The possibility was soon converted into a certainty; for, on looking about, and walking first to one end of the street and then to the other, he could find no landmark he could recognise, and was fain to turn back again in quest of some place at which he could seek a direction.
It was a by-street, and there was nobody about, or in the few wretched shops they passed. Making towards a faint gleam of light which streamed across the pavement from a cellar, Nicholas was about to descend two or three steps so as to render himself visible to those below and make his inquiry, when he was arrested by a loud noise of scolding in a woman's voice.
'Oh come away!' said Kate, 'they are quarrelling. You'll be hurt.'
'Wait one instant, Kate. Let us hear if there's anything the matter,' returned her brother. 'Hush!'
'You nasty, idle, vicious, good-for-nothing brute,' cried the woman, stamping on the ground, 'why don't you turn the mangle?'
'So I am, my life and soul!' replied the man's voice. 'I am always turning. I am perpetually turning, like a demd old horse in a demnition mill. My life is one demd horrid grind!'
'Then why don't you go and list for a soldier?' retorted the woman; 'you're welcome to.'
'For a soldier!' cried the man. 'For a soldier! Would his joy and gladness see him in a coarse red coat with a little tail? Would she hear of his being slapped and beat by drummers demnebly? Would she have him fire off real guns, and have his hair cut, and his whiskers shaved, and his eyes turned right and left, and his trousers pipeclayed?'
'Dear Nicholas,' whispered Kate, 'you don't know who that is. It's Mr Mantalini I am confident.'
'Do make sure! Peep at him while I ask the way,' said Nicholas. 'Come down a step or two. Come!'
Drawing her after him, Nicholas crept down the steps and looked into a small boarded cellar. There, amidst clothes-baskets and clothes, stripped up to his shirt-sleeves, but wearing still an old patched pair of pantaloons of superlative make, a once brilliant waistcoat, and moustache and whiskers as of yore, but lacking their lustrous dye--there, endeavouring to mollify the wrath of a buxom female--not the lawful Madame Mantalini, but the proprietress of the concern--and grinding meanwhile as if for very life at the mangle, whose creaking noise, mingled with her shrill tones, appeared almost to deafen him--there was the graceful, elegant, fascinating, and once dashing Mantalini.
'Oh you false traitor!' cried the lady, threatening personal violence on Mr Mantalini's face.
'False! Oh dem! Now my soul, my gentle, captivating, bewitching, and most demnebly enslaving chick-a-biddy, be calm,' said Mr Mantalini, humbly.
'I won't!' screamed the woman. 'I'll tear your eyes out!'
'Oh! What a demd savage lamb!' cried Mr Mantalini.
'You're never to be trusted,' screamed the woman; 'you were out all day yesterday, and gallivanting somewhere I know.