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The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

Part 13 out of 13

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that--never while I have life. I have no relative or friend but
her--I never had--I never will have. She is all in all to me.
It is too late to part us now.'

Waving them off with his hand, and calling softly to her as he
went, he stole into the room. They who were left behind, drew
close together, and after a few whispered words--not unbroken by
emotion, or easily uttered--followed him. They moved so gently,
that their footsteps made no noise; but there were sobs from among
the group, and sounds of grief and mourning.

For she was dead. There, upon her little bed, she lay at rest.
The solemn stillness was no marvel now.

She was dead. No sleep so beautiful and calm, so free from trace
of pain, so fair to look upon. She seemed a creature fresh from
the hand of God, and waiting for the breath of life; not one who
had lived and suffered death.

Her couch was dressed with here and there some winter berries and
green leaves, gathered in a spot she had been used to favour.
'When I die, put near me something that has loved the light, and
had the sky above it always.' Those were her words.

She was dead. Dear, gentle, patient, noble Nell was dead. Her
little bird--a poor slight thing the pressure of a finger would
have crushed--was stirring nimbly in its cage; and the strong
heart of its child mistress was mute and motionless for ever.

Where were the traces of her early cares, her sufferings, and
fatigues? All gone. Sorrow was dead indeed in her, but peace and
perfect happiness were born; imaged in her tranquil beauty and
profound repose.

And still her former self lay there, unaltered in this change.
Yes. The old fireside had smiled upon that same sweet face; it had
passed, like a dream, through haunts of misery and care; at the
door of the poor schoolmaster on the summer evening, before the
furnace fire upon the cold wet night, at the still bedside of the
dying boy, there had been the same mild lovely look. So shall we
know the angels in their majesty, after death.

The old man held one languid arm in his, and had the small hand
tight folded to his breast, for warmth. It was the hand she had
stretched out to him with her last smile--the hand that had led
him on, through all their wanderings. Ever and anon he pressed it
to his lips; then hugged it to his breast again, murmuring that it
was warmer now; and, as he said it, he looked, in agony, to those
who stood around, as if imploring them to help her.

She was dead, and past all help, or need of it. The ancient rooms
she had seemed to fill with life, even while her own was waning
fast--the garden she had tended--the eyes she had gladdened--the
noiseless haunts of many a thoughtful hour--the paths she had
trodden as it were but yesterday--could know her never more.

'It is not,' said the schoolmaster, as he bent down to kiss her on
the cheek, and gave his tears free vent, 'it is not on earth that
Heaven's justice ends. Think what earth is, compared with the
World to which her young spirit has winged its early flight; and
say, if one deliberate wish expressed in solemn terms above this
bed could call her back to life, which of us would utter it!'

CHAPTER 72

When morning came, and they could speak more calmly on the subject
of their grief, they heard how her life had closed.

She had been dead two days. They were all about her at the time,
knowing that the end was drawing on. She died soon after daybreak.
They had read and talked to her in the earlier portion of the
night, but as the hours crept on, she sunk to sleep. They could
tell, by what she faintly uttered in her dreams, that they were of
her journeyings with the old man; they were of no painful scenes,
but of people who had helped and used them kindly, for she often
said 'God bless you!' with great fervour. Waking, she never
wandered in her mind but once, and that was of beautiful music
which she said was in the air. God knows. It may have been.

Opening her eyes at last, from a very quiet sleep, she begged that
they would kiss her once again. That done, she turned to the old
man with a lovely smile upon her face--such, they said, as they
had never seen, and never could forget--and clung with both her
arms about his neck. They did not know that she was dead, at
first.

She had spoken very often of the two sisters, who, she said, were
like dear friends to her. She wished they could be told how much
she thought about them, and how she had watched them as they walked
together, by the river side at night. She would like to see poor
Kit, she had often said of late. She wished there was somebody to
take her love to Kit. And, even then, she never
thought or spoke about him, but with something of her old, clear,
merry laugh.

For the rest, she had never murmured or complained; but with a
quiet mind, and manner quite unaltered--save that she every day
became more earnest and more grateful to them--faded like the
light upon a summer's evening.

The child who had been her little friend came there, almost as soon
as it was day, with an offering of dried flowers which he begged
them to lay upon her breast. It was he who had come to the window
overnight and spoken to the sexton, and they saw in the snow traces
of small feet, where he had been lingering near the room in which
she lay, before he went to bed. He had a fancy, it seemed, that
they had left her there alone; and could not bear the thought.

He told them of his dream again, and that it was of her being
restored to them, just as she used to be. He begged hard to see
her, saying that he would be very quiet, and that they need not
fear his being alarmed, for he had sat alone by his young brother
all day long when he was dead, and had felt glad to be so near him.
They let him have his wish; and indeed he kept his word, and was,
in his childish way, a lesson to them all.

Up to that time, the old man had not spoken once--except to her--
or stirred from the bedside. But, when he saw her little
favourite, he was moved as they had not seen him yet, and made as
though he would have him come nearer. Then, pointing to the bed,
he burst into tears for the first time, and they who stood by,
knowing that the sight of this child had done him good, left them
alone together.

Soothing him with his artless talk of her, the child persuaded him
to take some rest, to walk abroad, to do almost as he desired him.
And when the day came on, which must remove her in her earthly
shape from earthly eyes for ever, he led him away, that he might
not know when she was taken from him.

They were to gather fresh leaves and berries for her bed. It was
Sunday--a bright, clear, wintry afternoon--and as they traversed
the village street, those who were walking in their path drew back
to make way for them, and gave them a softened greeting. Some
shook the old man kindly by the hand, some stood uncovered while he
tottered by, and many cried 'God help him!' as he passed along.

'Neighbour!' said the old man, stopping at the cottage where
his young guide's mother dwelt, 'how is it that the folks are
nearly all in black to-day? I have seen a mourning ribbon or a
piece of crape on almost every one.'

She could not tell, the woman said. 'Why, you yourself--you wear
the colour too?' he said. 'Windows are closed that never used to
be by day. What does this mean?'

Again the woman said she could not tell.

'We must go back,' said the old man, hurriedly. 'We must see what
this is.'

'No, no,' cried the child, detaining him. 'Remember what you
promised. Our way is to the old green lane, where she and I so
often were, and where you found us, more than once, making those
garlands for her garden. Do not turn back!'

'Where is she now?' said the old man. 'Tell me that.'

'Do you not know?' returned the child. 'Did we not leave her, but
just now?'

'True. True. It was her we left--was it?'

He pressed his hand upon his brow, looked vacantly round, and as if
impelled by a sudden thought, crossed the road, and entered the
sexton's house. He and his deaf assistant were sitting before the
fire. Both rose up, on seeing who it was.

The child made a hasty sign to them with his hand. It was the
action of an instant, but that, and the old man's look, were quite
enough.

'Do you--do you bury any one to-day)' he said, eagerly.

'No, no! Who should we bury, Sir?' returned the sexton.

'Aye, who indeed! I say with you, who indeed!'

'It is a holiday with us, good Sir,' returned the sexton mildly.
'We have no work to do to-day.'

'Why then, I'll go where you will,' said the old man, turning to
the child. 'You're sure of what you tell me? You would not
deceive me? I am changed, even in the little time since you last
saw me.'

'Go thy ways with him, Sir,' cried the sexton, 'and Heaven be with
ye both!'

'I am quite ready,' said the old man, meekly. 'Come, boy, come--'
and so submitted to be led away.

And now the bell--the bell she had so often heard, by night and
day, and listened to with solemn pleasure almost as a living voice--
rung its remorseless toll, for her, so young, so beautiful, so
good. Decrepit age, and vigorous life, and blooming youth, and
helpless infancy, poured forth--on crutches, in the pride of
strength and health, in the full blush of promise, in the mere dawn
of life--to gather round her tomb. Old men were there, whose eyes
were dim and senses failing--grandmothers, who might have died ten
years ago, and still been old--the deaf, the blind, the lame, the
palsied, the living dead in many shapes and forms, to see the
closing of that early grave. What was the death it would shut in,
to that which still could crawl and creep above it!

Along the crowded path they bore her now; pure as the newly-fallen
snow that covered it; whose day on earth had been as fleeting.
Under the porch, where she had sat when Heaven in its mercy brought
her to that peaceful spot, she passed again; and the old church
received her in its quiet shade.

They carried her to one old nook, where she had many and many a
time sat musing, and laid their burden softly on the pavement. The
light streamed on it through the coloured window--a window, where
the boughs of trees were ever rustling in the summer, and where the
birds sang sweetly all day long. With every breath of air that
stirred among those branches in the sunshine, some trembling,
changing light, would fall upon her grave.

Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust! Many a young hand
dropped in its little wreath, many a stifled sob was heard. Some--
and they were not a few--knelt down. All were sincere and
truthful in their sorrow.

The service done, the mourners stood apart, and the villagers
closed round to look into the grave before the pavement-stone
should be replaced. One called to mind how he had seen her sitting
on that very spot, and how her book had fallen on her lap, and she
was gazing with a pensive face upon the sky. Another told, how he
had wondered much that one so delicate as she, should be so bold;
how she had never feared to enter the church alone at night, but
had loved to linger there when all was quiet, and even to climb the
tower stair, with no more light than that of the moon rays stealing
through the loopholes in the thick old wall. A whisper went about
among the oldest, that she had seen and talked with angels; and
when they called to mind how she had looked, and spoken, and her
early death, some thought it might be so, indeed. Thus, coming to
the grave in little knots, and glancing down, and giving place to
others, and falling off in whispering groups of three or four, the
church was cleared in time, of all but the sexton and the mourning
friends.

They saw the vault covered, and the stone fixed down. Then, when
the dusk of evening had come on, and not a sound disturbed the
sacred stillness of the place--when the bright moon poured in her
light on tomb and monument, on pillar, wall, and arch, and most of
all (it seemed to them) upon her quiet grave--in that calm time,
when outward things and inward thoughts teem with assurances of
immortality, and worldly hopes and fears are humbled in the dust
before them--then, with tranquil and submissive hearts they turned
away, and left the child with God.

Oh! it is hard to take to heart the lesson that such deaths will
teach, but let no man reject it, for it is one that all must learn,
and is a mighty, universal Truth. When Death strikes down the
innocent and young, for every fragile form from which he lets the
panting spirit free, a hundred virtues rise, in shapes of mercy,
charity, and love, to walk the world, and bless it. Of every tear
that sorrowing mortals shed on such green graves, some good is
born, some gentler nature comes. In the Destroyer's steps there
spring up bright creations that defy his power, and his dark path
becomes a way of light to Heaven.

It was late when the old man came home. The boy had led him to his
own dwelling, under some pretence, on their way back; and, rendered
drowsy by his long ramble and late want of rest, he had sunk into
a deep sleep by the fireside. He was perfectly exhausted, and they
were careful not to rouse him. The slumber held him a long time,
and when he at length awoke the moon was shining.

The younger brother, uneasy at his protracted absence, was watching
at the door for his coming, when he appeared in the pathway with
his little guide. He advanced to meet them, and tenderly obliging
the old man to lean upon his arm, conducted him with slow and
trembling steps towards the house.

He repaired to her chamber, straight. Not finding what he had left
there, he returned with distracted looks to the room in which they
were assembled. From that, he rushed into the schoolmaster's
cottage, calling her name. They followed close upon him, and when
he had vainly searched it, brought him home.

With such persuasive words as pity and affection could suggest,
they prevailed upon him to sit among them and hear what they should
tell him. Then endeavouring by every little artifice to prepare
his mind for what must come, and dwelling with many fervent words
upon the happy lot to which she had been removed, they told him, at
last, the truth. The moment it had passed their lips, he fell down
among them like a murdered man.

For many hours, they had little hope of his surviving; but grief is
strong, and he recovered.

If there be any who have never known the blank that follows death--
the weary void--the sense of desolation that will come upon the
strongest minds, when something familiar and beloved is missed at
every turn--the connection between inanimate and senseless things,
and the object of recollection, when every household god becomes a
monument and every room a grave--if there be any who have not
known this, and proved it by their own experience, they can never
faintly guess how, for many days, the old man pined and moped away
the time, and wandered here and there as seeking something, and had
no comfort.

Whatever power of thought or memory he retained, was all bound up
in her. He never understood, or seemed to care to understand,
about his brother. To every endearment and attention he continued
listless. If they spoke to him on this, or any other theme--save
one--he would hear them patiently for awhile, then turn away, and
go on seeking as before.

On that one theme, which was in his and all their minds, it was
impossible to touch. Dead! He could not hear or bear the word.
The slightest hint of it would throw him into a paroxysm, like that
he had had when it was first spoken. In what hope he lived, no man
could tell; but that he had some hope of finding her again--some
faint and shadowy hope, deferred from day to day, and making him
from day to day more sick and sore at heart--was plain to all.

They bethought them of a removal from the scene of this last
sorrow; of trying whether change of place would rouse or cheer him.
His brother sought the advice of those who were accounted skilful
in such matters, and they came and saw him. Some of the number
staid upon the spot, conversed with him when he would converse, and
watched him as he wandered up and down, alone and silent. Move him
where they might, they said, he would ever seek to get back there.
His mind would run upon that spot. If they confined him closely,
and kept a strict guard upon him, they might hold him prisoner, but
if he could by any means escape, he would surely wander back to
that place, or die upon the road.

The boy, to whom he had submitted at first, had no longer any
influence with him. At times he would suffer the child to walk by
his side, or would even take such notice of his presence as giving
him his hand, or would stop to kiss his cheek, or pat him on the
head. At other times, he would entreat him--not unkindly--to be
gone, and would not brook him near. But, whether alone, or with
this pliant friend, or with those who would have given him, at any
cost or sacrifice, some consolation or some peace of mind, if
happily the means could have been devised; he was at all times the
same--with no love or care for anything in life--a broken-hearted
man.

At length, they found, one day, that he had risen early, and, with
his knapsack on his back, his staff in hand, her own straw hat, and
little basket full of such things as she had been used to carry,
was gone. As they were making ready to pursue him far and wide, a
frightened schoolboy came who had seen him, but a moment before,
sitting in the church--upon her grave, he said.

They hastened there, and going softly to the door, espied him in
the attitude of one who waited patiently. They did not disturb him
then, but kept a watch upon him all that day. When it grew quite
dark, he rose and returned home, and went to bed, murmuring to
himself, 'She will come to-morrow!'

Upon the morrow he was there again from sunrise until night; and
still at night he laid him down to rest, and murmured, 'She will
come to-morrow!'

And thenceforth, every day, and all day long, he waited at her
grave, for her. How many pictures of new journeys over pleasant
country, of resting-places under the free broad sky, of rambles in
the fields and woods, and paths not often trodden--how many tones
of that one well-remembered voice, how many glimpses of the form,
the fluttering dress, the hair that waved so gaily in the wind--
how many visions of what had been, and what he hoped was yet to be--
rose up before him, in the old, dull, silent church! He never
told them what he thought, or where he went. He would sit with
them at night, pondering with a secret satisfaction, they could
see, upon the flight that he and she would take before night came
again; and still they would hear him whisper in his prayers, 'Lord!
Let her come to-morrow!'

The last time was on a genial day in spring. He did not return at
the usual hour, and they went to seek him. He was lying dead upon
the stone.

They laid him by the side of her whom he had loved so well; and, in
the church where they had often prayed, and mused, and lingered
hand in hand, the child and the old man slept together.

CHAPTER 73

The magic reel, which, rolling on before, has led the chronicler
thus far, now slackens in its pace, and stops. It lies before the
goal; the pursuit is at an end.

It remains but to dismiss the leaders of the little crowd who have
borne us company upon the road, and so to close the journey.

Foremost among them, smooth Sampson Brass and Sally, arm in arm,
claim our polite attention.

Mr Sampson, then, being detained, as already has been shown, by the
justice upon whom he called, and being so strongly pressed to
protract his stay that he could by no means refuse, remained under
his protection for a considerable time, during which the great
attention of his entertainer kept him so extremely close, that he
was quite lost to society, and never even went abroad for exercise
saving into a small paved yard. So well, indeed, was his modest
and retiring temper understood by those with whom he had to deal,
and so jealous were they of his absence, that they required a kind
of friendly bond to be entered into by two substantial
housekeepers, in the sum of fifteen hundred pounds a-piece, before
they would suffer him to quit their hospitable roof--doubting, it
appeared, that he would return, if once let loose, on any other
terms. Mr Brass, struck with the humour of this jest, and carrying
out its spirit to the utmost, sought from his wide connection a
pair of friends whose joint possessions fell some halfpence short
of fifteen pence, and proffered them as bail--for that was the
merry word agreed upon both sides. These gentlemen being rejected
after twenty-four hours' pleasantry, Mr Brass consented to remain,
and did remain, until a club of choice spirits called a Grand jury
(who were in the joke) summoned him to a trial before twelve other
wags for perjury and fraud, who in their turn found him guilty with
a most facetious joy,--nay, the very populace entered into the
whim, and when Mr Brass was moving in a hackney-coach towards the
building where these wags assembled, saluted him with rotten eggs
and carcases of kittens, and feigned to wish to tear him into
shreds, which greatly increased the comicality of the thing, and
made him relish it the more, no doubt.

To work this sportive vein still further, Mr Brass, by his
counsel, moved in arrest of judgment that he had been led to
criminate himself, by assurances of safety and promises of pardon,
and claimed the leniency which the law extends to such confiding
natures as are thus deluded. After solemn argument, this point
(with others of a technical nature, whose humorous extravagance it
would be difficult to exaggerate) was referred to the judges for
their decision, Sampson being meantime removed to his former
quarters. Finally, some of the points were given in Sampson's
favour, and some against him; and the upshot was, that, instead of
being desired to travel for a time in foreign parts, he was
permitted to grace the mother country under certain insignificant
restrictions.

These were, that he should, for a term of years, reside in a
spacious mansion where several other gentlemen were lodged and
boarded at the public charge, who went clad in a sober uniform of
grey turned up with yellow, had their hair cut extremely short, and
chiefly lived on gruel and light soup. It was also required of him
that he should partake of their exercise of constantly ascending an
endless flight of stairs; and, lest his legs, unused to such
exertion, should be weakened by it, that he should wear upon one
ankle an amulet or charm of iron. These conditions being arranged,
he was removed one evening to his new abode, and enjoyed, in common
with nine other gentlemen, and two ladies, the privilege of being
taken to his place of retirement in one of Royalty's own carriages.

Over and above these trifling penalties, his name was erased and
blotted out from the roll of attorneys; which erasure has been
always held in these latter times to be a great degradation and
reproach, and to imply the commission of some amazing villany--as
indeed it would seem to be the case, when so many worthless names
remain among its better records, unmolested.

Of Sally Brass, conflicting rumours went abroad. Some said with
confidence that she had gone down to the docks in male attire, and
had become a female sailor; others darkly whispered that she had
enlisted as a private in the second regiment of Foot Guards, and
had been seen in uniform, and on duty, to wit, leaning on her
musket and looking out of a sentry-box in St james's Park, one
evening. There were many such whispers as these in circulation;
but the truth appears to be that, after the lapse of some five
years (during which there is no direct evidence of her having been
seen at all), two wretched people were more than once observed to
crawl at dusk from the inmost recesses of St Giles's, and to take
their way along the streets, with shuffling steps and cowering
shivering forms, looking into the roads and kennels as they went in
search of refuse food or disregarded offal. These forms were never
beheld but in those nights of cold and gloom, when the terrible
spectres, who lie at all other times in the obscene hiding-places
of London, in archways, dark vaults and cellars, venture to creep
into the streets; the embodied spirits of Disease, and Vice, and
Famine. It was whispered by those who should have known, that
these were Sampson and his sister Sally; and to this day, it is
said, they sometimes pass, on bad nights, in the same loathsome
guise, close at the elbow of the shrinking passenger.

The body of Quilp being found--though not until some days had
elapsed--an inquest was held on it near the spot where it had been
washed ashore. The general supposition was that he had committed
suicide, and, this appearing to be favoured by all the
circumstances of his death, the verdict was to that effect. He was
left to be buried with a stake through his heart in the centre of
four lonely roads.

It was rumoured afterwards that this horrible and barbarous
ceremony had been dispensed with, and that the remains had been
secretly given up to Tom Scott. But even here, opinion was
divided; for some said Tom dug them up at midnight, and carried
them to a place indicated to him by the widow. It is probable that
both these stories may have had their origin in the simple fact of
Tom's shedding tears upon the inquest--which he certainly did,
extraordinary as it may appear. He manifested, besides, a strong
desire to assault the jury; and being restrained and conducted out
of court, darkened its only window by standing on his head upon the
sill, until he was dexterously tilted upon his feet again by a
cautious beadle.

Being cast upon the world by his master's death, he determined to
go through it upon his head and hands, and accordingly began to
tumble for his bread. Finding, however, his English birth an
insurmountable obstacle to his advancement in this pursuit
(notwithstanding that his art was in high repute and favour), he
assumed the name of an Italian image lad, with whom he had become
acquainted; and afterwards tumbled with extraordinary success, and
to overflowing audiences. Little Mrs Quilp never quite forgave
herself the one deceit that lay so heavy on her conscience, and
never spoke or thought of it but with bitter tears. Her husband
had no relations, and she was rich. He had made no will, or she
would probably have been poor. Having married the first time at
her mother's instigation, she consulted in her second choice nobody
but herself. It fell upon a smart young fellow enough; and as he
made it a preliminary condition that Mrs Jiniwin should be
thenceforth an out-pensioner, they lived together after marriage
with no more than the average amount of quarrelling, and led a
merry life upon the dead dwarf's money.

Mr and Mrs Garland, and Mr Abel, went out as usual (except that
there was a change in their household, as will be seen presently),
and in due time the latter went into partnership with his friend
the notary, on which occasion there was a dinner, and a ball, and
great extent of dissipation. Unto this ball there happened to be
invited the most bashful young lady that was ever seen, with whom
Mr Abel happened to fall in love. HOW it happened, or how they
found it out, or which of them first communicated the discovery to
the other, nobody knows. But certain it is that in course of time
they were married; and equally certain it is that they were the
happiest of the happy; and no less certain it is that they deserved
to be so. And it is pleasant to write down that they reared a
family; because any propagation of goodness and benevolence is no
small addition to the aristocracy of nature, and no small subject
of rejoicing for mankind at large.

The pony preserved his character for independence and principle
down to the last moment of his life; which was an unusually long
one, and caused him to be looked upon, indeed, as the very Old Parr
of ponies. He often went to and fro with the little phaeton
between Mr Garland's and his son's, and, as the old people and the
young were frequently together, had a stable of his own at the new
establishment, into which he would walk of himself with surprising
dignity. He condescended to play with the children, as they grew
old enough to cultivate his friendship, and would run up and down
the little paddock with them like a dog; but though he relaxed so
far, and allowed them such small freedoms as caresses, or even to
look at his shoes or hang on by his tail, he never permitted any
one among them to mount his back or drive him; thus showing that
even their familiarity must have its limits, and that there were
points between them far too serious for trifling.

He was not unsusceptible of warm attachments in his later life, for
when the good bachelor came to live with Mr Garland upon the
clergyman's decease, he conceived a great friendship for him, and
amiably submitted to be driven by his hands without the least
resistance. He did no work for two or three years before he died,
but lived in clover; and his last act (like a choleric old
gentleman) was to kick his doctor.

Mr Swiveller, recovering very slowly from his illness, 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 favour 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 expenses of her education kept him in straitened
circumstances for half a dozen years, he never slackened in his
zeal, and always held himself sufficiently repaid by the accounts
he heard (with great gravity) of her advancement, on his monthly
visits to the governess, who looked upon him as a literary
gentleman of eccentric habits, and of a most prodigious talent in
quotation.

In a word, Mr Swiveller kept the Marchioness at this establishment
until she was, at a moderate guess, full nineteen years of age--
good-looking, clever, and good-humoured; when he began to consider
seriously what was to be done next. On one of his periodical
visits, while he was revolving this question in his mind, the
Marchioness came down to him, alone, looking more smiling and more
fresh than ever. Then, it occurred to him, but not for the first
time, that if she would marry him, how comfortable they might be!
So Richard asked her; whatever she said, it wasn't No; and they
were married in good earnest that day week. Which gave Mr
Swiveller frequent occasion to remark at divers subsequent periods
that there had been a young lady saving up for him after all.

A little cottage at Hampstead being to let, which had in its garden
a smoking-box, the envy of the civilised world, they agreed to
become its tenants, and, when the honey-moon was over, entered upon
its occupation. To this retreat Mr Chuckster repaired regularly
every Sunday to spend the day--usually beginning with breakfast--
and here he was the great purveyor of general news and fashionable
intelligence. For some years he continued a deadly foe to Kit,
protesting that he had a better opinion of him when he was supposed
to have stolen the five-pound note, than when he was shown to be
perfectly free of the crime; inasmuch as his guilt would have had
in it something daring and bold, whereas his innocence was but
another proof of a sneaking and crafty disposition. By slow
degrees, however, he was reconciled to him in the end; and even
went so far as to honour him with his patronage, as one who had in
some measure reformed, and was therefore to be forgiven. But he
never forgot or pardoned that circumstance of the shilling; holding
that if he had come back to get another he would have done well
enough, but that his returning to work out the former gift was a
stain upon his moral character which no penitence or contrition
could ever wash away.

Mr Swiveller, having always been in some measure of a philosophic
and reflective turn, grew immensely contemplative, at times, in the
smoking-box, and was accustomed at such periods to debate in his
own mind the mysterious question of Sophronia's parentage.
Sophronia herself supposed she was an orphan; but Mr Swiveller,
putting various slight circumstances together, often thought Miss
Brass must know better than that; and, having heard from his wife
of her strange interview with Quilp, entertained sundry misgivings
whether that person, in his lifetime, might not also have been able
to solve the riddle, had he chosen. These speculations, however,
gave him no uneasiness; for Sophronia was ever a most cheerful,
affectionate, and provident wife to him; and Dick (excepting for an
occasional outbreak with Mr Chuckster, which she had the good sense
rather to encourage than oppose) was to her an attached and
domesticated husband. And they played many hundred thousand games
of cribbage together. And let it be added, to Dick's honour, that,
though we have called her Sophronia, he called her the Marchioness
from first to last; and that upon every anniversary of the day on
which he found her in his sick room, Mr Chuckster came to dinner,
and there was great glorification.

The gamblers, Isaac List and Jowl, with their trusty confederate Mr
James Groves of unimpeachable memory, pursued their course with
varying success, until the failure of a spirited enterprise in the
way of their profession, dispersed them in various directions, and
caused their career to receive a sudden check from the long and
strong arm of the law. This defeat had its origin in the untoward
detection of a new associate--young Frederick Trent--who thus
became the unconscious instrument of their punishment and his own.

For the young man himself, he rioted abroad for a brief term,
living by his wits--which means by the abuse of every faculty that
worthily employed raises man above the beasts, and so degraded,
sinks him far below them. It was not long before his body was
recognised by a stranger, who chanced to visit that hospital in
Paris where the drowned are laid out to be owned; despite the
bruises and disfigurements which were said to have been occasioned
by some previous scuffle. But the stranger kept his own counsel
until he returned home, and it was never claimed or cared for.

The younger brother, or the single gentleman, for that designation
is more familiar, would have drawn the poor schoolmaster from his
lone retreat, and made him his companion and friend. But the
humble village teacher was timid of venturing into the noisy world,
and had become fond of his dwelling in the old churchyard. Calmly
happy in his school, and in the spot, and in the attachment of Her
little mourner, he pursued his quiet course in peace; and was,
through the righteous gratitude of his friend--let this brief
mention suffice for that--a POOR school-master no more.

That friend--single gentleman, or younger brother, which you will--
had at his heart a heavy sorrow; but it bred in him no
misanthropy or monastic gloom. He went forth into the world, a
lover of his kind. For a long, long time, it was his chief delight
to travel in the steps of the old man and the child (so far as he
could trace them from her last narrative), to halt where they had
halted, sympathise where they had suffered, and rejoice where they
had been made glad. Those who had been kind to them, did not
escape his search. The sisters at the school--they who were her
friends, because themselves so friendless--Mrs Jarley of the
wax-work, Codlin, Short--he found them all; and trust me, the man
who fed the furnace fire was not forgotten.

Kit's story having got abroad, raised him up a host of friends, and
many offers of provision for his future life. He had no idea at
first of ever quitting Mr Garland's service; but, after serious
remonstrance and advice from that gentleman, began to contemplate
the possibility of such a change being brought about in time. A
good post was procured for him, with a rapidity which took away his
breath, by some of the gentlemen who had believed him guilty of the
offence laid to his charge, and who had acted upon that belief.
Through the same kind agency, his mother was secured from want, and
made quite happy. Thus, as Kit often said, his great misfortune
turned out to be the source of all his subsequent prosperity.

Did Kit live a single man all his days, or did he marry? Of course
he married, and who should be his wife but Barbara? And the best
of it was, he married so soon that little Jacob was an uncle,
before the calves of his legs, already mentioned in this history,
had ever been encased in broadcloth pantaloons,--though that was
not quite the best either, for of necessity the baby was an uncle
too. The delight of Kit's mother and of Barbara's mother upon the
great occasion is past all telling; finding they agreed so well on
that, and on all other subjects, they took up their abode together,
and were a most harmonious pair of friends from that time forth.
And hadn't Astley's cause to bless itself for their all going
together once a quarter--to the pit--and didn't Kit's mother
always say, when they painted the outside, that Kit's last treat
had helped to that, and wonder what the manager would feel if he
but knew it as they passed his house!

When Kit had children six and seven years old, there was a Barbara
among them, and a pretty Barbara she was. Nor was there wanting an
exact facsimile and copy of little Jacob, as he appeared in those
remote times when they taught him what oysters meant. Of course
there was an Abel, own godson to the Mr Garland of that name; and
there was a Dick, whom Mr Swiveller did especially favour. The
little group would often gather round him of a night and beg him to
tell again that story of good Miss Nell who died. This, Kit would
do; and when they cried to hear it, wishing it longer too, he would
teach them how she had gone to Heaven, as all good people did; and
how, if they were good, like her, they might hope to be there too,
one day, and to see and know her as he had done when he was quite
a boy. Then, he would relate to them how needy he used to be, and
how she had taught him what he was otherwise too poor to learn, and
how the old man had been used to say 'she always laughs at Kit;' at
which they would brush away their tears, and laugh themselves to
think that she had done so, and be again quite merry.

He sometimes took them to the street where she had lived; but new
improvements had altered it so much, it was not like the same. The
old house had been long ago pulled down, and a fine broad road was
in its place. At first he would draw with his stick a square upon
the ground to show them where it used to stand. But he soon became
uncertain of the spot, and could only say it was thereabouts, he
thought, and these alterations were confusing.

Such are the changes which a few years bring about, and so do
things pass away, like a tale that is told!

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