Page:Dombey and Son.djvu/280

This page needs to be proofread.

Mr. Toots, emancipated from the Blimber thraldom and coming into the possession of a certain portion of his worldly wealth, "which," as he had been wont, during his last half-year’s probation, to communicate to Mr. Feeder every evening as a new discovery, "the executors couldn’t keep him out of," had applied himself with great diligence, to the science of Life. Fired with a noble emulation to pursue a brilliant and distinguished career, Mr. Toots had furnished a choice set of apartments; had established among them a sporting bower, embellished with the portraits of winning horses, in which he took no particle of interest; and a divan, which made him poorly. In this delicious abode, Mr. Toots devoted himself to the cultivation of those gentle arts which refine and humanise existence, his chief instructor in which was an interesting character called the Game Chicken, who was always to be heard of at the bar of the Black Badger, wore a shaggy white great-coat in the warmest weather, and knocked Mr. Toots about the head three times a week, for the small consideration of ten and six per visit.

The Game Chicken, who was quite the Apollo of Mr. Toots’s Pantheon, had introduced to him a marker who taught billiards, a Life Guard who taught fencing, a job-master who taught riding, a Cornish gentleman who was up to anything in the athletic line, and two or three other friends connected no less intimately with the fine arts. Under whose auspices Mr. Toots could hardly fail to improve apace, and under whose tuition he went to work.

But however it came about, it came to pass, even while these gentlemen had the gloss of novelty upon them, that Mr. Toots felt, he didn’t know how, unsettled and uneasy. There were husks in his corn, that even Game Chickens couldn’t peck up; gloomy giants in his leisure, that even Game Chickens couldn’t knock down. Nothing seemed to do Mr. Toots so much good as incessantly leaving cards at Mr. Dombey’s door. No tax-gatherer in the British Dominions—that wide-spread territory on which the sun never sets, and where the tax-gatherer never goes to bed—was more regular and persevering in his calls than Mr. Toots.

Mr. Toots never went upstairs; and always performed the same ceremonies, richly dressed for the purpose, at the hall door.

"Oh! Good morning!" would be Mr. Toots’s first remark to the servant. "For Mr. Dombey," would be Mr. Toots’s next remark, as he handed in a card. "For Miss Dombey," would be his next, as he handed in another.

Mr. Toots would then turn round as if to go away; but the man knew him by this time, and knew he wouldn’t.

"Oh, I beg your pardon," Mr. Toots would say, as if a thought had suddenly descended on him. "Is the young woman at home?"

The man would rather think she was, but wouldn’t quite know. Then he would ring a bell that rang upstairs, and would look up the staircase, and would say, yes, she was at home, and was coming down. Then Miss Nipper would appear, and the man would retire.

"Oh! How de do?" Mr. Toots would say, with a chuckle and a blush.

Susan would thank him, and say she was very well.

"How’s Diogenes going on?" would be Mr. Toots’s second interrogation.