It matters not what stranded ships repairing in dry docks I lost myself among, what old hulls of ships in course of being knocked to pieces, what ooze and slime and other dregs of tide, what yards of ship-builders and ship-breakers, what rusty anchors blindly biting into the ground though for years off duty, what mountainous country of accumulated casks and timber, how many rope-walks that were not the Old Green Copper. After several times falling short of my destination and as often over-shooting it, I came unexpectedly round a corner, upon Mill Pond Bank. It was a fresh kind of place, all circumstances considered, where the wind from the river had room to turn itself round; and there were two or three trees in it, and there was the stump of a ruined windmill, and there was the Old Green Copper Rope-Walk — whose long and narrow vista I could trace in the moonlight, along a series of wooden frames set in the ground, that looked like superannuated haymaking-rakes which had grown old and lost most of their teeth.
Selecting from the few queer houses upon Mill Pond Bank, a house with a wooden front and three stories of bow-window (not bay-window, which is another thing), I looked at the plate upon the door, and read there, Mrs. Whimple. That being the name I wanted, I knocked, and an elderly woman of a pleasant and thriving appearance responded. She was immediately deposed, however, by Herbert, who silently led me into the parlour and shut the door. It was an odd sensation to see his very familiar face established quite at home in that very unfamiliar room and region; and I found myself looking at him, much as I looked at the corner-cupboard with the glass and china, the shells upon the chimney-piece, and the coloured engravings on the wall, representing the death of Captain Cook, a ship-launch, and his Majesty King George the Third in a state-coachman’s wig, leather-breeches, and top-boots, on the terrace at Windsor.
“All is well, Handel,” said Herbert, “and he is quite satisfied, though eager to see you. My dear girl is with her father; and if you’ll wait till she comes down, I’ll make you known to her, and then we’ll go up-stairs. — That’s her father.”
I had become aware of an alarming growling overhead, and had probably expressed the fact in my countenance.
“I am afraid he is a sad old rascal,” said Herbert, smiling, “but I have never seen him. Don’t you smell rum? He is always at it.”
“At rum?” said I.
“Yes,” returned Herbert, “and you may suppose how mild it makes his gout. He persists, too, in keeping all the provisions upstairs in his room, and serving them out. He keeps them on shelves over his head, and will weigh them all. His room must be like a chandler’s shop.”
While he thus spoke, the growling noise became a prolonged roar, and then died away.
“What else can be the consequence,” said Herbert, in explanation, “if he will cut the cheese? A man with the gout in his right hand — and everywhere else — can’t expect to get through a Double Gloucester without hurting himself.”