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Dick Swiveller And The Marchioness

from Dickens Stories About Children Every Child Can Read





RICHARD SWIVELLER, a good-hearted, though somewhat queer young man, the
clerk of Sampson Brass, a scheming lawyer, often found time hanging
heavily on his hands; and for the better preservation of his
cheerfulness therefore, and to prevent his faculties from rusting, he
provided himself with a cribbage-board and pack of cards, and accustomed
himself to play at cribbage with a dummy, for twenty, thirty, or
sometimes even fifty thousand pounds a side, besides many hazardous bets
to a considerable amount.

As these games were very silently conducted, notwithstanding the
greatness of the interests involved, Mr. Swiveller, began to think that
on those evenings when Mr. and Miss Brass were out (and they often went
out now) he heard a kind of snorting or hard-breathing sound in the
direction of the door, which it occurred to him, after some thought,
must proceed from the small servant, who always had a cold from damp
living. Looking intently that way one night, 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, struggling like a much larger one. "It's so very dull
down-stairs. 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."

Vague recollections of several fantastic exercises such as dancing
around the room, and bowing to imaginary people with which he had
refreshed himself after the fatigues of business; all of which, no
doubt, the small servant had seen through the keyhole, made Mr.
Swiveller feel rather awkward; but he was not very sensitive on such
points, and recovered himself speedily.

"Well--come in," he said, after a little thought. "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 know'd I came up here."

"Have you got a fire down-stairs?" said Dick.

"A very little one," replied the small servant.

"Miss Sally couldn't kill me if she know'd 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 ain'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 the boy from the public house, who
bore in one hand a plate of bread and beef and in the other a great pot,
filled with some very fragrant compound, which sent forth a grateful
steam, and was indeed choice purl made after a particular rule which Mr.
Swiveller had given to the landlord at a period when he was deep in his
books and desirous to win his friendship. Relieving the boy of his
burden at the door, and charging his little companion to fasten it 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 delight, you know, for you're not used to it. Well, is it good?"

"Oh! isn't it?" said the small servant.

Mr. Swiveller appeared gratified beyond all expression by this reply,
and took a long draught himself, steadfastly regarding his companion
while he did so. These matters disposed of, he applied himself to
teaching her the game, which she soon learnt tolerably well, being both
sharp-witted and cunning.

"Now," said Mr. Swiveller, putting two sixpences into a saucer, and
trimming the wretched candle, when the cards had been cut and dealt,
"those are the stakes. If you win, you get 'em all. If I win, I get 'em.
To make it seem more real and pleasant, I shall call you the
Marchioness, do you hear?"

The small servant nodded.

"Marchioness," as the reader knows, is a title to a lady of very high
rank, and such Mr. Swiveller chose to imagine this small servant to be.

"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, took another pull at the jug and waited for
her to lead in the game.

Mr. Swiveller and his partner played several rubbers with varying
success, until the loss of three sixpences, the gradual sinking of the
purl, and the striking of ten o'clock, combined to render that gentleman
mindful of the flight of time, and the wisdom 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 from the presence when I have finished this glass; merely
observing, Marchioness, that since life like a river is flowing, I care
not how fast it rolls on, ma'am, on, while such purl on the bank still
is growing, and such eyes light the waves as they run. Marchioness, your
health! You will excuse my wearing my hat but the palace is damp, and
the marble floor is--if I may be allowed the expression--sloppy."

As a protection against this latter inconvenience Mr. Swiveller had been
sitting for some time with his feet on the hob, in which attitude he now
gave utterance to these apologetic observations, and slowly sipped the
last choice drops of nectar.

"The Baron Sampsono Brasso and his fair sister are (you tell me) at the
Play?" said Mr. Swiveller, leaning his left arm heavily upon the table,
and raising his voice and his right leg after the manner of a bandit in
the theater.

The Marchioness nodded.

"Ha!" said Mr. Swiveller with a portentous frown. "'Tis well,
Marchioness!--but no matter. Some wine there. Ho!" He illustrated these
melodramatic morsels by handing the glass to himself with great
humility, receiving it haughtily, drinking from it thirstily, and
smacking his lips fiercely.

The small servant, who was not so well acquainted with theatrical
customs as Mr. Swiveller (having indeed never seen a play or heard one
spoken of, except by some chance through chinks of doors and in other
forbidden places), was rather alarmed by demonstrations so strange in
their nature, and showed her concern so plainly in her looks that Mr.
Swiveller felt it necessary to change his brigand manner for one more
suitable to private life, as he asked:

"Do they often go where glory waits 'em, and leave you here?"

"Oh, yes; I believe they do," returned the small servant. "Miss Sally's
such a one-er for that, she is."

"Such a what?" said Dick.

"Such a one-er," returned the Marchioness.

After a moment's reflection, Mr. Swiveller determined to forego his
responsible duty of setting her right and to suffer her to talk on, as
it was evident that her tongue was loosened by the purl and her
opportunities for conversation were not so frequent as to render a
momentary check of little consequence.

"They sometimes go to see Mr. Quilp," said the small servant with a
shrewd look; "they go to a good many places, bless you."

"Is Mr. Brass a wunner?" said Dick.

"Not half what Miss Sally is, he isn't," replied the small servant,
shaking her head. "Bless you, he'd never do anything without her."

"Oh! He wouldn't, wouldn't he?" said Dick.

"Miss Sally keeps him in such order," said the small servant; "he always
asks her advice, he does; and he catches it sometimes. Bless you, you
wouldn't believe how much he catches it."

"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.

"Do they speak of me in a friendly manner?" said Mr. Swiveller.

The Marchioness changed the motion of her head, which had not yet left
off nodding, and suddenly began to shake it from side to side so hard as
to threaten breaking her neck.

"Humph!" 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're a funny chap," replied his friend.

"Well, Marchioness," said Mr. Swiveller, "that's not uncomplimentary.
Merriment, Marchioness, is not a bad or 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 ain't to be trusted."

"Why, really, Marchioness," said Mr. Swiveller thoughtfully; "several
ladies and gentlemen--not exactly professional persons, but
tradespeople, ma'am, tradespeople--have made the same remark. The person
who keeps the hotel over the way inclined strongly to that opinion
to-night when I ordered him to prepare the banquet. It's a popular
prejudice, Marchioness; and yet I am sure I don't know why, for I have
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, with a cunning look which seemed to hint that
Mr. Brass held stronger opinions on the subject than his sister; and
seeming to recollect herself, added 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 am your friend, and
I hope we shall play many more rubbers together in the same saloon. But,
Marchioness," added Richard, stopping on his way to the door, and
wheeling slowly round upon the small servant, who was following with the
candle, "it occurs to me that you must be in the constant habit of
airing your eye at keyholes, to know all this."

"I only wanted," replied the trembling Marchioness, "to know where the
key of the 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
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."

With this parting word, Mr. Swiveller came out from the house; and
feeling that he had by this time taken quite as much to drink as
promised to be good for his constitution (purl being a rather strong and
heady compound), wisely resolved to betake himself to his lodgings, and
to bed at once. Homeward he went therefore; and his apartments (for he
still spoke of his one little room as "apartments") being at no great
distance from the office, he was soon seated in his own bed-chamber,
where, having pulled off one boot and forgotten the other, he fell into
deep thought.

"This Marchioness," said Mr. Swiveller, folding his arms, "is a very
extraordinary person--surrounded by mysteries, ignorant of the taste of
beer, unacquainted with her own name (which is less remarkable), and
taking a limited view of society through the keyholes of doors--can
these things be her destiny, or has some unknown person started an
opposition to the decrees of fate? It is a most amazing staggerer!"

When his meditations had attained this satisfactory point, he became
aware of his remaining boot, of which, with great solemnity, he
proceeded to divest himself; shaking his head with exceeding gravity all
the time, and sighing deeply.

"These rubbers," said Mr. Swiveller, putting on his nightcap in exactly
the same style as he wore his hat, "remind me of the matrimonial
fireside. My old girl, Chegg's wife, plays cribbage; all-fours alike.
She rings the changes on 'em now. From sport to sport they hurry her, to
banish her regrets, and when they win a smile from her, they think that
she forgets--but she don't. By this time, I should say," added Richard,
getting his left cheek into profile, and looking complacently at the
reflection of a very little scrap of whisker in the looking-glass; "by
this time, I should say, the iron has entered into her soul. It serves
her right."

Mr. Swiveller, it must be said had been at one time somewhat in love
with a young lady: but she had left his love and married a Mr. Cheggs.

Melting from this stern and harsh into the tender and pathetic mood, Mr.
Swiveller groaned a little, walked wildly up and down, and even made a
show of tearing his hair, which, however, he thought better of, and
wrenched the tassel from his nightcap instead. At last, undressing
himself with a gloomy resolution, he got into bed.

Some men, in his blighted position, would have taken to drinking; but as
Mr. Swiveller had taken to that before, he only took, on receiving the
news that this girl was lost to him forever, to playing the flute;
thinking, after mature consideration, that it was a good, sound, dismal
occupation, not only in unison with his own sad thoughts, but tending to
awaken a fellow-feeling in the bosom, of his neighbors. Following out
this resolution, he now drew a little table to his bedside, and,
arranging the light and a small oblong music-book to the best advantage,
took his flute from its box and began to play most mournfully.

The air was "Away with melancholy"--a composition, which, when it is
played very slowly on the flute in bed, with the farther disadvantage of
being performed by a gentleman not fully acquainted with the instrument,
who repeats one note a great many times before he can find the next, has
not a lively effect. Yet for half the night, or more, Mr. Swiveller,
lying sometimes on his back with his eyes upon the ceiling and sometimes
half out of bed to correct himself by the book, played this unhappy tune
over and over again; never leaving off, save for a minute or two at a
time to take breath and talk to himself about the Marchioness and then
beginning again with renewed vigor. It was not until he had quite
exhausted his several subjects of meditation, and had breathed into the
flute the whole sentiment of the purl down to its very dregs, and had
nearly maddened the people of the house, and at both the next doors, and
over the way--that he shut up the music-book, extinguished the candle,
and, finding himself greatly lightened and relieved in his mind, turned
round and fell asleep.

Dick continued his friendly relations towards the Marchioness, and when
he fell ill with typhoid fever his little friend nursed him back to
health. Just after this illness an aunt of his died and left him quite a
large sum of money, a portion of which he used to educate the
Marchioness, whom he afterwards married.





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