Be sure that the coldest-hearted misanthropes are ever of this last order.
Mr Chester sat up in bed next morning, sipping his coffee, and remembering with a kind of contemptuous satisfaction how he had shone last night, and how he had been caressed and courted, when his servant brought in a very small scrap of dirty paper, tightly sealed in two places, on the inside whereof was inscribed in pretty large text these words: 'A friend. Desiring of a conference. Immediate. Private. Burn it when you've read it.'
'Where in the name of the Gunpowder Plot did you pick up this?' said his master.
It was given him by a person then waiting at the door, the man replied.
'With a cloak and dagger?' said Mr Chester.
With nothing more threatening about him, it appeared, than a leather apron and a dirty face. 'Let him come in.' In he came--Mr Tappertit; with his hair still on end, and a great lock in his hand, which he put down on the floor in the middle of the chamber as if he were about to go through some performances in which it was a necessary agent.
'Sir,' said Mr Tappertit with a low bow, 'I thank you for this condescension, and am glad to see you. Pardon the menial office in which I am engaged, sir, and extend your sympathies to one, who, humble as his appearance is, has inn'ard workings far above his station.'
Mr Chester held the bed-curtain farther back, and looked at him with a vague impression that he was some maniac, who had not only broken open the door of his place of confinement, but had brought away the lock. Mr Tappertit bowed again, and displayed his legs to the best advantage.
'You have heard, sir,' said Mr Tappertit, laying his hand upon his breast, 'of G. Varden Locksmith and bell-hanger and repairs neatly executed in town and country, Clerkenwell, London?'
'What then?' asked Mr Chester.
'I'm his 'prentice, sir.'
'Ahem!' said Mr Tappertit. 'Would you permit me to shut the door, sir, and will you further, sir, give me your honour bright, that what passes between us is in the strictest confidence?'
Mr Chester laid himself calmly down in bed again, and turning a perfectly undisturbed face towards the strange apparition, which had by this time closed the door, begged him to speak out, and to be as rational as he could, without putting himself to any very great personal inconvenience.
'In the first place, sir,' said Mr Tappertit, producing a small pocket-handkerchief and shaking it out of the folds, 'as I have not a card about me (for the envy of masters debases us below that level) allow me to offer the best substitute that circumstances will admit of. If you will take that in your own hand, sir, and cast your eye on the right-hand corner,' said Mr Tappertit, offering it with a graceful air, 'you will meet with my credentials.'
'Thank you,' answered Mr Chester, politely accepting it, and turning to some blood-red characters at one end. '"Four. Simon Tappertit. One." Is that the--'
'Without the numbers, sir, that is my name,' replied the 'prentice. 'They are merely intended as directions to the washerwoman, and have no connection with myself or family. YOUR name, sir,' said Mr Tappertit, looking very hard at his nightcap, 'is Chester, I suppose? You needn't pull it off, sir, thank you. I observe E. C. from here. We will take the rest for granted.'
'Pray, Mr Tappertit,' said Mr Chester, 'has that complicated piece of ironmongery which you have done me the favour to bring with you, any immediate connection with the business we are to discuss?'
'It has not, sir,' rejoined the 'prentice. 'It's going to be fitted on a ware'us-door in Thames Street.'
'Perhaps, as that is the case,' said Mr Chester, 'and as it has a stronger flavour of oil than I usually refresh my bedroom with, you will oblige me so far as to put it outside the door?'
'By all means, sir,' said Mr Tappertit, suiting the action to the word.
'You'll excuse my mentioning it, I hope?'
'Don't apologise, sir, I beg. And now, if you please, to business.'
During the whole of this dialogue, Mr Chester had suffered nothing but his smile of unvarying serenity and politeness to appear upon his face.