Charles Dickens, Bleak House: Ch. 26

[+] | [-] | reset
 

"I had no such thing.  I have nothing but his signature.  Plague pestilence and famine, battle murder and sudden death upon him," says the old man, making a curse out of one of his few remembrances of a prayer and squeezing up his velvet cap between his angry hands, "I have half a million of his signatures, I think!  But you," breathlessly recovering his mildness of speech as Judy re-adjusts the cap on his skittle-ball of a head, "you, my dear Mr. George, are likely to have some letter or paper that would suit the purpose.  Anything would suit the purpose, written in the hand."

"Some writing in that hand," says the trooper, pondering; "may be, I have."

"My dearest friend!"

"May be, I have not."

"Ho!" says Grandfather Smallweed, crest-fallen.

"But if I had bushels of it, I would not show as much as would make a cartridge without knowing why."

"Sir, I have told you why.  My dear Mr. George, I have told you why."

"Not enough," says the trooper, shaking his head.  "I must know more, and approve it."

"Then, will you come to the lawyer?  My dear friend, will you come and see the gentleman?" urges Grandfather Smallweed, pulling out a lean old silver watch with hands like the leg of a skeleton.  "I told him it was probable I might call upon him between ten and eleven this forenoon, and it's now half after ten.  Will you come and see the gentleman, Mr. George?"

"Hum!" says he gravely.  "I don't mind that.  Though why this should concern you so much, I don't know."

"Everything concerns me that has a chance in it of bringing anything to light about him.  Didn't he take us all in?  Didn't he owe us immense sums, all round?  Concern me?  Who can anything about him concern more than me?  Not, my dear friend," says Grandfather Smallweed, lowering his tone, "that I want YOU to betray anything.  Far from it.  Are you ready to come, my dear friend?"

"Aye!  I'll come in a moment.  I promise nothing, you know."

"No, my dear Mr. George; no."

"And you mean to say you're going to give me a lift to this place, wherever it is, without charging for it?" Mr. George inquires, getting his hat and thick wash-leather gloves.

This pleasantry so tickles Mr. Smallweed that he laughs, long and low, before the fire.  But ever while he laughs, he glances over his paralytic shoulder at Mr. George and eagerly watches him as he unlocks the padlock of a homely cupboard at the distant end of the gallery, looks here and there upon the higher shelves, and ultimately takes something out with a rustling of paper, folds it, and puts it in his breast.  Then Judy pokes Mr. Smallweed once, and Mr. Smallweed pokes Judy once.

"I am ready," says the trooper, coming back.  "Phil, you can carry this old gentleman to his coach, and make nothing of him."

"Oh, dear me!  O Lord!  Stop a moment!" says Mr. Smallweed.  "He's so very prompt!  Are you sure you can do it carefully, my worthy man?"

Phil makes no reply, but seizing the chair and its load, sidles away, tightly hugged by the now speechless Mr. Smallweed, and bolts along the passage as if he had an acceptable commission to carry the old gentleman to the nearest volcano.  His shorter trust, however, terminating at the cab, he deposits him there; and the fair Judy takes her place beside him, and the chair embellishes the roof, and Mr. George takes the vacant place upon the box.

Mr. George is quite confounded by the spectacle he beholds from time to time as he peeps into the cab through the window behind him, where the grim Judy is always motionless, and the old gentleman with his cap over one eye is always sliding off the seat into the straw and looking upward at him out of his other eye with a helpless expression of being jolted in the back.