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The Old Curiosity Shop

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CHAPTER 61

Let moralists and philosophers say what they may, it is very questionable whether a guilty man would have felt half as much misery that night, as Kit did, being innocent. The world, being in the constant commission of vast quantities of injustice, is a little too apt to comfort itself with the idea that if the victim of its falsehood and malice have a clear conscience, he cannot fail to be sustained under his trials, and somehow or other to come right at last; ‘in which case,’ say they who have hunted him down, ‘—though we certainly don’t expect it—nobody will be better pleased than we.’ Whereas, the world would do well to reflect, that injustice is in itself, to every generous and properly constituted mind, an injury, of all others the most insufferable, the most torturing, and the most hard to bear; and that many clear consciences have gone to their account elsewhere, and many sound hearts have broken, because of this very reason; the knowledge of their own deserts only aggravating their sufferings, and rendering them the less endurable.

The world, however, was not in fault in Kit’s case. But Kit was innocent; and knowing this, and feeling that his best friends deemed him guilty—that Mr and Mrs Garland would look upon him as a monster of ingratitude—that Barbara would associate him with all that was bad and criminal—that the pony would consider himself forsaken—and that even his own mother might perhaps yield to the strong appearances against him, and believe him to be the wretch he seemed—knowing and feeling all this, he experienced, at first, an agony of mind which no words can describe, and walked up and down the little cell in which he was locked up for the night, almost beside himself with grief.

Even when the violence of these emotions had in some degree subsided, and he was beginning to grow more calm, there came into his mind a new thought, the anguish of which was scarcely less. The child—the bright star of the simple fellow’s life—she, who always came back upon him like a beautiful dream—who had made the poorest part of his existence, the happiest and best—who had ever been so gentle, and considerate, and good—if she were ever to hear of this, what would she think! As this idea occurred to him, the walls of the prison seemed to melt away, and the old place to reveal itself in their stead, as it was wont to be on winter nights—the fireside, the little supper table, the old man’s hat, and coat, and stick—the half-opened door, leading to her little room—they were all there. And Nell herself was there, and he—both laughing heartily as they had often done—and when he had got as far as this, Kit could go no farther, but flung himself upon his poor bedstead and wept.

It was a long night, which seemed as though it would have no end; but he slept too, and dreamed—always of being at liberty, and roving about, now with one person and now with another, but ever with a vague dread of being recalled to prison; not that prison, but one which was in itself a dim idea—not of a place, but of a care and sorrow: of something oppressive and always present, and yet impossible to define. At last, the morning dawned, and there was the jail itself—cold, black, and dreary, and very real indeed.

He was left to himself, however, and there was comfort in that. He had liberty to walk in a small paved yard at a certain hour, and learnt from the turnkey, who came to unlock his cell and show him where to wash, that there was a regular time for visiting, every day, and that if any of his friends came to see him, he would be fetched down to the grate. When he had given him this information, and a tin porringer containing his breakfast, the man locked him up again; and went clattering along the stone passage, opening and shutting a great many other doors, and raising numberless loud echoes which resounded through the building for a long time, as if they were in prison too, and unable to get out.

This turnkey had given him to understand that he was lodged, like some few others in the jail, apart from the mass of prisoners; because he was not supposed to be utterly depraved and irreclaimable, and had never occupied apartments in that mansion before. Kit was thankful for this indulgence, and sat reading the church catechism very attentively (though he had known it by heart from a little child), until he heard the key in the lock, and the man entered again.

‘Now then,’ he said, ‘come on!’

‘Where to, Sir?’ asked Kit.

The man contented himself by briefly replying ‘Wisitors;’ and taking him by the arm in exactly the same manner as the constable had done the day before, led him, through several winding ways and strong gates, into a passage, where he placed him at a grating and turned upon his heel. Beyond this grating, at the distance of about four or five feet, was another exactly like it. In the space between, sat a turnkey reading a newspaper, and outside the further railing, Kit saw, with a palpitating heart, his mother with the baby in her arms; Barbara’s mother with her never-failing umbrella; and poor little Jacob, staring in with all his might, as though he were looking for the bird, or the wild beast, and thought the men were mere accidents with whom the bars could have no possible concern.

But when little Jacob saw his brother, and, thrusting his arms between the rails to hug him, found that he came no nearer, but still stood afar off with his head resting on the arm by which he held to one of the bars, he began to cry most piteously; whereupon, Kit’s mother and Barbara’s mother, who had restrained themselves as much as possible, burst out sobbing and weeping afresh. Poor Kit could not help joining them, and not one of them could speak a word. During this melancholy pause, the turnkey read his newspaper with a waggish look (he had evidently got among the facetious paragraphs) until, happening to take his eyes off for an instant, as if to get by dint of contemplation at the very marrow of some joke of a deeper sort than the rest, it appeared to occur to him, for the first time, that somebody was crying.

‘Now, ladies, ladies,’ he said, looking round with surprise, ‘I’d advise you not to waste time like this. It’s allowanced here, you know. You mustn’t let that child make that noise either. It’s against all rules.’

‘I’m his poor mother, sir,’—sobbed Mrs Nubbles, curtseying humbly, ‘and this is his brother, sir. Oh dear me, dear me!’

‘Well!’ replied the turnkey, folding his paper on his knee, so as to get with greater convenience at the top of the next column. ‘It can’t be helped you know. He ain’t the only one in the same fix. You mustn’t make a noise about it!’

With that he went on reading. The man was not unnaturally cruel or hard-hearted. He had come to look upon felony as a kind of disorder, like the scarlet fever or erysipelas: some people had it—some hadn’t—just as it might be.

‘Oh! my darling Kit,’ said his mother, whom Barbara’s mother had charitably relieved of the baby, ‘that I should see my poor boy here!’

‘You don’t believe that I did what they accuse me of, mother dear?’ cried Kit, in a choking voice.

‘I believe it!’ exclaimed the poor woman, ‘I that never knew you tell a lie, or do a bad action from your cradle—that have never had a moment’s sorrow on your account, except it was the poor meals that you have taken with such good humour and content, that I forgot how little there was, when I thought how kind and thoughtful you were, though you were but a child!—I believe it of the son that’s been a comfort to me from the hour of his birth until this time, and that I never laid down one night in anger with! I believe it of you Kit!—’

‘Why then, thank God!’ said Kit, clutching the bars with an earnestness that shook them, ‘and I can bear it, mother! Come what may, I shall always have one drop of happiness in my heart when I think that you said that.’

At this the poor woman fell a-crying again, and Barbara’s mother too. And little Jacob, whose disjointed thoughts had by this time resolved themselves into a pretty distinct impression that Kit couldn’t go out for a walk if he wanted, and that there were no birds, lions, tigers or other natural curiosities behind those bars—nothing indeed, but a caged brother—added his tears to theirs with as little noise as possible.

Kit’s mother, drying her eyes (and moistening them, poor soul, more than she dried them), now took from the ground a small basket, and submissively addressed herself to the turnkey, saying, would he please to listen to her for a minute? The turnkey, being in the very crisis and passion of a joke, motioned to her with his hand to keep silent one minute longer, for her life. Nor did he remove his hand into its former posture, but kept it in the same warning attitude until he had finished the paragraph, when he paused for a few seconds, with a smile upon his face, as who should say ‘this editor is a comical blade—a funny dog,’ and then asked her what she wanted.

‘I have brought him a little something to eat,’ said the good woman. ‘If you please, Sir, might he have it?’

‘Yes,—he may have it. There’s no rule against that. Give it to me when you go, and I’ll take care he has it.’

‘No, but if you please sir—don’t be angry with me sir—I am his mother, and you had a mother once—if I might only see him eat a little bit, I should go away, so much more satisfied that he was all comfortable.’

And again the tears of Kit’s mother burst forth, and of Barbara’s mother, and of little Jacob. As to the baby, it was crowing and laughing with its might—under the idea, apparently, that the whole scene had been invented and got up for its particular satisfaction.

The turnkey looked as if he thought the request a strange one and rather out of the common way, but nevertheless he laid down his paper, and coming round where Kit’s mother stood, took the basket from her, and after inspecting its contents, handed it to Kit, and went back to his place. It may be easily conceived that the prisoner had no great appetite, but he sat down on the ground, and ate as hard as he could, while, at every morsel he put into his mouth, his mother sobbed and wept afresh, though with a softened grief that bespoke the satisfaction the sight afforded her.

While he was thus engaged, Kit made some anxious inquiries about his employers, and whether they had expressed any opinion concerning him; but all he could learn was that Mr Abel had himself broken the intelligence to his mother, with great kindness and delicacy, late on the previous night, but had himself expressed no opinion of his innocence or guilt. Kit was on the point of mustering courage to ask Barbara’s mother about Barbara, when the turnkey who had conducted him, reappeared, a second turnkey appeared behind his visitors, and the third turnkey with the newspaper cried ‘Time’s up!’—adding in the same breath ‘Now for the next party!’ and then plunging deep into his newspaper again. Kit was taken off in an instant, with a blessing from his mother, and a scream from little Jacob, ringing in his ears. As he was crossing the next yard with the basket in his hand, under the guidance of his former conductor, another officer called to them to stop, and came up with a pint pot of porter in his hand.

‘This is Christopher Nubbles, isn’t it, that come in last night for felony?’ said the man.

His comrade replied that this was the chicken in question.

‘Then here’s your beer,’ said the other man to Christopher. ‘What are you looking at? There an’t a discharge in it.’

‘I beg your pardon,’ said Kit. ‘Who sent it me?’

‘Why, your friend,’ replied the man. ‘You’re to have it every day, he says. And so you will, if he pays for it.’

‘My friend!’ repeated Kit.

‘You’re all abroad, seemingly,’ returned the other man. ‘There’s his letter. Take hold!’

Kit took it, and when he was locked up again, read as follows.

‘Drink of this cup, you’ll find there’s a spell in its every drop ‘gainst the ills of mortality. Talk of the cordial that sparkled for Helen! Her cup was a fiction, but this is reality (Barclay and Co.‘s).—If they ever send it in a flat state, complain to the Governor. Yours, R. S.’

‘R. S.!’ said Kit, after some consideration. ‘It must be Mr Richard Swiveller. Well, its very kind of him, and I thank him heartily.’





CHAPTER 62

Afaint light, twinkling from the window of the counting-house on Quilp’s wharf, and looking inflamed and red through the night-fog, as though it suffered from it like an eye, forewarned Mr Sampson Brass, as he approached the wooden cabin with a cautious step, that the excellent proprietor, his esteemed client, was inside, and probably waiting with his accustomed patience and sweetness of temper the fulfilment of the appointment which now brought Mr Brass within his fair domain.

‘A treacherous place to pick one’s steps in, of a dark night,’ muttered Sampson, as he stumbled for the twentieth time over some stray lumber, and limped in pain. ‘I believe that boy strews the ground differently every day, on purpose to bruise and maim one; unless his master does it with his own hands, which is more than likely. I hate to come to this place without Sally. She’s more protection than a dozen men.’

As he paid this compliment to the merit of the absent charmer, Mr Brass came to a halt; looking doubtfully towards the light, and over his shoulder.

‘What’s he about, I wonder?’ murmured the lawyer, standing on tiptoe, and endeavouring to obtain a glimpse of what was passing inside, which at that distance was impossible—‘drinking, I suppose,—making himself more fiery and furious, and heating his malice and mischievousness till they boil. I’m always afraid to come here by myself, when his account’s a pretty large one. I don’t believe he’d mind throttling me, and dropping me softly into the river when the tide was at its strongest, any more than he’d mind killing a rat—indeed I don’t know whether he wouldn’t consider it a pleasant joke. Hark! Now he’s singing!’

Mr Quilp was certainly entertaining himself with vocal exercise, but it was rather a kind of chant than a song; being a monotonous repetition of one sentence in a very rapid manner, with a long stress upon the last word, which he swelled into a dismal roar. Nor did the burden of this performance bear any reference to love, or war, or wine, or loyalty, or any other, the standard topics of song, but to a subject not often set to music or generally known in ballads; the words being these:—‘The worthy magistrate, after remarking that the prisoner would find some difficulty in persuading a jury to believe his tale, committed him to take his trial at the approaching sessions; and directed the customary recognisances to be entered into for the pros-e-cu-tion.’

Every time he came to this concluding word, and had exhausted all possible stress upon it, Quilp burst into a shriek of laughter, and began again.

‘He’s dreadfully imprudent,’ muttered Brass, after he had listened to two or three repetitions of the chant. ‘Horribly imprudent. I wish he was dumb. I wish he was deaf. I wish he was blind. Hang him,’ cried Brass, as the chant began again. ‘I wish he was dead!’

Giving utterance to these friendly aspirations in behalf of his client, Mr Sampson composed his face into its usual state of smoothness, and waiting until the shriek came again and was dying away, went up to the wooden house, and knocked at the door.

‘Come in!’ cried the dwarf.

‘How do you do to-night sir?’ said Sampson, peeping in. ‘Ha ha ha! How do you do sir? Oh dear me, how very whimsical! Amazingly whimsical to be sure!’

‘Come in, you fool!’ returned the dwarf, ‘and don’t stand there shaking your head and showing your teeth. Come in, you false witness, you perjurer, you suborner of evidence, come in!’

‘He has the richest humour!’ cried Brass, shutting the door behind him; ‘the most amazing vein of comicality! But isn’t it rather injudicious, sir—?’

‘What?’ demanded Quilp. ‘What, Judas?’

‘Judas!’ cried Brass. ‘He has such extraordinary spirits! His humour is so extremely playful! Judas! Oh yes—dear me, how very good! Ha ha ha!’

All this time, Sampson was rubbing his hands, and staring, with ludicrous surprise and dismay, at a great, goggle-eyed, blunt-nosed figure-head of some old ship, which was reared up against the wall in a corner near the stove, looking like a goblin or hideous idol whom the dwarf worshipped. A mass of timber on its head, carved into the dim and distant semblance of a cocked hat, together with a representation of a star on the left breast and epaulettes on the shoulders, denoted that it was intended for the effigy of some famous admiral; but, without those helps, any observer might have supposed it the authentic portrait of a distinguished merman, or great sea-monster. Being originally much too large for the apartment which it was now employed to decorate, it had been sawn short off at the waist. Even in this state it reached from floor to ceiling; and thrusting itself forward, with that excessively wide-awake aspect, and air of somewhat obtrusive politeness, by which figure-heads are usually characterised, seemed to reduce everything else to mere pigmy proportions.

‘Do you know it?’ said the dwarf, watching Sampson’s eyes. ‘Do you see the likeness?’

‘Eh?’ said Brass, holding his head on one side, and throwing it a little back, as connoisseurs do. ‘Now I look at it again, I fancy I see a—yes, there certainly is something in the smile that reminds me of—and yet upon my word I—’

Now, the fact was, that Sampson, having never seen anything in the smallest degree resembling this substantial phantom, was much perplexed; being uncertain whether Mr Quilp considered it like himself, and had therefore bought it for a family portrait; or whether he was pleased to consider it as the likeness of some enemy. He was not very long in doubt; for, while he was surveying it with that knowing look which people assume when they are contemplating for the first time portraits which they ought to recognise but don’t, the dwarf threw down the newspaper from which he had been chanting the words already quoted, and seizing a rusty iron bar, which he used in lieu of poker, dealt the figure such a stroke on the nose that it rocked again.

‘Is it like Kit—is it his picture, his image, his very self?’ cried the dwarf, aiming a shower of blows at the insensible countenance, and covering it with deep dimples. ‘Is it the exact model and counterpart of the dog—is it—is it—is it?’ And with every repetition of the question, he battered the great image, until the perspiration streamed down his face with the violence of the exercise.

Although this might have been a very comical thing to look at from a secure gallery, as a bull-fight is found to be a comfortable spectacle by those who are not in the arena, and a house on fire is better than a play to people who don’t live near it, there was something in the earnestness of Mr Quilp’s manner which made his legal adviser feel that the counting-house was a little too small, and a deal too lonely, for the complete enjoyment of these humours. Therefore, he stood as far off as he could, while the dwarf was thus engaged; whimpering out but feeble applause; and when Quilp left off and sat down again from pure exhaustion, approached with more obsequiousness than ever.

‘Excellent indeed!’ cried Brass. ‘He he! Oh, very good Sir. You know,’ said Sampson, looking round as if in appeal to the bruised animal, ‘he’s quite a remarkable man—quite!’

‘Sit down,’ said the dwarf. ‘I bought the dog yesterday. I’ve been screwing gimlets into him, and sticking forks in his eyes, and cutting my name on him. I mean to burn him at last.’

‘Ha ha!’ cried Brass. ‘Extremely entertaining, indeed!’

‘Come here,’ said Quilp, beckoning him to draw near. ‘What’s injudicious, hey?’

‘Nothing Sir—nothing. Scarcely worth mentioning Sir; but I thought that song—admirably humorous in itself you know—was perhaps rather—’

‘Yes,’ said Quilp, ‘rather what?’

‘Just bordering, or as one may say remotely verging, upon the confines of injudiciousness perhaps, Sir,’ returned Brass, looking timidly at the dwarf’s cunning eyes, which were turned towards the fire and reflected its red light.

‘Why?’ inquired Quilp, without looking up.

‘Why, you know, sir,’ returned Brass, venturing to be more familiar: ‘—the fact is, sir, that any allusion to these little combinings together, of friends, for objects in themselves extremely laudable, but which the law terms conspiracies, are—you take me, sir?—best kept snug and among friends, you know.’

‘Eh!’ said Quilp, looking up with a perfectly vacant countenance. ‘What do you mean?’

‘Cautious, exceedingly cautious, very right and proper!’ cried Brass, nodding his head. ‘Mum, sir, even here—my meaning, sir, exactly.’

‘Your meaning exactly, you brazen scarecrow,—what’s your meaning?’ retorted Quilp. ‘Why do you talk to me of combining together? Do I combine? Do I know anything about your combinings?’

‘No no, sir—certainly not; not by any means,’ returned Brass.

‘If you so wink and nod at me,’ said the dwarf, looking about him as if for his poker, ‘I’ll spoil the expression of your monkey’s face, I will.’

‘Don’t put yourself out of the way I beg, sir,’ rejoined Brass, checking himself with great alacrity. ‘You’re quite right, sir, quite right. I shouldn’t have mentioned the subject, sir. It’s much better not to. You’re quite right, sir. Let us change it, if you please. You were asking, sir, Sally told me, about our lodger. He has not returned, sir.’

‘No?’ said Quilp, heating some rum in a little saucepan, and watching it to prevent its boiling over. ‘Why not?’

‘Why, sir,’ returned Brass, ‘he—dear me, Mr Quilp, sir—’

‘What’s the matter?’ said the dwarf, stopping his hand in the act of carrying the saucepan to his mouth.

‘You have forgotten the water, sir,’ said Brass. ‘And—excuse me, sir—but it’s burning hot.’

Deigning no other than a practical answer to this remonstrance, Mr Quilp raised the hot saucepan to his lips, and deliberately drank off all the spirit it contained, which might have been in quantity about half a pint, and had been but a moment before, when he took it off the fire, bubbling and hissing fiercely. Having swallowed this gentle stimulant, and shaken his fist at the admiral, he bade Mr Brass proceed.

‘But first,’ said Quilp, with his accustomed grin, ‘have a drop yourself—a nice drop—a good, warm, fiery drop.’

‘Why, sir,’ replied Brass, ‘if there was such a thing as a mouthful of water that could be got without trouble—’

‘There’s no such thing to be had here,’ cried the dwarf. ‘Water for lawyers! Melted lead and brimstone, you mean, nice hot blistering pitch and tar—that’s the thing for them—eh, Brass, eh?’

‘Ha ha ha!’ laughed Mr Brass. ‘Oh very biting! and yet it’s like being tickled—there’s a pleasure in it too, sir!’

‘Drink that,’ said the dwarf, who had by this time heated some more. ‘Toss it off, don’t leave any heeltap, scorch your throat and be happy!’

The wretched Sampson took a few short sips of the liquor, which immediately distilled itself into burning tears, and in that form came rolling down his cheeks into the pipkin again, turning the colour of his face and eyelids to a deep red, and giving rise to a violent fit of coughing, in the midst of which he was still heard to declare, with the constancy of a martyr, that it was ‘beautiful indeed!’ While he was yet in unspeakable agonies, the dwarf renewed their conversation.

‘The lodger,’ said Quilp, ‘—what about him?’

'He is still, sir,’ returned Brass, with intervals of coughing, ‘stopping with the Garland family. He has only been home once, Sir, since the day of the examination of that culprit. He informed Mr Richard, sir, that he couldn’t bear the house after what had taken place; that he was wretched in it; and that he looked upon himself as being in a certain kind of way the cause of the occurrence.—A very excellent lodger Sir. I hope we may not lose him.’

‘Yah!’ cried the dwarf. ‘Never thinking of anybody but yourself—why don’t you retrench then—scrape up, hoard, economise, eh?’

‘Why, sir,’ replied Brass, ‘upon my word I think Sarah’s as good an economiser as any going. I do indeed, Mr Quilp.’

‘Moisten your clay, wet the other eye, drink, man!’ cried the dwarf. ‘You took a clerk to oblige me.’

‘Delighted, sir, I am sure, at any time,’ replied Sampson. ‘Yes, Sir, I did.’

‘Then now you may discharge him,’ said Quilp. ‘There’s a means of retrenchment for you at once.’

‘Discharge Mr Richard, sir?’ cried Brass.

‘Have you more than one clerk, you parrot, that you ask the question? Yes.’

‘Upon my word, Sir,’ said Brass, ‘I wasn’t prepared for this--’

‘How could you be?’ sneered the dwarf, ‘when I wasn’t? How often am I to tell you that I brought him to you that I might always have my eye on him and know where he was—and that I had a plot, a scheme, a little quiet piece of enjoyment afoot, of which the very cream and essence was, that this old man and grandchild (who have sunk underground I think) should be, while he and his precious friend believed them rich, in reality as poor as frozen rats?’

‘I quite understood that, sir,’ rejoined Brass. ‘Thoroughly.’

‘Well, Sir,’ retorted Quilp, ‘and do you understand now, that they’re not poor—that they can’t be, if they have such men as your lodger searching for them, and scouring the country far and wide?’

‘Of course I do, Sir,’ said Sampson.

‘Of course you do,’ retorted the dwarf, viciously snapping at his words. ‘Of course do you understand then, that it’s no matter what comes of this fellow? of course do you understand that for any other purpose he’s no man for me, nor for you?’

‘I have frequently said to Sarah, sir,’ returned Brass, ‘that he was of no use at all in the business. You can’t put any confidence in him, sir. If you’ll believe me I’ve found that fellow, in the commonest little matters of the office that have been trusted to him, blurting out the truth, though expressly cautioned. The aggravation of that chap sir, has exceeded anything you can imagine, it has indeed. Nothing but the respect and obligation I owe to you, sir—’

As it was plain that Sampson was bent on a complimentary harangue, unless he received a timely interruption, Mr Quilp politely tapped him on the crown of his head with the little saucepan, and requested that he would be so obliging as to hold his peace.

‘Practical, sir, practical,’ said Brass, rubbing the place and smiling; ‘but still extremely pleasant—immensely so!’

‘Hearken to me, will you?’ returned Quilp, ‘or I’ll be a little more pleasant, presently. There’s no chance of his comrade and friend returning. The scamp has been obliged to fly, as I learn, for some knavery, and has found his way abroad. Let him rot there.’

‘Certainly, sir. Quite proper.—Forcible!’ cried Brass, glancing at the admiral again, as if he made a third in company. ‘Extremely forcible!’

‘I hate him,’ said Quilp between his teeth, ‘and have always hated him, for family reasons. Besides, he was an intractable ruffian; otherwise he would have been of use. This fellow is pigeon-hearted and light-headed. I don’t want him any longer. Let him hang or drown—starve—go to the devil.’

‘By all means, sir,’ returned Brass. ‘When would you wish him, sir, to—ha, ha!—to make that little excursion?’

‘When this trial’s over,’ said Quilp. ‘As soon as that’s ended, send him about his business.’

‘It shall be done, sir,’ returned Brass; ‘by all means. It will be rather a blow to Sarah, sir, but she has all her feelings under control. Ah, Mr Quilp, I often think, sir, if it had only pleased Providence to bring you and Sarah together, in earlier life, what blessed results would have flowed from such a union! You never saw our dear father, sir?—A charming gentleman. Sarah was his pride and joy, sir. He would have closed his eyes in bliss, would Foxey, Mr Quilp, if he could have found her such a partner. You esteem her, sir?’

‘I love her,’ croaked the dwarf.

‘You’re very good, Sir,’ returned Brass, ‘I am sure. Is there any other order, sir, that I can take a note of, besides this little matter of Mr Richard?’

‘None,’ replied the dwarf, seizing the saucepan. ‘Let us drink the lovely Sarah.’

‘If we could do it in something, sir, that wasn’t quite boiling,’ suggested Brass humbly, ‘perhaps it would be better. I think it will be more agreeable to Sarah’s feelings, when she comes to hear from me of the honour you have done her, if she learns it was in liquor rather cooler than the last, Sir.’

But to these remonstrances, Mr Quilp turned a deaf ear. Sampson Brass, who was, by this time, anything but sober, being compelled to take further draughts of the same strong bowl, found that, instead of at all contributing to his recovery, they had the novel effect of making the counting-house spin round and round with extreme velocity, and causing the floor and ceiling to heave in a very distressing manner. After a brief stupor, he awoke to a consciousness of being partly under the table and partly under the grate. This position not being the most comfortable one he could have chosen for himself, he managed to stagger to his feet, and, holding on by the admiral, looked round for his host.

Mr Brass’s first impression was, that his host was gone and had left him there alone—perhaps locked him in for the night. A strong smell of tobacco, however, suggested a new train of ideas, he looked upward, and saw that the dwarf was smoking in his hammock.

‘Good bye, Sir,’ cried Brass faintly. ‘Good bye, Sir.’

‘Won’t you stop all night?’ said the dwarf, peeping out. ‘Do stop all night!’

‘I couldn’t indeed, Sir,’ replied Brass, who was almost dead from nausea and the closeness of the room. ‘If you’d have the goodness to show me a light, so that I may see my way across the yard, sir—’

Quilp was out in an instant; not with his legs first, or his head first, or his arms first, but bodily—altogether.

‘To be sure,’ he said, taking up a lantern, which was now the only light in the place. ‘Be careful how you go, my dear friend. Be sure to pick your way among the timber, for all the rusty nails are upwards. There’s a dog in the lane. He bit a man last night, and a woman the night before, and last Tuesday he killed a child—but that was in play. Don’t go too near him.’

‘Which side of the road is he, sir?’ asked Brass, in great dismay.

‘He lives on the right hand,’ said Quilp, ‘but sometimes he hides on the left, ready for a spring. He’s uncertain in that respect. Mind you take care of yourself. I’ll never forgive you if you don’t. There’s the light out—never mind—you know the way—straight on!’ Quilp had slily shaded the light by holding it against his breast, and now stood chuckling and shaking from head to foot in a rapture of delight, as he heard the lawyer stumbling up the yard, and now and then falling heavily down. At length, however, he got quit of the place, and was out of hearing.

The dwarf shut himself up again, and sprang once more into his hammock.





CHAPTER 63

The professional gentleman who had given Kit the consolatory piece of information relative to the settlement of his trifle of business at the Old Bailey, and the probability of its being very soon disposed of, turned out to be quite correct in his prognostications. In eight days’ time, the sessions commenced. In one day afterwards, the Grand Jury found a True Bill against Christopher Nubbles for felony; and in two days from that finding, the aforesaid Christopher Nubbles was called upon to plead Guilty or Not Guilty to an Indictment for that he the said Christopher did feloniously abstract and steal from the dwelling-house and office of one Sampson Brass, gentleman, one Bank Note for Five Pounds issued by the Governor and Company of the Bank of England; in contravention of the Statutes in that case made and provided, and against the peace of our Sovereign Lord the King, his crown and dignity.

To this indictment, Christopher Nubbles, in a low and trembling voice, pleaded Not Guilty; and here, let those who are in the habit of forming hasty judgments from appearances, and who would have had Christopher, if innocent, speak out very strong and loud, observe, that confinement and anxiety will subdue the stoutest hearts; and that to one who has been close shut up, though it be only for ten or eleven days, seeing but stone walls and a very few stony faces, the sudden entrance into a great hall filled with life, is a rather disconcerting and startling circumstance. To this, it must be added, that life in a wig is to a large class of people much more terrifying and impressive than life with its own head of hair; and if, in addition to these considerations, there be taken into account Kit’s natural emotion on seeing the two Mr Garlands and the little Notary looking on with pale and anxious faces, it will perhaps seem matter of no very great wonder that he should have been rather out of sorts, and unable to make himself quite at home.

Although he had never seen either of the Mr Garlands, or Mr Witherden, since the time of his arrest, he had been given to understand that they had employed counsel for him. Therefore, when one of the gentlemen in wigs got up and said ‘I am for the prisoner, my Lord,’ Kit made him a bow; and when another gentleman in a wig got up and said ‘And I’m against him, my Lord,’ Kit trembled very much, and bowed to him too. And didn’t he hope in his own heart that his gentleman was a match for the other gentleman, and would make him ashamed of himself in no time!

The gentleman who was against him had to speak first, and being in dreadfully good spirits (for he had, in the last trial, very nearly procured the acquittal of a young gentleman who had had the misfortune to murder his father) he spoke up, you may be sure; telling the jury that if they acquitted this prisoner they must expect to suffer no less pangs and agonies than he had told the other jury they would certainly undergo if they convicted that prisoner. And when he had told them all about the case, and that he had never known a worse case, he stopped a little while, like a man who had something terrible to tell them, and then said that he understood an attempt would be made by his learned friend (and here he looked sideways at Kit’s gentleman) to impeach the testimony of those immaculate witnesses whom he should call before them; but he did hope and trust that his learned friend would have a greater respect and veneration for the character of the prosecutor; than whom, as he well knew, there did not exist, and never had existed, a more honourable member of that most honourable profession to which he was attached. And then he said, did the jury know Bevis Marks? And if they did know Bevis Marks (as he trusted for their own character, they did) did they know the historical and elevating associations connected with that most remarkable spot? Did they believe that a man like Brass could reside in a place like Bevis Marks, and not be a virtuous and most upright character? And when he had said a great deal to them on this point, he remembered that it was an insult to their understandings to make any remarks on what they must have felt so strongly without him, and therefore called Sampson Brass into the witness-box, straightway.

Then up comes Mr Brass, very brisk and fresh; and, having bowed to the judge, like a man who has had the pleasure of seeing him before, and who hopes he has been pretty well since their last meeting, folds his arms, and looks at his gentleman as much as to say ‘Here I am—full of evidence—Tap me!’ And the gentleman does tap him presently, and with great discretion too; drawing off the evidence by little and little, and making it run quite clear and bright in the eyes of all present. Then, Kit’s gentleman takes him in hand, but can make nothing of him; and after a great many very long questions and very short answers, Mr Sampson Brass goes down in glory.

To him succeeds Sarah, who in like manner is easy to be managed by Mr Brass’s gentleman, but very obdurate to Kit’s. In short, Kit’s gentleman can get nothing out of her but a repetition of what she has said before (only a little stronger this time, as against his client), and therefore lets her go, in some confusion. Then, Mr Brass’s gentleman calls Richard Swiveller, and Richard Swiveller appears accordingly.

Now, Mr Brass’s gentleman has it whispered in his ear that this witness is disposed to be friendly to the prisoner—which, to say the truth, he is rather glad to hear, as his strength is considered to lie in what is familiarly termed badgering. Wherefore, he begins by requesting the officer to be quite sure that this witness kisses the book, then goes to work at him, tooth and nail.

‘Mr Swiveller,’ says this gentleman to Dick, when he had told his tale with evident reluctance and a desire to make the best of it: ‘Pray sir, where did you dine yesterday?’—‘Where did I dine yesterday?’—‘Aye, sir, where did you dine yesterday—was it near here, sir?’—‘Oh to be sure—yes—just over the way.’—‘To be sure. Yes. Just over the way,’ repeats Mr Brass’s gentleman, with a glance at the court.—‘Alone, sir?’—‘I beg your pardon,’ says Mr Swiveller, who has not caught the question—‘Alone, sir?’ repeats Mr Brass’s gentleman in a voice of thunder, ‘did you dine alone? Did you treat anybody, sir? Come!’—‘Oh yes, to be sure—yes, I did,’ says Mr Swiveller with a smile.—‘Have the goodness to banish a levity, sir, which is very ill-suited to the place in which you stand (though perhaps you have reason to be thankful that it’s only that place),’ says Mr Brass’s gentleman, with a nod of the head, insinuating that the dock is Mr Swiveller’s legitimate sphere of action; ‘and attend to me. You were waiting about here, yesterday, in expectation that this trial was coming on. You dined over the way. You treated somebody. Now, was that somebody brother to the prisoner at the bar?’—Mr Swiveller is proceeding to explain—‘Yes or No, sir,’ cries Mr Brass’s gentleman—‘But will you allow me—’—‘Yes or No, sir’—‘Yes it was, but—’—‘Yes it was,’ cries the gentleman, taking him up short. ‘And a very pretty witness you are!’

Down sits Mr Brass’s gentleman. Kit’s gentleman, not knowing how the matter really stands, is afraid to pursue the subject. Richard Swiveller retires abashed. Judge, jury and spectators have visions of his lounging about, with an ill-looking, large-whiskered, dissolute young fellow of six feet high. The reality is, little Jacob, with the calves of his legs exposed to the open air, and himself tied up in a shawl. Nobody knows the truth; everybody believes a falsehood; and all because of the ingenuity of Mr Brass’s gentleman.

Then come the witnesses to character, and here Mr Brass’s gentleman shines again. It turns out that Mr Garland has had no character with Kit, no recommendation of him but from his own mother, and that he was suddenly dismissed by his former master for unknown reasons. ‘Really Mr Garland,’ says Mr Brass’s gentleman, ‘for a person who has arrived at your time of life, you are, to say the least of it, singularly indiscreet, I think.’ The jury think so too, and find Kit guilty. He is taken off, humbly protesting his innocence. The spectators settle themselves in their places with renewed attention, for there are several female witnesses to be examined in the next case, and it has been rumoured that Mr Brass’s gentleman will make great fun in cross-examining them for the prisoner.

Kit’s mother, poor woman, is waiting at the grate below stairs, accompanied by Barbara’s mother (who, honest soul! never does anything but cry, and hold the baby), and a sad interview ensues. The newspaper-reading turnkey has told them all. He don’t think it will be transportation for life, because there’s time to prove the good character yet, and that is sure to serve him. He wonders what he did it for. ‘He never did it!’ cries Kit’s mother. ‘Well,’ says the turnkey, ‘I won’t contradict you. It’s all one, now, whether he did it or not.’

Kit’s mother can reach his hand through the bars, and she clasps it— God, and those to whom he has given such tenderness, only know in how much agony. Kit bids her keep a good heart, and, under pretence of having the children lifted up to kiss him, prays Barbara’s mother in a whisper to take her home.

‘Some friend will rise up for us, mother,’ cried Kit, ‘I am sure. If not now, before long. My innocence will come out, mother, and I shall be brought back again; I feel confidence in that. You must teach little Jacob and the baby how all this was, for if they thought I had ever been dishonest, when they grew old enough to understand, it would break my heart to know it, if I was thousands of miles away.—Oh! is there no good gentleman here, who will take care of her!’

The hand slips out of his, for the poor creature sinks down upon the earth, insensible. Richard Swiveller comes hastily up, elbows the bystanders out of the way, takes her (after some trouble) in one arm after the manner of theatrical ravishers, and, nodding to Kit, and commanding Barbara’s mother to follow, for he has a coach waiting, bears her swiftly off.

Well; Richard took her home. And what astonishing absurdities in the way of quotation from song and poem he perpetrated on the road, no man knows. He took her home, and stayed till she was recovered; and, having no money to pay the coach, went back in state to Bevis Marks, bidding the driver (for it was Saturday night) wait at the door while he went in for ‘change.’

‘Mr Richard, sir,’ said Brass cheerfully, ‘Good evening!’

Monstrous as Kit’s tale had appeared, at first, Mr Richard did, that night, half suspect his affable employer of some deep villany. Perhaps it was but the misery he had just witnessed which gave his careless nature this impulse; but, be that as it may, it was very strong upon him, and he said in as few words as possible, what he wanted.

‘Money?’ cried Brass, taking out his purse. ‘Ha ha! To be sure, Mr Richard, to be sure, sir. All men must live. You haven’t change for a five-pound note, have you sir?’

‘No,’ returned Dick, shortly.

‘Oh!’ said Brass, ‘here’s the very sum. That saves trouble. You’re very welcome I’m sure.—Mr Richard, sir—’

Dick, who had by this time reached the door, turned round.

‘You needn’t,’ said Brass, ‘trouble yourself to come back any more, Sir.’

‘Eh?’

‘You see, Mr Richard,’ said Brass, thrusting his hands in his pockets, and rocking himself to and fro on his stool, ‘the fact is, that a man of your abilities is lost, Sir, quite lost, in our dry and mouldy line. It’s terrible drudgery—shocking. I should say, now, that the stage, or the—or the army, Mr Richard—or something very superior in the licensed victualling way—was the kind of thing that would call out the genius of such a man as you. I hope you’ll look in to see us now and then. Sally, Sir, will be delighted I’m sure. She’s extremely sorry to lose you, Mr Richard, but a sense of her duty to society reconciles her. An amazing creature that, sir! You’ll find the money quite correct, I think. There’s a cracked window sir, but I’ve not made any deduction on that account. Whenever we part with friends, Mr Richard, let us part liberally. A delightful sentiment, sir!’

To all these rambling observations, Mr Swiveller answered not one word, but, returning for the aquatic jacket, rolled it into a tight round ball: looking steadily at Brass meanwhile as if he had some intention of bowling him down with it. He only took it under his arm, however, and marched out of the office in profound silence. When he had closed the door, he re-opened it, stared in again for a few moments with the same portentous gravity, and nodding his head once, in a slow and ghost-like manner, vanished.

He paid the coachman, and turned his back on Bevis Marks, big with great designs for the comforting of Kit’s mother and the aid of Kit himself.

But the lives of gentlemen devoted to such pleasures as Richard Swiveller, are extremely precarious. The spiritual excitement of the last fortnight, working upon a system affected in no slight degree by the spirituous excitement of some years, proved a little too much for him. That very night, Mr Richard was seized with an alarming illness, and in twenty-four hours was stricken with a raging fever.





CHAPTER 64

Tossing to and fro upon his hot, uneasy bed; tormented by a fierce thirst which nothing could appease; unable to find, in any change of posture, a moment’s peace or ease; and rambling, ever, through deserts of thought where there was no resting-place, no sight or sound suggestive of refreshment or repose, nothing but a dull eternal weariness, with no change but the restless shiftings of his miserable body, and the weary wandering of his mind, constant still to one ever-present anxiety—to a sense of something left undone, of some fearful obstacle to be surmounted, of some carking care that would not be driven away, and which haunted the distempered brain, now in this form, now in that, always shadowy and dim, but recognisable for the same phantom in every shape it took: darkening every vision like an evil conscience, and making slumber horrible—in these slow tortures of his dread disease, the unfortunate Richard lay wasting and consuming inch by inch, until, at last, when he seemed to fight and struggle to rise up, and to be held down by devils, he sank into a deep sleep, and dreamed no more.

He awoke. With a sensation of most blissful rest, better than sleep itself, he began gradually to remember something of these sufferings, and to think what a long night it had been, and whether he had not been delirious twice or thrice. Happening, in the midst of these cogitations, to raise his hand, he was astonished to find how heavy it seemed, and yet how thin and light it really was. Still, he felt indifferent and happy; and having no curiosity to pursue the subject, remained in the same waking slumber until his attention was attracted by a cough. This made him doubt whether he had locked his door last night, and feel a little surprised at having a companion in the room. Still, he lacked energy to follow up this train of thought; and unconsciously fell, in a luxury of repose, to staring at some green stripes on the bed-furniture, and associating them strangely with patches of fresh turf, while the yellow ground between made gravel-walks, and so helped out a long perspective of trim gardens.

He was rambling in imagination on these terraces, and had quite lost himself among them indeed, when he heard the cough once more. The walks shrunk into stripes again at the sound, and raising himself a little in the bed, and holding the curtain open with one hand, he looked out.

The same room certainly, and still by candlelight; but with what unbounded astonishment did he see all those bottles, and basins, and articles of linen airing by the fire, and such-like furniture of a sick chamber—all very clean and neat, but all quite different from anything he had left there, when he went to bed! The atmosphere, too, filled with a cool smell of herbs and vinegar; the floor newly sprinkled; the—the what? The Marchioness?

Yes; playing cribbage with herself at the table. There she sat, intent upon her game, coughing now and then in a subdued manner as if she feared to disturb him—shuffling the cards, cutting, dealing, playing, counting, pegging—going through all the mysteries of cribbage as if she had been in full practice from her cradle! Mr Swiveller contemplated these things for a short time, and suffering the curtain to fall into its former position, laid his head on the pillow again.

‘I’m dreaming,’ thought Richard, ‘that’s clear. When I went to bed, my hands were not made of egg-shells; and now I can almost see through ‘em. If this is not a dream, I have woke up, by mistake, in an Arabian Night, instead of a London one. But I have no doubt I’m asleep. Not the least.’

Here the small servant had another cough.

‘Very remarkable!’ thought Mr Swiveller. ‘I never dreamt such a real cough as that before. I don’t know, indeed, that I ever dreamt either a cough or a sneeze. Perhaps it’s part of the philosophy of dreams that one never does. There’s another—and another—I say!—I’m dreaming rather fast!’

For the purpose of testing his real condition, Mr Swiveller, after some reflection, pinched himself in the arm.

‘Queerer still!’ he thought. ‘I came to bed rather plump than otherwise, and now there’s nothing to lay hold of. I’ll take another survey.’

The result of this additional inspection was, to convince Mr Swiveller that the objects by which he was surrounded were real, and that he saw them, beyond all question, with his waking eyes.

‘It’s an Arabian Night; that’s what it is,’ said Richard. ‘I’m in Damascus or Grand Cairo. The Marchioness is a Genie, and having had a wager with another Genie about who is the handsomest young man alive, and the worthiest to be the husband of the Princess of China, has brought me away, room and all, to compare us together. Perhaps,’ said Mr Swiveller, turning languidly round on his pillow, and looking on that side of his bed which was next the wall, ‘the Princess may be still—No, she’s gone.’

Not feeling quite satisfied with this explanation, as, even taking it to be the correct one, it still involved a little mystery and doubt, Mr Swiveller raised the curtain again, determined to take the first favourable opportunity of addressing his companion. An occasion presented itself. The Marchioness dealt, turned up a knave, and omitted to take the usual advantage; upon which Mr Swiveller called out as loud as he could—‘Two for his heels!’

The Marchioness jumped up quickly and clapped her hands. ‘Arabian Night, certainly,’ thought Mr Swiveller; ‘they always clap their hands instead of ringing the bell. Now for the two thousand black slaves, with jars of jewels on their heads!’

It appeared, however, that she had only clapped her hands for joy; for directly afterward she began to laugh, and then to cry; declaring, not in choice Arabic but in familiar English, that she was ‘so glad, she didn’t know what to do.’

‘Marchioness,’ said Mr Swiveller, thoughtfully, ‘be pleased to draw nearer. First of all, will you have the goodness to inform me where I shall find my voice; and secondly, what has become of my flesh?’

The Marchioness only shook her head mournfully, and cried again; whereupon Mr Swiveller (being very weak) felt his own eyes affected likewise.

‘I begin to infer, from your manner, and these appearances, Marchioness,’ said Richard after a pause, and smiling with a trembling lip, ‘that I have been ill.’

‘You just have!’ replied the small servant, wiping her eyes. ‘And haven’t you been a talking nonsense!’

‘Oh!’ said Dick. ‘Very ill, Marchioness, have I been?’

‘Dead, all but,’ replied the small servant. ‘I never thought you’d get better. Thank Heaven you have!’

Mr Swiveller was silent for a long while. By and bye, he began to talk again, inquiring how long he had been there.

‘Three weeks to-morrow,’ replied the servant.

‘Three what?’ said Dick.

‘Weeks,’ returned the Marchioness emphatically; ‘three long, slow weeks.’

The bare thought of having been in such extremity, caused Richard to fall into another silence, and to lie flat down again, at his full length. The Marchioness, having arranged the bed-clothes more comfortably, and felt that his hands and forehead were quite cool—a discovery that filled her with delight—cried a little more, and then applied herself to getting tea ready, and making some thin dry toast.

While she was thus engaged, Mr Swiveller looked on with a grateful heart, very much astonished to see how thoroughly at home she made herself, and attributing this attention, in its origin, to Sally Brass, whom, in his own mind, he could not thank enough. When the Marchioness had finished her toasting, she spread a clean cloth on a tray, and brought him some crisp slices and a great basin of weak tea, with which (she said) the doctor had left word he might refresh himself when he awoke. She propped him up with pillows, if not as skilfully as if she had been a professional nurse all her life, at least as tenderly; and looked on with unutterable satisfaction while the patient—stopping every now and then to shake her by the hand—took his poor meal with an appetite and relish, which the greatest dainties of the earth, under any other circumstances, would have failed to provoke. Having cleared away, and disposed everything comfortably about him again, she sat down at the table to take her own tea.

‘Marchioness,’ said Mr Swiveller, ‘how’s Sally?’

The small servant screwed her face into an expression of the very uttermost entanglement of slyness, and shook her head.

‘What, haven’t you seen her lately?’ said Dick.

‘Seen her!’ cried the small servant. ‘Bless you, I’ve run away!’

Mr Swiveller immediately laid himself down again quite flat, and so remained for about five minutes. By slow degrees he resumed his sitting posture after that lapse of time, and inquired:

‘And where do you live, Marchioness?’

‘Live!’ cried the small servant. ‘Here!’

‘Oh!’ said Mr Swiveller.

And with that he fell down flat again, as suddenly as if he had been shot. Thus he remained, motionless and bereft of speech, until she had finished her meal, put everything in its place, and swept the hearth; when he motioned her to bring a chair to the bedside, and, being propped up again, opened a farther conversation.

‘And so,’ said Dick, ‘you have run away?’

‘Yes,’ said the Marchioness, ‘and they’ve been a tizing of me.’

‘Been—I beg your pardon,’ said Dick—‘what have they been doing?’

‘Been a tizing of me—tizing you know—in the newspapers,’ rejoined the Marchioness.

‘Aye, aye,’ said Dick, ‘advertising?’

The small servant nodded, and winked. Her eyes were so red with waking and crying, that the Tragic Muse might have winked with greater consistency. And so Dick felt.

‘Tell me,’ said he, ‘how it was that you thought of coming here.’

‘Why, you see,’ returned the Marchioness, ‘when you was gone, I hadn’t any friend at all, because the lodger he never come back, and I didn’t know where either him or you was to be found, you know. But one morning, when I was—’

‘Was near a keyhole?’ suggested Mr Swiveller, observing that she faltered.

‘Well then,’ said the small servant, nodding; ‘when I was near the office keyhole—as you see me through, you know—I heard somebody saying that she lived here, and was the lady whose house you lodged at, and that you was took very bad, and wouldn’t nobody come and take care of you. Mr Brass, he says, “It’s no business of mine,” he says; and Miss Sally, she says, “He’s a funny chap, but it’s no business of mine;” and the lady went away, and slammed the door to, when she went out, I can tell you. So I run away that night, and come here, and told ‘em you was my brother, and they believed me, and I’ve been here ever since.’

‘This poor little Marchioness has been wearing herself to death!’ cried Dick.

‘No I haven’t,’ she returned, ‘not a bit of it. Don’t you mind about me. I like sitting up, and I’ve often had a sleep, bless you, in one of them chairs. But if you could have seen how you tried to jump out o’ winder, and if you could have heard how you used to keep on singing and making speeches, you wouldn’t have believed it—I’m so glad you’re better, Mr Liverer.’

‘Liverer indeed!’ said Dick thoughtfully. ‘It’s well I am a liverer. I strongly suspect I should have died, Marchioness, but for you.’

At this point, Mr Swiveller took the small servant’s hand in his again, and being, as we have seen, but poorly, might in struggling to express his thanks have made his eyes as red as hers, but that she quickly changed the theme by making him lie down, and urging him to keep very quiet.

‘The doctor,’ she told him, ‘said you was to be kept quite still, and there was to be no noise nor nothing. Now, take a rest, and then we’ll talk again. I’ll sit by you, you know. If you shut your eyes, perhaps you’ll go to sleep. You’ll be all the better for it, if you do.’

The Marchioness, in saying these words, brought a little table to the bedside, took her seat at it, and began to work away at the concoction of some cooling drink, with the address of a score of chemists. Richard Swiveller being indeed fatigued, fell into a slumber, and waking in about half an hour, inquired what time it was.

‘Just gone half after six,’ replied his small friend, helping him to sit up again.

‘Marchioness,’ said Richard, passing his hand over his forehead and turning suddenly round, as though the subject but that moment flashed upon him, ‘what has become of Kit?’

He had been sentenced to transportation for a great many years, she said.

‘Has he gone?’ asked Dick—‘his mother—how is she,—what has become of her?’

His nurse shook her head, and answered that she knew nothing about them. ‘But, if I thought,’ said she, very slowly, ‘that you’d keep quiet, and not put yourself into another fever, I could tell you—but I won’t now.’

‘Yes, do,’ said Dick. ‘It will amuse me.’

‘Oh! would it though!’ rejoined the small servant, with a horrified look. ‘I know better than that. Wait till you’re better and then I’ll tell you.’


Dick looked very earnestly at his little friend: and his eyes, being large and hollow from illness, assisted the expression so much, that she was quite frightened, and besought him not to think any more about it. What had already fallen from her, however, had not only piqued his curiosity, but seriously alarmed him, wherefore he urged her to tell him the worst at once.

‘Oh there’s no worst in it,’ said the small servant. ‘It hasn’t anything to do with you.’

‘Has it anything to do with—is it anything you heard through chinks or keyholes—and that you were not intended to hear?’ asked Dick, in a breathless state.

‘Yes,’ replied the small servant.

‘In—in Bevis Marks?’ pursued Dick hastily. ‘Conversations between Brass and Sally?’

‘Yes,’ cried the small servant again.

Richard Swiveller thrust his lank arm out of bed, and, gripping her by the wrist and drawing her close to him, bade her out with it, and freely too, or he would not answer for the consequences; being wholly unable to endure the state of excitement and expectation. She, seeing that he was greatly agitated, and that the effects of postponing her revelation might be much more injurious than any that were likely to ensue from its being made at once, promised compliance, on condition that the patient kept himself perfectly quiet, and abstained from starting up or tossing about.

‘But if you begin to do that,’ said the small servant, ‘I’ll leave off. And so I tell you.’

‘You can’t leave off, till you have gone on,’ said Dick. ‘And do go on, there’s a darling. Speak, sister, speak. Pretty Polly say. Oh tell me when, and tell me where, pray Marchioness, I beseech you!’

Unable to resist these fervent adjurations, which Richard Swiveller poured out as passionately as if they had been of the most solemn and tremendous nature, his companion spoke thus:

‘Well! Before I run away, I used to sleep in the kitchen—where we played cards, you know. Miss Sally used to keep the key of the kitchen door in her pocket, and she always come down at night to take away the candle and rake out the fire. When she had done that, she left me to go to bed in the dark, locked the door on the outside, put the key in her pocket again, and kept me locked up till she come down in the morning—very early I can tell you—and let me out. I was terrible afraid of being kept like this, because if there was a fire, I thought they might forget me and only take care of themselves you know. So, whenever I see an old rusty key anywhere, I picked it up and tried if it would fit the door, and at last I found in the dust cellar a key that did fit it.’

Here, Mr Swiveller made a violent demonstration with his legs. But the small servant immediately pausing in her talk, he subsided again, and pleading a momentary forgetfulness of their compact, entreated her to proceed.

‘They kept me very short,’ said the small servant. ‘Oh! you can’t think how short they kept me! So I used to come out at night after they’d gone to bed, and feel about in the dark for bits of biscuit, or sangwitches that you’d left in the office, or even pieces of orange peel to put into cold water and make believe it was wine. Did you ever taste orange peel and water?’

Mr Swiveller replied that he had never tasted that ardent liquor; and once more urged his friend to resume the thread of her narrative.

‘If you make believe very much, it’s quite nice,’ said the small servant, ‘but if you don’t, you know, it seems as if it would bear a little more seasoning, certainly. Well, sometimes I used to come out after they’d gone to bed, and sometimes before, you know; and one or two nights before there was all that precious noise in the office—when the young man was took, I mean—I come upstairs while Mr Brass and Miss Sally was a-sittin’ at the office fire; and I tell you the truth, that I come to listen again, about the key of the safe.’

Mr Swiveller gathered up his knees so as to make a great cone of the bedclothes, and conveyed into his countenance an expression of the utmost concern. But the small servant pausing, and holding up her finger, the cone gently disappeared, though the look of concern did not.

‘There was him and her,’ said the small servant, ‘a-sittin’ by the fire, and talking softly together. Mr Brass says to Miss Sally, “Upon my word,” he says “it’s a dangerous thing, and it might get us into a world of trouble, and I don’t half like it.” She says—you know her way—she says, “You’re the chickenest-hearted, feeblest, faintest man I ever see, and I think,” she says, “that I ought to have been the brother, and you the sister. Isn’t Quilp,” she says, “our principal support?” “He certainly is,” says Mr Brass, “And an’t we,” she says, “constantly ruining somebody or other in the way of business?” “We certainly are,” says Mr Brass. “Then does it signify,” she says, “about ruining this Kit when Quilp desires it?” “It certainly does not signify,” says Mr Brass. Then they whispered and laughed for a long time about there being no danger if it was well done, and then Mr Brass pulls out his pocket-book, and says, “Well,” he says, “here it is—Quilp’s own five-pound note. We’ll agree that way, then,” he says. “Kit’s coming to-morrow morning, I know. While he’s up-stairs, you’ll get out of the way, and I’ll clear off Mr Richard. Having Kit alone, I’ll hold him in conversation, and put this property in his hat. I’ll manage so, besides,” he says, “that Mr Richard shall find it there, and be the evidence. And if that don’t get Christopher out of Mr Quilp’s way, and satisfy Mr Quilp’s grudges,” he says, “the Devil’s in it.” Miss Sally laughed, and said that was the plan, and as they seemed to be moving away, and I was afraid to stop any longer, I went down-stairs again.—There!’

The small servant had gradually worked herself into as much agitation as Mr Swiveller, and therefore made no effort to restrain him when he sat up in bed and hastily demanded whether this story had been told to anybody.

‘How could it be?’ replied his nurse. ‘I was almost afraid to think about it, and hoped the young man would be let off. When I heard ‘em say they had found him guilty of what he didn’t do, you was gone, and so was the lodger—though I think I should have been frightened to tell him, even if he’d been there. Ever since I come here, you’ve been out of your senses, and what would have been the good of telling you then?’

‘Marchioness,’ said Mr Swiveller, plucking off his nightcap and flinging it to the other end of the room; ‘if you’ll do me the favour to retire for a few minutes and see what sort of a night it is, I’ll get up.’

‘You mustn’t think of such a thing,’ cried his nurse.

‘I must indeed,’ said the patient, looking round the room. ‘Whereabouts are my clothes?’

‘Oh, I’m so glad—you haven’t got any,’ replied the Marchioness.

‘Ma’am!’ said Mr Swiveller, in great astonishment.

‘I’ve been obliged to sell them, every one, to get the things that was ordered for you. But don’t take on about that,’ urged the Marchioness, as Dick fell back upon his pillow. ‘You’re too weak to stand, indeed.’

‘I am afraid,’ said Richard dolefully, ‘that you’re right. What ought I to do! what is to be done!’

It naturally occurred to him on very little reflection, that the first step to take would be to communicate with one of the Mr Garlands instantly. It was very possible that Mr Abel had not yet left the office. In as little time as it takes to tell it, the small servant had the address in pencil on a piece of paper; a verbal description of father and son, which would enable her to recognise either, without difficulty; and a special caution to be shy of Mr Chuckster, in consequence of that gentleman’s known antipathy to Kit. Armed with these slender powers, she hurried away, commissioned to bring either old Mr Garland or Mr Abel, bodily, to that apartment.

‘I suppose,’ said Dick, as she closed the door slowly, and peeped into the room again, to make sure that he was comfortable, ‘I suppose there’s nothing left—not so much as a waistcoat even?’

‘No, nothing.’

‘It’s embarrassing,’ said Mr Swiveller, ‘in case of fire—even an umbrella would be something—but you did quite right, dear Marchioness. I should have died without you!’





CHAPTER 65

It was well for the small servant that she was of a sharp, quick nature, or the consequence of sending her out alone, from the very neighbourhood in which it was most dangerous for her to appear, would probably have been the restoration of Miss Sally Brass to the supreme authority over her person. Not unmindful of the risk she ran, however, the Marchioness no sooner left the house than she dived into the first dark by-way that presented itself, and, without any present reference to the point to which her journey tended, made it her first business to put two good miles of brick and mortar between herself and Bevis Marks.

When she had accomplished this object, she began to shape her course for the notary’s office, to which—shrewdly inquiring of apple-women and oyster-sellers at street-corners, rather than in lighted shops or of well-dressed people, at the hazard of attracting notice—she easily procured a direction. As carrier-pigeons, on being first let loose in a strange place, beat the air at random for a short time before darting off towards the spot for which they are designed, so did the Marchioness flutter round and round until she believed herself in safety, and then bear swiftly down upon the port for which she was bound.

She had no bonnet—nothing on her head but a great cap which, in some old time, had been worn by Sally Brass, whose taste in head-dresses was, as we have seen, peculiar—and her speed was rather retarded than assisted by her shoes, which, being extremely large and slipshod, flew off every now and then, and were difficult to find again, among the crowd of passengers. Indeed, the poor little creature experienced so much trouble and delay from having to grope for these articles of dress in mud and kennel, and suffered in these researches so much jostling, pushing, squeezing and bandying from hand to hand, that by the time she reached the street in which the notary lived, she was fairly worn out and exhausted, and could not refrain from tears.

But to have got there at last was a great comfort, especially as there were lights still burning in the office window, and therefore some hope that she was not too late. So the Marchioness dried her eyes with the backs of her hands, and, stealing softly up the steps, peeped in through the glass door.

Mr Chuckster was standing behind the lid of his desk, making such preparations towards finishing off for the night, as pulling down his wristbands and pulling up his shirt-collar, settling his neck more gracefully in his stock, and secretly arranging his whiskers by the aid of a little triangular bit of looking glass. Before the ashes of the fire stood two gentlemen, one of whom she rightly judged to be the notary, and the other (who was buttoning his great-coat and was evidently about to depart immediately) Mr Abel Garland.

Having made these observations, the small spy took counsel with herself, and resolved to wait in the street until Mr Abel came out, as there would be then no fear of having to speak before Mr Chuckster, and less difficulty in delivering her message. With this purpose she slipped out again, and crossing the road, sat down upon a door-step just opposite.

She had hardly taken this position, when there came dancing up the street, with his legs all wrong, and his head everywhere by turns, a pony. This pony had a little phaeton behind him, and a man in it; but neither man nor phaeton seemed to embarrass him in the least, as he reared up on his hind legs, or stopped, or went on, or stood still again, or backed, or went side-ways, without the smallest reference to them—just as the fancy seized him, and as if he were the freest animal in creation. When they came to the notary’s door, the man called out in a very respectful manner, ‘Woa then’—intimating that if he might venture to express a wish, it would be that they stopped there. The pony made a moment’s pause; but, as if it occurred to him that to stop when he was required might be to establish an inconvenient and dangerous precedent, he immediately started off again, rattled at a fast trot to the street corner, wheeled round, came back, and then stopped of his own accord.

‘Oh! you’re a precious creatur!’ said the man—who didn’t venture by the bye to come out in his true colours until he was safe on the pavement. ‘I wish I had the rewarding of you—I do.’

‘What has he been doing?’ said Mr Abel, tying a shawl round his neck as he came down the steps.

‘He’s enough to fret a man’s heart out,’ replied the hostler. ‘He is the most wicious rascal—Woa then, will you?’

‘He’ll never stand still, if you call him names,’ said Mr Abel, getting in, and taking the reins. ‘He’s a very good fellow if you know how to manage him. This is the first time he has been out, this long while, for he has lost his old driver and wouldn’t stir for anybody else, till this morning. The lamps are right, are they? That’s well. Be here to take him to-morrow, if you please. Good night!’

And, after one or two strange plunges, quite of his own invention, the pony yielded to Mr Abel’s mildness, and trotted gently off.

All this time Mr Chuckster had been standing at the door, and the small servant had been afraid to approach. She had nothing for it now, therefore, but to run after the chaise, and to call to Mr Abel to stop. Being out of breath when she came up with it, she was unable to make him hear. The case was desperate; for the pony was quickening his pace. The Marchioness hung on behind for a few moments, and, feeling that she could go no farther, and must soon yield, clambered by a vigorous effort into the hinder seat, and in so doing lost one of the shoes for ever.

Mr Abel being in a thoughtful frame of mind, and having quite enough to do to keep the pony going, went jogging on without looking round: little dreaming of the strange figure that was close behind him, until the Marchioness, having in some degree recovered her breath, and the loss of her shoe, and the novelty of her position, uttered close into his ear, the words—‘I say, Sir’—

He turned his head quickly enough then, and stopping the pony, cried, with some trepidation, ‘God bless me, what is this!’

‘Don’t be frightened, Sir,’ replied the still panting messenger. ‘Oh I’ve run such a way after you!’

‘What do you want with me?’ said Mr Abel. ‘How did you come here?’

‘I got in behind,’ replied the Marchioness. ‘Oh please drive on, sir—don’t stop—and go towards the City, will you? And oh do please make haste, because it’s of consequence. There’s somebody wants to see you there. He sent me to say would you come directly, and that he knowed all about Kit, and could save him yet, and prove his innocence.’

‘What do you tell me, child?’

‘The truth, upon my word and honour I do. But please to drive on— quick, please! I’ve been such a time gone, he’ll think I’m lost.’

Mr Abel involuntarily urged the pony forward. The pony, impelled by some secret sympathy or some new caprice, burst into a great pace, and neither slackened it, nor indulged in any eccentric performances, until they arrived at the door of Mr Swiveller’s lodging, where, marvellous to relate, he consented to stop when Mr Abel checked him.

‘See! It’s the room up there,’ said the Marchioness, pointing to one where there was a faint light. ‘Come!’

Mr Abel, who was one of the simplest and most retiring creatures in existence, and naturally timid withal, hesitated; for he had heard of people being decoyed into strange places to be robbed and murdered, under circumstances very like the present, and, for anything he knew to the contrary, by guides very like the Marchioness. His regard for Kit, however, overcame every other consideration. So, entrusting Whisker to the charge of a man who was lingering hard by in expectation of the job, he suffered his companion to take his hand, and to lead him up the dark and narrow stairs.

He was not a little surprised to find himself conducted into a dimly-lighted sick chamber, where a man was sleeping tranquilly in bed.

‘An’t it nice to see him lying there so quiet?’ said his guide, in an earnest whisper. ‘Oh! you’d say it was, if you had only seen him two or three days ago.’

Mr Abel made no answer, and, to say the truth, kept a long way from the bed and very near the door. His guide, who appeared to understand his reluctance, trimmed the candle, and taking it in her hand, approached the bed. As she did so, the sleeper started up, and he recognised in the wasted face the features of Richard Swiveller.

‘Why, how is this?’ said Mr Abel kindly, as he hurried towards him. ‘You have been ill?’

‘Very,’ replied Dick. ‘Nearly dead. You might have chanced to hear of your Richard on his bier, but for the friend I sent to fetch you. Another shake of the hand, Marchioness, if you please. Sit down, Sir.’

Mr Abel seemed rather astonished to hear of the quality of his guide, and took a chair by the bedside.

‘I have sent for you, Sir,’ said Dick—‘but she told you on what account?’

‘She did. I am quite bewildered by all this. I really don’t know what to say or think,’ replied Mr Abel.

‘You’ll say that presently,’ retorted Dick. ‘Marchioness, take a seat on the bed, will you? Now, tell this gentleman all that you told me; and be particular. Don’t you speak another word, Sir.’

The story was repeated; it was, in effect, exactly the same as before, without any deviation or omission. Richard Swiveller kept his eyes fixed on his visitor during its narration, and directly it was concluded, took the word again.

‘You have heard it all, and you’ll not forget it. I’m too giddy and too queer to suggest anything; but you and your friends will know what to do. After this long delay, every minute is an age. If ever you went home fast in your life, go home fast to-night. Don’t stop to say one word to me, but go. She will be found here, whenever she’s wanted; and as to me, you’re pretty sure to find me at home, for a week or two. There are more reasons than one for that. Marchioness, a light! If you lose another minute in looking at me, sir, I’ll never forgive you!’

Mr Abel needed no more remonstrance or persuasion. He was gone in an instant; and the Marchioness, returning from lighting him down-stairs, reported that the pony, without any preliminary objection whatever, had dashed away at full gallop.

‘That’s right!’ said Dick; ‘and hearty of him; and I honour him from this time. But get some supper and a mug of beer, for I am sure you must be tired. Do have a mug of beer. It will do me as much good to see you take it as if I might drink it myself.’

Nothing but this assurance could have prevailed upon the small nurse to indulge in such a luxury. Having eaten and drunk to Mr Swiveller’s extreme contentment, given him his drink, and put everything in neat order, she wrapped herself in an old coverlet and lay down upon the rug before the fire.

Mr Swiveller was by that time murmuring in his sleep, ‘Strew then, oh strew, a bed of rushes. Here will we stay, till morning blushes. Good night, Marchioness!’