Mr Boffin Hears about Misers

Mr Boffin producing a little book from his breast-pocket, he handed it with great care to the literary gentlemen, and inquired, 'What do you call that, Wegg?'

'This, sir,' replied Silas, adjusting his spectacles, and referring to the title-page, 'is Merryweather's Lives and Anecdotes of Misers. Mr Venus, would you make yourself useful and draw the candles a little nearer, sir?' This to have a special opportunity of bestowing a stare upon his comrade.

'Which of 'em have you got in that lot?' asked Mr Boffin. 'Can you find out pretty easy?'

'Well, sir,' replied Silas, turning to the table of contents and slowly fluttering the leaves of the book, 'I should say they must be pretty well all here, sir; here's a large assortment, sir; my eye catches John Overs, sir, John Little, sir, Dick Jarrel, John Elwes, the Reverend Mr Jones of Blewbury, Vulture Hopkins, Daniel Dancer--'

'Give us Dancer, Wegg,' said Mr Boffin.

With another stare at his comrade, Silas sought and found the place.

'Page a hundred and nine, Mr Boffin. Chapter eight. Contents of chapter, "His birth and estate. His garments and outward appearance. Miss Dancer and her feminine graces. The Miser's Mansion. The finding of a treasure. The Story of the Mutton Pies. A Miser's Idea of Death. Bob, the Miser's cur. Griffiths and his Master. How to turn a penny. A substitute for a Fire. The Advantages of keeping a Snuff-box. The Miser dies without a Shirt. The Treasures of a Dunghill--"'

'Eh? What's that?' demanded Mr Boffin.

'"The Treasures," sir,' repeated Silas, reading very distinctly, '"of a Dunghill." Mr Venus, sir, would you obleege with the snuffers?' This, to secure attention to his adding with his lips only, 'Mounds!'

Mr Boffin drew an arm-chair into the space where he stood, and said, seating himself and slyly rubbing his hands:

'Give us Dancer.'

Mr Wegg pursued the biography of that eminent man through its various phases of avarice and dirt, through Miss Dancer's death on a sick regimen of cold dumpling, and through Mr Dancer's keeping his rags together with a hayband, and warming his dinner by sitting upon it, down to the consolatory incident of his dying naked in a sack. After which he read on as follows:

'"The house, or rather the heap of ruins, in which Mr Dancer lived, and which at his death devolved to the right of Captain Holmes, was a most miserable, decayed building, for it had not been repaired for more than half a century."'

(Here Mr Wegg eyes his comrade and the room in which they sat: which had not been repaired for a long time.)

'"But though poor in external structure, the ruinous fabric was very rich in the interior. It took many weeks to explore its whole contents; and Captain Holmes found it a very agreeable task to dive into the miser's secret hoards."'

(Here Mr Wegg repeated 'secret hoards', and pegged his comrade again.)

'"One of Mr Dancer's richest escretoires was found to be a dungheap in the cowhouse; a sum but little short of two thousand five hundred pounds was contained in this rich piece of manure; and in an old jacket, carefully tied, and strongly nailed down to the manger, in bank notes and gold were found five hundred pounds more."'

(Here Mr Wegg's wooden leg started forward under the table, and slowly elevated itself as he read on.)

'"Several bowls were discovered filled with guineas and half-guineas; and at different times on searching the corners of the house they found various parcels of bank notes. Some were crammed into the crevices of the wall"';

(Here Mr Venus looked at the wall.)

'"Bundles were hid under the cushions and covers of the chairs"';

(Here Mr Venus looked under himself on the settle.)

'"Some were reposing snugly at the back of the drawers; and notes amounting to six hundred pounds were found neatly doubled up in the inside of an old teapot. In the stable the Captain found jugs full of old dollars and shillings. The chimney was not left unsearched, and paid very well for the trouble; for in nineteen different holes, all filled with soot, were found various sums of money, amounting together to more than two hundred pounds."'

On the way to this crisis Mr Wegg's wooden leg had gradually elevated itself more and more, and he had nudged Mr Venus with his opposite elbow deeper and deeper, until at length the preservation of his balance became incompatible with the two actions, and he now dropped over sideways upon that gentleman, squeezing him against the settle's edge. Nor did either of the two, for some few seconds, make any effort to recover himself; both remaining in a kind of pecuniary swoon.

But the sight of Mr Boffin sitting in the arm-chair hugging himself, with his eyes upon the fire, acted as a restorative. Counterfeiting a sneeze to cover their movements, Mr Wegg, with a spasmodic 'Tish-ho!' pulled himself and Mr Venus up in a masterly manner.

'Let's have some more,' said Mr Boffin, hungrily.

'John Elwes is the next, sir. Is it your pleasure to take John Elwes?'

'Ah!' said Mr Boffin. 'Let's hear what John did.'

He did not appear to have hidden anything, so went off rather flatly. But an exemplary lady named Wilcocks, who had stowed away gold and silver in a pickle-pot in a clock-case, a canister-full of treasure in a hole under her stairs, and a quantity of money in an old rat-trap, revived the interest. To her succeeded another lady, claiming to be a pauper, whose wealth was found wrapped up in little scraps of paper and old rag. To her, another lady, apple-woman by trade, who had saved a fortune of ten thousand pounds and hidden it 'here and there, in cracks and corners, behind bricks and under the flooring.' To her, a French gentleman, who had crammed up his chimney, rather to the detriment of its drawing powers, 'a leather valise, containing twenty thousand francs, gold coins, and a large quantity of precious stones,' as discovered by a chimneysweep after his death. By these steps Mr Wegg arrived at a concluding instance of the human Magpie:

'Many years ago, there lived at Cambridge a miserly old couple of the name of Jardine: they had two sons: the father was a perfect miser, and at his death one thousand guineas were discovered secreted in his bed. The two sons grew up as parsimonious as their sire. When about twenty years of age, they commenced business at Cambridge as drapers, and they continued there until their death. The establishment of the Messrs Jardine was the most dirty of all the shops in Cambridge. Customers seldom went in to purchase, except perhaps out of curiosity. The brothers were most disreputable-looking beings; for, although surrounded with gay apparel as their staple in trade, they wore the most filthy rags themselves. It is said that they had no bed, and, to save the expense of one, always slept on a bundle of packing-cloths under the counter. In their housekeeping they were penurious in the extreme. A joint of meat did not grace their board for twenty years. Yet when the first of the brothers died, the other, much to his surprise, found large sums of money which had been secreted even from him.'

'There!' cried Mr Boffin. 'Even from him, you see! There was only two of 'em, and yet one of 'em hid from the other.'

Mr Venus, who since his introduction to the French gentleman, had been stooping to peer up the chimney, had his attention recalled by the last sentence, and took the liberty of repeating it.

'Do you like it?' asked Mr Boffin, turning suddenly.

'I beg your pardon, sir?'

'Do you like what Wegg's been a-reading?'

Mr Venus answered that he found it extremely interesting.

'Then come again,' said Mr Boffin, 'and hear some more. Come when you like; come the day after to-morrow, half an hour sooner. There's plenty more; there's no end to it.'

?Charles Dickens, "Our Mutual Friend"