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A short story by Kate Dickinson Sweetser

The Marchioness

Title:     The Marchioness
Author: Kate Dickinson Sweetser [More Titles by Sweetser]

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?"

"No, nothing."

"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 end]
Kate Dickinson Sweetser's short story: Marchioness