‘Well, who are you?’ snapped Slivers, crossly, after waiting a reasonable time for an answer and getting none.
‘I’m his landlady,’ retorted the other, with a defiant snort. ‘Matilda Cheedle is my name, and I don’t care who knows it.’
‘It’s not a pretty name,’ snarled Slivers, prodding the ground with his wooden leg, as he always did when angry. ’Neither are you. What do you mean by banging into my office like an insane giraffe?’—this in allusion to Mrs Cheedle’s height.
‘Oh, go on! go on!’ said that lady defiantly; ’I’ve heard it all before; I’m used to it; but here I sit until you tell me where my lodger is;’ and suiting the action to the word, Mrs Cheedle sat down in a chair with such a bang that Billy gave a screech of alarm and said, ‘Pickles!’
‘Pickles, you little bag of bones!’ cried Mrs Cheedle, who thought that the word had proceeded from Slivers, ’don’t you call me “Pickles”—but I’m used to it. I’m a lonely woman since Cheedle went to the cemetery, and I’m always being insulted. Oh, my nerves are shattered under such treatment’—this last because she saw the whisky bottle on the table, and thought she might get some.
Slivers took the hint, and filling a glass with whisky and water passed it to her, and Mrs Cheedle, with many protestations that she never touched spirits, drank it to the last drop.
‘Was Villiers always in the habit of coming home?’ he asked.
‘Always,’ replied Mrs Cheedle; ’he’s bin with me eighteen months and never stopped out one night; if he had,’ grimly, ’I’d have known the reason of his rampagin’.’
‘Strange,’ said Slivers, thoughtfully, fixing Mrs Cheedle with his one eye; ‘when did you see him last?’
‘About three o’clock yesterday,’ said Mrs Cheedle, looking sadly at a hole in one of her cotton gloves; ’his conduct was most extraordinary; he came home at that unusual hour, changed his linen clothes for a dark suit, and, after he had eaten something, put on another hat, and walked off with a stick under his arm.’
‘And you’ve never seen him since?’
‘Not a blessed sight of him,’ replied Mrs Cheedle; ’you don’t think any harm’s come to him, sir? Not as I care much for him—the drunken wretch—but still he’s a lodger and owes me rent, so I don’t know but what he might be off to Melbourne without paying, and leaving his boxes full of bricks behind.’
‘I’ll have a look round, and if I see him I’ll send him home,’ said Slivers, rising to intimate the interview was at end.
‘Very well, mind you do,’ said the widow, rising and putting the empty glass on the table, ’send him home at once and I’ll speak to him. And perhaps,’ with a bashful glance, ’you wouldn’t mind seeing me up the street a short way, as I’m alone and unprotected.’
‘Stuff!’ retorted Slivers, ungraciously, ’there’s plenty of light, and you are big enough to look after yourself.’
At this Mrs Cheedle snorted loudly like a war-horse, and flounced out of the office in a rage, after informing Slivers in a loud voice that he was a selfish, cork-eyed little viper, from which confusion of words it will easily be seen that the whisky had taken effect on the good lady.