HomeCharles DickensThe Battle of Life

The Battle of Life. Charles Dickens

′I haven′t been, I hope, a very unjust steward in the execution of my trust,′ pursued the Doctor; ′but I am to be, at any rate, formally discharged, and released, and what not this morning; and here are our good friends Snitchey and Craggs, with a bagful of papers, and accounts, and documents, for the transfer of the balance of the trust fund to you (I wish it was a more difficult one to dispose of, Alfred, but you must get to be a great man and make it so), and other drolleries of that sort, which are to be signed, sealed, and delivered.′

′And duly witnessed as by law required,′ said Snitchey, pushing away his plate, and taking out the papers, which his partner proceeded to spread upon the table; ′and Self and Crags having been co-trustees with you, Doctor, in so far as the fund was concerned, we shall want your two servants to attest the signatures - can you read, Mrs. Newcome?′

′I an′t married, Mister,′ said Clemency.

′Oh! I beg your pardon. I should think not,′ chuckled Snitchey, casting his eyes over her extraordinary figure. ′You CAN read?′

′A little,′ answered Clemency.

′The marriage service, night and morning, eh?′ observed the lawyer, jocosely.

′No,′ said Clemency. ′Too hard. I only reads a thimble.′

′Read a thimble!′ echoed Snitchey. ′What are you talking about, young woman?′

Clemency nodded. ′And a nutmeg-grater.′

′Why, this is a lunatic! a subject for the Lord High Chancellor!′ said Snitchey, staring at her.

- ′If possessed of any property,′ stipulated Craggs.

Grace, however, interposing, explained that each of the articles in question bore an engraved motto, and so formed the pocket library of Clemency Newcome, who was not much given to the study of books.

′Oh, that′s it, is it, Miss Grace!′ said Snitchey.

′Yes, yes. Ha, ha, ha! I thought our friend was an idiot. She looks uncommonly like it,′ he muttered, with a supercilious glance. ′And what does the thimble say, Mrs. Newcome?′

′I an′t married, Mister,′ observed Clemency.

′Well, Newcome. Will that do?′ said the lawyer. ′What does the thimble say, Newcome?′

How Clemency, before replying to this question, held one pocket open, and looked down into its yawning depths for the thimble which wasn′t there, - and how she then held an opposite pocket open, and seeming to descry it, like a pearl of great price, at the bottom, cleared away such intervening obstacles as a handkerchief, an end of wax candle, a flushed apple, an orange, a lucky penny, a cramp bone, a padlock, a pair of scissors in a sheath more expressively describable as promising young shears, a handful or so of loose beads, several balls of cotton, a needle-case, a cabinet collection of curl-papers, and a biscuit, all of which articles she entrusted individually and separately to Britain to hold, - is of no consequence.

Nor how, in her determination to grasp this pocket by the throat and keep it prisoner (for it had a tendency to swing, and twist itself round the nearest corner), she assumed and calmly maintained, an attitude apparently inconsistent with the human anatomy and the laws of gravity. It is enough that at last she triumphantly produced the thimble on her finger, and rattled the nutmeg-grater: the literature of both those trinkets being obviously in course of wearing out and wasting away, through excessive friction.

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