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 205 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.
Miss Sally 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 eye-lashes in a wrong place, as the eyes of Miss Brass were quite free from any such natural impertinences. 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, 206 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 the 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 engross, fair-copy, fill up printed forms with perfect accuracy, and, in short, transact any ordinary duty of the office down to pouncing a skin of parchment or mending a pen. It is difficult to understand how, possessed of these combined attractions, she should remain Miss Brass; but whether she had steeled her heart against mankind, or whether those who might have wooed and won her, were deterred by fears that, being learned in the law, she might have too near her fingers’ ends those particular statutes which regulate what are familiarly termed actions for breach, certain it is that she was still in a state of celibacy, and still in daily occupation of her old stool opposite to that of her brother Sampson. And equally certain it is, by the way, that between these two stools a great many people had come to the ground.
One morning Mr. Sampson Brass sat upon his stool copying some legal process, and viciously digging his pen deep into the paper, as if he were writing upon the very heart of the party against whom it was directed; and Miss Sally Brass sat upon her stool making a new pen preparatory to drawing out a little bill, which was her favourite occupation; and so they sat in silence for a long time, until Miss Brass broke silence.
“Have you nearly done, Sammy?” said Miss Brass; for in her mild and feminine lips, Sampson became Sammy, and all things were softened down.
“No,” returned her brother. “It would have been all done though, if you had helped at the right time.”
“Oh yes, indeed,” cried Miss Sally; “you want my help, don’t you?—you, too, that are going to keep a clerk!”
“Am I going to keep a clerk for my own pleasure, or because of my own wish, you provoking rascal?” said Mr. Brass, putting his pen in his mouth, and grinning spitefully at his sister. “What do you taunt me about going to keep a clerk for?”207
A Colleague for Miss Sally Brass.
It may be observed in this place, lest the fact of Mr. Brass calling a lady, a rascal, should occasion any wonderment or surprise, that he was so habituated to having her near him in a man’s capacity, that he had gradually accustomed himself to talk to her as though she were really a man. And this feeling was so perfectly reciprocal, that not only did Mr. Brass often call Miss Brass a rascal, or even put an adjective before the rascal, but Miss Brass looked upon it as quite a matter of course, and was as little moved as any other lady would be by being called an angel.
“What do you taunt me, after three hours’ talk last night, with going to keep a clerk for?” repeated Mr. Brass, grinning again with the pen in his mouth, like some nobleman’s or gentleman’s crest. “Is it my fault?”
“All I know is,” said Miss Sally, smiling drily, for she delighted in nothing so much as irritating her brother, “that if every one of your clients is to force us to keep a clerk, whether we want to or not, you had better leave off business, strike yourself off the roll, and get taken in execution as soon as you can.”
“Have we got any other client like him?” said Brass. “Have we got another client like him now—will you answer me that?”
“Do you mean in the face?” said his sister.
“Do I mean in the face!” sneered Sampson Brass, reaching over to take up the bill-book, and fluttering its leaves rapidly. “Look here—Daniel Quilp, Esquire—Daniel Quilp, Esquire—Daniel Quilp, Esquire—all through. Whether should I take a clerk that he recommends, and says, ‘this is the man for you,’ or lose all this, eh?”
Miss Sally deigned to make no reply, but smiled again, and went on with her work.
“But I know what it is,” resumed Brass after a short silence. “You’re afraid you won’t have as long a finger in the business as you’ve been used to have. Do you think I don’t see through that?”
“The business wouldn’t go on very long, I expect, without me,” returned his sister composedly. “Don’t you be a fool and provoke me, Sammy, but mind what you’re doing, and do it.”
Sampson Brass, who was at heart in great fear of his sister, sulkily bent over his writing again, and listened as she said—
“If I determined that the clerk ought not to come, of course he wouldn’t be allowed to come. You know that well enough, so don’t talk nonsense.”
Mr. Brass received this observation with increased meekness, merely remarking, under his breath, that he didn’t like that kind of joking, and that Miss Sally would be “a much better fellow” if she forbore to aggravate him. To this compliment Miss Sally replied, that she had a relish for the amusement, and had no intention to forego its gratification. Mr. Brass not caring, as it seemed, to pursue the subject any further, they both plied their pens at a great pace, and there the discussion ended.208
While they were thus employed, the window was suddenly darkened, as by some person standing close against it. As Mr. Brass and Miss Sally looked up to ascertain the cause, the top sash was nimbly lowered from without, and Quilp thrust in his head.
“Hallo!” he said, standing on tip-toe on the window-sill, and looking down into the room. “Is there anybody at home? Is there any of the Devil’s ware here? Is Brass at a premium, eh?”
“Ha, ha, ha!” laughed the lawyer in an affected ecstasy. “Oh, very good, sir! Oh, very good indeed! Quite eccentric! Dear me, what humour he has!”
“Is that my Sally?” croaked the dwarf, ogling the fair Miss Brass. “Is it Justice with the bandage off her eyes, and without the sword and scales? Is it the Strong Arm of the Law? Is it the Virgin of Bevis?”
“What an amazing flow of spirits!” cried Brass. “Upon my word, it’s quite extraordinary!”
“Open the door,” said Quilp, “I’ve got him here. Such a clerk for you, Brass, such a prize, such an ace of trumps. Be quick and 209 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.”
Mr. Swiveller’s Introduction to the Law.
It is probable that the loss of the phœnix 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 eye-brows as he looked towards Miss Sally; “there is the woman I ought to have married—there is the beautiful Sarah—there is the female who has all the charms of her sex and none of their weaknesses. Oh Sally, Sally!”
To this amorous address Miss Brass briefly responded “Bother!”
“Hard-hearted as the metal from which she takes her name,” said Quilp. “Why don’t she change it—melt down the brass, and take another name?”
“Hold your nonsense, Mr. Quilp, do,” returned Miss Sally, with a grim smile. “I wonder you’re not ashamed of yourself before a strange young man.”
“The strange young man,” said Quilp, handing Dick Swiveller forward, “is too susceptible himself not to understand me well. This is Mr. Swiveller, my intimate friend—a gentleman of good family and great expectations, but who, having rather involved himself by youthful indiscretion, is content for a time to fill the humble station of a clerk—humble, but here most enviable. What a delicious atmosphere!”
If Mr. Quilp spoke figuratively, and meant to imply that the air breathed by Miss Sally Brass was sweetened and rarefied by that dainty creature, he had doubtless good reason for what he said. But if he spoke of the delights of the atmosphere of Mr. Brass’s office in a literal sense, he had certainly a peculiar taste, as it was of a close and earthy kind, and, besides being frequently impregnated with strong whiffs of the second-hand wearing apparel exposed for sale in Duke’s Place and Houndsditch, had a decided flavour of rats and mice, and a taint of mouldiness. Perhaps some doubts of its pure delight presented themselves to Mr. Swiveller, as he gave vent to one or two short abrupt sniffs, and looked incredulously at the grinning dwarf.
“Mr. Swiveller,” said Quilp, “being pretty well accustomed to the agricultural pursuits of sowing wild oats, Miss Sally, prudently considers that half a loaf is better than no bread. To be out of harm’s way he prudently thinks is something too, and therefore he accepts your brother’s offer. Brass, Mr. Swiveller is yours.”
“I am very glad, sir,” said Mr. Brass, “very glad indeed. Mr. Swiveller, sir, is fortunate enough to have your friendship. You may be very proud, sir, to have the friendship of Mr. Quilp.”
Dick murmured something about never wanting a friend or a bottle to give him, and also gasped forth his favourite allusion to the wing of friendship and its never moulting a feather; but his faculties appeared 210 to be absorbed in the contemplation of Miss Sally Brass, at whom he stared with blank and rueful looks, which delighted the watchful dwarf beyond measure. As to the divine Miss Sally herself, she rubbed her hands as men of business do, and took a few turns up and down the office with her pen behind her ear.
“I suppose,” said the dwarf, turning briskly to his legal friend, “that Mr. Swiveller enters upon his duties at once? It’s Monday morning.”
“At once, if you please, sir, by all means,” returned Brass.
“Miss Sally will teach him law, the delightful study of the law,” said Quilp; “she’ll be his guide, his friend, his companion, his Blackstone, his Coke upon Littleton, his Young Lawyer’s Best Companion.”
“He is exceedingly eloquent,” said Brass, like a man abstracted, and looking at the roofs of the opposite houses, with his hands in his pockets; “he has an extraordinary flow of language. Beautiful, really.”
“With Miss Sally,” Quilp went on, “and the beautiful fictions of the law, his days will pass like minutes. Those charming creations of the poet, John Doe and Richard Roe, when they first dawn upon him, will open a new world for the enlargement of his mind and the improvement of his heart.”
“Oh, beautiful, beautiful! Beau-ti-ful indeed!” cried Brass. “It’s a treat to hear him!”
“Where will Mr. Swiveller sit?” said Quilp, looking round.
“Why, we’ll buy another stool, sir,” returned Brass. “We hadn’t any thoughts of having a gentleman with us, sir, until you were kind enough to suggest it, and our accommodation’s not extensive. We’ll look about for a second-hand stool, sir. In the meantime, if Mr. Swiveller will take my seat, and try his hand at a fair copy of this ejectment, as I shall be out pretty well all the morning——”
“Walk with me,” said Quilp. “I have a word or two to say to you on points of business. Can you spare the time?”
“Can I spare the time to walk with you, sir? You’re joking, sir, you’re joking with me,” replied the lawyer, putting on his hat. “I’m ready, sir, quite ready. My time must be fully occupied indeed, sir, not to leave me time to walk with you. It’s not everybody, sir, who has an opportunity of improving himself by the conversation of Mr. Quilp.”
The dwarf glanced sarcastically at his brazen friend, and, with a short dry cough, turned upon his heel to bid adieu to Miss Sally. After a very gallant parting on his side, and a very cool and gentlemanly sort of one on hers, he nodded to Dick Swiveller, and withdrew with the attorney.
Mr. Swiveller fascinated by Miss Sally.
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 211 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 212 and whirl it about the brown head-dress with the consciousness that he could have it off if he liked. It was a good thing to draw it back, and rub his nose very hard with it, if he thought Miss Sally was going to look up, and to recompense himself with more hardy flourishes when he found she was still absorbed. By these means Mr. Swiveller calmed the agitation of his feelings, until his applications to the ruler became less fierce and frequent, and he could even write as many as half-a-dozen consecutive lines without having recourse to it, which was a great victory.
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 feet and commenced the performance of a maniac hornpipe, when he was interrupted, in the fulness of his joy at being again alone, by the opening of the door, and the reappearance of Miss Sally’s head.
“I am going out,” said Miss Brass.
“Very good, ma’am,” returned Dick. “And don’t hurry yourself on my account to come back, ma’am,” he added inwardly.
“If anybody comes on office business, take their messages, and say that the gentleman who attends to that matter isn’t in at present, will you?” said Miss Brass.
“I will, ma’am,” replied Dick.
“I shan’t be very long,” said Miss Brass, retiring.
“I’m sorry to hear it, ma’am,” rejoined Dick when she had shut the door. “I hope you may be unexpectedly detained, ma’am. If you could manage to be run over, ma’am, but not seriously, so much the better.”
Uttering these expressions of good-will with extreme gravity, Mr. Swiveller sat down in the client’s chair and pondered; then took a few turns up and down the room and fell into the chair again.
“So I’m Brass’s clerk, am I?” said Dick. “Brass’s clerk, eh? And the clerk of Brass’s sister—clerk to a female Dragon. Very good, very good! What shall I be next? Shall I be a convict in a felt hat and a grey suit, trotting about a dockyard with my number neatly embroidered on my uniform, and the order of the garter on my leg, restrained from chafing my ankle by a twisted belcher handkerchief?213
An Accumulation of Staggerers.
Shall I be that? Will that do, or is it too genteel? Whatever you please, have it your own way, of course.”
As he was entirely alone, it may be presumed that, in these remarks, Mr. Swiveller addressed himself to his fate or destiny, whom, as we learn by the precedents, it is the custom of heroes to taunt in a very bitter and ironical manner when they find themselves in situations of an unpleasant nature. This is the more probable from the circumstance of Mr. Swiveller directing his observations to the ceiling, which these bodily personages are usually supposed to inhabit—except in theatrical cases, when they live in the heart of the great chandelier.
“Quilp offers me this place, which he says he can insure me,” resumed Dick after a thoughtful silence, and telling off the circumstances of his position, one by one, upon his fingers; “Fred, who, I could have taken my affidavit, would not have heard of such a thing, backs Quilp to my astonishment, and urges me to take it also—staggerer, number one! My aunt in the country stops the supplies, and writes an affectionate note to say that she has made a new will, and left me out of it—staggerer, number two. No money; no credit; no support from Fred, who seems to turn steady all at once; notice to quit the old lodgings—staggerers, three, four, five, and six! Under an accumulation of staggerers, no man can be considered a free agent. No man knocks himself down; if his destiny knocks him down, his destiny must pick him up again. Then I’m very glad that mine has brought all this upon itself, and I shall be as careless as I can, and make myself quite at home to spite it. So go on my buck,” said Mr. Swiveller, taking his leave of the ceiling with a significant nod, “and let us see which of us will be tired first!”
Dismissing the subject of his downfall with these reflections, which were no doubt very profound, and are indeed not altogether unknown in certain systems of moral philosophy, Mr. Swiveller shook off his despondency and assumed the cheerful ease of an irresponsible clerk.
As a means towards his composure and self-possession, he entered into a more minute examination of the office than he had yet had time to make; looked into the wig-box, the books, and ink-bottle; untied and inspected all the papers; carved a few devices on the table with the 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 214 would have been shown by a clown in a pantomime under similar circumstances. These things done and over, he got upon his stool again and tried his hand at drawing caricatures of Miss Brass with a pen and ink, whistling very cheerfully all the time.
He was occupied in this diversion when a coach stopped near the door, and presently afterwards there was a loud double-knock. As this was no business of Mr. Swiveller’s, the person not ringing the office bell, he pursued his diversion with perfect composure, notwithstanding that he rather thought there was nobody else in the house.
In this, however, he was mistaken; for, after the knock had been repeated with increased impatience, the door was opened, and somebody with a very heavy tread went up the stairs and into the room above. Mr. Swiveller was wondering whether this might be another Miss Brass, twin-sister to the Dragon, when there came a rapping of knuckles at the office-door.
“Come in!” said Dick. “Don’t stand upon ceremony. The business will get rather complicated if I’ve many more customers. Come in!”
“Oh, please,” said a little voice very low down in the doorway, “will you come and show the lodgings?”
Dick leant over the table, and descried a small slipshod girl in a dirty coarse apron and bib, which left nothing of her visible but her face and feet. She might as well have been dressed in a violin-case.
“Why, who are you?” said Dick.
To which the only reply was, “Oh, please will you come and show the lodgings?”
There never was such an old-fashioned child in her looks and manner. She must have been at work from her cradle. She seemed as much afraid of Dick, as Dick was amazed at her.
“I haven’t got anything to do with the lodgings,” said Dick. “Tell ’em to call again.”
“Oh, but please will you come and show the lodgings,” returned the girl; “it’s eighteen shillings a week and us finding plate and linen. Boots and clothes is extra, and fires in winter-time is eightpence a day.”
“Why don’t you show ’em yourself? You seem to know all about ’em,” said Dick.
“Miss Sally said I wasn’t to, because people wouldn’t believe the attendance was good if they saw how small I was first.”
“Well, but they’ll see how small you are afterwards, won’t they?” said Dick.
“Ah! But then they’ll have taken ’em for a fortnight certain,” replied the child with a shrewd look; “and people don’t like moving when they’re once settled.”
“This is a queer sort of thing,” muttered Dick, rising. “What do you mean to say you are—the cook?”215
The Apartments taken by a Single Gentleman.
“Yes, I do plain cooking;” replied the child. “I’m housemaid too; I do all the work of the house.”
“I suppose Brass and the Dragon and I, do the dirtiest part of it,” thought Dick. And he might have thought much more, being in a doubtful and hesitating mood, but that the girl again urged her request, and certain mysterious bumping sounds on the passage and staircase seemed to give note of the applicant’s impatience. Richard Swiveller, therefore, sticking a pen behind each ear, and carrying another in his mouth as a token of his great importance and devotion to business, hurried out to meet and treat with the single gentleman.
He was a little surprised to perceive that the bumping sounds were occasioned by the progress up-stairs of the single gentleman’s trunk, which, being nearly twice as wide as the staircase, and exceedingly heavy withal, it was no easy matter for the united exertions of the single gentleman and the coachman to convey up the steep ascent. But there they were, crushing each other, and pushing and pulling with all their might, and getting the trunk tight and fast in all kinds of impossible angles, and to pass them was out of the question; for which sufficient reason, Mr. Swiveller followed slowly behind, entering a new protest on every stair against the house of Mr. Sampson Brass being thus taken by storm.
To these remonstrances, the single gentleman answered not a word, but when the trunk was at last got into the bedroom, sat down upon it and wiped his bald head and face with his handkerchief. He was very warm, and well he might be; for, not to mention the exertion of getting the trunk up-stairs, he was closely muffled in winter garments, though the thermometer had stood all day at eighty-one in the shade.
“I believe, sir,” said Richard Swiveller, taking his pen out of his mouth, “that you desire to look at these apartments. They are very charming apartments, sir. They command an uninterrupted view of—of over the way, and they are within one minute’s walk of—of the corner of the street. There is exceedingly mild porter, sir, in the immediate vicinity, and the contingent advantages are extraordinary.”
“What’s the rent?” said the single gentleman.
“One pound per week,” replied Dick, improving on the terms.
“I’ll take ’em.”
“The boots and clothes are extras,” said Dick; “and the fires in winter-time are——”
“Are all agreed to,” answered the single gentleman.
“Two weeks certain,” said Dick, “are the——”
“Two weeks!” cried the single gentleman gruffly, eyeing him from top to toe. “Two years. I shall live here for two years. Here. Ten pounds down. The bargain’s made.”
“Why you see,” said Dick, “my name is not Brass, and——”
“Who said it was? My name’s not Brass. What then?”
“The name of the master of the house is,” said Dick.216
“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 rough-shod over him at this rate, that he stood looking at him almost as hard as he had looked at Miss Sally. The single gentleman, however, was not in the slightest degree affected by this circumstance, but proceeded with perfect composure to unwind the shawl which was tied round his neck, and then to pull off his boots. Freed of these encumbrances, he went on to divest himself of his other clothing, which he folded up, piece by piece, and ranged in order on the trunk. Then, he pulled down the window-blinds, drew the curtains, wound up his watch, and, quite leisurely and methodically, got into bed.
“Take down the bill,” were his parting words, as he looked out from between the curtains; “and let nobody call me till I ring the bell.”
With that the curtains closed, and he seemed to snore immediately.
“This is a most remarkable and supernatural sort of house!” said Mr. Swiveller, as he walked into the office with the bill in his hand. “She-dragons in the business, conducting themselves like professional gentlemen; plain cooks of three feet high appearing mysteriously from 217 underground; 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!”
Dissatisfaction of Miss Sally.
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. 218 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 or two, it has got rather dusty and a little brown from being in the sun, that’s all.”
“I hope it hasn’t got any fevers or anything of that sort in it,” said Dick, sitting himself down discontentedly, between Mr. Sampson and the chaste Sally. “One of the legs is longer than the others.”
“Then we get a bit of timber in, sir,” retorted Brass. “Ha, ha, ha! We get a bit of timber in, sir, and that’s another advantage of my sister’s going to market for us. Miss Brass, Mr. Richard is the——”
“Will you keep quiet?” interrupted the fair subject of these remarks, looking up from her papers. “How am I to work if you keep on chattering?”
“What an uncertain chap you are!” returned the lawyer. “Sometimes you’re all for a chat. At another time you’re all for work. A man never knows what humour he’ll find you in.”
“I’m in a working humour now,” said Sally, “so don’t disturb me, if you please. And don’t take him,” Miss Sally pointed with the feather of her pen to Richard, “off his business. He won’t do more than he can help, I dare say.”
Mr. Brass had evidently a strong inclination to make an angry reply, but was deterred by prudent or timid considerations, as he only muttered something about aggravation and a vagabond; not associating the terms with any individual, but mentioning them as connected with some abstract ideas which happened to occur to him. They went on writing for a long time in silence after this—in such a dull silence that Mr. Swiveller (who required excitement) had several times fallen asleep, and written divers strange words in an unknown character with his eyes shut, when Miss Sally at length broke in upon the monotony of the office by pulling out the little tin box, taking a noisy pinch of snuff, and then expressing her opinion that Mr. Richard Swiveller had “done it.”
“Done what, ma’am?” said Richard.219
Unaccountable Behaviour of the Lodger.
“Do you know,” returned Miss Brass, “that the lodger isn’t up yet—that nothing has been seen or heard of him since he went to bed yesterday afternoon?”
“Well ma’am,” said Dick, “I suppose he may sleep his ten pound out, in peace and quietness, if he likes.”
“Ah! I begin to think he’ll never wake,” observed Miss Sally.
“It’s a very remarkable circumstance,” said Brass, laying down his pen; “really, very remarkable. Mr. Richard, you’ll remember, if this gentleman should be found to have hung himself to the bed-post, or any unpleasant accident of that kind should happen—you’ll remember, Mr. Richard, that this ten-pound note was given to you in part payment of two years’ rent? You’ll bear that in mind, Mr. Richard; you had better make a note of it, sir, in case you should ever be called upon to give evidence.”
Mr. Swiveller took a large sheet of foolscap, and with a countenance of profound gravity, began to make a very small note in one corner.
“We can never be too cautious,” said Mr. Brass. “There is a deal of wickedness going about the world, a deal of wickedness. Did the gentleman happen to say, sir——but never mind that at present, sir; finish that little memorandum first.”
Dick did so, and handed it to Mr. Brass, who had dismounted from his stool, and was walking up and down the office.
“Oh, this is the memorandum, is it?” said Brass, running his eye over the document. “Very good. Now, Mr. Richard, did the gentleman say anything else?”
“Are you sure, Mr. Richard,” said Brass, solemnly, “that the gentleman said nothing else?”
“Devil a word, sir,” replied Dick.
“Think again, sir,” said Brass; “it’s my duty, sir, in the position in which I stand, and as an honourable member of the legal profession—the first profession in this country, sir, or in any other country, or in any of the planets that shine above us at night and are supposed to be inhabited—it’s my duty, sir, as an honourable member of that profession, not to put to you a leading question in a matter of this delicacy and importance. Did the gentleman, sir, who took the first-floor of you yesterday afternoon, and who brought with him a box of property—a box of property—say anything more than is set down in this memorandum?”
“Come, don’t be a fool,” said Miss Sally.
Dick looked at her, and then at Brass, and then at Miss Sally again, and still said “No.”
“Pooh, pooh! Deuce take it, Mr. Richard, how dull you are!” cried Brass, relaxing into a smile. “Did he say anything about his property?—there!”
“That’s the way to put it,” said Miss Sally, nodding to her brother.
“Did he say, for instance,” added Brass, in a kind of comfortable, 220 cozy tone— assert that he did say so, mind; I only ask you, to refresh your memory—did he say, for instance, that he was a stranger in London—that it was not his humour or within his ability to give any references—that he felt we had a right to require them—and that, in case anything should happen to him, at any time, he particularly desired that whatever property he had upon the premises should be considered mine, as some slight recompense for the trouble and annoyance I should sustain—and were you, in short,” added Brass, still more comfortably and cozily than before, “were you induced to accept him on my behalf, as a tenant, upon those conditions?”
“Certainly not,” replied Dick.
“Why then, Mr. Richard,” said Brass, darting at him a supercilious and reproachful look, “it’s my opinion that you’ve mistaken your calling, and will never make a lawyer.”
“Not if you live a thousand years,” added Miss Sally. Whereupon the brother and sister took each a noisy pinch of snuff from the little tin box, and fell into a gloomy thoughtfulness.
Nothing further passed up to Mr. Swiveller’s dinner-time, which was at three o’clock and seemed about three weeks in coming. At the first stroke of the hour, the new clerk disappeared. At the last stroke of five, he reappeared, and the office, as if by magic, became fragrant with the smell of gin-and-water and lemon peel.
“Mr. Richard,” said Brass, “this man’s not up yet. Nothing will wake him, sir. What’s to be done?”
“I should let him have his sleep out,” returned Dick.
“Sleep out!” cried Brass; “why he has been asleep now, six-and-twenty hours. We have been moving chests of drawers over his head, we have knocked double-knocks at the street-door, we have made the servant-girl fall down-stairs several times, (she’s a light weight, and it don’t hurt her much,) but nothing wakes him.”
“Perhaps a ladder,” suggested Dick, “and getting in at the first-floor window——”
“But then there’s a door between; besides, the neighbours would be up in arms,” said Brass.
“What do you say to getting on the roof of the house through the trap-door, and dropping down the chimney?” suggested Dick.
“That would be an excellent plan,” said Brass, “if anybody would be—” and here he looked very hard at Mr. Swiveller—“would be kind, and friendly, and generous enough, to undertake it. I dare say it would not be anything like as disagreeable as one supposes.”
Waking the Lodger.
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. 221 Mr. Swiveller, assenting, armed himself with his stool and the large ruler, and repaired with his employer to the scene of action, where Miss Brass was already ringing a hand-bell with all her might, and yet without producing the smallest effect upon their mysterious lodger.
“They are his boots, Mr. Richard!” said Brass.
“Very obstinate-looking articles they are too,” quoth Richard Swiveller. And truly, they were as sturdy and bluff a pair of boots as one would wish to see; as firmly planted on the ground as if their owner’s legs and feet had been in them; and seeming, with their broad soles and blunt toes, to hold possession of their place by main force.
“I can’t see anything but the curtain of the bed,” said Brass, applying his eye to the keyhole of the door. “Is he a strong man, Mr. Richard?”
“Very,” answered Dick.
“It would be an extremely unpleasant circumstance if he was to bounce out suddenly,” said Brass. “Keep the stairs clear. I should be more than a match for him, of course, but I’m the master of the house, and the laws of hospitality must be respected.—Hallo there! Hallo, hallo!”
While Mr. Brass, with his eye curiously twisted into the keyhole, uttered these sounds as a means of attracting the lodger’s attention, and while Miss Brass plied the hand-bell, Mr. Swiveller put his stool close against the wall by the side of the door, and mounting on the top and standing bolt upright, so that if the lodger did make a rush, he would most probably pass him in his 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 bedroom; Mr. Brass, who was not remarkable for personal courage, ran into the next street, and finding that nobody followed him, armed with 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 222 speculation. This idea, however, he abandoned. He was turning into his room again, still growling vengefully, when his eyes met those of the watchful Richard.
“Have you been making that horrible noise?” said the single gentleman.
“I have been helping, sir,” returned Dick, keeping his eye upon him, and waving the ruler gently in his right-hand as an indication of what the single gentleman had to expect if he attempted any violence.
“How dare you then?” said the lodger. “Eh?”
To this, Dick made no other reply than by inquiring whether the lodger held it to be consistent with the conduct and character of a gentleman to go to sleep for six-and-twenty hours at a stretch, and whether the peace of an amiable and virtuous family was to weigh as nothing in the balance.
“Is my peace nothing?” said the single gentleman.
“Is their peace nothing, sir?” returned Dick. “I don’t wish to hold out any threats, sir—indeed the law does not allow of threats, for to threaten is an indictable offence—but if ever you do that again, take care you’re not sat upon by the coroner and buried in a crossroad 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 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 223 himself on his prudence when the single gentleman, without notice or explanation of any kind, double-locked the door.
Mr. Swiveller takes a Modest Quencher.
“Can you drink anything?” was his next inquiry.
Mr. Swiveller replied that he had very recently been assuaging the pangs of thirst, but that he was still open to “a modest quencher,” if the materials were at hand. Without another word spoken on either side, the lodger took from his great trunk, a kind of temple, shining as of polished silver, and placed it carefully on the table.
Greatly interested in his proceedings, Mr. Swiveller observed him closely. Into one little chamber of this temple, he dropped an egg; into another some coffee; into a third a compact piece of raw steak from a neat tin case; into a fourth, he poured some water. Then, with the aid of a phosphorus-box and some matches, he procured a light and applied it to a spirit-lamp which had a place of its own below the temple; then, he shut down the lids of all the little chambers; then he opened them; and then, by some wonderful and unseen agency, the steak was done, the egg was boiled, the coffee was accurately prepared, and his breakfast was ready.
“Hot water—” said the lodger, handing it to Mr. Swiveller with as much coolness as if he had a kitchen-fire before him—“extraordinary rum—sugar—and a travelling glass. Mix for yourself. And make haste.”
Dick complied, his eyes wandering all the time from the temple on the table, which seemed to do everything, to the great trunk which seemed to hold everything. The lodger took his breakfast like a man who was used to work these miracles, and thought nothing of them.
“The man of the house is a lawyer, is he not?” said the lodger.
Dick nodded. The rum was amazing.
“The woman of the house—what’s she?”
“A dragon,” said Dick.
The single gentleman, perhaps because he had met with such things in his travels, or perhaps because he was a single gentleman, evinced no surprise, but merely inquired “Wife or Sister?” “Sister,” said Dick.—“So much the better,” said the single gentleman, “he can get rid of her when he likes.”
“I want to do as I like, young man,” he added after a short silence; “to go to bed when I like, get up when I like, come in when I like, go out when I like,—to be asked no questions and be surrounded by no spies. In this last respect, servants are the devil. There’s only one here.”
“And a very little one,” said Dick.
“And a very little one,” repeated the lodger. “Wall, the place will suit me, will it?”
“Yes,” said Dick.
“Sharks, I suppose?” said the lodger.
Dick nodded assent, and drained his glass.224
“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 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 key-hole 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 clockwork. He also gave them to understand that the cooking apparatus roasted a fine piece of sirloin of beef, weighing about six pounds avoirdupois, 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 day 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 225 reason of its intrinsic strength and its coming close upon the heels of the temperate beverage he had discussed at dinner, awakened a slight degree of fever, and rendered necessary two or three other modest quenchers at the public-house in the course of the evening.
Mr. Swiveller in Office.
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 226 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 his business.
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 bandiness could be found, Miss Sally Brass’s nurse was alone to blame.
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 satisfaction.227
The Small Servant.
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 seat.
“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 shan’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 228 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 have killed a chameleon: he would have known, at the first mouthful, that the air was not eatable, and must have given up the ghost in despair.
The small servant stood with humility in presence of Miss Sally, and hung her head.
“Are you there?” said Miss Sally.
“Yes, ma’am,” was the answer in a weak voice.
“Go further away from the leg of mutton, or you’ll be picking it, I know,” said Miss Sally.
The girl withdrew into a corner, while Miss Brass took a key from her pocket, and opening the safe, brought from it a dreary waste of cold potatoes, looking as eatable as Stonehenge. This she placed before the small servant, ordering her to sit down before it, and then, taking up a great carving-knife, made a mighty show of sharpening it upon the carving-fork.
“Do you see this?” said Miss Brass, slicing off about two square inches of cold mutton after all this preparation, and holding it out on the point of the fork.
The small servant looked hard enough at it with her hungry eyes to see every shred of it, small as it was, and answered, “Yes.”
“Then don’t you ever go and say,” retorted Miss Sally, “that you hadn’t meat here. There, eat it up.”
This was soon done. “Now, do you want any more?” said Miss Sally.
The hungry creature answered with a faint “No.” They were evidently going through an established form.
“You’ve been helped once to meat,” said Miss Brass, summing up the facts; “you have had as much as you can eat, you’re asked if you want any more, and you answer, ‘No!’ Then don’t you ever go and say you were allowanced, mind that.”
With those words, Miss Sally put the meat away and locked the safe, and then drawing near to the small servant, overlooked her while she finished the potatoes.
An Unfeeling Mistress.
It was plain that some extraordinary grudge was working in Miss Brass’s gentle breast, and that it was that which impelled her, without the smallest present cause, to rap the child with the blade of the knife, now on her hand, now on her head, and now on her back, as if she found it quite impossible to stand so close to her without administering 229 a few slight knocks. But Mr. Swiveller was not a little surprised to see his fellow-clerk, after walking slowly backwards towards the door, as if she were trying to withdraw herself from the room but could not accomplish it, dart suddenly forward, and falling on the small servant give her some hard blows with her clenched hand. The victim cried, but in a subdued manner as if she feared to raise her voice, and Miss Sally, comforting herself with a pinch of snuff, ascended the stairs, just as Richard had safely reached the office.
The single gentleman among his other peculiarities—and he had a very plentiful stock, of which he every day furnished some new specimen—took a most extraordinary and remarkable interest in the exhibition of Punch. If the sound of a Punch’s voice, at ever so remote a distance, reached Bevis Marks, the single gentleman, though in bed and asleep, would start up, and, hurrying on his clothes, make for the spot with all speed, and presently return at the head of a long 230 procession of idlers, having in the midst the theatre and its proprietors. Straightway, the stage would be set up in front of Mr. Brass’s house; the single gentleman would establish himself at the first-floor window; and the entertainment would proceed, with all its exciting accompaniments of fife and drum and shout, to the excessive consternation of all sober votaries of business in that silent thoroughfare. It might have been expected that when the play was done, both players and audience would have dispersed; but the epilogue was as bad as the play, for no sooner was the Devil dead, than the manager of the puppets and his partner were summoned by the single gentleman to his chamber, where they were regaled with strong waters from his private store, and where they held with him long conversations, the purport of which no human being could fathom. But the secret of these discussions was of little importance. It was sufficient to know that while they were proceeding, the concourse without still lingered round the house; that boys beat upon the drum with their fists, and imitated Punch with their tender voices; that the office-window was rendered opaque by flattened noses, and the key-hole of the street-door luminous with eyes; that every time the single gentleman or either of his guests was seen at the upper window, or so much as the end of one of their noses was visible, there was a great shout of execration from the excluded mob, who remained howling and yelling, and refusing consolation, until the exhibitors were delivered up to them to be attended elsewhere. It was sufficient, in short, to know that Bevis Marks was revolutionised by these popular movements, and that peace and quietness fled from its precincts.
Nobody was rendered more indignant by these proceedings than Mr. Sampson Brass, who, as he could by no means afford to lose so profitable an inmate, deemed it prudent to pocket his lodger’s affront along with his cash, and to annoy the audiences who clustered round his door by such imperfect means of retaliation as were open to him, and which were confined to the trickling down of foul water on their heads from unseen watering pots, pelting them with fragments of tile and mortar from the roof of the house, and bribing the drivers of hackney cabriolets to come suddenly round the corner and dash in among them precipitately. It may, at first sight, be matter of surprise to the thoughtless few that Mr. Brass, being a professional gentleman, should not have legally indicted some party or parties, active in the promotion of the nuisance, but they will be good enough to remember, that as Doctors seldom take their own prescriptions, and Divines do not always practise what they preach, so lawyers are shy of meddling with the Law on their own account: knowing it to be an edged tool of uncertain application, very expensive in the working, and rather remarkable for its properties of close shaving, than for its always shaving the right person.
“Come,” said Mr. Brass one afternoon, “this is two days without a Punch. I’m in hopes he has run through ’em all, at last.”231
Punch in Bevis Marks.
“Why are you in hopes?” returned Miss Sally. “What harm do they do?”
“Here’s a pretty sort of a fellow!” cried Brass, laying down his pen in despair. “Now here’s an aggravating animal!”
“Well, what harm do they do?” retorted Sally.
“What harm?” cried Brass. “Is it no harm to have a constant hallooing and hooting under one’s very nose, distracting one from business, and making one grind one’s teeth with vexation? Is it no harm to be blinded and choked up, and have the king’s highway stopped with a set of screamers and roarers whose throats must be made of—of——”
“Brass,” suggested Mr. Swiveller.
“Ah! of brass,” said the lawyer, glancing at his clerk, to assure himself that he had suggested the word in good faith and without any sinister intention. “Is that no harm?”
The lawyer stopped short in his invective, and listening for a moment, and recognising the well-known voice, rested his head upon his hand, raised his eyes to the ceiling, and muttered faintly—
Up went the single gentleman’s window directly.
“There’s another,” repeated Brass; “and if I could get a break and four blood horses to cut into the Marks when the crowd is at its thickest, I’d give eighteenpence and never grudge it!”
The distant squeak was heard again. The single gentleman’s door burst open. He ran violently down the stairs, out into the street, and so past the window, without any hat, towards the quarter whence the sound proceeded—bent, no doubt, upon securing the strangers’ services directly.
“I wish I only knew who his friends were,” muttered Sampson, filling his pocket with papers; “if they’d just get up a pretty little Commission de lunatico at the Gray’s Inn Coffee House, and give me the job, I’d be content to have the lodgings empty for one while, at all events.”
With which words, and knocking his hat over his eyes as if for the purpose of shutting out even a glimpse of the dreadful visitation, Mr. Brass rushed from the house and hurried away.
As Mr. Swiveller was decidedly favourable to these performances, upon the ground that looking at a Punch, or indeed looking at anything out of window, was better than working; and as he had been, for this reason, at some pains to awaken in his fellow-clerk a sense of their beauties and manifold deserts; both he and Miss Sally rose as with one accord and took up their positions at the window: upon the sill whereof, as in a post of honour, sundry young ladies and gentlemen who were employed in the dry nurture of babies, and who made a point of being present, with their young charges, on such occasions, had already established themselves as comfortably as the circumstances would allow.232
The glass being dim, Mr. Swiveller, agreeably to a friendly custom which he had established between them, hitched off the brown headdress from Miss Sally’s head, and dusted it carefully therewith. By the time he had handed it back, and its beautiful wearer had put it on again (which she did with perfect composure and indifference), the lodger returned with the show and showmen at his heels, and a strong addition to the body of spectators. The exhibitor disappeared with all speed behind the drapery; and his partner, stationing himself by the side of the Theatre, surveyed the audience with a remarkable expression of melancholy, which became more remarkable still when he breathed a hornpipe tune into that sweet musical instrument which is popularly termed a mouth-organ, without at all changing the mournful expression of the upper part of his face, though his mouth and chin were, of necessity, in lively spasms.
The drama proceeded to its close, and held the spectators enchained in the customary manner. The sensation which kindles in large assemblies, when they are relieved from a state of breathless suspense and are again free to speak and move, was yet rife, when the lodger, as usual, summoned the men up-stairs.
“Both of you,” he called from the window; for only the actual exhibitor—a little fat man—prepared to obey the summons. “I want to talk to you. Come both of you!”
“Come, Tommy,” said the little man.
“I an’t a talker,” replied the other. “Tell him so. What should I go and talk for?”
“Don’t you see the gentleman’s got a bottle and glass up there?” returned the little man.
“And couldn’t you have said so, at first?” retorted the other with sudden alacrity. “Now, what are you waiting for? Are you going to keep the gentleman expecting us all day? haven’t you no manners?”
With this remonstrance, the melancholy man, who was no other than Mr. Thomas Codlin, pushed past his friend and brother in the craft, Mr. Harris, otherwise Short or Trotters, and hurried before him to the single gentleman’s apartment.
“Now, my men,” said the single gentleman; “you have done very well. What will you take? Tell that little man behind, to shut the door.”
“Shut the door, can’t you?” said Mr. Codlin, turning gruffly to his friend. “You might have knowed that the gentleman wanted the door shut, without being told, I think.”
Mr. Short obeyed, observing under his breath that his friend seemed unusually “cranky,” and expressing a hope that there was no dairy in the neighbourhood, or his temper would certainly spoil its contents.
Messrs. Codlin and Short with the Lodger.
The gentleman pointed to a couple of chairs, and intimated by an emphatic nod of his head that he expected them to be seated. Messrs. Codlin and Short, after looking at each other with considerable doubt 233 and indecision, at length sat down—each on the extreme edge of the chair pointed out to him—and held their hats very tight, while the single gentleman filled a couple of glasses from a bottle on the table beside him, and presented them in due form.
“You’re pretty well browned by the sun, both of you,” said their entertainer. “Have you been travelling?”
Mr. Short replied in the affirmative with a nod and a smile. Mr. Codlin added a corroborative nod and a short groan, as if he still felt the weight of the Temple on his shoulders.
“To fairs, markets, races, and so forth, I suppose?” pursued the single gentleman.
“Yes, sir,” returned Short, “pretty nigh all over the West of England.”
“I have talked to men of your craft from North, East, and South,” returned their host, in rather a hasty manner; “but I never lighted on any from the West before.”
“It’s our reg’lar summer circuit is the West, master,” said Short; “that’s where it is. We takes the East of London in the spring and winter, and the West of England in the summer-time. Many’s the 234 hard day’s walking in rain and mud, and with never a penny earned, we’ve had down in the West.”
“Let me fill your glass again.”
“Much obleeged to you sir, I think I will,” said Mr. Codlin, suddenly thrusting in his own and turning Short’s aside. “I’m the sufferer, sir, in all the travelling, and in all the staying at home. In town or country, wet or dry, hot or cold, Tom Codlin suffers. But Tom Codlin isn’t to complain for all that. Oh, no! Short may complain, but if Codlin grumbles by so much as a word—oh dear, down with him, down with him directly. It isn’t his place to grumble. That’s quite out of the question.”
“Codlin an’t without his usefulness,” observed Short with an arch look, “but he don’t always keep his eyes open. He falls asleep sometimes, you know. Remember them last races, Tommy.”
“Will you never leave off aggravating a man?” said Codlin. “It’s very like I was asleep when five-and-tenpence was collected, in one round, isn’t it? I was attending to my business, and couldn’t have my eyes in twenty places at once, like a peacock, no more than you could. If I an’t a match for an old man and a young child, you an’t neither, so don’t throw that out against me, for the cap fits your head quite as correct as it fits mine.”
“You may as well drop the subject, Tom,” said Short. “It isn’t particular agreeable to the gentleman, I dare say.”
“Then you shouldn’t have brought it up,” returned Mr. Codlin; “and I ask the gentleman’s pardon on your account, as a giddy chap that likes to hear himself talk, and don’t much care what he talks about, so that he does talk.”
Their entertainer had sat perfectly quiet in the beginning of this dispute, looking first at one man and then at the other, as if he were lying in wait for an opportunity of putting some further question, or reverting to that from which the discourse had strayed. But, from the point where Mr. Codlin was charged with sleepiness, he had shown an increasing interest in the discussion: which now attained a very high pitch.
“You are the two men I want,” he said, “the two men I have been looking for, and searching after! Where are that old man and that child you speak of?”
“Sir?” said Short, hesitating, and looking towards his friend.
“The old man and his grandchild who travelled with you—where are they? It will be worth your while to speak out, I assure you; much better worth your while than you believe. They left you, you say,—at those races, as I understand. They have been traced to that place, and there lost sight of. Have you no clue, can you suggest no clue, to their recovery?”
“Did I always say, Thomas,” cried Short, turning with a look of amazement to his friend, “that there was sure to be an inquiry after them two travellers?”235
The Lodger’s Disappointment.
“You said!” returned Mr. Codlin. “Did I always say that that ’ere blessed child was the most interesting I ever see? Did I always say I loved her, and doted on her? Pretty creetur, I think I hear her now. ‘Codlin’s my friend,’ she says, with a tear of gratitude a trickling down her little eye; ‘Codlin’s my friend,’ she says—‘not Short. Short’s very well,’ she says; ‘I’ve no quarrel with Short; he means kind, I dare say; but Codlin,’ she says, ‘has the feelings for my money, though he mayn’t look it.’”
Repeating these words with great emotion, Mr. Codlin rubbed the bridge of his nose with his coat-sleeve, and shaking his head mournfully from side to side, left the single gentleman to infer that, from the moment when he lost sight of his dear young charge, his peace of mind and happiness had fled.
“Good Heaven!” said the single gentleman, pacing up and down the room, “have I found these men at last, only to discover that they can give me no information or assistance! It would have been better to have lived on, in hope, from day to day, and never to have lighted on them, than to have my expectations scattered thus.”
“Stay a minute,” said Short. “A man of the name of Jerry—you know Jerry, Thomas?”
“Oh, don’t talk to me of Jerrys,” replied Mr. Codlin. “How can I care a pinch of snuff for Jerrys, when I think of that ’ere darling child? ‘Codlin’s my friend,’ she says, ‘dear, good, kind Codlin, as is always a devising pleasures for me! I don’t object to Short,’ she says, ‘but I cotton to Codlin.’ Once,” said that gentleman reflectively, “she called me Father Codlin. I thought I should have
“A man of the name of Jerry, sir,” said Short, turning from his selfish colleague to their new acquaintance, “wot keeps a company of dancing dogs, told me, in a accidental sort of a way, that he had seen 236 the old gentleman in connection with a travelling wax-work, unbeknown to him. As they’d given us the slip, and nothing had come of it, and this was down in the country that he’d been seen, I took no measures about it, and asked no questions—But I can, if you like.”
“Is this man in town?” said the impatient single gentleman. “Speak faster.”
“No he isn’t, but he will be to-morrow, for he lodges in our house,” replied Mr. Short rapidly.
“Then bring him here,” said the single gentleman. “Here’s a sovereign a-piece. If I can find these people through your means, it is but a prelude to twenty more. Return to me to-morrow, and keep your own counsel on this subject—though I need hardly tell you that; for you’ll do so for your own sakes. Now, give me your address, and leave me.”
The address was given, the two men departed, the crowd went with them, and the single gentleman for two mortal hours walked in uncommon agitation up and down his room, over the wondering heads of Mr. Swiveller and Miss Sally Brass.
In the next few chapters we learn that the authorial “the child” is not entirely unique after all. The “single gentleman”, Mr Brass’s boarder, will consistently be referred to that way. A third unnamed character, “the bachelor”, will show up still later in the book.
[Another of those London streets whose name stands for the whole surrounding district. On the map it is about equidistant from Whitechapel and the City of London, which is probably as much as I need to know.]
Don Cleophas Leandro Perez Zambullo
[Main character of the 1707 novel Le Diable Boiteux, translated as Asmodeus, The Devil on Two Sticks, by Alain-René Lesage. (Whew. I was afraid it would turn out to be something I really ought to have heard of.)]
having from her earliest youth devoted herself with uncommon ardour to the study of the law
[Sadly, she won’t be allowed to do anything official about it until 1922.]
Dick murmured something about never wanting a friend or a bottle to give him
[Thomas John Dibdin (1771–1841), “May We Ne’er Want a Friend or a Bottle to Give Him”. The title is the closing line of each stanza:
And my motto, though simple, means more than it says,
“May we ne’er want a friend or a bottle to give him!” ]
his favourite allusion to the wing of friendship and its never moulting a feather
[He’s not kidding about “favourite allusion”. We saw it three times in Chapter II, with an encore appearance in Chapter VII.]
“Who said it was? My name’s not Brass. What then?”
[Towards the end of the book, it becomes clear—Spoiler!—that the author has deliberately refrained from telling us the single gentleman’s name.]
“I don’t assert that he did say so, mind
open quote missing
he expressed his hope that the gentleman was going to get up
text has expresssed
[The printer seems to have been especially fond of this particular class of error.]
When he who adores thee has left but the name
[Thomas Moore again.]
Oh blame not the bard
[Also Thomas Moore, opening line of yet another poem.]
the lodger was some great conjuror or chemist, or both
[Any sufficiently advanced technology, et cetera.]
My feelings I smother, but thou hast been the cause of this anguish
[“We Met” by Thomas H. Bayly, whom we previously met in Chapter XIII. This time around, Bayly gets credit for both the words and the music. Final lines:
The world may think me gay, for my feelings I smother
Oh! Thou hast been the cause of this anguish, my Mother.
The first verse ends with the same “my Mother” line. Close study of the lyrics suggests that the (female) narrator’s mother pressured her into marrying someone she did not love. In consequence, the man she did love also ends up marrying someone else. Result, as Mr Micawber would say, misery.]
The hungry creature answered with a faint “No.”
[A few years earlier, our author had explored what happens when a hungry child instead says Yes, I do want more.]
I thought I should have bust!”
text has ? for !
[Corrected from 1st edition.]
In Master Humphrey’s Clock, Chapter XXXVII marks the end of Volume I. The story then continues without interruption in the first installment of the next volume.
The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.