{tocify}

The Old Curiosity Shop

Chapter

Book

first_page
play_arrow
last_page
00:00
00:00
volume_down_alt volume_up


CHAPTER 31

With steps more faltering and unsteady than those with which she had approached the room, the child withdrew from the door, and groped her way back to her own chamber. The terror she had lately felt was nothing compared with that which now oppressed her. No strange robber, no treacherous host conniving at the plunder of his guests, or stealing to their beds to kill them in their sleep, no nightly prowler, however terrible and cruel, could have awakened in her bosom half the dread which the recognition of her silent visitor inspired. The grey-headed old man gliding like a ghost into her room and acting the thief while he supposed her fast asleep, then bearing off his prize and hanging over it with the ghastly exultation she had witnessed, was worse—immeasurably worse, and far more dreadful, for the moment, to reflect upon—than anything her wildest fancy could have suggested. If he should return—there was no lock or bolt upon the door, and if, distrustful of having left some money yet behind, he should come back to seek for more—a vague awe and horror surrounded the idea of his slinking in again with stealthy tread, and turning his face toward the empty bed, while she shrank down close at his feet to avoid his touch, which was almost insupportable. She sat and listened. Hark! A footstep on the stairs, and now the door was slowly opening. It was but imagination, yet imagination had all the terrors of reality; nay, it was worse, for the reality would have come and gone, and there an end, but in imagination it was always coming, and never went away.

The feeling which beset the child was one of dim uncertain horror. She had no fear of the dear old grandfather, in whose love for her this disease of the brain had been engendered; but the man she had seen that night, wrapt in the game of chance, lurking in her room, and counting the money by the glimmering light, seemed like another creature in his shape, a monstrous distortion of his image, a something to recoil from, and be the more afraid of, because it bore a likeness to him, and kept close about her, as he did. She could scarcely connect her own affectionate companion, save by his loss, with this old man, so like yet so unlike him. She had wept to see him dull and quiet. How much greater cause she had for weeping now!

The child sat watching and thinking of these things, until the phantom in her mind so increased in gloom and terror, that she felt it would be a relief to hear the old man’s voice, or, if he were asleep, even to see him, and banish some of the fears that clustered round his image. She stole down the stairs and passage again. The door was still ajar as she had left it, and the candle burning as before.

She had her own candle in her hand, prepared to say, if he were waking, that she was uneasy and could not rest, and had come to see if his were still alight. Looking into the room, she saw him lying calmly on his bed, and so took courage to enter.

Fast asleep. No passion in the face, no avarice, no anxiety, no wild desire; all gentle, tranquil, and at peace. This was not the gambler, or the shadow in her room; this was not even the worn and jaded man whose face had so often met her own in the grey morning light; this was her dear old friend, her harmless fellow-traveller, her good, kind grandfather.

She had no fear as she looked upon his slumbering features, but she had a deep and weighty sorrow, and it found its relief in tears.

‘God bless him!’ said the child, stooping softly to kiss his placid cheek. ‘I see too well now, that they would indeed part us if they found us out, and shut him up from the light of the sun and sky. He has only me to help him. God bless us both!’

Lighting her candle, she retreated as silently as she had come, and, gaining her own room once more, sat up during the remainder of that long, long, miserable night.

At last the day turned her waning candle pale, and she fell asleep. She was quickly roused by the girl who had shown her up to bed; and, as soon as she was dressed, prepared to go down to her grandfather. But first she searched her pocket and found that her money was all gone—not a sixpence remained.

The old man was ready, and in a few seconds they were on their road. The child thought he rather avoided her eye, and appeared to expect that she would tell him of her loss. She felt she must do that, or he might suspect the truth.

‘Grandfather,’ she said in a tremulous voice, after they had walked about a mile in silence, ‘do you think they are honest people at the house yonder?’

‘Why?’ returned the old man trembling. ‘Do I think them honest—yes, they played honestly.’

‘I’ll tell you why I ask,’ rejoined Nell. ‘I lost some money last night—out of my bedroom, I am sure. Unless it was taken by somebody in jest—only in jest, dear grandfather, which would make me laugh heartily if I could but know it—’

‘Who would take money in jest?’ returned the old man in a hurried manner. ‘Those who take money, take it to keep. Don’t talk of jest.’

‘Then it was stolen out of my room, dear,’ said the child, whose last hope was destroyed by the manner of this reply.

‘But is there no more, Nell?’ said the old man; ‘no more anywhere? Was it all taken—every farthing of it—was there nothing left?’

‘Nothing,’ replied the child.

‘We must get more,’ said the old man, ‘we must earn it, Nell, hoard it up, scrape it together, come by it somehow. Never mind this loss. Tell nobody of it, and perhaps we may regain it. Don’t ask how;—we may regain it, and a great deal more;—but tell nobody, or trouble may come of it. And so they took it out of thy room, when thou wert asleep!’ he added in a compassionate tone, very different from the secret, cunning way in which he had spoken until now. ‘Poor Nell, poor little Nell!’

The child hung down her head and wept. The sympathising tone in which he spoke, was quite sincere; she was sure of that. It was not the lightest part of her sorrow to know that this was done for her.

‘Not a word about it to any one but me,’ said the old man, ‘no, not even to me,’ he added hastily, ‘for it can do no good. All the losses that ever were, are not worth tears from thy eyes, darling. Why should they be, when we will win them back?’

‘Let them go,’ said the child looking up. ‘Let them go, once and for ever, and I would never shed another tear if every penny had been a thousand pounds.’

‘Well, well,’ returned the old man, checking himself as some impetuous answer rose to his lips, ‘she knows no better. I ought to be thankful of it.’

‘But listen to me,’ said the child earnestly, ‘will you listen to me?’

‘Aye, aye, I’ll listen,’ returned the old man, still without looking at her; ‘a pretty voice. It has always a sweet sound to me. It always had when it was her mother’s, poor child.’

‘Let me persuade you, then—oh, do let me persuade you,’ said the child, ‘to think no more of gains or losses, and to try no fortune but the fortune we pursue together.’

‘We pursue this aim together,’ retorted her grandfather, still looking away and seeming to confer with himself. ‘Whose image sanctifies the game?’

‘Have we been worse off,’ resumed the child, ‘since you forgot these cares, and we have been travelling on together? Have we not been much better and happier without a home to shelter us, than ever we were in that unhappy house, when they were on your mind?’

‘She speaks the truth,’ murmured the old man in the same tone as before. ‘It must not turn me, but it is the truth; no doubt it is.’

‘Only remember what we have been since that bright morning when we turned our backs upon it for the last time,’ said Nell, ‘only remember what we have been since we have been free of all those miseries—what peaceful days and quiet nights we have had—what pleasant times we have known—what happiness we have enjoyed. If we have been tired or hungry, we have been soon refreshed, and slept the sounder for it. Think what beautiful things we have seen, and how contented we have felt. And why was this blessed change?’

He stopped her with a motion of his hand, and bade her talk to him no more just then, for he was busy. After a time he kissed her cheek, still motioning her to silence, and walked on, looking far before him, and sometimes stopping and gazing with a puckered brow upon the ground, as if he were painfully trying to collect his disordered thoughts. Once she saw tears in his eyes. When he had gone on thus for some time, he took her hand in his as he was accustomed to do, with nothing of the violence or animation of his late manner; and so, by degrees so fine that the child could not trace them, he settled down into his usual quiet way, and suffered her to lead him where she would.

When they presented themselves in the midst of the stupendous collection, they found, as Nell had anticipated, that Mrs Jarley was not yet out of bed, and that, although she had suffered some uneasiness on their account overnight, and had indeed sat up for them until past eleven o’clock, she had retired in the persuasion, that, being overtaken by storm at some distance from home, they had sought the nearest shelter, and would not return before morning. Nell immediately applied herself with great assiduity to the decoration and preparation of the room, and had the satisfaction of completing her task, and dressing herself neatly, before the beloved of the Royal Family came down to breakfast.

‘We haven’t had,’ said Mrs Jarley when the meal was over, ‘more than eight of Miss Monflathers’s young ladies all the time we’ve been here, and there’s twenty-six of ‘em, as I was told by the cook when I asked her a question or two and put her on the free-list. We must try ‘em with a parcel of new bills, and you shall take it, my dear, and see what effect that has upon ‘em.’

The proposed expedition being one of paramount importance, Mrs Jarley adjusted Nell’s bonnet with her own hands, and declaring that she certainly did look very pretty, and reflected credit on the establishment, dismissed her with many commendations, and certain needful directions as to the turnings on the right which she was to take, and the turnings on the left which she was to avoid. Thus instructed, Nell had no difficulty in finding out Miss Monflathers’s Boarding and Day Establishment, which was a large house, with a high wall, and a large garden-gate with a large brass plate, and a small grating through which Miss Monflathers’s parlour-maid inspected all visitors before admitting them; for nothing in the shape of a man—no, not even a milkman—was suffered, without special license, to pass that gate. Even the tax-gatherer, who was stout, and wore spectacles and a broad-brimmed hat, had the taxes handed through the grating. More obdurate than gate of adamant or brass, this gate of Miss Monflathers’s frowned on all mankind. The very butcher respected it as a gate of mystery, and left off whistling when he rang the bell.

As Nell approached the awful door, it turned slowly upon its hinges with a creaking noise, and, forth from the solemn grove beyond, came a long file of young ladies, two and two, all with open books in their hands, and some with parasols likewise. And last of the goodly procession came Miss Monflathers, bearing herself a parasol of lilac silk, and supported by two smiling teachers, each mortally envious of the other, and devoted unto Miss Monflathers.

Confused by the looks and whispers of the girls, Nell stood with downcast eyes and suffered the procession to pass on, until Miss Monflathers, bringing up the rear, approached her, when she curtseyed and presented her little packet; on receipt whereof Miss Monflathers commanded that the line should halt.

‘You’re the wax-work child, are you not?’ said Miss Monflathers.

‘Yes, ma’am,’ replied Nell, colouring deeply, for the young ladies had collected about her, and she was the centre on which all eyes were fixed.

‘And don’t you think you must be a very wicked little child,’ said Miss Monflathers, who was of rather uncertain temper, and lost no opportunity of impressing moral truths upon the tender minds of the young ladies, ‘to be a wax-work child at all?’

Poor Nell had never viewed her position in this light, and not knowing what to say, remained silent, blushing more deeply than before.

‘Don’t you know,’ said Miss Monflathers, ‘that it’s very naughty and unfeminine, and a perversion of the properties wisely and benignantly transmitted to us, with expansive powers to be roused from their dormant state through the medium of cultivation?’

The two teachers murmured their respectful approval of this home-thrust, and looked at Nell as though they would have said that there indeed Miss Monflathers had hit her very hard. Then they smiled and glanced at Miss Monflathers, and then, their eyes meeting, they exchanged looks which plainly said that each considered herself smiler in ordinary to Miss Monflathers, and regarded the other as having no right to smile, and that her so doing was an act of presumption and impertinence.

‘Don’t you feel how naughty it is of you,’ resumed Miss Monflathers, ‘to be a wax-work child, when you might have the proud consciousness of assisting, to the extent of your infant powers, the manufactures of your country; of improving your mind by the constant contemplation of the steam-engine; and of earning a comfortable and independent subsistence of from two-and-ninepence to three shillings per week? Don’t you know that the harder you are at work, the happier you are?’

‘“How doth the little—“’ murmured one of the teachers, in quotation from Doctor Watts.

‘Eh?’ said Miss Monflathers, turning smartly round. ‘Who said that?’

Of course the teacher who had not said it, indicated the rival who had, whom Miss Monflathers frowningly requested to hold her peace; by that means throwing the informing teacher into raptures of joy.

‘The little busy bee,’ said Miss Monflathers, drawing herself up, ‘is applicable only to genteel children.

“In books, or work, or healthful play"
is quite right as far as they are concerned; and the work means painting on velvet, fancy needle-work, or embroidery. In such cases as these,’ pointing to Nell, with her parasol, ‘and in the case of all poor people’s children, we should read it thus:

“In work, work, work. In work alway
Let my first years be past,
That I may give for ev’ry day
Some good account at last.”’

A deep hum of applause rose not only from the two teachers, but from all the pupils, who were equally astonished to hear Miss Monflathers improvising after this brilliant style; for although she had been long known as a politician, she had never appeared before as an original poet. Just then somebody happened to discover that Nell was crying, and all eyes were again turned towards her.

There were indeed tears in her eyes, and drawing out her handkerchief to brush them away, she happened to let it fall. Before she could stoop to pick it up, one young lady of about fifteen or sixteen, who had been standing a little apart from the others, as though she had no recognised place among them, sprang forward and put it in her hand. She was gliding timidly away again, when she was arrested by the governess.

‘It was Miss Edwards who did that, I know,’ said Miss Monflathers predictively. ‘Now I am sure that was Miss Edwards.’

It was Miss Edwards, and everybody said it was Miss Edwards, and Miss Edwards herself admitted that it was.

‘Is it not,’ said Miss Monflathers, putting down her parasol to take a severer view of the offender, ‘a most remarkable thing, Miss Edwards, that you have an attachment to the lower classes which always draws you to their sides; or, rather, is it not a most extraordinary thing that all I say and do will not wean you from propensities which your original station in life have unhappily rendered habitual to you, you extremely vulgar-minded girl?’

‘I really intended no harm, ma’am,’ said a sweet voice. ‘It was a momentary impulse, indeed.’

‘An impulse!’ repeated Miss Monflathers scornfully. ‘I wonder that you presume to speak of impulses to me’—both the teachers assented—‘I am astonished’—both the teachers were astonished—‘I suppose it is an impulse which induces you to take the part of every grovelling and debased person that comes in your way’—both the teachers supposed so too.

‘But I would have you know, Miss Edwards,’ resumed the governess in a tone of increased severity, ‘that you cannot be permitted—if it be only for the sake of preserving a proper example and decorum in this establishment—that you cannot be permitted, and that you shall not be permitted, to fly in the face of your superiors in this exceedingly gross manner. If you have no reason to feel a becoming pride before wax-work children, there are young ladies here who have, and you must either defer to those young ladies or leave the establishment, Miss Edwards.’

This young lady, being motherless and poor, was apprenticed at the school—taught for nothing—teaching others what she learnt, for nothing—boarded for nothing—lodged for nothing—and set down and rated as something immeasurably less than nothing, by all the dwellers in the house. The servant-maids felt her inferiority, for they were better treated; free to come and go, and regarded in their stations with much more respect. The teachers were infinitely superior, for they had paid to go to school in their time, and were paid now. The pupils cared little for a companion who had no grand stories to tell about home; no friends to come with post-horses, and be received in all humility, with cake and wine, by the governess; no deferential servant to attend and bear her home for the holidays; nothing genteel to talk about, and nothing to display. But why was Miss Monflathers always vexed and irritated with the poor apprentice—how did that come to pass?

Why, the gayest feather in Miss Monflathers’s cap, and the brightest glory of Miss Monflathers’s school, was a baronet’s daughter—the real live daughter of a real live baronet—who, by some extraordinary reversal of the Laws of Nature, was not only plain in features but dull in intellect, while the poor apprentice had both a ready wit, and a handsome face and figure. It seems incredible. Here was Miss Edwards, who only paid a small premium which had been spent long ago, every day outshining and excelling the baronet’s daughter, who learned all the extras (or was taught them all) and whose half-yearly bill came to double that of any other young lady’s in the school, making no account of the honour and reputation of her pupilage. Therefore, and because she was a dependent, Miss Monflathers had a great dislike to Miss Edwards, and was spiteful to her, and aggravated by her, and, when she had compassion on little Nell, verbally fell upon and maltreated her as we have already seen.

‘You will not take the air to-day, Miss Edwards,’ said Miss Monflathers. ‘Have the goodness to retire to your own room, and not to leave it without permission.’

The poor girl was moving hastily away, when she was suddenly, in nautical phrase, ‘brought to’ by a subdued shriek from Miss Monflathers.

‘She has passed me without any salute!’ cried the governess, raising her eyes to the sky. ‘She has actually passed me without the slightest acknowledgment of my presence!’

The young lady turned and curtsied. Nell could see that she raised her dark eyes to the face of her superior, and that their expression, and that of her whole attitude for the instant, was one of mute but most touching appeal against this ungenerous usage. Miss Monflathers only tossed her head in reply, and the great gate closed upon a bursting heart.

‘As for you, you wicked child,’ said Miss Monflathers, turning to Nell, ‘tell your mistress that if she presumes to take the liberty of sending to me any more, I will write to the legislative authorities and have her put in the stocks, or compelled to do penance in a white sheet; and you may depend upon it that you shall certainly experience the treadmill if you dare to come here again. Now ladies, on.’

The procession filed off, two and two, with the books and parasols, and Miss Monflathers, calling the Baronet’s daughter to walk with her and smooth her ruffled feelings, discarded the two teachers—who by this time had exchanged their smiles for looks of sympathy—and left them to bring up the rear, and hate each other a little more for being obliged to walk together.





CHAPTER 32

Mrs Jarley’s wrath on first learning that she had been threatened with the indignity of Stocks and Penance, passed all description. The genuine and only Jarley exposed to public scorn, jeered by children, and flouted by beadles! The delight of the Nobility and Gentry shorn of a bonnet which a Lady Mayoress might have sighed to wear, and arrayed in a white sheet as a spectacle of mortification and humility! And Miss Monflathers, the audacious creature who presumed, even in the dimmest and remotest distance of her imagination, to conjure up the degrading picture, ‘I am a’most inclined,’ said Mrs Jarley, bursting with the fulness of her anger and the weakness of her means of revenge, ‘to turn atheist when I think of it!’

But instead of adopting this course of retaliation, Mrs Jarley, on second thoughts, brought out the suspicious bottle, and ordering glasses to be set forth upon her favourite drum, and sinking into a chair behind it, called her satellites about her, and to them several times recounted, word for word, the affronts she had received. This done, she begged them in a kind of deep despair to drink; then laughed, then cried, then took a little sip herself, then laughed and cried again, and took a little more; and so, by degrees, the worthy lady went on, increasing in smiles and decreasing in tears, until at last she could not laugh enough at Miss Monflathers, who, from being an object of dire vexation, became one of sheer ridicule and absurdity.

‘For which of us is best off, I wonder,’ quoth Mrs Jarley, ‘she or me! It’s only talking, when all is said and done, and if she talks of me in the stocks, why I can talk of her in the stocks, which is a good deal funnier if we come to that. Lord, what does it matter, after all!’

Having arrived at this comfortable frame of mind (to which she had been greatly assisted by certain short interjectional remarks of the philosophical George), Mrs Jarley consoled Nell with many kind words, and requested as a personal favour that whenever she thought of Miss Monflathers, she would do nothing else but laugh at her, all the days of her life.

So ended Mrs Jarley’s wrath, which subsided long before the going down of the sun. Nell’s anxieties, however, were of a deeper kind, and the checks they imposed upon her cheerfulness were not so easily removed.

That evening, as she had dreaded, her grandfather stole away, and did not come back until the night was far spent. Worn out as she was, and fatigued in mind and body, she sat up alone, counting the minutes, until he returned—penniless, broken-spirited, and wretched, but still hotly bent upon his infatuation.

‘Get me money,’ he said wildly, as they parted for the night. ‘I must have money, Nell. It shall be paid thee back with gallant interest one day, but all the money that comes into thy hands, must be mine—not for myself, but to use for thee. Remember, Nell, to use for thee!’

What could the child do with the knowledge she had, but give him every penny that came into her hands, lest he should be tempted on to rob their benefactress? If she told the truth (so thought the child) he would be treated as a madman; if she did not supply him with money, he would supply himself; supplying him, she fed the fire that burnt him up, and put him perhaps beyond recovery. Distracted by these thoughts, borne down by the weight of the sorrow which she dared not tell, tortured by a crowd of apprehensions whenever the old man was absent, and dreading alike his stay and his return, the colour forsook her cheek, her eye grew dim, and her heart was oppressed and heavy. All her old sorrows had come back upon her, augmented by new fears and doubts; by day they were ever present to her mind; by night they hovered round her pillow, and haunted her in dreams.

It was natural that, in the midst of her affliction, she should often revert to that sweet young lady of whom she had only caught a hasty glance, but whose sympathy, expressed in one slight brief action, dwelt in her memory like the kindnesses of years. She would often think, if she had such a friend as that to whom to tell her griefs, how much lighter her heart would be—that if she were but free to hear that voice, she would be happier. Then she would wish that she were something better, that she were not quite so poor and humble, that she dared address her without fearing a repulse; and then feel that there was an immeasurable distance between them, and have no hope that the young lady thought of her any more.

It was now holiday-time at the schools, and the young ladies had gone home, and Miss Monflathers was reported to be flourishing in London, and damaging the hearts of middle-aged gentlemen, but nobody said anything about Miss Edwards, whether she had gone home, or whether she had any home to go to, whether she was still at the school, or anything about her. But one evening, as Nell was returning from a lonely walk, she happened to pass the inn where the stage-coaches stopped, just as one drove up, and there was the beautiful girl she so well remembered, pressing forward to embrace a young child whom they were helping down from the roof.

Well, this was her sister, her little sister, much younger than Nell, whom she had not seen (so the story went afterwards) for five years, and to bring whom to that place on a short visit, she had been saving her poor means all that time. Nell felt as if her heart would break when she saw them meet. They went a little apart from the knot of people who had congregated about the coach, and fell upon each other’s neck, and sobbed, and wept with joy. Their plain and simple dress, the distance which the child had come alone, their agitation and delight, and the tears they shed, would have told their history by themselves.

They became a little more composed in a short time, and went away, not so much hand in hand as clinging to each other. ‘Are you sure you’re happy, sister?’ said the child as they passed where Nell was standing. ‘Quite happy now,’ she answered. ‘But always?’ said the child. ‘Ah, sister, why do you turn away your face?’

Nell could not help following at a little distance. They went to the house of an old nurse, where the elder sister had engaged a bed-room for the child. ‘I shall come to you early every morning,’ she said, ‘and we can be together all the day.’

'Why not at night-time too? Dear sister, would they be angry with you for that?’

Why were the eyes of little Nell wet, that night, with tears like those of the two sisters? Why did she bear a grateful heart because they had met, and feel it pain to think that they would shortly part? Let us not believe that any selfish reference—unconscious though it might have been—to her own trials awoke this sympathy, but thank God that the innocent joys of others can strongly move us, and that we, even in our fallen nature, have one source of pure emotion which must be prized in Heaven!

By morning’s cheerful glow, but oftener still by evening’s gentle light, the child, with a respect for the short and happy intercourse of these two sisters which forbade her to approach and say a thankful word, although she yearned to do so, followed them at a distance in their walks and rambles, stopping when they stopped, sitting on the grass when they sat down, rising when they went on, and feeling it a companionship and delight to be so near them. Their evening walk was by a river’s side. Here, every night, the child was too, unseen by them, unthought of, unregarded; but feeling as if they were her friends, as if they had confidences and trusts together, as if her load were lightened and less hard to bear; as if they mingled their sorrows, and found mutual consolation. It was a weak fancy perhaps, the childish fancy of a young and lonely creature; but night after night, and still the sisters loitered in the same place, and still the child followed with a mild and softened heart.

She was much startled, on returning home one night, to find that Mrs Jarley had commanded an announcement to be prepared, to the effect that the stupendous collection would only remain in its present quarters one day longer; in fulfilment of which threat (for all announcements connected with public amusements are well known to be irrevocable and most exact), the stupendous collection shut up next day.

‘Are we going from this place directly, ma’am?’ said Nell.

‘Look here, child,’ returned Mrs Jarley. ‘That’ll inform you.’ And so saying Mrs Jarley produced another announcement, wherein it was stated, that, in consequence of numerous inquiries at the wax-work door, and in consequence of crowds having been disappointed in obtaining admission, the Exhibition would be continued for one week longer, and would re-open next day.

‘For now that the schools are gone, and the regular sight-seers exhausted,’ said Mrs Jarley, ‘we come to the General Public, and they want stimulating.’

Upon the following day at noon, Mrs Jarley established herself behind the highly-ornamented table, attended by the distinguished effigies before mentioned, and ordered the doors to be thrown open for the readmission of a discerning and enlightened public. But the first day’s operations were by no means of a successful character, inasmuch as the general public, though they manifested a lively interest in Mrs Jarley personally, and such of her waxen satellites as were to be seen for nothing, were not affected by any impulses moving them to the payment of sixpence a head. Thus, notwithstanding that a great many people continued to stare at the entry and the figures therein displayed; and remained there with great perseverance, by the hour at a time, to hear the barrel-organ played and to read the bills; and notwithstanding that they were kind enough to recommend their friends to patronise the exhibition in the like manner, until the door-way was regularly blockaded by half the population of the town, who, when they went off duty, were relieved by the other half; it was not found that the treasury was any the richer, or that the prospects of the establishment were at all encouraging.

In this depressed state of the classical market, Mrs Jarley made extraordinary efforts to stimulate the popular taste, and whet the popular curiosity. Certain machinery in the body of the nun on the leads over the door was cleaned up and put in motion, so that the figure shook its head paralytically all day long, to the great admiration of a drunken, but very Protestant, barber over the way, who looked upon the said paralytic motion as typical of the degrading effect wrought upon the human mind by the ceremonies of the Romish Church and discoursed upon that theme with great eloquence and morality. The two carters constantly passed in and out of the exhibition-room, under various disguises, protesting aloud that the sight was better worth the money than anything they had beheld in all their lives, and urging the bystanders, with tears in their eyes, not to neglect such a brilliant gratification. Mrs Jarley sat in the pay-place, chinking silver moneys from noon till night, and solemnly calling upon the crowd to take notice that the price of admission was only sixpence, and that the departure of the whole collection, on a short tour among the Crowned Heads of Europe, was positively fixed for that day week.

‘So be in time, be in time, be in time,’ said Mrs Jarley at the close of every such address. ‘Remember that this is Jarley’s stupendous collection of upwards of One Hundred Figures, and that it is the only collection in the world; all others being imposters and deceptions. Be in time, be in time, be in time!’





CHAPTER 33

As the course of this tale requires that we should become acquainted, somewhere hereabouts, with a few particulars connected with the domestic economy of Mr Sampson Brass, and as a more convenient place than the present is not likely to occur for that purpose, the historian takes the friendly reader by the hand, and springing with him into the air, and cleaving the same at a greater rate than ever Don Cleophas Leandro Perez Zambullo and his familiar travelled through that pleasant region in company, alights with him upon the pavement of Bevis Marks.

The intrepid aeronauts alight before a small dark house, once the residence of Mr Sampson Brass.

In the parlour window of this little habitation, which is so close upon the footway that the passenger who takes the wall brushes the dim glass with his coat sleeve—much to its improvement, for it is very dirty—in this parlour window in the days of its occupation by Sampson Brass, there hung, all awry and slack, and discoloured by the sun, a curtain of faded green, so threadbare from long service as by no means to intercept the view of the little dark room, but rather to afford a favourable medium through which to observe it accurately. There was not much to look at. A rickety table, with spare bundles of papers, yellow and ragged from long carriage in the pocket, ostentatiously displayed upon its top; a couple of stools set face to face on opposite sides of this crazy piece of furniture; a treacherous old chair by the fire-place, whose withered arms had hugged full many a client and helped to squeeze him dry; a second-hand wig box, used as a depository for blank writs and declarations and other small forms of law, once the sole contents of the head which belonged to the wig which belonged to the box, as they were now of the box itself; two or three common books of practice; a jar of ink, a pounce box, a stunted hearth-broom, a carpet trodden to shreds but still clinging with the tightness of desperation to its tacks—these, with the yellow wainscot of the walls, the smoke-discoloured ceiling, the dust and cobwebs, were among the most prominent decorations of the office of Mr Sampson Brass.

But this was mere still-life, of no greater importance than the plate, ‘Brass, Solicitor,’ upon the door, and the bill, ‘First floor to let to a single gentleman,’ which was tied to the knocker. The office commonly held two examples of animated nature, more to the purpose of this history, and in whom it has a stronger interest and more particular concern.

Of these, one was Mr Brass himself, who has already appeared in these pages. The other was his clerk, assistant, housekeeper, secretary, confidential plotter, adviser, intriguer, and bill of cost increaser, Miss Brass—a kind of amazon at common law, of whom it may be desirable to offer a brief description.

Miss Sally Brass, then, was a lady of thirty-five or thereabouts, of a gaunt and bony figure, and a resolute bearing, which if it repressed the softer emotions of love, and kept admirers at a distance, certainly inspired a feeling akin to awe in the breasts of those male strangers who had the happiness to approach her. In face she bore a striking resemblance to her brother, Sampson—so exact, indeed, was the likeness between them, that had it consorted with Miss Brass’s maiden modesty and gentle womanhood to have assumed her brother’s clothes in a frolic and sat down beside him, it would have been difficult for the oldest friend of the family to determine which was Sampson and which Sally, especially as the lady carried upon her upper lip certain reddish demonstrations, which, if the imagination had been assisted by her attire, might have been mistaken for a beard. These were, however, in all probability, nothing more than eyelashes in a wrong place, as the eyes of Miss Brass were quite free from any such natural impertinencies. In complexion Miss Brass was sallow—rather a dirty sallow, so to speak—but this hue was agreeably relieved by the healthy glow which mantled in the extreme tip of her laughing nose. Her voice was exceedingly impressive—deep and rich in quality, and, once heard, not easily forgotten. Her usual dress was a green gown, in colour not unlike the curtain of the office window, made tight to the figure, and terminating at the throat, where it was fastened behind by a peculiarly large and massive button. Feeling, no doubt, that simplicity and plainness are the soul of elegance, Miss Brass wore no collar or kerchief except upon her head, which was invariably ornamented with a brown gauze scarf, like the wing of the fabled vampire, and which, twisted into any form that happened to suggest itself, formed an easy and graceful head-dress.

Such was Miss Brass in person. In mind, she was of a strong and vigorous turn, having from her earliest youth devoted herself with uncommon ardour to the study of law; not wasting her speculations upon its eagle flights, which are rare, but tracing it attentively through all the slippery and eel-like crawlings in which it commonly pursues its way. Nor had she, like many persons of great intellect, confined herself to theory, or stopped short where practical usefulness begins; inasmuch as she could ingross, fair-copy, fill up printed forms with perfect accuracy, and, in short, transact any ordinary duty of the office down to pouncing a skin of parchment or mending a pen. It is difficult to understand how, possessed of these combined attractions, she should remain Miss Brass; but whether she had steeled her heart against mankind, or whether those who might have wooed and won her, were deterred by fears that, being learned in the law, she might have too near her fingers’ ends those particular statutes which regulate what are familiarly termed actions for breach, certain it is that she was still in a state of celibacy, and still in daily occupation of her old stool opposite to that of her brother Sampson. And equally certain it is, by the way, that between these two stools a great many people had come to the ground.

One morning Mr Sampson Brass sat upon his stool copying some legal process, and viciously digging his pen deep into the paper, as if he were writing upon the very heart of the party against whom it was directed; and Miss Sally Brass sat upon her stool making a new pen preparatory to drawing out a little bill, which was her favourite occupation; and so they sat in silence for a long time, until Miss Brass broke silence.

‘Have you nearly done, Sammy?’ said Miss Brass; for in her mild and feminine lips, Sampson became Sammy, and all things were softened down.

‘No,’ returned her brother. ‘It would have been all done though, if you had helped at the right time.’

‘Oh yes, indeed,’ cried Miss Sally; ‘you want my help, don’t you?—you, too, that are going to keep a clerk!’

‘Am I going to keep a clerk for my own pleasure, or because of my own wish, you provoking rascal!’ said Mr Brass, putting his pen in his mouth, and grinning spitefully at his sister. ‘What do you taunt me about going to keep a clerk for?’

It may be observed in this place, lest the fact of Mr Brass calling a lady a rascal, should occasion any wonderment or surprise, that he was so habituated to having her near him in a man’s capacity, that he had gradually accustomed himself to talk to her as though she were really a man. And this feeling was so perfectly reciprocal, that not only did Mr Brass often call Miss Brass a rascal, or even put an adjective before the rascal, but Miss Brass looked upon it as quite a matter of course, and was as little moved as any other lady would be by being called an angel.

‘What do you taunt me, after three hours’ talk last night, with going to keep a clerk for?’ repeated Mr Brass, grinning again with the pen in his mouth, like some nobleman’s or gentleman’s crest. ‘Is it my fault?’

‘All I know is,’ said Miss Sally, smiling drily, for she delighted in nothing so much as irritating her brother, ‘that if every one of your clients is to force us to keep a clerk, whether we want to or not, you had better leave off business, strike yourself off the roll, and get taken in execution, as soon as you can.’

‘Have we got any other client like him?’ said Brass. ‘Have we got another client like him now—will you answer me that?’

‘Do you mean in the face!’ said his sister.

‘Do I mean in the face!’ sneered Sampson Brass, reaching over to take up the bill-book, and fluttering its leaves rapidly. ‘Look here—Daniel Quilp, Esquire—Daniel Quilp, Esquire—Daniel Quilp, Esquire—all through. Whether should I take a clerk that he recommends, and says, “this is the man for you,” or lose all this, eh?’

Miss Sally deigned to make no reply, but smiled again, and went on with her work.

‘But I know what it is,’ resumed Brass after a short silence. ‘You’re afraid you won’t have as long a finger in the business as you’ve been used to have. Do you think I don’t see through that?’

‘The business wouldn’t go on very long, I expect, without me,’ returned his sister composedly. ‘Don’t you be a fool and provoke me, Sammy, but mind what you’re doing, and do it.’

Sampson Brass, who was at heart in great fear of his sister, sulkily bent over his writing again, and listened as she said:

‘If I determined that the clerk ought not to come, of course he wouldn’t be allowed to come. You know that well enough, so don’t talk nonsense.’

Mr Brass received this observation with increased meekness, merely remarking, under his breath, that he didn’t like that kind of joking, and that Miss Sally would be ‘a much better fellow’ if she forbore to aggravate him. To this compliment Miss Sally replied, that she had a relish for the amusement, and had no intention to forego its gratification. Mr Brass not caring, as it seemed, to pursue the subject any further, they both plied their pens at a great pace, and there the discussion ended.

While they were thus employed, the window was suddenly darkened, as by some person standing close against it. As Mr Brass and Miss Sally looked up to ascertain the cause, the top sash was nimbly lowered from without, and Quilp thrust in his head.

‘Hallo!’ he said, standing on tip-toe on the window-sill, and looking down into the room. ‘Is there anybody at home? Is there any of the Devil’s ware here? Is Brass at a premium, eh?’

‘Ha, ha, ha!’ laughed the lawyer in an affected ecstasy. ‘Oh, very good, Sir! Oh, very good indeed! Quite eccentric! Dear me, what humour he has!’

‘Is that my Sally?’ croaked the dwarf, ogling the fair Miss Brass. ‘Is it Justice with the bandage off her eyes, and without the sword and scales? Is it the Strong Arm of the Law? Is it the Virgin of Bevis?’

‘What an amazing flow of spirits!’ cried Brass. ‘Upon my word, it’s quite extraordinary!’

‘Open the door,’ said Quilp, ‘I’ve got him here. Such a clerk for you, Brass, such a prize, such an ace of trumps. Be quick and open the door, or if there’s another lawyer near and he should happen to look out of window, he’ll snap him up before your eyes, he will.’

It is probable that the loss of the phoenix of clerks, even to a rival practitioner, would not have broken Mr Brass’s heart; but, pretending great alacrity, he rose from his seat, and going to the door, returned, introducing his client, who led by the hand no less a person than Mr Richard Swiveller.

‘There she is,’ said Quilp, stopping short at the door, and wrinkling up his eyebrows as he looked towards Miss Sally; ‘there is the woman I ought to have married—there is the beautiful Sarah—there is the female who has all the charms of her sex and none of their weaknesses. Oh Sally, Sally!’

To this amorous address Miss Brass briefly responded ‘Bother!’

‘Hard-hearted as the metal from which she takes her name,’ said Quilp. ‘Why don’t she change it—melt down the brass, and take another name?’

‘Hold your nonsense, Mr Quilp, do,’ returned Miss Sally, with a grim smile. ‘I wonder you’re not ashamed of yourself before a strange young man.’

‘The strange young man,’ said Quilp, handing Dick Swiveller forward, ‘is too susceptible himself not to understand me well. This is Mr Swiveller, my intimate friend—a gentleman of good family and great expectations, but who, having rather involved himself by youthful indiscretion, is content for a time to fill the humble station of a clerk—humble, but here most enviable. What a delicious atmosphere!’

If Mr Quilp spoke figuratively, and meant to imply that the air breathed by Miss Sally Brass was sweetened and rarefied by that dainty creature, he had doubtless good reason for what he said. But if he spoke of the delights of the atmosphere of Mr Brass’s office in a literal sense, he had certainly a peculiar taste, as it was of a close and earthy kind, and, besides being frequently impregnated with strong whiffs of the second-hand wearing apparel exposed for sale in Duke’s Place and Houndsditch, had a decided flavour of rats and mice, and a taint of mouldiness. Perhaps some doubts of its pure delight presented themselves to Mr Swiveller, as he gave vent to one or two short abrupt sniffs, and looked incredulously at the grinning dwarf.

‘Mr Swiveller,’ said Quilp, ‘being pretty well accustomed to the agricultural pursuits of sowing wild oats, Miss Sally, prudently considers that half a loaf is better than no bread. To be out of harm’s way he prudently thinks is something too, and therefore he accepts your brother’s offer. Brass, Mr Swiveller is yours.’

‘I am very glad, Sir,’ said Mr Brass, ‘very glad indeed. Mr Swiveller, Sir, is fortunate enough to have your friendship. You may be very proud, Sir, to have the friendship of Mr Quilp.’

Dick murmured something about never wanting a friend or a bottle to give him, and also gasped forth his favourite allusion to the wing of friendship and its never moulting a feather; but his faculties appeared to be absorbed in the contemplation of Miss Sally Brass, at whom he stared with blank and rueful looks, which delighted the watchful dwarf beyond measure. As to the divine Miss Sally herself, she rubbed her hands as men of business do, and took a few turns up and down the office with her pen behind her ear.

‘I suppose,’ said the dwarf, turning briskly to his legal friend, ‘that Mr Swiveller enters upon his duties at once? It’s Monday morning.’

‘At once, if you please, Sir, by all means,’ returned Brass.

‘Miss Sally will teach him law, the delightful study of the law,’ said Quilp; ‘she’ll be his guide, his friend, his companion, his Blackstone, his Coke upon Littleton, his Young Lawyer’s Best Companion.’

‘He is exceedingly eloquent,’ said Brass, like a man abstracted, and looking at the roofs of the opposite houses, with his hands in his pockets; ‘he has an extraordinary flow of language. Beautiful, really.’

‘With Miss Sally,’ Quilp went on, ‘and the beautiful fictions of the law, his days will pass like minutes. Those charming creations of the poet, John Doe and Richard Roe, when they first dawn upon him, will open a new world for the enlargement of his mind and the improvement of his heart.’

‘Oh, beautiful, beautiful! Beau-ti-ful indeed!’ cried Brass. ‘It’s a treat to hear him!’

‘Where will Mr Swiveller sit?’ said Quilp, looking round.

‘Why, we’ll buy another stool, sir,’ returned Brass. ‘We hadn’t any thoughts of having a gentleman with us, sir, until you were kind enough to suggest it, and our accommodation’s not extensive. We’ll look about for a second-hand stool, sir. In the meantime, if Mr Swiveller will take my seat, and try his hand at a fair copy of this ejectment, as I shall be out pretty well all the morning—’

‘Walk with me,’ said Quilp. ‘I have a word or two to say to you on points of business. Can you spare the time?’

‘Can I spare the time to walk with you, sir? You’re joking, sir, you’re joking with me,’ replied the lawyer, putting on his hat. ‘I’m ready, sir, quite ready. My time must be fully occupied indeed, sir, not to leave me time to walk with you. It’s not everybody, sir, who has an opportunity of improving himself by the conversation of Mr Quilp.’

The dwarf glanced sarcastically at his brazen friend, and, with a short dry cough, turned upon his heel to bid adieu to Miss Sally. After a very gallant parting on his side, and a very cool and gentlemanly sort of one on hers, he nodded to Dick Swiveller, and withdrew with the attorney.

Dick stood at the desk in a state of utter stupefaction, staring with all his might at the beauteous Sally, as if she had been some curious animal whose like had never lived. When the dwarf got into the street, he mounted again upon the window-sill, and looked into the office for a moment with a grinning face, as a man might peep into a cage. Dick glanced upward at him, but without any token of recognition; and long after he had disappeared, still stood gazing upon Miss Sally Brass, seeing or thinking of nothing else, and rooted to the spot.

Miss Brass being by this time deep in the bill of costs, took no notice whatever of Dick, but went scratching on, with a noisy pen, scoring down the figures with evident delight, and working like a steam-engine. There stood Dick, gazing now at the green gown, now at the brown head-dress, now at the face, and now at the rapid pen, in a state of stupid perplexity, wondering how he got into the company of that strange monster, and whether it was a dream and he would ever wake. At last he heaved a deep sigh, and began slowly pulling off his coat.

Mr Swiveller pulled off his coat, and folded it up with great elaboration, staring at Miss Sally all the time; then put on a blue jacket with a double row of gilt buttons, which he had originally ordered for aquatic expeditions, but had brought with him that morning for office purposes; and, still keeping his eye upon her, suffered himself to drop down silently upon Mr Brass’s stool. Then he underwent a relapse, and becoming powerless again, rested his chin upon his hand, and opened his eyes so wide, that it appeared quite out of the question that he could ever close them any more.

When he had looked so long that he could see nothing, Dick took his eyes off the fair object of his amazement, turned over the leaves of the draft he was to copy, dipped his pen into the inkstand, and at last, and by slow approaches, began to write. But he had not written half-a-dozen words when, reaching over to the inkstand to take a fresh dip, he happened to raise his eyes. There was the intolerable brown head-dress—there was the green gown—there, in short, was Miss Sally Brass, arrayed in all her charms, and more tremendous than ever.

This happened so often, that Mr Swiveller by degrees began to feel strange influences creeping over him—horrible desires to annihilate this Sally Brass—mysterious promptings to knock her head-dress off and try how she looked without it. There was a very large ruler on the table; a large, black, shining ruler. Mr Swiveller took it up and began to rub his nose with it.

From rubbing his nose with the ruler, to poising it in his hand and giving it an occasional flourish after the tomahawk manner, the transition was easy and natural. In some of these flourishes it went close to Miss Sally’s head; the ragged edges of the head-dress fluttered with the wind it raised; advance it but an inch, and that great brown knot was on the ground: yet still the unconscious maiden worked away, and never raised her eyes.

Well, this was a great relief. It was a good thing to write doggedly and obstinately until he was desperate, and then snatch up the ruler and whirl it about the brown head-dress with the consciousness that he could have it off if he liked. It was a good thing to draw it back, and rub his nose very hard with it, if he thought Miss Sally was going to look up, and to recompense himself with more hardy flourishes when he found she was still absorbed. By these means Mr Swiveller calmed the agitation of his feelings, until his applications to the ruler became less fierce and frequent, and he could even write as many as half-a-dozen consecutive lines without having recourse to it—which was a great victory.





CHAPTER 34

In course of time, that is to say, after a couple of hours or so, of diligent application, Miss Brass arrived at the conclusion of her task, and recorded the fact by wiping her pen upon the green gown, and taking a pinch of snuff from a little round tin box which she carried in her pocket. Having disposed of this temperate refreshment, she arose from her stool, tied her papers into a formal packet with red tape, and taking them under her arm, marched out of the office.

Mr Swiveller had scarcely sprung off his seat and commenced the performance of a maniac hornpipe, when he was interrupted, in the fulness of his joy at being again alone, by the opening of the door, and the reappearance of Miss Sally’s head.

‘I am going out,’ said Miss Brass.

‘Very good, ma’am,’ returned Dick. ‘And don’t hurry yourself on my account to come back, ma’am,’ he added inwardly.

‘If anybody comes on office business, take their messages, and say that the gentleman who attends to that matter isn’t in at present, will you?’ said Miss Brass.

‘I will, ma’am,’ replied Dick.

‘I shan’t be very long,’ said Miss Brass, retiring.

‘I’m sorry to hear it, ma’am,’ rejoined Dick when she had shut the door. ‘I hope you may be unexpectedly detained, ma’am. If you could manage to be run over, ma’am, but not seriously, so much the better.’

Uttering these expressions of good-will with extreme gravity, Mr Swiveller sat down in the client’s chair and pondered; then took a few turns up and down the room and fell into the chair again.

‘So I’m Brass’s clerk, am I?’ said Dick. ‘Brass’s clerk, eh? And the clerk of Brass’s sister—clerk to a female Dragon. Very good, very good! What shall I be next? Shall I be a convict in a felt hat and a grey suit, trotting about a dockyard with my number neatly embroidered on my uniform, and the order of the garter on my leg, restrained from chafing my ankle by a twisted belcher handkerchief? Shall I be that? Will that do, or is it too genteel? Whatever you please, have it your own way, of course.’

As he was entirely alone, it may be presumed that, in these remarks, Mr Swiveller addressed himself to his fate or destiny, whom, as we learn by the precedents, it is the custom of heroes to taunt in a very bitter and ironical manner when they find themselves in situations of an unpleasant nature. This is the more probable from the circumstance of Mr Swiveller directing his observations to the ceiling, which these bodily personages are usually supposed to inhabit—except in theatrical cases, when they live in the heart of the great chandelier.

‘Quilp offers me this place, which he says he can insure me,’ resumed Dick after a thoughtful silence, and telling off the circumstances of his position, one by one, upon his fingers; ‘Fred, who, I could have taken my affidavit, would not have heard of such a thing, backs Quilp to my astonishment, and urges me to take it also—staggerer, number one! My aunt in the country stops the supplies, and writes an affectionate note to say that she has made a new will, and left me out of it—staggerer, number two. No money; no credit; no support from Fred, who seems to turn steady all at once; notice to quit the old lodgings—staggerers, three, four, five, and six! Under an accumulation of staggerers, no man can be considered a free agent. No man knocks himself down; if his destiny knocks him down, his destiny must pick him up again. Then I’m very glad that mine has brought all this upon itself, and I shall be as careless as I can, and make myself quite at home to spite it. So go on my buck,’ said Mr Swiveller, taking his leave of the ceiling with a significant nod, ‘and let us see which of us will be tired first!’

Dismissing the subject of his downfall with these reflections, which were no doubt very profound, and are indeed not altogether unknown in certain systems of moral philosophy, Mr Swiveller shook off his despondency and assumed the cheerful ease of an irresponsible clerk.

As a means towards his composure and self-possession, he entered into a more minute examination of the office than he had yet had time to make; looked into the wig-box, the books, and ink-bottle; untied and inspected all the papers; carved a few devices on the table with a sharp blade of Mr Brass’s penknife; and wrote his name on the inside of the wooden coal-scuttle. Having, as it were, taken formal possession of his clerkship in virtue of these proceedings, he opened the window and leaned negligently out of it until a beer-boy happened to pass, whom he commanded to set down his tray and to serve him with a pint of mild porter, which he drank upon the spot and promptly paid for, with the view of breaking ground for a system of future credit and opening a correspondence tending thereto, without loss of time. Then, three or four little boys dropped in, on legal errands from three or four attorneys of the Brass grade: whom Mr Swiveller received and dismissed with about as professional a manner, and as correct and comprehensive an understanding of their business, as would have been shown by a clown in a pantomime under similar circumstances. These things done and over, he got upon his stool again and tried his hand at drawing caricatures of Miss Brass with a pen and ink, whistling very cheerfully all the time.

He was occupied in this diversion when a coach stopped near the door, and presently afterwards there was a loud double-knock. As this was no business of Mr Swiveller’s, the person not ringing the office bell, he pursued his diversion with perfect composure, notwithstanding that he rather thought there was nobody else in the house.

In this, however, he was mistaken; for, after the knock had been repeated with increased impatience, the door was opened, and somebody with a very heavy tread went up the stairs and into the room above. Mr Swiveller was wondering whether this might be another Miss Brass, twin sister to the Dragon, when there came a rapping of knuckles at the office door.

‘Come in!’ said Dick. ‘Don’t stand upon ceremony. The business will get rather complicated if I’ve many more customers. Come in!’

‘Oh, please,’ said a little voice very low down in the doorway, ‘will you come and show the lodgings?’

Dick leant over the table, and descried a small slipshod girl in a dirty coarse apron and bib, which left nothing of her visible but her face and feet. She might as well have been dressed in a violin-case.

‘Why, who are you?’ said Dick.

To which the only reply was, ‘Oh, please will you come and show the lodgings?’

There never was such an old-fashioned child in her looks and manner. She must have been at work from her cradle. She seemed as much afraid of Dick, as Dick was amazed at her.

‘I hav’n’t got anything to do with the lodgings,’ said Dick. ‘Tell ‘em to call again.’

‘Oh, but please will you come and show the lodgings,’ returned the girl; ‘It’s eighteen shillings a week and us finding plate and linen. Boots and clothes is extra, and fires in winter-time is eightpence a day.’

‘Why don’t you show ‘em yourself? You seem to know all about ‘em,’ said Dick.

‘Miss Sally said I wasn’t to, because people wouldn’t believe the attendance was good if they saw how small I was first.’

‘Well, but they’ll see how small you are afterwards, won’t they?’ said Dick.

‘Ah! But then they’ll have taken ‘em for a fortnight certain,’ replied the child with a shrewd look; ‘and people don’t like moving when they’re once settled.’

‘This is a queer sort of thing,’ muttered Dick, rising. ‘What do you mean to say you are—the cook?’

‘Yes, I do plain cooking;’ replied the child. ‘I’m housemaid too; I do all the work of the house.’

‘I suppose Brass and the Dragon and I do the dirtiest part of it,’ thought Dick. And he might have thought much more, being in a doubtful and hesitating mood, but that the girl again urged her request, and certain mysterious bumping sounds on the passage and staircase seemed to give note of the applicant’s impatience. Richard Swiveller, therefore, sticking a pen behind each ear, and carrying another in his mouth as a token of his great importance and devotion to business, hurried out to meet and treat with the single gentleman.

He was a little surprised to perceive that the bumping sounds were occasioned by the progress up-stairs of the single gentleman’s trunk, which, being nearly twice as wide as the staircase, and exceedingly heavy withal, it was no easy matter for the united exertions of the single gentleman and the coachman to convey up the steep ascent. But there they were, crushing each other, and pushing and pulling with all their might, and getting the trunk tight and fast in all kinds of impossible angles, and to pass them was out of the question; for which sufficient reason, Mr Swiveller followed slowly behind, entering a new protest on every stair against the house of Mr Sampson Brass being thus taken by storm.

To these remonstrances, the single gentleman answered not a word, but when the trunk was at last got into the bed-room, sat down upon it and wiped his bald head and face with his handkerchief. He was very warm, and well he might be; for, not to mention the exertion of getting the trunk up stairs, he was closely muffled in winter garments, though the thermometer had stood all day at eighty-one in the shade.

‘I believe, sir,’ said Richard Swiveller, taking his pen out of his mouth, ‘that you desire to look at these apartments. They are very charming apartments, sir. They command an uninterrupted view of—of over the way, and they are within one minute’s walk of—of the corner of the street. There is exceedingly mild porter, sir, in the immediate vicinity, and the contingent advantages are extraordinary.’

‘What’s the rent?’ said the single gentleman.

‘One pound per week,’ replied Dick, improving on the terms.

‘I’ll take ‘em.’

‘The boots and clothes are extras,’ said Dick; ‘and the fires in winter time are—’

‘Are all agreed to,’ answered the single gentleman.

‘Two weeks certain,’ said Dick, ‘are the—’

‘Two weeks!’ cried the single gentleman gruffly, eyeing him from top to toe. ‘Two years. I shall live here for two years. Here. Ten pounds down. The bargain’s made.’

‘Why you see,’ said Dick, ‘my name is not Brass, and—’

‘Who said it was? My name’s not Brass. What then?’

‘The name of the master of the house is,’ said Dick.

‘I’m glad of it,’ returned the single gentleman; ‘it’s a good name for a lawyer. Coachman, you may go. So may you, Sir.’

Mr Swiveller was so much confounded by the single gentleman riding roughshod over him at this rate, that he stood looking at him almost as hard as he had looked at Miss Sally. The single gentleman, however, was not in the slightest degree affected by this circumstance, but proceeded with perfect composure to unwind the shawl which was tied round his neck, and then to pull off his boots. Freed of these encumbrances, he went on to divest himself of his other clothing, which he folded up, piece by piece, and ranged in order on the trunk. Then, he pulled down the window-blinds, drew the curtains, wound up his watch, and, quite leisurely and methodically, got into bed.

‘Take down the bill,’ were his parting words, as he looked out from between the curtains; ‘and let nobody call me till I ring the bell.’

With that the curtains closed, and he seemed to snore immediately.

‘This is a most remarkable and supernatural sort of house!’ said Mr Swiveller, as he walked into the office with the bill in his hand. ‘She-dragons in the business, conducting themselves like professional gentlemen; plain cooks of three feet high appearing mysteriously from under ground; strangers walking in and going to bed without leave or licence in the middle of the day! If he should be one of the miraculous fellows that turn up now and then, and has gone to sleep for two years, I shall be in a pleasant situation. It’s my destiny, however, and I hope Brass may like it. I shall be sorry if he don’t. But it’s no business of mine—I have nothing whatever to do with it!’





CHAPTER 35

Mr Brass on returning home received the report of his clerk with much complacency and satisfaction, and was particular in inquiring after the ten-pound note, which, proving on examination to be a good and lawful note of the Governor and Company of the Bank of England, increased his good-humour considerably. Indeed he so overflowed with liberality and condescension, that, in the fulness of his heart, he invited Mr Swiveller to partake of a bowl of punch with him at that remote and indefinite period which is currently denominated ‘one of these days,’ and paid him many handsome compliments on the uncommon aptitude for business which his conduct on the first day of his devotion to it had so plainly evinced.

It was a maxim with Mr Brass that the habit of paying compliments kept a man’s tongue oiled without any expense; and, as that useful member ought never to grow rusty or creak in turning on its hinges in the case of a practitioner of the law, in whom it should be always glib and easy, he lost few opportunities of improving himself by the utterance of handsome speeches and eulogistic expressions. And this had passed into such a habit with him, that, if he could not be correctly said to have his tongue at his fingers’ ends, he might certainly be said to have it anywhere but in his face: which being, as we have already seen, of a harsh and repulsive character, was not oiled so easily, but frowned above all the smooth speeches—one of nature’s beacons, warning off those who navigated the shoals and breakers of the World, or of that dangerous strait the Law, and admonishing them to seek less treacherous harbours and try their fortune elsewhere.

While Mr Brass by turns overwhelmed his clerk with compliments and inspected the ten-pound note, Miss Sally showed little emotion and that of no pleasurable kind, for as the tendency of her legal practice had been to fix her thoughts on small gains and gripings, and to whet and sharpen her natural wisdom, she was not a little disappointed that the single gentleman had obtained the lodgings at such an easy rate, arguing that when he was seen to have set his mind upon them, he should have been at the least charged double or treble the usual terms, and that, in exact proportion as he pressed forward, Mr Swiveller should have hung back. But neither the good opinion of Mr Brass, nor the dissatisfaction of Miss Sally, wrought any impression upon that young gentleman, who, throwing the responsibility of this and all other acts and deeds thereafter to be done by him, upon his unlucky destiny, was quite resigned and comfortable: fully prepared for the worst, and philosophically indifferent to the best.


‘Good morning, Mr Richard,’ said Brass, on the second day of Mr Swiveller’s clerkship. ‘Sally found you a second-hand stool, Sir, yesterday evening, in Whitechapel. She’s a rare fellow at a bargain, I can tell you, Mr Richard. You’ll find that a first-rate stool, Sir, take my word for it.’

‘It’s rather a crazy one to look at,’ said Dick.

‘You’ll find it a most amazing stool to sit down upon, you may depend,’ returned Mr Brass. ‘It was bought in the open street just opposite the hospital, and as it has been standing there a month of two, it has got rather dusty and a little brown from being in the sun, that’s all.’

‘I hope it hasn’t got any fevers or anything of that sort in it,’ said Dick, sitting himself down discontentedly, between Mr Sampson and the chaste Sally. ‘One of the legs is longer than the others.’

‘Then we get a bit of timber in, Sir,’ retorted Brass. ‘Ha, ha, ha! We get a bit of timber in, Sir, and that’s another advantage of my sister’s going to market for us. Miss Brass, Mr Richard is the—’

‘Will you keep quiet?’ interrupted the fair subject of these remarks, looking up from her papers. ‘How am I to work if you keep on chattering?’

‘What an uncertain chap you are!’ returned the lawyer. ‘Sometimes you’re all for a chat. At another time you’re all for work. A man never knows what humour he’ll find you in.’

‘I’m in a working humour now,’ said Sally, ‘so don’t disturb me, if you please. And don’t take him,’ Miss Sally pointed with the feather of her pen to Richard, ‘off his business. He won’t do more than he can help, I dare say.’

Mr Brass had evidently a strong inclination to make an angry reply, but was deterred by prudent or timid considerations, as he only muttered something about aggravation and a vagabond; not associating the terms with any individual, but mentioning them as connected with some abstract ideas which happened to occur to him. They went on writing for a long time in silence after this—in such a dull silence that Mr Swiveller (who required excitement) had several times fallen asleep, and written divers strange words in an unknown character with his eyes shut, when Miss Sally at length broke in upon the monotony of the office by pulling out the little tin box, taking a noisy pinch of snuff, and then expressing her opinion that Mr Richard Swiveller had ‘done it.’

‘Done what, ma’am?’ said Richard.

‘Do you know,’ returned Miss Brass, ‘that the lodger isn’t up yet— that nothing has been seen or heard of him since he went to bed yesterday afternoon?’

‘Well, ma’am,’ said Dick, ‘I suppose he may sleep his ten pound out, in peace and quietness, if he likes.’

‘Ah! I begin to think he’ll never wake,’ observed Miss Sally.

‘It’s a very remarkable circumstance,’ said Brass, laying down his pen; ‘really, very remarkable. Mr Richard, you’ll remember, if this gentleman should be found to have hung himself to the bed-post, or any unpleasant accident of that kind should happen—you’ll remember, Mr Richard, that this ten pound note was given to you in part payment of two years’ rent? You’ll bear that in mind, Mr Richard; you had better make a note of it, sir, in case you should ever be called upon to give evidence.’

Mr Swiveller took a large sheet of foolscap, and with a countenance of profound gravity, began to make a very small note in one corner.

‘We can never be too cautious,’ said Mr Brass. ‘There is a deal of wickedness going about the world, a deal of wickedness. Did the gentleman happen to say, Sir—but never mind that at present, sir; finish that little memorandum first.’

Dick did so, and handed it to Mr Brass, who had dismounted from his stool, and was walking up and down the office.

‘Oh, this is the memorandum, is it?’ said Brass, running his eye over the document. ‘Very good. Now, Mr Richard, did the gentleman say anything else?’

‘No.’

‘Are you sure, Mr Richard,’ said Brass, solemnly, ‘that the gentleman said nothing else?’

‘Devil a word, Sir,’ replied Dick.

‘Think again, Sir,’ said Brass; ‘it’s my duty, Sir, in the position in which I stand, and as an honourable member of the legal profession—the first profession in this country, Sir, or in any other country, or in any of the planets that shine above us at night and are supposed to be inhabited—it’s my duty, Sir, as an honourable member of that profession, not to put to you a leading question in a matter of this delicacy and importance. Did the gentleman, Sir, who took the first floor of you yesterday afternoon, and who brought with him a box of property—a box of property—say anything more than is set down in this memorandum?’

‘Come, don’t be a fool,’ said Miss Sally.

Dick looked at her, and then at Brass, and then at Miss Sally again, and still said ‘No.’

‘Pooh, pooh! Deuce take it, Mr Richard, how dull you are!’ cried Brass, relaxing into a smile. ‘Did he say anything about his property?—there!’

‘That’s the way to put it,’ said Miss Sally, nodding to her brother.

‘Did he say, for instance,’ added Brass, in a kind of comfortable, cozy tone—‘I don’t assert that he did say so, mind; I only ask you, to refresh your memory—did he say, for instance, that he was a stranger in London—that it was not his humour or within his ability to give any references—that he felt we had a right to require them—and that, in case anything should happen to him, at any time, he particularly desired that whatever property he had upon the premises should be considered mine, as some slight recompense for the trouble and annoyance I should sustain—and were you, in short,’ added Brass, still more comfortably and cozily than before, ‘were you induced to accept him on my behalf, as a tenant, upon those conditions?’

‘Certainly not,’ replied Dick.

‘Why then, Mr Richard,’ said Brass, darting at him a supercilious and reproachful look, ‘it’s my opinion that you’ve mistaken your calling, and will never make a lawyer.’

‘Not if you live a thousand years,’ added Miss Sally. Whereupon the brother and sister took each a noisy pinch of snuff from the little tin box, and fell into a gloomy thoughtfulness.

Nothing further passed up to Mr Swiveller’s dinner-time, which was at three o’clock, and seemed about three weeks in coming. At the first stroke of the hour, the new clerk disappeared. At the last stroke of five, he reappeared, and the office, as if by magic, became fragrant with the smell of gin and water and lemon-peel.

‘Mr Richard,’ said Brass, ‘this man’s not up yet. Nothing will wake him, sir. What’s to be done?’

‘I should let him have his sleep out,’ returned Dick.

‘Sleep out!’ cried Brass; ‘why he has been asleep now, six-and-twenty hours. We have been moving chests of drawers over his head, we have knocked double knocks at the street-door, we have made the servant-girl fall down stairs several times (she’s a light weight, and it don’t hurt her much,) but nothing wakes him.’

‘Perhaps a ladder,’ suggested Dick, ‘and getting in at the first-floor window—’

‘But then there’s a door between; besides, the neighbours would be up in arms,’ said Brass.

‘What do you say to getting on the roof of the house through the trap-door, and dropping down the chimney?’ suggested Dick.

‘That would be an excellent plan,’ said Brass, ‘if anybody would be—’ and here he looked very hard at Mr Swiveller—‘would be kind, and friendly, and generous enough, to undertake it. I dare say it would not be anything like as disagreeable as one supposes.’

Dick had made the suggestion, thinking that the duty might possibly fall within Miss Sally’s department. As he said nothing further, and declined taking the hint, Mr Brass was fain to propose that they should go up stairs together, and make a last effort to awaken the sleeper by some less violent means, which, if they failed on this last trial, must positively be succeeded by stronger measures. Mr Swiveller, assenting, armed himself with his stool and the large ruler, and repaired with his employer to the scene of action, where Miss Brass was already ringing a hand-bell with all her might, and yet without producing the smallest effect upon their mysterious lodger.

‘There are his boots, Mr Richard!’ said Brass.

‘Very obstinate-looking articles they are too,’ quoth Richard Swiveller. And truly, they were as sturdy and bluff a pair of boots as one would wish to see; as firmly planted on the ground as if their owner’s legs and feet had been in them; and seeming, with their broad soles and blunt toes, to hold possession of their place by main force.

‘I can’t see anything but the curtain of the bed,’ said Brass, applying his eye to the keyhole of the door. ‘Is he a strong man, Mr Richard?’

‘Very,’ answered Dick.

‘It would be an extremely unpleasant circumstance if he was to bounce out suddenly,’ said Brass. ‘Keep the stairs clear. I should be more than a match for him, of course, but I’m the master of the house, and the laws of hospitality must be respected.—Hallo there! Hallo, hallo!’

While Mr Brass, with his eye curiously twisted into the keyhole, uttered these sounds as a means of attracting the lodger’s attention, and while Miss Brass plied the hand-bell, Mr Swiveller put his stool close against the wall by the side of the door, and mounting on the top and standing bolt upright, so that if the lodger did make a rush, he would most probably pass him in its onward fury, began a violent battery with the ruler upon the upper panels of the door. Captivated with his own ingenuity, and confident in the strength of his position, which he had taken up after the method of those hardy individuals who open the pit and gallery doors of theatres on crowded nights, Mr Swiveller rained down such a shower of blows, that the noise of the bell was drowned; and the small servant, who lingered on the stairs below, ready to fly at a moment’s notice, was obliged to hold her ears lest she should be rendered deaf for life.

Suddenly the door was unlocked on the inside, and flung violently open. The small servant flew to the coal-cellar; Miss Sally dived into her own bed-room; Mr Brass, who was not remarkable for personal courage, ran into the next street, and finding that nobody followed him, armed with a poker or other offensive weapon, put his hands in his pockets, walked very slowly all at once, and whistled.

Meanwhile, Mr Swiveller, on the top of the stool, drew himself into as flat a shape as possible against the wall, and looked, not unconcernedly, down upon the single gentleman, who appeared at the door growling and cursing in a very awful manner, and, with the boots in his hand, seemed to have an intention of hurling them down stairs on speculation. This idea, however, he abandoned. He was turning into his room again, still growling vengefully, when his eyes met those of the watchful Richard.

‘Have you been making that horrible noise?’ said the single gentleman.

‘I have been helping, sir,’ returned Dick, keeping his eye upon him, and waving the ruler gently in his right hand, as an indication of what the single gentleman had to expect if he attempted any violence.

‘How dare you then,’ said the lodger, ‘Eh?’

To this, Dick made no other reply than by inquiring whether the lodger held it to be consistent with the conduct and character of a gentleman to go to sleep for six-and-twenty hours at a stretch, and whether the peace of an amiable and virtuous family was to weigh as nothing in the balance.

‘Is my peace nothing?’ said the single gentleman.

‘Is their peace nothing, sir?’ returned Dick. ‘I don’t wish to hold out any threats, sir—indeed the law does not allow of threats, for to threaten is an indictable offence—but if ever you do that again, take care you’re not sat upon by the coroner and buried in a cross road before you wake. We have been distracted with fears that you were dead, Sir,’ said Dick, gently sliding to the ground, ‘and the short and the long of it is, that we cannot allow single gentlemen to come into this establishment and sleep like double gentlemen without paying extra for it.’

‘Indeed!’ cried the lodger.

‘Yes, Sir, indeed,’ returned Dick, yielding to his destiny and saying whatever came uppermost; ‘an equal quantity of slumber was never got out of one bed and bedstead, and if you’re going to sleep in that way, you must pay for a double-bedded room.’

Instead of being thrown into a greater passion by these remarks, the lodger lapsed into a broad grin and looked at Mr Swiveller with twinkling eyes. He was a brown-faced sun-burnt man, and appeared browner and more sun-burnt from having a white nightcap on. As it was clear that he was a choleric fellow in some respects, Mr Swiveller was relieved to find him in such good humour, and, to encourage him in it, smiled himself.

The lodger, in the testiness of being so rudely roused, had pushed his nightcap very much on one side of his bald head. This gave him a rakish eccentric air which, now that he had leisure to observe it, charmed Mr Swiveller exceedingly; therefore, by way of propitiation, he expressed his hope that the gentleman was going to get up, and further that he would never do so any more.

‘Come here, you impudent rascal!’ was the lodger’s answer as he re-entered his room.

Mr Swiveller followed him in, leaving the stool outside, but reserving the ruler in case of a surprise. He rather congratulated himself on his prudence when the single gentleman, without notice or explanation of any kind, double-locked the door.

‘Can you drink anything?’ was his next inquiry.

Mr Swiveller replied that he had very recently been assuaging the pangs of thirst, but that he was still open to ‘a modest quencher,’ if the materials were at hand. Without another word spoken on either side, the lodger took from his great trunk, a kind of temple, shining as of polished silver, and placed it carefully on the table.

Greatly interested in his proceedings, Mr Swiveller observed him closely. Into one little chamber of this temple, he dropped an egg; into another some coffee; into a third a compact piece of raw steak from a neat tin case; into a fourth, he poured some water. Then, with the aid of a phosphorus-box and some matches, he procured a light and applied it to a spirit-lamp which had a place of its own below the temple; then, he shut down the lids of all the little chambers; then he opened them; and then, by some wonderful and unseen agency, the steak was done, the egg was boiled, the coffee was accurately prepared, and his breakfast was ready.

‘Hot water—’ said the lodger, handing it to Mr Swiveller with as much coolness as if he had a kitchen fire before him—‘extraordinary rum—sugar—and a travelling glass. Mix for yourself. And make haste.’

Dick complied, his eyes wandering all the time from the temple on the table, which seemed to do everything, to the great trunk which seemed to hold everything. The lodger took his breakfast like a man who was used to work these miracles, and thought nothing of them.

‘The man of the house is a lawyer, is he not?’ said the lodger.

Dick nodded. The rum was amazing.

‘The woman of the house—what’s she?’

‘A dragon,’ said Dick.

The single gentleman, perhaps because he had met with such things in his travels, or perhaps because he was a single gentleman, evinced no surprise, but merely inquired ‘Wife or sister?’—‘Sister,’ said Dick.—‘So much the better,’ said the single gentleman, ‘he can get rid of her when he likes.’

‘I want to do as I like, young man,’ he added after a short silence; ‘to go to bed when I like, get up when I like, come in when I like, go out when I like—to be asked no questions and be surrounded by no spies. In this last respect, servants are the devil. There’s only one here.’

‘And a very little one,’ said Dick.

‘And a very little one,’ repeated the lodger. ‘Well, the place will suit me, will it?’

‘Yes,’ said Dick.

‘Sharks, I suppose?’ said the lodger.

Dick nodded assent, and drained his glass.

‘Let them know my humour,’ said the single gentleman, rising. ‘If they disturb me, they lose a good tenant. If they know me to be that, they know enough. If they try to know more, it’s a notice to quit. It’s better to understand these things at once. Good day.’

‘I beg your pardon,’ said Dick, halting in his passage to the door, which the lodger prepared to open. ‘When he who adores thee has left but the name—’

‘What do you mean?’

‘—But the name,’ said Dick—‘has left but the name—in case of letters or parcels—’

‘I never have any,’ returned the lodger.

‘Or in the case anybody should call.’

‘Nobody ever calls on me.’

‘If any mistake should arise from not having the name, don’t say it was my fault, Sir,’ added Dick, still lingering.—‘Oh blame not the bard—’

‘I’ll blame nobody,’ said the lodger, with such irascibility that in a moment Dick found himself on the staircase, and the locked door between them.

Mr Brass and Miss Sally were lurking hard by, having been, indeed, only routed from the keyhole by Mr Swiveller’s abrupt exit. As their utmost exertions had not enabled them to overhear a word of the interview, however, in consequence of a quarrel for precedence, which, though limited of necessity to pushes and pinches and such quiet pantomime, had lasted the whole time, they hurried him down to the office to hear his account of the conversation.

This Mr Swiveller gave them—faithfully as regarded the wishes and character of the single gentleman, and poetically as concerned the great trunk, of which he gave a description more remarkable for brilliancy of imagination than a strict adherence to truth; declaring, with many strong asseverations, that it contained a specimen of every kind of rich food and wine, known in these times, and in particular that it was of a self-acting kind and served up whatever was required, as he supposed by clock-work. He also gave them to understand that the cooking apparatus roasted a fine piece of sirloin of beef, weighing about six pounds avoir-dupoise, in two minutes and a quarter, as he had himself witnessed, and proved by his sense of taste; and further, that, however the effect was produced, he had distinctly seen water boil and bubble up when the single gentleman winked; from which facts he (Mr Swiveller) was led to infer that the lodger was some great conjuror or chemist, or both, whose residence under that roof could not fail at some future days to shed a great credit and distinction on the name of Brass, and add a new interest to the history of Bevis Marks.

There was one point which Mr Swiveller deemed it unnecessary to enlarge upon, and that was the fact of the modest quencher, which, by reason of its intrinsic strength and its coming close upon the heels of the temperate beverage he had discussed at dinner, awakened a slight degree of fever, and rendered necessary two or three other modest quenchers at the public-house in the course of the evening.