Tossing to and fro upon his hot, uneasy bed; tormented by a fierce thirs_hich nothing could appease; unable to find, in any change of posture, _oment's peace or ease; and rambling, ever, through deserts of thought wher_here was no resting-place, no sight or sound suggestive of refreshment o_epose, nothing but a dull eternal weariness, with no change but the restles_hiftings of his miserable body, and the weary wandering of his mind, constan_till to one ever-present anxiety—to a sense of something left undone, of som_earful obstacle to be surmounted, of some carking care that would not b_riven away, and which haunted the distempered brain, now in this form, now i_hat, always shadowy and dim, but recognisable for the same phantom in ever_hape it took: darkening every vision like an evil conscience, and makin_lumber horrible— in these slow tortures of his dread disease, the unfortunat_ichard lay wasting and consuming inch by inch, until, at last, when he seeme_o fight and struggle to rise up, and to be held down by devils, he sank int_ deep sleep, and dreamed no more.
He awoke. With a sensation of most blissful rest, better than sleep itself, h_egan gradually to remember something of these sufferings, and to think what _ong night it had been, and whether he had not been delirious twice or thrice.
Happening, in the midst of these cogitations, to raise his hand, he wa_stonished to find how heavy it seemed, and yet how thin and light it reall_as. Still, he felt indifferent and happy; and having no curiosity to pursu_he subject, remained in the same waking slumber until his attention wa_ttracted by a cough. This made him doubt whether he had locked his door las_ight, and feel a little surprised at having a companion in the room. Still, he lacked energy to follow up this train of thought; and unconsciously fell, in a luxury of repose, to staring at some green stripes on the bed-furniture, and associating them strangely with patches of fresh turf, while the yello_round between made gravel-walks, and so helped out a long perspective of tri_ardens.
He was rambling in imagination on these terraces, and had quite lost himsel_mong them indeed, when he heard the cough once more. The walks shrunk int_tripes again at the sound, and raising himself a little in the bed, an_olding the curtain open with one hand, he looked out.
The same room certainly, and still by candlelight; but with what unbounde_stonishment did he see all those bottles, and basins, and articles of line_iring by the fire, and such-like furniture of a sick chamber—all very clea_nd neat, but all quite different from anything he had left there, when h_ent to bed! The atmosphere, too, filled with a cool smell of herbs an_inegar; the floor newly sprinkled; the—the what? The Marchioness?
Yes; playing cribbage with herself at the table. There she sat, intent upo_er game, coughing now and then in a subdued manner as if she feared t_isturb him—shuffling the cards, cutting, dealing, playing, counting, pegging—going through all the mysteries of cribbage as if she had been in ful_ractice from her cradle! Mr Swiveller contemplated these things for a shor_ime, and suffering the curtain to fall into its former position, laid hi_ead on the pillow again.
'I'm dreaming,' thought Richard, 'that's clear. When I went to bed, my hand_ere not made of egg-shells; and now I can almost see through 'em. If this i_ot a dream, I have woke up, by mistake, in an Arabian Night, instead of _ondon 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 dreamt such a real cough a_hat before. I don't know, indeed, that I ever dreamt either a cough or _neeze. Perhaps it's part of the philosophy of dreams that one never does.
There's another—and another—I say!—I'm dreaming rather fast!'
For the purpose of testing his real condition, Mr Swiveller, after som_eflection, pinched himself in the arm.
'Queerer still!' he thought. 'I came to bed rather plump than otherwise, an_ow there's nothing to lay hold of. I'll take another survey.'
The result of this additional inspection was, to convince Mr Swiveller tha_he objects by which he was surrounded were real, and that he saw them, beyon_ll question, with his waking eyes.
'It's an Arabian Night; that's what it is,' said Richard. 'I'm in Damascus o_rand Cairo. The Marchioness is a Genie, and having had a wager with anothe_enie about who is the handsomest young man alive, and the worthiest to be th_usband of the Princess of China, has brought me away, room and all, t_ompare us together. Perhaps,' said Mr Swiveller, turning languidly round o_is pillow, and looking on that side of his bed which was next the wall, 'th_rincess may be still—No, she's gone.'
Not feeling quite satisfied with this explanation, as, even taking it to b_he correct one, it still involved a little mystery and doubt, Mr Swivelle_aised the curtain again, determined to take the first favourable opportunit_f addressing his companion. An occasion presented itself. The Marchiones_ealt, turned up a knave, and omitted to take the usual advantage; upon whic_r 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 o_inging the bell. Now for the two thousand black slaves, with jars of jewel_n their heads!'
It appeared, however, that she had only clapped her hands for joy; fo_irectly afterward she began to laugh, and then to cry; declaring, not i_hoice Arabic but in familiar English, that she was 'so glad, she didn't kno_hat to do.'
'Marchioness,' said Mr Swiveller, thoughtfully, 'be pleased to draw nearer.
First of all, will you have the goodness to inform me where I shall find m_oice; and secondly, what has become of my flesh?'
The Marchioness only shook her head mournfully, and cried again; whereupon M_wiveller (being very weak) felt his own eyes affected likewise.
'I begin to infer, from your manner, and these appearances, Marchioness,' sai_ichard after a pause, and smiling with a trembling lip, 'that I have bee_ll.'
'You just have!' replied the small servant, wiping her eyes. 'And haven't yo_een 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.
Thank Heaven you have!'
Mr Swiveller was silent for a long while. By and bye, he began to talk again, inquiring how long he had been there.
'Three weeks to-morrow,' replied the servant.
'Three what?' said Dick.
'Weeks,' returned the Marchioness emphatically; 'three long, slow weeks.'
The bare thought of having been in such extremity, caused Richard to fall int_nother silence, and to lie flat down again, at his full length. Th_archioness, having arranged the bed-clothes more comfortably, and felt tha_is hands and forehead were quite cool— a discovery that filled her wit_elight—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, ver_uch astonished to see how thoroughly at home she made herself, an_ttributing this attention, in its origin, to Sally Brass, whom, in his ow_ind, he could not thank enough. When the Marchioness had finished he_oasting, she spread a clean cloth on a tray, and brought him some cris_lices and a great basin of weak tea, with which (she said) the doctor ha_eft word he might refresh himself when he awoke. She propped him up wit_illows, if not as skilfully as if she had been a professional nurse all he_ife, at least as tenderly; and looked on with unutterable satisfaction whil_he patient—stopping every now and then to shake her by the hand—took his poo_eal with an appetite and relish, which the greatest dainties of the earth, under any other circumstances, would have failed to provoke. Having cleare_way, and disposed everything comfortably about him again, she sat down at th_able to take her own tea.
'Marchioness,' said Mr Swiveller, 'how's Sally?'
The small servant screwed her face into an expression of the very uttermos_ntanglement of slyness, and shook her head.
'What, haven't you seen her lately?' said Dick.
'Seen her!' cried the small servant. 'Bless you, I've run away!'
Mr Swiveller immediately laid himself down again quite flat, and so remaine_or about five minutes. By slow degrees he resumed his sitting posture afte_hat lapse of time, and inquired:
'And where do you live, Marchioness?'
'Live!' cried the small servant. 'Here!'
'Oh!' said Mr Swiveller.
And with that he fell down flat again, as suddenly as if he had been shot.
Thus he remained, motionless and bereft of speech, until she had finished he_eal, put everything in its place, and swept the hearth; when he motioned he_o bring a chair to the bedside, and, being propped up again, opened a farthe_onversation.
'And so,' said Dick, 'you have run away?'
'Yes,' said the Marchioness, 'and they've been a tizing of me.'
'Been—I beg your pardon,' said Dick—'what have they been doing?'
'Been a tizing of me—tizing you know—in the newspapers,' rejoined th_archioness.
'Aye, aye,' said Dick, 'advertising?'
The small servant nodded, and winked. Her eyes were so red with waking an_rying, that the Tragic Muse might have winked with greater consistency. An_o Dick felt.
'Tell me,' said he, 'how it was that you thought of coming here.'
'Why, you see,' returned the Marchioness, 'when you was gone, I hadn't an_riend at all, because the lodger he never come back, and I didn't know wher_ither him or you was to be found, you know. But one morning, when I was-'
'Was near a keyhole?' suggested Mr Swiveller, observing that she faltered.
'Well then,' said the small servant, nodding; 'when I was near the offic_eyhole—as you see me through, you know—I heard somebody saying that she live_ere, and was the lady whose house you lodged at, and that you was took ver_ad, and wouldn't nobody come and take care of you. Mr Brass, he says, "It'_o 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, and slammed the doo_o, when she went out, I can tell you. So I run away that night, and com_ere, and told 'em you was my brother, and they believed me, and I've bee_ere ever since.'
'This poor little Marchioness has been wearing herself to death!' cried Dick.
'No I haven't,' she returned, 'not a bit of it. Don't you mind about me. _ike 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 yo_ould have heard how you used to keep on singing and making speeches, yo_ouldn'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. _trongly suspect I should have died, Marchioness, but for you.'
At this point, Mr Swiveller took the small servant's hand in his again, an_eing, as we have seen, but poorly, might in struggling to express his thank_ave made his eyes as red as hers, but that she quickly changed the theme b_aking him lie down, and urging him to keep very quiet.
'The doctor,' she told him, 'said you was to be kept quite still, and ther_as to be no noise nor nothing. Now, take a rest, and then we'll talk again.
I'll sit by you, you know. If you shut your eyes, perhaps you'll go to sleep.
You'll be all the better for it, if you do.'
The Marchioness, in saying these words, brought a little table to the bedside, took her seat at it, and began to work away at the concoction of some coolin_rink, with the address of a score of chemists. Richard Swiveller being indee_atigued, fell into a slumber, and waking in about half an hour, inquired wha_ime it was.
'Just gone half after six,' replied his small friend, helping him to sit u_gain.
'Marchioness,' said Richard, passing his hand over his forehead and turnin_uddenly round, as though the subject but that moment flashed upon him, 'wha_as become of Kit?'
He had been sentenced to transportation for a great many years, she said.
'Has he gone?' asked Dick—'his mother—how is she,—what has become of her?'
His nurse shook her head, and answered that she knew nothing about them. 'But, if I thought,' said she, very slowly, 'that you'd keep quiet, and not pu_ourself into another fever, I could tell you— but I won't now.'
'Yes, do,' said Dick. 'It will amuse me.'
'Oh! would it though!' rejoined the small servant, with a horrified look. '_now better than that. Wait till you're better and then I'll tell you.'
Dick looked very earnestly at his little friend: and his eyes, being large an_ollow from illness, assisted the expression so much, that she was quit_rightened, and besought him not to think any more about it. What had alread_allen from her, however, had not only piqued his curiosity, but seriousl_larmed him, wherefore he urged her to tell him the worst at once.
'Oh there's no worst in it,' said the small servant. 'It hasn't anything to d_ith you.'
'Has it anything to do with—is it anything you heard through chinks o_eyholes—and that you were not intended to hear?' asked Dick, in a breathles_tate.
'Yes,' replied the small servant.
'In—in Bevis Marks?' pursued Dick hastily. 'Conversations between Brass an_ally?'
'Yes,' cried the small servant again.
Richard Swiveller thrust his lank arm out of bed, and, gripping her by th_rist and drawing her close to him, bade her out with it, and freely too, o_e would not answer for the consequences; being wholly unable to endure th_tate of excitement and expectation. She, seeing that he was greatly agitated, and that the effects of postponing her revelation might be much more injuriou_han any that were likely to ensue from its being made at once, promise_ompliance, on condition that the patient kept himself perfectly quiet, an_bstained from starting up or tossing about.
'But if you begin to do that,' said the small servant, 'I'll leave off. And s_ tell you.'
'You can't leave off, till you have gone on,' said Dick. 'And do go on, there's a darling. Speak, sister, speak. Pretty Polly say. Oh tell me when, and tell me where, pray Marchioness, I beseech you!'
Unable to resist these fervent adjurations, which Richard Swiveller poured ou_s passionately as if they had been of the most solemn and tremendous nature, his companion spoke thus:
'Well! Before I run away, I used to sleep in the kitchen—where we playe_ards, you know. Miss Sally used to keep the key of the kitchen door in he_ocket, and she always come down at night to take away the candle and rake ou_he fire. When she had done that, she left me to go to bed in the dark, locke_he door on the outside, put the key in her pocket again, and kept me locke_p till she come down in the morning—very early I can tell you—and let me out.
I was terrible afraid of being kept like this, because if there was a fire, _hought they might forget me and only take care of themselves you know. So, whenever I see an old rusty key anywhere, I picked it up and tried if it woul_it the door, and at last I found in the dust cellar a key that did fit it.'
Here, Mr Swiveller made a violent demonstration with his legs. But the smal_ervant immediately pausing in her talk, he subsided again, and pleading _omentary forgetfulness of their compact, entreated her to proceed.
'They kept me very short,' said the small servant. 'Oh! you can't think ho_hort they kept me! 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 that you'd lef_n the office, or even pieces of orange peel to put into cold water and mak_elieve it was wine. Did you ever taste orange peel and water?'
Mr Swiveller replied that he had never tasted that ardent liquor; and onc_ore urged his friend to resume the thread of her narrative.
'If you make believe very much, it's quite nice,' said the small servant, 'bu_f you don't, you know, it seems as if it would bear a little more seasoning, certainly. Well, sometimes I used to come out after they'd gone to bed, an_ometimes before, you know; and one or two nights before there was all tha_recious noise in the office—when the young man was took, I mean—I com_pstairs while Mr Brass and Miss Sally was a-sittin' at the office fire; and _ell you the truth, that I come to listen again, about the key of the safe.'
Mr Swiveller gathered up his knees so as to make a great cone of th_edclothes, and conveyed into his countenance an expression of the utmos_oncern. But the small servant pausing, and holding up her finger, the con_ently disappeared, though the look of concern did not.
'There was him and her,' said the small servant, 'a-sittin' by the fire, an_alking softly together. Mr Brass says to Miss Sally, "Upon my word," he says
"it's a dangerous thing, and it might get us into a world of trouble, and _on't half like it." She says— you know her way—she says, "You're th_hickenest-hearted, feeblest, faintest man I ever see, and I think," she says,
"that I ought to have been the brother, and you the sister. Isn't Quilp," sh_ays, "our principal support?" "He certainly is," says Mr Brass, "And an'_e," she says, "constantly ruining somebody or other in the way of business?"
"We certainly are," says Mr Brass. "Then does it signify," she says, "abou_uining this Kit when Quilp desires it?" "It certainly does not signify," say_r Brass. Then they whispered and laughed for a long time about there being n_anger if it was well done, and then Mr Brass pulls out his pocket-book, an_ays, "Well," he says, 'here it is—Quilp's own five-pound note. We'll agre_hat way, then," he says. "Kit's coming to-morrow morning, I know. While he'_p-stairs, you'll get out of the way, and I'll clear off Mr Richard. Havin_it alone, I'll hold him in conversation, and put this property in his hat.
I'll manage so, besides," he says, 'that Mr Richard shall find it there, an_e the evidence. And if that don't get Christopher out of Mr Quilp's way, an_atisfy Mr Quilp's grudges," he says, "the Devil's in it." Miss Sally laughed, and said that was the plan, and as they seemed to be moving away, and I wa_fraid to stop any longer, I went down-stairs again.—There!'
The small servant had gradually worked herself into as much agitation as M_wiveller, and therefore made no effort to restrain him when he sat up in be_nd hastily demanded whether this story had been told to anybody.
'How could it be?' replied his nurse. 'I was almost afraid to think about it, and hoped the young man would be let off. When I heard 'em say they had foun_im guilty of what he didn't do, you was gone, and so was the lodger—though _hink I should have been frightened to tell him, even if he'd been there. Eve_ince I come here, you've been out of your senses, and what would have bee_he good of telling you then?'
'Marchioness,' said Mr Swiveller, plucking off his nightcap and flinging it t_he other end of the room; 'if you'll do me the favour to retire for a fe_inutes 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, looking round the room. 'Whereabouts are m_lothes?'
'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 ordere_or you. But don't take on about that,' urged the Marchioness, as Dick fel_ack upon his pillow. 'You're too weak to stand, indeed.'
'I am afraid,' said Richard dolefully, 'that you're right. What ought I to do!
what is to be done!'
It naturally occurred to him on very little reflection, that the first step t_ake would be to communicate with one of the Mr Garlands instantly. It wa_ery possible that Mr Abel had not yet left the office. In as little time a_t takes to tell it, the small servant had the address in pencil on a piece o_aper; a verbal description of father and son, which would enable her t_ecognise either, without difficulty; and a special caution to be shy of M_huckster, in consequence of that gentleman's known antipathy to Kit. Arme_ith these slender powers, she hurried away, commissioned to bring either ol_r Garland or Mr Abel, bodily, to that apartment.
'I suppose,' said Dick, as she closed the door slowly, and peeped into th_oom again, to make sure that he was comfortable, 'I suppose there's nothin_eft—not so much as a waistcoat even?'
'It's embarrassing,' said Mr Swiveller, 'in case of fire—even an umbrell_ould be something—but you did quite right, dear Marchioness. I should hav_ied without you!'