Chapter 34

by Charles Dickens

In course of time, that is to say, after a couple of hours or so, of diligent application, Miss Brass arrived at the conclusion of her task, and recorded the fact by wiping her pen upon the green gown, and taking a pinch of snuff from a little round tin box which she carried in her pocket. Having disposed of this temperate refreshment, she arose from her stool, tied her papers into a formal packet with red tape, and taking them under her arm, marched out of the office.

Mr Swiveller had scarcely sprung off his seat and commenced the performance of a maniac hornpipe, when he was interrupted, in the fulness of his joy at being again alone, by the opening of the door, and the reappearance of Miss Sally’s head.

‘I am going out,’ said Miss Brass.

‘Very good, ma’am,’ returned Dick. ‘And don’t hurry yourself on my account to come back, ma’am,’ he added inwardly.

‘If anybody comes on office business, take their messages, and say that the gentleman who attends to that matter isn’t in at present, will you?’ said Miss Brass.

‘I will, ma’am,’ replied Dick.

‘I shan’t be very long,’ said Miss Brass, retiring.

‘I’m sorry to hear it, ma’am,’ rejoined Dick when she had shut the door. ‘I hope you may be unexpectedly detained, ma’am. If you could manage to be run over, ma’am, but not seriously, so much the better.’

Uttering these expressions of good-will with extreme gravity, Mr Swiveller sat down in the client’s chair and pondered; then took a few turns up and down the room and fell into the chair again.

‘So I’m Brass’s clerk, am I?’ said Dick. ‘Brass’s clerk, eh? And the clerk of Brass’s sister—clerk to a female Dragon. Very good, very good! What shall I be next? Shall I be a convict in a felt hat and a grey suit, trotting about a dockyard with my number neatly embroidered on my uniform, and the order of the garter on my leg, restrained from chafing my ankle by a twisted belcher handkerchief? Shall I be that? Will that do, or is it too genteel? Whatever you please, have it your own way, of course.’

As he was entirely alone, it may be presumed that, in these remarks, Mr Swiveller addressed himself to his fate or destiny, whom, as we learn by the precedents, it is the custom of heroes to taunt in a very bitter and ironical manner when they find themselves in situations of an unpleasant nature. This is the more probable from the circumstance of Mr Swiveller directing his observations to the ceiling, which these bodily personages are usually supposed to inhabit—except in theatrical cases, when they live in the heart of the great chandelier.

‘Quilp offers me this place, which he says he can insure me,’ resumed Dick after a thoughtful silence, and telling off the circumstances of his position, one by one, upon his fingers; ‘Fred, who, I could have taken my affidavit, would not have heard of such a thing, backs Quilp to my astonishment, and urges me to take it also—staggerer, number one! My aunt in the country stops the supplies, and writes an affectionate note to say that she has made a new will, and left me out of it—staggerer, number two. No money; no credit; no support from Fred, who seems to turn steady all at once; notice to quit the old lodgings—staggerers, three, four, five, and six! Under an accumulation of staggerers, no man can be considered a free agent. No man knocks himself down; if his destiny knocks him down, his destiny must pick him up again. Then I’m very glad that mine has brought all this upon itself, and I shall be as careless as I can, and make myself quite at home to spite it. So go on my buck,’ said Mr Swiveller, taking his leave of the ceiling with a significant nod, ‘and let us see which of us will be tired first!’

Dismissing the subject of his downfall with these reflections, which were no doubt very profound, and are indeed not altogether unknown in certain systems of moral philosophy, Mr Swiveller shook off his despondency and assumed the cheerful ease of an irresponsible clerk.

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