The Tenants of Malory, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 7.

Mr. Dingwell Makes Himself Comfortable.

“AH! —ho! you are Miss Rumble — hey?” said the old gentleman, fixing a scrutinising glance from under his white eyebrows upon Sally Rumble, who stood in the doorway, in wonder, not unmixed with alarm; for people who stand every hour in presence of Giant Want, with his sword at their throats, have lost their faith in fortune, and long ceased to expect a benevolent fairy in any stranger who may present himself dubiously, and anticipate rather an enemy. So, looking hard at the gentleman who stood before the little fire, with his hat on, and the light of the solitary dipt candle shining on his by no means pleasant countenance, she made him a little frightened courtesy, and acknowledged that she was Sally Rumble, though she could not tell what was to follow.

“I’ve been waiting; I came here to see you — pray, shut the door — from two gentlemen, Jews whom you know —friends— don’t be uneasy — friends of mine, friends of yours— Mr. Goldshed and Mr. Levi, the kindest, sweetest, sharpest fellows alive, and here’s a note from them — you can read?”

“Read! Law bless you — yes, sir,” answered Sally.

“Thanks for the blessing: read the note; it’s only to tell you I’m the person they mentioned this morning, Mr. Dingwell. Are the rooms ready? You can make me comfortable — eh?”

“In a humble way, sir,” she answered, with a courtesy.

“Yes, of course; I’m a humble fellow, and — I hear you’re a sensible young lady. These little pitchers here, of course, have ears: I’ll say all that’s necessary as we go up: there’s a fellow with a cab at the door, isn’t there? Well, there’s some little luggage of mine on it — we must get it up stairs; give the Hamal something to lend a hand; but first let me see my rooms.”

“Yes, sir,” said Sally, with another courtesy, not knowing what a Hamal meant. And Mr. Dingwell, taking up his bag and stick, followed her in silence, as with the dusky candle she led the way up the stairs.

She lighted a pair of candles in the drawing-room. There was some fire in the grate. The rooms looked better than he had expected; there were curtains, and an old Turkish carpet, and some shabby, and some handsome, pieces of furniture.

“It will do, it will do — ha, ha, ha! How like a pawnbroker’s store it looks — no two things match in it; but it is not bad: those Jew fellows, of course, did it? All this stuff isn’t yours?” said Mr. Dingwell.

“Law bless you, no, sir,” answered Sally, with a dismal smile and a shake of her head.

“Thanks again for your blessing. And the bed-room?” inquired he.

She pushed open the door.

“Capital looking-glass,” said he, standing before his dressing-table —“cap-i-tal! if it weren’t for that great seam across the middle — ha, ha, ha! funny effect, by Jove! Is it colder than usual, here?”

“No, sir, please; a nice evening.”

“Devilish nice, by Allah! I’m cold through and through my great coat. Will you please poke up that fire a little? Hey! what a grand bed we’ve got! what tassels and ropes! and, by Jove, carved angels or Cupids— I hope Cupids — on the foot-board!” he said, running the tip of his cane along the profile of one of them. “They must have got this a wonderful bargain. Hey! I hope no one died in it last week?”

“Oh, la! sir; Mr. Levi is a very pitickler gentleman; he wouldn’t for all he’s worth.”

“Oh! not he, I know; very particular.”

Mr. Dingwell was holding the piece of damask curtain between his finger and thumb, and she fancied was sniffing at it gently.

“Very particular, but I’m more so. We, English, are the dirtiest dogs in the world. They ought to get the Turks to teach ’em to wash and be clean. I travelled in the East once, for a commercial house, and know something of them. Can you make coffee?”

“Yes, sir, please.”

“Very strong?”

“Yes, sir, sure.”

Very, mind. As strong as the devil it must be, and as clear as — as your conscience.” He was getting out a tin case, as he spoke. “Here it is. I got it in-I forget the name — a great place, near one of your bridges. I suppose it’s as good as any to be had in this place. Of course it isn’t all coffee. We must go to the heathen for that; but if they haven’t ground up toasted skeletons, or anything dirty in it, I’m content. I’m told you can’t eat or drink a mouthful here without swallowing something you never bargained for. Everything is drugged. Look at our Caiquejees! You have no such men in your padded Horse-guards. And what do they live on? Why, a crust of brown bread and a melon, and now and then a dish of pilauf! But it’s good — it’s pure — it’s what it calls itself. You d —— d Christian cheats, you’re an opprobrium to commerce and civilisation; you’re the greatest oafs on earth, with all your police and spies. Why it’s only to will it, and you don’t; you let it go on. We are assuredly a beastly people!”

“Sugar, please, sir?”

“No, thank you.”

“Take milk, sir?”

“Heaven forbid! Milk, indeed! I tell you what, Mrs. — What’s your name? — I tell you, if the Sultan had some of your great fellows — your grocers, and bakers, and dairymen, and brewers, egad! — out there, he’d have ’em on their ugly faces and bastinado their great feet into custard pudding! I’ve seen fellows — and devilish glad I was to see it, I can tell you — screaming like stuck pigs, and their eyes starting out of their heads, and their feet like bags of black currant jelly, ha, ha, ha! — for a good deal less. Now, you see, ma’am, I have high notions of honesty; and this tin case I’m going to give you will give me three small cups of coffee, as strong as I’ve described, six times over; do you understand? — six times three, eighteen; eighteen small cups of coffee; and don’t let those pretty little foxes’ cubs down stairs meddle with it. Tell ’em I know what I’m about, and they’d better not, ha, ha, ha! nor with anything that belongs to me, to the value of a single piastre.”

Miss Sarah Rumble was a good deal dismayed by the jubilant severity of Mr. Dingwell’s morals. She would have been glad had he been of a less sharp and cruel turn of pleasantry. Her heart was heavy, and she wished herself a happy deliverance, and had a vague alarm about the poor little children’s falling under suspicion, and of all that might follow. But what could she do? Poverty is so powerless, and has so little time to weigh matters maturely, or to prepare for any change; its hands are always so full, and its stomach so empty, and its spirits so dull.

“I wish those d —— d curtains were off the bed,” and again they underwent the same disgusting process; “and the bed-clothes, egad! They purify nothing here. You know nothing about them either, of course? No — but they would not like to kill me. No; — that would not do. Knock their little game on the head, eh? I suppose it is all right. What’s prevalent here now? What sort of — I mean what sort of death— fever, small-pox, or scarlatina — eh? Much sickness going?”

“Nothink a’most, sir; a little measles among the children.”

“No objection to that; it heads them down a bit, and does not trouble us. But what among the grown people?”

“Nothink to signify in the court here, for three months a’most.”

“And then, ma’am, what was it, pray? Give those to your boy” (they were his boots); “let him rub ’em up, ma’am, he’s not a bit too young to begin; and, egad! he had better do ’em well, too;” and thrusting his feet into a great pair of slippers, he reverted to his question —“What sickness was then, ma’am, three months ago, here in this pleasant little prison-yard of a place — hey?”

“Fever, please, sir, at No. 4. Three took it, please: two of ’em went to hospital.”

“And never walked out?”

“Don’t know, indeed, sir — and one died, please, sir, in the court here, and he left three little children.”

“I hope they’re gone away?”

“Yes, sir, please.”

“Well, that’s a release. Rest his soul, he’s dead! as our immortal bard, that says everything so much better than anyone else, says; and rest our souls, they’re gone with their vile noise. So your bill of mortality is not much to signify; and make that coffee — d’ye see? — this moment, and let me have it as hot as — as the final abode of Dissenters and Catholics — I see you believe in the Church Catechism — immediately, if you please, to the next room.”

So, with a courtesy, Sally Rumble tripped from the room, with the coffee-case in her hand.

Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:49