'I am in the oil and colour way. My name is Snawley, sir,' said the stranger.
Squeers inclined his head as much as to say, 'And a remarkably pretty name, too.'
The stranger continued. 'I have been thinking, Mr Squeers, of placing my two boys at your school.'
'It is not for me to say so, sir,' replied Mr Squeers, 'but I don't think you could possibly do a better thing.'
'Hem!' said the other. 'Twenty pounds per annewum, I believe, Mr Squeers?'
'Guineas,' rejoined the schoolmaster, with a persuasive smile.
'Pounds for two, I think, Mr Squeers,' said Mr Snawley, solemnly.
'I don't think it could be done, sir,' replied Squeers, as if he had never considered the proposition before. 'Let me see; four fives is twenty, double that, and deduct the--well, a pound either way shall not stand betwixt us. You must recommend me to your connection, sir, and make it up that way.'
'They are not great eaters,' said Mr Snawley.
'Oh! that doesn't matter at all,' replied Squeers. 'We don't consider the boys' appetites at our establishment.' This was strictly true; they did not.
'Every wholesome luxury, sir, that Yorkshire can afford,' continued Squeers; 'every beautiful moral that Mrs Squeers can instil; every-- in short, every comfort of a home that a boy could wish for, will be theirs, Mr Snawley.'
'I should wish their morals to be particularly attended to,' said Mr Snawley.
'I am glad of that, sir,' replied the schoolmaster, drawing himself up. 'They have come to the right shop for morals, sir.'
'You are a moral man yourself,' said Mr Snawley.
'I rather believe I am, sir,' replied Squeers.
'I have the satisfaction to know you are, sir,' said Mr Snawley. 'I asked one of your references, and he said you were pious.'
'Well, sir, I hope I am a little in that line,' replied Squeers.
'I hope I am also,' rejoined the other. 'Could I say a few words with you in the next box?'
'By all means,' rejoined Squeers with a grin. 'My dears, will you speak to your new playfellow a minute or two? That is one of my boys, sir. Belling his name is,--a Taunton boy that, sir.'
'Is he, indeed?' rejoined Mr Snawley, looking at the poor little urchin as if he were some extraordinary natural curiosity.
'He goes down with me tomorrow, sir,' said Squeers. 'That's his luggage that he is a sitting upon now. Each boy is required to bring, sir, two suits of clothes, six shirts, six pair of stockings, two nightcaps, two pocket-handkerchiefs, two pair of shoes, two hats, and a razor.'
'A razor!' exclaimed Mr Snawley, as they walked into the next box. 'What for?'
'To shave with,' replied Squeers, in a slow and measured tone.
There was not much in these three words, but there must have been something in the manner in which they were said, to attract attention; for the schoolmaster and his companion looked steadily at each other for a few seconds, and then exchanged a very meaning smile. Snawley was a sleek, flat-nosed man, clad in sombre garments, and long black gaiters, and bearing in his countenance an expression of much mortification and sanctity; so, his smiling without any obvious reason was the more remarkable.
'Up to what age do you keep boys at your school then?' he asked at length.
'Just as long as their friends make the quarterly payments to my agent in town, or until such time as they run away,' replied Squeers. 'Let us understand each other; I see we may safely do so. What are these boys;--natural children?'
'No,' rejoined Snawley, meeting the gaze of the schoolmaster's one eye. 'They ain't.'
'I thought they might be,' said Squeers, coolly. 'We have a good many of them; that boy's one.'
'Him in the next box?' said Snawley.
Squeers nodded in the affirmative; his companion took another peep at the little boy on the trunk, and, turning round again, looked as if he were quite disappointed to see him so much like other boys, and said he should hardly have thought it.
'He is,' cried Squeers. 'But about these boys of yours; you wanted to speak to me?'
'Yes,' replied Snawley.