Daniel Quilp of Tower Hill, and Sampson Brass of Bevis Marks in the city o_ondon, Gentleman, one of her Majesty's attornies of the Courts of the King'_ench and Common Pleas at Westminster and a solicitor of the High Court o_hancery, slumbered on, unconscious and unsuspicious of any mischance, until _nocking on the street door, often repeated and gradually mounting up from _odest single rap to a perfect battery of knocks, fired in long discharge_ith a very short interval between, caused the said Daniel Quilp to struggl_nto a horizontal position, and to stare at the ceiling with a drows_ndifference, betokening that he heard the noise and rather wondered at th_ame, and couldn't be at the trouble of bestowing any further thought upon th_ubject.
As the knocking, however, instead of accommodating itself to his lazy state, increased in vigour and became more importunate, as if in earnest remonstranc_gainst his falling asleep again, now that he had once opened his eyes, Danie_uilp began by degrees to comprehend the possibility of there being somebod_t the door; and thus he gradually came to recollect that it was Frida_orning, and he had ordered Mrs Quilp to be in waiting upon him at an earl_our.
Mr Brass, after writhing about, in a great many strange attitudes, and ofte_wisting his face and eyes into an expression like that which is usuall_roduced by eating gooseberries very early in the season, was by this tim_wake also. Seeing that Mr Quilp invested himself in his every-day garments, he hastened to do the like, putting on his shoes before his stockings, an_hrusting his legs into his coat sleeves, and making such other small mistake_n his toilet as are not uncommon to those who dress in a hurry, and labou_nder the agitation of having been suddenly roused. While the attorney wa_hus engaged, the dwarf was groping under the table, muttering desperat_mprecations on himself, and mankind in general, and all inanimate objects t_oot, which suggested to Mr Brass the question, 'what's the matter?'
'The key,' said the dwarf, looking viciously about him, 'the door-key—that'_he matter. D'ye know anything of it?'
'How should I know anything of it, sir?' returned Mr Brass.
'How should you?' repeated Quilp with a sneer. 'You're a nice lawyer, an'_ou? Ugh, you idiot!'
Not caring to represent to the dwarf in his present humour, that the loss of _ey by another person could scarcely be said to affect his (Brass's) lega_nowledge in any material degree, Mr Brass humbly suggested that it must hav_een forgotten over night, and was, doubtless, at that moment in its nativ_ey-hole. Notwithstanding that Mr Quilp had a strong conviction to th_ontrary, founded on his recollection of having carefully taken it out, he wa_ain to admit that this was possible, and therefore went grumbling to the doo_here, sure enough, he found it.
Now, just as Mr Quilp laid his hand upon the lock, and saw with grea_stonishment that the fastenings were undone, the knocking came again with th_ost irritating violence, and the daylight which had been shining through th_ey-hole was intercepted on the outside by a human eye. The dwarf was ver_uch exasperated, and wanting somebody to wreak his ill-humour upon, determined to dart out suddenly, and favour Mrs Quilp with a gentl_cknowledgment of her attention in making that hideous uproar.
With this view, he drew back the lock very silently and softly, and openin_he door all at once, pounced out upon the person on the other side, who ha_t that moment raised the knocker for another application, and at whom th_warf ran head first: throwing out his hands and feet together, and biting th_ir in the fulness of his malice.
So far, however, from rushing upon somebody who offered no resistance an_mplored his mercy, Mr Quilp was no sooner in the arms of the individual who_e had taken for his wife than he found himself complimented with tw_taggering blows on the head, and two more, of the same quality, in the chest; and closing with his assailant, such a shower of buffets rained down upon hi_erson as sufficed to convince him that he was in skilful and experience_ands. Nothing daunted by this reception, he clung tight to his opponent, an_it and hammered away with such good-will and heartiness, that it was at leas_ couple of minutes before he was dislodged. Then, and not until then, Danie_uilp found himself, all flushed and dishevelled, in the middle of the street, with Mr Richard Swiveller performing a kind of dance round him and requirin_o know 'whether he wanted any more?'
'There's plenty more of it at the same shop,' said Mr Swiveller, by turn_dvancing and retreating in a threatening attitude, 'a large and extensiv_ssortment always on hand—country orders executed with promptitude an_espatch—will you have a little more, Sir— don't say no, if you'd rather not.'
'I thought it was somebody else,' said Quilp, rubbing his shoulders, 'wh_idn't you say who you were?'
'Why didn't you say who YOU were?' returned Dick, 'instead of flying out o_he house like a Bedlamite ?'
'It was you that—that knocked,' said the dwarf, getting up with a short groan,
'Yes, I am the man,' replied Dick. 'That lady had begun when I came, but sh_nocked too soft, so I relieved her.' As he said this, he pointed towards Mr_uilp, who stood trembling at a little distance.
'Humph!' muttered the dwarf, darting an angry look at his wife, 'I thought i_as your fault! And you, sir—don't you know there has been somebody ill here, that you knock as if you'd beat the door down?'
'Damme!' answered Dick, 'that's why I did it. I thought there was somebod_ead here.'
'You came for some purpose, I suppose,' said Quilp. 'What is it you want?'
'I want to know how the old gentleman is,' rejoined Mr Swiveller, 'and to hea_rom Nell herself, with whom I should like to have a little talk. I'm a frien_f the family, sir—at least I'm the friend of one of the family, and that'_he same thing.'
'You'd better walk in then,' said the dwarf. 'Go on, sir, go on. Now, Mr_uilp—after you, ma'am.'
Mrs Quilp hesitated, but Mr Quilp insisted. And it was not a contest o_oliteness, or by any means a matter of form, for she knew very well that he_usband wished to enter the house in this order, that he might have _avourable opportunity of inflicting a few pinches on her arms, which wer_eldom free from impressions of his fingers in black and blue colours. M_wiveller, who was not in the secret, was a little surprised to hear _uppressed scream, and, looking round, to see Mrs Quilp following him with _udden jerk; but he did not remark on these appearances, and soon forgot them.
'Now, Mrs Quilp,' said the dwarf when they had entered the shop, 'go you u_tairs, if you please, to Nelly's room, and tell her that she's wanted.'
'You seem to make yourself at home here,' said Dick, who was unacquainted wit_r Quilp's authority.
'I AM at home, young gentleman,' returned the dwarf.
Dick was pondering what these words might mean, and still more what th_resence of Mr Brass might mean, when Mrs Quilp came hurrying down stairs, declaring that the rooms above were empty.
'Empty, you fool!' said the dwarf.
'I give you my word, Quilp,' answered his trembling wife, 'that I have bee_nto every room and there's not a soul in any of them.'
'And that,' said Mr Brass, clapping his hands once, with an emphasis,
'explains the mystery of the key!'
Quilp looked frowningly at him, and frowningly at his wife, and frowningly a_ichard Swiveller; but, receiving no enlightenment from any of them, hurrie_p stairs, whence he soon hurried down again, confirming the report which ha_lready been made.
'It's a strange way of going,' he said, glancing at Swiveller, 'very strang_ot to communicate with me who am such a close and intimate friend of his! Ah!
he'll write to me no doubt, or he'll bid Nelly write—yes, yes, that's wha_e'll do. Nelly's very fond of me. Pretty Nell!'
Mr Swiveller looked, as he was, all open-mouthed astonishment. Still glancin_urtively at him, Quilp turned to Mr Brass and observed, with assume_arelessness, that this need not interfere with the removal of the goods.
'For indeed,' he added, 'we knew that they'd go away to-day, but not tha_hey'd go so early, or so quietly. But they have their reasons, they hav_heir reasons.'
'Where in the devil's name are they gone?' said the wondering Dick.
Quilp shook his head, and pursed up his lips, in a manner which implied tha_e knew very well, but was not at liberty to say.
'And what,' said Dick, looking at the confusion about him, 'what do you mea_y moving the goods?'
'That I have bought 'em, Sir,' rejoined Quilp. 'Eh? What then?'
'Has the sly old fox made his fortune then, and gone to live in a tranquil co_n a pleasant spot with a distant view of the changing sea?' said Dick, i_reat bewilderment.
'Keeping his place of retirement very close, that he may not be visited to_ften by affectionate grandsons and their devoted friends, eh?' added th_warf, rubbing his hands hard; 'I say nothing, but is that your meaning?'
Richard Swiveller was utterly aghast at this unexpected alteration o_ircumstances, which threatened the complete overthrow of the project in whic_e bore so conspicuous a part, and seemed to nip his prospects in the bud.
Having only received from Frederick Trent, late on the previous night, information of the old man's illness, he had come upon a visit of condolenc_nd inquiry to Nell, prepared with the first instalment of that long train o_ascinations which was to fire her heart at last. And here, when he had bee_hinking of all kinds of graceful and insinuating approaches, and meditatin_n the fearful retaliation which was slowly working against Sophy Wackles—her_ere Nell, the old man, and all the money gone, melted away, decamped he kne_ot whither, as if with a fore-knowledge of the scheme and a resolution t_efeat it in the very outset, before a step was taken.
In his secret heart, Daniel Quilp was both surprised and troubled by th_light which had been made. It had not escaped his keen eye that som_ndispensable articles of clothing were gone with the fugitives, and knowin_he old man's weak state of mind, he marvelled what that course of proceedin_ight be in which he had so readily procured the concurrence of the child. I_ust not be supposed (or it would be a gross injustice to Mr Quilp) that h_as tortured by any disinterested anxiety on behalf of either. His uneasines_rose from a misgiving that the old man had some secret store of money whic_e had not suspected; and the idea of its escaping his clutches, overwhelme_im with mortification and self-reproach.
In this frame of mind, it was some consolation to him to find that Richar_wiveller was, for different reasons, evidently irritated and disappointed b_he same cause. It was plain, thought the dwarf, that he had come there, o_ehalf of his friend, to cajole or frighten the old man out of some smal_raction of that wealth of which they supposed him to have an abundance.
Therefore, it was a relief to vex his heart with a picture of the riches th_ld man hoarded, and to expatiate on his cunning in removing himself eve_eyond the reach of importunity.
'Well,' said Dick, with a blank look, 'I suppose it's of no use my stayin_ere.'
'Not the least in the world,' rejoined the dwarf.
'You'll mention that I called, perhaps?' said Dick.
Mr Quilp nodded, and said he certainly would, the very first time he saw them.
'And say,' added Mr Swiveller, 'say, sir, that I was wafted here upon th_inions of concord; that I came to remove, with the rake of friendship, th_eeds of mutual violence and heart-burning, and to sow in their place, th_erms of social harmony. Will you have the goodness to charge yourself wit_hat commission, Sir?'
'Certainly!' rejoined Quilp.
'Will you be kind enough to add to it, Sir,' said Dick, producing a very smal_imp card, 'that that is my address, and that I am to be found at home ever_orning. Two distinct knocks, sir, will produce the slavey at any time. M_articular friends, Sir, are accustomed to sneeze when the door is opened, t_ive her to understand that they ARE my friends and have no interested motive_n asking if I'm at home. I beg your pardon; will you allow me to look at tha_ard again?'
'Oh! by all means,' rejoined Quilp.
'By a slight and not unnatural mistake, sir,' said Dick, substituting anothe_n its stead, 'I had handed you the pass- ticket of a select convivial circl_alled the Glorious Apollers of which I have the honour to be Perpetual Grand.
That is the proper document, Sir. Good morning.'
Quilp bade him good day; the perpetual Grand Master of the Glorious Apollers, elevating his hat in honour of Mrs Quilp, dropped it carelessly on the side o_is head again, and disappeared with a flourish.
By this time, certain vans had arrived for the conveyance of the goods, an_ivers strong men in caps were balancing chests of drawers and other trifle_f that nature upon their heads, and performing muscular feats whic_eightened their complexions considerably. Not to be behind-hand in th_ustle, Mr Quilp went to work with surprising vigour; hustling and driving th_eople about, like an evil spirit; setting Mrs Quilp upon all kinds of arduou_nd impracticable tasks; carrying great weights up and down, with no apparen_ffort; kicking the boy from the wharf, whenever he could get near him; an_nflicting, with his loads, a great many sly bumps and blows on the shoulder_f Mr Brass, as he stood upon the door-steps to answer all the inquiries o_urious neighbours, which was his department. His presence and exampl_iffused such alacrity among the persons employed, that, in a few hours, th_ouse was emptied of everything, but pieces of matting, empty porter-pots, an_cattered fragments of straw.
Seated, like an African chief, on one of these pieces of matting, the dwar_as regaling himself in the parlour, with bread and cheese and beer, when h_bserved without appearing to do so, that a boy was prying in at the oute_oor. Assured that it was Kit, though he saw little more than his nose, M_uilp hailed him by his name; whereupon Kit came in and demanded what h_anted.
'Come here, you sir,' said the dwarf. 'Well, so your old master and youn_istress have gone?'
'Where?' rejoined Kit, looking round.
'Do you mean to say you don't know where?' answered Quilp sharply. 'Where hav_hey gone, eh?'
'I don't know,' said Kit.
'Come,' retorted Quilp, 'let's have no more of this! Do you mean to say tha_ou don't know they went away by stealth, as soon as it was light thi_orning?'
'No,' said the boy, in evident surprise.
'You don't know that?' cried Quilp. 'Don't I know that you were hanging abou_he house the other night, like a thief, eh? Weren't you told then?'
'No,' replied the boy.
'You were not?' said Quilp. 'What were you told then; what were you talkin_bout?'
Kit, who knew no particular reason why he should keep the matter secret now, related the purpose for which he had come on that occasion, and the proposa_e had made.
'Oh!' said the dwarf after a little consideration. 'Then, I think they'll com_o you yet.'
'Do you think they will?' cried Kit eagerly.
'Aye, I think they will,' returned the dwarf. 'Now, when they do, let me know; d'ye hear? Let me know, and I'll give you something. I want to do 'em _indness, and I can't do 'em a kindness unless I know where they are. You hea_hat I say?'
Kit might have returned some answer which would not have been agreeable to hi_rascible questioner, if the boy from the wharf, who had been skulking abou_he room in search of anything that might have been left about by accident, had not happened to cry, 'Here's a bird! What's to be done with this?'
'Wring its neck,' rejoined Quilp.
'Oh no, don't do that,' said Kit, stepping forward. 'Give it to me.'
'Oh yes, I dare say,' cried the other boy. 'Come! You let the cage alone, an_et me wring its neck will you? He said I was to do it. You let the cage alon_ill you.'
'Give it here, give it to me, you dogs,' roared Quilp. 'Fight for it, yo_ogs, or I'll wring its neck myself!'
Without further persuasion, the two boys fell upon each other, tooth and nail, while Quilp, holding up the cage in one hand, and chopping the ground with hi_nife in an ecstasy, urged them on by his taunts and cries to fight mor_iercely. They were a pretty equal match, and rolled about together, exchanging blows which were by no means child's play, until at length Kit, planting a well-directed hit in his adversary's chest, disengaged himself, sprung nimbly up, and snatching the cage from Quilp's hands made off with hi_rize.
He did not stop once until he reached home, where his bleeding face occasione_reat consternation, and caused the elder child to howl dreadfully.
'Goodness gracious, Kit, what is the matter, what have you been doing?' crie_rs Nubbles.
'Never you mind, mother,' answered her son, wiping his face on the jack-towe_ehind the door. 'I'm not hurt, don't you be afraid for me. I've been _ightin' for a bird and won him, that's all. Hold your noise, little Jacob. _ever see such a naughty boy in all my days!'
'You have been fighting for a bird!' exclaimed his mother.
'Ah! Fightin' for a bird!' replied Kit, 'and here he is—Miss Nelly's bird, mother, that they was agoin' to wring the neck of! I stopped that though—ha h_a! They wouldn't wring his neck and me by, no, no. It wouldn't do, mother, i_ouldn't do at all. Ha ha ha!'
Kit laughing so heartily, with his swoln and bruised face looking out of th_owel, made little Jacob laugh, and then his mother laughed. and then the bab_rowed and kicked with great glee, and then they all laughed in concert: partly because of Kit's triumph, and partly because they were very fond o_ach other. When this fit was over, Kit exhibited the bird to both children, as a great and precious rarity—it was only a poor linnet—and looking about th_all for an old nail, made a scaffolding of a chair and table and twisted i_ut with great exultation.
'Let me see,' said the boy, 'I think I'll hang him in the winder, because it'_ore light and cheerful, and he can see the sky there, if he looks up ver_uch. He's such a one to sing, I can tell you!'
So, the scaffolding was made again, and Kit, climbing up with the poker for _ammer, knocked in the nail and hung up the cage, to the immeasurable deligh_f the whole family. When it had been adjusted and straightened a great man_imes, and he had walked backwards into the fire-place in his admiration o_t, the arrangement was pronounced to be perfect.
'And now, mother,' said the boy, 'before I rest any more, I'll go out and se_f I can find a horse to hold, and then I can buy some birdseed, and a bit o_omething nice for you, into the bargain.'