Charles Dickens, Bleak House: Ch. 34

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A Turn of the Screw

"Now, what," says Mr. George, "may this be?  Is it blank cartridge or ball?  A flash in the pan or a shot?"

An open letter is the subject of the trooper's speculations, and it seems to perplex him mightily.  He looks at it at arm's length, brings it close to him, holds it in his right hand, holds it in his left hand, reads it with his head on this side, with his head on that side, contracts his eyebrows, elevates them, still cannot satisfy himself.  He smooths it out upon the table with his heavy palm, and thoughtfully walking up and down the gallery, makes a halt before it every now and then to come upon it with a fresh eye.  Even that won't do.  "Is it," Mr. George still muses, "blank cartridge or ball?"

Phil Squod, with the aid of a brush and paint-pot, is employed in the distance whitening the targets, softly whistling in quick-march time and in drum-and-fife manner that he must and will go back again to the girl he left behind him.

"Phil!"  The trooper beckons as he calls him.

Phil approaches in his usual way, sidling off at first as if he were going anywhere else and then bearing down upon his commander like a bayonet-charge.  Certain splashes of white show in high relief upon his dirty face, and he scrapes his one eyebrow with the handle of the brush.

"Attention, Phil!  Listen to this."

"Steady, commander, steady."

"'Sir.  Allow me to remind you (though there is no legal necessity for my doing so, as you are aware) that the bill at two months' date drawn on yourself by Mr. Matthew Bagnet, and by you accepted, for the sum of ninety-seven pounds four shillings and ninepence, will become due to-morrow, when you will please be prepared to take up the same on presentation.  Yours, Joshua Smallweed.'  What do you make of that, Phil?"

"Mischief, guv'ner."

"Why?"

"I think," replies Phil after pensively tracing out a cross-wrinkle in his forehead with the brush-handle, "that mischeevious consequences is always meant when money's asked for."

"Lookye, Phil," says the trooper, sitting on the table.  "First and last, I have paid, I may say, half as much again as this principal in interest and one thing and another."

Phil intimates by sidling back a pace or two, with a very unaccountable wrench of his wry face, that he does not regard the transaction as being made more promising by this incident.

"And lookye further, Phil," says the trooper, staying his premature conclusions with a wave of his hand.  "There has always been an understanding that this bill was to be what they call renewed.  And it has been renewed no end of times.  What do you say now?"

"I say that I think the times is come to a end at last."

"You do?  Humph!  I am much of the same mind myself."

"Joshua Smallweed is him that was brought here in a chair?"

"The same."

"Guv'ner," says Phil with exceeding gravity, "he's a leech in his dispositions, he's a screw and a wice in his actions, a snake in his twistings, and a lobster in his claws."