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, despatched 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 certain small account which had been long 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, curiously 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 potato 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 presently, 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 perturbation 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 the gentleman would call, in order that being personally responsible for the beef, greens, and sundries, he might take care 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 to 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 business-like 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 thoroughfare too. There’s only one avenue to the Strand left open now, and I shall have to stop up that tonight with a pair of gloves. The roads are closing so fast in every direction, that in about 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 takes to soften her is six, and this time we have got as far as eight without any effect at all. I’ll write another tomorrow 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

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