'Now, who would think,' thought Varden, shrugging his shoulders and drawing his chair nearer to the fire, 'that that woman could ever be pleasant and agreeable? And yet she can be. Well, well, all of us have our faults. I'll not be hard upon hers. We have been man and wife too long for that.'
He dozed again--not the less pleasantly, perhaps, for his hearty temper. While his eyes were closed, the door leading to the upper stairs was partially opened; and a head appeared, which, at sight of him, hastily drew back again.
'I wish,' murmured Gabriel, waking at the noise, and looking round the room, 'I wish somebody would marry Miggs. But that's impossible! I wonder whether there's any madman alive, who would marry Miggs!'
This was such a vast speculation that he fell into a doze again, and slept until the fire was quite burnt out. At last he roused himself; and having double-locked the street-door according to custom, and put the key in his pocket, went off to bed.
He had not left the room in darkness many minutes, when the head again appeared, and Sim Tappertit entered, bearing in his hand a little lamp.
'What the devil business has he to stop up so late!' muttered Sim, passing into the workshop, and setting it down upon the forge. 'Here's half the night gone already. There's only one good that has ever come to me, out of this cursed old rusty mechanical trade, and that's this piece of ironmongery, upon my soul!'
As he spoke, he drew from the right hand, or rather right leg pocket of his smalls, a clumsy large-sized key, which he inserted cautiously in the lock his master had secured, and softly opened the door. That done, he replaced his piece of secret workmanship in his pocket; and leaving the lamp burning, and closing the door carefully and without noise, stole out into the street--as little suspected by the locksmith in his sound deep sleep, as by Barnaby himself in his phantom-haunted dreams.
Clear of the locksmith's 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 locksmith's 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?'
'It's so late, we gave you up,' returned the voice, as its owner stopped to shut and fasten the grating. 'You're 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.