As the course of this tale requires that we should become acquainted, somewhere hereabouts, with a few particulars connected with the domesti_conomy of Mr Sampson Brass, and as a more convenient place than the presen_s not likely to occur for that purpose, the historian takes the friendl_eader by the hand, and springing with him into the air, and cleaving the sam_t a greater rate than ever Don Cleophas Leandro Perez Zambullo and hi_amiliar travelled through that pleasant region in company, alights with hi_pon the pavement of Bevis Marks.
The intrepid aeronauts alight before a small dark house, once the residence o_r Sampson Brass.
In the parlour window of this little habitation, which is so close upon th_ootway that the passenger who takes the wall brushes the dim glass with hi_oat sleeve—much to its improvement, for it is very dirty—in this parlou_indow in the days of its occupation by Sampson Brass, there hung, all awr_nd slack, and discoloured by the sun, a curtain of faded green, so threadbar_rom long service as by no means to intercept the view of the little dar_oom, but rather to afford a favourable medium through which to observe i_ccurately. There was not much to look at. A rickety table, with spare bundle_f papers, yellow and ragged from long carriage in the pocket, ostentatiousl_isplayed upon its top; a couple of stools set face to face on opposite side_f this crazy piece of furniture; a treacherous old chair by the fire-place, whose withered arms had hugged full many a client and helped to squeeze hi_ry; a second-hand wig box, used as a depository for blank writs an_eclarations and other small forms of law, once the sole contents of the hea_hich belonged to the wig which belonged to the box, as they were now of th_ox itself; two or three common books of practice; a jar of ink, a pounce box, a stunted hearth-broom, a carpet trodden to shreds but still clinging with th_ightness of desperation to its tacks—these, with the yellow wainscot of th_alls, the smoke-discoloured ceiling, the dust and cobwebs, were among th_ost prominent decorations of the office of Mr Sampson Brass.
But this was mere still-life, of no greater importance than the plate, 'BRASS, Solicitor,' upon the door, and the bill, 'First floor to let to a singl_entleman,' which was tied to the knocker. The office commonly held tw_xamples of animated nature, more to the purpose of this history, and in who_t has a stronger interest and more particular concern.
Of these, one was Mr Brass himself, who has already appeared in these pages.
The other was his clerk, assistant, housekeeper, secretary, confidentia_lotter, adviser, intriguer, and bill of cost increaser, Miss Brass—a kind o_mazon at common law, of whom it may be desirable to offer a brie_escription.
Miss Sally Brass, then, was a lady of thirty-five or thereabouts, of a gaun_nd bony figure, and a resolute bearing, which if it repressed the softe_motions of love, and kept admirers at a distance, certainly inspired _eeling akin to awe in the breasts of those male strangers who had th_appiness to approach her. In face she bore a striking resemblance to he_rother, Sampson—so exact, indeed, was the likeness between them, that had i_onsorted with Miss Brass's maiden modesty and gentle womanhood to hav_ssumed her brother's clothes in a frolic and sat down beside him, it woul_ave been difficult for the oldest friend of the family to determine which wa_ampson and which Sally, especially as the lady carried upon her upper li_ertain reddish demonstrations, which, if the imagination had been assisted b_er attire, might have been mistaken for a beard. These were, however, in al_robability, nothing more than eyelashes in a wrong place, as the eyes of Mis_rass were quite free from any such natural impertinencies. In complexion Mis_rass was sallow—rather a dirty sallow, so to speak—but this hue was agreeabl_elieved by the healthy glow which mantled in the extreme tip of her laughin_ose. Her voice was exceedingly impressive—deep and rich in quality, and, onc_eard, not easily forgotten. Her usual dress was a green gown, in colour no_nlike the curtain of the office window, made tight to the figure, an_erminating at the throat, where it was fastened behind by a peculiarly larg_nd massive button. Feeling, no doubt, that simplicity and plainness are th_oul of elegance, Miss Brass wore no collar or kerchief except upon her head, which was invariably ornamented with a brown gauze scarf, like the wing of th_abled vampire, and which, twisted into any form that happened to sugges_tself, formed an easy and graceful head-dress.
Such was Miss Brass in person. In mind, she was of a strong and vigorous turn, having from her earliest youth devoted herself with uncommon ardour to th_tudy of law; not wasting her speculations upon its eagle flights, which ar_are, but tracing it attentively through all the slippery and eel-lik_rawlings in which it commonly pursues its way. Nor had she, like many person_f great intellect, confined herself to theory, or stopped short wher_ractical usefulness begins; inasmuch as she could ingross, fair-copy, fill u_rinted forms with perfect accuracy, and, in short, transact any ordinary dut_f the office down to pouncing a skin of parchment or mending a pen. It i_ifficult to understand how, possessed of these combined attractions, sh_hould remain Miss Brass; but whether she had steeled her heart agains_ankind, or whether those who might have wooed and won her, were deterred b_ears that, being learned in the law, she might have too near her fingers'
ends those particular statutes which regulate what are familiarly terme_ctions for breach, certain it is that she was still in a state of celibacy, and still in daily occupation of her old stool opposite to that of her brothe_ampson. And equally certain it is, by the way, that between these two stool_ great many people had come to the ground.
One morning Mr Sampson Brass sat upon his stool copying some legal process, and viciously digging his pen deep into the paper, as if he were writing upo_he very heart of the party against whom it was directed; and Miss Sally Bras_at upon her stool making a new pen preparatory to drawing out a little bill, which was her favourite occupation; and so they sat in silence for a lon_ime, until Miss Brass broke silence.
'Have you nearly done, Sammy?' said Miss Brass; for in her mild and feminin_ips, Sampson became Sammy, and all things were softened down.
'No,' returned her brother. 'It would have been all done though, if you ha_elped at the right time.'
'Oh yes, indeed,' cried Miss Sally; 'you want my help, don't you? — YOU, too, that are going to keep a clerk!'
'Am I going to keep a clerk for my own pleasure, or because of my own wish, you provoking rascal!' said Mr Brass, putting his pen in his mouth, an_rinning spitefully at his sister. 'What do you taunt me about going to keep _lerk for?'
It may be observed in this place, lest the fact of Mr Brass calling a lady _ascal, should occasion any wonderment or surprise, that he was so habituate_o having her near him in a man's capacity, that he had gradually accustome_imself to talk to her as though she were really a man. And this feeling wa_o perfectly reciprocal, that not only did Mr Brass often call Miss Brass _ascal, or even put an adjective before the rascal, but Miss Brass looked upo_t as quite a matter of course, and was as little moved as any other lad_ould be by being called an angel.
'What do you taunt me, after three hours' talk last night, with going to kee_ clerk for?' repeated Mr Brass, grinning again with the pen in his mouth, like some nobleman's or gentleman's crest. Is it my fault?'
'All I know is,' said Miss Sally, smiling drily, for she delighted in nothin_o much as irritating her brother, 'that if every one of your clients is t_orce us to keep a clerk, whether we want to or not, you had better leave of_usiness, strike yourself off the roll, and get taken in execution, as soon a_ou can.'
'Have we got any other client like him?' said Brass. 'Have we got anothe_lient like him now—will you answer me that?'
'Do you mean in the face!' said his sister.
'Do I mean in the face!' sneered Sampson Brass, reaching over to take up th_ill-book, and fluttering its leaves rapidly. 'Look here—Daniel Quilp, Esquire—Daniel Quilp, Esquire—Daniel Quilp, Esquire—all through. Whethe_hould I take a clerk that he recommends, and says, "this is the man for you,"
or lose all this, eh?'
Miss Sally deigned to make no reply, but smiled again, and went on with he_ork.
'But I know what it is,' resumed Brass after a short silence. 'You're afrai_ou won't have as long a finger in the business as you've been used to have.
Do you think I don't see through that?'
'The business wouldn't go on very long, I expect, without me,' returned hi_ister composedly. 'Don't you be a fool and provoke me, Sammy, but mind wha_ou're doing, and do it.'
Sampson Brass, who was at heart in great fear of his sister, sulkily bent ove_is writing again, and listened as she said:
'If I determined that the clerk ought not to come, of course he wouldn't b_llowed to come. You know that well enough, so don't talk nonsense.'
Mr Brass received this observation with increased meekness, merely remarking, under his breath, that he didn't like that kind of joking, and that Miss Sall_ould be 'a much better fellow' if she forbore to aggravate him. To thi_ompliment Miss Sally replied, that she had a relish for the amusement, an_ad no intention to forego its gratification. Mr Brass not caring, as i_eemed, to pursue the subject any further, they both plied their pens at _reat pace, and there the discussion ended.
While they were thus employed, the window was suddenly darkened, as by som_erson standing close against it. As Mr Brass and Miss Sally looked up t_scertain the cause, the top sash was nimbly lowered from without, and Quil_hrust in his head.
'Hallo!' he said, standing on tip-toe on the window-sill, and looking dow_nto the room. 'is there anybody at home? Is there any of the Devil's war_ere? Is Brass at a premium, eh?'
'Ha, ha, ha!' laughed the lawyer in an affected ecstasy. 'Oh, very good, Sir!
Oh, very good indeed! Quite eccentric! Dear me, what humour he has!'
'Is that my Sally?' croaked the dwarf, ogling the fair Miss Brass. 'Is i_ustice with the bandage off her eyes, and without the sword and scales? Is i_he Strong Arm of the Law? Is it the Virgin of Bevis?'
'What an amazing flow of spirits!' cried Brass. 'Upon my word, it's quit_xtraordinary!'
'Open the door,' said Quilp, 'I've got him here. Such a clerk for you, Brass, such a prize, such an ace of trumps. Be quick and open the door, or if there'_nother lawyer near and he should happen to look out of window, he'll snap hi_p before your eyes, he will.'
It is probable that the loss of the phoenix of clerks, even to a riva_ractitioner, would not have broken Mr Brass's heart; but, pretending grea_lacrity, he rose from his seat, and going to the door, returned, introducin_is client, who led by the hand no less a person than Mr Richard Swiveller.
'There she is,' said Quilp, stopping short at the door, and wrinkling up hi_yebrows as he looked towards Miss Sally; 'there is the woman I ought to hav_arried—there is the beautiful Sarah— there is the female who has all th_harms of her sex and none of their weaknesses. Oh Sally, Sally!'
To this amorous address Miss Brass briefly responded 'Bother!'
'Hard-hearted as the metal from which she takes her name,' said Quilp. 'Wh_on't she change it—melt down the brass, and take another name?'
'Hold your nonsense, Mr Quilp, do,' returned Miss Sally, with a grim smile. '_onder you're not ashamed of yourself before a strange young man.'
'The strange young man,' said Quilp, handing Dick Swiveller forward, 'is to_usceptible himself not to understand me well. This is Mr Swiveller, m_ntimate friend—a gentleman of good family and great expectations, but who, having rather involved himself by youthful indiscretion, is content for a tim_o fill the humble station of a clerk—humble, but here most enviable. What _elicious atmosphere!'
If Mr Quilp spoke figuratively, and meant to imply that the air breathed b_iss Sally Brass was sweetened and rarefied by that dainty creature, he ha_oubtless good reason for what he said. But if he spoke of the delights of th_tmosphere of Mr Brass's office in a literal sense, he had certainly _eculiar taste, as it was of a close and earthy kind, and, besides bein_requently impregnated with strong whiffs of the second-hand wearing appare_xposed for sale in Duke's Place and Houndsditch, had a decided flavour o_ats and mice, and a taint of mouldiness. Perhaps some doubts of its pur_elight presented themselves to Mr Swiveller, as he gave vent to one or tw_hort abrupt sniffs, and looked incredulously at the grinning dwarf.
'Mr Swiveller,' said Quilp, 'being pretty well accustomed to the agricultura_ursuits of sowing wild oats, Miss Sally, prudently considers that half a loa_s better than no bread. To be out of harm's way he prudently thinks i_omething too, and therefore he accepts your brother's offer. Brass, M_wiveller is yours.'
'I am very glad, Sir,' said Mr Brass, 'very glad indeed. Mr Swiveller, Sir, i_ortunate enough to have your friendship. You may be very proud, Sir, to hav_he friendship of Mr Quilp.'
Dick murmured something about never wanting a friend or a bottle to give him, and also gasped forth his favourite allusion to the wing of friendship and it_ever moulting a feather; but his faculties appeared to be absorbed in th_ontemplation of Miss Sally Brass, at whom he stared with blank and ruefu_ooks, which delighted the watchful dwarf beyond measure. As to the divin_iss Sally herself, she rubbed her hands as men of business do, and took a fe_urns up and down the office with her pen behind her ear.
'I suppose,' said the dwarf, turning briskly to his legal friend, 'that M_wiveller enters upon his duties at once? It's Monday morning.'
'At once, if you please, Sir, by all means,' returned Brass.
'Miss Sally will teach him law, the delightful study of the law,' said Quilp;
'she'll be his guide, his friend, his companion, his Blackstone, his Coke upo_ittleton, his Young Lawyer's Best Companion.'
'He is exceedingly eloquent,' said Brass, like a man abstracted, and lookin_t the roofs of the opposite houses, with his hands in his pockets; 'he has a_xtraordinary flow of language. Beautiful, really.'
'With Miss Sally,' Quilp went on, 'and the beautiful fictions of the law, hi_ays will pass like minutes. Those charming creations of the poet, John Do_nd Richard Roe, when they first dawn upon him, will open a new world for th_nlargement of his mind and the improvement of his heart.'
'Where will Mr Swiveller sit?' said Quilp, looking round.
'Why, we'll buy another stool, sir,' returned Brass. 'We hadn't any thought_f having a gentleman with us, sir, until you were kind enough to suggest it, and our accommodation's not extensive. We'll look about for a second-han_tool, sir. In the meantime, if Mr Swiveller will take my seat, and try hi_and at a fair copy of this ejectment, as I shall be out pretty well all th_orning—'
'Walk with me,' said Quilp. 'I have a word or two to say to you on points o_usiness. Can you spare the time?'
'Can I spare the time to walk with you, sir? You're joking, sir, you're jokin_ith me,' replied the lawyer, putting on his hat. 'I'm ready, sir, quit_eady. My time must be fully occupied indeed, sir, not to leave me time t_alk with you. It's not everybody, sir, who has an opportunity of improvin_imself by the conversation of Mr Quilp.'
The dwarf glanced sarcastically at his brazen friend, and, with a short dr_ough, turned upon his heel to bid adieu to Miss Sally. After a very gallan_arting on his side, and a very cool and gentlemanly sort of one on hers, h_odded to Dick Swiveller, and withdrew with the attorney.
Dick stood at the desk in a state of utter stupefaction, staring with all hi_ight at the beauteous Sally, as if she had been some curious animal whos_ike had never lived. When the dwarf got into the street, he mounted agai_pon the window-sill, and looked into the office for a moment with a grinnin_ace, as a man might peep into a cage. Dick glanced upward at him, but withou_ny token of recognition; and long after he had disappeared, still stoo_azing upon Miss Sally Brass, seeing or thinking of nothing else, and roote_o the spot.
Miss Brass being by this time deep in the bill of costs, took no notic_hatever of Dick, but went scratching on, with a noisy pen, scoring down th_igures with evident delight, and working like a steam-engine. There stoo_ick, gazing now at the green gown, now at the brown head-dress, now at th_ace, and now at the rapid pen, in a state of stupid perplexity, wondering ho_e got into the company of that strange monster, and whether it was a drea_nd he would ever wake. At last he heaved a deep sigh, and began slowl_ulling off his coat.
Mr Swiveller pulled off his coat, and folded it up with great elaboration, staring at Miss Sally all the time; then put on a blue jacket with a doubl_ow of gilt buttons, which he had originally ordered for aquatic expeditions, but had brought with him that morning for office purposes; and, still keepin_is eye upon her, suffered himself to drop down silently upon Mr Brass'_tool. Then he underwent a relapse, and becoming powerless again, rested hi_hin upon his hand, and opened his eyes so wide, that it appeared quite out o_he question that he could ever close them any more.
When he had looked so long that he could see nothing, Dick took his eyes of_he fair object of his amazement, turned over the leaves of the draft he wa_o copy, dipped his pen into the inkstand, and at last, and by slo_pproaches, began to write. But he had not written half-a-dozen words when, reaching over to the inkstand to take a fresh dip, he happened to raise hi_yes. There was the intolerable brown head-dress—there was the gree_own—there, in short, was Miss Sally Brass, arrayed in all her charms, an_ore tremendous than ever.
This happened so often, that Mr Swiveller by degrees began to feel strang_nfluences creeping over him—horrible desires to annihilate this Sall_rass—mysterious promptings to knock her head-dress off and try how she looke_ithout it. There was a very large ruler on the table; a large, black, shinin_uler. Mr Swiveller took it up and began to rub his nose with it.
From rubbing his nose with the ruler, to poising it in his hand and giving i_n occasional flourish after the tomahawk manner, the transition was easy an_atural. In some of these flourishes it went close to Miss Sally's head; th_agged edges of the head- dress fluttered with the wind it raised; advance i_ut an inch, and that great brown knot was on the ground: yet still th_nconscious maiden worked away, and never raised her eyes.
Well, this was a great relief. It was a good thing to write doggedly an_bstinately until he was desperate, and then snatch up the ruler and whirl i_bout the brown head-dress with the consciousness that he could have it off i_e liked. It was a good thing to draw it back, and rub his nose very hard wit_t, if he thought Miss Sally was going to look up, and to recompense himsel_ith more hardy flourishes when he found she was still absorbed. By thes_eans Mr Swiveller calmed the agitation of his feelings, until hi_pplications to the ruler became less fierce and frequent, and he could eve_rite as many as half-a-dozen consecutive lines without having recourse t_t—which was a great victory.