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The Old Curiosity Shop

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CHAPTER 56

Aday or two after the Quilp tea-party at the Wilderness, Mr Swiveller walked into Sampson Brass’s office at the usual hour, and being alone in that Temple of Probity, placed his hat upon the desk, and taking from his pocket a small parcel of black crape, applied himself to folding and pinning the same upon it, after the manner of a hatband. Having completed the construction of this appendage, he surveyed his work with great complacency, and put his hat on again—very much over one eye, to increase the mournfulness of the effect. These arrangements perfected to his entire satisfaction, he thrust his hands into his pockets, and walked up and down the office with measured steps.

‘It has always been the same with me,’ said Mr Swiveller, ‘always. ‘Twas ever thus—from childhood’s hour I’ve seen my fondest hopes decay, I never loved a tree or flower but ‘twas the first to fade away; I never nursed a dear Gazelle, to glad me with its soft black eye, but when it came to know me well, and love me, it was sure to marry a market-gardener.’

Overpowered by these reflections, Mr Swiveller stopped short at the clients’ chair, and flung himself into its open arms.

‘And this,’ said Mr Swiveller, with a kind of bantering composure, ‘is life, I believe. Oh, certainly. Why not! I’m quite satisfied. I shall wear,’ added Richard, taking off his hat again and looking hard at it, as if he were only deterred by pecuniary considerations from spurning it with his foot, ‘I shall wear this emblem of woman’s perfidy, in remembrance of her with whom I shall never again thread the windings of the mazy; whom I shall never more pledge in the rosy; who, during the short remainder of my existence, will murder the balmy. Ha, ha, ha!’

It may be necessary to observe, lest there should appear any incongruity in the close of this soliloquy, that Mr Swiveller did not wind up with a cheerful hilarious laugh, which would have been undoubtedly at variance with his solemn reflections, but that, being in a theatrical mood, he merely achieved that performance which is designated in melodramas ‘laughing like a fiend,’—for it seems that your fiends always laugh in syllables, and always in three syllables, never more nor less, which is a remarkable property in such gentry, and one worthy of remembrance.

The baleful sounds had hardly died away, and Mr Swiveller was still sitting in a very grim state in the clients’ chair, when there came a ring—or, if we may adapt the sound to his then humour, a knell—at the office bell. Opening the door with all speed, he beheld the expressive countenance of Mr Chuckster, between whom and himself a fraternal greeting ensued.

‘You’re devilish early at this pestiferous old slaughter-house,’ said that gentleman, poising himself on one leg, and shaking the other in an easy manner.

‘Rather,’ returned Dick.

‘Rather!’ retorted Mr Chuckster, with that air of graceful trifling which so well became him. ‘I should think so. Why, my good feller, do you know what o’clock it is—half-past nine a.m. in the morning?’

‘Won’t you come in?’ said Dick. ‘All alone. Swiveller solus. “‘Tis now the witching—“’

‘“Hour of night!”’

‘“When churchyards yawn,”’

‘“And graves give up their dead.”’

At the end of this quotation in dialogue, each gentleman struck an attitude, and immediately subsiding into prose walked into the office. Such morsels of enthusiasm are common among the Glorious Apollos, and were indeed the links that bound them together, and raised them above the cold dull earth.

‘Well, and how are you my buck?’ said Mr Chuckster, taking a stool. ‘I was forced to come into the City upon some little private matters of my own, and couldn’t pass the corner of the street without looking in, but upon my soul I didn’t expect to find you. It is so everlastingly early.’

Mr Swiveller expressed his acknowledgments; and it appearing on further conversation that he was in good health, and that Mr Chuckster was in the like enviable condition, both gentlemen, in compliance with a solemn custom of the ancient Brotherhood to which they belonged, joined in a fragment of the popular duet of ‘All’s Well,’ with a long shake at the end.

‘And what’s the news?’ said Richard.

‘The town’s as flat, my dear feller,’ replied Mr Chuckster, ‘as the surface of a Dutch oven. There’s no news. By-the-bye, that lodger of yours is a most extraordinary person. He quite eludes the most vigorous comprehension, you know. Never was such a feller!’

‘What has he been doing now?’ said Dick.

‘By Jove, Sir,’ returned Mr Chuckster, taking out an oblong snuff-box, the lid whereof was ornamented with a fox’s head curiously carved in brass, ‘that man is an unfathomable. Sir, that man has made friends with our articled clerk. There’s no harm in him, but he is so amazingly slow and soft. Now, if he wanted a friend, why couldn’t he have one that knew a thing or two, and could do him some good by his manners and conversation. I have my faults, sir,’ said Mr Chuckster—

‘No, no,’ interposed Mr Swiveller.

‘Oh yes I have, I have my faults, no man knows his faults better than I know mine. But,’ said Mr Chuckster, ‘I’m not meek. My worst enemies—every man has his enemies, Sir, and I have mine—never accused me of being meek. And I tell you what, Sir, if I hadn’t more of these qualities that commonly endear man to man, than our articled clerk has, I’d steal a Cheshire cheese, tie it round my neck, and drown myself. I’d die degraded, as I had lived. I would upon my honour.’

Mr Chuckster paused, rapped the fox’s head exactly on the nose with the knuckle of the fore-finger, took a pinch of snuff, and looked steadily at Mr Swiveller, as much as to say that if he thought he was going to sneeze, he would find himself mistaken.

‘Not contented, Sir,’ said Mr Chuckster, ‘with making friends with Abel, he has cultivated the acquaintance of his father and mother. Since he came home from that wild-goose chase, he has been there— actually been there. He patronises young Snobby besides; you’ll find, Sir, that he’ll be constantly coming backwards and forwards to this place: yet I don’t suppose that beyond the common forms of civility, he has ever exchanged half-a-dozen words with me. Now, upon my soul, you know,’ said Mr Chuckster, shaking his head gravely, as men are wont to do when they consider things are going a little too far, ‘this is altogether such a low-minded affair, that if I didn’t feel for the governor, and know that he could never get on without me, I should be obliged to cut the connection. I should have no alternative.’

Mr Swiveller, who sat on another stool opposite to his friend, stirred the fire in an excess of sympathy, but said nothing.

‘As to young Snob, sir,’ pursued Mr Chuckster with a prophetic look, ‘you’ll find he’ll turn out bad. In our profession we know something of human nature, and take my word for it, that the feller that came back to work out that shilling, will show himself one of these days in his true colours. He’s a low thief, sir. He must be.’

Mr Chuckster being roused, would probably have pursued this subject further, and in more emphatic language, but for a tap at the door, which seeming to announce the arrival of somebody on business, caused him to assume a greater appearance of meekness than was perhaps quite consistent with his late declaration. Mr Swiveller, hearing the same sound, caused his stool to revolve rapidly on one leg until it brought him to his desk, into which, having forgotten in the sudden flurry of his spirits to part with the poker, he thrust it as he cried ‘Come in!’

Who should present himself but that very Kit who had been the theme of Mr Chuckster’s wrath! Never did man pluck up his courage so quickly, or look so fierce, as Mr Chuckster when he found it was he. Mr Swiveller stared at him for a moment, and then leaping from his stool, and drawing out the poker from its place of concealment, performed the broad-sword exercise with all the cuts and guards complete, in a species of frenzy.

‘Is the gentleman at home?’ said Kit, rather astonished by this uncommon reception.

Before Mr Swiveller could make any reply, Mr Chuckster took occasion to enter his indignant protest against this form of inquiry; which he held to be of a disrespectful and snobbish tendency, inasmuch as the inquirer, seeing two gentlemen then and there present, should have spoken of the other gentleman; or rather (for it was not impossible that the object of his search might be of inferior quality) should have mentioned his name, leaving it to his hearers to determine his degree as they thought proper. Mr Chuckster likewise remarked, that he had some reason to believe this form of address was personal to himself, and that he was not a man to be trifled with—as certain snobs (whom he did not more particularly mention or describe) might find to their cost.

‘I mean the gentleman up-stairs,’ said Kit, turning to Richard Swiveller. ‘Is he at home?’

‘Why?’ rejoined Dick.

‘Because if he is, I have a letter for him.’

‘From whom?’ said Dick.

‘From Mr Garland.’

‘Oh!’ said Dick, with extreme politeness. ‘Then you may hand it over, Sir. And if you’re to wait for an answer, Sir, you may wait in the passage, Sir, which is an airy and well-ventilated apartment, sir.’

‘Thank you,’ returned Kit. ‘But I am to give it to himself, if you please.’

The excessive audacity of this retort so overpowered Mr Chuckster, and so moved his tender regard for his friend’s honour, that he declared, if he were not restrained by official considerations, he must certainly have annihilated Kit upon the spot; a resentment of the affront which he did consider, under the extraordinary circumstances of aggravation attending it, could but have met with the proper sanction and approval of a jury of Englishmen, who, he had no doubt, would have returned a verdict of justifiable Homicide, coupled with a high testimony to the morals and character of the Avenger. Mr Swiveller, without being quite so hot upon the matter, was rather shamed by his friend’s excitement, and not a little puzzled how to act (Kit being quite cool and good-humoured), when the single gentleman was heard to call violently down the stairs.

‘Didn’t I see somebody for me, come in?’ cried the lodger.

‘Yes, Sir,’ replied Dick. ‘Certainly, Sir.’

‘Then where is he?’ roared the single gentleman.

‘He’s here, sir,’ rejoined Mr Swiveller. ‘Now young man, don’t you hear you’re to go up-stairs? Are you deaf?’

Kit did not appear to think it worth his while to enter into any altercation, but hurried off and left the Glorious Apollos gazing at each other in silence.

‘Didn’t I tell you so?’ said Mr Chuckster. ‘What do you think of that?’

Mr Swiveller being in the main a good-natured fellow, and not perceiving in the conduct of Kit any villany of enormous magnitude, scarcely knew what answer to return. He was relieved from his perplexity, however, by the entrance of Mr Sampson and his sister, Sally, at sight of whom Mr Chuckster precipitately retired.

Mr Brass and his lovely companion appeared to have been holding a consultation over their temperate breakfast, upon some matter of great interest and importance. On the occasion of such conferences, they generally appeared in the office some half an hour after their usual time, and in a very smiling state, as though their late plots and designs had tranquillised their minds and shed a light upon their toilsome way. In the present instance, they seemed particularly gay; Miss Sally’s aspect being of a most oily kind, and Mr Brass rubbing his hands in an exceedingly jocose and light-hearted manner.

'Well, Mr Richard,’ said Brass. ‘How are we this morning? Are we pretty fresh and cheerful sir—eh, Mr Richard?’

‘Pretty well, sir,’ replied Dick.

‘That’s well,’ said Brass. ‘Ha ha! We should be as gay as larks, Mr Richard—why not? It’s a pleasant world we live in sir, a very pleasant world. There are bad people in it, Mr Richard, but if there were no bad people, there would be no good lawyers. Ha ha! Any letters by the post this morning, Mr Richard?’

Mr Swiveller answered in the negative.

‘Ha!’ said Brass, ‘no matter. If there’s little business to-day, there’ll be more to-morrow. A contented spirit, Mr Richard, is the sweetness of existence. Anybody been here, sir?’

‘Only my friend’—replied Dick. ‘May we ne’er want a—’

‘Friend,’ Brass chimed in quickly, ‘or a bottle to give him. Ha ha! That’s the way the song runs, isn’t it? A very good song, Mr Richard, very good. I like the sentiment of it. Ha ha! Your friend’s the young man from Witherden’s office I think—yes—May we ne’er want a— Nobody else at all, been, Mr Richard?’

‘Only somebody to the lodger,’ replied Mr Swiveller.

‘Oh indeed!’ cried Brass. ‘Somebody to the lodger eh? Ha ha! May we ne’er want a friend, or a——Somebody to the lodger, eh, Mr Richard?’

‘Yes,’ said Dick, a little disconcerted by the excessive buoyancy of spirits which his employer displayed. ‘With him now.’

‘With him now!’ cried Brass; ‘Ha ha! There let ‘em be, merry and free, toor rul lol le. Eh, Mr Richard? Ha ha!’

‘Oh certainly,’ replied Dick.

‘And who,’ said Brass, shuffling among his papers, ‘who is the lodger’s visitor—not a lady visitor, I hope, eh, Mr Richard? The morals of the Marks you know, sir—“when lovely women stoops to folly”—and all that—eh, Mr Richard?’

‘Another young man, who belongs to Witherden’s too, or half belongs there,’ returned Richard. ‘Kit, they call him.’

‘Kit, eh!’ said Brass. ‘Strange name—name of a dancing-master’s fiddle, eh, Mr Richard? Ha ha! Kit’s there, is he? Oh!’

Dick looked at Miss Sally, wondering that she didn’t check this uncommon exuberance on the part of Mr Sampson; but as she made no attempt to do so, and rather appeared to exhibit a tacit acquiescence in it, he concluded that they had just been cheating somebody, and receiving the bill.

‘Will you have the goodness, Mr Richard,’ said Brass, taking a letter from his desk, ‘just to step over to Peckham Rye with that? There’s no answer, but it’s rather particular and should go by hand. Charge the office with your coach-hire back, you know; don’t spare the office; get as much out of it as you can—clerk’s motto—Eh, Mr Richard? Ha ha!’

Mr Swiveller solemnly doffed the aquatic jacket, put on his coat, took down his hat from its peg, pocketed the letter, and departed. As soon as he was gone, up rose Miss Sally Brass, and smiling sweetly at her brother (who nodded and smote his nose in return) withdrew also.

Sampson Brass was no sooner left alone, than he set the office-door wide open, and establishing himself at his desk directly opposite, so that he could not fail to see anybody who came down-stairs and passed out at the street door, began to write with extreme cheerfulness and assiduity; humming as he did so, in a voice that was anything but musical, certain vocal snatches which appeared to have reference to the union between Church and State, inasmuch as they were compounded of the Evening Hymn and God save the King.

Thus, the attorney of Bevis Marks sat, and wrote, and hummed, for a long time, except when he stopped to listen with a very cunning face, and hearing nothing, went on humming louder, and writing slower than ever. At length, in one of these pauses, he heard his lodger’s door opened and shut, and footsteps coming down the stairs. Then, Mr Brass left off writing entirely, and, with his pen in his hand, hummed his very loudest; shaking his head meanwhile from side to side, like a man whose whole soul was in the music, and smiling in a manner quite seraphic.

It was towards this moving spectacle that the staircase and the sweet sounds guided Kit; on whose arrival before his door, Mr Brass stopped his singing, but not his smiling, and nodded affably: at the same time beckoning to him with his pen.

‘Kit,’ said Mr Brass, in the pleasantest way imaginable, ‘how do you do?’

Kit, being rather shy of his friend, made a suitable reply, and had his hand upon the lock of the street door when Mr Brass called him softly back.

‘You are not to go, if you please, Kit,’ said the attorney in a mysterious and yet business-like way. ‘You are to step in here, if you please. Dear me, dear me! When I look at you,’ said the lawyer, quitting his stool, and standing before the fire with his back towards it, ‘I am reminded of the sweetest little face that ever my eyes beheld. I remember your coming there, twice or thrice, when we were in possession. Ah Kit, my dear fellow, gentleman in my profession have such painful duties to perform sometimes, that you needn’t envy us—you needn’t indeed!’

‘I don’t, sir,’ said Kit, ‘though it isn’t for the like of me to judge.’

‘Our only consolation, Kit,’ pursued the lawyer, looking at him in a sort of pensive abstraction, ‘is, that although we cannot turn away the wind, we can soften it; we can temper it, if I may say so, to the shorn lambs.’

‘Shorn indeed!’ thought Kit. ‘Pretty close!’ But he didn’t say so.

‘On that occasion, Kit,’ said Mr Brass, ‘on that occasion that I have just alluded to, I had a hard battle with Mr Quilp (for Mr Quilp is a very hard man) to obtain them the indulgence they had. It might have cost me a client. But suffering virtue inspired me, and I prevailed.’

‘He’s not so bad after all,’ thought honest Kit, as the attorney pursed up his lips and looked like a man who was struggling with his better feelings.

‘I respect you, Kit,’ said Brass with emotion. ‘I saw enough of your conduct, at that time, to respect you, though your station is humble, and your fortune lowly. It isn’t the waistcoat that I look at. It is the heart. The checks in the waistcoat are but the wires of the cage. But the heart is the bird. Ah! How many sich birds are perpetually moulting, and putting their beaks through the wires to peck at all mankind!’

This poetic figure, which Kit took to be in a special allusion to his own checked waistcoat, quite overcame him; Mr Brass’s voice and manner added not a little to its effect, for he discoursed with all the mild austerity of a hermit, and wanted but a cord round the waist of his rusty surtout, and a skull on the chimney-piece, to be completely set up in that line of business.

‘Well, well,’ said Sampson, smiling as good men smile when they compassionate their own weakness or that of their fellow-creatures, ‘this is wide of the bull’s-eye. You’re to take that, if you please.’ As he spoke, he pointed to a couple of half-crowns on the desk.

Kit looked at the coins, and then at Sampson, and hesitated.

‘For yourself,’ said Brass. ‘From—’

‘No matter about the person they came from,’ replied the lawyer. ‘Say me, if you like. We have eccentric friends overhead, Kit, and we mustn’t ask questions or talk too much—you understand? You’re to take them, that’s all; and between you and me, I don’t think they’ll be the last you’ll have to take from the same place. I hope not. Good bye, Kit. Good bye!’

With many thanks, and many more self-reproaches for having on such slight grounds suspected one who in their very first conversation turned out such a different man from what he had supposed, Kit took the money and made the best of his way home. Mr Brass remained airing himself at the fire, and resumed his vocal exercise, and his seraphic smile, simultaneously.

‘May I come in?’ said Miss Sally, peeping.

‘Oh yes, you may come in,’ returned her brother.

‘Ahem!’ coughed Miss Brass interrogatively.

‘Why, yes,’ returned Sampson, ‘I should say as good as done.’





CHAPTER 57

Mr Chuckster’s indignant apprehensions were not without foundation. Certainly the friendship between the single gentleman and Mr Garland was not suffered to cool, but had a rapid growth and flourished exceedingly. They were soon in habits of constant intercourse and communication; and the single gentleman labouring at this time under a slight attack of illness—the consequence most probably of his late excited feelings and subsequent disappointment—furnished a reason for their holding yet more frequent correspondence; so that some one of the inmates of Abel Cottage, Finchley, came backwards and forwards between that place and Bevis Marks, almost every day.

As the pony had now thrown off all disguise, and without any mincing of the matter or beating about the bush, sturdily refused to be driven by anybody but Kit, it generally happened that whether old Mr Garland came, or Mr Abel, Kit was of the party. Of all messages and inquiries, Kit was, in right of his position, the bearer; thus it came about that, while the single gentleman remained indisposed, Kit turned into Bevis Marks every morning with nearly as much regularity as the General Postman.

Mr Sampson Brass, who no doubt had his reasons for looking sharply about him, soon learnt to distinguish the pony’s trot and the clatter of the little chaise at the corner of the street. Whenever the sound reached his ears, he would immediately lay down his pen and fall to rubbing his hands and exhibiting the greatest glee.

‘Ha ha!’ he would cry. ‘Here’s the pony again! Most remarkable pony, extremely docile, eh, Mr Richard, eh sir?’

Dick would return some matter-of-course reply, and Mr Brass standing on the bottom rail of his stool, so as to get a view of the street over the top of the window-blind, would take an observation of the visitors.

‘The old gentleman again!’ he would exclaim, ‘a very prepossessing old gentleman, Mr Richard—charming countenance, sir—extremely calm—benevolence in every feature, sir. He quite realises my idea of King Lear, as he appeared when in possession of his kingdom, Mr Richard—the same good humour, the same white hair and partial baldness, the same liability to be imposed upon. Ah! A sweet subject for contemplation, sir, very sweet!’

Then Mr Garland having alighted and gone up-stairs, Sampson would nod and smile to Kit from the window, and presently walk out into the street to greet him, when some such conversation as the following would ensue.

‘Admirably groomed, Kit’—Mr Brass is patting the pony—‘does you great credit—amazingly sleek and bright to be sure. He literally looks as if he had been varnished all over.’

Kit touches his hat, smiles, pats the pony himself, and expresses his conviction, ‘that Mr Brass will not find many like him.’

‘A beautiful animal indeed!’ cries Brass. ‘Sagacious too?’

‘Bless you!’ replies Kit, ‘he knows what you say to him as well as a Christian does.’

‘Does he indeed!’ cries Brass, who has heard the same thing in the same place from the same person in the same words a dozen times, but is paralysed with astonishment notwithstanding. ‘Dear me!’

‘I little thought the first time I saw him, Sir,’ says Kit, pleased with the attorney’s strong interest in his favourite, ‘that I should come to be as intimate with him as I am now.’

‘Ah!’ rejoins Mr Brass, brim-full of moral precepts and love of virtue. ‘A charming subject of reflection for you, very charming. A subject of proper pride and congratulation, Christopher. Honesty is the best policy.—I always find it so myself. I lost forty-seven pound ten by being honest this morning. But it’s all gain, it’s gain!’

Mr Brass slyly tickles his nose with his pen, and looks at Kit with the water standing in his eyes. Kit thinks that if ever there was a good man who belied his appearance, that man is Sampson Brass.

‘A man,’ says Sampson, ‘who loses forty-seven pound ten in one morning by his honesty, is a man to be envied. If it had been eighty pound, the luxuriousness of feeling would have been increased. Every pound lost, would have been a hundredweight of happiness gained. The still small voice, Christopher,’ cries Brass, smiling, and tapping himself on the bosom, ‘is a-singing comic songs within me, and all is happiness and joy!’

Kit is so improved by the conversation, and finds it go so completely home to his feelings, that he is considering what he shall say, when Mr Garland appears. The old gentleman is helped into the chaise with great obsequiousness by Mr Sampson Brass; and the pony, after shaking his head several times, and standing for three or four minutes with all his four legs planted firmly on the ground, as if he had made up his mind never to stir from that spot, but there to live and die, suddenly darts off, without the smallest notice, at the rate of twelve English miles an hour. Then, Mr Brass and his sister (who has joined him at the door) exchange an odd kind of smile—not at all a pleasant one in its expression—and return to the society of Mr Richard Swiveller, who, during their absence, has been regaling himself with various feats of pantomime, and is discovered at his desk, in a very flushed and heated condition, violently scratching out nothing with half a penknife.

Whenever Kit came alone, and without the chaise, it always happened that Sampson Brass was reminded of some mission, calling Mr Swiveller, if not to Peckham Rye again, at all events to some pretty distant place from which he could not be expected to return for two or three hours, or in all probability a much longer period, as that gentleman was not, to say the truth, renowned for using great expedition on such occasions, but rather for protracting and spinning out the time to the very utmost limit of possibility. Mr Swiveller out of sight, Miss Sally immediately withdrew. Mr Brass would then set the office-door wide open, hum his old tune with great gaiety of heart, and smile seraphically as before. Kit coming down-stairs would be called in; entertained with some moral and agreeable conversation; perhaps entreated to mind the office for an instant while Mr Brass stepped over the way; and afterwards presented with one or two half-crowns as the case might be. This occurred so often, that Kit, nothing doubting but that they came from the single gentleman who had already rewarded his mother with great liberality, could not enough admire his generosity; and bought so many cheap presents for her, and for little Jacob, and for the baby, and for Barbara to boot, that one or other of them was having some new trifle every day of their lives.

While these acts and deeds were in progress in and out of the office of Sampson Brass, Richard Swiveller, being often left alone therein, began to find the time hang heavy on his hands. For the better preservation of his cheerfulness therefore, and to prevent his faculties from rusting, he provided himself with a cribbage-board and pack of cards, and accustomed himself to play at cribbage with a dummy, for twenty, thirty, or sometimes even fifty thousand pounds aside, besides many hazardous bets to a considerable amount.

As these games were very silently conducted, notwithstanding the magnitude of the interests involved, Mr Swiveller began to think that on those evenings when Mr and Miss Brass were out (and they often went out now) he heard a kind of snorting or hard-breathing sound in the direction of the door, which it occurred to him, after some reflection, must proceed from the small servant, who always had a cold from damp living. Looking intently that way one night, he plainly distinguished an eye gleaming and glistening at the keyhole; and having now no doubt that his suspicions were correct, he stole softly to the door, and pounced upon her before she was aware of his approach.

‘Oh! I didn’t mean any harm indeed, upon my word I didn’t,’ cried the small servant, struggling like a much larger one. ‘It’s so very dull, down-stairs, Please don’t you tell upon me, please don’t.’

‘Tell upon you!’ said Dick. ‘Do you mean to say you were looking through the keyhole for company?’

‘Yes, upon my word I was,’ replied the small servant.

‘How long have you been cooling your eye there?’ said Dick.

‘Oh ever since you first began to play them cards, and long before.’

Vague recollections of several fantastic exercises with which he had refreshed himself after the fatigues of business, and to all of which, no doubt, the small servant was a party, rather disconcerted Mr Swiveller; but he was not very sensitive on such points, and recovered himself speedily.

‘Well—come in’—he said, after a little consideration. ‘Here—sit down, and I’ll teach you how to play.’

‘Oh! I durstn’t do it,’ rejoined the small servant; ‘Miss Sally ‘ud kill me, if she know’d I come up here.’

‘Have you got a fire down-stairs?’ said Dick.

‘A very little one,’ replied the small servant.

‘Miss Sally couldn’t kill me if she know’d I went down there, so I’ll come,’ said Richard, putting the cards into his pocket. ‘Why, how thin you are! What do you mean by it?’

‘It ain’t my fault.’

‘Could you eat any bread and meat?’ said Dick, taking down his hat. ‘Yes? Ah! I thought so. Did you ever taste beer?’

'I had a sip of it once,’ said the small servant.

‘Here’s a state of things!’ cried Mr Swiveller, raising his eyes to the ceiling. ‘She never tasted it—it can’t be tasted in a sip! Why, how old are you?’

‘I don’t know.’

Mr Swiveller opened his eyes very wide, and appeared thoughtful for a moment; then, bidding the child mind the door until he came back, vanished straightway.

Presently, he returned, followed by the boy from the public-house, who bore in one hand a plate of bread and beef, and in the other a great pot, filled with some very fragrant compound, which sent forth a grateful steam, and was indeed choice purl, made after a particular recipe which Mr Swiveller had imparted to the landlord, at a period when he was deep in his books and desirous to conciliate his friendship. Relieving the boy of his burden at the door, and charging his little companion to fasten it to prevent surprise, Mr Swiveller followed her into the kitchen.

‘There!’ said Richard, putting the plate before her. ‘First of all clear that off, and then you’ll see what’s next.’

The small servant needed no second bidding, and the plate was soon empty.

‘Next,’ said Dick, handing the purl, ‘take a pull at that; but moderate your transports, you know, for you’re not used to it. Well, is it good?’

‘Oh! isn’t it?’ said the small servant.

Mr Swiveller appeared gratified beyond all expression by this reply, and took a long draught himself, steadfastly regarding his companion while he did so. These preliminaries disposed of, he applied himself to teaching her the game, which she soon learnt tolerably well, being both sharp-witted and cunning.

‘Now,’ said Mr Swiveller, putting two sixpences into a saucer, and trimming the wretched candle, when the cards had been cut and dealt, ‘those are the stakes. If you win, you get ‘em all. If I win, I get ‘em. To make it seem more real and pleasant, I shall call you the Marchioness, do you hear?’

The small servant nodded.

‘Then, Marchioness,’ said Mr Swiveller, ‘fire away!’

The Marchioness, holding her cards very tight in both hands, considered which to play, and Mr Swiveller, assuming the gay and fashionable air which such society required, took another pull at the tankard, and waited for her lead.





CHAPTER 58

Mr Swiveller and his partner played several rubbers with varying success, until the loss of three sixpences, the gradual sinking of the purl, and the striking of ten o’clock, combined to render that gentleman mindful of the flight of Time, and the expediency of withdrawing before Mr Sampson and Miss Sally Brass returned.

‘With which object in view, Marchioness,’ said Mr Swiveller gravely, ‘I shall ask your ladyship’s permission to put the board in my pocket, and to retire from the presence when I have finished this tankard; merely observing, Marchioness, that since life like a river is flowing, I care not how fast it rolls on, ma’am, on, while such purl on the bank still is growing, and such eyes light the waves as they run. Marchioness, your health. You will excuse my wearing my hat, but the palace is damp, and the marble floor is—if I may be allowed the expression—sloppy.’

As a precaution against this latter inconvenience, Mr Swiveller had been sitting for some time with his feet on the hob, in which attitude he now gave utterance to these apologetic observations, and slowly sipped the last choice drops of nectar.

‘The Baron Sampsono Brasso and his fair sister are (you tell me) at the Play?’ said Mr Swiveller, leaning his left arm heavily upon the table, and raising his voice and his right leg after the manner of a theatrical bandit.

The Marchioness nodded.

‘Ha!’ said Mr Swiveller, with a portentous frown. ‘’Tis well. Marchioness!—but no matter. Some wine there. Ho!’ He illustrated these melodramatic morsels by handing the tankard to himself with great humility, receiving it haughtily, drinking from it thirstily, and smacking his lips fiercely.

The small servant, who was not so well acquainted with theatrical conventionalities as Mr Swiveller (having indeed never seen a play, or heard one spoken of, except by chance through chinks of doors and in other forbidden places), was rather alarmed by demonstrations so novel in their nature, and showed her concern so plainly in her looks, that Mr Swiveller felt it necessary to discharge his brigand manner for one more suitable to private life, as he asked,

‘Do they often go where glory waits ‘em, and leave you here?’

‘Oh, yes; I believe you they do,’ returned the small servant. ‘Miss Sally’s such a one-er for that, she is.’

‘Such a what?’ said Dick.

‘Such a one-er,’ returned the Marchioness.

After a moment’s reflection, Mr Swiveller determined to forego his responsible duty of setting her right, and to suffer her to talk on; as it was evident that her tongue was loosened by the purl, and her opportunities for conversation were not so frequent as to render a momentary check of little consequence.

‘They sometimes go to see Mr Quilp,’ said the small servant with a shrewd look; ‘they go to a many places, bless you!’

‘Is Mr Brass a wunner?’ said Dick.

‘Not half what Miss Sally is, he isn’t,’ replied the small servant, shaking her head. ‘Bless you, he’d never do anything without her.’

‘Oh! He wouldn’t, wouldn’t he?’ said Dick.

‘Miss Sally keeps him in such order,’ said the small servant; ‘he always asks her advice, he does; and he catches it sometimes. Bless you, you wouldn’t believe how much he catches it.’

‘I suppose,’ said Dick, ‘that they consult together, a good deal, and talk about a great many people—about me for instance, sometimes, eh, Marchioness?’

The Marchioness nodded amazingly.

‘Complimentary?’ said Mr Swiveller.

The Marchioness changed the motion of her head, which had not yet left off nodding, and suddenly began to shake it from side to side, with a vehemence which threatened to dislocate her neck.

‘Humph!’ Dick muttered. ‘Would it be any breach of confidence, Marchioness, to relate what they say of the humble individual who has now the honour to—?’

‘Miss Sally says you’re a funny chap,’ replied his friend.

‘Well, Marchioness,’ said Mr Swiveller, ‘that’s not uncomplimentary. Merriment, Marchioness, is not a bad or a degrading quality. Old King Cole was himself a merry old soul, if we may put any faith in the pages of history.’

‘But she says,’ pursued his companion, ‘that you an’t to be trusted.’

‘Why, really Marchioness,’ said Mr Swiveller, thoughtfully; ‘several ladies and gentlemen—not exactly professional persons, but tradespeople, ma’am, tradespeople—have made the same remark. The obscure citizen who keeps the hotel over the way, inclined strongly to that opinion to-night when I ordered him to prepare the banquet. It’s a popular prejudice, Marchioness; and yet I am sure I don’t know why, for I have been trusted in my time to a considerable amount, and I can safely say that I never forsook my trust until it deserted me—never. Mr Brass is of the same opinion, I suppose?’

His friend nodded again, with a cunning look which seemed to hint that Mr Brass held stronger opinions on the subject than his sister; and seeming to recollect herself, added imploringly, ‘But don’t you ever tell upon me, or I shall be beat to death.’

‘Marchioness,’ said Mr Swiveller, rising, ‘the word of a gentleman is as good as his bond—sometimes better, as in the present case, where his bond might prove but a doubtful sort of security. I am your friend, and I hope we shall play many more rubbers together in this same saloon. But, Marchioness,’ added Richard, stopping in his way to the door, and wheeling slowly round upon the small servant, who was following with the candle; ‘it occurs to me that you must be in the constant habit of airing your eye at keyholes, to know all this.’

‘I only wanted,’ replied the trembling Marchioness, ‘to know where the key of the safe was hid; that was all; and I wouldn’t have taken much, if I had found it—only enough to squench my hunger.’

‘You didn’t find it then?’ said Dick. ‘But of course you didn’t, or you’d be plumper. Good night, Marchioness. Fare thee well, and if for ever, then for ever fare thee well—and put up the chain, Marchioness, in case of accidents.’

With this parting injunction, Mr Swiveller emerged from the house; and feeling that he had by this time taken quite as much to drink as promised to be good for his constitution (purl being a rather strong and heady compound), wisely resolved to betake himself to his lodgings, and to bed at once. Homeward he went therefore; and his apartments (for he still retained the plural fiction) being at no great distance from the office, he was soon seated in his own bed-chamber, where, having pulled off one boot and forgotten the other, he fell into deep cogitation.

‘This Marchioness,’ said Mr Swiveller, folding his arms, ‘is a very extraordinary person—surrounded by mysteries, ignorant of the taste of beer, unacquainted with her own name (which is less remarkable), and taking a limited view of society through the keyholes of doors—can these things be her destiny, or has some unknown person started an opposition to the decrees of fate? It is a most inscrutable and unmitigated staggerer!’

When his meditations had attained this satisfactory point, he became aware of his remaining boot, of which, with unimpaired solemnity he proceeded to divest himself; shaking his head with exceeding gravity all the time, and sighing deeply.

‘These rubbers,’ said Mr Swiveller, putting on his nightcap in exactly the same style as he wore his hat, ‘remind me of the matrimonial fireside. Cheggs’s wife plays cribbage; all-fours likewise. She rings the changes on ‘em now. From sport to sport they hurry her to banish her regrets, and when they win a smile from her, they think that she forgets—but she don’t. By this time, I should say,’ added Richard, getting his left cheek into profile, and looking complacently at the reflection of a very little scrap of whisker in the looking-glass; ‘by this time, I should say, the iron has entered into her soul. It serves her right!’

Melting from this stern and obdurate, into the tender and pathetic mood, Mr Swiveller groaned a little, walked wildly up and down, and even made a show of tearing his hair, which, however, he thought better of, and wrenched the tassel from his nightcap instead. At last, undressing himself with a gloomy resolution, he got into bed.

Some men in his blighted position would have taken to drinking; but as Mr Swiveller had taken to that before, he only took, on receiving the news that Sophy Wackles was lost to him for ever, to playing the flute; thinking after mature consideration that it was a good, sound, dismal occupation, not only in unison with his own sad thoughts, but calculated to awaken a fellow-feeling in the bosoms of his neighbours. In pursuance of this resolution, he now drew a little table to his bedside, and arranging the light and a small oblong music-book to the best advantage, took his flute from its box, and began to play most mournfully.

The air was ‘Away with melancholy’—a composition, which, when it is played very slowly on the flute, in bed, with the further disadvantage of being performed by a gentleman but imperfectly acquainted with the instrument, who repeats one note a great many times before he can find the next, has not a lively effect. Yet, for half the night, or more, Mr Swiveller, lying sometimes on his back with his eyes upon the ceiling, and sometimes half out of bed to correct himself by the book, played this unhappy tune over and over again; never leaving off, save for a minute or two at a time to take breath and soliloquise about the Marchioness, and then beginning again with renewed vigour. It was not until he had quite exhausted his several subjects of meditation, and had breathed into the flute the whole sentiment of the purl down to its very dregs, and had nearly maddened the people of the house, and at both the next doors, and over the way—that he shut up the music-book, extinguished the candle, and finding himself greatly lightened and relieved in his mind, turned round and fell asleep.

He awoke in the morning, much refreshed; and having taken half an hour’s exercise at the flute, and graciously received a notice to quit from his landlady, who had been in waiting on the stairs for that purpose since the dawn of day, repaired to Bevis Marks; where the beautiful Sally was already at her post, bearing in her looks a radiance, mild as that which beameth from the virgin moon.

Mr Swiveller acknowledged her presence by a nod, and exchanged his coat for the aquatic jacket; which usually took some time fitting on, for in consequence of a tightness in the sleeves, it was only to be got into by a series of struggles. This difficulty overcome, he took his seat at the desk.

‘I say’—quoth Miss Brass, abruptly breaking silence, ‘you haven’t seen a silver pencil-case this morning, have you?’

‘I didn’t meet many in the street,’ rejoined Mr Swiveller. ‘I saw one—a stout pencil-case of respectable appearance—but as he was in company with an elderly penknife, and a young toothpick with whom he was in earnest conversation, I felt a delicacy in speaking to him.’

‘No, but have you?’ returned Miss Brass. ‘Seriously, you know.’

‘What a dull dog you must be to ask me such a question seriously,’ said Mr Swiveller. ‘Haven’t I this moment come?’

‘Well, all I know is,’ replied Miss Sally, ‘that it’s not to be found, and that it disappeared one day this week, when I left it on the desk.’

‘Halloa!’ thought Richard, ‘I hope the Marchioness hasn’t been at work here.’

‘There was a knife too,’ said Miss Sally, ‘of the same pattern. They were given to me by my father, years ago, and are both gone. You haven’t missed anything yourself, have you?’

Mr Swiveller involuntarily clapped his hands to the jacket to be quite sure that it was a jacket and not a skirted coat; and having satisfied himself of the safety of this, his only moveable in Bevis Marks, made answer in the negative.

‘It’s a very unpleasant thing, Dick,’ said Miss Brass, pulling out the tin box and refreshing herself with a pinch of snuff; ‘but between you and me—between friends you know, for if Sammy knew it, I should never hear the last of it—some of the office-money, too, that has been left about, has gone in the same way. In particular, I have missed three half-crowns at three different times.’

‘You don’t mean that?’ cried Dick. ‘Be careful what you say, old boy, for this is a serious matter. Are you quite sure? Is there no mistake?’

‘It is so, and there can’t be any mistake at all,’ rejoined Miss Brass emphatically.

‘Then by Jove,’ thought Richard, laying down his pen, ‘I am afraid the Marchioness is done for!’

The more he discussed the subject in his thoughts, the more probable it appeared to Dick that the miserable little servant was the culprit. When he considered on what a spare allowance of food she lived, how neglected and untaught she was, and how her natural cunning had been sharpened by necessity and privation, he scarcely doubted it. And yet he pitied her so much, and felt so unwilling to have a matter of such gravity disturbing the oddity of their acquaintance, that he thought, and thought truly, that rather than receive fifty pounds down, he would have the Marchioness proved innocent.

While he was plunged in very profound and serious meditation upon this theme, Miss Sally sat shaking her head with an air of great mystery and doubt; when the voice of her brother Sampson, carolling a cheerful strain, was heard in the passage, and that gentleman himself, beaming with virtuous smiles, appeared.

‘Mr Richard, sir, good morning! Here we are again, sir, entering upon another day, with our bodies strengthened by slumber and breakfast, and our spirits fresh and flowing. Here we are, Mr Richard, rising with the sun to run our little course—our course of duty, sir—and, like him, to get through our day’s work with credit to ourselves and advantage to our fellow-creatures. A charming reflection sir, very charming!’

While he addressed his clerk in these words, Mr Brass was, somewhat ostentatiously, engaged in minutely examining and holding up against the light a five-pound bank note, which he had brought in, in his hand.

Mr Richard not receiving his remarks with anything like enthusiasm, his employer turned his eyes to his face, and observed that it wore a troubled expression.

‘You’re out of spirits, sir,’ said Brass. ‘Mr Richard, sir, we should fall to work cheerfully, and not in a despondent state. It becomes us, Mr Richard, sir, to—’

Here the chaste Sarah heaved a loud sigh.

‘Dear me!’ said Mr Sampson, ‘you too! Is anything the matter? Mr Richard, sir—’

Dick, glancing at Miss Sally, saw that she was making signals to him, to acquaint her brother with the subject of their recent conversation. As his own position was not a very pleasant one until the matter was set at rest one way or other, he did so; and Miss Brass, plying her snuff-box at a most wasteful rate, corroborated his account.

The countenance of Sampson fell, and anxiety overspread his features. Instead of passionately bewailing the loss of his money, as Miss Sally had expected, he walked on tiptoe to the door, opened it, looked outside, shut it softly, returned on tiptoe, and said in a whisper,

‘This is a most extraordinary and painful circumstance—Mr Richard, sir, a most painful circumstance. The fact is, that I myself have missed several small sums from the desk, of late, and have refrained from mentioning it, hoping that accident would discover the offender; but it has not done so—it has not done so. Sally—Mr Richard, sir—this is a particularly distressing affair!’

As Sampson spoke, he laid the bank-note upon the desk among some papers, in an absent manner, and thrust his hands into his pockets. Richard Swiveller pointed to it, and admonished him to take it up.

‘No, Mr Richard, sir,’ rejoined Brass with emotion, ‘I will not take it up. I will let it lie there, sir. To take it up, Mr Richard, sir, would imply a doubt of you; and in you, sir, I have unlimited confidence. We will let it lie there, Sir, if you please, and we will not take it up by any means.’ With that, Mr Brass patted him twice or thrice on the shoulder, in a most friendly manner, and entreated him to believe that he had as much faith in his honesty as he had in his own.

Although at another time Mr Swiveller might have looked upon this as a doubtful compliment, he felt it, under the then-existing circumstances, a great relief to be assured that he was not wrongfully suspected. When he had made a suitable reply, Mr Brass wrung him by the hand, and fell into a brown study, as did Miss Sally likewise. Richard too remained in a thoughtful state; fearing every moment to hear the Marchioness impeached, and unable to resist the conviction that she must be guilty.

When they had severally remained in this condition for some minutes, Miss Sally all at once gave a loud rap upon the desk with her clenched fist, and cried, ‘I’ve hit it!’—as indeed she had, and chipped a piece out of it too; but that was not her meaning.

‘Well,’ cried Brass anxiously. ‘Go on, will you!’

‘Why,’ replied his sister with an air of triumph, ‘hasn’t there been somebody always coming in and out of this office for the last three or four weeks; hasn’t that somebody been left alone in it sometimes—thanks to you; and do you mean to tell me that that somebody isn’t the thief!’

‘What somebody?’ blustered Brass.

‘Why, what do you call him—Kit.’

‘Mr Garland’s young man?’

‘To be sure.’

‘Never!’ cried Brass. ‘Never. I’ll not hear of it. Don’t tell me’—said Sampson, shaking his head, and working with both his hands as if he were clearing away ten thousand cobwebs. ‘I’ll never believe it of him. Never!’

‘I say,’ repeated Miss Brass, taking another pinch of snuff, ‘that he’s the thief.’

‘I say,’ returned Sampson violently, ‘that he is not. What do you mean? How dare you? Are characters to be whispered away like this? Do you know that he’s the honestest and faithfullest fellow that ever lived, and that he has an irreproachable good name? Come in, come in!’

These last words were not addressed to Miss Sally, though they partook of the tone in which the indignant remonstrances that preceded them had been uttered. They were addressed to some person who had knocked at the office-door; and they had hardly passed the lips of Mr Brass, when this very Kit himself looked in.

‘Is the gentleman up-stairs, sir, if you please?’

‘Yes, Kit,’ said Brass, still fired with an honest indignation, and frowning with knotted brows upon his sister; ‘Yes Kit, he is. I am glad to see you Kit, I am rejoiced to see you. Look in again, as you come down-stairs, Kit. That lad a robber!’ cried Brass when he had withdrawn, ‘with that frank and open countenance! I’d trust him with untold gold. Mr Richard, sir, have the goodness to step directly to Wrasp and Co.‘s in Broad Street, and inquire if they have had instructions to appear in Carkem and Painter. That lad a robber,’ sneered Sampson, flushed and heated with his wrath. ‘Am I blind, deaf, silly; do I know nothing of human nature when I see it before me? Kit a robber! Bah!’

Flinging this final interjection at Miss Sally with immeasurable scorn and contempt, Sampson Brass thrust his head into his desk, as if to shut the base world from his view, and breathed defiance from under its half-closed lid.





CHAPTER 59

When Kit, having discharged his errand, came down-stairs from the single gentleman’s apartment after the lapse of a quarter of an hour or so, Mr Sampson Brass was alone in the office. He was not singing as usual, nor was he seated at his desk. The open door showed him standing before the fire with his back towards it, and looking so very strange that Kit supposed he must have been suddenly taken ill.

‘Is anything the matter, sir?’ said Kit.

‘Matter!’ cried Brass. ‘No. Why anything the matter?’

‘You are so very pale,’ said Kit, ‘that I should hardly have known you.’

‘Pooh pooh! mere fancy,’ cried Brass, stooping to throw up the cinders. ‘Never better, Kit, never better in all my life. Merry too. Ha ha! How’s our friend above-stairs, eh?’

‘A great deal better,’ said Kit.

‘I’m glad to hear it,’ rejoined Brass; ‘thankful, I may say. An excellent gentleman—worthy, liberal, generous, gives very little trouble—an admirable lodger. Ha ha! Mr Garland—he’s well I hope, Kit—and the pony—my friend, my particular friend you know. Ha ha!’

Kit gave a satisfactory account of all the little household at Abel Cottage. Mr Brass, who seemed remarkably inattentive and impatient, mounted on his stool, and beckoning him to come nearer, took him by the button-hole.

‘I have been thinking, Kit,’ said the lawyer, ‘that I could throw some little emoluments in your mother’s way—You have a mother, I think? If I recollect right, you told me—’

‘Oh yes, Sir, yes certainly.’

‘A widow, I think? an industrious widow?’

‘A harder-working woman or a better mother never lived, Sir.’

‘Ah!’ cried Brass. ‘That’s affecting, truly affecting. A poor widow struggling to maintain her orphans in decency and comfort, is a delicious picture of human goodness.—Put down your hat, Kit.’

‘Thank you Sir, I must be going directly.’

‘Put it down while you stay, at any rate,’ said Brass, taking it from him and making some confusion among the papers, in finding a place for it on the desk. ‘I was thinking, Kit, that we have often houses to let for people we are concerned for, and matters of that sort. Now you know we’re obliged to put people into those houses to take care of ‘em—very often undeserving people that we can’t depend upon. What’s to prevent our having a person that we can depend upon, and enjoying the delight of doing a good action at the same time? I say, what’s to prevent our employing this worthy woman, your mother? What with one job and another, there’s lodging—and good lodging too—pretty well all the year round, rent free, and a weekly allowance besides, Kit, that would provide her with a great many comforts she don’t at present enjoy. Now what do you think of that? Do you see any objection? My only desire is to serve you, Kit; therefore if you do, say so freely.’

As Brass spoke, he moved the hat twice or thrice, and shuffled among the papers again, as if in search of something.

‘How can I see any objection to such a kind offer, sir?’ replied Kit with his whole heart. ‘I don’t know how to thank you sir, I don’t indeed.’

‘Why then,’ said Brass, suddenly turning upon him and thrusting his face close to Kit’s with such a repulsive smile that the latter, even in the very height of his gratitude, drew back, quite startled. ‘Why then, it’s done.’

Kit looked at him in some confusion.

‘Done, I say,’ added Sampson, rubbing his hands and veiling himself again in his usual oily manner. ‘Ha ha! and so you shall find Kit, so you shall find. But dear me,’ said Brass, ‘what a time Mr Richard is gone! A sad loiterer to be sure! Will you mind the office one minute, while I run up-stairs? Only one minute. I’ll not detain you an instant longer, on any account, Kit.’

Talking as he went, Mr Brass bustled out of the office, and in a very short time returned. Mr Swiveller came back, almost at the same instant; and as Kit was leaving the room hastily, to make up for lost time, Miss Brass herself encountered him in the doorway.

‘Oh!’ sneered Sally, looking after him as she entered. ‘There goes your pet, Sammy, eh?’

‘Ah! There he goes,’ replied Brass. ‘My pet, if you please. An honest fellow, Mr Richard, sir—a worthy fellow indeed!’

‘Hem!’ coughed Miss Brass.

‘I tell you, you aggravating vagabond,’ said the angry Sampson, ‘that I’d stake my life upon his honesty. Am I never to hear the last of this? Am I always to be baited, and beset, by your mean suspicions? Have you no regard for true merit, you malignant fellow? If you come to that, I’d sooner suspect your honesty than his.’

Miss Sally pulled out the tin snuff-box, and took a long, slow pinch, regarding her brother with a steady gaze all the time.

‘She drives me wild, Mr Richard, sir,’ said Brass, ‘she exasperates me beyond all bearing. I am heated and excited, sir, I know I am. These are not business manners, sir, nor business looks, but she carries me out of myself.’

‘Why don’t you leave him alone?’ said Dick.

‘Because she can’t, sir,’ retorted Brass; ‘because to chafe and vex me is a part of her nature, Sir, and she will and must do it, or I don’t believe she’d have her health. But never mind,’ said Brass, ‘never mind. I’ve carried my point. I’ve shown my confidence in the lad. He has minded the office again. Ha ha! Ugh, you viper!’

The beautiful virgin took another pinch, and put the snuff-box in her pocket; still looking at her brother with perfect composure.

‘He has minded the office again,’ said Brass triumphantly; ‘he has had my confidence, and he shall continue to have it; he—why, where’s the—’

‘What have you lost?’ inquired Mr Swiveller.

‘Dear me!’ said Brass, slapping all his pockets, one after another, and looking into his desk, and under it, and upon it, and wildly tossing the papers about, ‘the note, Mr Richard, sir, the five-pound note—what can have become of it? I laid it down here—God bless me!’

‘What!’ cried Miss Sally, starting up, clapping her hands, and scattering the papers on the floor. ‘Gone! Now who’s right? Now who’s got it? Never mind five pounds—what’s five pounds? He’s honest, you know, quite honest. It would be mean to suspect him. Don’t run after him. No, no, not for the world!’

‘Is it really gone though?’ said Dick, looking at Brass with a face as pale as his own.

‘Upon my word, Mr Richard, Sir,’ replied the lawyer, feeling in all his pockets with looks of the greatest agitation, ‘I fear this is a black business. It’s certainly gone, Sir. What’s to be done?’

‘Don’t run after him,’ said Miss Sally, taking more snuff. ‘Don’t run after him on any account. Give him time to get rid of it, you know. It would be cruel to find him out!’

Mr Swiveller and Sampson Brass looked from Miss Sally to each other, in a state of bewilderment, and then, as by one impulse, caught up their hats and rushed out into the street—darting along in the middle of the road, and dashing aside all obstructions, as though they were running for their lives.

It happened that Kit had been running too, though not so fast, and having the start of them by some few minutes, was a good distance ahead. As they were pretty certain of the road he must have taken, however, and kept on at a great pace, they came up with him, at the very moment when he had taken breath, and was breaking into a run again.

‘Stop!’ cried Sampson, laying his hand on one shoulder, while Mr Swiveller pounced upon the other. ‘Not so fast sir. You’re in a hurry?’

‘Yes, I am,’ said Kit, looking from one to the other in great surprise.

‘I—I—can hardly believe it,’ panted Sampson, ‘but something of value is missing from the office. I hope you don’t know what.’

‘Know what! good Heaven, Mr Brass!’ cried Kit, trembling from head to foot; ‘you don’t suppose—’

‘No, no,’ rejoined Brass quickly, ‘I don’t suppose anything. Don’t say I said you did. You’ll come back quietly, I hope?’

‘Of course I will,’ returned Kit. ‘Why not?’

‘To be sure!’ said Brass. ‘Why not? I hope there may turn out to be no why not. If you knew the trouble I’ve been in, this morning, through taking your part, Christopher, you’d be sorry for it.’

‘And I am sure you’ll be sorry for having suspected me sir,’ replied Kit. ‘Come. Let us make haste back.’

‘Certainly!’ cried Brass, ‘the quicker, the better. Mr Richard—have the goodness, sir, to take that arm. I’ll take this one. It’s not easy walking three abreast, but under these circumstances it must be done, sir; there’s no help for it.’

Kit did turn from white to red, and from red to white again, when they secured him thus, and for a moment seemed disposed to resist. But, quickly recollecting himself, and remembering that if he made any struggle, he would perhaps be dragged by the collar through the public streets, he only repeated, with great earnestness and with the tears standing in his eyes, that they would be sorry for this—and suffered them to lead him off. While they were on the way back, Mr Swiveller, upon whom his present functions sat very irksomely, took an opportunity of whispering in his ear that if he would confess his guilt, even by so much as a nod, and promise not to do so any more, he would connive at his kicking Sampson Brass on the shins and escaping up a court; but Kit indignantly rejecting this proposal, Mr Richard had nothing for it, but to hold him tight until they reached Bevis Marks, and ushered him into the presence of the charming Sarah, who immediately took the precaution of locking the door.

‘Now, you know,’ said Brass, ‘if this is a case of innocence, it is a case of that description, Christopher, where the fullest disclosure is the best satisfaction for everybody. Therefore if you’ll consent to an examination,’ he demonstrated what kind of examination he meant by turning back the cuffs of his coat, ‘it will be a comfortable and pleasant thing for all parties.’

‘Search me,’ said Kit, proudly holding up his arms. ‘But mind, sir—I know you’ll be sorry for this, to the last day of your life.’

‘It is certainly a very painful occurrence,’ said Brass with a sigh, as he dived into one of Kit’s pockets, and fished up a miscellaneous collection of small articles; ‘very painful. Nothing here, Mr Richard, Sir, all perfectly satisfactory. Nor here, sir. Nor in the waistcoat, Mr Richard, nor in the coat tails. So far, I am rejoiced, I am sure.’

Richard Swiveller, holding Kit’s hat in his hand, was watching the proceedings with great interest, and bore upon his face the slightest possible indication of a smile, as Brass, shutting one of his eyes, looked with the other up the inside of one of the poor fellow’s sleeves as if it were a telescope—when Sampson turning hastily to him, bade him search the hat.

‘Here’s a handkerchief,’ said Dick.

‘No harm in that sir,’ rejoined Brass, applying his eye to the other sleeve, and speaking in the voice of one who was contemplating an immense extent of prospect. ‘No harm in a handkerchief Sir, whatever. The faculty don’t consider it a healthy custom, I believe, Mr Richard, to carry one’s handkerchief in one’s hat—I have heard that it keeps the head too warm—but in every other point of view, its being there, is extremely satisfactory—extremely so.’

An exclamation, at once from Richard Swiveller, Miss Sally, and Kit himself, cut the lawyer short. He turned his head, and saw Dick standing with the bank-note in his hand.

‘In the hat?’ cried Brass in a sort of shriek.

‘Under the handkerchief, and tucked beneath the lining,’ said Dick, aghast at the discovery.

Mr Brass looked at him, at his sister, at the walls, at the ceiling, at the floor—everywhere but at Kit, who stood quite stupefied and motionless.

‘And this,’ cried Sampson, clasping his hands, ‘is the world that turns upon its own axis, and has Lunar influences, and revolutions round Heavenly Bodies, and various games of that sort! This is human natur, is it! Oh natur, natur! This is the miscreant that I was going to benefit with all my little arts, and that, even now, I feel so much for, as to wish to let him go! But,’ added Mr Brass with greater fortitude, ‘I am myself a lawyer, and bound to set an example in carrying the laws of my happy country into effect. Sally my dear, forgive me, and catch hold of him on the other side. Mr Richard, sir, have the goodness to run and fetch a constable. The weakness is past and over sir, and moral strength returns. A constable, sir, if you please!’





CHAPTER 60

Kit stood as one entranced, with his eyes opened wide and fixed upon the ground, regardless alike of the tremulous hold which Mr Brass maintained on one side of his cravat, and of the firmer grasp of Miss Sally upon the other; although this latter detention was in itself no small inconvenience, as that fascinating woman, besides screwing her knuckles inconveniently into his throat from time to time, had fastened upon him in the first instance with so tight a grip that even in the disorder and distraction of his thoughts he could not divest himself of an uneasy sense of choking. Between the brother and sister he remained in this posture, quite unresisting and passive, until Mr Swiveller returned, with a police constable at his heels.

This functionary, being, of course, well used to such scenes; looking upon all kinds of robbery, from petty larceny up to housebreaking or ventures on the highway, as matters in the regular course of business; and regarding the perpetrators in the light of so many customers coming to be served at the wholesale and retail shop of criminal law where he stood behind the counter; received Mr Brass’s statement of facts with about as much interest and surprise, as an undertaker might evince if required to listen to a circumstantial account of the last illness of a person whom he was called in to wait upon professionally; and took Kit into custody with a decent indifference.

‘We had better,’ said this subordinate minister of justice, ‘get to the office while there’s a magistrate sitting. I shall want you to come along with us, Mr Brass, and the—’ he looked at Miss Sally as if in some doubt whether she might not be a griffin or other fabulous monster.

‘The lady, eh?’ said Sampson.

‘Ah!’ replied the constable. ‘Yes—the lady. Likewise the young man that found the property.’

‘Mr Richard, Sir,’ said Brass in a mournful voice. ‘A sad necessity. But the altar of our country sir—’

‘You’ll have a hackney-coach, I suppose?’ interrupted the constable, holding Kit (whom his other captors had released) carelessly by the arm, a little above the elbow. ‘Be so good as send for one, will you?’

‘But, hear me speak a word,’ cried Kit, raising his eyes and looking imploringly about him. ‘Hear me speak a word. I am no more guilty than any one of you. Upon my soul I am not. I a thief! Oh, Mr Brass, you know me better. I am sure you know me better. This is not right of you, indeed.’

‘I give you my word, constable—’ said Brass. But here the constable interposed with the constitutional principle ‘words be blowed;’ observing that words were but spoon-meat for babes and sucklings, and that oaths were the food for strong men.

‘Quite true, constable,’ assented Brass in the same mournful tone. ‘Strictly correct. I give you my oath, constable, that down to a few minutes ago, when this fatal discovery was made, I had such confidence in that lad, that I’d have trusted him with—a hackney-coach, Mr Richard, sir; you’re very slow, Sir.’

‘Who is there that knows me,’ cried Kit, ‘that would not trust me— that does not? ask anybody whether they have ever doubted me; whether I have ever wronged them of a farthing. Was I ever once dishonest when I was poor and hungry, and is it likely I would begin now! Oh consider what you do. How can I meet the kindest friends that ever human creature had, with this dreadful charge upon me!’

Mr Brass rejoined that it would have been well for the prisoner if he had thought of that before, and was about to make some other gloomy observations when the voice of the single gentleman was heard, demanding from above-stairs what was the matter, and what was the cause of all that noise and hurry. Kit made an involuntary start towards the door in his anxiety to answer for himself, but being speedily detained by the constable, had the agony of seeing Sampson Brass run out alone to tell the story in his own way.

‘And he can hardly believe it, either,’ said Sampson, when he returned, ‘nor nobody will. I wish I could doubt the evidence of my senses, but their depositions are unimpeachable. It’s of no use cross-examining my eyes,’ cried Sampson, winking and rubbing them, ‘they stick to their first account, and will. Now, Sarah, I hear the coach in the Marks; get on your bonnet, and we’ll be off. A sad errand! a moral funeral, quite!’

‘Mr Brass,’ said Kit. ‘Do me one favour. Take me to Mr Witherden’s first.’

Sampson shook his head irresolutely.

‘Do,’ said Kit. ‘My master’s there. For Heaven’s sake, take me there, first.’

‘Well, I don’t know,’ stammered Brass, who perhaps had his reasons for wishing to show as fair as possible in the eyes of the notary. ‘How do we stand in point of time, constable, eh?’

The constable, who had been chewing a straw all this while with great philosophy, replied that if they went away at once they would have time enough, but that if they stood shilly-shallying there, any longer, they must go straight to the Mansion House; and finally expressed his opinion that that was where it was, and that was all about it.

Mr Richard Swiveller having arrived inside the coach, and still remaining immoveable in the most commodious corner with his face to the horses, Mr Brass instructed the officer to remove his prisoner, and declared himself quite ready. Therefore, the constable, still holding Kit in the same manner, and pushing him on a little before him, so as to keep him at about three-quarters of an arm’s length in advance (which is the professional mode), thrust him into the vehicle and followed himself. Miss Sally entered next; and there being now four inside, Sampson Brass got upon the box, and made the coachman drive on.

Still completely stunned by the sudden and terrible change which had taken place in his affairs, Kit sat gazing out of the coach window, almost hoping to see some monstrous phenomenon in the streets which might give him reason to believe he was in a dream. Alas! Everything was too real and familiar: the same succession of turnings, the same houses, the same streams of people running side by side in different directions upon the pavement, the same bustle of carts and carriages in the road, the same well-remembered objects in the shop windows: a regularity in the very noise and hurry which no dream ever mirrored. Dream-like as the story was, it was true. He stood charged with robbery; the note had been found upon him, though he was innocent in thought and deed; and they were carrying him back, a prisoner.

Absorbed in these painful ruminations, thinking with a drooping heart of his mother and little Jacob, feeling as though even the consciousness of innocence would be insufficient to support him in the presence of his friends if they believed him guilty, and sinking in hope and courage more and more as they drew nearer to the notary’s, poor Kit was looking earnestly out of the window, observant of nothing,—when all at once, as though it had been conjured up by magic, he became aware of the face of Quilp.

And what a leer there was upon the face! It was from the open window of a tavern that it looked out; and the dwarf had so spread himself over it, with his elbows on the window-sill and his head resting on both his hands, that what between this attitude and his being swoln with suppressed laughter, he looked puffed and bloated into twice his usual breadth. Mr Brass, on recognising him, immediately stopped the coach. As it came to a halt directly opposite to where he stood, the dwarf pulled off his hat, and saluted the party with a hideous and grotesque politeness.

'Aha!’ he cried. ‘Where now, Brass? where now? Sally with you too? Sweet Sally! And Dick? Pleasant Dick! And Kit! Honest Kit!’

‘He’s extremely cheerful!’ said Brass to the coachman. ‘Very much so! Ah, sir—a sad business! Never believe in honesty any more, sir.’

‘Why not?’ returned the dwarf. ‘Why not, you rogue of a lawyer, why not?’

‘Bank-note lost in our office sir,’ said Brass, shaking his head. ‘Found in his hat sir—he previously left alone there—no mistake at all sir—chain of evidence complete—not a link wanting.’

‘What!’ cried the dwarf, leaning half his body out of window. ‘Kit a thief! Kit a thief! Ha ha ha! Why, he’s an uglier-looking thief than can be seen anywhere for a penny. Eh, Kit—eh? Ha ha ha! Have you taken Kit into custody before he had time and opportunity to beat me! Eh, Kit, eh?’ And with that, he burst into a yell of laughter, manifestly to the great terror of the coachman, and pointed to a dyer’s pole hard by, where a dangling suit of clothes bore some resemblance to a man upon a gibbet.

‘Is it coming to that, Kit!’ cried the dwarf, rubbing his hands violently. ‘Ha ha ha ha! What a disappointment for little Jacob, and for his darling mother! Let him have the Bethel minister to comfort and console him, Brass. Eh, Kit, eh? Drive on coachey, drive on. Bye bye, Kit; all good go with you; keep up your spirits; my love to the Garlands—the dear old lady and gentleman. Say I inquired after ‘em, will you? Blessings on ‘em, on you, and on everybody, Kit. Blessings on all the world!’

With such good wishes and farewells, poured out in a rapid torrent until they were out of hearing, Quilp suffered them to depart; and when he could see the coach no longer, drew in his head, and rolled upon the ground in an ecstacy of enjoyment.

When they reached the notary’s, which they were not long in doing, for they had encountered the dwarf in a bye street at a very little distance from the house, Mr Brass dismounted; and opening the coach door with a melancholy visage, requested his sister to accompany him into the office, with the view of preparing the good people within, for the mournful intelligence that awaited them. Miss Sally complying, he desired Mr Swiveller to accompany them. So, into the office they went; Mr Sampson and his sister arm-in-arm; and Mr Swiveller following, alone.

The notary was standing before the fire in the outer office, talking to Mr Abel and the elder Mr Garland, while Mr Chuckster sat writing at the desk, picking up such crumbs of their conversation as happened to fall in his way. This posture of affairs Mr Brass observed through the glass-door as he was turning the handle, and seeing that the notary recognised him, he began to shake his head and sigh deeply while that partition yet divided them.

‘Sir,’ said Sampson, taking off his hat, and kissing the two fore-fingers of his right hand beaver glove, ‘my name is Brass—Brass of Bevis Marks, Sir. I have had the honour and pleasure, Sir, of being concerned against you in some little testamentary matters. How do you do, sir?’

‘My clerk will attend to any business you may have come upon, Mr Brass,’ said the notary, turning away.

‘Thank you Sir,’ said Brass, ‘thank you, I am sure. Allow me, Sir, to introduce my sister—quite one of us Sir, although of the weaker sex—of great use in my business Sir, I assure you. Mr Richard, sir, have the goodness to come foward if you please—No really,’ said Brass, stepping between the notary and his private office (towards which he had begun to retreat), and speaking in the tone of an injured man, ‘really Sir, I must, under favour, request a word or two with you, indeed.’

‘Mr Brass,’ said the other, in a decided tone, ‘I am engaged. You see that I am occupied with these gentlemen. If you will communicate your business to Mr Chuckster yonder, you will receive every attention.’

‘Gentlemen,’ said Brass, laying his right hand on his waistcoat, and looking towards the father and son with a smooth smile—‘Gentlemen, I appeal to you—really, gentlemen—consider, I beg of you. I am of the law. I am styled “gentleman” by Act of Parliament. I maintain the title by the annual payment of twelve pound sterling for a certificate. I am not one of your players of music, stage actors, writers of books, or painters of pictures, who assume a station that the laws of their country don’t recognise. I am none of your strollers or vagabonds. If any man brings his action against me, he must describe me as a gentleman, or his action is null and void. I appeal to you—is this quite respectful? Really gentlemen—’

‘Well, will you have the goodness to state your business then, Mr Brass?’ said the notary.

‘Sir,’ rejoined Brass, ‘I will. Ah Mr Witherden! you little know the—but I will not be tempted to travel from the point, sir, I believe the name of one of these gentlemen is Garland.’

‘Of both,’ said the notary.

‘In-deed!’ rejoined Brass, cringing excessively. ‘But I might have known that, from the uncommon likeness. Extremely happy, I am sure, to have the honour of an introduction to two such gentlemen, although the occasion is a most painful one. One of you gentlemen has a servant called Kit?’

‘Both,’ replied the notary.

'Two Kits?’ said Brass smiling. ‘Dear me!’

‘One Kit, sir,’ returned Mr Witherden angrily, ‘who is employed by both gentlemen. What of him?’

‘This of him, sir,’ rejoined Brass, dropping his voice impressively. ‘That young man, sir, that I have felt unbounded and unlimited confidence in, and always behaved to as if he was my equal—that young man has this morning committed a robbery in my office, and been taken almost in the fact.’

‘This must be some falsehood!’ cried the notary.

‘It is not possible,’ said Mr Abel.

‘I’ll not believe one word of it,’ exclaimed the old gentleman.

Mr Brass looked mildly round upon them, and rejoined,

‘Mr Witherden, sir, your words are actionable, and if I was a man of low and mean standing, who couldn’t afford to be slandered, I should proceed for damages. Hows’ever, sir, being what I am, I merely scorn such expressions. The honest warmth of the other gentleman I respect, and I’m truly sorry to be the messenger of such unpleasant news. I shouldn’t have put myself in this painful position, I assure you, but that the lad himself desired to be brought here in the first instance, and I yielded to his prayers. Mr Chuckster, sir, will you have the goodness to tap at the window for the constable that’s waiting in the coach?’

The three gentlemen looked at each other with blank faces when these words were uttered, and Mr Chuckster, doing as he was desired, and leaping off his stool with something of the excitement of an inspired prophet whose foretellings had in the fulness of time been realised, held the door open for the entrance of the wretched captive.

Such a scene as there was, when Kit came in, and bursting into the rude eloquence with which Truth at length inspired him, called Heaven to witness that he was innocent, and that how the property came to be found upon him he knew not! Such a confusion of tongues, before the circumstances were related, and the proofs disclosed! Such a dead silence when all was told, and his three friends exchanged looks of doubt and amazement!

‘Is it not possible,’ said Mr Witherden, after a long pause, ‘that this note may have found its way into the hat by some accident,—such as the removal of papers on the desk, for instance?’

But this was clearly shown to be quite impossible. Mr Swiveller, though an unwilling witness, could not help proving to demonstration, from the position in which it was found, that it must have been designedly secreted.

‘It’s very distressing,’ said Brass, ‘immensely distressing, I am sure. When he comes to be tried, I shall be very happy to recommend him to mercy on account of his previous good character. I did lose money before, certainly, but it doesn’t quite follow that he took it. The presumption’s against him—strongly against him—but we’re Christians, I hope?’

‘I suppose,’ said the constable, looking round, ‘that no gentleman here can give evidence as to whether he’s been flush of money of late, Do you happen to know, Sir?’

‘He has had money from time to time, certainly,’ returned Mr Garland, to whom the man had put the question. ‘But that, as he always told me, was given him by Mr Brass himself.’

‘Yes to be sure,’ said Kit eagerly. ‘You can bear me out in that, Sir?’

‘Eh?’ cried Brass, looking from face to face with an expression of stupid amazement.

‘The money you know, the half-crowns, that you gave me—from the lodger,’ said Kit.

‘Oh dear me!’ cried Brass, shaking his head and frowning heavily. ‘This is a bad case, I find; a very bad case indeed.’

‘What! Did you give him no money on account of anybody, Sir?’ asked Mr Garland, with great anxiety.

‘I give him money, Sir!’ returned Sampson. ‘Oh, come you know, this is too barefaced. Constable, my good fellow, we had better be going.’

‘What!’ shrieked Kit. ‘Does he deny that he did? ask him, somebody, pray. Ask him to tell you whether he did or not!’

‘Did you, sir?’ asked the notary.

‘I tell you what, gentlemen,’ replied Brass, in a very grave manner, ‘he’ll not serve his case this way, and really, if you feel any interest in him, you had better advise him to go upon some other tack. Did I, sir? Of course I never did.’

‘Gentlemen,’ cried Kit, on whom a light broke suddenly, ‘Master, Mr Abel, Mr Witherden, every one of you—he did it! What I have done to offend him, I don’t know, but this is a plot to ruin me. Mind, gentlemen, it’s a plot, and whatever comes of it, I will say with my dying breath that he put that note in my hat himself! Look at him, gentlemen! see how he changes colour. Which of us looks the guilty person—he, or I?’

‘You hear him, gentlemen?’ said Brass, smiling, ‘you hear him. Now, does this case strike you as assuming rather a black complexion, or does it not? Is it at all a treacherous case, do you think, or is it one of mere ordinary guilt? Perhaps, gentlemen, if he had not said this in your presence and I had reported it, you’d have held this to be impossible likewise, eh?’

With such pacific and bantering remarks did Mr Brass refute the foul aspersion on his character; but the virtuous Sarah, moved by stronger feelings, and having at heart, perhaps, a more jealous regard for the honour of her family, flew from her brother’s side, without any previous intimation of her design, and darted at the prisoner with the utmost fury. It would undoubtedly have gone hard with Kit’s face, but that the wary constable, foreseeing her design, drew him aside at the critical moment, and thus placed Mr Chuckster in circumstances of some jeopardy; for that gentleman happening to be next the object of Miss Brass’s wrath; and rage being, like love and fortune, blind; was pounced upon by the fair enslaver, and had a false collar plucked up by the roots, and his hair very much dishevelled, before the exertions of the company could make her sensible of her mistake.

The constable, taking warning by this desperate attack, and thinking perhaps that it would be more satisfactory to the ends of justice if the prisoner were taken before a magistrate, whole, rather than in small pieces, led him back to the hackney-coach without more ado, and moreover insisted on Miss Brass becoming an outside passenger; to which proposal the charming creature, after a little angry discussion, yielded her consent; and so took her brother Sampson’s place upon the box: Mr Brass with some reluctance agreeing to occupy her seat inside. These arrangements perfected, they drove to the justice-room with all speed, followed by the notary and his two friends in another coach. Mr Chuckster alone was left behind—greatly to his indignation; for he held the evidence he could have given, relative to Kit’s returning to work out the shilling, to be so very material as bearing upon his hypocritical and designing character, that he considered its suppression little better than a compromise of felony.

At the justice-room, they found the single gentleman, who had gone straight there, and was expecting them with desperate impatience. But not fifty single gentlemen rolled into one could have helped poor Kit, who in half an hour afterwards was committed for trial, and was assured by a friendly officer on his way to prison that there was no occasion to be cast down, for the sessions would soon be on, and he would, in all likelihood, get his little affair disposed of, and be comfortably transported, in less than a fortnight.