Mrs Gamp stored all her household matters in a little cupboard by the fire-place; beginning below the surface (as in nature) with the coals, and mounting gradually upwards to the spirits, which, from motives of delicacy, she kept in a teapot. The chimney-piece was ornamented with a small almanack, marked here and there in Mrs Gamp's own hand with a memorandum of the date at which some lady was expected to fall due. It was also embellished with three profiles: one, in colours, of Mrs Gamp herself in early life; one, in bronze, of a lady in feathers, supposed to be Mrs Harris, as she appeared when dressed for a ball; and one, in black, of Mr Gamp, deceased. The last was a full length, in order that the likeness might be rendered more obvious and forcible by the introduction of the wooden leg.
A pair of bellows, a pair of pattens, a toasting-fork, a kettle, a pap-boat, a spoon for the administration of medicine to the refractory, and lastly, Mrs Gamp's umbrella, which as something of great price and rarity, was displayed with particular ostentation, completed the decorations of the chimney-piece and adjacent wall. Towards these objects Mrs Gamp raised her eyes in satisfaction when she had arranged the tea-board, and had concluded her arrangements for the reception of Betsey Prig, even unto the setting forth of two pounds of Newcastle salmon, intensely pickled.
'There! Now drat you, Betsey, don't be long!' said Mrs Gamp, apostrophizing her absent friend. 'For I can't abear to wait, I do assure you. To wotever place I goes, I sticks to this one mortar, "I'm easy pleased; it is but little as I wants; but I must have that little of the best, and to the minute when the clock strikes, else we do not part as I could wish, but bearin' malice in our arts."'
Her own preparations were of the best, for they comprehended a delicate new loaf, a plate of fresh butter, a basin of fine white sugar, and other arrangements on the same scale. Even the snuff with which she now refreshed herself, was so choice in quality that she took a second pinch.
'There's the little bell a-ringing now,' said Mrs Gamp, hurrying to the stair-head and looking over. 'Betsey Prig, my--why it's that there disapintin' Sweedlepipes, I do believe.'
'Yes, it's me,' said the barber in a faint voice; 'I've just come in.'
'You're always a-comin' in, I think,' muttered Mrs Gamp to herself, 'except wen you're a-goin' out. I ha'n't no patience with that man!'
'Mrs Gamp,' said the barber. 'I say! Mrs Gamp!'
'Well,' cried Mrs Gamp, impatiently, as she descended the stairs. 'What is it? Is the Thames a-fire, and cooking its own fish, Mr Sweedlepipes? Why wot's the man gone and been a-doin' of to himself? He's as white as chalk!'
She added the latter clause of inquiry, when she got downstairs, and found him seated in the shaving-chair, pale and disconsolate.
'You recollect,' said Poll. 'You recollect young--'
'Not young Wilkins!' cried Mrs Gamp. 'Don't say young Wilkins, wotever you do. If young Wilkins's wife is took--'
'It isn't anybody's wife,' exclaimed the little barber. 'Bailey, young Bailey!'
'Why, wot do you mean to say that chit's been a-doin' of?' retorted Mrs Gamp, sharply. 'Stuff and nonsense, Mrs Sweedlepipes!'
'He hasn't been a-doing anything!' exclaimed poor Poll, quite desperate. 'What do you catch me up so short for, when you see me put out to that extent that I can hardly speak? He'll never do anything again. He's done for. He's killed. The first time I ever see that boy,' said Poll, 'I charged him too much for a red-poll. I asked him three-halfpence for a penny one, because I was afraid he'd beat me down. But he didn't. And now he's dead; and if you was to crowd all the steam-engines and electric fluids that ever was, into this shop, and set 'em every one to work their hardest, they couldn't square the account, though it's only a ha'penny!'
Mr Sweedlepipe turned aside to the towel, and wiped his eyes with it.
'And what a clever boy he was!' he said.