Having disposed of this likewise and put the box carefully in her pocket, she said,--
'I am to accept or reject at once, am I?'
'Yes,' said Mr Witherden.
The charming creature was opening her lips to speak in reply, when the door was hastily opened too, and the head of Sampson Brass was thrust into the room.
'Excuse me,' said the gentleman hastily. 'Wait a bit!'
So saying, and quite indifferent to the astonishment his presence occasioned, he crept in, shut the door, kissed his greasy glove as servilely as if it were the dust, and made a most abject bow.
'Sarah,' said Brass, 'hold your tongue if you please, and let me speak. Gentlemen, if I could express the pleasure it gives me to see three such men in a happy unity of feeling and concord of sentiment, I think you would hardly believe me. But though I am unfortunate--nay, gentlemen, criminal, if we are to use harsh expressions in a company like this--still, I have my feelings like other men. I have heard of a poet, who remarked that feelings were the common lot of all. If he could have been a pig, gentlemen, and have uttered that sentiment, he would still have been immortal.'
'If you're not an idiot,' said Miss Brass harshly, 'hold your peace.'
'Sarah, my dear,' returned her brother, 'thank you. But I know what I am about, my love, and will take the liberty of expressing myself accordingly. Mr Witherden, Sir, your handkerchief is hanging out of your pocket--would you allow me to--,
As Mr Brass advanced to remedy this accident, the Notary shrunk from him with an air of disgust. Brass, who over and above his usual prepossessing qualities, had a scratched face, a green shade over one eye, and a hat grievously crushed, stopped short, and looked round with a pitiful smile.
'He shuns me,' said Sampson, 'even when I would, as I may say, heap coals of fire upon his head. Well! Ah! But I am a falling house, and the rats (if I may be allowed the expression in reference to a gentleman I respect and love beyond everything) fly from me! Gentlemen--regarding your conversation just now, I happened to see my sister on her way here, and, wondering where she could be going to, and being--may I venture to say?--naturally of a suspicious turn, followed her. Since then, I have been listening.'
'If you're not mad,' interposed Miss Sally, 'stop there, and say no more.'
'Sarah, my dear,' rejoined Brass with undiminished politeness, 'I thank you kindly, but will still proceed. Mr Witherden, sir, as we have the honour to be members of the same profession--to say nothing of that other gentleman having been my lodger, and having partaken, as one may say, of the hospitality of my roof--I think you might have given me the refusal of this offer in the first instance. I do indeed. Now, my dear Sir,' cried Brass, seeing that the Notary was about to interrupt him, 'suffer me to speak, I beg.'
Mr Witherden was silent, and Brass went on.
'If you will do me the favour,' he said, holding up the green shade, and revealing an eye most horribly discoloured, 'to look at this, you will naturally inquire, in your own minds, how did I get it. If you look from that, to my face, you will wonder what could have been the cause of all these scratches. And if from them to my hat, how it came into the state in which you see it. Gentlemen,' said Brass, striking the hat fiercely with his clenched hand, 'to all these questions I answer--Quilp!'
The three gentlemen looked at each other, but said nothing.
'I say,' pursued Brass, glancing aside at his sister, as though he were talking for her information, and speaking with a snarling malignity, in violent contrast to his usual smoothness, 'that I answer to all these questions,--Quilp--Quilp, who deludes me into his infernal den, and takes a delight in looking on and chuckling while I scorch, and burn, and bruise, and maim myself--Quilp, who never once, no never once, in all our communications together, has treated me otherwise than as a dog--Quilp, whom I have always hated with my whole heart, but never so much as lately.