Thus, the first-floor lodgers, being flush of furniture, kept an old mahogany table--real mahogany--on the landing-place outside, which was only taken in, when occasion required. On the second story, the spare furniture dwindled down to a couple of old deal chairs, of which one, belonging to the back-room, was shorn of a leg, and bottomless. The story above, boasted no greater excess than a worm-eaten wash- tub; and the garret landing-place displayed no costlier articles than two crippled pitchers, and some broken blacking-bottles.
It was on this garret landing-place that a hard-featured square- faced man, elderly and shabby, stopped to unlock the door of the front attic, into which, having surmounted the task of turning the rusty key in its still more rusty wards, he walked with the air of legal owner.
This person wore a wig of short, coarse, red hair, which he took off with his hat, and hung upon a nail. Having adopted in its place a dirty cotton nightcap, and groped about in the dark till he found a remnant of candle, he knocked at the partition which divided the two garrets, and inquired, in a loud voice, whether Mr Noggs had a light.
The sounds that came back were stifled by the lath and plaster, and it seemed moreover as though the speaker had uttered them from the interior of a mug or other drinking vessel; but they were in the voice of Newman, and conveyed a reply in the affirmative.
'A nasty night, Mr Noggs!' said the man in the nightcap, stepping in to light his candle.
'Does it rain?' asked Newman.
'Does it?' replied the other pettishly. 'I am wet through.'
'It doesn't take much to wet you and me through, Mr Crowl,' said Newman, laying his hand upon the lappel of his threadbare coat.
'Well; and that makes it the more vexatious,' observed Mr Crowl, in the same pettish tone.
Uttering a low querulous growl, the speaker, whose harsh countenance was the very epitome of selfishness, raked the scanty fire nearly out of the grate, and, emptying the glass which Noggs had pushed towards him, inquired where he kept his coals.
Newman Noggs pointed to the bottom of a cupboard, and Mr Crowl, seizing the shovel, threw on half the stock: which Noggs very deliberately took off again, without saying a word.
'You have not turned saving, at this time of day, I hope?' said Crowl.
Newman pointed to the empty glass, as though it were a sufficient refutation of the charge, and briefly said that he was going downstairs to supper.
'To the Kenwigses?' asked Crowl.
Newman nodded assent.
'Think of that now!' said Crowl. 'If I didn't--thinking that you were certain not to go, because you said you wouldn't--tell Kenwigs I couldn't come, and make up my mind to spend the evening with you!'
'I was obliged to go,' said Newman. 'They would have me.'
'Well; but what's to become of me?' urged the selfish man, who never thought of anybody else. 'It's all your fault. I'll tell you what --I'll sit by your fire till you come back again.'
Newman cast a despairing glance at his small store of fuel, but, not having the courage to say no--a word which in all his life he never had said at the right time, either to himself or anyone else--gave way to the proposed arrangement. Mr Crowl immediately went about making himself as comfortable, with Newman Nogg's means, as circumstances would admit of his being made.
The lodgers to whom Crowl had made allusion under the designation of 'the Kenwigses,' were the wife and olive branches of one Mr Kenwigs, a turner in ivory, who was looked upon as a person of some consideration on the premises, inasmuch as he occupied the whole of the first floor, comprising a suite of two rooms. Mrs Kenwigs, too, was quite a lady in her manners, and of a very genteel family, having an uncle who collected a water-rate; besides which distinction, the two eldest of her little girls went twice a week to a dancing school in the neighbourhood, and had flaxen hair, tied with blue ribbons, hanging in luxuriant pigtails down their backs; and wore little white trousers with frills round the ankles--for all of which reasons, and many more equally valid but too numerous to mention, Mrs Kenwigs was considered a very desirable person to know, and was the constant theme of all the gossips in the street, and even three or four doors round the corner at both ends.