Part 1 out of 13
The Old Curiosity Shop
By Charles Dickens
Night is generally my time for walking. In the summer I often leave
home early in the morning, and roam about fields and lanes all day,
or even escape for days or weeks together; but, saving in the
country, I seldom go out until after dark, though, Heaven be
thanked, I love its light and feel the cheerfulness it sheds upon the
earth, as much as any creature living.
I have fallen insensibly into this habit, both because it favours my
infirmity and because it affords me greater opportunity of speculating
on the characters and occupations of those who fill the streets. The
glare and hurry of broad noon are not adapted to idle pursuits like
mine; a glimpse of passing faces caught by the light of a street-lamp
or a shop window is often better for my purpose than their full
revelation in the daylight; and, if I must add the truth, night is kinder
in this respect than day, which too often destroys an air-built castle
at the moment of its completion, without the least ceremony or remorse.
That constant pacing to and fro, that never-ending restlessness, that
incessant tread of feet wearing the rough stones smooth and glossy--is it
not a wonder how the dwellers in narrows ways can bear to hear
it! Think of a sick man in such a place as Saint Martin's Court,
listening to the footsteps, and in the midst of pain and weariness
obliged, despite himself (as though it were a task he must perform)
to detect the child's step from the man's, the slipshod beggar from
the booted exquisite, the lounging from the busy, the dull heel
of the sauntering outcast from the quick tread of an expectant
pleasure-seeker--think of the hum and noise always being present to his
sense, and of the stream of life that will not stop, pouring on, on, on,
through all his restless dreams, as if he were condemned to lie,
dead but conscious, in a noisy churchyard, and had no hope of rest
for centuries to come.
Then, the crowds for ever passing and repassing on the bridges (on
those which are free of toil at last), where many stop on fine
evenings looking listlessly down upon the water with some vague
idea that by and by it runs between green banks which grow wider
and wider until at last it joins the broad vast sea--where some halt to
rest from heavy loads and think as they look over the parapet that to
smoke and lounge away one's life, and lie sleeping in the sun upon a
hot tarpaulin, in a dull, slow, sluggish barge, must be happiness
unalloyed--and where some, and a very different class, pause with
heaver loads than they, remembering to have heard or read in old
time that drowning was not a hard death, but of all means of suicide
the easiest and best.
Covent Garden Market at sunrise too, in the spring or summer, when
the fragrance of sweet flowers is in the air, over-powering even the
unwholesome streams of last night's debauchery, and driving the
dusky thrust, whose cage has hung outside a garret window all night
long, half mad with joy! Poor bird! the only neighbouring thing at all
akin to the other little captives, some of whom, shrinking from the
hot hands of drunken purchasers, lie drooping on the path already,
while others, soddened by close contact, await the time when they
shall be watered and freshened up to please more sober company,
and make old clerks who pass them on their road to business,
wonder what has filled their breasts with visions of the country.
But my present purpose is not to expatiate upon my walks. The story
I am about to relate, and to which I shall recur at intervals, arose
out of one of these rambles; and thus I have been led to speak of
them by way of preface.
One night I had roamed into the City, and was walking slowly on in
my usual way, musing upon a great many things, when I was
arrested by an inquiry, the purport of which did not reach me, but
which seemed to be addressed to myself, and was preferred in a soft
sweet voice that struck me very pleasantly. I turned hastily round
and found at my elbow a pretty little girl, who begged to be directed
to a certain street at a considerable distance, and indeed in quite
another quarter of the town.
It is a very long way from here,' said I, 'my child.'
'I know that, sir,' she replied timidly. 'I am afraid it is a very long
way, for I came from there to-night.'
'Alone?' said I, in some surprise.
'Oh, yes, I don't mind that, but I am a little frightened now, for I
had lost my road.'
'And what made you ask it of me? Suppose I should tell you wrong?'
'I am sure you will not do that,' said the little creature,' you are such
a very old gentleman, and walk so slow yourself.'
I cannot describe how much I was impressed by this appeal and the
energy with which it was made, which brought a tear into the child's
clear eye, and made her slight figure tremble as she looked up into
'Come,' said I, 'I'll take you there.'
She put her hand in mind as confidingly as if she had known me
from her cradle, and we trudged away together; the little creature
accommodating her pace to mine, and rather seeming to lead and
take care of me than I to be protecting her. I observed that every
now and then she stole a curious look at my face, as if to make quite
sure that I was not deceiving her, and that these glances (very sharp
and keen they were too) seemed to increase her confidence at every
For my part, my curiosity and interest were at least equal to the
child's, for child she certainly was, although I thought it probably
from what I could make out, that her very small and delicate frame
imparted a peculiar youthfulness to her appearance. Though more
scantily attired than she might have been she was dressed with
perfect neatness, and betrayed no marks of poverty or neglect.
'Who has sent you so far by yourself?' said I.
'Someone who is very kind to me, sir.'
'And what have you been doing?'
'That, I must not tell,' said the child firmly.
There was something in the manner of this reply which caused me to
look at the little creature with an involuntary expression of surprise;
for I wondered what kind of errand it might be that occasioned her to
be prepared for questioning. Her quick eye seemed to read my
thoughts, for as it met mine she added that there was no harm in
what she had been doing, but it was a great secret--a secret which
she did not even know herself.
This was said with no appearance of cunning or deceit, but with an
unsuspicious frankness that bore the impress of truth. She walked on
as before, growing more familiar with me as we proceeded and
talking cheerfully by the way, but she said no more about her home,
beyond remarking that we were going quite a new road and asking if
it were a short one.
While we were thus engaged, I revolved in my mind a hundred
different explanations of the riddle and rejected them every one. I
really felt ashamed to take advantage of the ingenuousness or grateful
feeling of the child for the purpose of gratifying my curiosity. I love
these little people; and it is not a slight thing when they, who are so
fresh from God, love us. As I had felt pleased at first by her
confidence I determined to deserve it, and to do credit to the nature
which had prompted her to repose it in me.
There was no reason, however, why I should refrain from seeing the
person who had inconsiderately sent her to so great a distance by
night and alone, and as it was not improbable that if she found
herself near home she might take farewell of me and deprive me of
the opportunity, I avoided the most frequented ways and took the
most intricate, and thus it was not until we arrived in the street itself
that she knew where we were. Clapping her hands with pleasure and
running on before me for a short distance, my little acquaintance
stopped at a door and remaining on the step till I came up knocked at
it when I joined her.
A part of this door was of glass unprotected by any shutter, which I
did not observe at first, for all was very dark and silent within, and I
was anxious (as indeed the child was also) for an answer to our
summons. When she had knocked twice or thrice there was a noise
as if some person were moving inside, and at length a faint light
appeared through the glass which, as it approached very slowly, the
bearer having to make his way through a great many scattered
articles, enabled me to see both what kind of person it was who
advanced and what kind of place it was through which he came.
It was an old man with long grey hair, whose face and figure as he
held the light above his head and looked before him as he
approached, I could plainly see. Though much altered by age, I
fancied I could recognize in his spare and slender form something of
that delicate mould which I had noticed in a child. Their bright blue
eyes were certainly alike, but his face was so deeply furrowed and so
very full of care, that here all resemblance ceased.
The place through which he made his way at leisure was one of those
receptacles for old and curious things which seem to crouch in odd
corners of this town and to hide their musty treasures from the public
eye in jealousy and distrust. There were suits of mail standing like
ghosts in armour here and there, fantastic carvings brought from
monkish cloisters, rusty weapons of various kinds, distorted figures
in china and wood and iron and ivory: tapestry and strange furniture
that might have been designed in dreams. The haggard aspect of the
little old man was wonderfully suited to the place; he might have
groped among old churches and tombs and deserted houses and
gathered all the spoils with his own hands. There was nothing in the
whole collection but was in keeping with himself nothing that looked
older or more worn than he.
As he turned the key in the lock, he surveyed me with some
astonishment which was not diminished when he looked from me to
my companion. The door being opened, the child addressed him as
grandfather, and told him the little story of our companionship.
'Why, bless thee, child,' said the old man, patting her on the head,
'how couldst thou miss thy way? What if I had lost thee, Nell!'
'I would have found my way back to YOU, grandfather,' said the
child boldly; 'never fear.'
The old man kissed her, then turning to me and begging me to walk
in, I did so. The door was closed and locked. Preceding me with the
light, he led me through the place I had already seen from without,
into a small sitting-room behind, in which was another door opening
into a kind of closet, where I saw a little bed that a fairy might have
slept in, it looked so very small and was so prettily arranged. The
child took a candle and tripped into this little room, leaving the old
man and me together.
'You must be tired, sir,' said he as he placed a chair near the fire,
'how can I thank you?'
'By taking more care of your grandchild another time, my good
friend,' I replied.
'More care!' said the old man in a shrill voice, 'more care of Nelly!
Why, who ever loved a child as I love Nell?'
He said this with such evident surprise that I was perplexed what
answer to make, and the more so because coupled with something
feeble and wandering in his manner, there were in his face marks of
deep and anxious thought which convinced me that he could not be,
as I had been at first inclined to suppose, in a state of dotage or
'I don't think you consider--' I began.
'I don't consider!' cried the old man interrupting me, 'I don't consider
her! Ah, how little you know of the truth! Little Nelly, little Nelly!'
It would be impossible for any man, I care not what his form of
speech might be, to express more affection than the dealer in
curiosities did, in these four words. I waited for him to speak again,
but he rested his chin upon his hand and shaking his head twice or
thrice fixed his eyes upon the fire.
While we were sitting thus in silence, the door of the closet opened,
and the child returned, her light brown hair hanging loose about her
neck, and her face flushed with the haste she had made to rejoin us.
She busied herself immediately in preparing supper, and while she
was thus engaged I remarked that the old man took an opportunity of
observing me more closely than he had done yet. I was surprised to
see that all this time everything was done by the child, and that there
appeared to be no other persons but ourselves in the house. I took
advantage of a moment when she was absent to venture a hint on this
point, to which the old man replied that there were few grown
persons as trustworthy or as careful as she.
'It always grieves me, ' I observed, roused by what I took to be his
selfishness, 'it always grieves me to contemplate the initiation of
children into the ways of life, when they are scarcely more than
infants. It checks their confidence and simplicity--two of the best
qualities that Heaven gives them--and demands that they share our
sorrows before they are capable of entering into our enjoyments.'
'It will never check hers,' said the old man looking steadily at me,
'the springs are too deep. Besides, the children of the poor know but
few pleasures. Even the cheap delights of childhood must be bought
and paid for.
'But--forgive me for saying this--you are surely not so very poor'--said I.
'She is not my child, sir,' returned the old man. 'Her mother was,
and she was poor. I save nothing--not a penny--though I live as you
see, but'--he laid his hand upon my arm and leant forward to
whisper--'she shall be rich one of these days, and a fine lady. Don't
you think ill of me because I use her help. She gives it cheerfully as
you see, and it would break her heart if she knew that I suffered
anybody else to do for me what her little hands could undertake. I
don't consider!'--he cried with sudden querulousness, 'why, God
knows that this one child is there thought and object of my life, and
yet he never prospers me--no, never!'
At this juncture, the subject of our conversation again returned, and
the old men motioning to me to approach the table, broke off, and
said no more.
We had scarcely begun our repast when there was a knock at the
door by which I had entered, and Nell bursting into a hearty laugh,
which I was rejoiced to hear, for it was childlike and full of hilarity,
said it was no doubt dear old Kit coming back at last.
'Foolish Nell!' said the old man fondling with her hair. 'She always
laughs at poor Kit.'
The child laughed again more heartily than before, I could not help
smiling from pure sympathy. The little old man took up a candle and
went to open the door. When he came back, Kit was at his heels.
Kit was a shock-headed, shambling, awkward lad with an
uncommonly wide mouth, very red cheeks, a turned-up nose, and
certainly the most comical expression of face I ever saw. He stopped
short at the door on seeing a stranger, twirled in his hand a perfectly
round old hat without any vestige of a brim, and resting himself now
on one leg and now on the other and changing them constantly, stood
in the doorway, looking into the parlour with the most extraordinary
leer I ever beheld. I entertained a grateful feeling towards the boy
from that minute, for I felt that he was the comedy of the child's life.
'A long way, wasn't it, Kit?' said the little old man.
'Why, then, it was a goodish stretch, master,' returned Kit.
'Of course you have come back hungry?'
'Why, then, I do consider myself rather so, master,' was the answer.
The lad had a remarkable manner of standing sideways as he spoke,
and thrusting his head forward over his shoulder, as if he could not
get at his voice without that accompanying action. I think he would
have amused one anywhere, but the child's exquisite enjoyment of
his oddity, and the relief it was to find that there was something she
associated with merriment in a place that appeared so unsuited to
her, were quite irresistible. It was a great point too that Kit himself
was flattered by the sensation he created, and after several efforts to
preserve his gravity, burst into a loud roar, and so stood with his
mouth wide open and his eyes nearly shut, laughing violently.
The old man had again relapsed into his former abstraction and took
no notice of what passed, but I remarked that when her laugh was
over, the child's bright eyes were dimmed with tears, called forth by
the fullness of heart with which she welcomed her uncouth favourite
after the little anxiety of the night. As for Kit himself (whose laugh
had been all the time one of that sort which very little would change
into a cry) he carried a large slice of bread and meat and a mug of
beer into a corner, and applied himself to disposing of them with
'Ah!' said the old man turning to me with a sigh, as if I had spoken
to him but that moment, 'you don't know what you say when you tell
me that I don't consider her.'
'You must not attach too great weight to a remark founded on first
appearances, my friend,' said I.
'No,' returned the old man thoughtfully, 'no. Come hither, Nell.'
The little girl hastened from her seat, and put her arm about his
'Do I love thee, Nell?' said he. 'Say--do I love thee, Nell, or no?'
The child only answered by her caresses, and laid her head upon his
'Why dost thou sob?' said the grandfather, pressing her closer to him
and glancing towards me. 'Is it because thou know'st I love thee, and
dost not like that I should seem to doubt it by my question? Well,
well--then let us say I love thee dearly.'
'Indeed, indeed you do,' replied the child with great earnestness,
'Kit knows you do.'
Kit, who in despatching his bread and meat had been swallowing
two-thirds of his knife at every mouthful with the coolness of a
juggler, stopped short in his operations on being thus appealed to,
and bawled 'Nobody isn't such a fool as to say he doosn't,' after
which he incapacitated himself for further conversation by taking a
most prodigious sandwich at one bite.
'She is poor now'--said the old men, patting the child's cheek, 'but I
say again that the time is coming when she shall be rich. It has been
a long time coming, but it must come at last; a very long time, but it
surely must come. It has come to other men who do nothing but
waste and riot. When WILL it come to me!'
'I am very happy as I am, grandfather,' said the child.
'Tush, tush!' returned the old man, 'thou dost not know--how
should'st thou!' then he muttered again between his teeth, 'The time
must come, I am very sure it must. It will be all the better for
coming late'; and then he sighed and fell into his former musing
state, and still holding the child between his knees appeared to be
insensible to everything around him. By this time it wanted but a few
minutes of midnight and I rose to go, which recalled him to himself.
'One moment, sir,' he said, 'Now, Kit--near midnight, boy, and you
still here! Get home, get home, and be true to your time in the
morning, for there's work to do. Good night! There, bid him good
night, Nell, and let him be gone!'
'Good night, Kit,' said the child, her eyes lighting up with
merriment and kindness.'
'Good night, Miss Nell,' returned the boy.
'And thank this gentleman,' interposed the old man, 'but for whose
care I might have lost my little girl to-night.'
'No, no, master,' said Kit, 'that won't do, that won't.'
'What do you mean?' cried the old man.
'I'd have found her, master,' said Kit, 'I'd have found her. I'll bet
that I'd find her if she was above ground, I would, as quick as
anybody, master. Ha, ha, ha!'
Once more opening his mouth and shutting his eyes, and laughing
like a stentor, Kit gradually backed to the door, and roared himself
Free of the room, the boy was not slow in taking his departure; when
he had gone, and the child was occupied in clearing the table, the old
'I haven't seemed to thank you, sir, for what you have done to-night,
but I do thank you humbly and heartily, and so does she, and her
thanks are better worth than mine. I should be sorry that you went
away, and thought I was unmindful of your goodness, or careless of
her--I am not indeed.'
I was sure of that, I said, from what I had seen. 'But,' I added, 'may
I ask you a question?'
'Ay, sir,' replied the old man, 'What is it?'
'This delicate child,' said I, 'with so much beauty and intelligence--has
she nobody to care for
her but you? Has she no other companion
'No,' he returned, looking anxiously in my face, 'no, and she wants
'But are you not fearful,' said I, 'that you may misunderstand a
charge so tender? I am sure you mean well, but are you quite certain
that you know how to execute such a trust as this? I am an old man,
like you, and I am actuated by an old man's concern in all that is
young and promising. Do you not think that what I have seen of you
and this little creature to-night must have an interest not wholly free
'Sir,' rejoined the old man after a moment's silence.' I have no right
to feel hurt at what you say. It is true that in many respects I am the
child, and she the grown person--that you have seen already. But
waking or sleeping, by night or day, in sickness or health, she is the
one object of my care, and if you knew of how much care, you
would look on me with different eyes, you would indeed. Ah! It's a
weary life for an old man--a weary, weary life--but there is a great
end to gain and that I keep before me.'
Seeing that he was in a state of excitement and impatience, I turned
to put on an outer coat which I had thrown off on entering the room,
purposing to say no more. I was surprised to see the child standing
patiently by with a cloak upon her arm, and in her hand a hat, and
'Those are not mine, my dear,' said I.
'No,' returned the child, 'they are grandfather's.'
'But he is not going out to-night.'
'Oh, yes, he is,' said the child, with a smile.
'And what becomes of you, my pretty one?'
'Me! I stay here of course. I always do.'
I looked in astonishment towards the old man, but he was, or feigned
to be, busied in the arrangement of his dress. From him I looked
back to the slight gentle figure of the child. Alone! In that gloomy
place all the long, dreary night.
She evinced no consciousness of my surprise, but cheerfully helped
the old man with his cloak, and when he was ready took a candle to
light us out. Finding that we did not follow as she expected, she
looked back with a smile and waited for us. The old man showed by
his face that he plainly understood the cause of my hesitation, but he
merely signed to me with an inclination of the head to pass out of the
room before him, and remained silent. I had no resource but to comply.
When we reached the door, the child setting down the candle, turned
to say good night and raised her face to kiss me. Then she ran to the
old man, who folded her in his arms and bade God bless her.
'Sleep soundly, Nell,' he said in a low voice, 'and angels guard thy
bed! Do not forget thy prayers, my sweet.'
'No, indeed,' answered the child fervently, 'they make me feel so
'That's well; I know they do; they should,' said the old man. 'Bless
thee a hundred times! Early in the morning I shall be home.'
'You'll not ring twice,' returned the child. 'The bell wakes me, even
in the middle of a dream.'
With this, they separated. The child opened the door (now guarded
by a shutter which I had heard the boy put up before he left the
house) and with another farewell whose clear and tender note I have
recalled a thousand times, held it until we had passed out. The old
man paused a moment while it was gently closed and fastened on the
inside, and satisfied that this was done, walked on at a slow pace. At
the street-corner he stopped, and regarding me with a troubled
countenance said that our ways were widely different and that he
must take his leave. I would have spoken, but summoning up more
alacrity than might have been expected in one of his appearance, he
hurried away. I could see that twice or thrice he looked back as if to
ascertain if I were still watching him, or perhaps to assure himself
that I was not following at a distance. The obscurity of the night
favoured his disappearance, and his figure was soon beyond my
I remained standing on the spot where he had left me, unwilling to
depart, and yet unknowing why I should loiter there. I looked
wistfully into the street we had lately quitted, and after a time
directed my steps that way. I passed and repassed the house, and
stopped and listened at the door; all was dark, and silent as the
Yet I lingered about, and could not tear myself away, thinking of all
possible harm that might happen to the child--of fires and robberies
and even murder--and feeling as if some evil must ensure if I turned
my back upon the place. The closing of a door or window in the
street brought me before the curiosity-dealer's once more; I crossed
the road and looked up at the house to assure myself that the noise
had not come from there. No, it was black, cold, and lifeless as
There were few passengers astir; the street was sad and dismal, and
pretty well my own. A few stragglers from the theatres hurried by,
and now and then I turned aside to avoid some noisy drunkard as he
reeled homewards, but these interruptions were not frequent and
soon ceased. The clocks struck one. Still I paced up and down,
promising myself that every time should be the last, and breaking
faith with myself on some new plea as often as I did so.
The more I thought of what the old man had said, and of his looks
and bearing, the less I could account for what I had seen and heard. I
had a strong misgiving that his nightly absence was for no good
purpose. I had only come to know the fact through the innocence of
the child, and though the old man was by at the time, and saw my
undisguised surprise, he had preserved a strange mystery upon the
subject and offered no word of explanation. These reflections
naturally recalled again more strongly than before his haggard face,
his wandering manner, his restless anxious looks. His affection for
the child might not be inconsistent with villany of the worst kind;
even that very affection was in itself an extraordinary contradiction,
or how could he leave her thus? Disposed as I was to think badly of
him, I never doubted that his love for her was real. I could not admit
the thought, remembering what had passed between us, and the tone
of voice in which he had called her by her name.
'Stay here of course,' the child had said in answer to my question, 'I
always do!' What could take him from home by night, and every
night! I called up all the strange tales I had ever heard of dark and
secret deeds committed in great towns and escaping detection for a
long series of years; wild as many of these stories were, I could not
find one adapted to this mystery, which only became the more
impenetrable, in proportion as I sought to solve it.
Occupied with such thoughts as these, and a crowd of others all
tending to the same point, I continued to pace the street for two long
hours; at length the rain began to descend heavily, and then over-powered
by fatigue though no less interested than I had been at first,
I engaged the nearest coach and so got home. A cheerful fire was
blazing on the hearth, the lamp burnt brightly, my clock received me
with its old familiar welcome; everything was quiet, warm and
cheering, and in happy contrast to the gloom and darkness I had quitted.
But all that night, waking or in my sleep, the same thoughts recurred
and the same images retained possession of my brain. I had ever
before me the old dark murky rooms--the gaunt suits of mail with
their ghostly silent air--the faces all awry, grinning from wood and
stone--the dust and rust and worm that lives in wood--and alone in
the midst of all this lumber and decay and ugly age, the beautiful
child in her gentle slumber, smiling through her light and sunny dreams.
After combating, for nearly a week, the feeling which impelled me to
revisit the place I had quitted under the circumstances already
detailed, I yielded to it at length; and determining that this time I
would present myself by the light of day, bent my steps thither early
in the morning.
I walked past the house, and took several turns in the street, with
that kind of hesitation which is natural to a man who is conscious
that the visit he is about to pay is unexpected, and may not be very
acceptable. However, as the door of the shop was shut, and it did not
appear likely that I should be recognized by those within, if I
continued merely to pass up and down before it, I soon conquered
this irresolution, and found myself in the Curiosity Dealer's
The old man and another person were together in the back part, and
there seemed to have been high words between them, for their voices
which were raised to a very high pitch suddenly stopped on my
entering, and the old man advancing hastily towards me, said in a
tremulous tone that he was very glad I had come.
'You interrupted us at a critical moment,' said he, pointing to the
man whom I had found in company with him; 'this fellow will
murder me one of these days. He would have done so, long ago, if
he had dared.'
'Bah! You would swear away my life if you could,' returned the
other, after bestowing a stare and a frown on me; 'we all know that!'
'I almost think I could,' cried the old man, turning feebly upon him.
'If oaths, or prayers, or words, could rid me of you, they should. I
would be quit of you, and would be relieved if you were dead.'
'I know it,' returned the other. 'I said so, didn't I? But neither oaths,
or prayers, nor words, WILL kill me, and therefore I live, and mean
'And his mother died!' cried the old man, passionately clasping his
hands and looking upward; 'and this is Heaven's justice!'
The other stood lunging with his foot upon a chair, and regarded him
with a contemptuous sneer. He was a young man of one-and-twenty
or thereabouts; well made, and certainly handsome, though the
expression of his face was far from prepossessing, having in
common with his manner and even his dress, a dissipated, insolent
air which repelled one.
'Justice or no justice,' said the young fellow, 'here I am and here I
shall stop till such time as I think fit to go, unless you send for
assistance to put me out--which you won't do, I know. I tell you
again that I want to see my sister.'
'YOUR sister!' said the old man bitterly.
'Ah! You can't change the relationship,' returned the other. 'If you
could, you'd have done it long ago. I want to see my sister, that you
keep cooped up here, poisoning her mind with your sly secrets and
pretending an affection for her that you may work her to death, and
add a few scraped shillings every week to the money you can hardly
count. I want to see her; and I will.'
'Here's a moralist to talk of poisoned minds! Here's a generous spirit
to scorn scraped-up shillings!' cried the old man, turning from him
to me. 'A profligate, sir, who has forfeited every claim not only
upon those who have the misfortune to be of his blood, but upon
society which knows nothing of him but his misdeeds. A liar too,' he
added, in a lower voice as he drew closer to me, 'who knows how
dear she is to me, and seeks to wound me even there, because there
is a stranger nearby.'
'Strangers are nothing to me, grandfather,' said the young fellow
catching at the word, 'nor I to them, I hope. The best they can do, is
to keep an eye to their business and leave me to mind. There's a
friend of mine waiting outside, and as it seems that I may have to
wait some time, I'll call him in, with your leave.'
Saying this, he stepped to the door, and looking down the street
beckoned several times to some unseen person, who, to judge from
the air of impatience with which these signals were accompanied,
required a great quantity of persuasion to induce him to advance. At
length there sauntered up, on the opposite side of the way--with a
bad pretense of passing by accident--a figure conspicuous for its dirty
smartness, which after a great many frowns and jerks of the head, in
resistence of the invitation, ultimately crossed the road and was
brought into the shop.
'There. It's Dick Swiveller,' said the young fellow, pushing him in.
'Sit down, Swiveller.'
'But is the old min agreeable?' said Mr Swiveller in an undertone.
Mr Swiveller complied, and looking about him with a propritiatory
smile, observed that last week was a fine week for the ducks, and
this week was a fine week for the dust; he also observed that whilst
standing by the post at the street-corner, he had observed a pig with
a straw in his mouth issuing out of the tobacco-shop, from which
appearance he augured that another fine week for the ducks was
approaching, and that rain would certainly ensue. He furthermore
took occasion to apologize for any negligence that might be
perceptible in his dress, on the ground that last night he had had 'the
sun very strong in his eyes'; by which expression he was understood
to convey to his hearers in the most delicate manner possible, the
information that he had been extremely drunk.
'But what,' said Mr Swiveller with a sigh, 'what is the odds so long
as the fire of soul is kindled at the taper of conwiviality, and the
wing of friendship never moults a feather! What is the odds so long
as the spirit is expanded by means of rosy wine, and the present
moment is the least happiest of our existence!'
'You needn't act the chairman here,' said his friend, half aside.
'Fred!' cried Mr Swiveller, tapping his nose, 'a word to the wise is
sufficient for them--we may be good and happy without riches, Fred.
Say not another syllable. I know my cue; smart is the word. Only
one little whisper, Fred--is the old min friendly?'
'Never you mind,' repled his friend.
'Right again, quite right,' said Mr Swiveller, 'caution is the word,
and caution is the act.' with that, he winked as if in preservation of
some deep secret, and folding his arms and leaning back in his chair,
looked up at the ceiling with profound gravity.
It was perhaps not very unreasonable to suspect from what had
already passed, that Mr Swiveller was not quite recovered from the
effects of the powerful sunlight to which he had made allusion; but if
no such suspicion had been awakened by his speech, his wiry hair,
dull eyes, and sallow face would still have been strong witnesses
against him. His attire was not, as he had himself hinted, remarkable
for the nicest arrangement, but was in a state of disorder which
strongly induced the idea that he had gone to bed in it. It consisted of
a brown body-coat with a great many brass buttons up the front and
only one behind, a bright check neckerchief, a plaid waistcoat, soiled
white trousers, and a very limp hat, worn with the wrong side
foremost, to hide a hole in the brim. The breast of his coat was
ornamented with an outside pocket from which there peeped forth the
cleanest end of a very large and very ill-favoured handkerchief; his
dirty wristbands were pulled on as far as possible and ostentatiously
folded back over his cuffs; he displayed no gloves, and carried a
yellow cane having at the top a bone hand with the semblance of a
ring on its little finger and a black ball in its grasp. With all these
personal advantages (to which may be added a strong savour of
tobacco-smoke, and a prevailing greasiness of appearance) Mr
Swiveller leant back in his chair with his eyes fixed on the ceiling,
and occasionally pitching his voice to the needful key, obliged the
company with a few bars of an intensely dismal air, and then, in the
middle of a note, relapsed into his former silence.
The old man sat himself down in a chair, and with folded hands,
looked sometimes at his grandson and sometimes at his strange
companion, as if he were utterly powerless and had no resource but
to leave them to do as they pleased. The young man reclined against
a table at no great distance from his friend, in apparent indifference
to everything that had passed; and I--who felt the difficulty of any
interference, notwithstanding that the old man had appealed to me,
both by words and looks--made the best feint I could of being
occupied in examining some of the goods that were disposed for sale,
and paying very little attention to a person before me.
The silence was not of long duration, for Mr Swiveller, after
favouring us with several melodious assurances that his heart was in
the Highlands, and that he wanted but his Arab steed as a
preliminary to the achievement of great feats of valour and loyalty,
removed his eyes from the ceiling and subsided into prose again.
'Fred,' said Mr Swiveller stopping short, as if the idea had suddenly
occurred to him, and speaking in the same audible whisper as before,
'is the old min friendly?'
'What does it matter?' returned his friend peevishly.
'No, but IS he?' said Dick.
'Yes, of course. What do I care whether he is or not?'
Emboldened as it seemed by this reply to enter into a more general
conversation, Mr Swiveller plainly laid himself out to captivate our
He began by remarking that soda-water, though a good thing in the
abstract, was apt to lie cold upon the stomach unless qualified with
ginger, or a small infusion of brandy, which latter article he held to
be preferable in all cases, saving for the one consideration of
expense. Nobody venturing to dispute these positions, he proceeded
to observe that the human hair was a great retainer of tobacco-smoke, and
that the young
gentlemen of Westminster and Eton, after
eating vast quantities of apples to conceal any scent of cigars from
their anxious friends, were usually detected in consequence of their
heads possessing this remarkable property; when he concluded that if
the Royal Society would turn their attention to the circumstance, and
endeavour to find in the resources of science a means of preventing
such untoward revelations, they might indeed be looked upon as
benefactors to mankind. These opinions being equally
incontrovertible with those he had already pronounced, he went on to
inform us that Jamaica rum, though unquestionably an agreeable
spirit of great richness and flavour, had the drawback of remaining
constantly present to the taste next day; and nobody being venturous
enough to argue this point either, he increased in confidence and
became yet more companionable and communicative.
'It's a devil of a thing, gentlemen,' said Mr Swiveller, 'when
relations fall out and disagree. If the wing of friendship should never
moult a feather, the wing of relationship should never be clipped, but
be always expanded and serene. Why should a grandson and
grandfather peg away at each other with mutual wiolence when all
might be bliss and concord. Why not jine hands and forgit it?'
'Hold your tongue,' said his friend.
'Sir,' replied Mr Swiveller, 'don't you interrupt the chair.
Gentlemen, how does the case stand, upon the present occasion?
Here is a jolly old grandfather--I say it with the utmost respect--and
here is a wild, young grandson. The jolly old grandfather says to the
wild young grandson, 'I have brought you up and educated you,
Fred; I have put you in the way of getting on in life; you have bolted
a little out of course, as young fellows often do; and you shall never
have another chance, nor the ghost of half a one.' The wild young
grandson makes answer to this and says, 'You're as rich as rich can
be; you have been at no uncommon expense on my account, you're
saving up piles of money for my little sister that lives with you in a
secret, stealthy, hugger-muggering kind of way and with no manner
of enjoyment--why can't you stand a trifle for your grown-up
relation?' The jolly old grandfather unto this, retorts, not only that
he declines to fork out with that cheerful readiness which is always
so agreeable and pleasant in a gentleman of his time of life, but that
he will bow up, and call names, and make reflections whenever they
meet. Then the plain question is, an't it a pity that this state of things
should continue, and how much better would it be for the gentleman
to hand over a reasonable amount of tin, and make it all right and
Having delivered this oration with a great many waves and flourishes
of the hand, Mr Swiveller abruptly thrust the head of his cane into
his mouth as if to prevent himself from impairing the effect of his
speech by adding one other word.
'Why do you hunt and persecute me, God help me!' said the old man
turning to his grandson. 'Why do you bring your prolifigate
companions here? How often am I to tell you that my life is one of
care and self-denial, and that I am poor?'
'How often am I to tell you,' returned the other, looking coldly at
him, 'that I know better?'
'You have chosen your own path,' said the old man. 'Follow it.
Leave Nell and me to toil and work.'
'Nell will be a woman soon,' returned the other, 'and, bred in your
faith, she'll forget her brother unless he shows himself sometimes.'
'Take care,' said the old man with sparkling eyes, 'that she does not
forget you when you would have her memory keenest. Take care that
the day don't come when you walk barefoot in the streets, and she
rides by in a gay carriage of her own.'
'You mean when she has your money?' retorted the other. 'How like
a poor man he talks!'
'And yet,' said the old man dropping his voice and speaking like one
who thinks aloud, 'how poor we are, and what a life it is! The cause
is a young child's guiltless of all harm or wrong, but nothing goes
well with it! Hope and patience, hope and patience!'
These words were uttered in too low a tone to reach the ears of the
young men. Mr Swiveller appeared to think the they implied some
mental struggle consequent upon the powerful effect of his address,
for he poked his friend with his cane and whispered his conviction
that he had administered 'a clincher,' and that he expected a
commission on the profits. Discovering his mistake after a while, he
appeared to grow rather sleeply and discontented, and had more than
once suggested the proprieity of an immediate departure, when the
door opened, and the child herself appeared.
The child was closely followed by an elderly man of remarkably
hard features and forbidding aspect, and so low in stature as to be
quite a dwarf, though his head and face were large enough for the
body of a giant. His black eyes were restless, sly, and cunning; his
mouth and chin, bristly with the stubble of a coarse hard beard; and
his complexion was one of that kind which never looks clean or
wholesome. But what added most to the grotesque expression of his
face was a ghastly smile, which, appearing to be the mere result of
habit and to have no connection with any mirthful or complacent
feeling, constantly revealed the few discoloured fangs that were yet
scattered in his mouth, and gave him the aspect of a panting dog. His
dress consisted of a large high-crowned hat, a worn dark suit, a pair
of capacious shoes, and a dirty white neckerchief sufficiently limp
and crumpled to disclose the greater portion of his wiry throat. Such
hair as he had was of a grizzled black, cut short and straight upon his
temples, and hanging in a frowzy fringe about his ears. His hands,
which were of a rough, coarse grain, were very dirty; his fingernails
were crooked, long, and yellow.
There was ample time to note these particulars, for besides that they
were sufficiently obvious without very close observation, some
moments elapsed before any one broke silence. The child advanced
timidly towards her brother and put her hand in his, the dwarf (if we
may call him so) glanced keenly at all present, and the curiosity-dealer,
who plainly had not
expected his uncouth visitor, seemed
disconcerted and embarrassed.
'Ah!' said the dwarf, who with his hand stretched out above his eyes
had been surveying the young man attentively, 'that should be your
'Say rather that he should not be,' replied the old man. 'But he is.'
'And that?' said the dwarf, pointing to Dick Swiveller.
'Some friend of his, as welcome here as he,' said the old man.
'And that?' inquired the dwarf, wheeling round and pointing straight
'A gentleman who was so good as to bring Nell home the other night
when she lost her way, coming from your house.'
The little man turned to the child as if to chide her or express his
wonder, but as she was talking to the young man, held his peace, and
bent his head to listen.
'Well, Nelly,' said the young fellow aloud. 'Do they teach you to
hate me, eh?'
'No, no. For shame. Oh, no!' cried the child.
'To love me, perhaps?' pursued her brother with a sneer.
'To do neither,' she returned. 'They never speak to me about you.
Indeed they never do.'
'I dare be bound for that,' he said, darting a bitter look at the
grandfather. 'I dare be bound for that Nell. Oh! I believe you there!'
'But I love you dearly, Fred,' said the child.
'I do indeed, and always will,' the child repeated with great emotion,
'but oh! If you would leave off vexing him and making him unhappy,
then I could love you more.'
'I see!' said the young man, as he stooped carelessly over the child,
and having kissed her, pushed her from him: 'There--get you away
now you have said your lesson. You needn't whimper. We part good
friends enough, if that's the matter.'
He remained silent, following her with his eyes, until she had gained
her little room and closed the door; and then turning to the dwarf,
'Meaning me?' returned the dwarf. 'Quilp is my name. You might
remember. It's not a long one--Daniel Quilp.'
'Harkee, Mr Quilp, then,' pursued the other, 'You have some
influence with my grandfather there.'
'Some,' said Mr Quilp emphatically.
'And are in a few of his mysteries and secrets.'
'A few,' replied Quilp, with equal dryness.
'Then let me tell him once for all, through you, that I will come into
and go out of this place as often as I like, so long as he keeps Nell
here; and that if he wants to be quit of me, he must first be quit of
her. What have I done to be made a bugbear of, and to be shunned
and dreaded as if I brought the plague? He'll tell you that I have no
natural affection; and that I care no more for Nell, for her own sake,
than I do for him. Let him say so. I care for the whim, then, of
coming to and fro and reminding her of my existence. I WILL see
her when I please. That's my point. I came here to-day to maintain
it, and I'll come here again fifty times with the same object and
always with the same success. I said I would stop till I had gained it.
I have done so, and now my visit's ended. Come Dick.'
'Stop!' cried Mr Swiveller, as his companion turned toward the
'Sir, I am your humble servant,' said Mr Quilp, to whom the
monosyllable was addressed.
'Before I leave the gay and festive scene, and halls of dazzling light,
sir,' said Mr Swiveller, 'I will with your permission, attempt a slight
remark. I came here, sir, this day, under the impression that the old
min was friendly.'
'Proceed, sir,' said Daniel Quilp; for the orator had made a sudden
'Inspired by this idea and the sentiments it awakened, sir, and feeling
as a mutual friend that badgering, baiting, and bullying, was not the
sort of thing calculated to expand the souls and promote the social
harmony of the contending parties, I took upon myself to suggest a
course which is THE course to be adopted to the present occasion.
Will you allow me to whisper half a syllable, sir?'
Without waiting for the permission he sought, Mr Swiveller stepped
up to the dwarf, and leaning on his shoulder and stooping down to
get at his ear, said in a voice which was perfectly audible to all
'The watch-word to the old min is--fork.'
'Is what?' demanded Quilp.
'Is fork, sir, fork,' replied Mr Swiveller slapping his picket. 'You
are awake, sir?'
The dwarf nodded. Mr Swiveller drew back and nodded likewise,
then drew a little further back and nodded again, and so on. By these
means he in time reached the door, where he gave a great cough to
attract the dwarf's attention and gain an opportunity of expressing in
dumb show, the closest confidence and most inviolable secrecy.
Having performed the serious pantomime that was necessary for the
due conveyance of these idea, he cast himself upon his friend's track,
'Humph!' said the dwarf with a sour look and a shrug of his
shoulders, 'so much for dear relations. Thank God I acknowledge
none! Nor need you either,' he added, turning to the old man, 'if you
were not as weak as a reed, and nearly as senseless.'
'What would you have me do?' he retorted in a kind of helpless
desperation. 'It is easy to talk and sneer. What would you have me do?'
'What would I do if I was in your case?' said the dwarf.
'Something violent, no doubt.'
'You're right there,' returned the little man, highly gratified by the
compliment, for such he evidently considered it; and grinning like a
devil as he rubbed his dirty hands together. 'Ask Mrs Quilp, pretty
Mrs Quilp, obedient, timid, loving Mrs Quilp. But that reminds me--I have
left her all alone,
and she will be anxious and know not a
moment's peace till I return. I know she's always in that condition
when I'm away, thought she doesn't dare to say so, unless I lead her
on and tell her she may speak freely and I won't be angry with her.
Oh! well-trained Mrs Quilp.
The creature appeared quite horrible with his monstrous head and
little body, as he rubbed his hands slowly round, and round, and
round again--with something fantastic even in his manner of
performing this slight action--and, dropping his shaggy brows and
cocking his chin in the air, glanced upward with a stealthy look of
exultation that an imp might have copied and appropriated to
'Here,' he said, putting his hand into his breast and sidling up to the
old man as he spoke; 'I brought it myself for fear of accidents, as,
being in gold, it was something large and heavy for Nell to carry in
her bag. She need be accustomed to such loads betimes thought,
neighbor, for she will carry weight when you are dead.'
'Heaven send she may! I hope so,' said the old man with something
like a groan.'
'Hope so!' echoed the dwarf, approaching close to his ear;
'neighbour, I would I knew in what good investment all these supplies
are sunk. But you are a deep man, and keep your secret close.'
'My secret!' said the other with a haggard look. 'Yes,
you're right--I--I--keep it close--very close.'
He said no more, but taking the money turned away with a slow,
uncertain step, and pressed his hand upon his head like a weary and
dejected man. the dwarf watched him sharply, while he passed into
the little sitting-room and locked it in an iron safe above the
chimney-piece; and after musing for a short space, prepared to take
his leave, observing that unless he made good haste, Mrs Quilp
would certainly be in fits on his return.
'And so, neighbour,' he added, 'I'll turn my face homewards,
leaving my love for Nelly and hoping she may never lose her way
again, though her doing so HAS procured me an honour I didn't
expect.' With that he bowed and leered at me, and with a keen
glance around which seemed to comprehend every object within his
range of vision, however, small or trivial, went his way.
I had several times essayed to go myself, but the old man had always
opposed it and entreated me to remain. As he renewed his entreaties
on our being left along, and adverted with many thanks to the former
occasion of our being together, I willingly yielded to his persuasions,
and sat down, pretending to examine some curious miniatures and a
few old medals which he placed before me. It needed no great
pressing to induce me to stay, for if my curiosity has been excited on
the occasion of my first visit, it certainly was not diminished now.
Nell joined us before long, and bringing some needle-work to the
table, sat by the old man's side. It was pleasant to observe the fresh
flowers in the room, the pet bird with a green bough shading his
little cage, the breath of freshness and youth which seemed to rustle
through the old dull house and hover round the child. It was curious,
but not so pleasant, to turn from the beauty and grace of the girl, to
the stooping figure, care-worn face, and jaded aspect of the old man.
As he grew weaker and more feeble, what would become of this
lonely litle creature; poor protector as he was, say that he died--what
we be her fate, then?
The old man almost answered my thoughts, as he laid his hand on
hers, and spoke aloud.
'I'll be of better cheer, Nell,' he said; 'there must be good fortune in
store for thee--I do not ask it for myself, but thee. Such miseries
must fall on thy innocent head without it, that I cannot believe but
that, being tempted, it will come at last!'
She looked cheerfully into his face, but made no answer.
'When I think,' said he, 'of the many years--many in thy short life--
that thou has lived with me; of my monotonous existence, knowing
no companions of thy own age nor any childish pleasures; of the
solitutde in which thou has grown to be what thou art, and in which
thou hast lived apart from nearly all thy kind but one old man; I
sometimes fear I have dealt hardly by thee, Nell.'
'Grandfather!' cried the child in unfeigned surprise.
'Not in intention--no no,' said he. 'I have ever looked forward to the
time that should enable thee to mix among the gayest and prettiest,
and take thy station with the best. But I still look forward, Nell, I
still look forward, and if I should be forced to leave thee,
meanwhile, how have I fitted thee for struggles with the world? The
poor bird yonder is as well qualified to encounter it, and be turned
adrift upon its mercies--Hark! I hear Kit outside. Go to him, Nell, go
She rose, and hurrying away, stopped, turned back, and put her arms
about the old man's neck, then left him and hurried away again--but
faster this time, to hide her falling tears.
'A word in your ear, sir,' said the old man in a hurried whisper. 'I
have been rendered uneasy by what you said the other night, and can
only plead that I have done all for the best--that it is too late to
retract, if I could (though I cannot)--and that I hope to triumph yet.
All is for her sake. I have borne great poverty myself, and would
spare her the sufferings that poverty carries with it. I would spare
her the miseries that brought her mother, my own dear child, to an
early grave. I would leave her--not with resources which could be
easily spent or squandered away, but with what would place her
beyond the reach of want for ever. you mark me sir? She shall have
no pittance, but a fortune--Hush! I can say no more than that, now or
at any other time, and she is here again!'
The eagerness with which all this was poured into my ear, the
trembling of the hand with which he clasped my arm, the strained
and starting eyes he fixed upon me, the wild vehemence and agitation
of his manner, filled me with amazement. All that I had heard and
seen, and a great part of what he had said himself, led me to suppose
that he was a wealthy man. I could form no comprehension of his
character, unless he were one of those miserable wretches who,
having made gain the sole end and object of their lives and having
succeeded in amassing great riches, are constantly tortured by the
dread of poverty, and best by fears of loss and ruin. Many things he
had said which I had been at a loss to understand, were quite
reconcilable with the idea thus presented to me, and at length I
concluded that beyond all doubt he was one of this unhappy race.
The opinion was not the result of hasty consideration, for which
indeed there was no opportunity at that time, as the child came
directly, and soon occupied herself in preparations for giving Kit a
writing lesson, of which it seemed he had a couple every week, and
one regularly on that evening, to the great mirth and enjoyment both
of himself and his instructress. To relate how it was a long time
before his modesty could be so far prevailed upon as it admit of his
sitting down in the parlour, in the presence of an unknown
gentleman--how, when he did set down, he tucked up his sleeves and
squared his elbows and put his face close to the copy-book and
squinted horribly at the lines--how, from the very first moment of
having the pen in his hand, he began to wallow in blots, and to daub
himself with ink up to the very roots of his hair--how, if he did by
accident form a letter properly, he immediately smeared it out again
with his arm in his preparations to make another -- how, at every
fresh mistake, there was a fresh burst of merriment from the child
and louder and not less hearty laugh from poor Kit himself--and how
there was all the way through, notwithstanding, a gentle wish on her
part to teach, and an anxious desire on his to learn--to relate all these
particulars would no doubt occupy more space and time than they
deserve. It will be sufficient to say that the lesson was given--that
evening passed and night came on--that the old man again grew
restless and impatient--that he quitted the house secretly at the same
hour as before--and that the child was once more left alone within its
And now that I have carried this history so far in my own character
and introduced these personages to the reader, I shall for the
convenience of the narrative detach myself from its further course,
and leave those who have prominent and necessary parts in it to
speak and act for themselves.
Mr and Mrs Quilp resided on Tower Hill; and in her bower on
Tower Hill. Mrs Quilp was left to pine the absence of her lord, when
he quitted her on the business which he had already seen to transact.
Mr Quilp could scarcely be said to be of any particular trade or
calling, though his pursuits were diversified and his occupations
numerous. He collected the rents of whole colonies of filthy streets
and alleys by the waterside, advanced money to the seamen and petty
officers of merchant vessels, had a share in the ventures of divers
mates of East Indiamen, smoked his smuggled cigars under the very
nose of the Custom House, and made appointments on 'Change with
men in glazed hats and round jackets pretty well every day. On the
Surrey side of the river was a small rat-infested dreary yard called
'Quilp's Wharf,' in which were a little wooden counting-house
burrowing all awry in the dust as if it had fallen from the clouds and
ploughed into the ground; a few fragments of rusty anchors; several
large iron rings; some piles of rotten wood; and two or three heaps
of old sheet copper, crumpled, cracked, and battered. On Quilp's
Wharf, Daniel Quilp was a ship-breaker, yet to judge from these
appearances he must either have been a ship-breaker on a very small
scale, or have broken his ships up very small indeed. Neither did the
place present any extraordinary aspect of life or activity, as its only
human occupant was an amphibious boy in a canvas suit, whose sole
change of occupation was from sitting on the head of a pile and
throwing stones into the mud when the tide was out, to standing with
his hands in his pockets gazing listlessly on the motion and on the
bustle of the river at high-water.
The dwarf's lodging on Tower hill comprised, besides the needful
accommodation for himself and Mrs Quilp, a small sleeping-closet
for that lady's mother, who resided with the couple and waged
perpetual war with Daniel; of whom, notwithstanding, she stood in
no slight dread. Indeed, the ugly creature contrived by some means
or other--whether by his ugliness or his ferocity or his natural
cunning is no great matter--to impress with a wholesome fear of his
anger, most of those with whom he was brought into daily contact
and communication. Over nobody had he such complete ascendance
as Mrs Quilp herself--a pretty little, mild-spoken, blue-eyed woman,
who having allied herself in wedlock to the dwarf in one of those
strange infatuations of which examples are by no means scarce,
performed a sound practical penance for her folly, every day of her
It has been said that Mrs Quilp was pining in her bower. In her
bower she was, but not alone, for besides the old lady her mother of
whom mention has recently been made, there were present some
half-dozen ladies of the neighborhood who had happened by a
strange accident (and also by a little understanding among
themselves) to drop in one after another, just about tea-time. This
being a season favourable to conversation, and the room being a
cool, shady, lazy kind of place, with some plants at the open window
shutting out the dust, and interposing pleasantly enough between the
tea table within and the old Tower without, it is no wonder that the
ladies felt an inclination to talk and linger, especially when there are
taken into account the additional inducements of fresh butter, new
bread, shrimps, and watercresses.
Now, the ladies being together under these circumstances, it was
extremely natural that the discourse should turn upon the propensity
of mankind to tyrannize over the weaker sex, and the duty that
developed upon the weaker sex to resist that tyranny and assert their
rights and dignity. It was natural for four reasons: firstly, because
Mrs Quilp being a young woman and notoriously under the dominion
of her husband ought to be excited to rebel; secondly, because Mrs
Quilp's parent was known to be laudably shrewish in her disposition
and inclined to resist male authority; thirdly, because each visitor
wished to show for herself how superior she was in this respect to
the generality of her sex; and forthly, because the company being
accustomed to acandalise each other in pairs, were deprived of their
usual subject of conversation now that they were all assembled in
close friendship, and had consequently no better employment than to
attack the common enemy.
Moved by these considerations, a stout lady opened the proceedings
by inquiring, with an air of great concern and sympathy, how Mr
Quilp was; whereunto Mr Quilp's wife's mother replied sharply,
'Oh! He was well enough--nothing much was every the matter with
him--and ill weeds were sure to thrive.' All the ladies then sighed in
concert, shook their heads gravely, and looked at Mrs Quilp as a martyr.
'Ah!' said the spokeswoman, 'I wish you'd give her a little of your
advice, Mrs Jiniwin'--Mrs Quilp had been a Miss Jiniwin it should
be observed--'nobody knows better than you, ma'am, what us
women owe to ourselves.'
'Owe indeed, ma'am!' replied Mrs Jiniwin. 'When my poor husband,
her dear father, was alive, if he had ever venture'd a cross
word to me, I'd have--' The good old lady did not finish the
sentence, but she twisted off the head of a shrimp with a
vindictiveness which seemed to imply that the action was in some
degree a substitute for words. In this light it was clearly understood
by the other party, who immediately replied with great approbation,
'You quite enter into my feelings, ma'am, and it's jist what I'd do
'But you have no call to do it,' said Mrs Jiniwin. 'Luckily for you,
you have no more occasion to do it than I had.'
'No woman need have, if she was true to herself,' rejoined the stout
'Do you hear that, Betsy?' said Mrs Jiniwin, in a warning voice.
'How often have I said the same words to you, and almost gone
down my knees when I spoke 'em!'
Poor Mrs Quilp, who had looked in a state of helplessness from one
face of condolence to another, coloured, smiled, and shook her head
doubtfully. This was the signal for a general clamour, which
beginning in a low murmur gradually swelled into a great noise in
which everybody spoke at once, and all said that she being a young
woman had no right to set up her opinions against the experiences of
those who knew so much better; that it was very wrong of her not to
take the advice of people who had nothing at heart but her good; that
it was next door to being downright ungrateful to conduct herself in
that manner; that if she had no respect for herself she ought to have
some for other women, all of whom she compromised by her
meekness; and that if she had no respect for other women, the time
would come when other women would have no respect for her; and
she would be very sorry for that, they could tell her. Having dealt
out these admonitions, the ladies fell to a more powerful assault than
they had yet made upon the mixed tea, new bread, fresh butter,
shrimps, and watercresses, and said that their vexation was so great
to see her going on like that, that they could hardly bring themselves
to eat a single morsel.
It's all very fine to talk,' said Mrs Quilp with much simplicity, 'but I
know that if I was to die to-morrow, Quilp could marry anybody he
pleased--now that he could, I know!'
There was quite a scream of indignation at this idea. Marry whom he
pleased! They would like to see him dare to think of marrying any of
them; they would like to see the faintest approach to such a thing.
One lady (a widow) was quite certain she should stab him if he
hinted at it.
'Very well,' said Mrs Quilp, nodding her head, 'as I said just now,
it's very easy to talk, but I say again that I know--that I'm sure--Quilp
has such a way with
him when he likes, that the best looking
woman here couldn't refuse him if I was dead, and she was free, and
he chose to make love to him. Come!'
Everybody bridled up at this remark, as much as to say, 'I know you
mean me. Let him try--that's all.' and yet for some hidden reason
they were all angry with the widow, and each lady whispered in her
neighbour's ear that it was very plain that said widow thought herself
the person referred to, and what a puss she was!
'Mother knows,' said Mrs Quilp, 'that what I say is quite correct,
for she often said so before we were married. Didn't you say so,
This inquiry involved the respected lady in rather a delicate position,
for she certainly had been an active party in making her daughter
Mrs Quilp, and, besides, it was not supporting the family credit to
encourage the idea that she had married a man whom nobody else
would have. On the other hand, to exaggerate the captivating
qualities of her son-in-law would be to weaken the cause of revolt, in
which all her energies were deeply engaged. Beset by these opposing
considerations, Mrs Jiniwin admitted the powers of insinuation, but
denied the right to govern, and with a timely compliment to the stout
lady brought back the discussion to the point from which it had
'Oh! It's a sensible and proper thing indeed, what Mrs George has
said,!' exclaimed the old lady. 'If women are only true to
themselves!--But Betsy isn't, and more's the shame and pity.'
'Before I'd let a man order me about as Quilp orders her,' said Mrs
George, 'before I'd consent to stand in awe of a man as she does of
him, I'd--I'd kill myself, and write a letter first to say he did it!'
This remark being loudly commended and approved of, another lady
(from the Minories) put in her word:
'Mr Quilp may be a very nice man,' said this lady, 'and I supposed
there's no doubt he is, because Mrs Quilp says he is, and Mrs
Jiniwin says he is, and they ought to know, or nobody does. But still
he is not quite a--what one calls a handsome man, nor quite a young
man neither, which might be a little excuse for him if anything could
be; whereas his wife is young, and is good-looking, and is a woman--which
is the greatest
thing after all.'
This last clause being delivered with extraordinary pathos, elicited a
corresponding murmer from the hearers, stimulated by which the
lady went on to remark that if such a husband was cross and
unreasonable with such a wife, then--
'If he is!' interposed the mother, putting down her tea-cup and
brushing the crumbs out of her lap, preparatory to making a solemn
declaration. 'If he is! He is the greatest tyrant that every lived, she
daren't call her soul her own, he makes her tremble with a word and
even with a look, he frightens her to death, and she hasn't the spirit
to give him a word back, no, not a single word.'
Notwithstanding that the fact had been notorious beforehand to all
the tea-drinkers, and had been discussed and expatiated on at every
tea-drinking in the neighbourhood for the last twelve months, this
official communication was no sooner made than they all began to
talk at once and to vie with each other in vehemence and volubility.
Mrs George remarked that people would talk, that people had often
said this to her before, that Mrs Simmons then and there present had
told her so twenty times, that she had always said, 'No, Henrietta
Simmons, unless I see it with my own eyes and hear it with my own
ears, I never will believe it.' Mrs Simmons corroborated this
testimony and added strong evidence of her own. The lady from the
Minories recounted a successful course of treatment under which she
had placed her own husband, who, from manifesting one month after
marriage unequivocal symptoms of the tiger, had by this means
become subdued into a perfect lamb. Another lady recounted her
own personal struggle and final triumph, in the course whereof she
had found it necessary to call in her mother and two aunts, and to
weep incessantly night and day for six weeks. A third, who in the
general confusion could secure no other listener, fastened herself
upon a young woman still unmarried who happened to be amongst
them, and conjured her, as she valued her own peace of mind and
happiness to profit by this solemn occasion, to take example from the
weakness of Mrs Quilp, and from that time forth to direct her whole
thoughts to taming and subduing the rebellious spirit of man. The
noise was at its height, and half the company had elevated their
voices into a perfect shriek in order to drown the voices of the other
half, when Mrs Jiniwin was seen to change colour and shake her
forefinger stealthily, as if exhorting them to silence. Then, and not
until then, Daniel Quilp himself, the cause and occasion of all this
clamour, was observed to be in the room, looking on and listening
with profound attention.
'Go on, ladies, go on,' said Daniel. 'Mrs Quilp, pray ask the ladies
to stop to supper, and have a couple of lobsters and something light
'I--I--didn't ask them to tea, Quilp,' stammered his wife. It's quite an
'So much the better, Mrs Quilp; these accidental parties are always
the pleasantest,' said the dwarf, rubbing his hands so hard that he
seemed to be engaged in manufacturing, of the dirt with which they
were encrusted, little charges for popguns. 'What! Not going, ladies,
you are not going, surely!'
His fair enemies tossed their heads slightly as they sought their
respective bonnets and shawls, but left all verbal contention to Mrs
Jiniwin, who finding herself in the position of champion, made a
faint struggle to sustain the character.
'And why not stop to supper, Quilp,' said the old lady, 'if my
daughter had a mind?'
'To be sure,' rejoined Daniel. 'Why not?'
'There's nothing dishonest or wrong in a supper, I hope?' said Mrs
'Surely not,' returned the dwarf. 'Why should there be? Nor
anything unwholesome, either, unless there's lobster-salad or
prawns, which I'm told are not good for digestion.'
'And you wouldn't like your wife to be attacked with that, or
anything else that would make her uneasy would you?' said Mrs
'Not for a score of worlds,' replied the dwarf with a grin. 'Not even
to have a score of mothers-in-law at the same time--and what a
blessing that would be!'
'My daughter's your wife, Mr Quilp, certainly,' said the old lady
with a giggle, meant for satirical and to imply that he needed to be
reminded of the fact; 'your wedded wife.'
'So she is, certainly. So she is,' observed the dwarf.
'And she has has a right to do as she likes, I hope, Quilp,' said the
old lady trembling, partly with anger and partly with a secret fear of
her impish son-in-law.
'Hope she has!' he replied. 'Oh! Don't you know she has? Don't you
know she has, Mrs Jiniwin?
'I know she ought to have, Quilp, and would have, if she was of my
way of thiniking.'
'Why an't you of your mother's way of thinking, my dear?' said the
dwarf, turing round and addressing his wife, 'why don't you always
imitate your mother, my dear? She's the ornament of her sex--your
father said so every day of his life. I am sure he did.'
'Her father was a blessed creetur, Quilp, and worthy twenty
thousand of some people,' said Mrs Jiniwin; 'twenty hundred million
'I should like to have known him,' remarked the dwarf. 'I dare say
he was a blessed creature then; but I'm sure he is now. It was a
happy release. I believe he had suffered a long time?'
The old lady gave a gasp, but nothing came of it; Quilp resumed,
with the same malice in his eye and the same sarcastic politeness on
'You look ill, Mrs Jiniwin; I know you have been exciting yourself
too much--talking perhaps, for it is your weakness. Go to bed. Do go
'I shall go when I please, Quilp, and not before.'
'But please to do now. Do please to go now,' said the dwarf.
The old woman looked angrily at him, but retreated as he advanced,
and falling back before him, suffered him to shut the door upon her
and bolt her out among the guests, who were by this time crowding
downstairs. Being left along with his wife, who sat trembling in a
corner with her eyes fixed upon the ground, the little man planted
himself before her, and folding his arms looked steadily at her for a
long time without speaking.
'Mrs Quilp,' he said at last.
'Yes, Quilp,' she replead meekly.
Instead of pursing the theme he had in his mind, Quilp folded his
arms again, and looked at her more sternly than before, while she
averted her eyes and kept them on the ground.
'If ever you listen to these beldames again, I'll bite you.'
With this laconic threat, which he accompanied with a snarl that gave
him the appearance of being particularly in earnest, Mr Quilp bade
her clear the teaboard away, and bring the rum. The spirit being set
before him in a huge case-bottle, which had originally come out of
some ship's locker, he settled himself in an arm-chair with his large
head and face squeezed up against the back, and his little legs planted
on the table.
'Now, Mrs Quilp,' he said; 'I feel in a smoking humour, and shall
probably blaze away all night. But sit where you are, if you please,
in case I want you.'
His wife returned no other reply than the necessary 'Yes, Quilp,' and
the small lord of the creation took his first cigar and mixed his first
glass of grog. The sun went down and the stars peeped out, the
Tower turned from its own proper colours to grey and from grey to
black, the room became perfectly dark and the end of the cigar a
deep fiery red, but still Mr Quilp went on smoking and drinking in
the same position, and staring listlessly out of window with the
doglike smile always on his face, save when Mrs Quilp made some
involuntary movement of restlessness or fatigue; and then it
expanded into a grin of delight.
Whether Mr Quilp took any sleep by snatches of a few winks at a
time, or whether he sat with his eyes wide open all night long,
certain it is that he kept his cigar alight, and kindled every fresh one
from the ashes of that which was nearly consumed, without requiring
the assistance of a candle. Nor did the striking of the clocks, hour
after hour, appear to inspire him with any sense of drowsiness or any
natural desire to go to rest, but rather to increase his wakefulness,
which he showed, at every such indication of the progress of the
night, by a suppressed cackling in his throat, and a motion of his
shoulders, like one who laughs heartily but the same time slyly and
At length the day broke, and poor Mrs Quilp, shivering with cold of
early morning and harassed by fatigue and want of sleep, was
discovered sitting patiently on her chair, raising her eyes at intervals
in mute appeal to the compassion and clemency of her lord, and
gently reminding him by an occasion cough that she was still
unpardoned and that her penance had been of long duration. But her
dwarfish spouse still smoked his cigar and drank his rum without
heeding her; and it was not until the sun had some time risen, and
the activity and noise of city day were rife in the street, that he
deigned to recognize her presence by any word or sign. He might not
have done so even then, but for certain impatient tapping at the door
he seemed to denote that some pretty hard knuckles were actively
engaged upon the other side.
'Why dear me!' he said looking round with a malicious grin, 'it's
day. Open the door, sweet Mrs Quilp!'
His obedient wife withdrew the bolt, and her lady mother entered.
Now, Mrs Jiniwin bounced into the room with great impetuosity;
for, supposing her son-in-law to be still a-bed, she had come to
relieve her feelings by pronouncing a strong opinion upon his general
conduct and character. Seeing that he was up and dressed, and that
the room appeared to have been occupied ever since she quitted it on
the previous evening, she stopped short, in some embarrassment.
Nothing escaped the hawk's eye of the ugly little man, who,
perfectly understanding what passed in the old lady's mind, turned
uglier still in the fulness of his satisfaction, and bade her good
morning, with a leer or triumph.
'Why, Betsy,' said the old woman, 'you haven't been--you don't
mean to say you've been a--'
'Sitting up all night?' said Quilp, supplying the conclusion of the
sentence. 'Yes she has!'
'All night?' cried Mrs Jiniwin.
'Ay, all night. Is the dear old lady deaf?' said Quilp, with a smile of
which a frown was part. 'Who says man and wife are bad company?
Ha ha! The time has flown.'
'You're a brute!' exclaimed Mrs Jiniwin.
'Come come,' said Quilp, wilfully misunderstanding her, of course,
'you mustn't call her names. She's married now, you know. And
though she did beguile the time and keep me from my bed, you must
not be so tenderly careful of me as to be out of humour with her.
Bless you for a dear old lady. Here's to your health!'
'I am much obliged to you,' returned the old woman, testifying by a
certain restlessness in her hands a vehement desire to shake her
matronly fist at her son-in-law. 'Oh! I'm very much obliged to you!'
'Grateful soul!' cried the dwarf. 'Mrs Quilp.'
'Yes, Quilp,' said the timid sufferer.
'Help your mother to get breakfast, Mrs Quilp. I am going to the
wharf this morning--the earlier the better, so be quick.'
Mrs Jiniwin made a faint demonstration of rebellion by sitting down
in a chair near the door and folding her arms as if in a resolute
determination to do nothing. But a few whispered words from her
daughter, and a kind inquiry from her son-in-law whether she felt
faint, with a hint that there was abundance of cold water in the next
apartment, routed these symptoms effectually, and she applied
herself to the prescribed preparations with sullen diligence.
While they were in progress, Mr Quilp withdrew to the adjoining
room, and, turning back his coat-collar, proceeded to smear his
countenance with a damp towel of very unwholesome appearance,
which made his complexion rather more cloudy than it was before.
But, while he was thus engaged, his caution and inquisitiveness did
not forsake him, for with a face as sharp and cunning as ever, he
often stopped, even in this short process, and stood listening for any
conversation in the next room, of which he might be the theme.
'Ah!' he said after a short effort of attention, 'it was not the towel
over my ears, I thought it wasn't. I'm a little hunchy villain and a
monster, am I, Mrs Jiniwin? Oh!'
The pleasure of this discovery called up the old doglike smile in full
force. When he had quite done with it, he shook himself in a very
doglike manner, and rejoined the ladies.
Mr Quilp now walked up to front of a looking-glass, and was
standing there putting on his neckerchief, when Mrs Jiniwin
happening to be behind him, could not resist the inclination she felt
to shake her fist at her tyrant son-in-law. It was the gesture of an
instant, but as she did so and accompanied the action with a
menacing look, she met his eye in the glass, catching her in the very
act. The same glance at the mirror conveyed to her the reflection of a
horribly grotesque and distorted face with the tongue lolling out; and
the next instant the dwarf, turning about with a perfectly bland and
placid look, inquired in a tone of great affection.
'How are you now, my dear old darling?'
Slight and ridiculous as the incident was, it made him appear such a
little fiend, and withal such a keen and knowing one, that the old
woman felt too much afraid of him to utter a single word, and
suffered herself to be led with extraordinary politeness to the
breakfast-table. Here he by no means diminished the impression he
had just produced, for he ate hard eggs, shell and all, devoured
gigantic prawns with the heads and tails on, chewed tobacco and
water-cresses at the same time and with extraordinary greediness,
drank boiling tea without winking, bit his fork and spoon till they
bent again, and in short performed so many horrifying and
uncommon acts that the women were nearly frightened out of their
wits, and began to doubt if he were really a human creature. At last,
having gone through these proceedings and many others which were
equally a part of his system, Mr Quilp left them, reduced to a very
obedient and humbled state, and betook himself to the river-side,
where he took boat for the wharf on which he had bestowed his
It was flood tide when Daniel Quilp sat himself down in the ferry to
cross to the opposite shore. A fleet of barges were coming lazily on,
some sideways, some head first, some stern first; all in a wrong-headed,
way, bumping up against the larger craft,
running under the bows of steamboats, getting into every kind of
nook and corner where they had no business, and being crunched on
all sides like so many walnut-shells; while each with its pair of long
sweeps struggling and splashing in the water looked like some
lumbering fish in pain. In some of the vessels at anchor all hands
were busily engaged in coiling ropes, spreading out sails to dry,
taking in or discharging their cargoes; in others no life was visible
but two or three tarry boys, and perhaps a barking dog running to
and fro upon the deck or scrambling up to look over the side and
bark the louder for the view. Coming slowly on through the forests
of masts was a great steamship, beating the water in short impatient
strokes with her heavy paddles as though she wanted room to
breathe, and advancing in her huge bulk like a sea monster among
the minnows of the Thames. On either hand were long black tiers of
colliers; between them vessels slowly working out of harbour with
sails glistening in the sun, and creaking noise on board, re-echoed
from a hundred quarters. The water and all upon it was in active
motion, dancing and buoyant and bubbling up; while the old grey
Tower and piles of building on the shore, with many a church-spire
shooting up between, looked coldly on, and seemed to disdain their
chafing, restless neighbour.
Daniel Quilp, who was not much affected by a bright morning save
in so far as it spared him the trouble of carrying an umbrella, caused
himself to be put ashore hard by the wharf, and proceeded thither
through a narrow lane which, partaking of the amphibious character
of its frequenters, had as much water as mud in its composition, and
a very liberal supply of both. Arrived at his destination, the first
object that presented itself to his view was a pair of very imperfectly
shod feet elevated in the air with the soles upwards, which
remarkable appearance was referable to the boy, who being of an
eccentric spirit and having a natural taste for tumbling, was now
standing on his head and contemplating the aspect of the river under
these uncommon circumstances. He was speedily brought on his
heels by the sound of his master's voice, and as soon as his head was
in its right position, Mr Quilp, to speak expresively in the absence of
a better verb, 'punched it' for him.
'Come, you let me alone,' said the boy, parrying Quilp's hand with
both his elbows alternatively. 'You'll get something you won't like if
you don't and so I tell you.'
'You dog,' snarled Quilp, 'I'll beat you with an iron rod, I'll scratch
you with a rusty nail, I'll pinch your eyes, if you talk to me--I will.'
With these threats he clenched his hand again, and dexterously
diving in betwen the elbows and catching the boy's head as it dodged
from side to side, gave it three or four good hard knocks. Having
now carried his point and insisted on it, he left off.
'You won't do it agin,' said the boy, nodding his head and drawing
back, with the elbows ready in case of the worst; 'now--'
'Stand still, you dog,' said Quilp. 'I won't do it again, because I've
done it as often as I want. Here. Take the key.'
'Why don't you hit one of your size?' said the boy approaching very
'Where is there one of my size, you dog?' returned Quilp. 'Take the
key, or I'll brain you with it'--indeed he gave him a smart tap with
the handle as he spoke. 'Now, open the counting-house.'
The boy sulkily complied, muttering at first, but desisting when he
looked round and saw that Quilp was following him with a steady
look. And here it may be remarked, that between this boy and the
dwarf that existed a strange kind of mutual liking. How born or
bred, and or nourished upon blows and threats on one side, and
retorts and defiances on the other, is not to the purpose. Quilp would
certainly suffer nobody to contract him but the boy, and the boy
would assuredly not have submitted to be so knocked about by
anybody but Quilp, when he had the power to run away at any time
'Now,' said Quilp, passing into the wooden counting-house, 'you
mind the wharf. Stand upon your head agin, and I'll cut one of your
The boy made no answer, but directly Quilp had shut himself in,
stood on his head before the door, then walked on his hands to the
back and stood on his head there, and then to the opposite side and
repeated the performance. There were indeed four sides to the
counting-house, but he avoided that one where the window was,
deeming it probable that Quilp would be looking out of it. This was
prudent, for in point of fact, the dwarf, knowing his disposition, was
lying in wait at a little distance from the sash armed with a large
piece of wood, which, being rough and jagged and studded in many
parts with broken nails, might possibly have hurt him.
It was a dirty little box, this counting-house, with nothing in it but an
old ricketty desk and two stools, a hat-peg, an ancient almanack, an
inkstand with no ink, and the stump of one pen, and an eight-day
clock which hadn't gone for eighteen years at least, and of which the
minute-hand had been twisted off for a tooth-pick. Daniel Quilp
pulled his hat over his brows, climbed on to the desk (which had a
flat top) and stretching his short length upon it went to sleep with
ease of an old pactitioner; intending, no doubt, to compensate
himself for the deprivation of last night's rest, by a long and sound
Sound it might have been, but long it was not, for he had not been
asleep a quarter of an hour when the boy opened the door and thrust
in his head, which was like a bundle of badly-picked oakum. Quilp
was a light sleeper and started up directly.
'Here's somebody for you,' said the boy.
'I don't know.'
'Ask!' said Quilp, seizing the trifle of wood before mentioned and
throwing it at him with such dexterity that it was well the boy
disappeared before it reached the spot on which he had stood. 'Ask,
Not caring to venture within range of such missles again, the boy
discreetly sent in his stead the first cause of the interruption, who
now presented herself at the door.
'What, Nelly!' cried Quilp.
'Yes,' said the child, hesitating whether to enter or retreat, for the
dwarf just roused, with his dishevelled hair hanging all about him
and a yellow handkerchief over his head, was something fearful to
behold; it's only me, sir.'
'Come in,' said Quilp, without getting off the desk. 'Come in. Stay.
Just look out into the yard, and see whether there's a boy standing on
'No, sir,' replied Nell. 'He's on his feet.'
'You're sure he is?' said Quilp. 'Well. Now, come in and shut the
door. What's your message, Nelly?'
The child handed him a letter. Mr Quilp, without changing his
position further than to turn over a little more on his side and rest his
chin on his hand, proceeded to make himself acquainted with its
Little Nell stood timidly by, with her eyes raised to the countenance
of Mr Quilp as he read the letter, plainly showing by her looks that
while she entertained some fear and distrust of the little man, she
was much inclined to laugh at his uncouth appearance and grotesque
attitude. And yet there was visible on the part of the child a painful
anxiety for his reply, and consciousness of his power to render it
disagreeable or distressing, which was strongly at variance with this
impulse and restrained it more effectually than she could possibly
have done by any efforts of her own.
That Mr Quilp was himself perplexed, and that in no small degree,
by the contents of the letter, was sufficiently obvious. Before he had
got through the first two or three lines he began to open his eyes
very wide and to frown most horribly, the next two or three caused
him to scratch his head in an uncommonly vicious manner, and when
he came to the conclusion he gave a long dismal whistle indicative of
surprise and dismay. After folding and laying it down beside him, he
bit the nails of all of his ten fingers with extreme voracity; and
taking it up sharply, read it again. The second perusal was to all
appearance as unsatisfactory as the first, and plunged him into a
profound reverie from which he awakened to another assault upon
his nails and a long stare at the child, who with her eyes turned
towards the ground awaited his further pleasure.
'Halloa here!' he said at length, in a voice, and with a suddenness,
which made the child start as though a gun had been fired off at her
'Do you know what's inside this letter, Nell?'
'Are you sure, quite sure, quite certain, upon your soul?'
'Quite sure, sir.'
'Do you wish you may die if you do know, hey?' said the dwarf.
'Indeed I don't know,' returned the child.
'Well!' muttered Quilp as he marked her earnest look. 'I believe
you. Humph! Gone already? Gone in four-and-twenty hours! What
the devil has he done with it, that's the mystery!'
This reflection set him scratching his head and biting his nails once
more. While he was thus employed his features gradually relaxed
into what was with him a cheerful smile, but which in any other man
would have been a ghastly grin of pain, and when the child looked
up again she found that he was regarding her with extraordinary
favour and complacency.
'You look very pretty to-day, Nelly, charmingly pretty. Are you
'No, sir. I'm in a hurry to get back, for he will be anxious while I
'There's no hurry, little Nell, no hurry at all,' said Quilp. 'How
should you like to be my number two, Nelly?'
'To be what, sir?'
'My number two, Nelly, my second, my Mrs Quilp,' said the dwarf.
The child looked frightened, but seemed not to understand him,
which Mr Quilp observing, hastened to make his meaning more
'To be Mrs Quilp the second, when Mrs Quilp the first is dead,
sweet Nell,' said Quilp, wrinkling up his eyes and luring her towards
him with his bent forefinger, 'to be my wife, my little cherry-cheeked,
red-lipped wife. Say
that Mrs Quilp lives five year, or only
four, you'll be just the proper age for me. Ha ha! Be a good girl,
Nelly, a very good girl, and see if one of these days you don't come
to be Mrs Quilp of Tower Hill.'
So far from being sustained and stimulated by this delightful
prospect, the child shrank from him in great agitation, and trembled
violently. Mr Quilp, either because frightening anybody afforded
him a constitutional delight, or because it was pleasant to
contemplate the death of Mrs Quilp number one, and the elevation of
Mrs Quilp number two to her post and title, or because he was
determined from purposes of his own to be agreeable and good-humoured at
time, only laughed and feigned to take no
heed of her alarm.
'You shall home with me to Tower Hill and see Mrs Quilp that is,
directly,' said the dwarf. 'She's very fond of you, Nell, though not
so fond as I am. You shall come home with me.'
'I must go back indeed,' said the child. 'He told me to return directly
I had the answer.'
'But you haven't it, Nelly,' retorted the dwarf, 'and won't have it,
and can't have it, until I have been home, so you see that to do your
errand, you must go with me. Reach me yonder hat, my dear, and
we'll go directly.' With that, Mr Quilp suffered himself to roll
gradually off the desk until his short legs touched the ground, when
he got upon them and led the way from the counting-house to the
wharf outside, when the first objects that presented themselves were
the boy who had stood on his head and another young gentleman of
about his own stature, rolling in the mud together, locked in a tight
embrace, and cuffing each other with mutual heartiness.
'It's Kit!' cried Nelly, clasping her hand, 'poor Kit who came with
me! Oh, pray stop them, Mr Quilp!'
'I'll stop 'em,' cried Quilp, diving into the little counting-house and
returning with a thick stick, 'I'll stop 'em. Now, my boys, fight
away. I'll fight you both. I'll take bot of you, both together, both
With which defiances the dwarf flourished his cudgel, and dancing
round the combatants and treading upon them and skipping over
them, in a kind of frenzy, laid about him, now on one and now on
the other, in a most desperate manner, always aiming at their heads
and dealing such blows as none but the veriest little savage would
have inflicted. This being warmer work than they had calculated
upon, speedily cooled the courage of the belligerents, who scrambled
to their feet and called for quarter.
'I'll beat you to a pulp, you dogs,' said Quilp, vainly endeavoring to
get near either of them for a parting blow. 'I'll bruise you until
you're copper-coloured, I'll break your faces till you haven't a
profile between you, I will.'
'Come, you drop that stick or it'll be worse for you,' said his boy,
dodging round him and watching an opportunity to rush in; 'you
drop that stick.'
'Come a little nearer, and I'll drop it on your skull, you dog,' said
Quilp, with gleaming eyes; 'a little nearer--nearer yet.'
But the boy declined the invitation until his master was apparently a
little off his guard, when he darted in and seizing the weapon tried to
wrest it from his grasp. Quilp, who was as strong as a lion, easily
kept his hold until the boy was tugging at it with his utmost power,
when he suddenly let it go and sent him reeling backwards, so that
he fell violently upon his head. the success of this manoeuvre tickled
Mr Quilp beyond description, and he laughed and stamped upon the
ground as at a most irresistible jest.
'Never mind,' said the boy, nodding his head and rubbing it at the
same time; 'you see if ever I offer to strike anybody again because
they say you're an uglier dwarf than can be seen anywheres for a
penny, that's all.'
'Do you mean to say, I'm not, you dog?' returned Quilp.
'No!' retorted the boy.
'Then what do you fight on my wharf for, you villain?' said Quilp.
'Because he said so,' replied to boy, pointing to Kit, 'not because
'Then why did he say,' bawled Kit, 'that Miss Nelly was ugly, and
that she and my master was obliged to do whatever his master liked?
Why did he say that?'
'He said what he did because he's a fool, and you said what you did
because you're very wise and clever--almost too clever to live,
unless you're very careful of yourself, Kit.' said Quilp, with great