Like the vast majority of those persons who are favored by Nature with, what is commonly termed, “a high flow of animal spirits,” Zack was liable, at certain times and seasons, to fall from the heights of exhilaration to the depths of despair, without stopping for a moment, by the way, at any intermediate stages of moderate cheerfulness, pensive depression, or tearful gloom. After he had parted from his mother, he presented himself again at Mr. Blyth’s house, in such a prostrate condition of mind, and talked of his delinquencies and their effect on his father’s spirits, with such vehement bitterness of self-reproach, as quite amazed Valentine, and even alarmed him a little on the lad’s account. The good-natured painter was no friend to contrite desperation of any kind, and no believer in repentance, which could not look hopefully forward to the future, as well as sorrowfully back at the past. So he laid down his brush, just as he was about to begin varnishing the “Golden Age;” and set himself to console Zack, by reminding him of all the credit and honor he might yet win, if he was regular in attending to his new studies — if he never flinched from work at the British Museum, and the private Drawing School to which he was immediately to be introduced — and if he ended as he well might end, in excusing to his father his determination to be an artist, by showing Mr. Thorpe a prize medal, won by the industry of his son’s hand in the Schools of the Royal Academy.
A necessary characteristic of people whose spirits are always running into extremes, is that they are generally able to pass from one change of mood to another with unusual facility. By the time Zack had exhausted Mr. Blyth’s copious stores of consolation, had partaken of an excellent and plentiful hot lunch, and had passed an hour up stairs with the ladies, he predicted his own reformation just as confidently as he had predicted his own ruin about two hours before; and went away to Kirk Street, to see that his friend Mat was at home to receive Valentine that evening, stepping along as nimbly and swinging his stick as cheerfully, as if he had already vindicated himself to his father by winning every prize medal that the Royal Academy could bestow.
Seven o’clock had been fixed as the hour at which Mr. Blyth was to present himself at the lodgings in Kirk Street. He arrived punctual to the appointed time, dressed jauntily for the occasion in a short blue frock coat, famous among all his acquaintances for its smartness of cut and its fabulous old age. From what Zack had told him of Mat’s lighter peculiarities of character, he anticipated a somewhat uncivilized reception from the elder of his two hosts; and when he got to Kirk Street, he certainly found that his expectations were, upon the whole, handsomely realized.
On mounting the dark and narrow wooden staircase of the tobacconist’s shop, his nose was greeted by a composite smell of fried liver and bacon, brandy and water, and cigar smoke, pouring hospitably down to meet him through the crevices of the drawing-room door. When he got into the room, the first object that struck his eyes at one end of it, was Zack, with his hat on, vigorously engaged in freshening up the dusty carpet with a damp mop; and Mat, at the other, presiding over the frying-pan, with his coat off, his shirt sleeves rolled up to his shoulders, a glass of steaming hot grog on the chimney-piece above him, and a long pewter toasting-fork in his hand.
“Here’s the honored guest of the evening arrived before I’ve swabbed down the decks,” cried Zack, jogging his friend in the ribs with the long handle of the mop.
“How are you, to-night?” said Mat, with familiar ease, not moving from the frying-pan, but getting his right hand free to offer to Mr. Blyth by taking the pewter toasting-fork between his teeth. “Sit down anywhere you like; and just holler through the crack in the floor, under the bearskins there, if you want anything out of the Bocker-shop, below.” — (“He means Tobacco when he says Bocker,” interposed Zack, parenthetically.) “Can you set your teeth in a baked tater or two?” continued Mat, tapping a small Dutch oven before the fire with his toasting-fork. “We’ve got you a lot of fizzin’ hot liver and bacon to ease down the taters with what you call a relish. Nice and streaky, ain’t it?” Here the host of the evening stuck his fork into a slice of bacon, and politely passed it over his shoulder for Mr. Blyth to inspect, as he stood bewildered in the middle of the room.
“Oh, delicious, delicious!” cried Valentine, smelling as daintily at the outstretched bacon as if it had been a nosegay. “Really, my dear sir — .” He said no more; for at that moment he tripped himself up upon one of some ten or a dozen bottle-corks which lay about on the carpet where he was standing. There is very little doubt, if Zack had not been by to catch him, that Mr. Blyth would just then have concluded his polite remarks on the bacon by measuring his full length on the floor.
“Why don’t you put him into a chair?” growled Mat, looking round reproachfully from the frying-pan, as Valentine recovered his erect position again with young Thorpe’s assistance.
“I was just going to swab up that part of the carpet when you came in,” said Zack, apologetically, as he led Mr. Blyth to a chair.
“Oh don’t mention it,” answered Valentine, laughing. “It was all my awkwardness.”
He stopped abruptly again. Zack had placed him with his back to the fire, against a table covered with a large and dirty cloth which flowed to the floor, and under which, while he was speaking, he had been gently endeavoring to insinuate his legs. Amazement bereft him of the power of speech when, on succeeding in this effort, he found that his feet came in contact with a perfect hillock of empty bottles, oyster-shells, and broken crockery, heaped under the table. “Good gracious me! I hope I’m doing no mischief!” exclaimed Valentine, as a miniature avalanche of oyster-shells clattered down on his intruding foot, and a plump bottle with a broken neck rolled lazily out from under the table-cloth, and courted observation on the open floor.
“Kick about, dear old fellow, kick about as much as you please,” cried Zack, seating himself opposite Mr. Blyth, and bringing down a second avalanche of oyster-shells to encourage him. “The fact is, we are rather put to it for space here, so we keep the cloth always laid for dinner, and make a temporary lumber-room of the place under the table. Rather a new idea that, I think — not tidy perhaps, but original and ingenious, which is much better.”
“Amazingly ingenious!” said Valentine, who was now beginning to be amused as well as surprised by his reception in Kirk Street. “Rather untidy, perhaps, as you say, Zack; but new, and not disagreeable I suppose when you’re used to it. What I like about all this,” continued Mr. Blyth, rubbing his hands cheerfully, and kicking into view another empty bottle, as he settled himself in his chair — “What I like about this is, that it’s so thoroughly without ceremony. Do you know I really feel at home already, though I never was here before in my life? — Curious, Zack, isn’t it?”
“Look out for the taters!” roared Mat suddenly from the fireplace. Valentine started, first at the unexpected shout just behind him, next at the sight of a big truculently-knobbed potato which came flying over his head, and was dexterously caught, and instantly deposited on the dirty table-cloth by Zack. “Two, three, four, five, six,” continued Mat, keeping the frying-pan going with one hand, and tossing the baked potatoes with the other over Mr. Blyth’s head, in quick succession for young Thorpe to catch. “What do you think of our way of dishing up potatoes in Kirk Street?” asked Zack in great triumph. “It’s a little sudden when you’re not used to it,” stammered Valentine, ducking his head as each edible missile flew over him — “but it’s free and easy — it’s delightfully free and easy.” “Ready there with your plates. The liver’s a coming,” cried Mat in a voice of martial command, suddenly showing his great red-hot perspiring face at the table, as he wheeled round from the fire, with the hissing frying-pan in one hand and the long toasting-fork in the other. “My dear sir, I’m shocked to see you taking all this trouble,” exclaimed Mr. Blyth; “do pray let me help you!” “No, I’m damned if I do,” returned Mat with the most polite suavity and the most perfect good humor. “Let him have all the trouble, Blyth,” said Zack; “let him help you, and don’t pity him. He’ll make up for his hard work, I can tell you, when he sets in seriously to his liver and bacon. Watch him when he begins — he bolts his dinner like the lion in the Zoological Gardens.”
Mat appeared to receive this speech of Zack’s as a well-merited compliment, for he chuckled at young Thorpe and winked grimly at Valentine, as he sat down bare-armed to his own mess of liver and bacon. It was certainly a rare and even a startling sight to see this singular man eat. Lump by lump, without one intervening morsel of bread, he tossed the meat into his mouth rather than put it there — turned it apparently once round between his teeth — and then voraciously and instantly swallowed it whole. By the time a quarter of Mr. Blyth’s plateful of liver and bacon, and half of Zack’s had disappeared, Mat had finished his frugal meal; had wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, and the back of his hand on the leg of his trousers; had mixed two glasses of strong hot rum-and-water for himself and Zack; and had set to work on the composition of a third tumbler, into which sugar, brandy, lemon-juice, rum, and hot water all seemed to drop together in such incessant and confusing little driblets, that it was impossible to tell which ingredient was uppermost in the whole mixture. When the tumbler was full, he set it down on the table, with an indicative bang, close to Valentine’s plate.
“Just try a toothful of that to begin with,” said Mat. “If you like it, say Yes; if you don’t, say No; and I’ll make it better next time.”
“You are very kind, very kind indeed,” answered Mr. Blyth, eyeing the tumbler by his side with some little confusion and hesitation; “but really, though I should be shocked to appear ungrateful, I’m afraid I must own — Zack, you ought to have told your friend — ”
“So I did,” said Zack, sipping his rum-and-water with infinite relish.
“The fact is, my dear sir,” continued Valentine, “I have the most wretched head in the world for strong liquor of any kind — ”
“Don’t call it strong liquor,” interposed Mat, emphatically tapping the rim of his guest’s tumbler with his fore-finger.
“Perhaps,” pursued Mr. Blyth, with a polite smile, “I ought to have said grog.”
“Don’t call it grog,” retorted Mat, with two disputatious taps on the rim of the glass.
“Dear me!” asked Valentine, amazedly, “what is it then?”
“It’s Squaw’s Mixture,” answered Mat, with three distinct taps of asseveration.
Mr. Blyth and Zack laughed, under the impression that their queer companion was joking with them. Mat looked steadily and sternly from one to the other; then repeated with the gruffest gravity — “I tell you, it’s Squaw’s Mixture.”
“What a very curious name! how is it made?” asked Valentine.
“Enough Brandy to spile the Water. Enough Rum to spile the Brandy and Water. Enough Lemon to spile the Rum and Brandy and Water. Enough Sugar to spile everything. That’s ‘Squaw’s Mixture,’” replied Mat with perfect calmness and deliberation.
Zack began to laugh uproariously. Mat became more inflexibly grave than ever. Mr. Blyth felt that he was growing interested on the subject of the Squaw’s Mixture. He stirred it diffidently with his spoon, and asked with great curiosity how his host first learnt to make it.
“When I was out, over there, in the Nor’-West,” began Mat, nodding towards the particular point of the compass that he mentioned.
“When he says Nor’-West, and wags his addled old head like that at the chimney-pots over the way, he means North America,” Zack explained.
“When I was out Nor’-West,” repeated Mat, heedless of the interruption, “working along with the exploring gang, our stock of liquor fell short, and we had to make the best of it in the cold with a spirt of spirits and a pinch of sugar, drowned in more hot water than had ever got down the throat of e’er a man of the lot of us before. We christened the brew ‘Squaw’s Mixture,’ because it was such weak stuff that even a woman couldn’t have got drunk on it if she tried. Squaw means woman in those parts, you know; and Mixture means — what you’ve got afore you now. I knowed you couldn’t stand regular grog, and that’s why I cooked it up for you. Don’t keep on stirring of it with a spoon like that, or you’ll stir it away altogether. Try it.”
“Let me try it — let’s see how weak it is,” cried Zack, reaching over to Valentine.
“Don’t you go a-shoving of your oar into another man’s rollocks,” said Mat, dexterously knocking Zack’s spoon out of his hand just as it touched Mr. Blyth’s tumbler. “You stick to your grog; I’ll stick to my grog; and he’ll stick to Squaw’s Mixture.” With those words, Mat leant his bare elbows on the table, and watched Valentine’s first experimental sip with great curiosity.
The result was not successful. When Mr. Blyth put down the tumbler, all the watery part of the Squaw’s Mixture seemed to have got up into his eyes, and all the spirituous part to have stopped short at his lungs. He shook his head, coughed, and faintly exclaimed — “Too strong.”
“Too hot you mean?” said Mat.
“No, indeed,” pleaded poor Mr. Blyth, “I really meant too strong.”
“Try again,” suggested Zack, who was far advanced towards the bottom of his own tumbler already. “Try again. Your liquor all went the wrong way last time.”
“More sugar,” said Mat, neatly tossing two lumps into the glass from where he sat. “More lemon (squeezing one or two drops of juice, and three or four pips, into the mixture). More water (pouring in about a tea-spoonful, with a clumsy flourish of the kettle). Try again.”
“Thank you, thank you a thousand times. Really, do you know, it tastes much nicer now,” said Mr. Blyth, beginning cautiously with a spoonful of the squaw’s mixture at a time.
Mat’s spirits seemed to rise immensely at this announcement. He lit his pipe, and took up his glass of grog; nodded to Valentine and young Thorpe, just as he had nodded to the northwest point of the compass a minute or two before; muttered gruffly, “Here’s all our good healths;” and finished half his liquor at a draught.
“All our good healths!” repeated Mr. Blyth, gallantly attacking the squaw’s mixture this time without any intermediate assistance from the spoon.
“All our good healths!” chimed in Zack, draining his glass to the bottom. “Really, Mat, it’s quite bewildering to see how your dormant social qualities are waking up, now you’re plunged into the vortex of society. What do you say to giving a ball here next? You’re just the man to get on with the ladies, if you could only be prevailed on to wear your coat, and give up airing your tawny old arms in public.”
“Don’t, my dear sir! I particularly beg you won’t,” cried Valentine, as Mat, apparently awakened to a sense of polite propriety by Zack’s last hint, began to unroll one of his tightly-tucked-up shirt-sleeves. “Pray consult your own comfort, and keep your sleeves as they were — pray do! As an artist, I have been admiring your arms from the professional point of view ever since we first sat down to table. I never remember, in all my long experience of the living model, having met with such a splendid muscular development as yours.”
Saying those words, Mr. Blyth waved his hand several times before his host’s arms, regarding them with his eyes partially closed, and his head very much on one side, just as he was accustomed to look at his pictures. Mat stared, smoked vehemently, folded the objects of Valentine’s admiration over his breast, and, modestly scratching his elbows, looked at young Thorpe with an expression of utter bewilderment. “Yes! decidedly the most magnificent muscular development I ever remember studying,” reiterated Mr. Blyth, drumming with his fingers on the table, and concentrating the whole of his critical acumen in one eye by totally closing the other.
“Hang it, Blyth!” remonstrated Zack, “don’t keep on looking at his arms as if they were a couple of bits of prize beef! You may talk about his muscular development as much as you please, but you can’t have the smallest notion of what it’s really equal to till you try it. I say, old Rough-and-Tough! jump up, and show him how strong you are. Just lift him on your toe, like you did me. (Here Zack pulled Mat unceremoniously out of his chair.) Come along, Blyth! Get opposite to him — give him hold of your hand — stand on the toe part of his right foot — don’t wriggle about — stiffen your hand and aim, and — there! — what do you say to his muscular development now?” concluded Zack, with an air of supreme triumph, as Mat slowly lifted from the ground the foot on which Mr. Blyth was standing, and, steadying himself on his left leg, raised the astonished painter with his right nearly two feet high in the air.
Any spectator observing the performance of this feat of strength, and looking only at Mat, might well have thought it impossible that any human being could present a more comical aspect than he now exhibited, with his black skull-cap pushed a little on one side, and showing an inch or so of his bald head, with his grimly-grinning face empurpled by the violent physical exertion of the moment, and with his thick heavy figure ridiculously perched on one leg. Mr. Blyth, however, was beyond all comparison the more laughable object of the two, as he soared nervously into the air on Mat’s foot, tottering infirmly in the strong grasp that supported him, till he seemed to be trembling all over, from the tips of his crisp black hair to the flying tails of his frock-coat. As for the expression of his round rosy face, with the bright eyes fixed in a startled stare, and the plump cheeks crumpled up by an uneasy smile, it was so exquisitely absurd, as young Thorpe saw it over his fellow-lodger’s black skull-cap, that he roared again with laughter. “Oh! look up at him!” cried Zack, falling back in his chair. “Look at his face, for heaven’s sake, before you put him down!”
But Mat was not to be moved by this appeal. All the attention his eyes could spare during those few moments, was devoted, not to Mr. Blyth’s face but to Mr. Blyth’s watch-chain. There hung the bright little key of the painter’s bureau, dangling jauntily to and fro over his waistcoat-pocket. As the right foot of the Sampson of Kirk Street hoisted him up slowly, the key swung temptingly backwards and forwards between them. “Come take me! come take me!” it seemed to say, as Mat’s eyes fixed greedily on it every time it dangled towards him.
“Wonderful! wonderful!” cried Mr. Blyth, looking excessively relieved when he found himself safely set down on the floor again.
“That’s nothing to some of the things he can do,” said Zack. “Look here! Put yourself stomach downwards on the carpet; and if you think the waistband of your trousers will stand it, he’ll take you up in his teeth.”
“Thank you, Zack, I’m perfectly satisfied without risking the waistband of my trousers,” rejoined Valentine, returning in a great hurry to the table.
“The grog’s getting cold,” grumbled Mat. “Do you find it slip down easy now?” he continued, handing the squaw’s mixture in the friendliest manner to Mr. Blyth.
“Astonishingly easy!” answered Valentine, drinking this time almost with the boldness of Zack himself. “Now it’s cooler, one tastes the sugar. Whenever I’ve tried to drink regular grog, I have never been able to get people to give it me sweet enough. The delicious part of this is that there’s plenty of sugar in it. And, besides, it has the merit (which real grog has not) of being harmless. It tastes strong to me, to be sure; but then I’m not used to spirits. After what you say, however, of course it must be harmless — perfectly harmless, I have no doubt.” Here he sipped again, pretty freely this time, by way of convincing himself of the innocent weakness of the squaw’s mixture.
While Mr. Blyth had been speaking, Mat’s hands had been gradually stealing down deeper and deeper into the pockets of his trousers, until his finger and thumb, and a certain plastic substance hidden away in the left-hand pocket came gently into contact, just as Valentine left off speaking. “Let’s have another toast,” cried Mat, quite briskly, the instant the last word was out of his guest’s mouth. “Come on, one of you and give us another toast,” he reiterated, with a roar of barbarous joviality, taking up his glass in his right hand, and keeping his left still in his pocket.
“Give you another toast, you noisy old savage!” repeated Zack, “I’ll give you five, all at once! Mr. Blyth, Mrs. Blyth, Madonna, Columbus, and The Golden Age — three excellent people and two glorious pictures; let’s lump them all together, in a friendly way, and drink long life and success to them in beakers of fragrant grog!” shouted the young gentleman, making perilously rapid progress through his second glass, as he spoke.
“Do you know, I’m afraid I must change to some other place, if you have no objection,” said Mr. Blyth, after he had duly honored the composite toast just proposed. “The fire here, behind me, is getting rather too hot.”
“Change along with me,” said Mat. “I don’t mind heat, nor cold neither, for the matter of that.”
Valentine accepted this offer with great gratitude. “By-the-bye, Zack,” he said, placing himself comfortably in his host’s chair, between the table and the wall — “I was going to ask a favor of our excellent friend here, when you suggested that wonderful and matchless trial of strength which we have just had. You have been of such inestimable assistance to me already, my dear sir,” he continued, turning towards Mat, with all his natural cordiality of disposition now fully developed, under the fostering influence of the Squaw’s Mixture. “You have laid me under such an inexpressible obligation in saving my picture from destruction — ”
“I wish you could make up your mind to say what you want in plain words,” interrupted Mat. “I’m one of your rough-handed, thick-headed sort, I am. I’m not gentleman enough to understand parlarver. It don’t do me no good: it only worrits me into a perspiration.” And Mat, shaking down his shirt-sleeve, drew it several times across his forehead, as a proof of the truth of his last assertion.
“Quite right! quite right!” cried Mr. Blyth, patting him on the shoulder in the most friendly manner imaginable. “In plain words, then, when I mentioned, just now, how much I admired your arms in an artistic point of view, I was only paving the way for asking you to let me make a drawing of them, in black and white, for a large picture that I mean to paint later in the year. My classical figure composition, you know, Zack — you have seen the sketch — Hercules bringing to Eurystheus the Erymanthian boar — a glorious subject; and our friend’s arms, and, indeed, his chest, too, if he would kindly consent to sit for it, would make the very studies I most want for Hercules.”
“What on earth is he driving at?” asked Mat, addressing himself to young Thorpe, after staring at Valentine for a moment or two in a state of speechless amazement.
“He wants to draw your arms — of course you will be only too happy to let him — you can’t understand anything about it now — but you will when you begin to sit — pass the cigars — thank Blyth for meaning to make a Hercules of you-and tell him you’ll come to the painting-room whenever he likes,” answered Zack, joining his sentences together in his most offhand manner, all in a breath.
“What painting-room? Where is it?” asked Mat, still in a densely stupefied condition.
“My painting-room,” replied Valentine. “Where you saw the pictures, and saved Columbus, yesterday.”
Mat considered for a moment — then suddenly brightened up, and began to look quite intelligent again. “I’ll come,” he said, “as soon as you like — the sooner the better,” clapping his fist emphatically on the table, and drinking to Valentine with his heartiest nod.
“That’s a worthy, good-natured fellow!” cried Mr. Blyth, drinking to Mat in return, with grateful enthusiasm. “The sooner the better, as you say. Come to-morrow evening.”
“All right. To-morrow evening,” assented Mat. His left hand, as he spoke, began to work stealthily round and round in his pocket, molding into all sorts of strange shapes, that plastic substance, which had lain hidden there ever since his shopping expedition in the morning.
“I should have asked you to come in the day-time,” continued Valentine; “but, as you know, Zack, I have the Golden Age to varnish, and one or two little things to alter in the lower part of Columbus; and then, by the latter end of the week, I must leave home to do those portraits in the country which I told you of, and which are wanted before I thought they would be. You will come with our friend, of course, Zack? I dare say I shall have the order for you to study at the British Museum, by to-morrow. As for the Private Drawing Academy — ”
“No offense; but I can’t stand seeing you stirring up them grounds in the bottom of your glass any longer,” Mat broke in here; taking away Mr. Blyth’s tumbler as he spoke, throwing the sediment of sugar, the lemon pips, and the little liquor left to cover them, into the grate behind; and then, hospitably devoting himself to the concoction of a second supply of that palatable and innocuous beverage, the Squaw’s Mixture.
“Half a glass,” cried Mr. Blyth. “Weak — remember my wretched head for drinking, and pray make it weak.”
As he spoke, the clock of the neighboring parish church struck.
“Only nine,” exclaimed Zack, referring ostentatiously to the watch which he had taken out of pawn the day before. “Pass the rum, Mat, as soon as you’ve done with it — put the kettle on to boil — and now, my lads, we’ll begin spending the evening in earnest!”
If any fourth gentleman had been present to assist in “spending the evening,” as Zack chose to phrase it, at the small social soiree in Kirk Street; and if that gentleman had deserted the festive board as the clock struck nine — had walked about the streets to enjoy himself in the fresh air — and had then, as the clock struck ten, returned to the society of his convivial companions, he would most assuredly have been taken by surprise, on beholding the singular change which the lapse of one hour had been sufficient to produce in the manners and conversation of Mr. Valentine Blyth.
It might have been that the worthy and simple-hearted gentleman had been unduly stimulated by the reek of hot grog, which in harmonious association with a heavy mist of tobacco smoke, now filled the room; or it might have been that the second brew of the Squaw’s Mixture had exceeded half a glassful in quantity, had not been diluted to the requisite weakness, and had consequently got into his head; but, whatever the exciting cause might be, the alteration that had taken place since nine o’clock, in his voice, looks, and manners, was remarkable enough to be of the nature of a moral phenomenon. He now talked incessantly about nothing but the fine arts; he differed with both his companions, and loftily insisted on his own superior sagacity, whenever either of them ventured to speak a word; he was by turns as noisy as Zack, and as gruff as Mat; his hair was crumpled down over his forehead, his eyes were dimmed, his shirt collar was turned rakishly over his cravat: in short, he was not the genuine Valentine Blyth at all, — he was only a tipsy counterfeit of him.
As for young Thorpe, any slight steadiness of brain which he might naturally possess, he had long since parted with, as a matter of course, for the rest of the evening. Mat alone remained unchanged. There he sat, reckless of the blazing fire behind him, still with that left hand of his dropping stealthily every now and then into his pocket; smoking, drinking, and staring at his two companions, just as gruffly self-possessed as ever.
“There’s ten,” muttered Mat, as the clock struck. “I said we should be getting jolly by ten. So we are.”
Zack nodded his head solemnly, and stared hard at one of the empty bottles on the floor, which had rolled out from the temporary store-room under the table.
“Hold your tongues, both of you!” cried Mr. Blyth. “I insist on clearing up that disputed point about whether artists are not just as hardy and strong as other men. I’m an artist myself, and I say they are. I’ll agree with you in everything else; for you’re the two best fellows in the world; but if you say a word against artists, I’m your enemy for life. You may talk to me, by the hour together about admirals, generals, and prime ministers — I mention the glorious names of Michael Angelo and Raphael; and down goes your argument directly. When Michael Angelo’s nose was broken do you think he minded it? Look in his Life, and see if he did — that’s all! Ha! ha! My painting-room is forty feet long (now this is an important proof). While I was painting Columbus and the Golden Age, one was at one end — north; and the other at the other — south. Very good. I walked backwards and forwards between those two pictures incessantly; and never sat down all day long. This is a fact — and the proof is, that I worked on both of them at once. A touch on Columbus — a walk into the middle of the room to look at the effect — turn round — walk up to The Golden Age opposite — a touch on The Golden Age — another walk into the middle of the room to look at the effect-another turn round — and back again to Columbus. Fifteen miles a-day of in-door exercise, according to the calculation of a mathematical friend of mine; and not including the number of times I had to go up and down my portable wooden steps to get at the top parts of Columbus. Isn’t a man hardy and strong who can stand that? Ha! ha! Just feel my legs, Zack. Are they hard and muscular, or are they not?”
Here Mr. Blyth, rapping young Thorpe smartly on the head with his spoon, tried to skip out of his chair as nimbly as usual; but only succeeded in floundering awkwardly into an upright position, after he had knocked down his plate with all the greasy remains of the liver and bacon on it. Zack roused himself from muddled meditation with a start; and, under pretense of obeying his friend’s injunction, pinched Valentine’s leg with such vigorous malice, that the painter fairly screamed again under the infliction. All this time Mat sat immovably serene in his place next to the fire. He just kicked Mr. Blyth’s broken plate, with the scraps of liver and bacon, and the knife and fork that had fallen with them, into the temporary storeroom under the table — and then pushed towards him another glass of the squaw’s mixture, quietly concocted while he had been talking.
The effect on Valentine of this hospitable action proved to be singularly soothing and beneficial. He had been getting gradually more and more disputatious for the last ten minutes; but the moment the steaming glass touched his hand, it seemed to change his mood with the most magical celerity. As he looked down at it, and felt the fragrant rum steaming softy into his nostrils, his face expanded, and while his left hand unsteadily conveyed the tumbler to his lips, his right reached across the table and fraternally extended itself to Mat. “My dear friend,” said Mr. Blyth affectionately, “how kind you are! Pray how do you make the Squaw’s mixture?”
“I say, Mat, leave off smoking, and tell us something,” interposed Zack. “Bowl away at once with one of your tremendous stories, or Blyth will be bragging again about his rickety old legs. Talk, man! Tell us your famous story of how you lost your scalp.”
Mat laid down his pipe, and for a moment looked very attentively at Mr. Blyth — then, with the most uncharacteristic readiness and docility, began his story at once, without requiring another word of persuasion. In general, the very reverse of tedious when he related any experiences of his own, he seemed, on this occasion, perversely bent on letting his narrative ooze out to the most interminable length. Instead of adhering to the abridged account of his terrible adventure, which he had given Zack when they first talked together on Blackfriars Bridge, he now dwelt drowsily on the minutest particulars of the murderous chase that had so nearly cost him his life, enumerating them one after the other in the same heavy droning voice which never changed its tone in the slightest degree as he went on. After about ten minutes’ endurance of the narrative-infliction which he had himself provoked, young Thorpe was just beginning to feel a sensation of utter oblivion stealing over him, when a sound of lusty snoring close at his back startled him into instant wakefulness. He looked round. There was Mr. Blyth placidly and profoundly asleep, with his mouth wide open and his head resting against the wall.
“Stop!” whispered Mat, as Zack seized on a half-squeezed lemon and took aim at Valentine’s mouth. “Don’t wake him yet. What do you say to some oysters?”
“Give us a dish, and I’ll show you,” returned young Thorpe. “Sally’s in bed by this time — I’ll fetch the oysters myself from over the way. But, I say, I must have a friendly shot with something or other, at dear old Blyth’s gaping mouth.”
“Try him with an oyster, when you come back,” said Mat, producing from the cupboard behind him a large yellow pie-dish. “Go on! I’ll see you down stairs, and leave the candle on the landing, and the door on the jar, so as you can get in quietly. Steady, young ’un! and mind the dish when you cross the road.” With these words Mat dismissed Zack from the street-door to the oyster shop; and then returned immediately to his guest upstairs.
Valentine was still fast asleep and snoring vehemently. Mat’s hand descended again into his pocket, reappearing, however, quickly enough on this occasion, with the piece of wax which he had purchased that morning. Steadying his arms coolly on the table, he detached the little chain which held the key of Mr. Blyth’s bureau, from the watchguard to which it was fastened, took off on his wax a perfect impression of the whole key from the pipe to the handle, attached it again to the sleeper’s watchguard, pared away the rough ends of the piece of wax till it fitted into an old tin tobacco-box which he took from the chimney-piece, pocketed this box, and then quietly resumed his original place at the table.
“Now,” said Mat, looking at the unconscious Mr. Blyth, after he had lit his pipe again; “Now, Painter–Man! wake up as soon as you like.”
It was not long before Zack returned. A violent bang of the street-door announced his entry into the passage — a confused clattering and stumbling marked his progress up stairs — a shrill crash, a heavy thump, and a shout of laughter indicated his arrival on the landing. Mat ran out directly, and found him prostrate on the floor, with the yellow pie-dish in halves at the bottom of the stairs, and dozens of oyster.-shells scattered about him in every direction.
“Hurt?” inquired Mat, pulling him up by the collar, and dragging him into the room.
“Not a bit of it,” answered Zack. “I’ve woke Blyth, though (worse luck!) and spoilt our shot with the oyster, havn’t I? Oh, Lord! how he stares!”
Valentine certainly did stare. He was standing up, leaning against the wall, and looking about him in a woefully dazed condition. Either his nap, or the alarming manner in which he had been awakened from it, had produced a decided change for the worst in him. As he slowly recovered what little sense he had left to make use of, all his talkativeness and cordiality seemed to desert him. He shook his head mournfully; refused to eat or drink anything; declared with sullen solemnity, that his digestion was “a perfect wreck in consequence of his keeping drunken society;” and insisted on going home directly, in spite of everything that Zack could say to him. The landlord, who had been brought from his shop below by the noise, and who thought it very desirable to take the first opportunity that offered of breaking up the party before any more grog was consumed, officiously ran down stairs, and called a cab — the result of this maneuver proving in the sequel to be what the tobacconist desired. The moment the sound of wheels was heard at the door, Mr. Blyth clamored peremptorily for his hat and coat; and, after some little demur, was at last helped into the cab in the most friendly and attentive manner by Mat himself.
“Just see the lights out upstairs, and the young ’un in bed, will ye?” said Mat to his landlord, as they stood together on the door-step. “I’m going to blow some of the smoke out of me by taking a turn in the fresh air.”
He walked away briskly, as he said the last words; but when he got to the end of the street, instead of proceeding northwards towards the country, and the cool night-breeze that was blowing from it, he perversely turned southwards towards the filthiest little lanes and courts in the whole neighborhood.
Stepping along at a rapid pace, he directed his course towards that particular row of small and vile houses which he had already visited early in the day; and stopped, as before, at the second-hand iron shop. It was shut up for the night; but a dim light, as of one farthing candle, glimmered through the circular holes in the tops of the shutters; and when Mat knocked at the door with his knuckles; it was opened immediately by the same hump-backed shopman with whom he had conferred in the morning.
“Got it?” asked the hunch-back in a cracked querulous voice the moment the door was ajar.
“All right,” answered Mat in his gruffest bass tones, handing to the little man the tin tobacco-box.
“We said to-morrow evening, didn’t we?” continued the squalid shopman.
“Not later than six,” added Mat.
“Not later than six,” repeated the other, shutting the door softly as his customer walked away — northward this time — to seek the fresh air in good earnest.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06