The Old Curiosity Shop
Part 2 out of 13
suavity in his manner, but still more of quiet malice about his eyes
and mouth. 'Here's sixpence for you, Kit. Always speak the truth.
At all times, Kit, speak the truth. Lock the counting-house, you dog,
and bring me the key.'
The other boy, to whom this order was addresed, did as he was told,
and was rewarded for his partizanship in behalf of his master, by a
dexterous rap on the nose with the key, which brought the water into
his eyes. Then Mr Quilp departed with the child and Kit in a boat,
and the boy revenged himself by dancing on his head at intervals on
the extreme verge of the wharf, during the whole time they crossed
There was only Mrs Quilp at home, and she, little expecting the
return of her lord, was just composing herself for a refreshing
slumber when the sound of his footsteps roused her. She had barely
time to seem to be occupied in some needle-work, when he entered,
accompanied by the child; having left Kit downstairs.
'Here's Nelly Trent, dear Mrs Quilp,' said her husband. 'A glass of
wine, my dear, and a biscuit, for she has had a long walk. She'll sit
with you, my soul, while I write a letter.'
Mrs Quilp looked tremblingly in her spouse's face to know what this
unusual courtesy might portend, and obedient to the summons she
saw in his gesture, followed him into the next room.
'Mind what I say to you,' whispered Quilp. 'See if you can get out
of her anything about her grandfather, or what they do, or how they
live, or what he tells her. I've my reasons for knowing, if I can. You
women talk more freely to one another than you do to us, and you
have a soft, mild way with you that'll win upon her. Do you hear?'
'Go then. What's the matter now?'
'Dear Quilp,' faltered his wife. 'I love the child--if you could do
without making me deceive her--'
The dwarf muttering a terrible oath looked round as if for some
weapon with which to inflict condign punishment upon his
disobedient wife. the submissive little woman hurriedly entreated
him not to be angry, and promised to do as he bade her.
'Do you hear me,' whispered Quilp, nipping and pinching her arm;
'worm yourself into her secrets; I know you can. I'm listening,
recollect. If you're not sharp enough, I'll creak the door, and woe
betide you if I have to creak it much. Go!'
Mrs Quilp departed according to order, and her amiable husband,
ensconcing himself behind the partly opened door, and applying his
ear close to it, began to listen with a face of great craftiness and
Poor Mrs Quilp was thinking, however, in what manner to begin or
what kind of inquiries she could make; and it was not until the door,
creaking in a very urgent manner, warned her to proceed without
further consideration, that the sound of her voice was heard.
'How very often you have come backwards and forwards lately to
Mr Quilp, my dear.'
'I have said so to grandfather, a hundred times,' returned Nell
'And what has he said to that?'
'Only sighed, and dropped his head, and seemed so sad and wretched
that if you could have seen him I am sure you must have cried; you
could not have helped it more than I, I know. How that door creaks!'
'It often does.' returned Mrs Quilp, with an uneasy glance towards
it. 'But your grandfather--he used not to be so wretched?'
'Oh, no!' said the child eagerly, 'so different! We were once so
happy and he so cheerful and contented! You cannot think what a sad
change has fallen on us since.'
'I am very, very sorry, to hear you speak like this, my dear!' said
Mrs Quilp. And she spoke the truth.
'Thank you,' returned the child, kissing her cheek, 'you are always
kind to me, and it is a pleasure to talk to you. I can speak to no one
else about him, but poor Kit. I am very happy still, I ought to feel
happier perhaps than I do, but you cannot think how it grieves me
sometimes to see him alter so.'
'He'll alter again, Nelly,' said Mrs Quilp, 'and be what he was
'Oh, if God would only let that come about!' said the child with
streaming eyes; 'but it is a long time now, since he first began to--I
thought I saw that door moving!'
'It's the wind,' said Mrs Quilp, fainly. 'Began to ---'
'To be so thoughtful and dejected, and to forget our old way ot
spending the time in the long evenings,' said the child. 'I used to
read to him by the fireside, and he sat listening, and when I stopped
and we began to talk, he told me about my mother, and how she
once looked and spoke just like me when she was a little child. Then
he used to take me on his knee, and try to make me understand that
she was not lying in her grave, but had flown to a beautiful country
beyond the sky where nothing died or ever grew old--we were very
'Nelly, Nelly!' said the poor woman, 'I can't bear to see one as
young as you so sorrowful. Pray don't cry.'
'I do so very seldom,' said Nell,' but I have kept this to myself a
long time, and I am not quite well, I think, for the tears come into
my eyes and I cannot keep them back. I don't mind telling you my
grief, for I know you will not tell it to any one again.'
Mrs Quilp turned away her head and made no answer.
'Then,' said the child, 'we often walked in the fields and among the
green trees, and when we came home at night, we liked it better for
being tired, and said what a happy place it was. And if it was dark
and rather dull, we used to say, what did it matter to us, for it only
made us remember our last walk with greater pleasure, and look
forward to our next one. But now we never have these walks, and
though it is the same house it is darker and much more gloomy than
it used to be, indeed!'
She paused here, but though the door creaked more than once, Mrs
Quilp said nothing.
'Mind you don't suppose,' said the child earnestly, 'that grandfather
is less kind to me than he was. I think he loves me better every day,
and is kinder and more afectionate than he was the day before. You
do not know how fond he is of me!'
'I am sure he loves you dearly,' said Mrs Quilp.
'Indeed, indeed he does!' cried Nell, 'as dearly as I love him. But I
have not told you the greatest change of all, and this you must never
breathe again to any one. He has no sleep or rest, but that which he
takes by day in his easy chair; for every night and neary all night
long he is away from home.'
'Hush!' said the child, laying her finger on her lip and looking
round. 'When he comes home in the morning, which is generally just
before day, I let him in. Last night he was very late, and it was quite
light. I saw that his face was deadly pale, that his eyes were
bloodshot, and that his legs trembled as he walked. When I had gone
to bed again, I heard him groan. I got up and ran back to him, and
heard him say, before he knew that I was there, that he could not
bear his life much longer, and if it was not for the child, would wish
to die. What shall I do! Oh! What shall I do!'
The fountains of her heart were opened; the child, overpowered by
the weight of her sorrows and anxieties, by the first confidence she
had ever shown, and the sympathy with which her little tale had been
received, hid her face in the arms of her helpless friend, and burst
into a passion of tears.
In a few minutes Mr Quilp returned, and expressed the utmost
surprise to find her in this condtiion, which he did very naturally and
with admirable effect, for that kind of acting had been rendered
familiar to him by long practice, and he was quite at home in it.
'She's tired you see, Mrs Quilp,' said the dwarf, squinting in a
hideous manner to imply that his wife was to follow his lead. 'It's a
long way from her home to the wharf, and then she was alrmed to
see a couple of young scoundrels fighting, and was timorous on the
water besides. All this together has been too much for her. Poor
Mr Quilp unintentionally adopted the very best means he could have
devised for the recovery of his young visitor, by patting her on the
head. Such an application from any other hand might not have
produced a remarkable effect, but the child shrank so quickly from
his touch and felt such an instinctive desire to get out of his reach,
that she rose directly and declared herself ready to return.
'But you'd better wait, and dine with Mrs Quilp and me.' said the
'I have been away too long, sir, already,' returned Nell, drying her
'Well,' said Mr Quilp, 'if you will go, you will, Nelly. Here's the
note. It's only to say that I shall see him to-morrow or maybe next
day, and that I couldn't do that little business for him this morning.
Good-bye, Nelly. Here, you sir; take care of her, d'ye hear?'
Kit, who appeared at the summons, deigned to make no reply to so
needless an injunction, and after staring at Quilp in a threatening
manner, as if he doubted whether he might not have been the cause
of Nelly shedding tears, and felt more than half disposed to revenge
the fact upon him on the mere suspicion, turned about and followed
his young mistress, who had by this time taken her leave of Mrs
Quilp and departed.
'You're a keen questioner, an't you, Mrs Quilp?' said the dwarf,
turning upon her as soon as they were left alone.
'What more could I do?' returned his wife mildly?
'What more could you do!' sneered Quilp, 'couldn't you have done
something less? Couldn't you have done what you had to do, without
appearing in your favourite part of the crocodile, you minx?'
'I am very sorry for the child, Quilp,' said his wife. 'Surely I've
done enough. I've led her on to tell her secret she supposed we were
alone; and you were by, God forgive me.'
'You led her on! You did a great deal truly!' said Quilp. 'What did I
tell you about making me creak the door? It's lucky for you that
from what she let fall, I've got the clue I want, for if I hadn't, I'd
have visited the failure upon you, I can tell you.'
Mrs Quilp being fully persuaded of this, made no reply. Her husband
added with some exultation,
'But you may thank your fortunate stars--the same stars that made
you Mrs Quilp--you may thank them that I'm upon the old
gentleman's track, and have got a new light. So let me hear no more
about this matter now or at any other time, and don't get anything
too nice for dinner, for I shan't be home to it.'
So saying, Mr Quilp put his hat on and took himself off, and Mrs
Quilp, who was afflicted beyond measure by the recollection of the
part she had just acted, shut herself up in her chamber, and
smothering her head in the bed-clothes bemoaned her fault more
bitterly than many less tender-hearted persons would have mourned a
much greater offence; for, in the majority of cases, conscience is an
elastic and very flexible article, which will bear a deal of stretching
and adapt itself to a great variety of circumstances. Some people by
prudent management and leaving it off piece by piece like a flannel
waistcoat in warm weather, even contrive, in time, to dispense with
it altogether; but there be others who can assume the garment and
throw it off at pleasure; and this, being the greatest and most
convenient improvement, is the one most in vogue.
'Fred,' said Mr Swiveller, 'remember the once popular melody of
Begone dull care; fan the sinking flame of hilarity with the wing of
friendship; and pass the rosy wine.'
Mr Richard Swiveller's apartments were in the neighbourhood of
Drury Lane, and in addition to this convenience of situation had the
advantage of being over a tobacconist's shop, so that he was enabled
to procure a refreshing sneeze at any time by merely stepping out
upon the staircase, and was saved the trouble and expense of
maintaining a snuff-box. It was in these apartments that Mr Swiveller
made use of the expressions above recorded for the consolation and
encouragement of his desponding friend; and it may not be
uninteresting or improper to remark that even these brief
observations partook in a double sense of the figurative and poetical
character of Mr Swiveller's mind, as the rosy wine was in fact
represented by one glass of cold gin-and-water, which was
replenished as occasion required from a bottle and jug upon the
table, and was passed from one to another, in a scarcity of tumblers
which, as Mr Swiveller's was a bachelor's establishment, may be
acknowledged without a blush. By a like pleasant fiction his single
chamber was always mentioned in a plural number. In its disengaged
times, the tobacconist had announced it in his window as
'apartments' for a single gentleman, and Mr Swiveller, following up
the hint, never failed to speak of it as his rooms, his lodgings, or his
chambers, conveying to his hearers a notion of indefinite space, and
leaving their imaginations to wander through long suites of lofty
halls, at pleasure.
In this flight of fancy, Mr Swiveller was assisted by a deceptive
piece of furniture, in reality a bedstead, but in semblance a bookcase,
which occupied a prominent situation in his chamber and seemed to
defy suspicion and challenge inquiry. There is no doubt that by day
Mr Swiveller firmly believed this secret convenience to be a
bookcase and nothing more; that he closed his eyes to the bed,
resolutely denied the existence of the blankets, and spurned the
bolster from his thoughts. No word of its real use, no hint of its
nightly service, no allusion to its peculiar properties, had ever passed
between him and his most intimate friends. Implicit faith in the
deception was the first article of his creed. To be the friend of
Swiveller you must reject all circumstantial evidence, all reason,
observation, and experience, and repose a blind belief in the
bookcase. It was his pet weakness, and he cherished it.
'Fred!' said Mr Swiveller, finding that his former adjuration had
been productive of no effect. 'Pass the rosy.'
Young Trent with an impatient gesture pushed the glass towards him,
and fell again in the the moddy attitude from which he had been
'I'll give you, Fred,' said his friend, stirring the mixture, 'a little
sentiment appropriate to the occasion. Here's May the ---'
'Pshaw!' interposed the other. 'You worry me to death with your
chattering. You can be merry under any circumstances.'
'Why, Mr Trent,' returned Dick, 'there is a proverb which talks
about being merry and wise. There are some people who can be
merry and can't be wise, and some who can be wise (or think they
can) and can't be merry. I'm one of the first sort. If the proverb's a
good 'un, I supose it's better to keep to half of it than none; at all
events, I'd rather be merry and not wise, than like you, neither one
'Bah!' muttered his friend, peevishly.
'With all my heart,' said Mr Swiveller. 'In the polite circles I believe
this sort of thing isn't usually said to a gentleman in his own
apartments, but never mind that. Make yourself at home,' adding to
this retort an observation to the effect that his friend appeared to be
rather 'cranky' in point of temper, Richards Swiveller finished the
rosy and applied himself to the composition of another glassful, in
which, after tasting it with great relish, he proposed a toast to an
'Gentlemen, I'll give you, if you please, Success to the ancient
family of the Swivellers, and good luck to Mr Richard in particular--Mr
said Dick with great emphasis, 'who spends
all his money on his friends and is Bah!'d for his pains. Hear, hear!'
'Dick!' said the other, returning to his seat after having paced the
room twice or thrice, 'will you talk seriously for two minutes, if I
show you a way to make your fortune with very little trouble?'
'You've shown me so many,' returned Dick; 'and nothing has come
of any one of 'em but empty pockets ---'
'You'll tell a different story of this one, before a very long time is
over,' said his companion, drawing his chair to the table. 'You saw
my sister Nell?'
'What about her?' returned Dick.
'She has a pretty face, has she not?'
'Why, certainly,' replied Dick. 'I must say for her that there's not
any very strong family likeness between her and you.'
'Has she a pretty face,' repeated his friend impatiently.
'Yes,' said Dick, 'she has a pretty face, a very pretty face. What of
'I'll tell you,' returned his friend. 'It's very plain that the old man
and I will remain at daggers drawn to the end of our lives, and that I
have nothing to expect from him. You see that, I suppose?'
'A bat might see that, with the sun shining,' said Dick.
'It's equally plain that the money which the old flint--rot him--first
taught me to expect that I should share with her at his death, will all
be hers, is it not?'
'I should said it was,' replied Dick; 'unless the way in which I put
the case to him, made an impression. It may have done so. It was
powerful, Fred. 'Here is a jolly old grandfather'--that was strong, I
thought--very friendly and natural. Did it strike you in that way?'
It didn't strike him,' returned the other, 'so we needn't discuss it.
Now look here. Nell is nearly fourteen.'
'Fine girl of her age, but small,' observed Richard Swiveller
'If I am to go on, be quiet for one minute,' returned Trent, fretting at
the slight interest the other appeared to take in the conversation.
'Now I'm coming to the point.'
'That's right,' said Dick.
'The girl has strong affections, and brought up as she has been, may,
at her age, be easily influenced and persuaded. If I take her in hand,
I will be bound by a very little coaxing and threatening to bend her
to my will. Not to beat about the bush (for the advantages of the
scheme would take a week to tell) what's to prevent your marrying
Richard Swiveller, who had been looking over the rim of the tumbler
while his companion addressed the foregoing remarks to him with
great energy and earnestness of manner, no sooner heard these words
than he evinced the utmost consternation, and with difficulty
ejaculated the monosyllable:
'I say, what's to prevent,' repeated the other with a steadiness of
manner, of the effect of which upon his companion he was well
assured by long experience, 'what's to prevent your marrying her?'
'And she 'nearly fourteen'!' cried Dick.
'I don't mean marrying her now'--returned the brother angrily; 'say
in two year's time, in three, in four. Does the old man look like a
'He don't look like it,' said Dick shaking his head, 'but these old
people--there's no trusting them, Fred. There's an aunt of mind
down in Dorsetshire that was going to die when I was eight years
old, and hasn't kept her word yet. They're so aggravating, so
unprincipled, so spiteful--unless there's apoplexy in the family, Fred,
you can't calculate upon 'em, and even then they deceive you just as
often as not.'
'Look at the worst side of the question then,' said Trent as steadily
as before, and keeping his eyes upon his friend. 'Suppose he lives.'
'To be sure,' said Dick. 'There's the rub.'
'I say,' resumed his friend, 'suppose he lives, and I persuaded, or if
the word sounds more feasible, forced Nell to a secret marriage with
you. What do you think would come of that?'
'A family and an annual income of nothing, to keep 'em on,' said
Richard Swiveller after some reflection.
'I tell you,' returned the other with an increased earnestness, which,
whether it were real or assumed, had the same effect on his
companion, 'that he lives for her, that his whole energies and
thoughts are bound up in her, that he would no more disinherit her
for an act of disobedience than he would take me into his favour
again for any act of obedience or virtue that I could possibly be
guilty of. He could not do it. You or any other man with eyes in his
head may see that, if he chooses.'
'It seems improbable certainly,' said Dick, musing.
'It seems improbable because it is improbable,' his friend returned.
'If you would furnish him with an additional inducement to forgive
you, let there be an irreconcilable breach, a most deadly quarrel,
between you and me--let there be a pretense of such a thing, I mean,
of course--and he'll do fast enough. As to Nell, constant dropping
will wear away a stone; you know you may trust to me as far as she
is concerned. So, whether he lives or dies, what does it come to?
That you become the sole inheritor of the wealth of this rich old
hunks, that you and I spend it together, and that you get into the
bargain a beautiful young wife.'
'I suppose there's no doubt about his being rich'--said Dick.
'Doubt! Did you hear what he left fall the other day when we were
there? Doubt! What will you doubt next, Dick?'
It would be tedious to pursue the conversation through all its artful
windings, or to develope the gradual approaches by which the heart
of Richard Swiveller was gained. It is sufficient to know that vanity,
interest, poverty, and every spendthrift consideration urged him to
look upon the proposal with favour, and that where all other
inducements were wanting, the habitual carelessness of his
disposition stepped in and still weighed down the scale on the same
side. To these impulses must be added the complete ascendancy
which his friend had long been accustomed to exercise over him--an
ascendancy exerted in the beginning sorely at the expense of his
friend's vices, and was in nine cases out of ten looked upon as his
designing tempter when he was indeed nothing but his thoughtless,
The motives on the other side were something deeper than any which
Richard Swiveller entertained or understood, but these being left to
their own development, require no present elucidation. the
negotiation was concluded very pleasantly, and Mr Swiveller was in
the act of stating in flowery terms that he had no insurmountable
objection to marrying anybody plentifully endowed with money or
moveables, who could be induced to take him, when he was
interrupted in his observations by a knock at the door, and the
consequent necessity of crying 'Come in.'
The door was opened, but nothing came in except a soapy arm and a
strong gush of tobacco. The gush of tobacco came from the shop
downstairs, and the soapy arm proceeded from the body of a servant-girl,
who being then and
there engaged in cleaning the stars had just
drawn it out of a warm pail to take in a letter, which letter she now
held in her hand, proclaiming aloud with that quick perception of
surnames peculiar to her class that it was for Mister Snivelling.
Dick looked rather pale and foolish when he glanced at the direction,
and still more so when he came to look at the inside, observing that
it was one of the inconveniences of being a lady's man, and that it
was very easy to talk as they had been talking, but he had quite
'Her. Who?' demanded Trent.
'Sophy Wackles,' said Dick.
'She's all my fancy painted her, sir, that's what she is,' said Mr
Swiveller, taking a long pull at 'the rosy' and looking gravely at his
friend. 'She's lovely, she's divine. You know her.'
'I remember,' said his companion carelessly. 'What of her?'
'Why, sir,' returned Dick, 'between Miss Sophia Wackles and the
humble individual who has now the honor to address you, warm and
tender sentiments have been engendered, sentiments of the most
honourable and inspiring kind. The Goddess Diana, sir, that calls
aloud for the chase, is not more particular in her behavior than
Sophia Wackles; I can tell you that.'
'Am I to believe there's anything real in what you say?' demanded
his friend; 'you don't mean to say that any love-making has been
'Love-making, yes. Promising, no,' said Dick. 'There can be no
action for breach, that's one comfort. I've never committed myself in
'And what's in the letter, pray?'
'A reminder, Fred, for to-night--a small party of twenty, making two
hundred light fantastic toes in all, supposing every lady and
gentleman to have the proper complement. It must go, if it's only to
begin breaking off the affair--I'll do it, don't you be afraid. I should
like to know whether she left this herself. If she did, unconscious of
any bar to her happiness, it's affecting, Fred.'
To solve this question, Mr Swiveller summoned the handmaid and
ascertained that Miss Sophy Wackles had indeed left the letter with
her own hands; and that she had come accompanied, for decorum's
sake no doubt, by a younger Miss Wackles; and that on learning that
Mr Swiveller was at home and being requested to walk upstairs, she
was extremely shocked and professed that she would rather die. Mr
Swiveller heard this account with a degree of admiration not
altogether consistent with the project in which he had just concurred,
but his friend attached very little importance to his behavior in this
respect, probably because he knew that he had influence sufficient to
control Richard Swiveller's proceedings in this or any other matter,
whenever he deemed it necessary, for the advancement of his own
purposes, to exert it.
Business disposed of, Mr Swiveller was inwardly reminded of its
being nigh dinner-time, and to the intent that his health might not be
endangered by longer abstinence, dispached a message to the nearest
eating-house requiring an immediate supply of boiled beef and greens
for two. With this demand, however, the eating-house (having
experience of its customer) declined to comply, churlishly sending
back for answer that if Mr Swiveller stood in need of beef perhaps
he would be so obliging as to come there and eat it, bringing with
him, as grace before meat, the amount of a certin small account
which had long been outstanding. Not at all intimidated by this
rebuff, but rather sharpened in wits and appetite, Mr Swiveller
forwarded the same message to another and more distant eating-house,
adding to it by way of rider that the gentleman was induced to
send so far, not only by the great fame and popularity its beef had
acquired, but in consequence of the extreme toughness of the beef
retailed at the obdurant cook's shop, which rendered it quite unfit not
merely for gentlemanly food, but for any human consumption. The
good effect of this politic course was demonstrated by the speedy
arrive of a small pewter pyramid, curously constructed of platters
and covers, whereof the boiled-beef-plates formed the base, and a
foaming quart-pot the apex; the structure being resolved into its
component parts afforded all things requisite and necessary for a
hearty meal, to which Mr Swiveller and his friend applied
themselves with great keenness and enjoyment.
'May the present moment,' said Dick, sticking his fork into a large
carbuncular potato, 'be the worst of our lives! I like the plan of
sending 'em with the peel on; there's a charm in drawing a poato
from its native element (if I may so express it) to which the rich and
powerful are strangers. Ah! 'Man wants but little here below, nor
wants that little long!' How true that it!--after dinner.'
'I hope the eating-house keeper will want but little and that he may
not want that little long,' returned his companion; but I suspect
you've no means of paying for this!'
'I shall be passing present, and I'll call,' said Dick, winking his eye
significantly. 'The waiter's quite helpless. The goods are gone, Fred,
and there's an end of it.'
In point of fact, it would seem that the waiter felt this wholesome
truth, for when he returned for the empty plates and dishes and was
informed by Mr Swiveller with dignified carelessness that he would
call and setle when he should be passing presently, he displayed
some pertubation of spirit and muttered a few remarks about
'payment on delivery' and 'no trust,' and other unpleasant subjects,
but was fain to content himself with inquiring at what hour it was
likely that the gentleman would call, in order that being presently
responsible for the beef , greens, and sundries, he might take to be in
the way at the time. Mr Swiveller, after mentally calculating his
engagements to a nicety, replied that he should look in at from two
minutes before six and seven minutes past; and the man disappearing
with this feeble consolation, Richards Swiveller took a greasy
memorandum-book from his pocket and made an entry therein.
'Is that a reminder, in case you should forget to call?' said Trent
with a sneer.
'Not exactly, Fred,' replied the imperturable Richard, continuing to
write with a businesslike air. 'I enter in this little book the names of
the streets that I can't go down while the shops are open. This dinner
today closes Long Acre. I bought a pair of boots in Great Queen
Street last week, and made that no throughfare too. There's only one
avenue to the Strand left often now, and I shall have to stop up that
to-night with a pair of gloves. The roads are closing so fast in every
direction, that in a month's time, unless my aunt sends me a
remittance, I shall have to go three or four miles out of town to get
over the way.'
'There's no fear of failing, in the end?' said Trent.
'Why, I hope not,' returned Mr Swiveller, 'but the average number
of letters it take to soften her is six, and this time we have got as far
as eight without any effect at all. I'll write another tom-morrow
morning. I mean to blot it a good deal and shake some water over it
out of the pepper-castor to make it look penitent. 'I'm in such a state
of mind that I hardly know what I write'--blot--' if you could see me
at this minute shedding tears for my past misconduct'--pepper-castor--
my hand trembles when I think'--blot again--if that don't produce
the effect, it's all over.'
By this time, Mr Swiveller had finished his entry, and he now
replaced his pencil in its little sheath and closed the book, in a
perfectly grave and serious frame of mind. His friend discovered that
it was time for him to fulfil some other engagement, and Richard
Swiveller was accordingly left alone, in company with the rosy wine
and his own meditations touching Miss Sophy Wackles.
'It's rather sudden,' said Dick shaking his head with a look of
infinite wisdom, and running on (as he was accustomed to do) with
scraps of verse as if they were only prose in a hurry; 'when the heart
of a man is depressed with fears, the mist is dispelled when Miss
Wackles appears; she's a very nice girl. She's like the red red rose
that's newly sprung in June--there's no denying that--she's also like a
melody that's sweetly played in tune. It's really very sudden. Not
that there's any need, on account of Fred's little sister, to turn cool
directly, but its better not to go too far. If I begin to cool at all I
must begin at once, I see that. There's the chance of an action for
breach, that's another. There's the chance of--no, there's no chance
of that, but it's as well to be on the safe side.'
This undeveloped was the possibility, which Richard Swiveller
sought to conceal even from himself, of his not being proof against
the charms of Miss Wackles, and in some unguarded moment, by
linking his fortunes to hers forever, of putting it out of his own
power to further their notable scheme to which he had so readily
become a party. For all these reasons, he decided to pick a quarrel
with Miss Wackles without delay, and casting about for a pretext
determined in favour of groundless jealousy. Having made up his
mind on this important point, he circulated the glass (from his right
hand to left, and back again) pretty freely, to enable him to act his
part with the greater discretion, and then, after making some slight
improvements in his toilet, bent his steps towards the spot hallowed
by the fair object of his meditations.
The spot was at Chesea, for there Miss Sophia Wackles resided with
her widowed mother and two sisters, in conjunction with whom she
maintained a very small day-school for young ladies of proportionate
dimensions; a circumstance which was made known to the
neighbourhood by an oval board over the front first-floor windows,
whereupon appeared in circumbmbient flourishes the words 'Ladies'
Seminary'; and which was further published and proclaimed at
intervals between the hours of half-past nine and ten in the morning,
by a straggling and solitrary young lady of tender years standing on
the scraper on the tips of her toes and making futile attempts to reach
the knocker with spelling-book. The several duties of instruction in
this establishment were this discharged. English grammar,
composition, geography, and the use of the dumb-bells, by Miss
Melissa Wackles; writing, arthmetic, dancing, music, and general
fascination, by Miss Sophia Wackles; the art of needle-work,
marking, and samplery, by Miss Jane Wackles; corporal punishment,
fasting, and other tortures and terrors, by Mrs Wackles. Miss
Melissa Wackles was the eldest daughter, Miss Sophy the next, and
Miss Jane the youngest. Miss Melissa might have seen five-and-thirty
summers or thereabouts, and verged on the autumnal; Miss Sophy
was a fresh, good humoured, busom girl of twenty; and Miss Jane
numbered scarcely sixteen years. Mrs Wackles was an excellent
but rather vemenous old lady of three-score.
To this Ladies' Seminary, then, Richard Swiveller hied, with designs
obnoxious to the peace of the fair Sophia, who, arrayed in virgin
white, embelished by no ornament but one blushing rose, received
him on his arrival, in the midst of very elegant not to say brilliant
preparations; such as the embellishment of the room with the little
flower-pots which always stood on the window-sill outside, save in
windy weather when they blew into the area; the choice attire of the
day-scholars who were allowed to grace the festival; the unwonted
curls of Miss Jane Wackles who had kept her head during the whole
of the preceding day screwed up tight in a yellow play-bill; and the
solemn gentility and stately bearing of the old lady and her eldest
daughter, which struck Mr Swiveller as being uncommon but made
no further impression upon him.
The truth is--and, as there is no accounting for tastes, even a taste so
strange as this may be recorded without being looked upon as a
wilful and malicious invention--the truth is that neither Mrs Wackles
nor her eldest daughter had at any time greatly favoured the
pretensions of Mr Swiveller, being accustomed to make slight
mention of him as 'a gay young man' and to sigh and shake their
heads ominously whenever his name was mentioned. Mr Swiveller's
conduct in respect to Miss Sophy having been of that vague and
dilitory kind which is usuaully looked upon as betokening no fixed
matrimonial intentions, the young lady herself began in course of
time to deem it highly desirable, that it should be brought to an issue
one way or other. Hence she had at last consented to play off against
Richard Swiveller a stricken market-gardner known to be ready with
his offer on the smallest encouragement, and hence--as this occasion
had been specially assigned for the purpose--that great anxiety on her
part for Richard Swiveller's presence which had occasioned her to
leave the note he has ben seen to receive. 'If he has any expectations
at all or any means of keeping a wife well,' said Mrs Wackles to her
eldest daughter, 'he'll state 'em to us now or never.'--'If he really
cares about me,' thought Miss Sophy, 'he must tell me so, to-night.'
But all these sayings and doings and thinkings being unknown to Mr
Swiveller, affected him not in the least; he was debating in his mind
how he could best turn jealous, and wishing that Sophy were for that
occasion only far less pretty than she was, or that she were her own
sister, which would have served his turn as well, when the company
came, and among them the market-gardener, whose name was
Cheggs. But Mr Cheggs came not alone or unsupported, for he
prudently brought along with him his sister, Miss Cheggs, who
making straight to Miss Sophy and taking her by both hands, and
kissing her on both cheeks, hoped in an audible whisper that they
had not come too early.
'Too early, no!' replied Miss Sophy.
'Oh, my dear,' rejoined Miss Cheggs in the same whisper as before,
'I've been so tormented, so worried, that it's a mercy we were not
here at four o'clock in the afternoon. Alick has been in such a state
of impatience to come! You'd hardly believe that he was dressed
before dinner-time and has been looking at the clock and teasing me
ever since. It's all your fault, you naughty thing.'
Hereupon Miss Sophy blushed, and Mr Cheggs (who was bashful
before ladies) blushed too, and Miss Sophy's mother and sisters, to
prevent Mr Cheggs from blushing more, lavished civilities and
attentions upon him, and left Richard Swiveller to take care of
himself. Here was the very thing he wanted, here was good cause
reason and foundation for pretending to be angry; but having this
cause reason and foundation which he had come expressly to seek,
not expecting to find, Richard Swiveller was angry in sound earnest,
and wondered what the devil Cheggs meant by his impudence.
However, Mr Swiveller had Miss Sophy's hand for the first quadrille
(country-dances being low, were utterly proscribed) and so gained an
advantage over his rival, who sat despondingly in a corner and
contemplated the glorious figure of the young lady as she moved
through the mazy dance. Nor was this the only start Mr Swiveller
had of the market-gardener, for determining to show the family what
quality of man they trifled with, and influenced perhaps by his late
libations, he performed such feats of agility and such spins and twirls
as filled the company with astonishment, and in particular caused a
very long gentleman who was dancing with a very short scholar, to
stand quite transfixed by wonder and admiration. Even Mrs Wackles
forgot for the moment to snubb three small young ladies who were
inclined to be happy, and could not repress a rising thought that to
have such a dancer as that in the family would be a pride indeed.
At this momentous crisis, Miss Cheggs proved herself a vigourous
and useful ally, for not confining herself to expressing by scornful
smiles a contempt for Mr Swiveller's accomplishments, she took
every opportunity of whispering into Miss Sophy's ear expressions
of condolence and sympathy on her being worried by such a
ridiculous creature, declaring that she was frightened to death lest
Alick should fall upon, and beat him, in the fulness of his wrath, and
entreating Miss Sophy to observe how the eyes of the said Alick
gleamed with love and fury; passions, it may be observed, which
being too much for his eyes rushed into his nose also, and suffused it
with a crimson glow.
'You must dance with Miss Chegs,' said Miss Sophy to Dick
Swiviller, after she had herself danced twice with Mr Cheggs and
made great show of encouraging his advances. 'She's a nice girl--and
her brother's quite delightful.'
'Quite delightful, is he?' muttered Dick. 'Quite delighted too, I
should say, from the manner in which he's looking this way.'
Here Miss Jane (previously instructed for the purpose) interposed her
many curls and whispered her sister to observe how jealous Mr
'Jealous! Like his impudence!' said Richard Swiviller.
'His impudence, Mr Swiviller!' said Miss Jane, tossing her head.
'Take care he don't hear you, sir, or you may be sorry for it.'
'Oh, pray, Jane --' said Miss Sophy.
'Nonsense!' replied her sister. 'Why shouldn't Mr Cheggs be jealous
if he likes? I like that, certainly. Mr Cheggs has a good a right to be
jealous as anyone else has, and perhaps he may have a better right
soon if he hasn't already. You know best about that, Sophy!'
Though this was a concerted plot between Miss Sophy and her sister,
originating in humane intenions and having for its object the inducing
Mr Swiviller to declare himself in time, it failed in its effect; for
Miss Jane being one of those young ladies who are premeturely shrill
and shrewish, gave such undue importance to her part that Mr
Swiviller retired in dudgeon, resigning his mistress to Mr Cheggs
and converying a definance into his looks which that gentleman
'Did you speak to me, sir?' said Mr Cheggs, following him into a
corner. 'Have the kindness to smile, sir, in order that we may not be
suspected. Did you speak to me, sir'?
Mr Swiviller looked with a supercilious smile at Mr Chegg's toes,
then raised his eyes from them to his ankles, from that to his shin,
from that to his knee, and so on very gradually, keeping up his right
leg, until he reached his waistcoat, when he raised his eyes from
button to button until he reached his chin, and travelling straight up
the middle of his nose came at last to his eyes, when he said
'No, sir, I didn't.'
`'Hem!' said Mr Cheggs, glancing over his shoulder, 'have the
goodness to smile again, sir. Perhaps you wished to speak to me,
'No, sir, I didn't do that, either.'
'Perhaps you may have nothing to say to me now, sir,' said Mr
At these words Richard Swiviller withdrew his eyes from Mr
Chegg's face, and travelling down the middle of his nose and down
his waistcoat and down his right leg, reached his toes again, and
carefully surveyed him; this done, he crossed over, and coming up
the other legt and thence approaching by the waistcoat as before, said
when had got to his eyes, 'No sir, I haven't.:'
'Oh, indeed, sir!' said Mr Cheggs. 'I'm glad to hear it. You know
where I'm to be found, I suppose, sir, in case you should have
anything to say to me?'
'I can easily inquire, sir, when I want to know.'
'There's nothing more we need say, I believe, sir?'
'Nothing more, sir'--With that they closed the tremendous dialog by
frowning mutually. Mr Cheggs hastened to tender his hand to Miss
Sophy, and Mr Swiviller sat himself down in a corner in a very
Hard by this corner, Mrs Wackles and Miss Wackles were seated,
looking on at the dance; and unto Mrs and Miss Wackles, Miss
Cheggs occasionally darted when her partner was occupied with his
share of the figure, and made some remark or other which was gall
and wormword to Richard Swiviller's soul. Looking into the eyes of
Mrs and Miss Wackles for encouragement, and sitting very upright
and uncomfortable on a couple of hard stools, were two of the
day-scholars; and when Miss Wackles smiled, and Mrs Wackles smiled,
the two little girls on the stools sought to curry favour by smiling
likewise, in gracious acknowledgement of which attention the old
lady frowned them down instantly, and said that if they dared to be
guilty of such an impertinence again, they should be sent under
convoy to their respective homes. This threat caused one of the
young ladies, she being of a weak and trembling temperament, to
shed tears, and for this offense they were both filed off immediately,
with a dreadful promptitude that struck terror into the souls of all the
'I've got such news for you,' said Miss Cheggs approaching once
more, 'Alick has been saying such things to Sophy. Upon my word,
you know, it's quite serious and in earnest, that's clear.'
'What's he been saying, my dear?' demanded Mrs Wackles.
'All manner of things,' replied Miss Cheggs, 'you can't think how
out he has been speaking!'
Richard Swiviller considered it advisable to hear no more, but taking
advantage of a pause in the dancing, and the approach of Mr Cheggs
to pay his court to the old lady, swaggered with an extremely careful
assumption of extreme carelessness toward the door, passing on the
way Miss Jane Wackles, who in all the glory of her curls was
holding a flirtation, (as good practice when no better was to be had)
with a feeble old gentleman who lodged in the parlour. Near the door
sat Miss Sophy, still fluttered and confused by the attentions of Mr
Cheggs, and by her side Richard Swiveller lingered for a moment to
exchange a few parting words.
'My boat is on the shore and my bark is on the sea, but before I pass
this door I will say farewell to thee,' murmured Dick, looking
gloomily upon her.
'Are you going?' said Miss Sophy, whose heart sank within her at
the result of her stratagem, but who affected a light indifference
'Am I going!' echoed Dick bitterly. 'Yes, I am. What then?'
'Nothing, except that it's very early,' said Miss Sophy; 'but you are
your own master, of course.'
'I would that I had been my own mistress too,' said Dick, 'before I
had ever entertained a thought of you. Miss Wackles, I believed you
true, and I was blest in so believing, but now I mourn that e'er I
knew, a girl so fair yet so deceiving.'
Miss Sophy bit her lip and affected to look with great interest after
Mr Cheggs, who was quaffing lemonade in the distance.
'I came here,' said Dick, rather oblivious of the purpose with which
he had really come, 'with my bosom expanded, my heart dilated, and
my sentiments of a corresponding description. I go away with
feelings that may be conceived but cannot be described, feeling
within myself that desolating truth that my best affections have
experienced this night a stifler!'
'I am sure I don't know what you mean, Mr Swiviller,' said Miss
Sophy with downcast eyes. 'I'm very sorry if--'
'Sorry, Ma'am!' said Dick, 'sorry in the possession of a Cheegs! But
I wish you a very good night, concluding with this slight remark,
that there is a young lady growing up at this present moment for me,
who has not only great personal attractions but great wealth, and
who has requested her next of kin to propose for my hand, which,
having a regard for some members of her family, I have consented to
promise. It's a gratifying circumstance which you'll be glad to hear,
that a young and lovely girl is growing into a woman expressly on
my account, and is now saving up for me. I thought I'd mention it. I
have now merely to apologize for trespassing so long upon your
attention. Good night.'
'There's one good thing springs out of all this,' said Richard
Swiviller to himself when he had reached home and was hanging
over the candle with the extinguisher in his hand, 'which is, that I
now go heart and soul, neck and heels, with Fred in all his scheme
about little Nelly, and right glad he'll be to find me so strong upon
it. He shall know all about that to-morrow, and in the mean time, as
it's rather late, I'll try and get a wink of the balmy.'
'The balmy' came almost as soon as it was courted. In a very few
minutes Mr Swiviller was fast asleep, dreaming that he had married
Nelly Trent and come into the property, and that his first act of
power was to lay waste the market-garden of Mr Cheggs and turn it
into a brick-field.
The child, in her confidence with Mrs Quilp, had but feebly
described the sadness and sorrow of her thoughts, or the heaviness
of the cloud which overhung her home, and cast dark shadows on its
hearth. Besides that it was very difficult to impart to any person
not intimately acquainted with the life she led, an adequate sense
of its gloom and loneliness, a constant fear of in some way
committing or injuring the old man to whom she was so tenderly
attached, had restrained her, even in the midst of her heart's
overflowing, and made her timid of allusion to the main cause of
her anxiety and distress.
For, it was not the monotonous days unchequered by variety and
uncheered by pleasant companionship, it was not the dark dreary
evenings or the long solitary nights, it was not the absence of
every slight and easy pleasure for which young hearts beat high, or
the knowing nothing of childhood but its weakness and its easily
wounded spirit, that had wrung such tears from Nell. To see the old
man struck down beneath the pressure of some hidden grief, to mark
his wavering and unsettled state, to be agitated at times with a
dreadful fear that his mind was wandering, and to trace in his
words and looks the dawning of despondent madness; to watch and
wait and listen for confirmation of these things day after day, and
to feel and know that, come what might, they were alone in the
world with no one to help or advise or care about them--these were
causes of depression and anxiety that might have sat heavily on an
older breast with many influences at work to cheer and gladden it,
but how heavily on the mind of a young child to whom they were ever
present, and who was constantly surrounded by all that could keep
such thoughts in restless action!
And yet, to the old man's vision, Nell was still the same. When he
could, for a moment, disengage his mind from the phantom that
haunted and brooded on it always, there was his young companion
with the same smile for him, the same earnest words, the same merry
laugh, the same love and care that, sinking deep into his soul,
seemed to have been present to him through his whole life. And so
he went on, content to read the book of her heart from the page
first presented to him, little dreaming of the story that lay
hidden in its other leaves, and murmuring within himself that at
least the child was happy.
She had been once. She had gone singing through the dim rooms, and
moving with gay and lightsome step among their dusty treasures,
making them older by her young life, and sterner and more grim by
her gay and cheerful presence. But, now, the chambers were cold and
gloomy, and when she left her own little room to while away the
tedious hours, and sat in one of them, she was still and motionless
as their inanimate occupants, and had no heart to startle the
echoes--hoarse from their long silence--with her voice.
In one of these rooms, was a window looking into the street, where
the child sat, many and many a long evening, and often far into the
night, alone and thoughtful. None are so anxious as those who watch
and wait; at these times, mournful fancies came flocking on her
mind, in crowds.
She would take her station here, at dusk, and watch the people as
they passed up and down the street, or appeared at the windows of
the opposite houses; wondering whether those rooms were as lonesome
as that in which she sat, and whether those people felt it company
to see her sitting there, as she did only to see them look out and
draw in their heads again. There was a crooked stack of chimneys on
one of the roofs, in which, by often looking at them, she had
fancied ugly faces that were frowning over at her and trying to
peer into the room; and she felt glad when it grew too dark to make
them out, though she was sorry too, when the man came to light the
lamps in the street--for it made it late, and very dull inside.
Then, she would draw in her head to look round the room and see
that everything was in its place and hadn't moved; and looking out
into the street again, would perhaps see a man passing with a
coffin on his back, and two or three others silently following him
to a house where somebody lay dead; which made her shudder and
think of such things until they suggested afresh the old man's
altered face and manner, and a new train of fears and speculations.
If he were to die--if sudden illness had happened to him, and he
were never to come home again, alive--if, one night, he should
come home, and kiss and bless her as usual, and after she had gone
to bed and had fallen asleep and was perhaps dreaming pleasantly,
and smiling in her sleep, he should kill himself and his blood come
creeping, creeping, on the ground to her own bed-room door! These
thoughts were too terrible to dwell upon, and again she would have
recourse to the street, now trodden by fewer feet, and darker and
more silent than before. The shops were closing fast, and lights
began to shine from the upper windows, as the neighbours went to
bed. By degrees, these dwindled away and disappeared or were
replaced, here and there, by a feeble rush-candle which was to burn
all night. Still, there was one late shop at no great distance
which sent forth a ruddy glare upon the pavement even yet, and
looked bright and companionable. But, in a little time, this
closed, the light was extinguished, and all was gloomy and quiet,
except when some stray footsteps sounded on the pavement, or a
neighbour, out later than his wont, knocked lustily at his
house-door to rouse the sleeping inmates.
When the night had worn away thus far (and seldom now until it had)
the child would close the window, and steal softly down stairs,
thinking as she went that if one of those hideous faces below,
which often mingled with her dreams, were to meet her by the way,
rendering itself visible by some strange light of its own, how
terrified she would be. But these fears vanished before a
well-trimmed lamp and the familiar aspect of her own room. After
praying fervently, and with many bursting tears, for the old man,
and the restoration of his peace of mind and the happiness they had
once enjoyed, she would lay her head upon the pillow and sob
herself to sleep: often starting up again, before the day-light
came, to listen for the bell and respond to the imaginary summons
which had roused her from her slumber.
One night, the third after Nelly's interview with Mrs Quilp, the
old man, who had been weak and ill all day, said he should not
leave home. The child's eyes sparkled at the intelligence, but her
joy subsided when they reverted to his worn and sickly face.
'Two days,' he said, 'two whole, clear, days have passed, and there
is no reply. What did he tell thee, Nell?'
'Exactly what I told you, dear grandfather, indeed.'
'True,' said the old man, faintly. 'Yes. But tell me again, Nell.
My head fails me. What was it that he told thee? Nothing more than
that he would see me to-morrow or next day? That was in the note.'
'Nothing more,' said the child. 'Shall I go to him again to-
morrow, dear grandfather? Very early? I will be there and back,
The old man shook his head, and sighing mournfully, drew her
''Twould be of no use, my dear, no earthly use. But if he deserts
me, Nell, at this moment--if he deserts me now, when I should,
with his assistance, be recompensed for all the time and money I
have lost, and all the agony of mind I have undergone, which makes
me what you see, I am ruined, and--worse, far worse than that--
have ruined thee, for whom I ventured all. If we are beggars--!'
'What if we are?' said the child boldly. 'Let us be beggars, and be
'Beggars--and happy!' said the old man. 'Poor child!'
'Dear grandfather,' cried the girl with an energy which shone in
her flushed face, trembling voice, and impassioned gesture, 'I am
not a child in that I think, but even if I am, oh hear me pray that
we may beg, or work in open roads or fields, to earn a scanty
living, rather than live as we do now.'
'Nelly!' said the old man.
'Yes, yes, rather than live as we do now,' the child repeated, more
earnestly than before. 'If you are sorrowful, let me know why and
be sorrowful too; if you waste away and are paler and weaker every
day, let me be your nurse and try to comfort you. If you are poor,
let us be poor together; but let me be with you, do let me be with
you; do not let me see such change and not know why, or I shall
break my heart and die. Dear grandfather, let us leave this sad
place to-morrow, and beg our way from door to door.'
The old man covered his face with his hands, and hid it in the
pillow of the couch on which he lay.
'Let us be beggars,' said the child passing an arm round his neck,
'I have no fear but we shall have enough, I am sure we shall. Let
us walk through country places, and sleep in fields and under
trees, and never think of money again, or anything that can make
you sad, but rest at nights, and have the sun and wind upon our
faces in the day, and thank God together! Let us never set foot in
dark rooms or melancholy houses, any more, but wander up and down
wherever we like to go; and when you are tired, you shall stop to
rest in the pleasantest place that we can find, and I will go and
beg for both.'
The child's voice was lost in sobs as she dropped upon the old
man's neck; nor did she weep alone.
These were not words for other ears, nor was it a scene for other
eyes. And yet other ears and eyes were there and greedily taking in
all that passed, and moreover they were the ears and eyes of no
less a person than Mr Daniel Quilp, who, having entered unseen when
the child first placed herself at the old man's side, refrained--
actuated, no doubt, by motives of the purest delicacy--from
interrupting the conversation, and stood looking on with his
accustomed grin. Standing, however, being a tiresome attitude to a
gentleman already fatigued with walking, and the dwarf being one of
that kind of persons who usually make themselves at home, he soon
cast his eyes upon a chair, into which he skipped with uncommon
agility, and perching himself on the back with his feet upon the
seat, was thus enabled to look on and listen with greater comfort
to himself, besides gratifying at the same time that taste for
doing something fantastic and monkey-like, which on all occasions
had strong possession of him. Here, then, he sat, one leg cocked
carelessly over the other, his chin resting on the palm of his
hand, his head turned a little on one side, and his ugly features
twisted into a complacent grimace. And in this position the old
man, happening in course of time to look that way, at length
chanced to see him: to his unbounded astonishment.
The child uttered a suppressed shriek on beholding this agreeable
figure; in their first surprise both she and the old man, not
knowing what to say, and half doubting its reality, looked
shrinkingly at it. Not at all disconcerted by this reception,
Daniel Quilp preserved the same attitude, merely nodding twice or
thrice with great condescension. At length, the old man pronounced
his name, and inquired how he came there.
'Through the door,' said Quilp pointing over his shoulder with his
thumb. 'I'm not quite small enough to get through key-holes. I
wish I was. I want to have some talk with you, particularly, and in
private. With nobody present, neighbour. Good-bye, little Nelly.'
Nell looked at the old man, who nodded to her to retire, and kissed
'Ah!' said the dwarf, smacking his lips, 'what a nice kiss that was--
just upon the rosy part. What a capital kiss!'
Nell was none the slower in going away, for this remark. Quilp
looked after her with an admiring leer, and when she had closed the
door, fell to complimenting the old man upon her charms.
'Such a fresh, blooming, modest little bud, neighbour,' said Quilp,
nursing his short leg, and making his eyes twinkle very much; 'such
a chubby, rosy, cosy, little Nell!'
The old man answered by a forced smile, and was plainly struggling
with a feeling of the keenest and most exquisite impatience. It was
not lost upon Quilp, who delighted in torturing him, or indeed
anybody else, when he could.
'She's so,' said Quilp, speaking very slowly, and feigning to be
quite absorbed in the subject, 'so small, so compact, so
beautifully modelled, so fair, with such blue veins and such a
transparent skin, and such little feet, and such winning ways--
but bless me, you're nervous! Why neighbour, what's the matter? I
swear to you,' continued the dwarf dismounting from the chair and
sitting down in it, with a careful slowness of gesture very
different from the rapidity with which he had sprung up unheard, 'I
swear to you that I had no idea old blood ran so fast or kept so
warm. I thought it was sluggish in its course, and cool, quite
cool. I am pretty sure it ought to be. Yours must be out of order,
'I believe it is,' groaned the old man, clasping his head with both
hands. 'There's burning fever here, and something now and then to
which I fear to give a name.'
The dwarf said never a word, but watched his companion as he paced
restlessly up and down the room, and presently returned to his
seat. Here he remained, with his head bowed upon his breast for
some time, and then suddenly raising it, said,
'Once, and once for all, have you brought me any money?'
'No!' returned Quilp.
'Then,' said the old man, clenching his hands desperately, and
looking upwards, 'the child and I are lost!'
'Neighbour,' said Quilp glancing sternly at him, and beating his
hand twice or thrice upon the table to attract his wandering
attention, 'let me be plain with you, and play a fairer game than
when you held all the cards, and I saw but the backs and nothing
more. You have no secret from me now.'
The old man looked up, trembling.
'You are surprised,' said Quilp. 'Well, perhaps that's natural. You
have no secret from me now, I say; no, not one. For now, I know,
that all those sums of money, that all those loans, advances, and
supplies that you have had from me, have found their way to--shall
I say the word?'
'Aye!' replied the old man, 'say it, if you will.'
'To the gaming-table,' rejoined Quilp, 'your nightly haunt. This
was the precious scheme to make your fortune, was it; this was the
secret certain source of wealth in which I was to have sunk my
money (if I had been the fool you took me for); this was your
inexhaustible mine of gold, your El Dorado, eh?'
'Yes,' cried the old man, turning upon him with gleaming eyes, 'it
was. It is. It will be, till I die.'
'That I should have been blinded,' said Quilp looking
contemptuously at him, 'by a mere shallow gambler!'
'I am no gambler,' cried the old man fiercely. 'I call Heaven to
witness that I never played for gain of mine, or love of play; that
at every piece I staked, I whispered to myself that orphan's name
and called on Heaven to bless the venture;--which it never did.
Whom did it prosper? Who were those with whom I played? Men who
lived by plunder, profligacy, and riot; squandering their gold in
doing ill, and propagating vice and evil. My winnings would have
been from them, my winnings would have been bestowed to the last
farthing on a young sinless child whose life they would have
sweetened and made happy. What would they have contracted? The
means of corruption, wretchedness, and misery. Who would not have
hoped in such a cause? Tell me that! Who would not have hoped as I
'When did you first begin this mad career?' asked Quilp, his
taunting inclination subdued, for a moment, by the old man's grief
'When did I first begin?' he rejoined, passing his hand across his
brow. 'When was it, that I first began? When should it be, but when
I began to think how little I had saved, how long a time it took to
save at all, how short a time I might have at my age to live, and
how she would be left to the rough mercies of the world, with
barely enough to keep her from the sorrows that wait on poverty;
then it was that I began to think about it.'
'After you first came to me to get your precious grandson packed
off to sea?' said Quilp.
'Shortly after that,' replied the old man. 'I thought of it a long
time, and had it in my sleep for months. Then I began. I found no
pleasure in it, I expected none. What has it ever brought me but
anxious days and sleepless nights; but loss of health and peace of
mind, and gain of feebleness and sorrow!'
'You lost what money you had laid by, first, and then came to me.
While I thought you were making your fortune (as you said you were)
you were making yourself a beggar, eh? Dear me! And so it comes to
pass that I hold every security you could scrape together, and a
bill of sale upon the--upon the stock and property,' said Quilp
standing up and looking about him, as if to assure himself that
none of it had been taken away. 'But did you never win?'
'Never!' groaned the old man. 'Never won back my loss!'
'I thought,' sneered the dwarf, 'that if a man played long enough
he was sure to win at last, or, at the worst, not to come off a
'And so he is,' cried the old man, suddenly rousing himself from
his state of despondency, and lashed into the most violent
excitement, 'so he is; I have felt that from the first, I have
always known it, I've seen it, I never felt it half so strongly as
I feel it now. Quilp, I have dreamed, three nights, of winning the
same large sum, I never could dream that dream before, though I
have often tried. Do not desert me, now I have this chance. I have
no resource but you, give me some help, let me try this one last
The dwarf shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.
'See, Quilp, good tender-hearted Quilp,' said the old man, drawing
some scraps of paper from his pocket with a trembling hand, and
clasping the dwarf's arm, 'only see here. Look at these figures,
the result of long calculation, and painful and hard experience. I
MUST win. I only want a little help once more, a few pounds, but
two score pounds, dear Quilp.'
'The last advance was seventy,' said the dwarf; 'and it went in one
'I know it did,' answered the old man, 'but that was the very worst
fortune of all, and the time had not come then. Quilp, consider,
consider,' the old man cried, trembling so much the while, that the
papers in his hand fluttered as if they were shaken by the wind,
'that orphan child! If I were alone, I could die with gladness--
perhaps even anticipate that doom which is dealt out so unequally:
coming, as it does, on the proud and happy in their strength, and
shunning the needy and afflicted, and all who court it in their
despair--but what I have done, has been for her. Help me for her
sake I implore you; not for mine; for hers!'
'I'm sorry I've got an appointment in the city,' said Quilp,
looking at his watch with perfect self-possession, 'or I should
have been very glad to have spent half an hour with you while you
composed yourself, very glad.'
'Nay, Quilp, good Quilp,' gasped the old man, catching at his
skirts, 'you and I have talked together, more than once, of her
poor mother's story. The fear of her coming to poverty has perhaps
been bred in me by that. Do not be hard upon me, but take that into
account. You are a great gainer by me. Oh spare me the money for
this one last hope!'
'I couldn't do it really,' said Quilp with unusual politeness,
'though I tell you what--and this is a circumstance worth bearing
in mind as showing how the sharpest among us may be taken in
sometimes--I was so deceived by the penurious way in which you
lived, alone with Nelly--'
'All done to save money for tempting fortune, and to make her
triumph greater,' cried the old man.
'Yes, yes, I understand that now,' said Quilp; 'but I was going to
say, I was so deceived by that, your miserly way, the reputation
you had among those who knew you of being rich, and your repeated
assurances that you would make of my advances treble and quadruple
the interest you paid me, that I'd have advanced you, even now,
what you want, on your simple note of hand, if I hadn't
unexpectedly become acquainted with your secret way of life.'
'Who is it,' retorted the old man desperately, 'that,
notwithstanding all my caution, told you? Come. Let me know the
The crafty dwarf, bethinking himself that his giving up the child
would lead to the disclosure of the artifice he had employed,
which, as nothing was to be gained by it, it was well to conceal,
stopped short in his answer and said, 'Now, who do you think?'
'It was Kit, it must have been the boy; he played the spy, and you
tampered with him?' said the old man.
'How came you to think of him?' said the dwarf in a tone of great
commiseration. 'Yes, it was Kit. Poor Kit!'
So saying, he nodded in a friendly manner, and took his leave:
stopping when he had passed the outer door a little distance, and
grinning with extraordinary delight.
'Poor Kit!' muttered Quilp. 'I think it was Kit who said I was an
uglier dwarf than could be seen anywhere for a penny, wasn't it. Ha
ha ha! Poor Kit!' And with that he went his way, still chuckling as
Daniel Quilp neither entered nor left the old man's house,
unobserved. In the shadow of an archway nearly opposite, leading to
one of the many passages which diverged from the main street, there
lingered one, who, having taken up his position when the twilight
first came on, still maintained it with undiminished patience, and
leaning against the wall with the manner of a person who had a long
time to wait, and being well used to it was quite resigned,
scarcely changed his attitude for the hour together.
This patient lounger attracted little attention from any of those
who passed, and bestowed as little upon them. His eyes were
constantly directed towards one object; the window at which the
child was accustomed to sit. If he withdrew them for a moment, it
was only to glance at a clock in some neighbouring shop, and then
to strain his sight once more in the old quarter with increased
earnestness and attention.
It had been remarked that this personage evinced no weariness in
his place of concealment; nor did he, long as his waiting was. But
as the time went on, he manifested some anxiety and surprise,
glancing at the clock more frequently and at the window less
hopefully than before. At length, the clock was hidden from his
sight by some envious shutters, then the church steeples proclaimed
eleven at night, then the quarter past, and then the conviction
seemed to obtrude itself on his mind that it was no use tarrying
there any longer.
That the conviction was an unwelcome one, and that he was by no
means willing to yield to it, was apparent from his reluctance to
quit the spot; from the tardy steps with which he often left it,
still looking over his shoulder at the same window; and from the
precipitation with which he as often returned, when a fancied noise
or the changing and imperfect light induced him to suppose it had
been softly raised. At length, he gave the matter up, as hopeless
for that night, and suddenly breaking into a run as though to force
himself away, scampered off at his utmost speed, nor once ventured
to look behind him lest he should be tempted back again.
Without relaxing his pace, or stopping to take breath, this
mysterious individual dashed on through a great many alleys and
narrow ways until he at length arrived in a square paved court,
when he subsided into a walk, and making for a small house from the
window of which a light was shining, lifted the latch of the door
and passed in.
'Bless us!' cried a woman turning sharply round, 'who's that? Oh!
It's you, Kit!'
'Yes, mother, it's me.'
'Why, how tired you look, my dear!'
'Old master an't gone out to-night,' said Kit; 'and so she hasn't
been at the window at all.' With which words, he sat down by the
fire and looked very mournful and discontented.
The room in which Kit sat himself down, in this condition, was an
extremely poor and homely place, but with that air of comfort about
it, nevertheless, which--or the spot must be a wretched one indeed--
cleanliness and order can always impart in some degree. Late as
the Dutch clock' showed it to be, the poor woman was still hard at
work at an ironing-table; a young child lay sleeping in a cradle
near the fire; and another, a sturdy boy of two or three years old,
very wide awake, with a very tight night-cap on his head, and a
night-gown very much too small for him on his body, was sitting
bolt upright in a clothes-basket, staring over the rim with his
great round eyes, and looking as if he had thoroughly made up his
mind never to go to sleep any more; which, as he had already
declined to take his natural rest and had been brought out of bed
in consequence, opened a cheerful prospect for his relations and
friends. It was rather a queer-looking family: Kit, his mother, and
the children, being all strongly alike.
Kit was disposed to be out of temper, as the best of us are too
often--but he looked at the youngest child who was sleeping
soundly, and from him to his other brother in the clothes-basket,
and from him to their mother, who had been at work without
complaint since morning, and thought it would be a better and
kinder thing to be good-humoured. So he rocked the cradle with his
foot; made a face at the rebel in the clothes-basket, which put him
in high good-humour directly; and stoutly determined to be
talkative and make himself agreeable.
'Ah, mother!' said Kit, taking out his clasp-knife, and falling
upon a great piece of bread and meat which she had had ready for
him, hours before, 'what a one you are! There an't many such as
you, I know.'
'I hope there are many a great deal better, Kit,' said Mrs Nubbles;
'and that there are, or ought to be, accordin' to what the parson
at chapel says.'
'Much he knows about it,' returned Kit contemptuously. 'Wait till
he's a widder and works like you do, and gets as little, and does
as much, and keeps his spirit up the same, and then I'll ask him
what's o'clock and trust him for being right to half a second.'
'Well,' said Mrs Nubbles, evading the point, 'your beer's down
there by the fender, Kit.'
'I see,' replied her son, taking up the porter pot, 'my love to
you, mother. And the parson's health too if you like. I don't bear
him any malice, not I!'
'Did you tell me, just now, that your master hadn't gone out
to-night?' inquired Mrs Nubbles.
'Yes,' said Kit, 'worse luck!'
'You should say better luck, I think,' returned his mother,
'because Miss Nelly won't have been left alone.'
'Ah!' said Kit, 'I forgot that. I said worse luck, because I've
been watching ever since eight o'clock, and seen nothing of her.'
'I wonder what she'd say,' cried his mother, stopping in her work
and looking round, 'if she knew that every night, when she--poor
thing--is sitting alone at that window, you are watching in the
open street for fear any harm should come to her, and that you
never leave the place or come home to your bed though you're ever
so tired, till such time as you think she's safe in hers.'
'Never mind what she'd say,' replied Kit, with something like a
blush on his uncouth face; 'she'll never know nothing, and
consequently, she'll never say nothing.'
Mrs Nubbles ironed away in silence for a minute or two, and coming
to the fireplace for another iron, glanced stealthily at Kit while
she rubbed it on a board and dusted it with a duster, but said
nothing until she had returned to her table again: when, holding
the iron at an alarmingly short distance from her cheek, to test
its temperature, and looking round with a smile, she observed:
'I know what some people would say, Kit--'
'Nonsense,' interposed Kit with a perfect apprehension of what was
'No, but they would indeed. Some people would say that you'd fallen
in love with her, I know they would.'
To this, Kit only replied by bashfully bidding his mother 'get
out,' and forming sundry strange figures with his legs and arms,
accompanied by sympathetic contortions of his face. Not deriving
from these means the relief which he sought, he bit off an immense
mouthful from the bread and meat, and took a quick drink of the
porter; by which artificial aids he choked himself and effected a
diversion of the subject.
'Speaking seriously though, Kit,' said his mother, taking up the
theme afresh, after a time, 'for of course I was only in joke just
now, it's very good and thoughtful, and like you, to do this, and
never let anybody know it, though some day I hope she may come to
know it, for I'm sure she would be very grateful to you and feel it
very much. It's a cruel thing to keep the dear child shut up there.
I don't wonder that the old gentleman wants to keep it from you.'
'He don't think it's cruel, bless you,' said Kit, 'and don't mean
it to be so, or he wouldn't do it--I do consider, mother, that he
wouldn't do it for all the gold and silver in the world. No, no,
that he wouldn't. I know him better than that.'
'Then what does he do it for, and why does he keep it so close from
you?' said Mrs Nubbles.
'That I don't know,' returned her son. 'If he hadn't tried to keep
it so close though, I should never have found it out, for it was
his getting me away at night and sending me off so much earlier
than he used to, that first made me curious to know what was going
on. Hark! what's that?'
'It's only somebody outside.'
'It's somebody crossing over here,' said Kit, standing up to
listen, 'and coming very fast too. He can't have gone out after I
left, and the house caught fire, mother!'
The boy stood, for a moment, really bereft, by the apprehension he
had conjured up, of the power to move. The footsteps drew nearer,
the door was opened with a hasty hand, and the child herself, pale
and breathless, and hastily wrapped in a few disordered garments,
hurried into the room.
'Miss Nelly! What is the matter!' cried mother and son together.
'I must not stay a moment,' she returned, 'grandfather has been
taken very ill. I found him in a fit upon the floor--'
'I'll run for a doctor'--said Kit, seizing his brimless hat. 'I'll
be there directly, I'll--'
'No, no,' cried Nell, 'there is one there, you're not wanted, you--
you--must never come near us any more!'
'What!' roared Kit.
'Never again,' said the child. 'Don't ask me why, for I don't know.
Pray don't ask me why, pray don't be sorry, pray don't be vexed
with me! I have nothing to do with it indeed!'
Kit looked at her with his eyes stretched wide; and opened and shut
his mouth a great many times; but couldn't get out one word.
'He complains and raves of you,' said the child, 'I don't know what
you have done, but I hope it's nothing very bad.'
'I done!' roared Kit.
'He cries that you're the cause of all his misery,' returned the
child with tearful eyes; 'he screamed and called for you; they say
you must not come near him or he will die. You must not return to
us any more. I came to tell you. I thought it would be better that
I should come than somebody quite strange. Oh, Kit, what have you
done? You, in whom I trusted so much, and who were almost the only
friend I had!'
The unfortunate Kit looked at his young mistress harder and harder,
and with eyes growing wider and wider, but was perfectly motionless
'I have brought his money for the week,' said the child, looking to
the woman and laying it on the table--'and--and--a little more,
for he was always good and kind to me. I hope he will be sorry and
do well somewhere else and not take this to heart too much. It
grieves me very much to part with him like this, but there is no
help. It must be done. Good night!'
With the tears streaming down her face, and her slight figure
trembling with the agitation of the scene she had left, the shock
she had received, the errand she had just discharged, and a
thousand painful and affectionate feelings, the child hastened to
the door, and disappeared as rapidly as she had come.
The poor woman, who had no cause to doubt her son, but every
reason for relying on his honesty and truth, was staggered,
notwithstanding, by his not having advanced one word in his
defence. Visions of gallantry, knavery, robbery; and of the nightly
absences from home for which he had accounted so strangely, having
been occasioned by some unlawful pursuit; flocked into her brain
and rendered her afraid to question him. She rocked herself upon a
chair, wringing her hands and weeping bitterly, but Kit made no
attempt to comfort her and remained quite bewildered. The baby in
the cradle woke up and cried; the boy in the clothes-basket fell
over on his back with the basket upon him, and was seen no more;
the mother wept louder yet and rocked faster; but Kit, insensible
to all the din and tumult, remained in a state of utter stupefaction.
Quiet and solitude were destined to hold uninterrupted rule no
longer, beneath the roof that sheltered the child. Next morning,
the old man was in a raging fever accompanied with delirium; and
sinking under the influence of this disorder he lay for many weeks
in imminent peril of his life. There was watching enough, now, but
it was the watching of strangers who made a greedy trade of it, and
who, in the intervals in their attendance upon the sick man huddled
together with a ghastly good-fellowship, and ate and drank and made
merry; for disease and death were their ordinary household gods.
Yet, in all the hurry and crowding of such a time, the child was
more alone than she had ever been before; alone in spirit, alone in
her devotion to him who was wasting away upon his burning bed;
alone in her unfeigned sorrow, and her unpurchased sympathy. Day
after day, and night after night, found her still by the pillow of
the unconscious sufferer, still anticipating his every want, still
listening to those repetitions of her name and those anxieties and
cares for her, which were ever uppermost among his feverish
The house was no longer theirs. Even the sick chamber seemed to be
retained, on the uncertain tenure of Mr Quilp's favour. The old
man's illness had not lasted many days when he took formal
possession of the premises and all upon them, in virtue of certain
legal powers to that effect, which few understood and none presumed
to call in question. This important step secured, with the
assistance of a man of law whom he brought with him for the
purpose, the dwarf proceeded to establish himself and his coadjutor
in the house, as an assertion of his claim against all comers; and
then set about making his quarters comfortable, after his own fashion.
To this end, Mr Quilp encamped in the back parlour, having first
put an effectual stop to any further business by shutting up the
shop. Having looked out, from among the old furniture, the
handsomest and most commodious chair he could possibly find (which
he reserved for his own use) and an especially hideous and
uncomfortable one (which he considerately appropriated to the
accommodation of his friend) he caused them to be carried into this
room, and took up his position in great state. The apartment was
very far removed from the old man's chamber, but Mr Quilp deemed it
prudent, as a precaution against infection from fever, and a means
of wholesome fumigation, not only to smoke, himself, without
cessation, but to insist upon it that his legal friend did the
like. Moreover, he sent an express to the wharf for the tumbling
boy, who arriving with all despatch was enjoined to sit himself
down in another chair just inside the door, continually to smoke a
great pipe which the dwarf had provided for the purpose, and to
take it from his lips under any pretence whatever, were it only for
one minute at a time, if he dared. These arrangements completed, Mr
Quilp looked round him with chuckling satisfaction, and remarked
that he called that comfort.
The legal gentleman, whose melodious name was Brass, might have
called it comfort also but for two drawbacks: one was, that he
could by no exertion sit easy in his chair, the seat of which was
very hard, angular, slippery, and sloping; the other, that
tobacco-smoke always caused him great internal discomposure and
annoyance. But as he was quite a creature of Mr Quilp's and had a
thousand reasons for conciliating his good opinion, he tried to smile,
and nodded his acquiescence with the best grace he could assume.
This Brass was an attorney of no very good repute, from Bevis Marks
in the city of London; he was a tall, meagre man, with a nose like
a wen, a protruding forehead, retreating eyes, and hair of a deep
red. He wore a long black surtout reaching nearly to his ankles,
short black trousers, high shoes, and cotton stockings of a bluish
grey. He had a cringing manner, but a very harsh voice; and his
blandest smiles were so extremely forbidding, that to have had his
company under the least repulsive circumstances, one would have
wished him to be out of temper that he might only scowl.
Quilp looked at his legal adviser, and seeing that he was winking
very much in the anguish of his pipe, that he sometimes shuddered
when he happened to inhale its full flavour, and that he constantly
fanned the smoke from him, was quite overjoyed and rubbed his hands
'Smoke away, you dog,' said Quilp, turning to the boy; 'fill your
pipe again and smoke it fast, down to the last whiff, or I'll put
the sealing-waxed end of it in the fire and rub it red hot upon
Luckily the boy was case-hardened, and would have smoked a small
lime-kiln if anybody had treated him with it. Wherefore, he only
muttered a brief defiance of his master, and did as he was ordered.
'Is it good, Brass, is it nice, is it fragrant, do you feel like
the Grand Turk?" said Quilp.
Mr Brass thought that if he did, the Grand Turk's feelings were by
no means to be envied, but he said it was famous, and he had no
doubt he felt very like that Potentate.
'This is the way to keep off fever,' said Quilp, 'this is the way
to keep off every calamity of life! We'll never leave off, all the
time we stop here--smoke away, you dog, or you shall swallow the
'Shall we stop here long, Mr Quilp?' inquired his legal friend,
when the dwarf had given his boy this gentle admonition.
'We must stop, I suppose, till the old gentleman up stairs is
dead,' returned Quilp.
'He he he!' laughed Mr Brass, 'oh! very good!'
'Smoke away!' cried Quilp. 'Never stop! You can talk as you smoke.
Don't lose time.'
'He he he!' cried Brass faintly, as he again applied himself to the
odious pipe. 'But if he should get better, Mr Quilp?'
'Then we shall stop till he does, and no longer,' returned the
'How kind it is of you, Sir, to wait till then!' said Brass. 'Some
people, Sir, would have sold or removed the goods--oh dear, the
very instant the law allowed 'em. Some people, Sir, would have been
all flintiness and granite. Some people, sir, would have--'
'Some people would have spared themselves the jabbering of such a
parrot as you,' interposed the dwarf.
'He he he!' cried Brass. 'You have such spirits!'
The smoking sentinel at the door interposed in this place, and
without taking his pipe from his lips, growled,
'Here's the gal a comin' down.'
'The what, you dog?' said Quilp.
'The gal,' returned the boy. 'Are you deaf?'
'Oh!' said Quilp, drawing in his breath with great relish as if he
were taking soup, 'you and I will have such a settling presently;
there's such a scratching and bruising in store for you, my dear
young friend! Aha! Nelly! How is he now, my duck of diamonds?"
'He's very bad,' replied the weeping child.
'What a pretty little Nell!' cried Quilp.
'Oh beautiful, sir, beautiful indeed,' said Brass. 'Quite
'Has she come to sit upon Quilp's knee,' said the dwarf, in what he
meant to be a soothing tone, 'or is she going to bed in her own
little room inside here? Which is poor Nelly going to do?'
'What a remarkable pleasant way he has with children!' muttered
Brass, as if in confidence between himself and the ceiling; 'upon
my word it's quite a treat to hear him.'
'I'm not going to stay at all,' faltered Nell. 'I want a few things
out of that room, and then I--I--won't come down here any more.'
'And a very nice little room it is!' said the dwarf looking into it
as the child entered. 'Quite a bower! You're sure you're not going
to use it; you're sure you're not coming back, Nelly?'
'No,' replied the child, hurrying away, with the few articles of
dress she had come to remove; 'never again! Never again.'
'She's very sensitive,' said Quilp, looking after her. 'Very
sensitive; that's a pity. The bedstead is much about my size. I
think I shall make it MY little room.'
Mr Brass encouraging this idea, as he would have encouraged any
other emanating from the same source, the dwarf walked in to try
the effect. This he did, by throwing himself on his back upon the
bed with his pipe in his mouth, and then kicking up his legs and
smoking violently. Mr Brass applauding this picture very much, and
the bed being soft and comfortable, Mr Quilp determined to use it,
both as a sleeping place by night and as a kind of Divan by day;
and in order that it might be converted to the latter purpose at
once, remained where he was, and smoked his pipe out. The legal
gentleman being by this time rather giddy and perplexed in his
ideas (for this was one of the operations of the tobacco on his
nervous system), took the opportunity of slinking away into the
open air, where, in course of time, he recovered sufficiently to
return with a countenance of tolerable composure. He was soon led
on by the malicious dwarf to smoke himself into a relapse, and in
that state stumbled upon a settee where he slept till morning.
Such were Mr Quilp's first proceedings on entering upon his new
property. He was, for some days, restrained by business from
performing any particular pranks, as his time was pretty well
occupied between taking, with the assistance of Mr Brass, a minute
inventory of all the goods in the place, and going abroad upon his
other concerns which happily engaged him for several hours at a
time. His avarice and caution being, now, thoroughly awakened,
however, he was never absent from the house one night; and his
eagerness for some termination, good or bad, to the old man's
disorder, increasing rapidly, as the time passed by, soon began to
vent itself in open murmurs and exclamations of impatience.
Nell shrank timidly from all the dwarf's advances towards
conversation, and fled from the very sound of his voice; nor were
the lawyer's smiles less terrible to her than Quilp's grimaces. She
lived in such continual dread and apprehension of meeting one or
other of them on the stairs or in the passages if she stirred from
her grandfather's chamber, that she seldom left it, for a moment,
until late at night, when the silence encouraged her to venture
forth and breathe the purer air of some empty room.
One night, she had stolen to her usual window, and was sitting
there very sorrowfully--for the old man had been worse that day--
when she thought she heard her name pronounced by a voice in the
street. Looking down, she recognised Kit, whose endeavours to
attract her attention had roused her from her sad reflections.
'Miss Nell!' said the boy in a low voice.
'Yes,' replied the child, doubtful whether she ought to hold any
communication with the supposed culprit, but inclining to her old
favourite still; 'what do you want?'
'I have wanted to say a word to you, for a long time,' the boy
replied, 'but the people below have driven me away and wouldn't let
me see you. You don't believe--I hope you don't really believe--
that I deserve to be cast off as I have been; do you, miss?'
'I must believe it,' returned the child. 'Or why would grandfather
have been so angry with you?'
'I don't know,' replied Kit. 'I'm sure I never deserved it from
him, no, nor from you. I can say that, with a true and honest
heart, any way. And then to be driven from the door, when I only
came to ask how old master was--!'
'They never told me that,' said the child. 'I didn't know it
indeed. I wouldn't have had them do it for the world.'
'Thank'ee, miss,' returned Kit, 'it's comfortable to hear you say
that. I said I never would believe that it was your doing.'
'That was right!' said the child eagerly.
'Miss Nell,' cried the boy coming under the window, and speaking in
a lower tone, 'there are new masters down stairs. It's a change for
'It is indeed,' replied the child.
'And so it will be for him when he gets better,' said the boy,
pointing towards the sick room.
'--If he ever does,' added the child, unable to restrain her tears.
'Oh, he'll do that, he'll do that,' said Kit. 'I'm sure he will.
You mustn't be cast down, Miss Nell. Now don't be, pray!'
These words of encouragement and consolation were few and roughly
said, but they affected the child and made her, for the moment,
weep the more.
'He'll be sure to get better now,' said the boy anxiously, 'if you
don't give way to low spirits and turn ill yourself, which would
make him worse and throw him back, just as he was recovering. When
he does, say a good word--say a kind word for me, Miss Nell!'
'They tell me I must not even mention your name to him for a long,
long time,' rejoined the child, 'I dare not; and even if I might,
what good would a kind word do you, Kit? We shall be very poor. We
shall scarcely have bread to eat.'
'It's not that I may be taken back,' said the boy, 'that I ask the
favour of you. It isn't for the sake of food and wages that I've
been waiting about so long in hopes to see you. Don't think that
I'd come in a time of trouble to talk of such things as them.'
The child looked gratefully and kindly at him, but waited that he
might speak again.
'No, it's not that,' said Kit hesitating, 'it's something very
different from that. I haven't got much sense, I know, but if he
could be brought to believe that I'd been a faithful servant to
him, doing the best I could, and never meaning harm, perhaps he
Here Kit faltered so long that the child entreated him to speak
out, and quickly, for it was very late, and time to shut the
'Perhaps he mightn't think it over venturesome of me to say--well
then, to say this,' cried Kit with sudden boldness. 'This home is
gone from you and him. Mother and I have got a poor one, but that's
better than this with all these people here; and why not come
there, till he's had time to look about, and find a better!'
The child did not speak. Kit, in the relief of having made his
proposition, found his tongue loosened, and spoke out in its favour
with his utmost eloquence.
'You think,' said the boy, 'that it's very small and inconvenient.
So it is, but it's very clean. Perhaps you think it would be noisy,
but there's not a quieter court than ours in all the town. Don't be
afraid of the children; the baby hardly ever cries, and the other
one is very good--besides, I'd mind 'em. They wouldn't vex you
much, I'm sure. Do try, Miss Nell, do try. The little front room up
stairs is very pleasant. You can see a piece of the church-clock,
through the chimneys, and almost tell the time; mother says it
would be just the thing for you, and so it would, and you'd have
her to wait upon you both, and me to run of errands. We don't mean
money, bless you; you're not to think of that! Will you try him,
Miss Nell? Only say you'll try him. Do try to make old master come,
and ask him first what I have done. Will you only promise that,
Before the child could reply to this earnest solicitation, the
street-door opened, and Mr Brass thrusting out his night-capped
head called in a surly voice, 'Who's there!' Kit immediately glided
away, and Nell, closing the window softly, drew back into the room.
Before Mr Brass had repeated his inquiry many times, Mr Quilp, also
embellished with a night-cap, emerged from the same door and looked
carefully up and down the street, and up at all the windows of the
house, from the opposite side. Finding that there was nobody in
sight, he presently returned into the house with his legal friend,
protesting (as the child heard from the staircase), that there was
a league and plot against him; that he was in danger of being
robbed and plundered by a band of conspirators who prowled about
the house at all seasons; and that he would delay no longer but
take immediate steps for disposing of the property and returning to
his own peaceful roof. Having growled forth these, and a great many
other threats of the same nature, he coiled himself once more in
the child's little bed, and Nell crept softly up the stairs.
It was natural enough that her short and unfinished dialogue with
Kit should leave a strong impression on her mind, and influence her
dreams that night and her recollections for a long, long time.
Surrounded by unfeeling creditors, and mercenary attendants upon
the sick, and meeting in the height of her anxiety and sorrow with
little regard or sympathy even from the women about her, it is not
surprising that the affectionate heart of the child should have
been touched to the quick by one kind and generous spirit, however
uncouth the temple in which it dwelt. Thank Heaven that the temples
of such spirits are not made with hands, and that they may be even more
worthily hung with poor patch-work than with purple and fine linen!
At length, the crisis of the old man's disorder was past, and he
began to mend. By very slow and feeble degrees his consciousness
came back; but the mind was weakened and its functions were
impaired. He was patient, and quiet; often sat brooding, but not
despondently, for a long space; was easily amused, even by a
sun-beam on the wall or ceiling; made no complaint that the days
were long, or the nights tedious; and appeared indeed to have lost
all count of time, and every sense of care or weariness. He would
sit, for hours together, with Nell's small hand in his, playing
with the fingers and stopping sometimes to smooth her hair or kiss
her brow; and, when he saw that tears were glistening in her eyes,
would look, amazed, about him for the cause, and forget his wonder
even while he looked.
The child and he rode out; the old man propped up with pillows, and
the child beside him. They were hand in hand as usual. The noise
and motion in the streets fatigued his brain at first, but he was
not surprised, or curious, or pleased, or irritated. He was asked
if he remembered this, or that. 'O yes,' he said, 'quite well--why
not?' Sometimes he turned his head, and looked, with earnest gaze
and outstretched neck, after some stranger in the crowd, until he
disappeared from sight; but, to the question why he did this, he
answered not a word.
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