He was especially so on this particular Saturday evening, and honoured the Miss Pecksniffs with a deal of notice; seldom passing the door of Mrs Todgers's private room, where they sat alone before the fire, working by the light of a solitary candle, without putting in his head and greeting them with some such compliments as, 'There you are agin!' 'An't it nice?'--and similar humorous attentions.
'I say,' he whispered, stopping in one of his journeys to and fro, 'young ladies, there's soup to-morrow. She's a-making it now. An't she a-putting in the water? Oh! not at all neither!'
In the course of answering another knock, he thrust in his head again.
'I say! There's fowls to-morrow. Not skinny ones. Oh no!'
Presently he called through the key-hole:
'There's a fish to-morrow. Just come. Don't eat none of him!' And, with this special warning, vanished again.
By-and-bye, he returned to lay the cloth for supper; it having been arranged between Mrs Todgers and the young ladies, that they should partake of an exclusive veal-cutlet together in the privacy of that apartment. He entertained them on this occasion by thrusting the lighted candle into his mouth, and exhibiting his face in a state of transparency; after the performance of which feat, he went on with his professional duties; brightening every knife as he laid it on the table, by breathing on the blade and afterwards polishing the same on the apron already mentioned. When he had completed his preparations, he grinned at the sisters, and expressed his belief that the approaching collation would be of 'rather a spicy sort.'
'Will it be long, before it's ready, Bailey?' asked Mercy.
'No,' said Bailey, 'it IS cooked. When I come up, she was dodging among the tender pieces with a fork, and eating of 'em.'
But he had scarcely achieved the utterance of these words, when he received a manual compliment on the head, which sent him staggering against the wall; and Mrs Todgers, dish in hand, stood indignantly before him.
'Oh you little villain!' said that lady. 'Oh you bad, false boy!'
'No worse than yerself,' retorted Bailey, guarding his head, on a principle invented by Mr Thomas Cribb. 'Ah! Come now! Do that again, will yer?'
'He's the most dreadful child,' said Mrs Todgers, setting down the dish, 'I ever had to deal with. The gentlemen spoil him to that extent, and teach him such things, that I'm afraid nothing but hanging will ever do him any good.'
'Won't it!' cried Bailey. 'Oh! Yes! Wot do you go a-lowerin the table-beer for then, and destroying my constitooshun?'
'Go downstairs, you vicious boy,' said Mrs Todgers, holding the door open. 'Do you hear me? Go along!'
After two or three dexterous feints, he went, and was seen no more that night, save once, when he brought up some tumblers and hot water, and much disturbed the two Miss Pecksniffs by squinting hideously behind the back of the unconscious Mrs Todgers. Having done this justice to his wounded feelings, he retired underground; where, in company with a swarm of black beetles and a kitchen candle, he employed his faculties in cleaning boots and brushing clothes until the night was far advanced.
Benjamin was supposed to be the real name of this young retainer but he was known by a great variety of names. Benjamin, for instance, had been converted into Uncle Ben, and that again had been corrupted into Uncle; which, by an easy transition, had again passed into Barnwell, in memory of the celebrated relative in that degree who was shot by his nephew George, while meditating in his garden at Camberwell. The gentlemen at Todgers's had a merry habit, too, of bestowing upon him, for the time being, the name of any notorious malefactor or minister; and sometimes when current events were flat they even sought the pages of history for these distinctions; as Mr Pitt, Young Brownrigg, and the like. At the period of which we write, he was generally known among the gentlemen as Bailey junior; a name bestowed upon him in contradistinction, perhaps, to Old Bailey; and possibly as involving the recollection of an unfortunate lady of the same name, who perished by her own hand early in life, and has been immortalised in a ballad.