Charles Dickens.

Dicken's works (Volume 27) online

. (page 13 of 28)
Online LibraryCharles DickensDicken's works (Volume 27) → online text (page 13 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

" Oh ! ecod, you had better ask father that," said
Jonas. *' I am not a-going to commit myself."

Mr. Pecksniff was, as a matter of course, greatly
entertained by this retort. His mirth having sub-
sided, Mr. Jonas gave him to understand that him-
self and parent were in fact travelling to their home
in the metropolis : and that, since the memorable
day of the great family gathering, they had been
tarrying in that part of the country, watching the
sale of certain eligible investments, which they had
had in their copartnership eye when they came
down ; for it was their custom, Mr. Jonas said,
whenever such a thing was practicable, to kill two
birds with one stone, and never to throw away sprats,


but as bait for whales. When he had communi-
cated to Mr. Pecksniff these pithy scraps of intel-
lisrence, he said "that if it was all the same to
him, he would turn him over to father, and have a
chat with the gals ; " and in furtherance of this
polite scheme, he vacated his seat adjoining that
gentleman, and established himself in the opposite
corner, next to the fair Miss Mercy.

The education of Mr. Jonas had been conducted
from his cradle on the strictest principles of the
main chance. The very first word he learned to spell
was "gain," and the second (when he got into two
syllables), " money." But for two results which
were not clearly foreseen perhaps by his watchful
parent in the beginning, his training may be said to
have been unexceptionable. One of these flaws was,
that having been long taught by his father to over-
reach everybody, he had imperceptibly acquired a
love of overreaching that venerable monitor himself.
The other, that from his early habits of considering
everything as a question of property, he had gradu-
ally come to look, with impatience, on his parent as a
certain amount of personal estate, which had no right
whatever to be going at large, but ought to be secured
in that particular description of iron safe which is
commonly called a coffin, and banked in the grave.

" Well, cousin ! " said Mr. Jonas — " because we
are cousins, you know, a few times removed — so
you're going to London ? "

Miss Mercy replied in the affirmative, pinching
her sister's arm at the same time, and giggling

" Lots of beaux in London, cousin ! " said Mr.
Jonas, slightly advancing his elbow.


" Indeed, sir ! " cried the young lady. " They
won't hurt us, sir, I dare say." And having given
him this answer with great demureness, she was so
overcome by her own humor, that she was fain to
stifle her merriment in her sister's shawl.

" Merry," cried that more prudent damsel, " really
I am ashamed of you. How can you go on so ?
You wild thing ! " At which Miss Merry only
laughed the more, of course.

"I saw a wildness in her eye, t'other day," said
Mr. Jonas, addressing Charity. "But you're the
one to sit solemn ! I say — you were regularly
prim, cousin ! "

" Oh ! The old-fashioned fright ! " cried Merry,
in a whisper. " Cherry, my dear, upon my word
you must sit next him. I shall die outright if he
talks to me any more ; I shall, positively ! " To
prevent which fatal consequence, the buoyant
creature skipped out of her seat as she spoke, and
squeezed her sister into the place from which she
had risen.

" Don't mind crowding me," cried Mr. Jonas. "I
like to be crowded by gals. Come a little closer,

" No, thank you, sir," said Charity.

"There's that other one a-laughing again," said
Mr. Jonas ; " she's a-laughing at my father, I
shouldn't wonder. If he puts on that old flannel
nightcap of his, I don't know what she'll do! Is
that my father a-snoring, Pecksniff ? "

"Yes, Mr. Jonas."

"Tread upon his foot, will you be so good?"
said the young gentleman. " The foot next you's
the gouty one."


Mr. Pecksniff hesitating to perform this friendly
office, Mr. Jonas did it himself ; at the same time
crying, —

" Come, wake up, father, or you'll be having the
nightmare, and screeching out, / know. — Do you
ever have the nightmare, cousin ? " he asked his
neighbor, with characteristic gallantry, as he
dropped his voice again.

" Sometimes," answered Charity. " Not often."

" The other one," said Mr. Jonas, after a pause.
" Does she ever have the nightmare ? "

" I don't know," replied Charity. " You had
better ask her."

" She laughs so," said Jonas ; " there's no talking
to her. Only hark how she's a-going on now !
You're the sensible one, cousin ! "

" Tut, tut ! " cried Charity.

" Oh ! But you are ! You know you are ! "

"Mercy is a little giddy," said Miss Charity.
" But she'll sober down in time."

"It'll be a very long time, then, if she does at
all," rejoined her cousin. " Take a little more


" I am afraid of crowding you," said Charity.
But she took it notwithstanding ; and after one or
two remarks on the extreme heaviness of the coach,
and the number of places it stopped at, they fell
into a silence which remained unbroken by any
member of the party until supper-time.

Although Mr. Jonas conducted Charity to the
hotel and sat himself beside her at the board, it was
pretty clear that he had an eye to " the other one "
also, for he often glanced across at Mercy, and
seemed to draw comparisons between the personal


appearance of the two, which were not unfavorable
to the superior plumpness of the younger sister.
He allowed himself no great leisure for this kind
of observation, however, being busily engaged with
the supper, which, as he whispered in his fair com-
panion's ear, was a contract business, and therefore
the more she ate, the better the bargain was. His
father and Mr. Pecksniff, probably acting on the
same wise principle, demolished everything that
came within their reach, and by that means acquired
a greasy expression of countenance, indicating con-
tentment, if not repletion, which it was very
pleasant to contemplate.

When they could eat no more, Mr. Pecksniff and
Mr. Jonas subscribed for two sixpennyworths of
hot brandy and water, which the latter gentleman
considered a more politic order than one shilling's
worth ; there being a chance of their getting more
spirit out of the innkeeper under this arrangement
than if it were all in one glass. Having swallowed
his share of the enlivening fluid, Mr. Pecksniff,
under pretence of going to see if the coach were
ready, went secretly to the bar, and had his own
little bottle filled, in order that he might refresh
himself at leisure in the dark coach without being

These arrangements concluded, and the coach
being ready, they got into their old places, and
jogged on again. But before he composed himself
for a nap, Mr. Pecksniff delivered a kind of grace
after meat, in these words :

" The process of digestion, as I have been informed
by anatomical friends, is one of the most wonderful
works of nature. I do not know how it may be


with others, but it is a great satisfaction to me to
know, when regaling on my humble fare, that I am
putting in motion the most beautiful machinery
with which we have any acquaintance. I really feel
at such times as if I was doing a public service.
When I have wound myself up, if I may employ
such a term," said Mr. Pecksniff with exquisite
tenderness, " and know that I am going, I feel that
in the lesson afforded by the works within me, I am
a Benefactor to my Kind ! "

As nothing could be added to this, nothing was
said ; and Mr. Pecksniff, exulting, it may be pre-
sumed, in bis moral utility, went to sleep again.

The rest of the night wore away in the usual
manner. Mr. Pecksniff and old Anthony kept
tumbling against each other and waking up much
terrified, or crushed their heads in opposite corners
of the coach, and strangely tattooed the surface of
their faces — Heaven knows how — in their sleep.
The coach stopped and went on, and went on and
stopped, times out of number. Passengers got up
and passengers got down, and fresh horses came
and went and came again, with scarcely any interval
between each team as it seemed to those who were
dozing, and with a gap of a whole night between
every one as it seemed to those who were broad
awake. At length they began to jolt and rumble
over horribly uneven stones, and Mr. Pecksniff, look-
ing out of window, said it was to-morrow morning,
and they were there.

Very soon afterwards the coach stopped at the
office in the City ; and the street in which it was
situated was already in a bustle, that fully bore out
Mr. Pecksniff's words about its being morning.


though for any signs of day yet appearing in the
sky it might have been midnight. There was a
dense fog, too — as if it were a city in the clouds,
which they had been travelling to all night up a
magic beanstalk — and a thick crust upon the pave-
ment like oil-cake ; which one of the outsides (mad,
no doubt) said to another (his keeper, of course),
was Snow.

Taking a confused leave of Anthony and his son,
and leaving the luggage of himself and daughters
at the office to be called for afterwards, Mr. Peck-
sniff, with one of the young ladies under each arm,
dived across the street, and then across other streets,
and so up the queerest courts, and down the strang-
est alleys and under the blindest archways, in a
kind of frenzy : now skipping over a kennel, now
running for his life from a coach and horses ; now
thinking he had lost his way, now thinking he had
found it ; now in a state of the highest confidence,
now despondent to the last degree, but always in a
great perspiration and flurry ; until at length they
stopped in a kind of paved yard near the Monument.
That is to say, Mr. Pecksniff told them so ; for as
to anything they could see of the Monument, or
anything else but the buildings close at hand, they
might as well have been playing blind-man's-buff
at Salisbury.

Mr. Pecksniff looked about him for a moment,
and then knocked at the door of a very dingy edi-
fice, even among the choice collection of dingy
edifices at hand ; on the front of which was a little
oval board, like a tea-tray, with this inscription —
"Commercial Boarding-House : M. Todgers."

It seemed that M. Todgers was not up yet, for


Mr. Pecksniff knocked twice and rang thrice, with-
out making any impression on anything but a dog
over the way. At last a chain and some bolts were
withdrawn with a rusty noise, as if the weather
had made the very fastenings hoarse, and a small
boy with a large red head, and no nose to speak of,
and a very dirty Wellington boot on his left arm,
appeared ; who (being surprised) rubbed the nose
just mentioned with the back of a shoe-brush, and
said nothincj.

'' Still abed, my man ? " asked Mr. Pecksniff.

" Still abed ! " replied the boy. " I wish they
wos still abed. They're very noisy abed ; all calling
for their boots at ouce. I thought you wos the
Paper, and wondered why you didn't shove yourself
through the grating as usual. What do you want ? "

Considering his years, which were tender, the
youth may be said to have preferred this question
sternly, and in something of a defiant manner. But
Mr. Pecksniff, without taking umbrage at his bear-
ing, put a card in his hand, and bade him take that
upstairs, and show them in the meanwhile into a
room where there was a fire.

" Or if there's one in the eating-parlor," said Mr.
Pecksniff, " I can find it myself." So he led his
daughters, without waiting for any further introduc-
tion, into a room on the ground-floor, where a table-
cloth (rather a tight and scanty fit in reference to
the table it covered) was already spread for break-
fast; displaying a mighty dish of pink boiled beef;
an instance of that particular style of loaf which is
known to housekeepers as a slack-baked, crummy
quartern ; a liberal provision of cups and saucers ;
and the usual appendages.


Inside the fender were some half-dozen pairs of
shoes and boots, of various sizes, just cleaned and
turned with the soles upward to dry ; and a pair of
short black gaiters, on one of which was chalked —
in sport, it would appear, by some gentleman who
had slipped down for the purpose, pending his toilet,
and gone up again — '' Jinkins's Particular," while
the other exhibited a sketch in profile, claiming to
be the portrait of Jinkins himself.

M. Todgers's Commercial Boarding-House was a
house of that sort which was likely to be dark at
any time ; but that morning it was especially dark.
There was an odd smell in the passage, as if the
concentrated essence of all the dinners that had
been cooked in the kitchen since the house was
built, lingered at the top of the kitchen stairs to
that hour, and, like the Black Friar in Don Juan,
"wouldn't be driven away." In particular, there
was a sensation of cabbage ; as if all the greens that
had ever been boiled there, were evergreens, and
flourished in immortal strength. The parlor was
wainscoted, and communicated to strangers a mag-
netic and instinctive consciousness of rats and mice.
The staircase was very gloomy and very broad, with
balustrades so thick and heavy that they would
have served for a bridge. In a sombre corner on
the first landin'g, stood a gruff old giant of a clock,
with a preposterous coronet of three brass balls on
his head ; whom few had ever seen — none ever
looked in the face — and who seemed to continue
his heavy tick for no other reason than to warn
heedless people from running into him accidentally.
It had not been papered or painted, hadn't Todgers's,
within the memory of man. It was very black,


begrimed, and mouldy. And, at the top of the
staircase, was an old, disjointed, rickety, ill-favored
skylight, patched and mended in all kinds of ways,
which looked distrustfully down at everything that
passed below, and covered Todgers's up as if it
were a sort of human cucumber frame, and only
people of a peculiar growth were reared there,

Mr. Pecksniff and his fair daughters had not
stood warming themselves at the tire ten minutes,
when the sound of feet was heard upon the stairs,
and the presiding deity of the establishment came
hurrying in.

M. Todgers was a lady — rather a bony and hard-
featured lady — with a row of curls in front of her
head, shaped like little barrels of beer ; and on the
top of it something made of net — you couldn't call
it a cap exactly — which looked like a black cobweb.
She had a little basket on her arm, and in it a bunch
of keys that jingled as she came. In her other hand
she bore a flaming tallow candle, which, after sur-
veying Mr. Pecksniff for one instant by its light,
she put down upon the table, to the end that she
might receive him with the greater cordiality.

" Mr. Pecksniff," cried Mrs. Todgers. *' Welcome
to London ! Who would have thought of such a
visit as this, after so — dear, dear ! — so many
years ? How do you do, Mr. Pecksniff ? "

" As well as ever ; and as glad to see you as ever,"
Mr. Pecksniff made response. "Why, you are
younger than you used to be ! "

" You are, I am sure ! " said Mrs. Todgers.
" You're not a bit changed."

" What do you say to this ? " cried Mr. Pecksniff,
stretching out his hand towards the young ladies.
"■ Does this make me no older ? "


" Not your daughters ! " exclaimed the lady,
raising her hands and clasping them. "Oh, no,
Mr. Pecksniff ! Your second and her bridesmaid ! "

Mr. Pecksniff smiled complacently ; shook his
head ; and said, " My daughters, Mrs. Todgers :
merely my daughters."

''Ah!" sighed the good lady, "I must believe
you, for now I look at 'em I think I should have
known 'em anywhere. My dear Miss Pecksniffs,
how happy your pa has made me ! "

She hugged them both ; and being by this time
overpowered by her feelings or the inclemency of
the morning, jerked a little pocket-handkerchief out
of the little basket, and applied the same to her

"Now, my good madam," said Mr. Pecksniff, "I
know the rules of your establishment, and that you
only receive gentlemen boarders. But it occurred
to me, when I left home, that perhaps you would
give my daughters houseroom, and make an excep-
tion in their favor."

" Perhaps ? " cried Mrs. Todgers ecstatically.
" Perhaps ? "

" I may say, then, that I was sure you would,"
said Mr. Pecksniff. " I know that you have a little
room of your own, and that they can be comfortable
there, without appearing at the general table."

"Dear girls ! " said Mrs. Todgers. "I must take
that liberty once more."

Mrs. Todgers meant by this that she must em-
brace them once more, which she accordingly did,
with great ardor. But the truth was, that, the
house being full with the exception of one bed,
which would now be occupied by Mr. Pecksniff,


she wanted time for consideration ; and so much
time too (for it was a knotty point how to dispose
of them), that even when this second embrace was
over, she stood for some moments gazing at the
sisters, with affection beaming in one eye, and
calculation shining out of the other.

"I think I know how to arrange it," said Mrs.
Todgers, at length. " A sofa bedstead in the little
third room which opens from my own parlor. —
Oh, you dear girls ! "

Thereupon she embraced them once more, ob-
serving that she could not decide which was most
like their poor mother (which was highly probable :
seeing that she had never beheld that lady), but that
she rather thought the youngest was : and then she
said that as the gentlemen would be down directly,
and the ladies were fatigued with travelling, would
they step into her room at once ?

It was on the same floor ; being, in fact, the back-
parlor ; and had, as Mrs. Todgers said, the great ad-
vantage (in London) of not being overlooked ; as
they would see, when the fog cleared off. Nor was
this a vainglorious boast, for it commanded at a per-
spective of two feet, a brown wall with a black cis-
tern on the top. The sleeping apartment designed
for the young ladies was approached from this
chamber by a mightily convenient little door,
which would only open when fallen against by a
strong person. It commanded from a similar point
of sight another angle of the wall, and another side
of the cistern. "Not the damp side," said Mrs.
Todgers. " That is Mr. Jinkins's."

In the first of these sanctuaries a fire was speed-
ily kindled by the youthful porter, who whistling at
VOL. I. -13.


his work in the absence of Mrs. Todgers (not to
mention his sketching figures on his corduroys with
burnt firewood), and being afterwards taken by that
lady in the fact, was dismissed with a box on his
ears. Having prepared breakfast for the young
ladies with her own hands, she withdrew to preside
in the other room ; where the joke at INIr. Jinkins's
expense seemed to be proceeding rather noisily.

" I won't ask you yet, my dears," said Mr. Peck-
sniff, looking in at the door, " how you like London.
Shall I ? "

" We haven't seen much of it, pa ! " cried Merry.

"Nothing, I hope," said Cherry. (Both very

" Indeed," said Mr. Pecksniff, " that's true. We
have our pleasure, and our business too, before us.
All in good time. All in good time ! "

Whether Mr. Pecksniff's business in London was
as strictly professional as he had given his new
pupil to understand, we shall see, to adopt that
worthy man's phraseology, "all in good time."



Surely there never was, in any other borough,
city, or hamlet in the world, such a singular sort of
a place as Todgers's. And surely London, to judge
from that part of it which hemmed Todgers's round,
and hustled it, and crushed it, and stuck its brick-
and-mortar elbows into it, and kept the air from it,
and stood perpetually between it and the light, was
worthy of Todgers's, and qualified to be on terms of
close relationship and alliance with hundreds and
thousands of the odd family to which Todgers's

You couldn't walk about in Todgers's neighbor-
hood as you could in any other neighborhood.
You groped your way for an hour through lanes
and byways, and courtyards and passages ; and
never once emerged upon anything that might
be reasonably called a street. A kind of resigned
distraction came over the stranger as he trod those
devious mazes, and, giving himself up for lost, went
in and out and round about and quietly turned back
again when he came to a dead wall or was stopped
by an iron railing, and felt that the means of escape
might possibly present themselves in their own good


time, but that to anticipate them was hopeless,
lustances were known of people who, being asked
to dine at Todgers's, had travelled round and round
it for a weary time, with its very chimney-pots in
view ; and finding it, at last, impossible of attain-
ment, had gone home again with a gentle melan-
choly on their spirits, tranquil and uncomplaining.
iSTobody had ever found Todgers's on a verbal direc-
tion, though given within a minute's walk of it.
Cautious emigrants from Scotland or the North of
England had been known to reach it safely by im-
pressing a charity-boy, town-bred, and bringing him
along with them ; or by clinging tenaciously to the
postman ; but these were rare exceptions, and only
went to prove the rule that Todgers's was in a laby-
rinth, whereof the mystery was known but to a
chosen few.

Several fruit-brokers had their marts near Todg-
ers's ; and one of the first impressions wrought
upon the stranger's senses was of oranges — of
damaged oranges, with blue and green bruises on
them, festering in boxes, or mouldering away in
cellars. All day long, a stream of porters from the
wharves beside the river, each bearing on his back a
bursting chest of oranges, poured slowly through
the narrow passages ; while underneath the arch-
way by the public-house, the knots of those who
rested and regaled within were piled from morning
until night. Strange solitary pumps were found
near Todgers's, hiding themselves for the most part
in blind alleys, and keeping company with hre-
ladders. There were churches also by dozens, with
many a ghostly little churchyard, all overgrown
with such straggling vegetation as springs up spon-


taneously from damp, and graves, and rubbish. In
some of these dingy resting-places, which bore much
the same analogy to green churchyards, as the pots
of earth for mignonuette and wallflower in the win-
dow overlooking them, did to rustic gardens — there
were trees ; tall trees ; still putting forth their
leaves in each succeeding year, with such a languish-
ing remembrance of their kind (so one might fancy,
looking on their sickly boughs) as birds in cages
have of theirs. Here, paralyzed old watchmen
guarded the bodies of the dead at night, year after
year, until at last they joined that solemn brother-
hood ; and, saving that they slept below the ground
a sounder sleep than even they had ever known
above it, and were shut up in another kind of box,
their condition can hardly be said to have under-
gone any material change when they, in turn, were
watched themselves.

Among the narrow thoroughfares at hand, there
lingered, here and there, an ancient doorway of
carved oak, from which, of old, the sounds of rev-
elry and feasting often came ; but now these man-
sions, only used for storehouses, were dark and dull,
and, being filled with wool, and cotton, and the like
— such heavy merchandise as stifles sound and
stops the throat of echo — had an air of palpable
deadness about them which, added to their silence
and desertion, made them very grim. In like man-
ner, there were gloomy courtyards in these parts,
into which few but belated wa3-farers ever strayed,
and where vast bags and packs of goods, upward or
downward bound, were forever dangling between
heaven and earth from lofty cranes. There were
more trucks near Todgers's than you would suppose


a whole city could ever need ; not active trucks, but a
vagabond race, forever lounging in the narrow lanes
before their masters' doors and stopping up the
pass ; so that when a stray hackney coach or lum-
bering wagon came that way, they were the cause
of such an uproar as enlivened the whole neighbor-
hood, and made the very bells in the next church
tower vibrate again. In the throats and maws of

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

Online LibraryCharles DickensDicken's works (Volume 27) → online text (page 13 of 28)