But Mr Tappertit being, like some other great commanders, favourable to strong effects, and personal display, cried 'Forward!' again, in the hoarsest voice he could assume; and led the way, with folded arms and knitted brows, to the cellar down below, where there was a small copper fixed in one corner, a chair or two, a form and table, a glimmering fire, and a truckle-bed, covered with a ragged patchwork rug.
'Welcome, noble captain!' cried a lanky figure, rising as from a nap.
The captain nodded. Then, throwing off his outer coat, he stood composed in all his dignity, and eyed his follower over.
'What news to-night?' he asked, when he had looked into his very soul.
'Nothing particular,' replied the other, stretching himself--and he was so long already that it was quite alarming to see him do it-- 'how come you to be so late?'
'No matter,' was all the captain deigned to say in answer. 'Is the room prepared?'
'It is,' replied the follower.
'The comrade--is he here?'
'Yes. And a sprinkling of the others--you hear 'em?'
'Playing skittles!' said the captain moodily. 'Light-hearted revellers!'
There was no doubt respecting the particular amusement in which these heedless spirits were indulging, for even in the close and stifling atmosphere of the vault, the noise sounded like distant thunder. It certainly appeared, at first sight, a singular spot to choose, for that or any other purpose of relaxation, if the other cellars answered to the one in which this brief colloquy took place; for the floors were of sodden earth, the walls and roof of damp bare brick tapestried with the tracks of snails and slugs; the air was sickening, tainted, and offensive. It seemed, from one strong flavour which was uppermost among the various odours of the place, that it had, at no very distant period, been used as a storehouse for cheeses; a circumstance which, while it accounted for the greasy moisture that hung about it, was agreeably suggestive of rats. It was naturally damp besides, and little trees of fungus sprung from every mouldering corner.
The proprietor of this charming retreat, and owner of the ragged head before mentioned--for he wore an old tie-wig as bare and frowzy as a stunted hearth-broom--had by this time joined them; and stood a little apart, rubbing his hands, wagging his hoary bristled chin, and smiling in silence. His eyes were closed; but had they been wide open, it would have been easy to tell, from the attentive expression of the face he turned towards them--pale and unwholesome as might be expected in one of his underground existence--and from a certain anxious raising and quivering of the lids, that he was blind.
'Even Stagg hath been asleep,' said the long comrade, nodding towards this person.
'Sound, captain, sound!' cried the blind man; 'what does my noble captain drink--is it brandy, rum, usquebaugh? Is it soaked gunpowder, or blazing oil? Give it a name, heart of oak, and we'd get it for you, if it was wine from a bishop's cellar, or melted gold from King George's mint.'
'See,' said Mr Tappertit haughtily, 'that it's something strong, and comes quick; and so long as you take care of that, you may bring it from the devil's cellar, if you like.'
'Boldly said, noble captain!' rejoined the blind man. 'Spoken like the 'Prentices' Glory. Ha, ha! From the devil's cellar! A brave joke! The captain joketh. Ha, ha, ha!'
'I'll tell you what, my fine feller,' said Mr Tappertit, eyeing the host over as he walked to a closet, and took out a bottle and glass as carelessly as if he had been in full possession of his sight, 'if you make that row, you'll find that the captain's very far from joking, and so I tell you.'
'He's got his eyes on me!' cried Stagg, stopping short on his way back, and affecting to screen his face with the bottle. 'I feel 'em though I can't see 'em. Take 'em off, noble captain. Remove 'em, for they pierce like gimlets.'
Mr Tappertit smiled grimly at his comrade; and twisting out one more look--a kind of ocular screw--under the influence of which the blind man feigned to undergo great anguish and torture, bade him, in a softened tone, approach, and hold his peace.