Mr Swiveller and his partner played several rubbers with varying success, until the loss of three sixpences, the gradual sinking of the purl, and the striking of ten o’clock, combined to render that gentleman mindful of the flight of Time, and 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 from the presence when I have finished this tankard; merely observing, Marchioness, that since life like a river is flowing, I care not how fast it rolls on, ma’am, on, while such purl on the bank still is growing, and such eyes light the waves as they run. Marchioness, your health. You will excuse my wearing my hat, but the palace is damp, and the marble floor is—if I may be allowed the expression—sloppy.’
As a precaution against this latter inconvenience, Mr Swiveller had been sitting for some time with his feet on the hob, in which attitude he now gave utterance to these apologetic observations, and slowly sipped the last choice drops of nectar.
‘The Baron Sampsono Brasso and his fair sister are (you tell me) at the Play?’ said 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!’ He illustrated these melodramatic morsels by handing the tankard to himself with great humility, receiving it haughtily, drinking from it thirstily, and smacking his lips fiercely.
The small servant, who was not so well acquainted with theatrical conventionalities as Mr Swiveller (having indeed never seen a play, or heard one spoken of, except by chance through chinks of doors and in other forbidden places), was rather alarmed by demonstrations so novel in their nature, and showed her concern so plainly in her looks, that Mr Swiveller felt it necessary to discharge his brigand manner for one more suitable to private life, as he asked,
‘Do they often go where glory waits ‘em, and leave you here?’
‘Oh, yes; I believe you they do,’ returned the small servant. ‘Miss Sally’s such a one-er for that, she is.’
‘Such a what?’ said Dick.
‘Such a one-er,’ returned the Marchioness.
After a moment’s reflection, Mr Swiveller determined to forego his responsible duty of setting her right, and to suffer her to talk on; as it was evident that her tongue was loosened by the purl, and her opportunities for conversation were not so frequent as to render a momentary check of little consequence.
‘They sometimes go to see Mr Quilp,’ said the small servant with a shrewd look; ‘they go to a many places, bless you!’
‘Is Mr Brass a wunner?’ said Dick.
‘Not half what Miss Sally is, he isn’t,’ replied the small servant, shaking her head. ‘Bless you, he’d never do anything without her.’
‘Oh! He wouldn’t, wouldn’t he?’ said Dick.
‘Miss Sally keeps him in such order,’ said the small servant; ‘he always asks her advice, he does; and he catches it sometimes. Bless you, you wouldn’t believe how much he catches it.’
‘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?’ said Mr Swiveller.
The Marchioness changed the motion of her head, which had not yet left off nodding, and suddenly began to shake it from side to side, with a vehemence which threatened to dislocate her neck.
‘Humph!’ Dick muttered. ‘Would it be any breach of confidence, Marchioness, to relate what they say of the humble individual who has now the honour to—?’
‘Miss Sally says you’re a funny chap,’ replied his friend.
‘Well, Marchioness,’ said Mr Swiveller, ‘that’s not uncomplimentary. Merriment, Marchioness, is not a bad or 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 an’t to be trusted.’