‘Could you eat any bread and meat?’ said Dick, taking down his hat. ‘Yes? Ah! I thought so. Did you ever taste beer?’ ‘I had a sip of it once,’ said the small servant.
‘Here’s a state of things!’ cried Mr Swiveller, raising his eyes to the ceiling. ‘She never tasted it–it can’t be tasted in a sip! Why, how old are you?’
‘I don’t know.’
Mr Swiveller opened his eyes very wide, and appeared thoughtful for a moment; then, bidding the child mind the door until he came back, vanished straightway.
Presently, he returned, followed by the boy from the public- house, who bore in one hand a plate of bread and beef, and in the other a great pot, filled with some very fragrant compound, which sent forth a grateful steam, and was indeed choice purl, made after a particular recipe which Mr Swiveller had imparted to the landlord, at a period when he was deep in his books and desirous to conciliate his friendship. Relieving the boy of his burden at the door, and charging his little companion to fasten it to prevent surprise, Mr Swiveller followed her into the kitchen.
‘There!’ said Richard, putting the plate before her. ‘First of all clear that off, and then you’ll see what’s next.’
The small servant needed no second bidding, and the plate was soon empty.
‘Next,’ said Dick, handing the purl, ‘take a pull at that; but moderate your transports, you know, for you’re not used to it. Well, is it good?’
‘Oh! isn’t it?’ said the small servant.
Mr Swiveller appeared gratified beyond all expression by this reply, and took a long draught himself, steadfastly regarding his companion while he did so. These preliminaries disposed of, he applied himself to teaching her the game, which she soon learnt tolerably well, being both sharp-witted and cunning.
‘Now,’ said Mr Swiveller, putting two sixpences into a saucer, and trimming the wretched candle, when the cards had been cut and dealt, ‘those are the stakes. If you win, you get ’em all. If I win, I get ’em. To make it seem more real and pleasant, I shall call you the Marchioness, do you hear?’
The small servant nodded.
‘Then, Marchioness,’ said Mr Swiveller, ‘fire away!’
The Marchioness, holding her cards very tight in both hands, considered which to play, and Mr Swiveller, assuming the gay and fashionable air which such society required, took another pull at the tankard, and waited for her lead.
Compassionate curiosity saves the Marchioness from starvation and terminal loneliness here.
For Dick Swiveller becomes fully awake to the ‘small servant’s ‘ desperate predicament and takes action to help her in a casually kind manner. He does not patronize her, nor does he threaten her pride.
Instead he exercises COMPASSIONATE CURIOSITY.
For the ‘small servant’ works in deplorable conditions for their mutual employers and exists on a meagre diet that hardly sustains physical or spiritual life
Using compassion and curiosity, Swiveller brings about a profound change in her existence.
Look how the Swiveller’s questions appear to be rather random and as such, nonthreatening.
We hear Swiveller apparently casually moving from questions about meat to beer to her age.
Such curiosity is comically expressed through the description of the encounter and brings about Swiveller’s immediate action to remedy the food and drink situation, revealing the healing potential of compassionate curiosity.
For questions asked without care and genuine concern could be invasive and uncomfortable.
But here the Swiveller is genuinely interested, he brings his attention to the small servant’s physical state and playfully establishes a trust and connection in order to help her.
He even brings about a caring social dimension to their friendship, providing the ‘stakes’ for their first game of cribbage.
‘To make it seem more real and pleasant, I shall call you the Marchioness, do you hear?’
Then he adds another, dare I say, sublimely curious and compassionate ingredient!
This added ingredient heightens their connection as her special new name, ‘Marchioness’ gives a uniqueness and dignity to the previously ignored ‘small servant’s’ character and offers a ‘bubble’ of friendship, created as a good humored antidote to the harsh realities of servitude.
It’s a baptism of tender, whimsical care!
The Woman in Black
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