Bleak House By Charles Dickens Chapters 20-21 - A New Lodger & The Smallweed Family

Judy never owned a doll, never heard of Cinderella, never played at any game. She once or twice fell into children's company when she was about ten years old, but the children couldn't get on with Judy, and Judy couldn't get on with them. She seemed like an animal of another species, and there was instinctive repugnance on both sides. It is very doubtful whether Judy knows how to laugh. She has so rarely seen the thing done that the probabilities are strong the other way. Of anything like a youthful laugh, she certainly can have no conception. If she were to try one, she would find her teeth in her way, modelling that action of her face, as she has unconsciously modelled all its other expressions, on her pattern of sordid age. Such is Judy.

And her twin brother couldn't wind up a top for his life. He knows no more of Jack the Giant Killer or of Sinbad the Sailor than he knows of the people in the stars. He could as soon play at leap- frog or at cricket as change into a cricket or a frog himself. But he is so much the better off than his sister that on his narrow world of fact an opening has dawned into such broader regions as lie within the ken of Mr. Guppy. Hence his admiration and his emulation of that shining enchanter.

Judy, with a gong-like clash and clatter, sets one of the sheet- iron tea-trays on the table and arranges cups and saucers. The bread she puts on in an iron basket, and the butter (and not much of it) in a small pewter plate. Grandfather Smallweed looks hard after the tea as it is served out and asks Judy where the girl is.

"Charley, do you mean?" says Judy.

"Hey?" from Grandfather Smallweed.

"Charley, do you mean?"

This touches a spring in Grandmother Smallweed, who, chuckling as usual at the trivets, cries, "Over the water! Charley over the water, Charley over the water, over the water to Charley, Charley over the water, over the water to Charley!" and becomes quite energetic about it. Grandfather looks at the cushion but has not sufficiently recovered his late exertion.

"Ha!" he says when there is silence. "If that's her name. She eats a deal. It would be better to allow her for her keep."

Judy, with her brother's wink, shakes her head and purses up her mouth into no without saying it.

"No?" returns the old man. "Why not?"

"She'd want sixpence a day, and we can do it for less," says Judy.


Judy answers with a nod of deepest meaning and calls, as she scrapes the butter on the loaf with every precaution against waste and cuts it into slices, "You, Charley, where are you?" Timidly obedient to the summons, a little girl in a rough apron and a large bonnet, with her hands covered with soap and water and a scrubbing brush in one of them, appears, and curtsys.

"What work are you about now?" says Judy, making an ancient snap at her like a very sharp old beldame.

"I'm a-cleaning the upstairs back room, miss," replies Charley.

"Mind you do it thoroughly, and don't loiter. Shirking won't do for me. Make haste! Go along!" cries Judy with a stamp upon the ground. "You girls are more trouble than you're worth, by half."

On this severe matron, as she returns to her task of scraping the butter and cutting the bread, falls the shadow of her brother, looking in at the window. For whom, knife and loaf in hand, she opens the street-door.

"Aye, aye, Bart!" says Grandfather Smallweed. "Here you are, hey?"

"Here I am," says Bart.

"Been along with your friend again, Bart?"

Small nods.

"Dining at his expense, Bart?"

Small nods again.

"That's right. Live at his expense as much as you can, and take warning by his foolish example. That's the use of such a friend. The only use you can put him to," says the venerable sage.

His grandson, without receiving this good counsel as dutifully as he might, honours it with all such acceptance as may lie in a slight wink and a nod and takes a chair at the tea-table. The four old faces then hover over teacups like a company of ghastly cherubim, Mrs. Smallweed perpetually twitching her head and chattering at the trivets and Mr. Smallweed requiring to be repeatedly shaken up like a large black draught.

"Yes, yes," says the good old gentleman, reverting to his lesson of wisdom. "That's such advice as your father would have given you, Bart. You never saw your father. More's the pity. He was my true son." Whether it is intended to be conveyed that he was particularly pleasant to look at, on that account, does not appear.

"He was my true son," repeats the old gentleman, folding his bread and butter on his knee, "a good accountant, and died fifteen years ago."

Mrs. Smallweed, following her usual instinct, breaks out with "Fifteen hundred pound. Fifteen hundred pound in a black box, fifteen hundred pound locked up, fifteen hundred pound put away and hid!" Her worthy husband, setting aside his bread and butter, immediately discharges the cushion at her, crushes her against the side of her chair, and falls back in his own, overpowered. His appearance, after visiting Mrs. Smallweed with one of these admonitions, is particularly impressive and not wholly prepossessing, firstly because the exertion generally twists his black skull-cap over one eye and gives him an air of goblin rakishness, secondly because he mutters violent imprecations against Mrs. Smallweed, and thirdly because the contrast between those powerful expressions and his powerless figure is suggestive of a baleful old malignant who would be very wicked if he could. All this, however, is so common in the Smallweed family circle that it produces no impression. The old gentleman is merely shaken and has his internal feathers beaten up, the cushion is restored to its usual place beside him, and the old lady, perhaps with her cap adjusted and perhaps not, is planted in her chair again, ready to be bowled down like a ninepin.

Some time elapses in the present instance before the old gentleman is sufficiently cool to resume his discourse, and even then he mixes it up with several edifying expletives addressed to the unconscious partner of his bosom, who holds communication with nothing on earth but the trivets. As thus: "If your father, Bart, had lived longer, he might have been worth a deal of money — you brimstone chatterer! — but just as he was beginning to build up the house that he had been making the foundations for, through many a year — you jade of a magpie, jackdaw, and poll-parrot, what do you mean! — he took ill and died of a low fever, always being a sparing and a spare man, full of business care — I should like to throw a cat at you instead of a cushion, and I will too if you make such a confounded fool of yourself! — and your mother, who was a prudent woman as dry as a chip, just dwindled away like touchwood after you and Judy were born — you are an old pig. You are a brimstone pig. You're a head of swine!"

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