Having gone over these several heads with great eloquence and force, and having further informed the novice that this society had its origin in his own teeming brain, stimulated by a swelling sense of wrong and outrage, Mr Tappertit demanded whether he had strength of heart to take the mighty pledge required, or whether he would withdraw while retreat was yet in his power.
To this the novice made rejoinder, that he would take the vow, though it should choke him; and it was accordingly administered with many impressive circumstances, among which the lighting up of the two skulls with a candle-end inside of each, and a great many flourishes with the bone, were chiefly conspicuous; not to mention a variety of grave exercises with the blunderbuss and sabre, and some dismal groaning by unseen 'prentices without. All these dark and direful ceremonies being at length completed, the table was put aside, the chair of state removed, the sceptre locked up in its usual cupboard, the doors of communication between the three cellars thrown freely open, and the 'Prentice Knights resigned themselves to merriment.
But Mr Tappertit, who had a soul above the vulgar herd, and who, on account of his greatness, could only afford to be merry now and then, threw himself on a bench with the air of a man who was faint with dignity. He looked with an indifferent eye, alike on skittles, cards, and dice, thinking only of the locksmith's daughter, and the base degenerate days on which he had fallen.
'My noble captain neither games, nor sings, nor dances,' said his host, taking a seat beside him. 'Drink, gallant general!'
Mr Tappertit drained the proffered goblet to the dregs; then thrust his hands into his pockets, and with a lowering visage walked among the skittles, while his followers (such is the influence of superior genius) restrained the ardent ball, and held his little shins in dumb respect.
'If I had been born a corsair or a pirate, a brigand, genteel highwayman or patriot--and they're the same thing,' thought Mr Tappertit, musing among the nine-pins, 'I should have been all right. But to drag out a ignoble existence unbeknown to mankind in general--patience! I will be famous yet. A voice within me keeps on whispering Greatness. I shall burst out one of these days, and when I do, what power can keep me down? I feel my soul getting into my head at the idea. More drink there!'
'The novice,' pursued Mr Tappertit, not exactly in a voice of thunder, for his tones, to say the truth were rather cracked and shrill--but very impressively, notwithstanding--'where is he?'
'Here, noble captain!' cried Stagg. 'One stands beside me who I feel is a stranger.'
'Have you,' said Mr Tappertit, letting his gaze fall on the party indicated, who was indeed the new knight, by this time restored to his own apparel; 'Have you the impression of your street-door key in wax?'
The long comrade anticipated the reply, by producing it from the shelf on which it had been deposited.
'Good,' said Mr Tappertit, scrutinising it attentively, while a breathless silence reigned around; for he had constructed secret door-keys for the whole society, and perhaps owed something of his influence to that mean and trivial circumstance--on such slight accidents do even men of mind depend!--'This is easily made. Come hither, friend.'
With that, he beckoned the new knight apart, and putting the pattern in his pocket, motioned to him to walk by his side.
'And so,' he said, when they had taken a few turns up and down, you--you love your master's daughter?'
'I do,' said the 'prentice. 'Honour bright. No chaff, you know.'
'Have you,' rejoined Mr Tappertit, catching him by the wrist, and giving him a look which would have been expressive of the most deadly malevolence, but for an accidental hiccup that rather interfered with it; 'have you a--a rival?'
'Not as I know on,' replied the 'prentice.
'If you had now--' said Mr Tappertit--'what would you--eh?--'
The 'prentice looked fierce and clenched his fists.