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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Old Curiosity Shop - Chapter 8
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The Old Curiosity Shop - Chapter 8 Post by :Bill99 Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dickens Date :June 2011 Read :2015

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The Old Curiosity Shop - Chapter 8

CHAPTER 8


Business disposed of, Mr Swiveller was inwardly reminded of its
being nigh dinner-time, and to the intent that his health might not be
endangered by longer abstinence, dispached a message to the nearest
eating-house requiring an immediate supply of boiled beef and greens
for two. With this demand, however, the eating-house (having
experience of its customer) declined to comply, churlishly sending
back for answer that if Mr Swiveller stood in need of beef perhaps
he would be so obliging as to come there and eat it, bringing with
him, as grace before meat, the amount of a certin small account
which had long been outstanding. Not at all intimidated by this
rebuff, but rather sharpened in wits and appetite, Mr Swiveller
forwarded the same message to another and more distant eating-house,
adding to it by way of rider that the gentleman was induced to
send so far, not only by the great fame and popularity its beef had
acquired, but in consequence of the extreme toughness of the beef
retailed at the obdurant cook's shop, which rendered it quite unfit not
merely for gentlemanly food, but for any human consumption. The
good effect of this politic course was demonstrated by the speedy
arrive of a small pewter pyramid, curously constructed of platters
and covers, whereof the boiled-beef-plates formed the base, and a
foaming quart-pot the apex; the structure being resolved into its
component parts afforded all things requisite and necessary for a
hearty meal, to which Mr Swiveller and his friend applied
themselves with great keenness and enjoyment.

'May the present moment,' said Dick, sticking his fork into a large
carbuncular potato, 'be the worst of our lives! I like the plan of
sending 'em with the peel on; there's a charm in drawing a poato
from its native element (if I may so express it) to which the rich and
powerful are strangers. Ah! 'Man wants but little here below, nor
wants that little long!' How true that it!--after dinner.'

'I hope the eating-house keeper will want but little and that he may
not want that little long,' returned his companion; but I suspect
you've no means of paying for this!'

'I shall be passing present, and I'll call,' said Dick, winking his eye
significantly. 'The waiter's quite helpless. The goods are gone, Fred,
and there's an end of it.'

In point of fact, it would seem that the waiter felt this wholesome
truth, for when he returned for the empty plates and dishes and was
informed by Mr Swiveller with dignified carelessness that he would
call and setle when he should be passing presently, he displayed
some pertubation of spirit and muttered a few remarks about
'payment on delivery' and 'no trust,' and other unpleasant subjects,
but was fain to content himself with inquiring at what hour it was
likely that the gentleman would call, in order that being presently
responsible for the beef , greens, and sundries, he might take to be in
the way at the time. Mr Swiveller, after mentally calculating his
engagements to a nicety, replied that he should look in at from two
minutes before six and seven minutes past; and the man disappearing
with this feeble consolation, Richards Swiveller took a greasy
memorandum-book from his pocket and made an entry therein.

'Is that a reminder, in case you should forget to call?' said Trent
with a sneer.

'Not exactly, Fred,' replied the imperturable Richard, continuing to
write with a businesslike air. 'I enter in this little book the names of
the streets that I can't go down while the shops are open. This dinner
today closes Long Acre. I bought a pair of boots in Great Queen
Street last week, and made that no throughfare too. There's only one
avenue to the Strand left often now, and I shall have to stop up that
to-night with a pair of gloves. The roads are closing so fast in every
direction, that in a month's time, unless my aunt sends me a
remittance, I shall have to go three or four miles out of town to get
over the way.'

'There's no fear of failing, in the end?' said Trent.

'Why, I hope not,' returned Mr Swiveller, 'but the average number
of letters it take to soften her is six, and this time we have got as far
as eight without any effect at all. I'll write another tom-morrow
morning. I mean to blot it a good deal and shake some water over it
out of the pepper-castor to make it look penitent. 'I'm in such a state
of mind that I hardly know what I write'--blot--' if you could see me
at this minute shedding tears for my past misconduct'--pepper-castor--
my hand trembles when I think'--blot again--if that don't produce
the effect, it's all over.'

By this time, Mr Swiveller had finished his entry, and he now
replaced his pencil in its little sheath and closed the book, in a
perfectly grave and serious frame of mind. His friend discovered that
it was time for him to fulfil some other engagement, and Richard
Swiveller was accordingly left alone, in company with the rosy wine
and his own meditations touching Miss Sophy Wackles.

'It's rather sudden,' said Dick shaking his head with a look of
infinite wisdom, and running on (as he was accustomed to do) with
scraps of verse as if they were only prose in a hurry; 'when the heart
of a man is depressed with fears, the mist is dispelled when Miss
Wackles appears; she's a very nice girl. She's like the red red rose
that's newly sprung in June--there's no denying that--she's also like a
melody that's sweetly played in tune. It's really very sudden. Not
that there's any need, on account of Fred's little sister, to turn cool
directly, but its better not to go too far. If I begin to cool at all I
must begin at once, I see that. There's the chance of an action for
breach, that's another. There's the chance of--no, there's no chance
of that, but it's as well to be on the safe side.'

This undeveloped was the possibility, which Richard Swiveller
sought to conceal even from himself, of his not being proof against
the charms of Miss Wackles, and in some unguarded moment, by
linking his fortunes to hers forever, of putting it out of his own
power to further their notable scheme to which he had so readily
become a party. For all these reasons, he decided to pick a quarrel
with Miss Wackles without delay, and casting about for a pretext
determined in favour of groundless jealousy. Having made up his
mind on this important point, he circulated the glass (from his right
hand to left, and back again) pretty freely, to enable him to act his
part with the greater discretion, and then, after making some slight
improvements in his toilet, bent his steps towards the spot hallowed
by the fair object of his meditations.

The spot was at Chesea, for there Miss Sophia Wackles resided with
her widowed mother and two sisters, in conjunction with whom she
maintained a very small day-school for young ladies of proportionate
dimensions; a circumstance which was made known to the
neighbourhood by an oval board over the front first-floor windows,
whereupon appeared in circumbmbient flourishes the words 'Ladies'
Seminary'; and which was further published and proclaimed at
intervals between the hours of half-past nine and ten in the morning,
by a straggling and solitrary young lady of tender years standing on
the scraper on the tips of her toes and making futile attempts to reach
the knocker with spelling-book. The several duties of instruction in
this establishment were this discharged. English grammar,
composition, geography, and the use of the dumb-bells, by Miss
Melissa Wackles; writing, arthmetic, dancing, music, and general
fascination, by Miss Sophia Wackles; the art of needle-work,
marking, and samplery, by Miss Jane Wackles; corporal punishment,
fasting, and other tortures and terrors, by Mrs Wackles. Miss
Melissa Wackles was the eldest daughter, Miss Sophy the next, and
Miss Jane the youngest. Miss Melissa might have seen five-and-thirty
summers or thereabouts, and verged on the autumnal; Miss Sophy
was a fresh, good humoured, busom girl of twenty; and Miss Jane
numbered scarcely sixteen years. Mrs Wackles was an excellent
but rather vemenous old lady of three-score.

To this Ladies' Seminary, then, Richard Swiveller hied, with designs
obnoxious to the peace of the fair Sophia, who, arrayed in virgin
white, embelished by no ornament but one blushing rose, received
him on his arrival, in the midst of very elegant not to say brilliant
preparations; such as the embellishment of the room with the little
flower-pots which always stood on the window-sill outside, save in
windy weather when they blew into the area; the choice attire of the
day-scholars who were allowed to grace the festival; the unwonted
curls of Miss Jane Wackles who had kept her head during the whole
of the preceding day screwed up tight in a yellow play-bill; and the
solemn gentility and stately bearing of the old lady and her eldest
daughter, which struck Mr Swiveller as being uncommon but made
no further impression upon him.

The truth is--and, as there is no accounting for tastes, even a taste so
strange as this may be recorded without being looked upon as a
wilful and malicious invention--the truth is that neither Mrs Wackles
nor her eldest daughter had at any time greatly favoured the
pretensions of Mr Swiveller, being accustomed to make slight
mention of him as 'a gay young man' and to sigh and shake their
heads ominously whenever his name was mentioned. Mr Swiveller's
conduct in respect to Miss Sophy having been of that vague and
dilitory kind which is usuaully looked upon as betokening no fixed
matrimonial intentions, the young lady herself began in course of
time to deem it highly desirable, that it should be brought to an issue
one way or other. Hence she had at last consented to play off against
Richard Swiveller a stricken market-gardner known to be ready with
his offer on the smallest encouragement, and hence--as this occasion
had been specially assigned for the purpose--that great anxiety on her
part for Richard Swiveller's presence which had occasioned her to
leave the note he has ben seen to receive. 'If he has any expectations
at all or any means of keeping a wife well,' said Mrs Wackles to her
eldest daughter, 'he'll state 'em to us now or never.'--'If he really
cares about me,' thought Miss Sophy, 'he must tell me so, to-night.'

But all these sayings and doings and thinkings being unknown to Mr
Swiveller, affected him not in the least; he was debating in his mind
how he could best turn jealous, and wishing that Sophy were for that
occasion only far less pretty than she was, or that she were her own
sister, which would have served his turn as well, when the company
came, and among them the market-gardener, whose name was
Cheggs. But Mr Cheggs came not alone or unsupported, for he
prudently brought along with him his sister, Miss Cheggs, who
making straight to Miss Sophy and taking her by both hands, and
kissing her on both cheeks, hoped in an audible whisper that they
had not come too early.

'Too early, no!' replied Miss Sophy.

'Oh, my dear,' rejoined Miss Cheggs in the same whisper as before,
'I've been so tormented, so worried, that it's a mercy we were not
here at four o'clock in the afternoon. Alick has been in such a state
of impatience to come! You'd hardly believe that he was dressed
before dinner-time and has been looking at the clock and teasing me
ever since. It's all your fault, you naughty thing.'

Hereupon Miss Sophy blushed, and Mr Cheggs (who was bashful
before ladies) blushed too, and Miss Sophy's mother and sisters, to
prevent Mr Cheggs from blushing more, lavished civilities and
attentions upon him, and left Richard Swiveller to take care of
himself. Here was the very thing he wanted, here was good cause
reason and foundation for pretending to be angry; but having this
cause reason and foundation which he had come expressly to seek,
not expecting to find, Richard Swiveller was angry in sound earnest,
and wondered what the devil Cheggs meant by his impudence.

However, Mr Swiveller had Miss Sophy's hand for the first quadrille
(country-dances being low, were utterly proscribed) and so gained an
advantage over his rival, who sat despondingly in a corner and
contemplated the glorious figure of the young lady as she moved
through the mazy dance. Nor was this the only start Mr Swiveller
had of the market-gardener, for determining to show the family what
quality of man they trifled with, and influenced perhaps by his late
libations, he performed such feats of agility and such spins and twirls
as filled the company with astonishment, and in particular caused a
very long gentleman who was dancing with a very short scholar, to
stand quite transfixed by wonder and admiration. Even Mrs Wackles
forgot for the moment to snubb three small young ladies who were
inclined to be happy, and could not repress a rising thought that to
have such a dancer as that in the family would be a pride indeed.

At this momentous crisis, Miss Cheggs proved herself a vigourous
and useful ally, for not confining herself to expressing by scornful
smiles a contempt for Mr Swiveller's accomplishments, she took
every opportunity of whispering into Miss Sophy's ear expressions
of condolence and sympathy on her being worried by such a
ridiculous creature, declaring that she was frightened to death lest
Alick should fall upon, and beat him, in the fulness of his wrath, and
entreating Miss Sophy to observe how the eyes of the said Alick
gleamed with love and fury; passions, it may be observed, which
being too much for his eyes rushed into his nose also, and suffused it
with a crimson glow.

'You must dance with Miss Chegs,' said Miss Sophy to Dick
Swiviller, after she had herself danced twice with Mr Cheggs and
made great show of encouraging his advances. 'She's a nice girl--and
her brother's quite delightful.'

'Quite delightful, is he?' muttered Dick. 'Quite delighted too, I
should say, from the manner in which he's looking this way.'

Here Miss Jane (previously instructed for the purpose) interposed her
many curls and whispered her sister to observe how jealous Mr
Cheggs was.

'Jealous! Like his impudence!' said Richard Swiviller.

'His impudence, Mr Swiviller!' said Miss Jane, tossing her head.
'Take care he don't hear you, sir, or you may be sorry for it.'

'Oh, pray, Jane --' said Miss Sophy.

'Nonsense!' replied her sister. 'Why shouldn't Mr Cheggs be jealous
if he likes? I like that, certainly. Mr Cheggs has a good a right to be
jealous as anyone else has, and perhaps he may have a better right
soon if he hasn't already. You know best about that, Sophy!'

Though this was a concerted plot between Miss Sophy and her sister,
originating in humane intenions and having for its object the inducing
Mr Swiviller to declare himself in time, it failed in its effect; for
Miss Jane being one of those young ladies who are premeturely shrill
and shrewish, gave such undue importance to her part that Mr
Swiviller retired in dudgeon, resigning his mistress to Mr Cheggs
and converying a definance into his looks which that gentleman
indignantly returned.

'Did you speak to me, sir?' said Mr Cheggs, following him into a
corner. 'Have the kindness to smile, sir, in order that we may not be
suspected. Did you speak to me, sir'?

Mr Swiviller looked with a supercilious smile at Mr Chegg's toes,
then raised his eyes from them to his ankles, from that to his shin,
from that to his knee, and so on very gradually, keeping up his right
leg, until he reached his waistcoat, when he raised his eyes from
button to button until he reached his chin, and travelling straight up
the middle of his nose came at last to his eyes, when he said
abruptly,

'No, sir, I didn't.'

`'Hem!' said Mr Cheggs, glancing over his shoulder, 'have the
goodness to smile again, sir. Perhaps you wished to speak to me,
sir.'

'No, sir, I didn't do that, either.'

'Perhaps you may have nothing to say to me now, sir,' said Mr
Cheggs fiercely.

At these words Richard Swiviller withdrew his eyes from Mr
Chegg's face, and travelling down the middle of his nose and down
his waistcoat and down his right leg, reached his toes again, and
carefully surveyed him; this done, he crossed over, and coming up
the other legt and thence approaching by the waistcoat as before, said
when had got to his eyes, 'No sir, I haven't.:'

'Oh, indeed, sir!' said Mr Cheggs. 'I'm glad to hear it. You know
where I'm to be found, I suppose, sir, in case you should have
anything to say to me?'

'I can easily inquire, sir, when I want to know.'

'There's nothing more we need say, I believe, sir?'

'Nothing more, sir'--With that they closed the tremendous dialog by
frowning mutually. Mr Cheggs hastened to tender his hand to Miss
Sophy, and Mr Swiviller sat himself down in a corner in a very
moody state.

Hard by this corner, Mrs Wackles and Miss Wackles were seated,
looking on at the dance; and unto Mrs and Miss Wackles, Miss
Cheggs occasionally darted when her partner was occupied with his
share of the figure, and made some remark or other which was gall
and wormword to Richard Swiviller's soul. Looking into the eyes of
Mrs and Miss Wackles for encouragement, and sitting very upright
and uncomfortable on a couple of hard stools, were two of the
day-scholars; and when Miss Wackles smiled, and Mrs Wackles smiled,
the two little girls on the stools sought to curry favour by smiling
likewise, in gracious acknowledgement of which attention the old
lady frowned them down instantly, and said that if they dared to be
guilty of such an impertinence again, they should be sent under
convoy to their respective homes. This threat caused one of the
young ladies, she being of a weak and trembling temperament, to
shed tears, and for this offense they were both filed off immediately,
with a dreadful promptitude that struck terror into the souls of all the
pupils.

'I've got such news for you,' said Miss Cheggs approaching once
more, 'Alick has been saying such things to Sophy. Upon my word,
you know, it's quite serious and in earnest, that's clear.'

'What's he been saying, my dear?' demanded Mrs Wackles.

'All manner of things,' replied Miss Cheggs, 'you can't think how
out he has been speaking!'

Richard Swiviller considered it advisable to hear no more, but taking
advantage of a pause in the dancing, and the approach of Mr Cheggs
to pay his court to the old lady, swaggered with an extremely careful
assumption of extreme carelessness toward the door, passing on the
way Miss Jane Wackles, who in all the glory of her curls was
holding a flirtation, (as good practice when no better was to be had)
with a feeble old gentleman who lodged in the parlour. Near the door
sat Miss Sophy, still fluttered and confused by the attentions of Mr
Cheggs, and by her side Richard Swiveller lingered for a moment to
exchange a few parting words.

'My boat is on the shore and my bark is on the sea, but before I pass
this door I will say farewell to thee,' murmured Dick, looking
gloomily upon her.

'Are you going?' said Miss Sophy, whose heart sank within her at
the result of her stratagem, but who affected a light indifference
notwithstanding.

'Am I going!' echoed Dick bitterly. 'Yes, I am. What then?'

'Nothing, except that it's very early,' said Miss Sophy; 'but you are
your own master, of course.'

'I would that I had been my own mistress too,' said Dick, 'before I
had ever entertained a thought of you. Miss Wackles, I believed you
true, and I was blest in so believing, but now I mourn that e'er I
knew, a girl so fair yet so deceiving.'

Miss Sophy bit her lip and affected to look with great interest after
Mr Cheggs, who was quaffing lemonade in the distance.

'I came here,' said Dick, rather oblivious of the purpose with which
he had really come, 'with my bosom expanded, my heart dilated, and
my sentiments of a corresponding description. I go away with
feelings that may be conceived but cannot be described, feeling
within myself that desolating truth that my best affections have
experienced this night a stifler!'

'I am sure I don't know what you mean, Mr Swiviller,' said Miss
Sophy with downcast eyes. 'I'm very sorry if--'

'Sorry, Ma'am!' said Dick, 'sorry in the possession of a Cheegs! But
I wish you a very good night, concluding with this slight remark,
that there is a young lady growing up at this present moment for me,
who has not only great personal attractions but great wealth, and
who has requested her next of kin to propose for my hand, which,
having a regard for some members of her family, I have consented to
promise. It's a gratifying circumstance which you'll be glad to hear,
that a young and lovely girl is growing into a woman expressly on
my account, and is now saving up for me. I thought I'd mention it. I
have now merely to apologize for trespassing so long upon your
attention. Good night.'

'There's one good thing springs out of all this,' said Richard
Swiviller to himself when he had reached home and was hanging
over the candle with the extinguisher in his hand, 'which is, that I
now go heart and soul, neck and heels, with Fred in all his scheme
about little Nelly, and right glad he'll be to find me so strong upon
it. He shall know all about that to-morrow, and in the mean time, as
it's rather late, I'll try and get a wink of the balmy.'

'The balmy' came almost as soon as it was courted. In a very few
minutes Mr Swiviller was fast asleep, dreaming that he had married
Nelly Trent and come into the property, and that his first act of
power was to lay waste the market-garden of Mr Cheggs and turn it
into a brick-field.

Content of CHAPTER 8 (Charles Dickens' novel: The Old Curiosity Shop)

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