Chapter 60

The dangers thicken, and the worst is told

INSTEAD of going home, Ralph threw himself into the first street cabriolet he could find, and, directing the driver towards the police-office of the district in which Mr Squeers's misfortunes had occurred, alighted at a short distance from it, and, discharging the man, went the rest of his way thither on foot. Inquiring for the object of his solicitude, he learnt that he had timed his visit well; for Mr Squeers was, in fact, at that moment waiting for a hackney coach he had ordered, and in which he purposed proceeding to his week's retirement like a gentleman.

Demanding speech with the prisoner, he was ushered into a kind of waiting-room in which, by reason of his scholastic profession and superior respectability, Mr Squeers had been permitted to pass the day. Here, by the light of a guttering and blackened candle, he could barely discern the schoolmaster, fast asleep on a bench in a remote corner. An empty glass stood on a table before him, which, with his somnolent condition and a very strong smell of brandy-and-water, forewarned the visitor that Mr Squeers had been seeking, in creature comforts, a temporary forgetfulness of his unpleasant situation.

It was not a very easy matter to rouse him: so lethargic and heavy were his slumbers. Regaining his faculties by slow and faint glimmerings, he at length sat upright; and, displaying a very yellow face, a very red nose, and a very bristly beard: the joint effect of which was considerably heightened by a dirty white handkerchief, spotted with blood, drawn over the crown of his head and tied under his chin: stared ruefully at Ralph in silence, until his feelings found a vent in this pithy sentence:

`I say, young fellow, you've been and done it now; you have!'

`What's the matter with your head?' asked Ralph.

`Why, your man, your informing kidnapping man, has been and broke it,' rejoined Squeers sulkily; `that's what's the matter with it. You've come at last, have you?'

`Why have you not sent to me?' said Ralph. `How could I come till I knew what had befallen you?'

`My family!' hiccuped Mr Squeers, raising his eye to the ceiling: `my daughter, as is at that age when all the sensibilities is a-coming out strong in blow--my son as is the young Norval of private life, and the pride and ornament of a doting willage--here's a shock for my family! The coat-of-arms of the Squeerses is tore, and their sun is gone down into the ocean wave!'

`You have been drinking,' said Ralph, `and have not yet slept yourself sober.'

`I haven't been drinking your health, my codger,' replied Mr Squeers; `so you have nothing to do with that.'

Ralph suppressed the indignation which the schoolmaster's altered and insolent manner awakened, and asked again why he had not sent to him.

`What should I get by sending to you?' returned Squeers. `To be known to be in with you wouldn't do me a deal of good, and they won't take bail till they know something more of the case, so here am I hard and fast: and there are you, loose and comfortable.'

`And so must you be in a few days,' retorted Ralph, with affected good-humour. `They can't hurt you, man.'

`Why, I suppose they can't do much to me, if I explain how it was that I got into the good company of that there ca-daverous old Slider,' replied Squeers viciously, `who I wish was dead and buried, and resurrected and dissected, and hung upon wires in a anatomical museum, before ever I'd had anything to do with her. This is what him with the powdered head says this morning, in so many words--"Prisoner! As you have been found in company with this woman; as you were detected in possession of this document; as

  By PanEris using Melati.

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