Chapter 30

by Charles Dickens

At length the play came to an end, and Mr Isaac List rose the only winner. Mat and the landlord bore their losses with professional fortitude. Isaac pocketed his gains with the air of a man who had quite made up his mind to win, all along, and was neither surprised nor pleased.

Nell’s little purse was exhausted; but although it lay empty by his side, and the other players had now risen from the table, the old man sat poring over the cards, dealing them as they had been dealt before, and turning up the different hands to see what each man would have held if they had still been playing. He was quite absorbed in this occupation, when the child drew near and laid her hand upon his shoulder, telling him it was near midnight.

‘See the curse of poverty, Nell,’ he said, pointing to the packs he had spread out upon the table. ‘If I could have gone on a little longer, only a little longer, the luck would have turned on my side. Yes, it’s as plain as the marks upon the cards. See here—and there—and here again.’

‘Put them away,’ urged the child. ‘Try to forget them.’

‘Try to forget them!’ he rejoined, raising his haggard face to hers, and regarding her with an incredulous stare. ‘To forget them! How are we ever to grow rich if I forget them?’

The child could only shake her head.

‘No, no, Nell,’ said the old man, patting her cheek; ‘they must not be forgotten. We must make amends for this as soon as we can. Patience—patience, and we’ll right thee yet, I promise thee. Lose to-day, win to-morrow. And nothing can be won without anxiety and care—nothing. Come, I am ready.’

‘Do you know what the time is?’ said Mr Groves, who was smoking with his friends. ‘Past twelve o’clock—’

‘—And a rainy night,’ added the stout man.

‘The Valiant Soldier, by James Groves. Good beds. Cheap entertainment for man and beast,’ said Mr Groves, quoting his sign-board. ‘Half-past twelve o’clock.’

‘It’s very late,’ said the uneasy child. ‘I wish we had gone before. What will they think of us! It will be two o’clock by the time we get back. What would it cost, sir, if we stopped here?’

‘Two good beds, one-and-sixpence; supper and beer one shilling; total two shillings and sixpence,’ replied the Valiant Soldier.

Now, Nell had still the piece of gold sewn in her dress; and when she came to consider the lateness of the hour, and the somnolent habits of Mrs Jarley, and to imagine the state of consternation in which they would certainly throw that good lady by knocking her up in the middle of the night—and when she reflected, on the other hand, that if they remained where they were, and rose early in the morning, they might get back before she awoke, and could plead the violence of the storm by which they had been overtaken, as a good apology for their absence—she decided, after a great deal of hesitation, to remain. She therefore took her grandfather aside, and telling him that she had still enough left to defray the cost of their lodging, proposed that they should stay there for the night.

‘If I had had but that money before—If I had only known of it a few minutes ago!’ muttered the old man.

‘We will decide to stop here if you please,’ said Nell, turning hastily to the landlord.

‘I think that’s prudent,’ returned Mr Groves. ‘You shall have your suppers directly.’

Accordingly, when Mr Groves had smoked his pipe out, knocked out the ashes, and placed it carefully in a corner of the fire-place, with the bowl downwards, he brought in the bread and cheese, and beer, with many high encomiums upon their excellence, and bade his guests fall to, and make themselves at home. Nell and her grandfather ate sparingly, for both were occupied with their own reflections; the other gentlemen, for whose constitutions beer was too weak and tame a liquid, consoled themselves with spirits and tobacco.

As they would leave the house very early in the morning, the child was anxious to pay for their entertainment before they retired to bed. But as she felt the necessity of concealing her little hoard from her grandfather, and had to change the piece of gold, she took it secretly from its place of concealment, and embraced an opportunity of following the landlord when he went out of the room, and tendered it to him in the little bar.

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