Charles Dickens

"What else can be the consequence," said Herbert, in explanation,

"if he will cut the cheese? A man with the gout in his right hand -

and everywhere else - can't expect to get through a Double

Gloucester without hurting himself."

He seemed to have hurt himself very much, for he gave another

furious roar.

"To have Provis for an upper lodger is quite a godsend to Mrs.

Whimple," said Herbert, "for of course people in general won't

stand that noise. A curious place, Handel; isn't it?"

It was a curious place, indeed; but remarkably well kept and clean.

"Mrs. Whimple," said Herbert, when I told him so, "is the best of

housewives, and I really do not know what my Clara would do without

her motherly help. For, Clara has no mother of her own, Handel, and

no relation in the world but old Gruffandgrim."

"Surely that's not his name, Herbert?"

"No, no," said Herbert, "that's my name for him. His name is Mr.

Barley. But what a blessing it is for the son of my father and

mother, to love a girl who has no relations, and who can never

bother herself, or anybody else, about her family!"

Herbert had told me on former occasions, and now reminded me, that

he first knew Miss Clara Barley when she was completing her

education at an establishment at Hammersmith, and that on her being

recalled home to nurse her father, he and she had confided their

affection to the motherly Mrs. Whimple, by whom it had been fostered

and regulated with equal kindness and discretion, ever since. It

was understood that nothing of a tender nature could possibly be

confided to old Barley, by reason of his being totally unequal to

the consideration of any subject more psychological than Gout, Rum,

and Purser's stores.

As we were thus conversing in a low tone while Old Barley's

sustained growl vibrated in the beam that crossed the ceiling, the

room door opened, and a very pretty slight dark-eyed girl of twenty

or so, came in with a basket in her hand: whom Herbert tenderly

relieved of the basket, and presented blushing, as "Clara." She

really was a most charming girl, and might have passed for a

captive fairy, whom that truculent Ogre, Old Barley, had pressed

into his service.

"Look here," said Herbert, showing me the basket, with a

compassionate and tender smile after we had talked a little;

"here's poor Clara's supper, served out every night. Here's her

allowance of bread, and here's her slice of cheese, and here's her

rum - which I drink. This is Mr. Barley's breakfast for to-morrow,

served out to be cooked. Two mutton chops, three potatoes, some

split peas, a little flour, two ounces of butter, a pinch of salt,

and all this black pepper. It's stewed up together, and taken hot,

and it's a nice thing for the gout, I should think!"

There was something so natural and winning in Clara's resigned way

of looking at these stores in detail, as Herbert pointed them out,

- and something so confiding, loving, and innocent, in her modest

manner of yielding herself to Herbert's embracing arm - and

something so gentle in her, so much needing protection on Mill Pond

Bank, by Chinks's Basin, and the Old Green Copper Rope-Walk, with

Old Barley growling in the beam - that I would not have undone the

engagement between her and Herbert, for all the money in the

pocket-book I had never opened.

I was looking at her with pleasure and admiration, when suddenly

the growl swelled into a roar again, and a frightful bumping noise

was heard above, as if a giant with a wooden leg were trying to

bore it through the ceiling to come to us. Upon this Clara said to

Herbert, "Papa wants me, darling!" and ran away.

"There is an unconscionable old shark for you!" said Herbert. "What

do you suppose he wants now, Handel?"

"I don't know," said I. "Something to drink?"

"That's it!" cried Herbert, as if I had made a guess of

extraordinary merit.