After this affair, I adhered steadily to my business, and profiting by the advice given me by that young person, improved rapidly in my profession, as well as in general knowledge; but my thoughts, as usual, were upon one subject—my parentage, and the mystery hanging over it. My eternal reveries became at last so painful, that I had recourse to reading to drive them away, and subscribing to a good circulating library, I was seldom without a book in my hand. By this time I had been nearly two years and a half with Mr Cophagus, when an adventure occurred which I must attempt to describe with all the dignity with which it ought to be invested.
This is a world of ambition, competition, and rivalry. Nation rivals nation, and flies to arms, cutting the throats of a few thousands on each side till one finds that it has the worst of it. Man rivals man, and hence detraction, duels, and individual death. Woman rivals woman, and hence loss of reputation and position in high, and loss of hair, and fighting with pattens in low, life. Are we then to be surprised that this universal passion, undeterred by the smell of drugs and poisonous compounds, should enter into apothecaries’ shops? But two streets—two very short streets from our own—was situated the single-fronted shop of Mr Ebenezer Pleggit. Thank heaven, it was only single-fronted; there, at least, we had the ascendancy over them. Upon other points, our advantages were more equally balanced. Mr Pleggit had two large coloured bottles in his windows more than we had; but then we had two horses, and he had only one. He tied over the corks of his bottles with red-coloured paper; we covered up the lips of our vials with delicate blue. It certainly was the case—for though an enemy, I’ll do him justice—that, after Mr Brookes had left us, Mr Pleggit had two shopmen, and Mr Cophagus only one; but then that one was Mr Japhet Newland; besides, one of his assistants had only one eye, and the other squinted horribly, so if we measured by eyes, I think the advantage was actually on our side; and, as far as ornament went, most decidedly; for who would not prefer putting on his chimney-piece one handsome, elegant vase, than two damaged, ill-looking pieces of crockery? Mr Pleggit had certainly a gilt mortar and pestle over his door, which Mr Cophagus had omitted when he furnished his shop; but then the mortar had a great crack down the middle, and the pestle had lost its knob. And let me ask those who have been accustomed to handle it, what is a pestle without a knob? On the whole, I think, with the advantage of having two fronts, like Janus, we certainly had the best of the comparison; but I shall leave the impartial to decide.
All I can say is, that the feuds of the rival houses were most bitter—the hate intense—the mutual scorn unmeasurable. Did Mr Ebenezer Pleggit meet Mr Phineas Cophagus in the street, the former immediately began to spit as if he had swallowed some of his own vile adulterated drugs; and in rejoinder, Mr Cophagus immediately raised the cane from his nose high above his forehead in so threatening an attitude as almost to warrant the other swearing the peace against him, muttering, “Ugly puppy—knows nothing—um—patients die—and so on.”