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Isaac List, with great apparent humility, protested that he had never doubted the credit of a gentleman so notorious for his honourable dealing as Mr Jowl, and that he had hinted at the production of the box, not for the satisfaction of his doubts, for he could have none, but with a view to being regaled with a sight of so much wealth, which, though it might be deemed by some but an unsubstantial and visionary pleasure, was to one in his circumstances a source of extreme delight, only to be surpassed by its safe depository in his own personal pockets. Although Mr List and Mr Jowl addressed themselves to each other, it was remarkable that they both looked narrowly at the old man, who, with his eyes fixed upon the fire, sat brooding over it, yet listening eagerly-- as it seemed from a certain involuntary motion of the head, or twitching of the face from time to time--to all they said.
'My advice,' said Jowl, lying down again with a careless air, 'is plain--I have given it, in fact. I act as a friend. Why should I help a man to the means perhaps of winning all I have, unless I considered him my friend? It's foolish, I dare say, to be so thoughtful of the welfare of other people, but that's my constitution, and I can't help it; so don't blame me, Isaac List.'
'I blame you!' returned the person addressed; 'not for the world, Mr Jowl. I wish I could afford to be as liberal as you; and, as you say, he might pay it back if he won--and if he lost--'
'You're not to take that into consideration at all,' said Jowl.
'But suppose he did (and nothing's less likely, from all I know of chances), why, it's better to lose other people's money than one's own, I hope?'
'Ah!' cried Isaac List rapturously, 'the pleasures of winning! The delight of picking up the money--the bright, shining yellow-boys-- and sweeping 'em into one's pocket! The deliciousness of having a triumph at last, and thinking that one didn't stop short and turn back, but went half-way to meet it! The--but you're not going, old gentleman?'
'I'll do it,' said the old man, who had risen and taken two or three hurried steps away, and now returned as hurriedly. 'I'll have it, every penny.'
'Why, that's brave,' cried Isaac, jumping up and slapping him on the shoulder; 'and I respect you for having so much young blood left. Ha, ha, ha! Joe Jowl's half sorry he advised you now. We've got the laugh against him. Ha, ha, ha!'
'He gives me my revenge, mind,' said the old man, pointing to him eagerly with his shrivelled hand: 'mind--he stakes coin against coin, down to the last one in the box, be there many or few. Remember that!'
'I'm witness,' returned Isaac. 'I'll see fair between you.'
'I have passed my word,' said Jowl with feigned reluctance, 'and I'll keep it. When does this match come off? I wish it was over.-- To-night?'
'I must have the money first,' said the old man; 'and that I'll have to-morrow--'
'Why not to-night?' urged Jowl.
'It's late now, and I should be flushed and flurried,' said the old man. 'It must be softly done. No, to-morrow night.'
'Then to-morrow be it,' said Jowl. 'A drop of comfort here. Luck to the best man! Fill!' The gipsy produced three tin cups, and filled them to the brim with brandy. The old man turned aside and muttered to himself before he drank. Her own name struck upon the listener's ear, coupled with some wish so fervent, that he seemed to breathe it in an agony of supplication.
'God be merciful to us!' cried the child within herself, 'and help us in this trying hour! What shall I do to save him!'
The remainder of their conversation was carried on in a lower tone of voice, and was sufficiently concise; relating merely to the execution of the project, and the best precautions for diverting suspicion. The old man then shook hands with his tempters, and withdrew.
They watched his bowed and stooping figure as it retreated slowly, and when he turned his head to look back, which he often did, waved their hands, or shouted some brief encouragement. It was not until they had seen him gradually diminish into a mere speck upon the distant road, that they turned to each other, and ventured to laugh aloud.
'So,' said Jowl, warming his hands at the fire, 'it's done at last. He wanted more persuading than I expected. It's three weeks ago, since we first put this in his head. What'll he bring, do you think?'
'Whatever he brings, it's halved between us,' returned Isaac List.
The other man nodded. 'We must make quick work of it,' he said, 'and then cut his acquaintance, or we may be suspected. Sharp's the word.'
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The Old Curiosity Shop -- by Charles Dickens