'You are always so, Twenty Seven,' said Mr. Creakle.
Here, another gentleman asked, with extreme anxiety: 'Are you quite comfortable?'
'Yes, I thank you, sir!' said Uriah Heep, looking in that direction. 'Far more comfortable here, than ever I was outside. I see my follies, now, sir. That's what makes me comfortable.'
Several gentlemen were much affected; and a third questioner, forcing himself to the front, inquired with extreme feeling: 'How do you find the beef?'
'Thank you, sir,' replied Uriah, glancing in the new direction of this voice, 'it was tougher yesterday than I could wish; but it's my duty to bear. I have committed follies, gentlemen,' said Uriah, looking round with a meek smile, 'and I ought to bear the consequences without repining.' A murmur, partly of gratification at Twenty Seven's celestial state of mind, and partly of indignation against the Contractor who had given him any cause of complaint (a note of which was immediately made by Mr. Creakle), having subsided, Twenty Seven stood in the midst of us, as if he felt himself the principal object of merit in a highly meritorious museum. That we, the neophytes, might have an excess of light shining upon us all at once, orders were given to let out Twenty Eight.
I had been so much astonished already, that I only felt a kind of resigned wonder when Mr. Littimer walked forth, reading a good book!
'Twenty Eight,' said a gentleman in spectacles, who had not yet spoken, 'you complained last week, my good fellow, of the cocoa. How has it been since?'
'I thank you, sir,' said Mr. Littimer, 'it has been better made. If I might take the liberty of saying so, sir, I don't think the milk which is boiled with it is quite genuine; but I am aware, sir, that there is a great adulteration of milk, in London, and that the article in a pure state is difficult to be obtained.'
It appeared to me that the gentleman in spectacles backed his Twenty Eight against Mr. Creakle's Twenty Seven, for each of them took his own man in hand.
'What is your state of mind, Twenty Eight?' said the questioner in spectacles.
'I thank you, sir,' returned Mr. Littimer; 'I see my follies now, sir. I am a good deal troubled when I think of the sins of my former companions, sir; but I trust they may find forgiveness.'
'You are quite happy yourself?' said the questioner, nodding encouragement.
'I am much obliged to you, sir,' returned Mr. Littimer. 'Perfectly so.'
'Is there anything at all on your mind now?' said the questioner. 'If so, mention it, Twenty Eight.'
'Sir,' said Mr. Littimer, without looking up, 'if my eyes have not deceived me, there is a gentleman present who was acquainted with me in my former life. It may be profitable to that gentleman to know, sir, that I attribute my past follies, entirely to having lived a thoughtless life in the service of young men; and to having allowed myself to be led by them into weaknesses, which I had not the strength to resist. I hope that gentleman will take warning, sir, and will not be offended at my freedom. It is for his good. I am conscious of my own past follies. I hope he may repent of all the wickedness and sin to which he has been a party.'
I observed that several gentlemen were shading their eyes, each with one hand, as if they had just come into church.
'This does you credit, Twenty Eight,' returned the questioner. 'I should have expected it of you. Is there anything else?'
'Sir,' returned Mr. Littimer, slightly lifting up his eyebrows, but not his eyes, 'there was a young woman who fell into dissolute courses, that I endeavoured to save, sir, but could not rescue. I beg that gentleman, if he has it in his power, to inform that young woman from me that I forgive her her bad conduct towards myself, and that I call her to repentance — if he will be so good.'
'I have no doubt, Twenty Eight,' returned the questioner, 'that the gentleman you refer to feels very strongly — as we all must — what you have so properly said. We will not detain you.'
'I thank you, sir,' said Mr. Littimer. 'Gentlemen, I wish you a good day, and hoping you and your families will also see your wickedness, and amend!'
With this, Number Twenty Eight retired, after a glance between him and Uriah; as if they were not altogether unknown to each other, through some medium of communication; and a murmur went round the group, as his door shut upon him, that he was a most respectable man, and a beautiful case.
'Now, Twenty Seven,' said Mr. Creakle, entering on a clear stage with his man, 'is there anything that anyone can do for you? If so, mention it.'
'I would umbly ask, sir,' returned Uriah, with a jerk of his malevolent head, 'for leave to write again to mother.'