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'Well, are you going?' said the stout man, looking up from the ground where he was lying at his ease, into her grandfather's face. 'You were in a mighty hurry a minute ago. Go, if you like. You're your own master, I hope?'
'Don't vex him,' returned Isaac List, who was squatting like a frog on the other side of the fire, and had so screwed himself up that he seemed to be squinting all over; 'he didn't mean any offence.'
'You keep me poor, and plunder me, and make a sport and jest of me besides,' said the old man, turning from one to the other. 'Ye'll drive me mad among ye.'
The utter irresolution and feebleness of the grey-haired child, contrasted with the keen and cunning looks of those in whose hands he was, smote upon the little listener's heart. But she constrained herself to attend to all that passed, and to note each look and word.
'Confound you, what do you mean?' said the stout man rising a little, and supporting himself on his elbow. 'Keep you poor! You'd keep us poor if you could, wouldn't you? That's the way with you whining, puny, pitiful players. When you lose, you're martyrs; but I don't find that when you win, you look upon the other losers in that light. As to plunder!' cried the fellow, raising his voice-- 'Damme, what do you mean by such ungentlemanly language as plunder, eh?'
The speaker laid himself down again at full length, and gave one or two short, angry kicks, as if in further expression of his unbounded indignation. It was quite plain that he acted the bully, and his friend the peacemaker, for some particular purpose; or rather, it would have been to any one but the weak old man; for they exchanged glances quite openly, both with each other and with the gipsy, who grinned his approval of the jest until his white teeth shone again.
The old man stood helplessly among them for a little time, and then said, turning to his assailant:
'You yourself were speaking of plunder just now, you know. Don't be so violent with me. You were, were you not?'
'Not of plundering among present company! Honour among--among gentlemen, Sir,' returned the other, who seemed to have been very near giving an awkward termination to the sentence.
'Don't be hard upon him, Jowl,' said Isaac List. 'He's very sorry for giving offence. There--go on with what you were saying--go on.'
'I'm a jolly old tender-hearted lamb, I am,' cried Mr Jowl, 'to be sitting here at my time of life giving advice when I know it won't be taken, and that I shall get nothing but abuse for my pains. But that's the way I've gone through life. Experience has never put a chill upon my warm-heartedness.'
'I tell you he's very sorry, don't I?' remonstrated Isaac List, 'and that he wishes you'd go on.'
'Does he wish it?' said the other.
'Ay,' groaned the old man sitting down, and rocking himself to and fro. 'Go on, go on. It's in vain to fight with it; I can't do it; go on.'
'I go on then,' said Jowl, 'where I left off, when you got up so quick. If you're persuaded that it's time for luck to turn, as it certainly is, and find that you haven't means enough to try it (and that's where it is, for you know, yourself, that you never have the funds to keep on long enough at a sitting), help yourself to what seems put in your way on purpose. Borrow it, I say, and, when you're able, pay it back again.'
'Certainly,' Isaac List struck in, 'if this good lady as keeps the wax-works has money, and does keep it in a tin box when she goes to bed, and doesn't lock her door for fear of fire, it seems a easy thing; quite a Providence, I should call it--but then I've been religiously brought up.'
'You see, Isaac,' said his friend, growing more eager, and drawing himself closer to the old man, while he signed to the gipsy not to come between them; 'you see, Isaac, strangers are going in and out every hour of the day; nothing would be more likely than for one of these strangers to get under the good lady's bed, or lock himself in the cupboard; suspicion would be very wide, and would fall a long way from the mark, no doubt. I'd give him his revenge to the last farthing he brought, whatever the amount was.'
'But could you?' urged Isaac List. 'Is your bank strong enough?'
'Strong enough!' answered the other, with assumed disdain. 'Here, you Sir, give me that box out of the straw!'
This was addressed to the gipsy, who crawled into the low tent on all fours, and after some rummaging and rustling returned with a cash-box, which the man who had spoken opened with a key he wore about his person.
'Do you see this?' he said, gathering up the money in his hand and letting it drop back into the box, between his fingers, like water. 'Do you hear it? Do you know the sound of gold? There, put it back--and don't talk about banks again, Isaac, till you've got one of your own.'
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The Old Curiosity Shop -- by Charles Dickens