'What a surprising young chap he was! How he talked! and what a deal he know'd! Shaved in this very chair he was; only for fun; it was all his fun; he was full of it. Ah! to think that he'll never be shaved in earnest! The birds might every one have died, and welcome,' cried the little barber, looking round him at the cages, and again applying to the towel, 'sooner than I'd have heard this news!'
'How did you ever come to hear it?' said Mrs Gamp. 'who told you?'
'I went out,' returned the little barber, 'into the City, to meet a sporting gent upon the Stock Exchange, that wanted a few slow pigeons to practice at; and when I'd done with him, I went to get a little drop of beer, and there I heard everybody a-talking about it. It's in the papers.'
'You are in a nice state of confugion, Mr Sweedlepipes, you are!' said Mrs Gamp, shaking her head; 'and my opinion is, as half- a-dudgeon fresh young lively leeches on your temples, wouldn't be too much to clear your mind, which so I tell you. Wot were they a- talkin' on, and wot was in the papers?'
'All about it!' cried the barber. 'What else do you suppose? Him and his master were upset on a journey, and he was carried to Salisbury, and was breathing his last when the account came away. He never spoke afterwards. Not a single word. That's the worst of it to me; but that ain't all. His master can't be found. The other manager of their office in the city, Crimple, David Crimple, has gone off with the money, and is advertised for, with a reward, upon the walls. Mr Montague, poor young Bailey's master (what a boy he was!) is advertised for, too. Some say he's slipped off, to join his friend abroad; some say he mayn't have got away yet; and they're looking for him high and low. Their office is a smash; a swindle altogether. But what's a Life Assurance office to a Life! And what a Life Young Bailey's was!'
'He was born into a wale,' said Mrs Gamp, with philosophical coolness. 'and he lived in a wale; and he must take the consequences of sech a sitiwation. But don't you hear nothink of Mr Chuzzlewit in all this?'
'No,' said Poll, 'nothing to speak of. His name wasn't printed as one of the board, though some people say it was just going to be. Some believe he was took in, and some believe he was one of the takers-in; but however that may be, they can't prove nothing against him. This morning he went up of his own accord afore the Lord Mayor or some of them City big-wigs, and complained that he'd been swindled, and that these two persons had gone off and cheated him, and that he had just found out that Montague's name wasn't even Montague, but something else. And they do say that he looked like Death, owing to his losses. But, Lord forgive me,' cried the barber, coming back again to the subject of his individual grief, 'what's his looks to me! He might have died and welcome, fifty times, and not been such a loss as Bailey!'
At this juncture the little bell rang, and the deep voice of Mrs Prig struck into the conversation.
'Oh! You're a-talkin' about it, are you!' observed that lady. 'Well, I hope you've got it over, for I ain't interested in it myself.'
'My precious Betsey,' said Mrs Gamp, 'how late you are!'
The worthy Mrs Prig replied, with some asperity, 'that if perwerse people went off dead, when they was least expected, it warn't no fault of her'n.' And further, 'that it was quite aggrawation enough to be made late when one was dropping for one's tea, without hearing on it again.'
Mrs Gamp, deriving from this exhibition of repartee some clue to the state of Mrs Prig's feelings, instantly conducted her upstairs; deeming that the sight of pickled salmon might work a softening change.
But Betsey Prig expected pickled salmon. It was obvious that she did; for her first words, after glancing at the table, were:
'I know'd she wouldn't have a cowcumber!'
Mrs Gamp changed colour, and sat down upon the bedstead.
'Lord bless you, Betsey Prig, your words is true. I quite forgot it!'
Mrs Prig, looking steadfastly at her friend, put her hand in her pocket, and with an air of surly triumph drew forth either the oldest of lettuces or youngest of cabbages, but at any rate, a green vegetable of an expansive nature, and of such magnificent proportions that she was obliged to shut it up like an umbrella before she could pull it out.