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In the venerable suburb--it was a suburb once--of Clerkenwell,
towards that part of its confines which is nearest to the Charter
House, and in one of those cool, shady Streets, of which a few,
widely scattered and dispersed, yet remain in such old parts of the
metropolis,--each tenement quietly vegetating like an ancient
citizen who long ago retired from business, and dozing on in its
infirmity until in course of time it tumbles down, and is replaced
by some extravagant young heir, flaunting in stucco and ornamental
work, and all the vanities of modern days,--in this quarter, and in
a street of this description, the business of the present chapter
At the time of which it treats, though only six-and-sixty years
ago, a very large part of what is London now had no existence.
Even in the brains of the wildest speculators, there had sprung up
no long rows of streets connecting Highgate with Whitechapel, no
assemblages of palaces in the swampy levels, nor little cities in
the open fields. Although this part of town was then, as now,
parcelled out in streets, and plentifully peopled, it wore a
different aspect. There were gardens to many of the houses, and
trees by the pavement side; with an air of freshness breathing up
and down, which in these days would be sought in vain. Fields were
nigh at hand, through which the New River took its winding course,
and where there was merry haymaking in the summer time. Nature was
not so far removed, or hard to get at, as in these days; and
although there were busy trades in Clerkenwell, and working
jewellers by scores, it was a purer place, with farm-houses nearer
to it than many modern Londoners would readily believe, and lovers'
walks at no great distance, which turned into squalid courts, long
before the lovers of this age were born, or, as the phrase goes,
In one of these streets, the cleanest of them all, and on the shady
side of the way--for good housewives know that sunlight damages
their cherished furniture, and so choose the shade rather than its
intrusive glare--there stood the house with which we have to deal.
It was a modest building, not very straight, not large, not tall;
not bold-faced, with great staring windows, but a shy, blinking
house, with a conical roof going up into a peak over its garret
window of four small panes of glass, like a cocked hat on the head
of an elderly gentleman with one eye. It was not built of brick or
lofty stone, but of wood and plaster; it was not planned with a
dull and wearisome regard to regularity, for no one window matched
the other, or seemed to have the slightest reference to anything
The shop--for it had a shop--was, with reference to the first
floor, where shops usually are; and there all resemblance between
it and any other shop stopped short and ceased. People who went in
and out didn't go up a flight of steps to it, or walk easily in
upon a level with the street, but dived down three steep stairs,
as into a cellar. Its floor was paved with stone and brick, as
that of any other cellar might be; and in lieu of window framed and
glazed it had a great black wooden flap or shutter, nearly breast
high from the ground, which turned back in the day-time, admitting
as much cold air as light, and very often more. Behind this shop
was a wainscoted parlour, looking first into a paved yard, and
beyond that again into a little terrace garden, raised some feet
above it. Any stranger would have supposed that this wainscoted
parlour, saving for the door of communication by which he had
entered, was cut off and detached from all the world; and indeed
most strangers on their first entrance were observed to grow
extremely thoughtful, as weighing and pondering in their minds
whether the upper rooms were only approachable by ladders from
without; never suspecting that two of the most unassuming and
unlikely doors in existence, which the most ingenious mechanician
on earth must of necessity have supposed to be the doors of
closets, opened out of this room--each without the smallest
preparation, or so much as a quarter of an inch of passage--upon
two dark winding flights of stairs, the one upward, the other
downward, which were the sole means of communication between that
chamber and the other portions of the house.
With all these oddities, there was not a neater, more scrupulously
tidy, or more punctiliously ordered house, in Clerkenwell, in
London, in all England. There were not cleaner windows, or whiter
floors, or brighter Stoves, or more highly shining articles of
furniture in old mahogany; there was not more rubbing, scrubbing,
burnishing and polishing, in the whole street put together. Nor
was this excellence attained without some cost and trouble and
great expenditure of voice, as the neighbours were frequently
reminded when the good lady of the house overlooked and assisted in
its being put to rights on cleaning days--which were usually from
Monday morning till Saturday night, both days inclusive.
Leaning against the door-post of this, his dwelling, the locksmith
stood early on the morning after he had met with the wounded man,
gazing disconsolately at a great wooden emblem of a key, painted in
vivid yellow to resemble gold, which dangled from the house-front,
and swung to and fro with a mournful creaking noise, as if
complaining that it had nothing to unlock. Sometimes, he looked
over his shoulder into the shop, which was so dark and dingy with
numerous tokens of his trade, and so blackened by the smoke of a
little forge, near which his 'prentice was at work, that it would
have been difficult for one unused to such espials to have
distinguished anything but various tools of uncouth make and shape,
great bunches of rusty keys, fragments of iron, half-finished
locks, and such like things, which garnished the walls and hung in
clusters from the ceiling.
After a long and patient contemplation of the golden key, and many
such backward glances, Gabriel stepped into the road, and stole a
look at the upper windows. One of them chanced to be thrown open
at the moment, and a roguish face met his; a face lighted up by the
loveliest pair of sparkling eyes that ever locksmith looked upon;
the face of a pretty, laughing, girl; dimpled and fresh, and
healthful--the very impersonation of good-humour and blooming
'Hush!' she whispered, bending forward and pointing archly to the
window underneath. 'Mother is still asleep.'
'Still, my dear,' returned the locksmith in the same tone. 'You
talk as if she had been asleep all night, instead of little more
than half an hour. But I'm very thankful. Sleep's a blessing--no
doubt about it.' The last few words he muttered to himself.
'How cruel of you to keep us up so late this morning, and never
tell us where you were, or send us word!' said the girl.
'Ah Dolly, Dolly!' returned the locksmith, shaking his head, and
smiling, 'how cruel of you to run upstairs to bed! Come down to
breakfast, madcap, and come down lightly, or you'll wake your
mother. She must be tired, I am sure--I am.'
Keeping these latter words to himself, and returning his
daughter's nod, he was passing into the workshop, with the smile
she had awakened still beaming on his face, when he just caught
sight of his 'prentice's brown paper cap ducking down to avoid
observation, and shrinking from the window back to its former
place, which the wearer no sooner reached than he began to hammer
'Listening again, Simon!' said Gabriel to himself. 'That's bad.
What in the name of wonder does he expect the girl to say, that I
always catch him listening when SHE speaks, and never at any other
time! A bad habit, Sim, a sneaking, underhanded way. Ah! you may
hammer, but you won't beat that out of me, if you work at it till
your time's up!'
So saying, and shaking his head gravely, he re-entered the
workshop, and confronted the subject of these remarks.
'There's enough of that just now,' said the locksmith. 'You
needn't make any more of that confounded clatter. Breakfast's
'Sir,' said Sim, looking up with amazing politeness, and a peculiar
little bow cut short off at the neck, 'I shall attend you
'I suppose,' muttered Gabriel, 'that's out of the 'Prentice's
Garland or the 'Prentice's Delight, or the 'Prentice's Warbler, or
the Prentice's Guide to the Gallows, or some such improving
textbook. Now he's going to beautify himself--here's a precious
Quite unconscious that his master was looking on from the dark
corner by the parlour door, Sim threw off the paper cap, sprang
from his seat, and in two extraordinary steps, something between
skating and minuet dancing, bounded to a washing place at the other
end of the shop, and there removed from his face and hands all
traces of his previous work--practising the same step all the time
with the utmost gravity. This done, he drew from some concealed
place a little scrap of looking-glass, and with its assistance
arranged his hair, and ascertained the exact state of a little
carbuncle on his nose. Having now completed his toilet, he placed
the fragment of mirror on a low bench, and looked over his shoulder
at so much of his legs as could be reflected in that small compass,
with the greatest possible complacency and satisfaction.
Sim, as he was called in the locksmith's family, or Mr Simon
Tappertit, as he called himself, and required all men to style him
out of doors, on holidays, and Sundays out,--was an old-fashioned,
thin-faced, sleek-haired, sharp-nosed, small-eyed little fellow,
very little more than five feet high, and thoroughly convinced in
his own mind that he was above the middle size; rather tall, in
fact, than otherwise. Of his figure, which was well enough formed,
though somewhat of the leanest, he entertained the highest
admiration; and with his legs, which, in knee-breeches, were
perfect curiosities of littleness, he was enraptured to a degree
amounting to enthusiasm. He also had some majestic, shadowy ideas,
which had never been quite fathomed by his intimate friends,
concerning the power of his eye. Indeed he had been known to go so
far as to boast that he could utterly quell and subdue the
haughtiest beauty by a simple process, which he termed 'eyeing her
over;' but it must be added, that neither of this faculty, nor of
the power he claimed to have, through the same gift, of vanquishing
and heaving down dumb animals, even in a rabid state, had he ever
furnished evidence which could be deemed quite satisfactory and
It may be inferred from these premises, that in the small body of
Mr Tappertit there was locked up an ambitious and aspiring soul.
As certain liquors, confined in casks too cramped in their
dimensions, will ferment, and fret, and chafe in their
imprisonment, so the spiritual essence or soul of Mr Tappertit
would sometimes fume within that precious cask, his body, until,
with great foam and froth and splutter, it would force a vent, and
carry all before it. It was his custom to remark, in reference to
any one of these occasions, that his soul had got into his head;
and in this novel kind of intoxication many scrapes and mishaps
befell him, which he had frequently concealed with no small
difficulty from his worthy master.
Sim Tappertit, among the other fancies upon which his before-
mentioned soul was for ever feasting and regaling itself (and which
fancies, like the liver of Prometheus, grew as they were fed
upon), had a mighty notion of his order; and had been heard by the
servant-maid openly expressing his regret that the 'prentices no
longer carried clubs wherewith to mace the citizens: that was his
strong expression. He was likewise reported to have said that in
former times a stigma had been cast upon the body by the execution
of George Barnwell, to which they should not have basely
submitted, but should have demanded him of the legislature--
temperately at first; then by an appeal to arms, if necessary--to
be dealt with as they in their wisdom might think fit. These
thoughts always led him to consider what a glorious engine the
'prentices might yet become if they had but a master spirit at
their head; and then he would darkly, and to the terror of his
hearers, hint at certain reckless fellows that he knew of, and at a
certain Lion Heart ready to become their captain, who, once afoot,
would make the Lord Mayor tremble on his throne.
In respect of dress and personal decoration, Sim Tappertit was no
less of an adventurous and enterprising character. He had been
seen, beyond dispute, to pull off ruffles of the finest quality at
the corner of the street on Sunday nights, and to put them
carefully in his pocket before returning home; and it was quite
notorious that on all great holiday occasions it was his habit to
exchange his plain steel knee-buckles for a pair of glittering
paste, under cover of a friendly post, planted most conveniently
in that same spot. Add to this that he was in years just twenty,
in his looks much older, and in conceit at least two hundred; that
he had no objection to be jested with, touching his admiration of
his master's daughter; and had even, when called upon at a certain
obscure tavern to pledge the lady whom he honoured with his love,
toasted, with many winks and leers, a fair creature whose Christian
name, he said, began with a D--;--and as much is known of Sim
Tappertit, who has by this time followed the locksmith in to
breakfast, as is necessary to be known in making his acquaintance.
It was a substantial meal; for, over and above the ordinary tea
equipage, the board creaked beneath the weight of a jolly round of
beef, a ham of the first magnitude, and sundry towers of buttered
Yorkshire cake, piled slice upon slice in most alluring order.
There was also a goodly jug of well-browned clay, fashioned into
the form of an old gentleman, not by any means unlike the
locksmith, atop of whose bald head was a fine white froth answering
to his wig, indicative, beyond dispute, of sparkling home-brewed
ale. But, better far than fair home-brewed, or Yorkshire cake, or
ham, or beef, or anything to eat or drink that earth or air or
water can supply, there sat, presiding over all, the locksmith's
rosy daughter, before whose dark eyes even beef grew insignificant,
and malt became as nothing.
Fathers should never kiss their daughters when young men are by.
It's too much. There are bounds to human endurance. So thought
Sim Tappertit when Gabriel drew those rosy lips to his--those lips
within Sim's reach from day to day, and yet so far off. He had a
respect for his master, but he wished the Yorkshire cake might
'Father,' said the locksmith's daughter, when this salute was over,
and they took their seats at table, 'what is this I hear about last
'All true, my dear; true as the Gospel, Doll.'
'Young Mr Chester robbed, and lying wounded in the road, when you
'Ay--Mr Edward. And beside him, Barnaby, calling for help with all
his might. It was well it happened as it did; for the road's a
lonely one, the hour was late, and, the night being cold, and poor
Barnaby even less sensible than usual from surprise and fright, the
young gentleman might have met his death in a very short time.'
'I dread to think of it!' cried his daughter with a shudder. 'How
did you know him?'
'Know him!' returned the locksmith. 'I didn't know him--how could
I? I had never seen him, often as I had heard and spoken of him.
I took him to Mrs Rudge's; and she no sooner saw him than the truth
'Miss Emma, father--If this news should reach her, enlarged upon as
it is sure to be, she will go distracted.'
'Why, lookye there again, how a man suffers for being good-
natured,' said the locksmith. 'Miss Emma was with her uncle at the
masquerade at Carlisle House, where she had gone, as the people at
the Warren told me, sorely against her will. What does your
blockhead father when he and Mrs Rudge have laid their heads
together, but goes there when he ought to be abed, makes interest
with his friend the doorkeeper, slips him on a mask and domino,
and mixes with the masquers.'
'And like himself to do so!' cried the girl, putting her fair arm
round his neck, and giving him a most enthusiastic kiss.
'Like himself!' repeated Gabriel, affecting to grumble, but
evidently delighted with the part he had taken, and with her
praise. 'Very like himself--so your mother said. However, he
mingled with the crowd, and prettily worried and badgered he was, I
warrant you, with people squeaking, "Don't you know me?" and "I've
found you out," and all that kind of nonsense in his ears. He
might have wandered on till now, but in a little room there was a
young lady who had taken off her mask, on account of the place
being very warm, and was sitting there alone.'
'And that was she?' said his daughter hastily.
'And that was she,' replied the locksmith; 'and I no sooner
whispered to her what the matter was--as softly, Doll, and with
nearly as much art as you could have used yourself--than she gives
a kind of scream and faints away.'
'What did you do--what happened next?' asked his daughter. 'Why,
the masks came flocking round, with a general noise and hubbub, and
I thought myself in luck to get clear off, that's all,' rejoined
the locksmith. 'What happened when I reached home you may guess,
if you didn't hear it. Ah! Well, it's a poor heart that never
rejoices.--Put Toby this way, my dear.'
This Toby was the brown jug of which previous mention has been
made. Applying his lips to the worthy old gentleman's benevolent
forehead, the locksmith, who had all this time been ravaging among
the eatables, kept them there so long, at the same time raising the
vessel slowly in the air, that at length Toby stood on his head
upon his nose, when he smacked his lips, and set him on the table
again with fond reluctance.
Although Sim Tappertit had taken no share in this conversation, no
part of it being addressed to him, he had not been wanting in such
silent manifestations of astonishment, as he deemed most compatible
with the favourable display of his eyes. Regarding the pause which
now ensued, as a particularly advantageous opportunity for doing
great execution with them upon the locksmith's daughter (who he had
no doubt was looking at him in mute admiration), he began to screw
and twist his face, and especially those features, into such
extraordinary, hideous, and unparalleled contortions, that Gabriel,
who happened to look towards him, was stricken with amazement.
'Why, what the devil's the matter with the lad?' cried the
locksmith. 'Is he choking?'
'Who?' demanded Sim, with some disdain.
'Who? Why, you,' returned his master. 'What do you mean by making
those horrible faces over your breakfast?'
'Faces are matters of taste, sir,' said Mr Tappertit, rather
discomfited; not the less so because he saw the locksmith's
'Sim,' rejoined Gabriel, laughing heartily. 'Don't be a fool, for
I'd rather see you in your senses. These young fellows,' he added,
turning to his daughter, 'are always committing some folly or
another. There was a quarrel between Joe Willet and old John last
night though I can't say Joe was much in fault either. He'll be
missing one of these mornings, and will have gone away upon some
wild-goose errand, seeking his fortune.--Why, what's the matter,
Doll? YOU are making faces now. The girls are as bad as the boys
'It's the tea,' said Dolly, turning alternately very red and very
white, which is no doubt the effect of a slight scald--'so very hot.'
Mr Tappertit looked immensely big at a quartern loaf on the table,
and breathed hard.
'Is that all?' returned the locksmith. 'Put some more milk in it.--
Yes, I am sorry for Joe, because he is a likely young fellow, and
gains upon one every time one sees him. But he'll start off,
you'll find. Indeed he told me as much himself!'
'Indeed!' cried Dolly in a faint voice. 'In-deed!'
'Is the tea tickling your throat still, my dear?' said the
But, before his daughter could make him any answer, she was taken
with a troublesome cough, and it was such a very unpleasant cough,
that, when she left off, the tears were starting in her bright
eyes. The good-natured locksmith was still patting her on the back
and applying such gentle restoratives, when a message arrived from
Mrs Varden, making known to all whom it might concern, that she
felt too much indisposed to rise after her great agitation and
anxiety of the previous night; and therefore desired to be
immediately accommodated with the little black teapot of strong
mixed tea, a couple of rounds of buttered toast, a middling-sized
dish of beef and ham cut thin, and the Protestant Manual in two
volumes post octavo. Like some other ladies who in remote ages
flourished upon this globe, Mrs Varden was most devout when most
ill-tempered. Whenever she and her husband were at unusual
variance, then the Protestant Manual was in high feather.
Knowing from experience what these requests portended, the
triumvirate broke up; Dolly, to see the orders executed with all
despatch; Gabriel, to some out-of-door work in his little chaise;
and Sim, to his daily duty in the workshop, to which retreat he
carried the big look, although the loaf remained behind.
Indeed the big look increased immensely, and when he had tied his
apron on, became quite gigantic. It was not until he had several
times walked up and down with folded arms, and the longest strides
be could take, and had kicked a great many small articles out of
his way, that his lip began to curl. At length, a gloomy derision
came upon his features, and he smiled; uttering meanwhile with
supreme contempt the monosyllable 'Joe!'
'I eyed her over, while he talked about the fellow,' he said, 'and
that was of course the reason of her being confused. Joe!'
He walked up and down again much quicker than before, and if
possible with longer strides; sometimes stopping to take a glance
at his legs, and sometimes to jerk out, and cast from him, another
'Joe!' In the course of a quarter of an hour or so he again
assumed the paper cap and tried to work. No. It could not be
'I'll do nothing to-day,' said Mr Tappertit, dashing it down again,
'but grind. I'll grind up all the tools. Grinding will suit my
present humour well. Joe!'
Whirr-r-r-r. The grindstone was soon in motion; the sparks were
flying off in showers. This was the occupation for his heated
'Something will come of this!' said Mr Tappertit, pausing as if in
triumph, and wiping his heated face upon his sleeve. 'Something
will come of this. I hope it mayn't be human gore!'