TEN GIRLS FROM DICKENS
KATE DICKINSON SWEETSER
"TEN BOYS FROM DICKENS" "TEN GREAT ADVENTURERS" "BOOK OF INDIAN BRAVES" ETC.
ILLUSTRATED BY GEORGE ALFRED WILLIAMS
As a companion volume to Ten Boys from Dickens, this book of girl-life, portrayed by the great author, is offered.
The sketches have the same underlying motive as those of boy-life, and have been compiled in the same manner, with the same purpose in view.
Among them will be found several of the most popular of the creations of Dickens, notably, The Marchioness, Little Nell, Jenny Wren, and Florence Dombey, and it is hoped that in this presentation as simple stories of girlhood, their classic form and beauty may arouse in the young people of our day a new interest in the novels from which they are taken.
This volume and its companion will have accomplished their purpose when they have won fresh laurels and a wider audience for the famous writer to whom they are indebted for their existence.
K.D.S. April, 1902.
THE INFANT PHENOMENON.
The Marchioness was a small servant employed by Sampson Brass and his sister Sally, as general house-worker and drudge, in which capacity she was discovered by Mr. Richard Swiveller, upon the very first day of his entering the Brass establishment as clerk.
The Brasses' house was a small one in Bevis Marks, London, having upon its door a plate, "Brass, Solicitor," and a bill tied to the knocker, "First floor to let to a single gentleman," and served not only as habitation, but likewise as office for Sampson Brass,—of none too good legal repute,—and his sister; a gaunt, bony copy of her red-haired brother, who was his housekeeper, as well as his business partner.
When the Brasses decided to keep a clerk, Richard Swiveller was chosen to fill the place; and be it known to whom it may concern, that the said Richard was the merriest, laziest, weakest, most kind-hearted fellow who ever sowed a large crop of wild oats, and by a sudden stroke of good-luck found himself raised to a salaried position.
Clad in a blue jacket with a double row of gilt buttons, bought for acquatic expeditions, but now dedicated to office purposes, Richard entered upon his new duties, and during that first afternoon, while Mr. Brass and his sister were temporarily absent from the office, he began a minute examination of its contents.
Then, after assuaging his thirst with a pint of mild porter, and receiving and dismissing three or four small boys who dropped in on legal errands from other attorneys, with about as correct an understanding of their business as would have been shown by a clown in a pantomime under similar circumstances, he tried his hand at a pen-and-ink caricature of Miss Brass, in which work he was busily engaged, when there came a rapping at the office-door.
"Come in!" said Dick. "Don't stand on ceremony. The business will get rather complicated if I have 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 leaned 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?"
"Yes; I do plain cooking," replied the child. "I'm housemaid too. I do all the work of the house."
Just then certain sounds on the passage and staircase seemed to denote the applicant's impatience. Richard Swiveller, therefore, hurried out to meet and treat with the single gentleman.
He was a little surprised to perceive that the sounds were occasioned by the progress upstairs of a trunk, which the single gentleman and his coachman were endeavoring to convey up the steep ascent. 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 with his handkerchief. He then announced abruptly that he would take the room for two years, whereupon, handing a ten-pound note to the astonished Mr. Swiveller, he began to make ready to retire, as if it were night instead of day, and Mr. Swiveller walked downstairs into the office again, filled with wonderment concerning both the strange new lodger and the small servant who had appeared to answer the bell.
After that day, 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 a bell rang, 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 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.
"Now," said Dick, one day, 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. I should like to know how they use her!"
At that moment he caught a glimpse 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, he groped his way down, and arrived at the kitchen door 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 was screwed up so tight as to hold no more than a 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 on.
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 opened the safe, and brought from it a dreary waste of cold potatoes, looking as eatable as Stonehenge. This she placed before the small servant, and then, taking up a great carving-knife, made a mighty show of sharpening it.
"Do you see this?" she said, slicing off about two square inches of cold mutton, and holding it out on the point of a fork.
The small servant looked hard enough at it with her hungry eyes to see every shred of it 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, locked the meat-safe, and then overlooked the small servant while she finished the potatoes. After that, without the smallest cause, she rapped the child with the blade of the knife, now on her hand, now on her head, and now on her back. Then, after walking slowly backward towards the door, she darted suddenly forward, and falling on the small servant again, gave her some hard blows with her clenched fists. The victim cried, but in a subdued manner, as if she feared to raise her voice; and Miss Sally ascended the stairs just as Richard had safely reached the office, fairly beside himself with anger over the poor child's misery and ill-treatment.
During the following weeks, when he had become accustomed to the routine of work which he was expected to accomplish, and being often left alone in the office, Richard Swiveller began to find time hang heavy on his hands. For the better preservation of his cheerfulness, therefore, he accustomed himself to play at cribbage with a dummy. While he was silently conducting one of these games Mr. Swiveller began to think that he heard a kind of hard breathing sound, in the direction of the door, which it occurred to him, after some reflection, must proceed from the small servant, who always had a cold from damp living. Looking intently that way, he plainly distinguished an eye gleaming and glistening at the keyhole; and having now no doubt that his suspicions were correct he stole softly to the door, and pounced upon her before she was aware of his approach.
"Oh! I didn't mean any harm, indeed, upon my word I didn't," cried the small servant; "it's so very dull downstairs. Please don't you tell upon me, please don't."
"Tell upon you!" said Dick. "Do you mean to say you were looking through the keyhole for company?"
"Yes, upon my word I was," replied the small servant.
"How long have you been cooling your eye there?" said Dick.
"Oh, ever since you first began to play them cards, and long before."
"Well—come in," said Mr. Swiveller, after a little consideration. "Here—sit down, and I'll teach you how to play."
"Oh! I durstn't do it," rejoined the small servant; "Miss Sally 'ud kill me if she knowed I come up here."
"Have you got a fire downstairs?" said Dick.
"A very little one," replied the small servant.
"Miss Sally couldn't kill me if she knowed I went down there, so I'll come," said Richard, putting the cards into his pocket. "Why, how thin you are! What do you mean by it?"
"It an't my fault."
"Could you eat any bread and meat?" said Dick, taking down his hat "Yes? Ah! I thought so. Did you ever taste beer?"
"I had a sip of it once," said the small servant.
"Here's a state of things!" cried Mr. Swiveller, raising his eyes to the ceiling. "She never tasted it—it can't be tasted in a sip! Why, how old are you?"
"I don't know."
Mr. Swiveller opened his eyes very wide, and appeared thoughtful for a moment; then, bidding the child mind the door until he came back, vanished straightway.
Presently he returned, followed by a boy from the public-house, who bore a plate of bread and beef, and a great pot filled with choice purl. Relieving the boy of his burden, and charging his little companion to fasten the door to prevent surprise, Mr. Swiveller followed her into the kitchen.
"There!" said Richard, putting the plate before her. "First of all, clear that off, and then you'll see what's next."
The small servant needed no second bidding, and the plate was soon empty.
"Next," said Dick, handing the purl, "take a pull at that, but moderate your transports, for you're not used to it. Well, is it good?"
"Oh, isn't it!" said the small servant.
Mr. Swiveller appeared immensely gratified over her enjoyment, and when she had satisfied her hunger, applied himself to teaching her the game, which she soon learned tolerably well, being both sharp-witted and cunning.
"Now," said Mr. Swiveller, "to make it seem more real and pleasant, I shall call you the Marchioness, do you hear?"
The small servant nodded.
"Then, Marchioness," said Mr. Swiveller, "fire away!"
The Marchioness, holding her cards very tight in both hands, considered which to play, and Mr. Swiveller, assuming the gay and fashionable air which such society required, waited for her lead.
They had played several rubbers, when the striking of ten o'clock rendered Mr. Swiveller mindful of the flight of time, and of the expediency of withdrawing before Mr. Sampson and Miss Sally Brass returned.
"With which object in view, Marchioness," said Mr. Swiveller gravely. "I shall ask your ladyship's permission to put the board in my pocket, and to retire. The Baron Sampsono Brasso and his fair sister are, you tell me, at the Play?" added Mr. Swiveller, leaning his left arm heavily upon the table, and raising his voice and his right leg after the manner of a theatrical bandit.
The Marchioness nodded.
"Ha!" said Mr. Swiveller, with a portentous frown. "'Tis well. Marchioness!—but no matter. Some wine there, ho! Marchioness, your health."
The small servant, who was not so well acquainted with theatrical conventionalities as Mr. Swiveller, was rather alarmed by his manner, and showed it so plainly that he felt it necessary to discharge his brigand bearing for one more suitable to private life.
"I suppose," said Dick, "that they consult together a good deal, and talk about a great many people—about me, for instance, sometimes, eh, Marchioness?"
The Marchioness nodded amazingly.
"Complimentary?" asked Mr. Swiveller.
The Marchioness shook her head violently.
"H'm!" Dick muttered. "Would it be any breach of confidence, Marchioness, to relate what they say of the humble individual who has now the honor to—?"
"Miss Sally says you are a funny chap," replied his friend.
"Well, Marchioness," said Mr. Swiveller, "that's not uncomplimentary. Merriment, Marchioness, is not a bad of a degrading quality. Old King Cole was himself a merry old soul, if we may put any faith in the pages of history."
"But she says," pursued his companion, "that you aren't to be trusted."
"Why, really, Marchioness," said Mr. Swiveller thoughtfully, "it's a popular prejudice, and yet I'm sure I don't know why, for I've been trusted in my time to a considerable amount, and I can safely say that I never forsook my trust, until it deserted me—never. Mr. Brass is of the same opinion, I suppose?"
His friend nodded again, adding imploringly, "But don't you ever tell upon me, or I shall be beat to death."
"Marchioness," said Mr. Swiveller, rising, "the word of a gentleman is as good as his bond—sometimes better, as in the present case, where his bond might prove but a doubtful sort of security. I'm your friend, and I hope we shall play many more rubbers together. But, Marchioness," added Richard, "it occurs to me that you must be in the constant habit of airing your eye at keyholes to know this."
"I only wanted," replied the trembling Marchioness, "to know where the key of the meat-safe was hid—that was all; and I wouldn't have taken much if I had found it—only enough to squench my hunger."
"You didn't find it, then?" said Dick, "but, of course, you didn't, or of course you'd be plumper. Good-night, Marchioness, fare thee well, and if forever, then forever fare thee well. And put up the chain, Marchioness, in case of accidents!"
Upon repairing to Bevis Marks on the following morning, he found Miss Brass much agitated over the disappearance from the office of several small articles, as well as three half crowns, and Richard felt much troubled over the matter, saying to himself, "Then, by Jove, I'm afraid the Marchioness is done for!"
The more he discussed the subject in his thoughts, the more probable it appeared to Dick that the miserable little servant was the culprit. When he considered on what a spare allowance of food she lived, how neglected and untaught she was, and how her natural cunning had been sharpened by necessity and privation, he scarcely doubted it. And yet he pitied her so much, and felt so unwilling to have a matter of such gravity disturbing the oddity of their acquaintance, that he thought, rather than receive fifty pounds down, he would have the Marchioness proved innocent.
While the subject of the thefts was under discussion, Kit Nubbles, a lad in the employ of a Mr. Garland, passed through the office, on his way upstairs to the room of the Brasses' lodger, the single gentleman, who was an intimate friend of Kit's employer. The single gentleman having been confined to his room for some time by a slight illness, it had become Kit's daily custom to convey to him messages and notes from Mr. Garland, and not infrequently Sampson Brass would detain the lad in the office for a few words of pleasant conversation.
Having discharged his errand, Kit came downstairs again, finding no one in the office except Mr. Brass, who, after greeting him affably, requested him to mind the office for one minute while he ran upstairs. Mr. Brass returned almost immediately, Mr. Swiveller came in too, at the same instant, likewise Miss Sally, and Kit, released, at once set off on a run towards home, eager to make up for lost time. As he was running, he was suddenly arrested and held in restraint, by no less a person than Sampson Brass himself, accompanied by Mr. Swiveller.
A five-pound note was missing from the office. Kit had been alone there for some minutes. Who could have taken it but Kit?
Pleased to have suspicion diverted from the Marchioness, but loath to help in so unpleasant an affair, Mr. Swiveller reluctantly assisted in bearing the captive back to the office, Kit protesting his innocence at every step. They searched him, and there under the lining of his hat was the missing bank-note!
Still protesting his innocence, and completely stunned by the calamity which had come upon him, the lad was borne off to prison, where, after eleven weary days had dragged away, he was brought to trial. Richard Swiveller was called as a witness against Kit, and told his tale with reluctance, and an evident desire to make the best of it, for the lad's sake. His kind heart was also touched with pity for Kit's poor widowed mother, who sobbed out again and again, that she had never had cause to doubt her son's honesty, and she never would.
When the trial was ended, and Kit found guilty, Richard bore the lad's fainting mother swiftly off in a coach he had ready for the purpose, and on the way comforted her in his own peculiar fashion, perpetrating the most astounding absurdities of quotation from song and poem that ever were heard. Reaching her home, he stayed till she was recovered; then returned to Bevis Marks, where Mr. Brass met him with the news that his services would be no longer required in the establishment.
Feeling sure that this verdict was in consequence of his defence of Kit, Mr. Swiveller took his dismissal in profound silence, and turned his back upon Bevis Marks, big with designs for the comforting of Kit's mother, and the aid of Kit himself. His only regret in regard to the matter was in having to leave the Marchioness alone and unprotected in the hands of the Brasses, and little did he dream that to the small servant herself, to the Marchioness, rather than to him, Kit and his mother were to owe their heaviest debt of gratitude—but it was so to be.
That very night Mr. Richard was seized with an alarming illness, and in twenty-four hours was stricken with a raging fever, and lay tossing upon his hot, uneasy bed, unconscious of anything but weariness and worry and pain, until at length he sank into a deep sleep. He awoke, and with a sensation of blissful rest better than sleep itself, began to dimly remember, and to think what a long night it had been, and to wonder whether he had not been delirious once or twice. Still, he felt indifferent and happy, and having no curiosity to pursue the subject, remained in a waking slumber until his attention was attracted by a cough. This made him doubt whether he had locked his door last night, and feel a little surprised at having a companion in the room. But he lacked energy to follow up this train of thought, and in a luxury of repose, lay staring at some green stripes on the bed furniture, and associating them strangely, with patches of fresh turf, while the yellow ground between made gravel walks, and so helped out a long perspective of trim gardens.
He was rambling in imagination on these terraces, when he heard the cough once more. Raising himself a little in the bed, he looked about him.
The same room, certainly, but with what unbounded astonishment did he see bottles, and basins, and articles of linen airing by the fire—all very clean and neat, but quite different from anything he had left there when he went to bed! The atmosphere too filled with a cool smell of herbs and vinegar; the floor newly sprinkled; the—the what?—the Marchioness!
Yes; playing cribbage with herself at the table. There she sat, intent upon her game, coughing now and then in a subdued manner, as if she feared to disturb him, going through all the mysteries of cribbage as if she had been in full practice from her cradle!
Mr. Swiveller contemplated these things for a short time, then laid his head on the pillow again.
"I'm dreaming," thought Richard, "that's clear. When I went to bed my hands were not made of egg-shells, and now I can almost see through 'em. If this is not a dream, I have woke up, by mistake, in an Arabian Night instead of a London one. But I have no doubt I'm asleep. Not the least."
Here the small servant had another cough.
"Very remarkable!" thought Mr. Swiveller. "I never dreamed such a real cough as that before. There's another—and another—I say!—I'm dreaming rather fast!
"It's an Arabian Night; that's what it is," said Richard. "I'm in Damascus or Grand Cairo. The Marchioness is a Genie and having had a wager with another Genie about who is the handsomest young man alive, and the worthiest to be the husband of the Princess of China, has brought me away, room and all, to compare us together."
Not feeling quite satisfied with this explanation, Mr. Swiveller determined to take the first opportunity of addressing his companion. An occasion soon presented itself. The Marchioness dealt, turned up a knave, and omitted to take the usual advantage, upon which Mr. Swiveller called out as loud as he could—"Two for his heels!"
The Marchioness jumped up quickly, and clapped her hands.
"Arabian Night certainly," thought Mr. Swiveller; "they always clap their hands, instead of ringing the bell. Now for the two thousand black slaves with jars and jewels on their heads!"
It appeared however, that she had only clapped her hands for joy, as directly afterward she began to laugh, and then to cry, declaring, not in choice Arabic, but in familiar English, that she was "so glad she didn't know what to do."
"Marchioness," said Mr. Swiveller, "will you have the goodness to inform me where I shall find my voice; and what has become of my flesh?"
The Marchioness only shook her head mournfully, and cried again, whereupon Mr. Swiveller (being very weak) felt his own eyes affected likewise.
"I begin to infer, Marchioness," said Richard, after a pause, "that I have been ill."
"You just have!" replied the small servant, wiping her eyes. "Haven't you been a-talking nonsense!"
"Oh!", said Dick. "Very ill, Marchioness, have I been?"
"Dead, all but," replied the small servant. "I never thought you'd get better."
Mr. Swiveller was silent for a long period. By and by he inquired how long he had been there.
"Three weeks to-morrow." replied the small servant, "three long slow weeks."
The bare thought of having been in such extremity caused Richard to fall into another silence. The Marchioness, having arranged the bedclothes more comfortably, and felt that his hands and forehead were quite cool, cried a little more, and then applied herself to getting tea ready, and making some thin dry toast.
While she was thus engaged Mr. Swiveller looked on with a grateful heart, very much astonished to see how thoroughly at home she made herself. She propped him up with pillows, and looked on with unutterable satisfaction, while he took his poor meal with a relish which the greatest dainties of the earth might have failed to provoke. Having cleared away, and disposed everything comfortably about him again, she sat down to take her own tea.
"Marchioness," said Mr. Swiveller, "have you seen Sally lately?"
"Seen her!" cried the small servant. "Bless you, I've run away!"
Mr. Swiveller immediately laid himself down again, and so remained for about five minutes. After that lapse of time he resumed his sitting posture, and inquired,—
"And where do you live, Marchioness?"
"Live!" cried the small servant. "Here!"
"Oh!" said Mr. Swiveller.
With that he fell down flat again, as suddenly as if he had been shot. Thus he remained until she had finished her meal, when being propped up again he opened a further conversation.
"And so," said Dick, "you have run away?"
"Yes," said the Marchioness; "and they've been a 'tising of me."
"Been—I beg your pardon," said Dick. "What have they been doing?"
"Been a 'tising of me—'tising, you know, in the newspapers," rejoined the Marchioness.
"Aye, aye," said Dick, "Advertising?"
The small servant nodded and winked.
"Tell me," continued Richard, "how it was that you thought of coming here?"
"Why, you see," returned the Marchioness, "when you was gone, I hadn't any friend at all, and I didn't know where you was to be found, you know. But one morning, when I was near the office keyhole I heard somebody saying that she lived here, and was the lady whose house you lodged at, and that you was took very bad, and wouldn't nobody come and take care of you. Mr. Brass, he says, 'It's no business of mine,' he says; and Miss Sally she says, 'He's a funny chap, but it's no business of mine;' and the lady went away. So I run away that night, and come here, and told 'em you was my brother, and I've been here ever since."
"This poor little Marchioness has been wearing herself to death!" cried Dick.
"No, I haven't," she replied, "not a bit of it. Don't you mind about me. I like sitting up, and I've often had a sleep, bless you, in one of them chairs. But if you could have seen how you tried to jump out o' winder, and if you could have heard how you used to keep on singing and making speeches, you wouldn't have believed it—I'm so glad you're better, Mr. Liverer."
"Liverer, indeed!" said Dick thoughtfully. "It's well I am a liverer. I strongly suspect I should have died, Marchioness, but for you."
At this point, Mr. Swiveller took the small servant's hand in his, struggling to express his thanks, but she quickly changed the theme, urging him to shut his eyes and take a little rest. Being indeed fatigued, he needed but little urging, and fell into a slumber, from which he waked in about half an hour, after which his small friend helped him to sit up again.
"Marchioness," said Richard suddenly, "What has become of Kit?"
"He has been sentenced to transportation for a great many years," she said.
"Has he gone?" asked Dick, "His mother, what has become of her?"
His nurse shook her head, and answered that she knew nothing about them. "But if I thought," said she presently, "that you'd not put yourself into another fever, I could tell you something—but I won't, now. Wait till you're better, then I'll tell you."
Dick looked very earnestly at his little friend, and urged her to tell him the worst at once.
Unable to resist his fervent adjurations, the Marchioness spoke thus:
"Well! Before I run away, I used to sleep in the kitchen. Miss Sally used to keep the key of the door in her pocket, and she always come down at night to take away the candle and rake out the fire. Then she left me to go to bed in the dark, locked the door on the outside, and kept me locked up till she came down in the morning and let me out. I was terrible afraid of being kept like this, because if there was a fire, I thought they might forget me, you know. So, whenever I see an old key, I picked it up and tried if it would fit the door, and at last I found a key that did fit it. They kept me very short," said the small servant, "so I used to come out at night after they'd gone to bed, and feel about in the dark, for bits of biscuit, or sangwitches, or even pieces of orange-peel to put into cold water, and make believe it was wine. If you make believe very much, it's quite nice," continued the small servant; "but if you don't, you know, it seems as if it would bear a little more seasoning! Well, one or two nights before the young man was took, I come upstairs while Mr. Brass and Miss Sally was a-sittin by the office fire and talking softly together. They whispered and laughed for a long time, about there being no danger if it was well done; that they must do what their best client, Quilp, desired, and that for his own reasons, he hated Kit, and wanted to have his reputation ruined. Then Mr. Brass pulls out his pocket-book, and says, 'Well, here it is—Quilp's own five-pound note. Kit is coming to-morrow morning, I know. I'll hold him in conversation, and put this property in his hat, and then convict him of theft. And if that don't get Kit out of Mr. Quilp's way, and satisfy his grudge against the lad,' he said, 'the devil's in it,' Then they seemed to be moving away, and I was afraid to stop any longer. There!"
The small servant was so much agitated herself that she made no effort to restrain Mr. Swiveller when he sat up in bed, and hastily demanded whether this story had been told to anybody.
"How could it be?" replied his nurse. "When I heard 'em say that you was gone, and so was the lodger, and ever since I come here, you've been out of your senses, so what would have been the good of telling you then?"
"Marchioness," said Mr. Swiveller, "if you'll do me the favor to retire for a few minutes, and see what sort of a night it is, I'll get up,"
"You mustn't think of such a thing," cried his nurse.
"I must indeed," said the patient. "Whereabouts are my clothes?"
"Oh, I'm so glad—you haven't got any," replied the Marchioness.
"Ma'am!" said Mr. Swiveller, in great astonishment.
"I've been obliged to sell them, every one, to get the things that was ordered for you. But don't take on about that," urged the Marchioness, as Dick fell back upon his pillow, "you're too weak to stand indeed."
"I'm afraid," said Richard dolefully, "that you're right. Now, what is to be done?"
It occurred to him, on very little reflection, that the first step to take would be to communicate with Kit's employer, Mr. Garland, or with his son Mr. Abel, at once. It was possible that Mr. Abel had not yet left his office. In as little time as it takes to tell it, the small servant had the address on a piece of paper, and a description of father and son, which would enable her to recognize either without difficulty. Armed with these slender powers, she hurried away, commissioned to bring either Mr. Garland or Mr. Abel bodily to Mr. Swiveller's apartment.
"I suppose," said Dick, as she closed the door slowly, and peeped into the room again, to make sure that he was comfortable, "I suppose there's nothing left—not so much as a waistcoat?"
"Its embarrassing," said Mr. Swiveller, "in case of fire—even an umbrella would be something—but you did quite right, dear Marchioness. I should have died without you."
The small servant went swiftly on her way, towards the office of the Notary, Mr. Witherden, where Mr. Garland was to be found. She had no bonnet, only a great cap on her head, which in some old time had been worn by Sally Brass;—and her shoes being extremely large and slipshod, flew off every now and then, and were difficult to find. Indeed the poor little creature experienced so much trouble and delay from having to grope for them in the mud, and suffered so much jostling, pushing, and squeezing in these researches, that between it, and her fear of being recognized by some one, and carried back by force to the Brasses, when she at last reached the Notary's office, she was fairly worn out, and could not refrain from tears. But to have got there was a comfort, and she found Mr. Abel in the act of entering his pony-chaise and driving away. There was nothing for her to do but to run after the chaise and call to Mr. Abel to stop. Being out of breath, she was unable to make him hear. The case was desperate, for the pony was quickening his pace. The Marchioness hung on behind for a few moments, and feeling she could go no farther, clambered by a vigorous effort into the hinder seat, where she remained in silence, until she had to some degree recovered her breath, and become accustomed to the novelty of her position, when she uttered close into Mr. Abel's ear the words,—
"I say, sir."
He turned his head quickly enough then, and stopping the pony, cried with some trepidation, "God bless me! what is this?"
"Don't be frightened, sir," replied the still panting messenger. "Oh, I've run such a way after you!"
"What do you want with me?" said Mr. Abel. "How did you come here?"
"I got in behind," replied the Marchioness. "Oh, please drive on, sir—don't stop—and go towards the City, will you? and oh—do please make haste, because it is of consequence. There's somebody wants to see you there. He sent me to say, would you come directly, and that he knows all about Kit, and could save him yet, and prove his innocence."
"What do you tell me, child?"
"The truth, upon my word and honor, I do. But please to drive on—quick, please! I've been such a time gone, he'll think I'm lost"
Mr. Abel urged the pony forward, and at last they arrived at the door of Mr. Swiveller's lodgings.
"See! It's that room up there," said the Marchioness, pointing to one where there was a faint light. "Come!"
Mr. Abel who was naturally timid, hesitated; for he had heard of people being decoyed into strange places, to be robbed and murdered, under circumstances very like the present, by guides very like the Marchioness. His regard for Kit, however, overcame every other consideration. So he suffered his companion to lead him up the dark and narrow stair, into a dimly lighted sick-chamber, where a man was lying tranquilly in bed, in whose wasted face he recognized the features of Richard Swiveller.
"Why, how is this?" said Mr. Abel, kindly, "You have been ill?"
"Very," replied Dick, "Nearly dead. You might have chanced to hear of your Richard on his bier, but for the friend I sent to fetch you. Another shake of the hand, Marchioness, if you please. Sit down, sir."
Mr. Abel seemed rather astonished to hear of the quality of his guide, and took a chair by the bedside.
"I have sent for you, sir," said Dick—"but she told you on what account?"
"She did. I am quite bewildered by all this. I really don't know what to say or think," replied Mr. Abel.
"You'll say that presently," retorted Dick. "Marchioness, take a seat on the bed, will you? Now, tell this gentleman all that you told me, and be particular."
The story was repeated, without any deviation or omission, after which Richard Swiveller took the word again;
"You have heard it all," said Richard. "I'm too giddy and queer to suggest anything, but you and your friends will know what to do. After this long delay, every minute is an age. Don't stop to say one word to me, but go! If you lose another minute in looking at me, sir, I'll never forgive you!"
Mr. Abel needed no more persuasion. To Dick's unbounded delight he was gone in an instant, and Mr. Swiveller, exhausted by the interview, was soon asleep, murmuring 'Strew, then, oh strew a bed of rushes. Here will we stay till morning blushes.' "Good-night, Marchioness!"
On awaking in the morning, he became conscious of whispering voices in his room, and espied Mr. Garland, Mr. Abel, and two other gentlemen talking earnestly with the Marchioness. Upon perceiving the invalid to be awake, Mr. Garland stretched out his hand, and inquired how Mr. Swiveller felt; adding
"And what can we do for you?"
"If you could make the Marchioness yonder, a Marchioness in real, sober earnest," returned Dick, "I'd thank you to get it done offhand. But as you can't, the question is, what is it best to do for Kit?"
Gathering around Mr. Swiveller's bedside, the group of gentlemen then proceeded to discuss in detail all the evidence against Sampson Brass, as contained in the confession of the Marchioness, and what course was wisest to pursue in the matter. After which the gentlemen took their leaves for a time, or Richard Swiveller must assuredly have been driven into another fever, in consequence of having entered into such an exciting discussion.
Mr. Abel alone remained behind, very often looking at his watch and the room-door, until the reason of his watchfulness was disclosed when Mr. Swiveller was roused from a short nap by the delivery at his door of a mighty hamper, which, being opened, disgorged such treasures of tea, and coffee, and wine, and rusk, and oranges, and grapes, and fowls, and calvesfoot jelly, and other delicate restoratives, that the small servant stood rooted to the spot, with her mouth and eyes watering in unison, and her power of speech quite gone. With the hamper appeared also a nice old lady, who bustled about on tiptoe, began to make chicken-broth, and peel oranges for the sick man, and to ply the small servant with glasses of wine, and choice bits of everything. The whole of which was so bewildering that Mr. Swiveller, when he had taken two oranges and a little jelly, was fain to lie down and fall asleep again, from sheer inability to entertain such wonders in his mind.
Meanwhile the other gentlemen, who had left Richard Swiveller's room, had retired to a coffee-house near by, from whence they sent a peremptory and mysterious summons to Miss Sally Brass to favor them with her company there as soon as possible. To this she replied by an almost immediate appearance, whereupon, without any loss of time, she was confronted with the tale of the small servant. While it was being related for her benefit, Sampson Brass himself suddenly opened the door of the coffee-house and joined the astonished group. Hearing the certain proofs of his guilt so clearly related, he saw that evasion was useless, and made a full confession of the scheme whereby Kit was to have been doomed, but laying the entire blame, however, upon the rich little dwarf, Quilp, saying that he could not afford to lose his rich client, nor the large bribe he offered for the arrest of the lad, Kit.
Having secured the desired confession, the gentlemen hastened back to Mr. Swiveller's room with the glad tidings, adding that it would now be possible to accomplish the lad's immediate release, after making which joyful statement, they took their departure for the night, leaving the invalid with the small servant and one of their number, Mr. Witherden, the notary, who remained behind to be the bearer of good news to the invalid.
"I have been making some inquiries about you," said Mr. Witherden, "little thinking that I should find you under such circumstances as those which have brought us together. You are the nephew of Rebecca Swiveller, spinster, deceased, of Cheselbourne, in Dorsetshire."
"Deceased!" cried Dick.
"Deceased. And by the terms of her will, you have fallen into an annuity of one hundred and fifty pounds a year; I think I may congratulate you upon that."
"Sir," said Dick, sobbing and laughing together, "you may. For, please God, we'll make a scholar of the poor Marchioness yet. And she shall walk in silk attire, and siller have to spare, or may I never rise from this bed again!"
Mr. Swiveller, recovering very slowly from his illness, even with the strong tonic of his good fortune, and entering into the receipt of his annuity, bought for the Marchioness a handsome stock of clothes, and put her to school forthwith, in redemption of the vow he had made upon his fevered bed.
After casting about for some time for a name which should be worthy of her, he decided in favor of Sophronia Sphynx, as being euphonious and genteel, and, furthermore, indicative of mystery. Under this title the Marchioness repaired in tears to the school of his selection, from which, as she soon distanced all competitors, she was removed before the lapse of many quarters to one of a higher grade. It is but bare justice to Mr. Swiveller to say that although the expense of her education kept him in straightened circumstances for half-a-dozen years, he never slackened in his zeal, and always held himself sufficiently repaid by the accounts he heard of her advancement.
In a word, Mr. Swiveller kept the Marchioness at this establishment until she was, at a moderate guess, full nineteen years of age, at which time, thanks to her earliest friend and most loyal champion, Richard Swiveller, the shadows of a bitter past had been chased from her memory by a happy present, and she was as good-looking, clever, and good-humored a young woman as ever a real Marchioness might have been.
The family who went by the designation of "The Kenwigses" were the wife and olive branches of one Mr. Kenwigs, a turner in ivory, who was looked upon as a person of some consideration where he lodged, inasmuch as he occupied the whole of the first floor, comprising a suite of two rooms. Mrs. Kenwigs too, was quite a lady in her manners, and of a very genteel family, having an uncle, Mr. Lillyvick, who collected a water-rate, and who she fondly hoped, would make her children his heirs. Besides which distinction, the two eldest of her little girls went twice a week to a dancing-school in the neighborhood, and had flaxen hair tied with blue ribbons, hanging in luxuriant pigtails down their backs, and wore little white trousers with frills round the ankles;—for all of which reasons Mr. and Mrs. Kenwigs, and the four olive Kenwigses, and the baby, were considered quite important persons to know.
Upon the eighth anniversary of Mrs. Kenwigs' marriage to Mr. Kenwigs, they entertained a select party of friends, and on that occasion, after supper had been served, the group gathered by the fireside; Mr. Lillyvick being stationed in a large arm-chair, and the four little Kenwigses disposed on a small form in front of the company, with their flaxen tails towards them, and their faces to the fire; an arrangement which was no sooner perfected than Mrs. Kenwigs was overpowered by the feelings of a mother, and fell upon Mr. Kenwigs' shoulder, dissolved in tears.
"They are so beautiful!" she said, sobbing. "I can—not help it, and it don't signify! Oh, they're too beautiful to live—much too beautiful!"
On hearing this alarming presentiment of their early death, all four little girls raised a hideous cry, and, burying their faces in their mother's lap simultaneously, screamed until the eight flaxen tails vibrated; Mrs. Kenwigs meanwhile clasping them alternately to her bosom, with attitudes expressive of distraction.
At length, however, she permitted herself to be soothed, and the little Kenwigses were distributed among the company, to prevent the possibility of Mrs. Kenwigs being again overcome by the blaze of their united beauty, after which, Morleena, the eldest olive branch—whose name had been composed by Mrs. Kenwigs herself for the especial benefit of her daughter—danced a dance. It was a very beautiful figure, comprising a great deal of work for the arms, and was received with unbounded applause, as were the various accomplishments displayed by others of the party. The affair was proceeding most successfully when Mr. Lillyvick took offence at a remark made by Mr. Kenwigs, and sat swelling and fuming in offended dignity for some minutes, then burst out in words of indignation. Here was an untoward event! The great man,—the rich relation—who had it in his power to make Morleena an heiress, and the very baby a legatee—was offended. Gracious powers, where would this end!
"I am very sorry, sir," said Mr. Kenwigs humbly, but the apology was not accepted, and Mr. Lillyvick continued to repeat; "Morleena, child, my hat! Morleena, my hat!" until Mrs. Kenwigs sunk back in her chair, overcome with grief, while the four little girls (privately instructed to that effect) clasped their uncle's drab shorts in their arms, and prayed him to remain.
"Mr. Lillyvick," said Kenwigs, "I hope for the sake of your niece that you won't object to being reconciled."
The collector's face relaxed, as the company added their entreaties to those of their host. He gave up his hat and held out his hand.
"There, Kenwigs," he said. "And let me tell you at the same time, to show you how much out of temper I was, that if I had gone away without another word, it would have made no difference respecting that pound or two which I shall leave among your children when I die."
"Morleena Kenwigs," cried her mother, in a torrent of affection; "go down upon your knees to your dear uncle and beg him to love you all his life through, for he's more an angel than a man, and I've always said so."
Miss Morleena, approaching to do homage, was summarily caught up and kissed by Mr. Lillyvick, and thereupon Mrs. Kenwigs herself darted forward and kissed the collector, and all was forgiven and forgotten.
No further wave of trouble ruffled the feelings of the party until suddenly there came shrill and piercing screams from an upper room in which the infant Kenwigs was enshrined, guarded by a small girl hired for the purpose. Rushing to the door, Mrs. Kenwigs began to wring her hands and shriek dismally, amid which cries, and the wails of the four little girls, a stranger ran downstairs with the baby in his arms, explaining hastily that, visiting a friend in a room above, he had heard the cries, and found the baby's guardian asleep with her hair on fire. This explanation over, the baby, who was unhurt, and who rejoiced in the name of Lillyvick Kenwigs, was instantly almost suffocated under the caresses of the audience, and squeezed to his mother's bosom until he roared again. Then, after drinking the health of the child's preserver, the company made the discovery that it was nigh two o'clock, whereat they took their leave, with flattering expressions of the pleasure they had enjoyed, to which Mr. and Mrs. Kenwigs replied by thanking them, and hoping they had enjoyed themselves only half as well as they said they had.
The young man, Nicholas Nickleby by name, who had rescued the baby, made such an impression upon Mrs. Kenwigs that she felt impelled to propose through the friend whom he had been visiting, that he should instruct the four little Kenwigses in the French language at the weekly stipend of five shillings; being at the rate of one shilling per week, per each Miss Kenwigs, and one shilling over until such time as the baby might be able to take it out in grammar.
This proposition was accepted with alacrity by Nicholas, who betook himself to the Kenwigs' apartment with all speed. Here he found the four Miss Kenwigses on their form of audience, and the baby in a dwarf porter's chair, with a deal tray before it, amusing himself with a toy horse, while Mrs. Kenwigs spoke to the little girls of the superior advantages they enjoyed above other children. "But I hope," she said, "that that will not make them proud; but that they will bless their own good fortune which has born them superior to common people's children. And when you go out in the streets, or elsewhere, I desire that you don't boast of it to the other children," continued Mrs. Kenwigs, "and that if you must say anything about it, you don't say no more than 'we've got a private master comes to teach us at home, but we ain't proud, because Ma says its sinful,' Do you hear, Morleena?"
Upon the eldest Miss Kenwigs replying meekly that she did, permission was conceded for the lesson to commence, and accordingly the four Miss Kenwigses again arranged themselves upon their form, in a row, with their tails all one way, while Nicholas Nickleby began his preliminary explanations.
Some months after this, the Kenwigses were thrown into a fever of rage and disappointment, by receiving the cruel news of their Uncle Lillyvick's marriage, which blow was a terrible one to Mrs. Kenwigs, blighting her hopes for her children's future. After weeping and wailing in the most agonized fashion, Mrs. Kenwigs drew herself up in proud defiance, and denounced her uncle in terms direct and plain, stating that he should never again darken her doors. In this terrible state of affairs, it remained for Morleena of the flaxen tails, to bring about a family re-union, and in this way:
It had come to pass that she had received an invitation to repair next day, per steamer from Westminster bridge, unto the Eel-Pie Island at Twickenham, there to make merry upon a cold collation, and to dance in the open air to the music of a locomotive band; the steamer having been engaged by a dancing-master for his numerous pupils, one of whom had extended an invitation to Miss Morleena, and Mrs. Kenwigs rightly deemed the honor of the family was involved in her daughter making the most splendid appearance possible. Now, between the Italian-ironing of frills, the flouncing of trousers, the trimming of frocks, the faintings from overwork and the comings-to again, incidental to the occasion, Mrs. Kenwigs had been so entirely occupied, that she had not observed, until within half an hour before, that the flaxen tails of Miss Morleena were in a manner, run to seed; and that unless she were put under the hands of a skilful hairdresser she never could achieve that signal triumph over the daughters of all other people, anything less than which would be tantamount to defeat. This discovery drove Mrs. Kenwigs to despair, for the hairdresser lived three streets and eight dangerous crossings off, and there was nobody to take her. So Mrs. Kenwigs first slapped Miss Kenwigs for being the cause of her vexation, and then shed tears.
"I can't help it, ma," replied Morleena, also in tears, "my hair will grow!" While they were both still bemoaning and weeping, a fellow lodger in the house came upon them, and hearing of their difficulty, offered to escort Miss Morleena to the barber-shop, and at once led her in safety to that establishment. The proprietor, knowing she had three sisters, each with two flaxen tails, and all good for sixpence apiece a month at least, promptly deserted an old gentleman whom he had just lathered for shaving, and waited on the young lady himself. The old gentleman raising his head, Miss Kenwigs noticed his face and uttered a shrill little scream,—it was her Uncle Lillyvick!
Hearing his name pronounced, Mr. Lillyvick groaned, then coughed to hide it, and consigning himself to the hands of an assistant, commenced a colloquy with Miss Morleena's escort, rather striving to escape the notice of Miss Morleena herself, and so remarkable did this behavior seem to her, that at the imminent hazard of having her ear sliced off, she could not forbear looking round at him some score of times.
The cutting and curling being at last concluded, the old gentleman, who had been finished some time, and simply waiting, rose to go also, and walked out of the establishment with Miss Morleena and her escort, proceeding with them, in profound silence until they had nearly reached Miss Morleena's home, when he asked if her family had been very much overpowered by the news of his marriage.
"It made ma cry when she knew it," answered Miss Morleena, "and pa was very low in his spirits, but he is better now, and I was very ill, but I am better too."
"Would you give your great-uncle Lillyvick a kiss, if he was to ask you, Morleena?" said the collector, with some hesitation.
"Yes, Uncle Lillyvick, I would," returned Miss Morleena with no hesitation whatsoever, whereupon Mr. Lillyvick caught her in his arms and kissed her, and being by this time at the door of the house, he walked straight up into the Kenwigses' sitting-room and put her down in their midst. The surprise and delight that reigned in the bosom of the Kenwigses at the unexpected sight, was only heightened by the joyful intelligence that their uncle's married life had been both brief and unsatisfactory, and by his further statement:
"Out of regard for you, Susan and Kenwigs, I shall to-morrow morning settle upon your children, and make payable to their survivors when they come of age, or marry, that money which I once meant to leave 'em in my will. The deed shall be executed to-morrow!"
Overcome by this noble and generous offer, and by their emotion, Mr. Kenwigs, Mrs. Kenwigs, and Miss Morleena Kenwigs all began to sob together, and the noise communicating itself to the next room where the other children lay a-bed, and causing them to cry too, Mr. Kenwigs rushed wildly in, and bringing them out in his arms, by two and two, tumbled them down in their night-caps and gowns at the feet of Mr. Lillyvick, and called upon them to thank and bless him.
And this wonderful domestic scene,—this family reconciliation was brought about by Miss Morleena, eldest of the four little Kenwigses, with the flaxen tails!
There was once an old man, whose daughter dying, left in his care two orphan children, a son twelve years old, and little Nell, a younger girl. The grandfather was now an old and feeble man, but gathering himself together as best he could, he began to trade;—in pictures first—and then in curious ancient things, and from the Old Curiosity Shop, as it was called, he was able to obtain a slender income.
The boy grew into a wayward youth, and soon quitted his grandfather's home for companions more suited to his taste, but sweet little Nell remained, and grew so like her mother, that when the old man had her on his knee, and looked into her mild blue eyes, he felt as if his daughter had come back, a child again.
The old man and little Nell dwelt alone,—he loving her with a passionate devotion, and haunted with a fearful dread lest she should be left to a life of poverty and want, when he should be called to leave her. This fear so overmastered him that it led him to the gaming-table, and—for her sake—he became a professional gambler, hoping to lay by a vast fortune for her future use. But he lost heavily and constantly, until his slender resources were exhausted, and he was obliged to borrow money from the rich little dwarf money-lender, Quilp, pledging his stock as security for the loans.
But of all this Little Nell knew nothing, or she would have implored him to give up the dangerous practice. She only knew that, after her monotonous days, uncheckered by variety and uncheered by pleasant companionship, the old man, who seemed always agitated by some hidden care, and weak and wandering in his mind, taking his cloak and hat and stick, would pass from the house, leaving her alone through the dreary evenings and long solitary nights.
It was not the absence of such pleasures as make young hearts beat high, that brought tears to Nell's eyes. It was the sight of the old man's feeble state of mind and body, and the fear that some night he should fail to come home, having been overtaken by illness or sudden death. Such fears as these drove the roses from her smooth young cheeks, and stilled the songs which before had rung through the dim old shop, while the gay, lightsome step passed among the dusty treasures. Now she seldom smiled or sang, and among the few bits of comedy in her sad days, were the visits of Kit Nubbles, her grandfather's errand boy, a shock-headed, shambling, comical lad, whose devotion to the beautiful child verged on worship. Appreciating Nell's loneliness, Kit visited the shop as often as possible, and the exquisite oddity and awkwardness of his manner so amused her that at sight of him she would give way to genuine merriment. Kit himself, being always flattered by the sensation he produced, would often burst into a loud roar, and stand with his mouth wide open, and his eyes nearly shut, laughing violently.
Twice every week Nell gave the lad a writing lesson, to the great mirth and enjoyment of them both, and each time Kit tucked up his sleeves, squared his elbows, and put his face very close to the copy-book, squinting horribly at the lines, fairly wallowing in blots, and daubing himself with ink up to the roots of his hair,—and if he did by accident form a letter properly, he immediately smeared it out again with his arm—and at every fresh mistake there was a fresh burst of merriment from the child and from poor Kit himself.
But of such happy times sweet Nell had few, and she became more anxious about her grandfather's health, as he became daily more worried over the secret which he would not share with her, and which preyed upon his mind and body with increasing ravages.
Fortune did not favor his ventures, and Quilp, having discovered for what purpose he borrowed such large sums, refused him further loans. In an agony of apprehension for the future, the old man told Nell that he had had heavy losses, that they would soon be beggars.
"What if we are?" said the child boldly. "Let us be beggars, and be happy."
"Beggars—and happy!" said the old man. "Poor child!"
"Dear grandfather," cried the girl, with an energy which shone in her flushed face, trembling voice, and impassioned, gestures, "O, hear me pray that we may beg, or work in open roads or fields, to earn a scanty living, rather than live as we do now."
"Nelly!" said the old man.
"Yes, yes, rather than live as we do now," the child repeated, "do not let me see such change in you, and not know why, or I shall break my heart and die. Dear grandfather, let us leave this sad place to-morrow, and beg our way from door to door."
The old man covered his face with his hands, as the child added, "Let us be beggars. I have no fear but we shall have enough: I'm sure we shall. Let us walk through country places, and never think of money again, or anything that can make you sad, but rest at nights, and have the sun and wind on our faces in the day, and thank God together! Let us never set foot in dark rooms or melancholy houses any more, but wander up and down wherever we like to go, and when you are tired, you shall stop to rest in the pleasantest places we can find, and I will go and beg for both."
The child's voice was lost in sobs as she dropped upon the old man's neck; nor did she weep alone.
That very day news came that the Old Curiosity Shop and its contents would at once pass into Quilp's hands, in payment of the old man's debts. In vain he pleaded for one more chance to redeem himself—for one more loan—Quilp was firm in his refusal of further help, and little Nell found the old man, overcome by the news, lying upon the floor of his room, alarmingly ill. For weeks he lay raving in the delirium of fever, little Nell alone beside him, nursing him with a single-hearted devotion. The house was no longer theirs; even the sick chamber they retained by special favor until such time as the old man could be removed. Meanwhile, Mr. Quilp had taken formal possession of the premises, and to make sure that no more business was transacted in the shop, was encamped in the back parlor. So keen was Nell's dread of even the sound of the dwarfs voice, that she lived in continual apprehension of meeting him on the stairs, or in the passage, and seldom stirred from her grandfather's room.
At length the old man began to mend—he was patient and quiet, easily amused, and made no complaint, but his mind was forever weakened, and he seemed to have only a dazed recollection of what had happened. Even when Quilp told him that in two days he must be moved out of the shop, he seemed not to take it to heart, wandering around the house, a very child in act and thought. But a change came over him on the second evening; as he and little Nell sat silently together. He was moved—shed tears—begged Nell's forgiveness for what he had made her suffer—seemed like one coming out of a dream—and urged her to help him in acting upon what they had talked of doing long before.
"We will not stop here another day," he said, "we will go far away from here. We will travel afoot through the fields and woods, and by the side of rivers, and trust ourselves to God in the places where He dwells. It is far better to lie down at night beneath an open sky than to rest in close rooms, which are always full of care and weary dreams. Thou and I together, Nell, may be cheerful and happy yet, and learn to forget this time, as if it had never been."
"We will be happy," cried the child. "We never can be, here!"
"No, we never can again—never again—that's truly said," rejoined the old man. "Let us steal away to-morrow morning, early and softly, that we may not be seen or heard—and leave no trace or track for them to follow by. Poor Nell! Thy cheek is pale, and thy eyes are heavy with watching and weeping for me; but thou wilt be well again, and merry too, when we are far away. To-morrow morning, dear, we will turn our faces from this scene of sorrow, and be as free and happy as the birds."
The child's heart beat high with hope and confidence. She had no thought of hunger or cold, or thirst, or suffering. She saw in this a relief from the gloomy solitude in which she had lived, an escape from the heartless people by whom she had been surrounded in her late time of trial, the restoration of the old man's health and peace, and a life of tranquil happiness. Sun, and stream, and meadow, and summer days shone brightly in her view, and there was no dark tint in all the sparkling picture.
The old man had slept for some hours soundly, and she was yet busily engaged in preparing for their flight. There were a few articles of clothing for herself to carry, and a few for him, and a staff to support his feeble steps. But this was not all her task, for now she must say farewell to her own little room, where she had so often knelt down and prayed at night—prayed for the time which she hoped was dawning now! There were some trifles there, which she would have liked to take away, but that was impossible. She wept bitterly to leave her poor bird behind, until the idea occurred to her that it might fall into the hands of Kit, who would keep and cherish it for her sake. She was calmed and comforted by this thought, and went to rest with a lighter heart.
At length the day began to glimmer, when she arose and dressed herself for the journey, and with the old man, trod lightly down the stairs. At last they reached the ground-floor, got the door open without noise, and passing into the street, stood still.
"Which way?" said the child.
The old man looked irresolutely and helplessly to the right and left, then at her, and shook his head. It was plain that she was henceforth his guide and leader. The child felt it, but had no doubts or misgivings, and putting her hand in his, led him gently away.
It was the beginning of a day in June; the deep blue sky unsullied by a cloud, and teeming with brilliant light. The streets were as yet free of passengers, the houses and shops were closed, and the healthy air of morning fell like breath from angels on the sleeping town.
The old man and the child passed on through the glad silence, elate with hope and pleasure. Every object was bright and fresh; nothing reminded them, otherwise than by contrast, of the monotony and restraint they had left behind.
Forth from the city, while it yet slumbered, went the two poor adventurers, wandering they knew not whither, often pressing each other's hands, or exchanging a smile, as they pursued their way through the city streets, through the haunts of traffic and great commerce, where business was already rife. The old man looked about him with a bewildered gaze, for these were places that he hoped to shun, nor did he seem at ease until at last they felt that they were clear of London, and sat down to rest, and eat their frugal breakfast from little Nell's basket.
The freshness of the day, the singing of the birds, the beauty of the waving grass, the wild flowers, and the thousand exquisite scents and sounds that floated in the air, sunk into their breasts, and made them very glad. The child had repeated her artless prayers once that morning, more earnestly, perhaps, than she had ever done in her life; but as she felt all this, they rose to her lips again. The old man took off his hat—he had no memory for the words—but he said Amen, and that they were very good.
"Are you tired?" asked the child. "Are you sure you don't feel ill from this long walk?"
"I shall never feel ill again, now that we are once away," was his reply. "Let us be stirring, Nell. We are too near to stop and be at rest. Come!"
They were now in the open country, through which they walked all day, and slept that night at a cottage where beds were let to travellers. Next morning they were afoot again, and still kept on until nearly five o'clock in the afternoon, when they stopped at a laborer's hut, asking permission to rest awhile and buy a draught of milk. The request was granted, and after having some refreshments and rest, Nell yielded to the old man's fretful demand to travel on again, and they trudged forward for another mile, thankful for a lift given them by a kindly driver going their way, for they could scarcely crawl along. To them the jolting cart was a luxurious carriage, and the ride the most delicious in the world. Nell had scarcely settled herself in one corner of the cart when she fell fast asleep, and was only awakened by its stopping when their ways parted. The driver pointing out the town in the near distance, directed them to take the path leading through the churchyard. Accordingly, to this spot they directed their weary steps, and presently came upon two men who were seated upon the grass. It was not difficult to divine that they were itinerant showmen—exhibitors of the freaks of Punch—for, perched cross-legged upon a tombstone behind them, was a figure of that hero himself, his nose and chin as hooked, and his face as beaming as usual; while scattered upon the ground, and jumbled together in a long box, were the other persons of the drama. The hero's wife and one child, the hobby-horse, the doctor, the foreign gentleman, the executioner, and the devil, all were here. Their owners had evidently come to that spot to make some needful repairs in their stock, for one of them was engaged in binding together a small gallows with thread, while the other was intent upon fixing a new black wig.
They greeted the strangers with a nod, and the old man sitting down beside them, and looking at the figures with extreme delight, began to talk. While they chatted, Mr. Short, a little merry, red-faced man with twinkling eyes, turning over the figures in the box, drew one forth, saying ruefully to his companion, Codlin by name: "Look here, here's all this Judy's clothes falling to pieces again. You haven't got needle and thread, I suppose?"
The little man shook his head, and seeing that they were at a loss, Nell said timidly:
"I have a needle, sir, in my basket, and thread too. Will you let me try to mend it for you? I think I could do it neater than you could."
As Mr. Codlin had nothing to urge against a proposal so seasonable, Nelly was soon busily engaged in her task, and accomplishing it to a miracle. While she was thus engaged, the merry little man looked at her with an interest which did not appear to be diminished when he glanced at her helpless companion. When she had finished her work, he thanked her, and inquired whither they were travelling.
"N-no further to-night, I think," said the child, looking toward her grandfather.
"If you're wanting a place to stop at," the man remarked, "I should advise you to take up at the same house with us. The long, low, white house there. It's very cheap."
The old man, who would have remained in the churchyard all night if his new acquaintances had stayed there too, yielded to this suggestion a ready and rapturous assent, and they all rose and walked away together to the public house, where, after witnessing an exhibition of the show, they had a good supper, but Nell was too tired to eat, and was grateful when they retired to the loft where they were to rest. The old man was uneasy when he had lain down, and begged that Nell would come and sit at his bedside as she had done for so many nights. She sat there till he slept, then went to her own room and sat thinking of the life that was before them.
She had a little money, but it was very little, and when that was gone, they must begin to beg. There was one piece of gold among it, and an emergency might come when its worth to them might be increased a hundredfold. It would be best to hide this coin, and never produce it unless their case was absolutely desperate. Her resolution taken, she sewed the piece of gold into her dress, and going to bed with a lighter heart, sunk into a deep slumber.
On the following morning, Mr. Short asked Nell, "And where are you going to-day?"
"Indeed I hardly know," replied the child.
"We're going on to the races," said the little man. "If you'd like to have us for company, let us travel together."
"Well go with you," said the old man eagerly. "Nell—with them, with them."
The child considered for a moment, and reflecting that she must soon beg, and could scarcely do so at a better place, thanked the little man for his offer, and said they would accompany him.
Presently they started off and made a long day's journey, and were yet upon the road when night came on. Threatening clouds soon gave place to a heavy rain, and the party took refuge for the night in a roadside inn, where they found a mighty fire blazing upon the hearth, and savory smells coming from iron pots.
Furnished with slippers and dry garments, and overpowered by the warmth and comfort of the room and the fatigue they had undergone, Nelly and the old man had not long taken seats in the warm chimney-corner when they fell asleep.
"Who are they?" whispered the landlord.
Short and Codlin shook their heads. "They're no harm," said Short. "Depend upon that I tell you what—it's plain that the old man aren't in his right mind—I believe that he's given his friends the slip and persuaded this delicate young creature, all along of her fondness for him, to be his guide and travelling companion—where to, he knows no more than the man in the moon. Now I'm not a-goin' to stand that. I'm not a-goin' to see this fair young child a-falling into bad hands, and getting among people that she's no more fit for, than they are to get among angels as their ordinary chums. Therefore when they dewelop an intention of parting company from us, I shall take measures for detainin' of 'em and restoring them to their friends, who, I dare say, have had their disconsolation pasted up on every wall in London by this time.
"Short," said Mr. Codlin, "it's possible there may be uncommon good sense in what you've said. If there is, and there should be a reward, Short, remember that we are partners in everything!"
His companion had only time to nod a brief assent to this proposition, for the child awoke at the instant, as strange footsteps were heard without, and fresh company entered.
These were no other than four very dismal dogs, who came pattering in, headed by an old bandy dog, who erected himself upon his hind legs, and looked around at his companions, who immediately stood upon their hind legs in a grave and melancholy row. These dogs each wore a kind of little coat of some gaudy color, trimmed with tarnished spangles, and one of them had a cap upon his head, tied under his chin, which had fallen down upon his nose, and completely obscured one eye. Add to this, that the gaudy coats were all wet through with rain, and that the wearers were all splashed and dirty, and some idea may be formed of the unusual appearance of the new visitors to the inn. Jerry, the manager of these dancing dogs, disencumbering himself of a barrel-organ, and retaining in his hand a small whip, came up to the fire and entered into conversation. The landlord then busied himself in laying the cloth for supper, which, being at length ready to serve, little Nell ventured to say grace, and supper began.
At this juncture the poor dogs were standing upon their hind legs quite surprisingly. The child, having pity on them, was about to cast some morsels of food to them before she tasted it herself, hungry though she was, when their master interposed.
"No, my dear, no, not an atom from anybody's hand but mine, please. That dog," said Jerry, pointing out the old leader of the troop, and speaking in a terrible voice, "lost a half-penny to-day. He goes without his supper."
The unfortunate creature dropped upon his forelegs directly, wagged his tail, and looked imploringly at his master.
"You must be more careful, sir," said Jerry, walking coolly to the chair where he had placed the organ, and setting the stop. "Come here. Now, sir, you play away at that while we have supper, and leave off if you dare."
The dog immediately began to grind most mournful music. His master, having shown him the whip, called up the others, who, at his directions, formed in a row, standing upright as a file of soldiers.
"Now, gentlemen," said Jerry, looking at them attentively, "the dog whose name is called, eats. Carlo!"
The lucky individual whose name was called, snapped up the morsel thrown towards him, but none of the others moved a muscle. Meanwhile the dog in disgrace ground hard at the organ, sometimes in quick time, sometimes in slow, but never leaving off for an instant. When the knives and forks rattled very much, or any of his fellows got an unusually large piece of fat, he accompanied the music with a short howl; but he immediately checked it on his master looking around, and applied himself with increased diligence to the Old Hundredth.
That night, from various conversations in which Codlin and Short took pains to engage her, little Nell began to have misgivings concerning their protestations of friendship, and to suspect their motives. These misgivings made the child anxious and uneasy, as the party travelled on towards the town where the races were to begin next day.
It was dark when they reached the town, and there all was tumult and confusion. The streets were filled with throngs of people, the church-bells rang out their noisy peals, and flags streamed from windows and house-tops, while shrill flageolets and deafening drums added to the uproar.
Through this delirious scene, the child, frightened and repelled by all she saw, led on her bewildered charge, clinging close to her conductor, and trembling lest she should be separated from him, and left to find her way alone. Quickening their steps they made for the racecourse, which was upon an open heath. There were many people here, none of the best-favored or best clad, busily erecting tents, but the child felt it an escape from the town, and drew her breath more freely. After a scanty supper, she and the old man lay down to rest in a corner of a tent, and slept, despite the busy preparations that were going on around them all night long.
And now they had come to the time when they must beg their bread. Soon after sunrise in the morning Nell stole out, and plucked a few wild roses and such humble flowers, to make into little nosegays and offer to the ladies in the carriages when the company arrived. Her thoughts were not idle while she was thus employed. When she returned and was seated beside the old man, tying her flowers together, while Codlin and Short lay dozing in another corner, she said in a low voice:
"Grandfather, don't look at those I talk of, and don't seem as if I spoke of anything but what I'm about. What was that you told me before we left the old house?—that if they knew what we were going to do, they would say that you were mad, and part us?"
The old man turned to her with an aspect of wild terror; but she checked him by a look, adding, "Grandfather, these men suspect that we have secretly left our friends, and mean to carry us before some gentlemen, and have us taken care of, and sent back. If you let your hand tremble so, we can never get away from them, but if you're only quiet now, we shall do so easily."
"How?" muttered the old man. "Dear Nelly, how? They will shut me up in a stone room, dark and cold, and chain me to the wall, Nell—flog me with whips, and never let me see thee more!"
"You're trembling again!" said the child. "Keep close to me all day. I shall find a time when we can steal away. When I do, mind you come with me, and do not stop or speak a word. Hush! that's all."
"Halloa! what are you up to, my dear?" said Mr. Codlin, raising his head and yawning.
"Making some nosegays," the child replied; "I'm going to try to sell some. Will you have one?—as a present, I mean." Mr. Codlin stuck it in his buttonhole with an air of ineffable complacency, and laid himself down again.
As the morning wore on, the tents assumed a more brilliant appearance. Men, who had lounged about in smock frocks and leather leggings, came out in silken vests and hats and plumes, as jugglers or mountebanks. Black-eyed gypsy girls, hooded in showy handkerchiefs, sallied forth to tell fortunes. The dancing dogs, the stilts, the little lady and the tall man and all the other attractions, with organs out of number, and bands innumerable, emerged from the corners in which they had passed the night, and flourished boldly in the sun.
Along the uncleared course, Short led his party, sounding the brazen trumpet, and at his heels went Thomas Codlin, bearing the show, and keeping his eyes on Nelly and her grandfather, as they rather lingered in the rear. The child bore upon her arm the little basket with her flowers, and sometimes stopped, with timid looks, to offer them at some gay carriage, but, alas! there were many bolder beggars there, adepts at their trade, and although some ladies smiled gently as they shook their heads, and others cried: "See, what a pretty face!" they let the pretty face pass on, and never thought that it looked tired or hungry, and among all that gay throng, there was but one lady, who, taking her flowers, put money in the child's trembling hand.
At length, late in the day, Mr. Codlin pitched the show in a convenient spot, and the spectators were soon in the very triumph of the scene. The child, sitting down with the old man close behind it, was roused from her meditation by a loud laugh at some witticism of Mr. Short.
If they were ever to get away unseen, that was the very moment. Short and Codlin were absorbed in giving the show, and in coaxing sixpences from the people's pockets, and the spectators were looking on with laughing faces. That was the moment for escape. They seized it and fled.
They made a path through booths, and carriages, and throngs of people, and never once stopped to look behind, but creeping under the brow of the hill at a quick pace, made for the open fields, and not until they were quite exhausted ventured to sit down to rest upon the borders of a little wood, and some time elapsed before the child could reassure her trembling companion, or restore him to a state of moderate tranquillity. His terrors affected her. Separation from her grandfather was the greatest evil she could dread; and feeling for the time, as though, go where they would, they were to be hunted down, and could never be safe in hiding, her heart failed her, and her courage drooped. Then, remembering how weak her companion was, and how destitute and helpless he would be if she failed him, she was animated with new strength and fortitude, and assured him that they had nothing to fear. Luring him onward through the woods with happy looks and smiles, the serenity which she had at first assumed, stole into her breast in earnest. The old man cast no longer fearful looks behind, but felt at ease and cheerful, for the further they passed into the deep green shade of the woods, the more they felt that the tranquil mind of God was there, and shed its peace on them.
At length the path brought them to a public road which to their great joy at last led into the centre of a small village. Uncertain where to seek a lodging, they approached an old man sitting in a garden before his cottage. He was the schoolmaster, and had "School" written over his window in black letters. He was a pale, simple-looking man, and sat among his flowers and beehives, taking no notice of the travellers, until Nell approached him, dropping a curtsey, and asking if he could direct them anywhere to obtain a shelter for the night.
"You have been walking a long way?" said the schoolmaster.
"A long way, sir," the child replied.
"You're a young traveller, my child," he said, laying his hand gently on her head. "Your grandchild, friend?"
"Aye, sir," cried the old man, "and the stay and comfort of my life."
"Come in," said the schoolmaster.
Without further preface, he conducted them into his little schoolroom, which was parlor and kitchen likewise, and told them they were welcome to remain till morning. Before they had done thanking him, he spread the table, and besought them to eat and drink.
After a sound night's rest in the little cottage, Nell rose early, and was attempting to make the room in which she had supped last night neat and comfortable, when their kind host came in. She asked leave to prepare breakfast, and the three soon partook of it together. While the meal was in progress, their host remarked that the old man stood in need of rest, and that he should be glad of their company for another night. It required no great persuasion to induce the child to answer that they would remain. She was happy to show her gratitude to the kind schoolmaster by performing such household duties as his little cottage stood in need of. When these were done, she took some needlework from her basket, and sat down beside the lattice, where the honeysuckle and woodbine filled the room with their delicious breath. Her grandfather was basking in the sun outside, breathing the perfume of the flowers, and idly watching the clouds as they floated on before the light summer wind. Presently the schoolmaster took his seat behind his desk, and as he seemed pleased to have little Nell beside him, she busied herself with her work, entering into conversation with the schoolmaster while the scholars conned their lessons, and watching the boys with eager and attentive interest.