I HAD led this life about a month, when the man with the wooden leg began to stump about with a mop and a bucket of water, from which I inferred that preparations were making to receive Mr. Creakle and the boys. I was not mistaken; for the mop came into the schoolroom before long, and turned out Mr. Mell and me, who lived where we could, and got on how we could, for some days, during which we were always in the way of two or three young women, who had rarely shown themselves before, and were so continually in the midst of dust that I sneezed almost as much as if Salem House had been a great snuff-box.
One day I was informed by Mr. Mell that Mr. Creakle would be home that evening. In the evening, after tea, I heard that he was come. Before bedtime, I was fetched by the man with the wooden leg to appear before him.
Mr. Creakle’s part of the house was a good deal more comfortable than ours, and he had a snug bit of garden that looked pleasant after the dusty playground, which was such a desert in miniature, that I thought no one but a camel, or a dromedary, could have felt at home in it. It seemed to me a bold thing even to take notice that the passage looked comfortable, as I went on my way, trembling, to Mr. Creakle’s presence: which so abashed me, when I was ushered into it, that I hardly saw Mrs. Creakle or Miss Creakle (who were both there, in the parlour), or anything but Mr. Creakle, a stout gentleman with a bunch of watch-chain and seals, in an arm-chair, with a tumbler and bottle beside him.
‘So!’ said Mr. Creakle. ‘This is the young gentleman whose teeth are to be filed! Turn him round.’
The wooden-legged man turned me about so as to exhibit the placard; and having afforded time for a full survey of it, turned me about again, with my face to Mr. Creakle, and posted himself at Mr. Creakle’s side. Mr. Creakle’s face was fiery, and his eyes were small, and deep in his head;
he had thick veins in his forehead, a little nose, and a large chin. He was bald on the top of his head; and had some thin wet-looking hair that was just turning grey, brushed across each temple, so that the two sides interlaced on his forehead. But the circumstance about him which impressed me most, was, that he had no voice, but spoke in a whisper. The exertion this cost him, or the consciousness of talking in that feeble way, made his angry face so much more angry, and his thick veins so much thicker, when he spoke, that I am not surprised, on looking back, at this peculiarity striking me as his chief one. ‘Now,’ said Mr. Creakle. ‘What’s the report of this boy?’
‘There’s nothing against him yet,’ returned the man with the wooden leg. ‘There has been no opportunity.’
I thought Mr. Creakle was disappointed. I thought Mrs. and Miss Creakle (at whom I now glanced for the first time, and who were, both, thin and quiet) were not disappointed.
‘Come here, sir!’ said Mr. Creakle, beckoning to me.
‘Come here!’ said the man with the wooden leg, repeating the gesture.
‘I have the happiness of knowing your father-in-law,’ whispered Mr. Creakle, taking me by the ear; ‘and a worthy man he is, and a man of a strong character. He knows me, and I know him. Do YOU know me? Hey?’ said Mr. Creakle, pinching my ear with ferocious playfulness.
‘Not yet, sir,’ I said, flinching with the pain.
‘Not yet? Hey?’ repeated Mr. Creakle. ‘But you will soon. Hey?’
‘You will soon. Hey?’ repeated the man with the wooden leg. I afterwards found that he generally acted, with his strong voice, as Mr. Creakle’s interpreter to the boys.