Charles Dickens

In point of meritorious character,

the two things seemed about equal.

When we had written a little while, I would ask Herbert how he got

on? Herbert probably would have been scratching his head in a most

rueful manner at the sight of his accumulating figures.

"They are mounting up, Handel," Herbert would say; "upon my life,

they are mounting up."

"Be firm, Herbert," I would retort, plying my own pen with great

assiduity. "Look the thing in the face. Look into your affairs.

Stare them out of countenance."

"So I would, Handel, only they are staring me out of countenance."

However, my determined manner would have its effect, and Herbert

would fall to work again. After a time he would give up once more,

on the plea that he had not got Cobbs's bill, or Lobbs's, or

Nobbs's, as the case might be.

"Then, Herbert, estimate; estimate it in round numbers, and put it


"What a fellow of resource you are!" my friend would reply, with

admiration. "Really your business powers are very remarkable."

I thought so too. I established with myself on these occasions, the

reputation of a first-rate man of business - prompt, decisive,

energetic, clear, cool-headed. When I had got all my

responsibilities down upon my list, I compared each with the bill,

and ticked it off. My self-approval when I ticked an entry was

quite a luxurious sensation. When I had no more ticks to make, I

folded all my bills up uniformly, docketed each on the back, and

tied the whole into a symmetrical bundle. Then I did the same for

Herbert (who modestly said he had not my administrative genius),

and felt that I had brought his affairs into a focus for him.

My business habits had one other bright feature, which i called

"leaving a Margin." For example; supposing Herbert's debts to be

one hundred and sixty-four pounds four-and-twopence, I would say,

"Leave a margin, and put them down at two hundred." Or, supposing

my own to be four times as much, I would leave a margin, and put

them down at seven hundred. I had the highest opinion of the wisdom

of this same Margin, but I am bound to acknowledge that on looking

back, I deem it to have been an expensive device. For, we always

ran into new debt immediately, to the full extent of the margin,

and sometimes, in the sense of freedom and solvency it imparted,

got pretty far on into another margin.

But there was a calm, a rest, a virtuous hush, consequent on these

examinations of our affairs that gave me, for the time, an

admirable opinion of myself. Soothed by my exertions, my method,

and Herbert's compliments, I would sit with his symmetrical bundle

and my own on the table before me among the stationary, and feel

like a Bank of some sort, rather than a private individual.

We shut our outer door on these solemn occasions, in order that we

might not be interrupted. I had fallen into my serene state one

evening, when we heard a letter dropped through the slit in the

said door, and fall on the ground. "It's for you, Handel," said

Herbert, going out and coming back with it, "and I hope there is

nothing the matter." This was in allusion to its heavy black seal

and border.

The letter was signed TRABB & CO., and its contents were simply,

that I was an honoured sir, and that they begged to inform me that

Mrs. J. Gargery had departed this life on Monday last, at twenty

minutes past six in the evening, and that my attendance was

requested at the interment on Monday next at three o'clock in the


Chapter 35

It was the first time that a grave had opened in my road of life,

and the gap it made in the smooth ground was wonderful. The figure

of my sister in her chair by the kitchen fire, haunted me night and

day. That the place could possibly be, without her, was something

my mind seemed unable to compass; and whereas she had seldom or

never been in my thoughts of late, I had now the strangest ideas

that she was coming towards me in the street, or that she would

presently knock at the door.