Clear of the locksmiths house, Sim Tappertit laid aside his cautious manner, and assuming in its stead that of a ruffling, swaggering, roving blade, who would rather kill a man than otherwise, and eat him too if needful, made the best of his way along the darkened streets.
Half pausing for an instant now and then to smite his pocket and assure himself of the safety of his master key, he hurried on to Barbican, and turning into one of the narrowest of the narrow streets which diverged from that centre, slackened his pace and wiped his heated brow, as if the termination of his walk were near at hand.
It was not a very choice spot for midnight expeditions, being in truth one of more than questionable character, and of an appearance by no means inviting. From the main street he had entered, itself little better than an alley, a low-browed doorway led into a blind court, or yard, profoundly dark, unpaved, and reeking with stagnant odours. Into this ill-favoured pit, the locksmiths vagrant prentice groped his way; and stopping at a house from whose defaced and rotten front the rude effigy of a bottle swung to and fro like some gibbeted malefactor, struck thrice upon an iron grating with his foot. After listening in vain for some response to his signal, Mr Tappertit became impatient, and struck the grating thrice again.
A further delay ensued, but it was not of long duration. The ground seemed to open at his feet, and a ragged head appeared.
Is that the captain? said a voice as ragged as the head.
Yes, replied Mr Tappertit haughtily, descending as he spoke, who should it be?
Its so late, we gave you up, returned the voice, as its owner stopped to shut and fasten the grating. Youre late, sir.
Lead on, said Mr Tappertit, with a gloomy majesty, and make remarks when I require you. Forward!
This latter word of command was perhaps somewhat theatrical and unnecessary, inasmuch as the descent was by a very narrow, steep, and slippery flight of steps, and any rashness or departure from the beaten track must have ended in a yawning water-butt. But Mr Tappertit being, like some other great commanders, favourable to strong effects, and personal display, cried Forward! again, in the hoarsest voice he could assume; and led the way, with folded arms and knitted brows, to the cellar down below, where there was a small copper fixed in one corner, a chair or two, a form and table, a glimmering fire, and a truckle-bed, covered with a ragged patchwork rug.
Welcome, noble captain! cried a lanky figure, rising as from a nap.
The captain nodded. Then, throwing off his outer coat, he stood composed in all his dignity, and eyed his follower over.
What news to-night? he asked, when he had looked into his very soul.
Nothing particular, replied the other, stretching himselfand he was so long already that it was quite alarming to see him do it how come you to be so late?
No matter, was all the captain deigned to say in answer. Is the room prepared?
It is, replied the follower.
The comradeis he here?
Yes. And a sprinkling of the othersyou hear em?
Playing skittles! said the captain moodily. Light-hearted revellers!
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