In a corner of the seat, was a very small deal trunk, tied round with a scanty piece of cord; and on the trunk was perched--his lace-up half-boots and corduroy trousers dangling in the air--a diminutive boy, with his shoulders drawn up to his ears, and his hands planted on his knees, who glanced timidly at the schoolmaster, from time to time, with evident dread and apprehension.
'Half-past three,' muttered Mr Squeers, turning from the window, and looking sulkily at the coffee-room clock. 'There will be nobody here today.'
Much vexed by this reflection, Mr Squeers looked at the little boy to see whether he was doing anything he could beat him for. As he happened not to be doing anything at all, he merely boxed his ears, and told him not to do it again.
'At Midsummer,' muttered Mr Squeers, resuming his complaint, 'I took down ten boys; ten twenties is two hundred pound. I go back at eight o'clock tomorrow morning, and have got only three--three oughts is an ought--three twos is six--sixty pound. What's come of all the boys? what's parents got in their heads? what does it all mean?'
Here the little boy on the top of the trunk gave a violent sneeze.
'Halloa, sir!' growled the schoolmaster, turning round. 'What's that, sir?'
'Nothing, please sir,' replied the little boy.
'Nothing, sir!' exclaimed Mr Squeers.
'Please sir, I sneezed,' rejoined the boy, trembling till the little trunk shook under him.
'Oh! sneezed, did you?' retorted Mr Squeers. 'Then what did you say "nothing" for, sir?'
In default of a better answer to this question, the little boy screwed a couple of knuckles into each of his eyes and began to cry, wherefore Mr Squeers knocked him off the trunk with a blow on one side of the face, and knocked him on again with a blow on the other.
'Wait till I get you down into Yorkshire, my young gentleman,' said Mr Squeers, 'and then I'll give you the rest. Will you hold that noise, sir?'
'Ye--ye--yes,' sobbed the little boy, rubbing his face very hard with the Beggar's Petition in printed calico.
'Then do so at once, sir,' said Squeers. 'Do you hear?'
As this admonition was accompanied with a threatening gesture, and uttered with a savage aspect, the little boy rubbed his face harder, as if to keep the tears back; and, beyond alternately sniffing and choking, gave no further vent to his emotions.
'Mr Squeers,' said the waiter, looking in at this juncture; 'here's a gentleman asking for you at the bar.'
'Show the gentleman in, Richard,' replied Mr Squeers, in a soft voice. 'Put your handkerchief in your pocket, you little scoundrel, or I'll murder you when the gentleman goes.'
The schoolmaster had scarcely uttered these words in a fierce whisper, when the stranger entered. Affecting not to see him, Mr Squeers feigned to be intent upon mending a pen, and offering benevolent advice to his youthful pupil.
'My dear child,' said Mr Squeers, 'all people have their trials. This early trial of yours that is fit to make your little heart burst, and your very eyes come out of your head with crying, what is it? Nothing; less than nothing. You are leaving your friends, but you will have a father in me, my dear, and a mother in Mrs Squeers. At the delightful village of Dotheboys, near Greta Bridge in Yorkshire, where youth are boarded, clothed, booked, washed, furnished with pocket-money, provided with all necessaries--'
'It IS the gentleman,' observed the stranger, stopping the schoolmaster in the rehearsal of his advertisement. 'Mr Squeers, I believe, sir?'
'The same, sir,' said Mr Squeers, with an assumption of extreme surprise.
'The gentleman,' said the stranger, 'that advertised in the Times newspaper?'
'--Morning Post, Chronicle, Herald, and Advertiser, regarding the Academy called Dotheboys Hall at the delightful village of Dotheboys, near Greta Bridge in Yorkshire,' added Mr Squeers. 'You come on business, sir. I see by my young friends. How do you do, my little gentleman? and how do you do, sir?' With this salutation Mr Squeers patted the heads of two hollow-eyed, small-boned little boys, whom the applicant had brought with him, and waited for further communications.