The Old Curiosity Shop

Chapter 63

Charles Dickens

THE professional gentleman who had given Kit the consolatory piece of information relative to the settlement of his trifle of business at the Old Bailey, and the probability of its being very soon disposed of, turned out to be quite correct in his prognostications. In eight days’ time, the sessions commenced. In one day afterwards, the Grand Jury found a True Bill against Christopher Nubbles for felony; and in two days from that finding, the aforesaid Christopher Nubbles was called upon to plead Guilty or Not Guilty to an Indictment for that he the said Christopher did feloniously abstract and steal from the dwelling-house and office of one Sampson Brass, gentleman, one Bank Note for Five Pounds issued by the Governor and Company of the Bank of England; in contravention of the Statutes in that case made and provided, and against the peace of our Sovereign Lord the King, his crown and dignity.

To this indictment, Christopher Nubbles, in a low and trembling voice, pleaded Not Guilty; and here, let those who are in the habit of forming hasty judgments from appearances, and who would have had Christopher, if innocent, speak out very strong and loud, observe, that confinement and anxiety will subdue the stoutest hearts; and that to one who has been close shut up, though it be only for ten or eleven days, seeing but stone walls and a very few stony faces, the sudden entrance into a great hall filled with life, is a rather disconcerting and startling circumstance. To this, it must be added, that life in a wig is to a large class of people much more terrifying and impressive than life with its own head of hair; and if, in addition to these considerations, there be taken into account Kit’s natural emotion on seeing the two Mr. Garlands and the little Notary looking on with pale and anxious faces, it will perhaps seem matter of no very great wonder that he should have been rather out of sorts, and unable to make himself quite at home.

Although he had never seen either of the Mr. Garlands, or Mr. Witherden, since the time of his arrest, he had been given to understand that they had employed counsel for him. Therefore, when one of the gentlemen in wigs got up and said “I am for the prisoner, my Lord,” Kit made him a bow; and when another gentleman in a wig got up and said “And I’m against him, my Lord,” Kit trembled very much, and bowed to him too. And didn’t he hope in his own heart that his gentleman was a match for the other gentleman, and would make him ashamed of himself in no time!

The gentleman who was against him had to speak first, and being in dreadfully good spirits (for he had, in the last trial, very nearly procured the acquittal of a young gentleman who had had the misfortune to murder his father) he spoke up, you may be sure; telling the jury that if they acquitted this prisoner they must expect to suffer no less pangs and agonies than he had told the other jury they would certainly undergo if they convicted that prisoner. And when he had told them all about the case, and that he had never known a worse case, he stopped a little while, like a man who had something terrible to tell them, and then said that he understood an attempt would be made by his learned friend (and here he looked sideways at Kit’s gentleman) to impeach the testimony of those immaculate witnesses whom he should call before them; but he did hope and trust that his learned friend would have a greater respect and veneration for the character of the prosecutor; than whom, as he well knew, there did not exist, and never had existed, a more honourable member of that most honourable profession to which he was attached. And then he said, did the jury know Bevis Marks? And if they did know Bevis Marks (as he trusted for their own character, they did) did they know the historical and elevating associations connected with that most remarkable spot? Did they believe that a man like Brass could reside in a place like Bevis Marks, and not be a virtuous and most upright character? And when he had said a great deal to them on this point, he remembered that it was an insult to their understandings to make any remarks on what they must have felt so strongly without him, and therefore called Sampson Brass into the witness-box, straightway.

Then up comes Mr. Brass, very brisk and fresh; and, having bowed to the judge, like a man who has had the pleasure of seeing him before, and who hopes he has been pretty well since their last meeting, folds his arms, and looks at his gentleman as much as to say “Here I am—full of evidence—Tap me!” And the gentleman does tap him presently, and with great discretion too; drawing off the evidence by little and little, and making it run quite clear and bright in the eyes of all present. Then, Kit’s gentleman takes him in hand, but can make nothing of him; and after a great many very long questions and very short answers, Mr. Sampson Brass goes down in glory.

To him succeeds Sarah, who in like manner is easy to be managed by Mr. Brass’s gentleman, but very obdurate to Kit’s. In short, Kit’s gentleman can get nothing out of her but a repetition of what she has said before (only a little stronger this time, as against his client), and therefore lets her go, in some confusion. Then, Mr. Brass’s gentleman calls Richard Swiveller, and Richard Swiveller appears accordingly.

Now, Mr. Brass’s gentleman has it whispered in his ear that this witness is disposed to be friendly to the prisoner—which, to say the truth, he is rather glad to hear, as his strength is considered to lie in what is familiarly termed badgering. Wherefore, he begins by requesting the officer to be quite sure that this witness kisses the book, then goes to work at him, tooth and nail.

“Mr Swiveller,” says this gentleman to Dick, when he had told his tale with evident reluctance and a desire to make the best of it: “Pray sir, where did you dine yesterday?”—“Where did I dine yesterday?”—“Aye, sir, where did you dine yesterday—was it near here, sir?”—“Oh to be sure—yes—just over the way.”—“To be sure. Yes. Just over the way,” repeats Mr. Brass’s gentleman, with a glance at the court.—“Alone, sir?”—“I beg your pardon,” says Mr. Swiveller, who has not caught the question—“Alone, sir?” repeats Mr. Brass’s gentleman in a voice of thunder, “did you dine alone? Did you treat anybody, sir? Come!”—“Oh yes, to be sure—yes, I did,” says Mr. Swiveller with a smile.—“Have the goodness to banish a levity, sir, which is very ill-suited to the place in which you stand (though perhaps you have reason to be thankful that it’s only that place),” says Mr. Brass’s gentleman, with a nod of the head, insinuating that the dock is Mr. Swiveller’s legitimate sphere of action; “and attend to me. You were waiting about here, yesterday, in expectation that this trial was coming on. You dined over the way. You treated somebody. Now, was that somebody brother to the prisoner at the bar?”—Mr Swiveller is proceeding to explain—“Yes or No, sir,” cries Mr. Brass’s gentleman—“But will you allow me—”—“Yes or No, sir”—“Yes it was, but—”—“Yes it was,” cries the gentleman, taking him up short. “And a very pretty witness you are!”

Down sits Mr. Brass’s gentleman. Kit’s gentleman, not knowing how the matter really stands, is afraid to pursue the subject. Richard Swiveller retires abashed. Judge, jury and spectators have visions of his lounging about, with an ill-looking, large-whiskered, dissolute young fellow of six feet high. The reality is, little Jacob, with the calves of his legs exposed to the open air, and himself tied up in a shawl. Nobody knows the truth; everybody believes a falsehood; and all because of the ingenuity of Mr. Brass’s gentleman.

Then come the witnesses to character, and here Mr. Brass’s gentleman shines again. It turns out that Mr. Garland has had no character with Kit, no recommendation of him but from his own mother, and that he was suddenly dismissed by his former master for unknown reasons. “Really Mr. Garland,” says Mr. Brass’s gentleman, “for a person who has arrived at your time of life, you are, to say the least of it, singularly indiscreet, I think.” The jury think so too, and find Kit guilty. He is taken off, humbly protesting his innocence. The spectators settle themselves in their places with renewed attention, for there are several female witnesses to be examined in the next case, and it has been rumoured that Mr. Brass’s gentleman will make great fun in cross-examining them for the prisoner.

Kit’s mother, poor woman, is waiting at the grate below stairs, accompanied by Barbara’s mother (who, honest soul! never does anything but cry, and hold the baby), and a sad interview ensues. The newspaper-reading turnkey has told them all. He don’t think it will be transportation for life, because there’s time to prove the good character yet, and that is sure to serve him. He wonders what he did it for. “He never did it!” cries Kit’s mother. “Well,” says the turnkey, “I won’t contradict you. It’s all one, now, whether he did it or not.”

Kit’s mother can reach his hand through the bars, and she clasps it—God, and those to whom he has given such tenderness, only know in how much agony. Kit bids her keep a good heart, and, under pretence of having the children lifted up to kiss him, prays Barbara’s mother in a whisper to take her home.

“Some friend will rise up for us, mother,” cried Kit, “I am sure. If not now, before long. My innocence will come out, mother, and I shall be brought back again; I feel confidence in that. You must teach little Jacob and the baby how all this was, for if they thought I had ever been dishonest, when they grew old enough to understand, it would break my heart to know it, if I was thousands of miles away.—Oh! is there no good gentleman here, who will take care of her!”

The hand slips out of his, for the poor creature sinks down upon the earth, insensible. Richard Swiveller comes hastily up, elbows the bystanders out of the way, takes her (after some trouble) in one arm after the manner of theatrical ravishers, and, nodding to Kit, and commanding Barbara’s mother to follow, for he has a coach waiting, bears her swiftly off.

Well; Richard took her home. And what astonishing absurdities in the way of quotation from song and poem he perpetrated on the road, no man knows. He took her home, and stayed till she was recovered; and, having no money to pay the coach, went back in state to Bevis Marks, bidding the driver (for it was Saturday night) wait at the door while he went in for “change.”

“Mr Richard, sir,” said Brass cheerfully, “Good evening!”

Monstrous as Kit’s tale had appeared, at first, Mr. Richard did, that night, half suspect his affable employer of some deep villany. Perhaps it was but the misery he had just witnessed which gave his careless nature this impulse; but, be that as it may, it was very strong upon him, and he said in as few words as possible, what he wanted.

“Money?” cried Brass, taking out his purse. “Ha ha! To be sure, Mr. Richard, to be sure, sir. All men must live. You haven’t change for a five-pound note, have you sir?”

“No,” returned Dick, shortly.

“Oh!” said Brass, “here’s the very sum. That saves trouble. You’re very welcome I’m sure.—Mr Richard, sir—”

Dick, who had by this time reached the door, turned round.

“You needn’t,” said Brass, “trouble yourself to come back any more, Sir.”


“You see, Mr. Richard,” said Brass, thrusting his hands in his pockets, and rocking himself to and fro on his stool, “the fact is, that a man of your abilities is lost, Sir, quite lost, in our dry and mouldy line. It’s terrible drudgery—shocking. I should say, now, that the stage, or the—or the army, Mr. Richard—or something very superior in the licensed victualling way—was the kind of thing that would call out the genius of such a man as you. I hope you’ll look in to see us now and then. Sally, Sir, will be delighted I’m sure. She’s extremely sorry to lose you, Mr. Richard, but a sense of her duty to society reconciles her. An amazing creature that, sir! You’ll find the money quite correct, I think. There’s a cracked window sir, but I’ve not made any deduction on that account. Whenever we part with friends, Mr. Richard, let us part liberally. A delightful sentiment, sir!”

To all these rambling observations, Mr. Swiveller answered not one word, but, returning for the aquatic jacket, rolled it into a tight round ball: looking steadily at Brass meanwhile as if he had some intention of bowling him down with it. He only took it under his arm, however, and marched out of the office in profound silence. When he had closed the door, he re-opened it, stared in again for a few moments with the same portentous gravity, and nodding his head once, in a slow and ghost-like manner, vanished.

He paid the coachman, and turned his back on Bevis Marks, big with great designs for the comforting of Kit’s mother and the aid of Kit himself.

But the lives of gentlemen devoted to such pleasures as Richard Swiveller, are extremely precarious. The spiritual excitement of the last fortnight, working upon a system affected in no slight degree by the spirituous excitement of some years, proved a little too much for him. That very night, Mr. Richard was seized with an alarming illness, and in twenty-four hours was stricken with a raging fever.

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