The Old Curiosity Shop
Part 6 out of 13
then--What! That figure in the room.
A figure was there. Yes, she had drawn up the blind to admit the
light when it should be dawn, and there, between the foot of the
bed and the dark casement, it crouched and slunk along, groping its
way with noiseless hands, and stealing round the bed. She had no
voice to cry for help, no power to move, but lay still, watching
On it came--on, silently and stealthily, to the bed's head. The
breath so near her pillow, that she shrunk back into it, lest those
wandering hands should light upon her face. Back again it stole to
the window--then turned its head towards her.
The dark form was a mere blot upon the lighter darkness of the
room, but she saw the turning of the head, and felt and knew how
the eyes looked and the ears listened. There it remained,
motionless as she. At length, still keeping the face towards her,
it busied its hands in something, and she heard the chink of money.
Then, on it came again, silent and stealthy as before, and
replacing the garments it had taken from the bedside, dropped upon
its hands and knees, and crawled away. How slowly it seemed to
move, now that she could hear but not see it, creeping along the
floor! It reached the door at last, and stood upon its feet. The
steps creaked beneath its noiseless tread, and it was gone.
The first impulse of the child was to fly from the terror of being
by herself in that room--to have somebody by--not to be alone--
and then her power of speech would be restored. With no
consciousness of having moved, she gained the door.
There was the dreadful shadow, pausing at the bottom of the steps.
She could not pass it; she might have done so, perhaps, in the
darkness without being seized, but her blood curdled at the
thought. The figure stood quite still, and so did she; not boldly,
but of necessity; for going back into the room was hardly less
terrible than going on.
The rain beat fast and furiously without, and ran down in plashing
streams from the thatched roof. Some summer insect, with no escape
into the air, flew blindly to and fro, beating its body against the
walls and ceiling, and filling the silent place with murmurs. The
figure moved again. The child involuntarily did the same. Once in
her grandfather's room, she would be safe.
It crept along the passage until it came to the very door she
longed so ardently to reach. The child, in the agony of being so
near, had almost darted forward with the design of bursting into
the room and closing it behind her, when the figure stopped again.
The idea flashed suddenly upon her--what if it entered there, and
had a design upon the old man's life! She turned faint and sick.
It did. It went in. There was a light inside. The figure was now
within the chamber, and she, still dumb--quite dumb, and almost
senseless--stood looking on.
The door was partly open. Not knowing what she meant to do, but
meaning to preserve him or be killed herself, she staggered forward
and looked in.
What sight was that which met her view!
The bed had not been lain on, but was smooth and empty. And at a
table sat the old man himself; the only living creature there; his
white face pinched and sharpened by the greediness which made his
eyes unnaturally bright--counting the money of which his hands had
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
'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
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
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
'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
'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
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
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
'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.
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,
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
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
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
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
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!'
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
'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,
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
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
'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
'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
'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
'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,
'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
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
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
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
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
'Why, who are you?' said Dick.
To which the only reply was, 'Oh, please will you come and show the
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,'
'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?'
'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
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
'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
'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
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!'
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
'Will you keep quiet?' interrupted the fair subject of these
remarks, looking up from her papers. 'How am I to work if you keep
'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
'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?'
'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
'That's the way to put it,' said Miss Sally, nodding to her
'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-
'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
'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,
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
'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
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
'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
As the single gentleman after some weeks' occupation of his
lodgings, still declined to correspond, by word or gesture, either
with Mr Brass or his sister Sally, but invariably chose Richard
Swiveller as his channel of communication; and as he proved himself
in all respects a highly desirable inmate, paying for everything
beforehand, giving very little trouble, making no noise, and
keeping early hours; Mr Richard imperceptibly rose to an important
position in the family, as one who had influence over this
mysterious lodger, and could negotiate with him, for good or evil,
when nobody else durst approach his person.
If the truth must be told, even Mr Swiveller's approaches to the
single gentleman were of a very distant kind, and met with small
encouragement; but, as he never returned from a monosyllabic
conference with the unknown, without quoting such expressions as
'Swiveller, I know I can rely upon you,'--'I have no hesitation in
saying, Swiveller, that I entertain a regard for you,'--'Swiveller,
you are my friend, and will stand by me I am sure,' with many other
short speeches of the same familiar and confiding kind, purporting
to have been addressed by the single gentleman to himself, and to
form the staple of their ordinary discourse, neither Mr Brass nor
Miss Sally for a moment questioned the extent of his influence, but
accorded to him their fullest and most unqualified belief.
But quite apart from, and independent of, this source of
popularity, Mr Swiveller had another, which promised to be equally
enduring, and to lighten his position considerably.
He found favour in the eyes of Miss Sally Brass. Let not the light
scorners of female fascination erect their ears to listen to a new
tale of love which shall serve them for a jest; for Miss Brass,
however accurately formed to be beloved, was not of the loving
kind. That amiable virgin, having clung to the skirts of the Law
from her earliest youth; having sustained herself by their aid, as
it were, in her first running alone, and maintained a firm grasp
upon them ever since; had passed her life in a kind of legal
childhood. She had been remarkable, when a tender prattler for an
uncommon talent in counterfeiting the walk and manner of a bailiff:
in which character she had learned to tap her little playfellows on
the shoulder, and to carry them off to imaginary sponging-houses,
with a correctness of imitation which was the surprise and delight
of all who witnessed her performances, and which was only to be
exceeded by her exquisite manner of putting an execution into her
doll's house, and taking an exact inventory of the chairs and
tables. These artless sports had naturally soothed and cheered the
decline of her widowed father: a most exemplary gentleman (called
'old Foxey' by his friends from his extreme sagacity,) who
encouraged them to the utmost, and whose chief regret, on finding
that he drew near to Houndsditch churchyard, was, that his daughter
could not take out an attorney's certificate and hold a place upon
the roll. Filled with this affectionate and touching sorrow, he
had solemnly confided her to his son Sampson as an invaluable
auxiliary; and from the old gentleman's decease to the period of
which we treat, Miss Sally Brass had been the prop and pillar of
It is obvious that, having devoted herself from infancy to this one
pursuit and study, Miss Brass could know but little of the
world, otherwise than in connection with the law; and that from a
lady gifted with such high tastes, proficiency in those gentler and
softer arts in which women usually excel, was scarcely to be looked
for. Miss Sally's accomplishments were all of a masculine and
strictly legal kind. They began with the practice of an attorney
and they ended with it. She was in a state of lawful innocence, so
to speak. The law had been her nurse. And, as bandy-legs or such
physical deformities in children are held to be the consequence of
bad nursing, so, if in a mind so beautiful any moral twist or
handiness could be found, Miss Sally Brass's nurse was alone to
It was on this lady, then, that Mr Swiveller burst in full
freshness as something new and hitherto undreamed of, lighting up
the office with scraps of song and merriment, conjuring with
inkstands and boxes of wafers, catching three oranges in one hand,
balancing stools upon his chin and penknives on his nose, and
constantly performing a hundred other feats with equal ingenuity;
for with such unbendings did Richard, in Mr Brass's absence,
relieve the tedium of his confinement. These social qualities,
which Miss Sally first discovered by accident, gradually made such
an impression upon her, that she would entreat Mr Swiveller to
relax as though she were not by, which Mr Swiveller, nothing loth,
would readily consent to do. By these means a friendship sprung up
between them. Mr Swiveller gradually came to look upon her as her
brother Sampson did, and as he would have looked upon any other
clerk. He imparted to her the mystery of going the odd man or
plain Newmarket for fruit, ginger-beer, baked potatoes, or even a
modest quencher, of which Miss Brass did not scruple to partake.
He would often persuade her to undertake his share of writing in
addition to her own; nay, he would sometimes reward her with a
hearty slap on the back, and protest that she was a devilish good
fellow, a jolly dog, and so forth; all of which compliments Miss
Sally would receive in entire good part and with perfect
One circumstance troubled Mr Swiveller's mind very much, and that
was that the small servant always remained somewhere in the bowels
of the earth under Bevis Marks, and never came to the surface
unless the single gentleman rang his bell, when she would answer it
and immediately disappear again. She never went out, or came into
the office, or had a clean face, or took off the coarse apron, or
looked out of any one of the windows, or stood at the street-door
for a breath of air, or had any rest or enjoyment whatever. Nobody
ever came to see her, nobody spoke of her, nobody cared about her.
Mr Brass had said once, that he believed she was a 'love-child'
(which means anything but a child of love), and that was all the
information Richard Swiveller could obtain.
'It's of no use asking the dragon,' thought Dick one day, as he sat
contemplating the features of Miss Sally Brass. 'I suspect if I
asked any questions on that head, our alliance would be at an end.
I wonder whether she is a dragon by-the-bye, or something in the
mermaid way. She has rather a scaly appearance. But mermaids are
fond of looking at themselves in the glass, which she can't be.
And they have a habit of combing their hair, which she hasn't. No,
she's a dragon.'
'Where are you going, old fellow?' said Dick aloud, as Miss Sally
wiped her pen as usual on the green dress, and uprose from her
'To dinner,' answered the dragon.
'To dinner!' thought Dick, 'that's another circumstance. I don't
believe that small servant ever has anything to eat.'
'Sammy won't be home,' said Miss Brass. 'Stop till I come back.
I sha'n't be long.'
Dick nodded, and followed Miss Brass--with his eyes to the door,
and with his ears to a little back parlour, where she and her
brother took their meals.
'Now,' said Dick, walking up and down with his hands in his
pockets, 'I'd give something--if I had it--to know how they use
that child, and where they keep her. My mother must have been a
very inquisitive woman; I have no doubt I'm marked with a note of
interrogation somewhere. My feelings I smother, but thou hast been
the cause of this anguish, my--upon my word,' said Mr Swiveller,
checking himself and falling thoughtfully into the client's chair,
'I should like to know how they use her!'
After running on, in this way, for some time, Mr Swiveller softly
opened the office door, with the intention of darting across the
street for a glass of the mild porter. At that moment he caught a
parting glimpse of the brown head-dress of Miss Brass flitting down
the kitchen stairs. 'And by Jove!' thought Dick, 'she's going to
feed the small servant. Now or never!'
First peeping over the handrail and allowing the head-dress to
disappear in the darkness below, he groped his way down, and
arrived at the door of a back kitchen immediately after Miss Brass
had entered the same, bearing in her hand a cold leg of mutton. It
was a very dark miserable place, very low and very damp: the walls
disfigured by a thousand rents and blotches. The water was
trickling out of a leaky butt, and a most wretched cat was lapping
up the drops with the sickly eagerness of starvation. The grate,
which was a wide one, was wound and screwed up tight, so as to hold
no more than a little thin sandwich of fire. Everything was locked
up; the coal-cellar, the candle-box, the salt-box, the meat-safe,
were all padlocked. There was nothing that a beetle could have
lunched upon. The pinched and meagre aspect of the place would
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