Charles Dickens

Bleak House

Page 204

"But to pass from one subject to another," resumes Mr. Smallweed. "'To promote the conversation,' as a joker might say. To pass, Mr. George, from the ensign to the captain."

"What are you up to, now?" asks Mr. George, pausing with a frown in stroking the recollection of his moustache. "What captain?"

"Our captain. The captain we know of. Captain Hawdon."

"Oh! That's it, is it?" says Mr. George with a low whistle as he sees both grandfather and granddaughter looking hard at him. "You are there! Well? What about it? Come, I won't be smothered any more. Speak!"

"My dear friend," returns the old man, "I was applied--Judy, shake me up a little!--I was applied to yesterday about the captain, and my opinion still is that the captain is not dead."

"Bosh!" observes Mr. George.

"What was your remark, my dear friend?" inquires the old man with his hand to his ear.


"Ho!" says Grandfather Smallweed. "Mr. George, of my opinion you can judge for yourself according to the questions asked of me and the reasons given for asking 'em. Now, what do you think the lawyer making the inquiries wants?"

"A job," says Mr. George.

"Nothing of the kind!"

"Can't be a lawyer, then," says Mr. George, folding his arms with an air of confirmed resolution.

"My dear friend, he is a lawyer, and a famous one. He wants to see some fragment in Captain Hawdon's writing. He don't want to keep it. He only wants to see it and compare it with a writing in his possession."


"Well, Mr. George. Happening to remember the advertisement concerning Captain Hawdon and any information that could be given respecting him, he looked it up and came to me--just as you did, my dear friend. WILL you shake hands? So glad you came that day! I should have missed forming such a friendship if you hadn't come!"

"Well, Mr. Smallweed?" says Mr. George again after going through the ceremony with some stiffness.

"I had no such thing. I have nothing but his signature. Plague pestilence and famine, battle murder and sudden death upon him," says the old man, making a curse out of one of his few remembrances of a prayer and squeezing up his velvet cap between his angry hands, "I have half a million of his signatures, I think! But you," breathlessly recovering his mildness of speech as Judy re- adjusts the cap on his skittle-ball of a head, "you, my dear Mr. George, are likely to have some letter or paper that would suit the purpose. Anything would suit the purpose, written in the hand."

"Some writing in that hand," says the trooper, pondering; "may be, I have."

"My dearest friend!"

"May be, I have not."

"Ho!" says Grandfather Smallweed, crest-fallen.

"But if I had bushels of it, I would not show as much as would make a cartridge without knowing why."

"Sir, I have told you why. My dear Mr. George, I have told you why."

"Not enough," says the trooper, shaking his head. "I must know more, and approve it."

"Then, will you come to the lawyer? My dear friend, will you come and see the gentleman?" urges Grandfather Smallweed, pulling out a lean old silver watch with hands like the leg of a skeleton. "I told him it was probable I might call upon him between ten and eleven this forenoon, and it's now half after ten. Will you come and see the gentleman, Mr. George?"

"Hum!" says he gravely. "I don't mind that. Though why this should concern you so much, I don't know."

"Everything concerns me that has a chance in it of bringing anything to light about him. Didn't he take us all in? Didn't he owe us immense sums, all round? Concern me? Who can anything about him concern more than me? Not, my dear friend," says Grandfather Smallweed, lowering his tone, "that I want YOU to betray anything. Far from it. Are you ready to come, my dear friend?"

"Aye! I'll come in a moment. I promise nothing, you know."

"No, my dear Mr. George; no."

"And you mean to say you're going to give me a lift to this place, wherever it is, without charging for it?" Mr.