the wrong way to work, when I said how I tried to keep your pride down, and prevent you from having your head turned by knowing your good looks! Over and over again, my little girl has said, with tears in her dear eyes, 'you'll break his spirit, dear papa—if he is handsome, wasn't it God that made him so?'" The little frostwork which Titmouse had thrown around his heart, began to melt like snow under sunbeams. "Ah, Mr. Titmouse, Mr. Titmouse! the women are always right, and we're always wrong," continued Tag-rag, earnestly, perceiving his advantage. "Upon my soul I could kick myself for my stupidity, and cruelty too!"
"Ah, I should think so! No one knows what I've suffered! And now," added Titmouse, suddenly, "that I'm—I suppose you've heard it all, sir?—what's in the wind—and all that?"
"Yes, sir—Mr. Gammon (that most respectable gentleman) and I have had a long talk yesterday about you, in which he did certainly tell me everything—nothing like confidence, Mr. Titmouse, when gentleman meets gentleman, you know! Oh, Lord! the news is really delightful! delightful!"