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Chapter 58


Chapter 8

A FEW GRAINS OF PEPPER


The dolls' dressmaker went no more to the business-premises of
Pubsey and Co. in St Mary Axe, after chance had disclosed to her
(as she supposed) the flinty and hypocritical character of Mr Riah.
She often moralized over her work on the tricks and the manners of
that venerable cheat, but made her little purchases elsewhere, and
lived a secluded life. After much consultation with herself, she
decided not to put Lizzie Hexam on her guard against the old man,
arguing that the disappointment of finding him out would come
upon her quite soon enough. Therefore, in her communication
with her friend by letter, she was silent on this theme, and
principally dilated on the backslidings of her bad child, who every
day grew worse and worse.

'You wicked old boy,' Miss Wren would say to him, with a
menacing forefinger, 'you'll force me to run away from you, after
all, you will; and then you'll shake to bits, and there'll be nobody to
pick up the pieces!'

At this foreshadowing of a desolate decease, the wicked old boy
would whine and whimper, and would sit shaking himself into the
lowest of low spirits, until such time as he could shake himself out
of the house and shake another threepennyworth into himself. But
dead drunk or dead sober (he had come to such a pass that he was
least alive in the latter state), it was always on the conscience of
the paralytic scarecrow that he had betrayed his sharp parent for
sixty threepennyworths of rum, which were all gone, and that her
sharpness would infallibly detect his having done it, sooner or
later. All things considered therefore, and addition made of the
state of his body to the state of his mind, the bed on which Mr
Dolls reposed was a bed of roses from which the flowers and
leaves had entirely faded, leaving him to lie upon the thorns and
stalks.

On a certain day, Miss Wren was alone at her work, with the
house-door set open for coolness, and was trolling in a small sweet
voice a mournful little song which might have been the song of the
doll she was dressing, bemoaning the brittleness and meltability of
wax, when whom should she descry standing on the pavement,
looking in at her, but Mr Fledgeby.

'I thought it was you?' said Fledgeby, coming up the two steps.

'Did you?' Miss Wren retorted. 'And I thought it was you, young
man. Quite a coincidence. You're not mistaken, and I'm not
mistaken. How clever we are!'

'Well, and how are you?' said Fledgeby.

'I am pretty much as usual, sir,' replied Miss Wren. 'A very
unfortunate parent, worried out of my life and senses by a very bad
child.'

Fledgeby's small eyes opened so wide that they might have passed
for ordinary-sized eyes, as he stared about him for the very young
person whom he supposed to be in question.

'But you're not a parent,' said Miss Wren, 'and consequently it's of
no use talking to you upon a family subject.--To what am I to
attribute the honour and favour?'

'To a wish to improve your acquaintance,' Mr Fledgeby replied.

Miss Wren, stopping to bite her thread, looked at him very
knowingly.

'We never meet now,' said Fledgeby; 'do we?'

'No,' said Miss Wren, chopping off the word.

'So I had a mind,' pursued Fledgeby, 'to come and have a talk with
you about our dodging friend, the child of Israel.'

'So HE gave you my address; did he?' asked Miss Wren.

'I got it out of him,' said Fledgeby, with a stammer.

'You seem to see a good deal of him,' remarked Miss Wren, with
shrewd distrust. 'A good deal of him you seem to see, considering.'

'Yes, I do,' said Fledgeby. 'Considering.'

'Haven't you,' inquired the dressmaker, bending over the doll on
which her art was being exercised, 'done interceding with him yet?'

'No,' said Fledgeby, shaking his head.

'La! Been interceding with him all this time, and sticking to him
still?' said Miss Wren, busy with her work.

'Sticking to him is the word,' said Fledgeby.

Miss Wren pursued her occupation with a concentrated air, and
asked, after an interval of silent industry:

'Are you in the army?'

'Not exactly,' said Fledgeby, rather flattered by the question.

'Navy?' asked Miss Wren.

'N--no,' said Fledgeby. He qualified these two negatives, as if he
were not absolutely in either service, but was almost in both.

'What are you then?' demanded Miss Wren.

'I am a gentleman, I am,' said Fledgeby.

'Oh!' assented Jenny, screwing up her mouth with an appearance of
conviction. 'Yes, to be sure! That accounts for your having so
much time to give to interceding. But only to think how kind and
friendly a gentleman you must be!'

Mr Fledgeby found that he was skating round a board marked
Dangerous, and had better cut out a fresh track. 'Let's get back to
the dodgerest of the dodgers,' said he. 'What's he up to in the case
of your friend the handsome gal? He must have some object.
What's his object?'

'Cannot undertake to say, sir, I am sure!' returned Miss Wren,
composedly.

'He won't acknowledge where she's gone,' said Fledgeby; 'and I
have a fancy that I should like to have another look at her. Now I
know he knows where she is gone.'

'Cannot undertake to say, sir, I am sure!' Miss Wren again
rejoined.

'And you know where she is gone,' hazarded Fledgeby.

'Cannot undertake to say, sir, really,' replied Miss Wren.

The quaint little chin met Mr Fledgeby's gaze with such a baffling
hitch, that that agreeable gentleman was for some time at a loss
how to resume his fascinating part in the dialogue. At length he
said:

'Miss Jenny!--That's your name, if I don't mistake?'

'Probably you don't mistake, sir,' was Miss Wren's cool answer;
'because you had it on the best authority. Mine, you know.'

'Miss Jenny! Instead of coming up and being dead, let's come out
and look alive. It'll pay better, I assure you,' said Fledgeby,
bestowing an inveigling twinkle or two upon the dressmaker.
'You'll find it pay better.'

'Perhaps,' said Miss Jenny, holding out her doll at arm's length,
and critically contemplating the effect of her art with her scissors
on her lips and her head thrown back, as if her interest lay there,
and not in the conversation; 'perhaps you'll explain your meaning,
young man, which is Greek to me.--You must have another touch
of blue in your trimming, my dear.' Having addressed the last
remark to her fair client, Miss Wren proceeded to snip at some
blue fragments that lay before her, among fragments of all colours,
and to thread a needle from a skein of blue silk.

'Look here,' said Fledgeby.--'Are you attending?'

'I am attending, sir,' replied Miss Wren, without the slightest
appearance of so doing. 'Another touch of blue in your trimming,
my dear.'

'Well, look here,' said Fledgeby, rather discouraged by the
circumstances under which he found himself pursuing the
conversation. 'If you're attending--'

('Light blue, my sweet young lady,' remarked Miss Wren, in a
sprightly tone, 'being best suited to your fair complexion and your
flaxen curls.')

'I say, if you're attending,' proceeded Fledgeby, 'it'll pay better in
this way. It'll lead in a roundabout manner to your buying damage
and waste of Pubsey and Co. at a nominal price, or even getting it
for nothing.'

'Aha!' thought the dressmaker. 'But you are not so roundabout,
Little Eyes, that I don't notice your answering for Pubsey and Co.
after all! Little Eyes, Little Eyes, you're too cunning by half.'

'And I take it for granted,' pursued Fledgeby, 'that to get the most
of your materials for nothing would be well worth your while, Miss
Jenny?'

'You may take it for granted,' returned the dressmaker with many
knowing nods, 'that it's always well worth my while to make
money.'

'Now,' said Fledgeby approvingly, 'you're answering to a sensible
purpose. Now, you're coming out and looking alive! So I make so
free, Miss Jenny, as to offer the remark, that you and Judah were
too thick together to last. You can't come to be intimate with such
a deep file as Judah without beginning to see a little way into him,
you know,' said Fledgeby with a wink.

'I must own,' returned the dressmaker, with her eyes upon her
work, 'that we are not good friends at present.'

'I know you're not good friends at present,' said Fledgeby. 'I know
all about it. I should like to pay off Judah, by not letting him have
his own deep way in everything. In most things he'll get it by hook
or by crook, but--hang it all!--don't let him have his own deep way
in everything. That's too much.' Mr Fledgeby said this with some
display of indignant warmth, as if he was counsel in the cause for
Virtue.

'How can I prevent his having his own way?' began the
dressmaker.

'Deep way, I called it,' said Fledgeby.

'--His own deep way, in anything?'

'I'll tell you,' said Fledgeby. 'I like to hear you ask it, because it's
looking alive. It's what I should expect to find in one of your
sagacious understanding. Now, candidly.'

'Eh?' cried Miss Jenny.

'I said, now candidly,' Mr Fledgeby explained, a little put out.

'Oh-h!'

'I should be glad to countermine him, respecting the handsome
gal, your friend. He means something there. You may depend
upon it, Judah means something there. He has a motive, and of
course his motive is a dark motive. Now, whatever his motive is,
it's necessary to his motive'--Mr Fledgeby's constructive powers
were not equal to the avoidance of some tautology here--'that it
should be kept from me, what he has done with her. So I put it to
you, who know: What HAS he done with her? I ask no more.
And is that asking much, when you understand that it will pay?'

Miss Jenny Wren, who had cast her eyes upon the bench again
after her last interruption, sat looking at it, needle in hand but not
working, for some moments. She then briskly resumed her work,
and said with a sidelong glance of her eyes and chin at Mr
Fledgeby:

'Where d'ye live?'

'Albany, Piccadilly,' replied Fledgeby.

'When are you at home?'

'When you like.'

'Breakfast-time?' said Jenny, in her abruptest and shortest manner.

'No better time in the day,' said Fledgeby.

'I'll look in upon you to-morrow, young man. Those two ladies,'
pointing to dolls, 'have an appointment in Bond Street at ten
precisely. When I've dropped 'em there, I'll drive round to you.
With a weird little laugh, Miss Jenny pointed to her crutch-stick as
her equipage.

'This is looking alive indeed!' cried Fledgeby, rising.

'Mark you! I promise you nothing,' said the dolls' dressmaker,
dabbing two dabs at him with her needle, as if she put out both his
eyes.

'No no. I understand,' returned Fledgeby. 'The damage and waste
question shall be settled first. It shall be made to pay; don't you be
afraid. Good-day, Miss Jenny.'

'Good-day, young man.'

Mr Fledgeby's prepossessing form withdrew itself; and the little
dressmaker, clipping and snipping and stitching, and stitching and
snipping and clipping, fell to work at a great rate; musing and
muttering all the time.

'Misty, misty, misty. Can't make it out. Little Eyes and the wolf in
a conspiracy? Or Little Eyes and the wolf against one another?
Can't make it out. My poor Lizzie, have they both designs against
you, either way? Can't make it out. Is Little Eyes Pubsey, and the
wolf Co? Can't make it out. Pubsey true to Co, and Co to Pubsey?
Pubsey false to Co, and Co to Pubsey? Can't make it out. What
said Little Eyes? "Now, candidly?" Ah! However the cat jumps,
HE'S a liar. That's all I can make out at present; but you may go to
bed in the Albany, Piccadilly, with THAT for your pillow, young
man!' Thereupon, the little dressmaker again dabbed out his eyes
separately, and making a loop in the air of her thread and deftly
catching it into a knot with her needle, seemed to bowstring him
into the bargain.

For the terrors undergone by Mr Dolls that evening when his little
parent sat profoundly meditating over her work, and when he
imagined himself found out, as often as she changed her attitude,
or turned her eyes towards him, there is no adequate name.
Moreover it was her habit to shake her head at that wretched old
boy whenever she caught his eye as he shivered and shook. What
are popularly called 'the trembles' being in full force upon him that
evening, and likewise what are popularly called 'the horrors,' he
had a very bad time of it; which was not made better by his being
so remorseful as frequently to moan 'Sixty threepennorths.' This
imperfect sentence not being at all intelligible as a confession, but
sounding like a Gargantuan order for a dram, brought him into
new difficulties by occasioning his parent to pounce at him in a
more than usually snappish manner, and to overwhelm him with
bitter reproaches.

What was a bad time for Mr Dolls, could not fail to be a bad time
for the dolls' dressmaker. However, she was on the alert next
morning, and drove to Bond Street, and set down the two ladies
punctually, and then directed her equipage to conduct her to the
Albany. Arrived at the doorway of the house in which Mr
Fledgeby's chambers were, she found a lady standing there in a
travelling dress, holding in her hand--of all things in the world--a
gentleman's hat.

'You want some one?' said the lady in a stern manner.

'I am going up stairs to Mr Fledgeby's.'

'You cannot do that at this moment. There is a gentleman with
him. I am waiting for the gentleman. His business with Mr
Fledgeby will very soon be transacted, and then you can go up.
Until the gentleman comes down, you must wait here.'

While speaking, and afterwards, the lady kept watchfully between
her and the staircase, as if prepared to oppose her going up, by
force. The lady being of a stature to stop her with a hand, and
looking mightily determined, the dressmaker stood still.

'Well? Why do you listen?' asked the lady.

'I am not listening,' said the dressmaker.

'What do you hear?' asked the lady, altering her phrase.

'Is it a kind of a spluttering somewhere?' said the dressmaker, with
an inquiring look.

'Mr Fledgeby in his shower-bath, perhaps,' remarked the lady,
smiling.

'And somebody's beating a carpet, I think?'

'Mr Fledgeby's carpet, I dare say,' replied the smiling lady.

Miss Wren had a reasonably good eye for smiles, being well
accustomed to them on the part of her young friends, though their
smiles mostly ran smaller than in nature. But she had never seen
so singular a smile as that upon this lady's face. It twitched her
nostrils open in a remarkable manner, and contracted her lips and
eyebrows. It was a smile of enjoyment too, though of such a fierce
kind that Miss Wren thought she would rather not enjoy herself
than do it in that way.

'Well!' said the lady, watching her. 'What now?'

'I hope there's nothing the matter!' said the dressmaker.

'Where?' inquired the lady.

'I don't know where,' said Miss Wren, staring about her. 'But I
never heard such odd noises. Don't you think I had better call
somebody?'

'I think you had better not,' returned the lady with a significant
frown, and drawing closer.

On this hint, the dressmaker relinquished the idea, and stood
looking at the lady as hard as the lady looked at her. Meanwhile
the dressmaker listened with amazement to the odd noises which
still continued, and the lady listened too, but with a coolness in
which there was no trace of amazement.

Soon afterwards, came a slamming and banging of doors; and then
came running down stairs, a gentleman with whiskers, and out of
breath, who seemed to be red-hot.

'Is your business done, Alfred?' inquired the lady.

'Very thoroughly done,' replied the gentleman, as he took his hat
from her.

'You can go up to Mr Fledgeby as soon as you like,' said the lady,
moving haughtily away.

'Oh! And you can take these three pieces of stick with you,' added
the gentleman politely, 'and say, if you please, that they come from
Mr Alfred Lammle, with his compliments on leaving England. Mr
Alfred Lammle. Be so good as not to forget the name.'

The three pieces of stick were three broken and frayed fragments of
a stout lithe cane. Miss Jenny taking them wonderingly, and the
gentleman repeating with a grin, 'Mr Alfred Lammle, if you'll be
so good. Compliments, on leaving England,' the lady and
gentleman walked away quite deliberately, and Miss Jenny and her
crutch-stick went up stairs. 'Lammle, Lammle, Lammle?' Miss
Jenny repeated as she panted from stair to stair, 'where have I
heard that name? Lammle, Lammle? I know! Saint Mary Axe!'

With a gleam of new intelligence in her sharp face, the dolls'
dressmaker pulled at Fledgeby's bell. No one answered; but, from
within the chambers, there proceeded a continuous spluttering
sound of a highly singular and unintelligible nature.

'Good gracious! Is Little Eyes choking?' cried Miss Jenny.

Pulling at the bell again and getting no reply, she pushed the outer
door, and found it standing ajar. No one being visible on her
opening it wider, and the spluttering continuing, she took the
liberry of opening an inner door, and then beheld the
extraordinary spectacle of Mr Fledgeby in a shirt, a pair of
Turkish trousers, and a Turkish cap, rolling over and over on his
own carpet, and spluttering wonderfully.

'Oh Lord!' gasped Mr Fledgeby. 'Oh my eye! Stop thief! I am
strangling. Fire! Oh my eye! A glass of water. Give me a glass
of water. Shut the door. Murder! Oh Lord!' And then rolled and
spluttered more than ever.

Hurrying into another room, Miss Jenny got a glass of water, and
brought it for Fledgeby's relief: who, gasping, spluttering, and
rattling in his throat betweenwhiles, drank some water, and laid
his head faintly on her arm.

'Oh my eye!' cried Fledgehy, struggling anew. 'It's salt and snuff.
It's up my nose, and down my throat, and in my wind-pipe. Ugh!
Ow! Ow! Ow! Ah--h--h--h!' And here, crowing fearfully, with his
eyes starting out of his head, appeared to be contending with every
mortal disease incidental to poultry.

'And Oh my Eye, I'm so sore!' cried Fledgeby, starting, over on his
back, in a spasmodic way that caused the dressmaker to retreat to
the wall. 'Oh I smart so! Do put something to my back and arms,
and legs and shoulders. Ugh! It's down my throat again and can't
come up. Ow! Ow! Ow! Ah--h--h--h! Oh I smart so!' Here Mr
Fledgeby bounded up, and bounded down, and went rolling over
and over again.

The dolls' dressmaker looked on until he rolled himself into a
corner with his Turkish slippers uppermost, and then, resolving in
the first place to address her ministration to the salt and snuff, gave
him more water and slapped his back. But, the latter application
was by no means a success, causing Mr Fledgeby to scream, and to
cry out, 'Oh my eye! don't slap me! I'm covered with weales and I
smart so!'

However, he gradually ceased to choke and crow, saving at
intervals, and Miss Jenny got him into an easy-chair: where, with
his eyes red and watery, with his features swollen, and with some
half-dozen livid bars across his face, he presented a most rueful
sight.

'What ever possessed you to take salt and snuff, young man?'
inquired Miss Jenny.

'I didn't take it,' the dismal youth replied. 'It was crammed into my
mouth.'

'Who crammed it?' asked Miss Jenny.

'He did,' answered Fledgeby. 'The assassin. Lammle. He rubbed
it into my mouth and up my nose and down my throat--Ow! Ow!
Ow! Ah--h--h--h! Ugh!--to prevent my crying out, and then
cruelly assaulted me.'

'With this?' asked Miss Jenny, showing the pieces of cane.

'That's the weapon,' said Fledgeby, eyeing it with the air of an
acquaintance. 'He broke it over me. Oh I smart so! How did you
come by it?'

'When he ran down stairs and joined the lady he had left in the hall
with his hat'--Miss Jenny began.

'Oh!' groaned Mr Fledgeby, writhing, 'she was holding his hat, was
she? I might have known she was in it.'

'When he came down stairs and joined the lady who wouldn't let
me come up, he gave me the pieces for you, and I was to say,
"With Mr Alfred Lammle's compliments on his leaving England."'
Miss Jenny said it with such spiteful satisfaction, and such a hitch
of her chin and eyes as might have added to Mr Fledgehy's
miseries, if he could have noticed either, in his bodily pain with his
hand to his head.

'Shall I go for the police?' inquired Miss Jenny, with a nimble start
towards the door.

'Stop! No, don't!' cried Fledgeby. 'Don't, please. We had better
keep it quiet. Will you be so good as shut the door? Oh I do smart
so!'

In testimony of the extent to which he smarted, Mr Fledgeby came
wallowing out of the easy-chair, and took another roll on the
carpet.

Now the door's shut,' said Mr Fledgeby, sitting up in anguish, with
his Turkish cap half on and half off, and the bars on his face
getting bluer, 'do me the kindness to look at my back and
shoulders. They must be in an awful state, for I hadn't got my
dressing-gown on, when the brute came rushing in. Cut my shirt
away from the collar; there's a pair of scissors on that table. Oh!'
groaned Mr Fledgeby, with his hand to his head again. 'How I do
smart, to be sure!'

'There?' inquired Miss Jenny, alluding to the back and shoulders.

'Oh Lord, yes!' moaned Fledgeby, rocking himself. 'And all over!
Everywhere!'

The busy little dressmaker quickly snipped the shirt away, and laid
bare the results of as furious and sound a thrashing as even Mr
Fledgeby merited. 'You may well smart, young man!' exclaimed
Miss Jenny. And stealthily rubbed her little hands behind him,
and poked a few exultant pokes with her two forefingers over the
crown of his head.

'What do you think of vinegar and brown paper?' inquired the
suffering Fledgeby, still rocking and moaning. 'Does it look as if
vinegar and brown paper was the sort of application?'

'Yes,' said Miss Jenny, with a silent chuckle. 'It looks as if it ought
to be Pickled.'

Mr Fledgeby collapsed under the word 'Pickled,' and groaned
again. 'My kitchen is on this floor,' he said; 'you'll find brown
paper in a dresser-drawer there, and a bottle of vinegar on a shelf.
Would you have the kindness to make a few plasters and put 'em
on? It can't be kept too quiet.'

'One, two--hum--five, six. You'll want six,' said the dress-maker.

'There's smart enough,' whimpered Mr Fledgeby, groaning and
writhing again, 'for sixty.'

Miss Jenny repaired to the kitchen, scissors in hand, found the
brown paper and found the vinegar, and skilfully cut out and
steeped six large plasters. When they were all lying ready on the
dresser, an idea occurred to her as she was about to gather them
up.

'I think,' said Miss Jenny with a silent laugh, 'he ought to have a
little pepper? Just a few grains? I think the young man's tricks
and manners make a claim upon his friends for a little pepper?'

Mr Fledgeby's evil star showing her the pepper-box on the
chimneypiece, she climbed upon a chair, and got it down, and
sprinkled all the plasters with a judicious hand. She then went
back to Mr Fledgeby, and stuck them all on him: Mr Fledgeby
uttering a sharp howl as each was put in its place.

'There, young man!' said the dolls' dressmaker. 'Now I hope you
feel pretty comfortable?'

Apparently, Mr Fledgeby did not, for he cried by way of answer,
'Oh--h how I do smart!'

Miss Jenny got his Persian gown upon him, extinguished his eyes
crookedly with his Persian cap, and helped him to his bed: upon
which he climbed groaning. 'Business between you and me being
out of the question to-day, young man, and my time being
precious,' said Miss Jenny then, 'I'll make myself scarce. Are you
comfortable now?'

'Oh my eye!' cried Mr Fledgeby. 'No, I ain't. Oh--h--h! how I do
smart!'

The last thing Miss Jenny saw, as she looked back before closing
the room door, was Mr Fledgeby in the act of plunging and
gambolling all over his bed, like a porpoise or dolphin in its native
element. She then shut the bedroom door, and all the other doors,
and going down stairs and emerging from the Albany into the busy
streets, took omnibus for Saint Mary Axe: pressing on the road all
the gaily-dressed ladies whom she could see from the window, and
making them unconscious lay-figures for dolls, while she mentally
cut them out and basted them.


Charles Dickens