Kit turned away and very soon forgot the pony, and the chaise, and the littl_ld lady, and the little old gentleman, and the little young gentleman t_oot, in thinking what could have become of his late master and his lovel_randchild, who were the fountain-head of all his meditations. Still castin_bout for some plausible means of accounting for their non-appearance, and o_ersuading himself that they must soon return, he bent his steps towards home, intending to finish the task which the sudden recollection of his contract ha_nterrupted, and then to sally forth once more to seek his fortune for th_ay.
When he came to the corner of the court in which he lived, lo and behold ther_as the pony again! Yes, there he was, looking more obstinate than ever; an_lone in the chaise, keeping a steady watch upon his every wink, sat Mr Abel, who, lifting up his eyes by chance and seeing Kit pass by, nodded to him a_hough he would have nodded his head off.
Kit wondered to see the pony again, so near his own home too, but it neve_ccurred to him for what purpose the pony might have come there, or where th_ld lady and the old gentleman had gone, until he lifted the latch of th_oor, and walking in, found them seated in the room in conversation with hi_other, at which unexpected sight he pulled off his hat and made his best bo_n some confusion.
'We are here before you, you see, Christopher,' said Mr Garland smiling.
'Yes, sir,' said Kit; and as he said it, he looked towards his mother for a_xplanation of the visit.
'The gentleman's been kind enough, my dear,' said she, in reply to this mut_nterrogation, 'to ask me whether you were in a good place, or in any place a_ll, and when I told him no, you were not in any, he was so good as to sa_hat—'
'—That we wanted a good lad in our house,' said the old gentleman and the ol_ady both together, 'and that perhaps we might think of it, if we foun_verything as we would wish it to be.'
As this thinking of it, plainly meant the thinking of engaging Kit, h_mmediately partook of his mother's anxiety and fell into a great flutter; fo_he little old couple were very methodical and cautious, and asked so man_uestions that he began to be afraid there was no chance of his success.
'You see, my good woman,' said Mrs Garland to Kit's mother, 'that it'_ecessary to be very careful and particular in such a matter as this, fo_e're only three in family, and are very quiet regular folks, and it would b_ sad thing if we made any kind of mistake, and found things different fro_hat we hoped and expected.'
To this, Kit's mother replied, that certainly it was quite true, and quit_ight, and quite proper, and Heaven forbid that she should shrink, or hav_ause to shrink, from any inquiry into her character or that of her son, wh_as a very good son though she was his mother, in which respect, she was bol_o say, he took after his father, who was not only a good son to HIS mother, but the best of husbands and the best of fathers besides, which Kit could an_ould corroborate she knew, and so would little Jacob and the baby likewise i_hey were old enough, which unfortunately they were not, though as they didn'_now what a loss they had had, perhaps it was a great deal better that the_hould be as young as they were; and so Kit's mother wound up a long story b_iping her eyes with her apron, and patting little Jacob's head, who wa_ocking the cradle and staring with all his might at the strange lady an_entleman.
When Kit's mother had done speaking, the old lady struck in again, and sai_hat she was quite sure she was a very honest and very respectable person o_he never would have expressed herself in that manner, and that certainly th_ppearance of the children and the cleanliness of the house deserved grea_raise and did her the utmost credit, whereat Kit's mother dropped a curtse_nd became consoled. Then the good woman entered in a long and minute accoun_f Kit's life and history from the earliest period down to that time, no_mitting to make mention of his miraculous fall out of a back-parlour windo_hen an infant of tender years, or his uncommon sufferings in a state o_easles, which were illustrated by correct imitations of the plaintive manne_n which he called for toast and water, day and night, and said, 'don't cry, mother, I shall soon be better;' for proof of which statements reference wa_ade to Mrs Green, lodger, at the cheesemonger's round the corner, and diver_ther ladies and gentlemen in various parts of England and Wales (and one M_rown who was supposed to be then a corporal in the East Indies, and who coul_f course be found with very little trouble), within whose personal knowledg_he circumstances had occurred. This narration ended, Mr Garland put som_uestions to Kit respecting his qualifications and general acquirements, whil_rs Garland noticed the children, and hearing from Kit's mother certai_emarkable circumstances which had attended the birth of each, related certai_ther remarkable circumstances which had attended the birth of her own son, M_bel, from which it appeared that both Kit's mother and herself had been, above and beyond all other women of what condition or age soever, peculiarl_emmed in with perils and dangers. Lastly, inquiry was made into the natur_nd extent of Kit's wardrobe, and a small advance being made to improve th_ame, he was formally hired at an annual income of Six Pounds, over and abov_is board and lodging, by Mr and Mrs Garland, of Abel Cottage, Finchley.
It would be difficult to say which party appeared most pleased with thi_rrangement, the conclusion of which was hailed with nothing but pleasan_ooks and cheerful smiles on both sides. It was settled that Kit should repai_o his new abode on the next day but one, in the morning; and finally, th_ittle old couple, after bestowing a bright half-crown on little Jacob an_nother on the baby, took their leaves; being escorted as far as the street b_heir new attendant, who held the obdurate pony by the bridle while they too_heir seats, and saw them drive away with a lightened heart.
'Well, mother,' said Kit, hurrying back into the house, 'I think my fortune'_bout made now.'
'I should think it was indeed, Kit,' rejoined his mother. 'Six pound a year!
'Ah!' said Kit, trying to maintain the gravity which the consideration of suc_ sum demanded, but grinning with delight in spite of himself. 'There's _roperty!'
Kit drew a long breath when he had said this, and putting his hands deep int_is pockets as if there were one year's wages at least in each, looked at hi_other, as though he saw through her, and down an immense perspective o_overeigns beyond.
'Please God we'll make such a lady of you for Sundays, mother! such a schola_f Jacob, such a child of the baby, such a room of the one up stairs! Si_ound a year!'
'Hem!' croaked a strange voice. 'What's that about six pound a year? Wha_bout six pound a year?' And as the voice made this inquiry, Daniel Quil_alked in with Richard Swiveller at his heels.
'Who said he was to have six pound a year?' said Quilp, looking sharply round.
'Did the old man say it, or did little Nell say it? And what's he to have i_or, and where are they, eh!' The good woman was so much alarmed by the sudde_pparition of this unknown piece of ugliness, that she hastily caught the bab_rom its cradle and retreated into the furthest corner of the room; whil_ittle Jacob, sitting upon his stool with his hands on his knees, looked ful_t him in a species of fascination, roaring lustily all the time. Richar_wiveller took an easy observation of the family over Mr Quilp's head, an_uilp himself, with his hands in his pockets, smiled in an exquisite enjoymen_f the commotion he occasioned.
'Don't be frightened, mistress,' said Quilp, after a pause. 'Your son know_e; I don't eat babies; I don't like 'em. It will be as well to stop tha_oung screamer though, in case I should be tempted to do him a mischief.
Holloa, sir! Will you be quiet?'
Little Jacob stemmed the course of two tears which he was squeezing out of hi_yes, and instantly subsided into a silent horror.
'Mind you don't break out again, you villain,' said Quilp, looking sternly a_im, 'or I'll make faces at you and throw you into fits, I will. Now you sir, why haven't you been to me as you promised?'
'What should I come for?' retorted Kit. 'I hadn't any business with you, n_ore than you had with me.'
'Here, mistress,' said Quilp, turning quickly away, and appealing from Kit t_is mother. 'When did his old master come or send here last? Is he here now?
If not, where's he gone?'
'He has not been here at all,' she replied. 'I wish we knew where they hav_one, for it would make my son a good deal easier in his mind, and me too. I_ou're the gentleman named Mr Quilp, I should have thought you'd have known, and so I told him only this very day.'
'Humph!' muttered Quilp, evidently disappointed to believe that this was true.
'That's what you tell this gentleman too, is it?'
'If the gentleman comes to ask the same question, I can't tell him anythin_lse, sir; and I only wish I could, for our own sakes,' was the reply.
Quilp glanced at Richard Swiveller, and observed that having met him on th_hreshold, he assumed that he had come in search of some intelligence of th_ugitives. He supposed he was right?
'Yes,' said Dick, 'that was the object of the present expedition. I fancied i_ossible—but let us go ring fancy's knell. I'll begin it.'
'You seem disappointed,' observed Quilp.
'A baffler, Sir, a baffler, that's all,' returned Dick. 'I have entered upon _peculation which has proved a baffler; and a Being of brightness and beaut_ill be offered up a sacrifice at Cheggs's altar. That's all, sir.'
The dwarf eyed Richard with a sarcastic smile, but Richard, who had bee_aking a rather strong lunch with a friend, observed him not, and continued t_eplore his fate with mournful and despondent looks. Quilp plainly discerne_hat there was some secret reason for this visit and his uncommo_isappointment, and, in the hope that there might be means of mischief lurkin_eneath it, resolved to worm it out. He had no sooner adopted this resolution, than he conveyed as much honesty into his face as it was capable o_xpressing, and sympathised with Mr Swiveller exceedingly.
'I am disappointed myself,' said Quilp, 'out of mere friendly feeling fo_hem; but you have real reasons, private reasons I have no doubt, for you_isappointment, and therefore it comes heavier than mine.'
'Why, of course it does,' Dick observed, testily.
'Upon my word, I'm very sorry, very sorry. I'm rather cast down myself. As w_re companions in adversity, shall we be companions in the surest way o_orgetting it? If you had no particular business, now, to lead you in anothe_irection,' urged Quilp, plucking him by the sleeve and looking slyly up int_is face out of the corners of his eyes, 'there is a house by the water-sid_here they have some of the noblest Schiedam—reputed to be smuggled, bu_hat's between ourselves—that can be got in all the world. The landlord know_e. There's a little summer-house overlooking the river, where we might take _lass of this delicious liquor with a whiff of the best tobacco—it's in thi_ase, and of the rarest quality, to my certain knowledge—and be perfectly snu_nd happy, could we possibly contrive it; or is there any very particula_ngagement that peremptorily takes you another way, Mr Swiveller, eh?'
As the dwarf spoke, Dick's face relaxed into a compliant smile, and his brow_lowly unbent. By the time he had finished, Dick was looking down at Quilp i_he same sly manner as Quilp was looking up at him, and there remained nothin_ore to be done but to set out for the house in question. This they did, straightway. The moment their backs were turned, little Jacob thawed, an_esumed his crying from the point where Quilp had frozen him.
The summer-house of which Mr Quilp had spoken was a rugged wooden box, rotte_nd bare to see, which overhung the river's mud, and threatened to slide dow_nto it. The tavern to which it belonged was a crazy building, sapped an_ndermined by the rats, and only upheld by great bars of wood which wer_eared against its walls, and had propped it up so long that even they wer_ecaying and yielding with their load, and of a windy night might be heard t_reak and crack as if the whole fabric were about to come toppling down. Th_ouse stood—if anything so old and feeble could be said to stand—on a piece o_aste ground, blighted with the unwholesome smoke of factory chimneys, an_choing the clank of iron wheels and rush of troubled water. Its interna_ccommodations amply fulfilled the promise of the outside. The rooms were lo_nd damp, the clammy walls were pierced with chinks and holes, the rotte_loors had sunk from their level, the very beams started from their places an_arned the timid stranger from their neighbourhood.
To this inviting spot, entreating him to observe its beauties as they passe_long, Mr Quilp led Richard Swiveller, and on the table of the summer-house, scored deep with many a gallows and initial letter, there soon appeared _ooden keg, full of the vaunted liquor. Drawing it off into the glasses wit_he skill of a practised hand, and mixing it with about a third part of water, Mr Quilp assigned to Richard Swiveller his portion, and lighting his pipe fro_n end of a candle in a very old and battered lantern, drew himself togethe_pon a seat and puffed away.
'Is it good?' said Quilp, as Richard Swiveller smacked his lips, 'is it stron_nd fiery? Does it make you wink, and choke, and your eyes water, and you_reath come short—does it?'
'Does it?' cried Dick, throwing away part of the contents of his glass, an_illing it up with water, 'why, man, you don't mean to tell me that you drin_uch fire as this?'
'No!' rejoined Quilp, 'Not drink it! Look here. And here. And here again. No_rink it!'
As he spoke, Daniel Quilp drew off and drank three small glassfuls of the ra_pirit, and then with a horrible grimace took a great many pulls at his pipe, and swallowing the smoke, discharged it in a heavy cloud from his nose. Thi_eat accomplished he drew himself together in his former position, and laughe_xcessively.
'Give us a toast!' cried Quilp, rattling on the table in a dexterous manne_ith his fist and elbow alternately, in a kind of tune, 'a woman, a beauty.
Let's have a beauty for our toast and empty our glasses to the last drop. He_ame, come!'
'If you want a name,' said Dick, 'here's Sophy Wackles.'
'Sophy Wackles,' screamed the dwarf, 'Miss Sophy Wackles that is— Mrs Richar_wiveller that shall be—that shall be—ha ha ha!'
'Ah!' said Dick, 'you might have said that a few weeks ago, but it won't d_ow, my buck. Immolating herself upon the shrine of Cheggs—'
'Poison Cheggs, cut Cheggs's ears off,' rejoined Quilp. 'I won't hear o_heggs. Her name is Swiveller or nothing. I'll drink her health again, and he_ather's, and her mother's; and to all her sisters and brothers—the gloriou_amily of the Wackleses—all the Wackleses in one glass—down with it to th_regs!'
'Well,' said Richard Swiveller, stopping short in the act of raising the glas_o his lips and looking at the dwarf in a species of stupor as he flourishe_is arms and legs about: 'you're a jolly fellow, but of all the jolly fellow_ ever saw or heard of, you have the queerest and most extraordinary way wit_ou, upon my life you have.'
This candid declaration tended rather to increase than restrain Mr Quilp'_ccentricities, and Richard Swiveller, astonished to see him in such _oystering vein, and drinking not a little himself, for company—bega_mperceptibly to become more companionable and confiding, so that, bein_udiciously led on by Mr Quilp, he grew at last very confiding indeed. Havin_nce got him into this mood, and knowing now the key-note to strike wheneve_e was at a loss, Daniel Quilp's task was comparatively an easy one, and h_as soon in possession of the whole details of the scheme contrived betwee_he easy Dick and his more designing friend.
'Stop!' said Quilp. 'That's the thing, that's the thing. It can be brough_bout, it shall be brought about. There's my hand upon it; I am your frien_rom this minute.'
'What! do you think there's still a chance?' inquired Dick, in surprise a_his encouragement.
'A chance!' echoed the dwarf, 'a certainty! Sophy Wackles may become a Chegg_r anything else she likes, but not a Swiveller. Oh you lucky dog! He's riche_han any Jew alive; you're a made man. I see in you now nothing but Nelly'_usband, rolling in gold and silver. I'll help you. It shall be done. Mind m_ords, it shall be done.'
'But how?' said Dick.
'There's plenty of time,' rejoined the dwarf, 'and it shall be done. We'll si_own and talk it over again all the way through. Fill your glass while I'_one. I shall be back directly— directly.' With these hasty words, Danie_uilp withdrew into a dismantled skittle-ground behind the public-house, and, throwing himself upon the ground actually screamed and rolled about i_ncontrollable delight.
'Here's sport!' he cried, 'sport ready to my hand, all invented and arranged, and only to be enjoyed. It was this shallow-pated fellow who made my bone_che t'other day, was it? It was his friend and fellow-plotter, Mr Trent, tha_nce made eyes at Mrs Quilp, and leered and looked, was it? After labourin_or two or three years in their precious scheme, to find that they've got _eggar at last, and one of them tied for life. Ha ha ha! He shall marry Nell.
He shall have her, and I'll be the first man, when the knot's tied hard an_ast, to tell 'em what they've gained and what I've helped 'em to. Here wil_e a clearing of old scores, here will be a time to remind 'em what a capita_riend I was, and how I helped them to the heiress. Ha ha ha!'
In the height of his ecstasy, Mr Quilp had like to have met with _isagreeable check, for rolling very near a broken dog-kennel, there leap_orth a large fierce dog, who, but that his chain was of the shortest, woul_ave given him a disagreeable salute. As it was, the dwarf remained upon hi_ack in perfect safety, taunting the dog with hideous faces, and triumphin_ver him in his inability to advance another inch, though there were not _ouple of feet between them.
'Why don't you come and bite me, why don't you come and tear me to pieces, yo_oward?' said Quilp, hissing and worrying the animal till he was nearly mad.
'You're afraid, you bully, you're afraid, you know you are.'
The dog tore and strained at his chain with starting eyes and furious bark, but there the dwarf lay, snapping his fingers with gestures of defiance an_ontempt. When he had sufficiently recovered from his delight, he rose, an_ith his arms a-kimbo, achieved a kind of demon-dance round the kennel, jus_ithout the limits of the chain, driving the dog quite wild. Having by thi_eans composed his spirits and put himself in a pleasant train, he returned t_is unsuspicious companion, whom he found looking at the tide with exceedin_ravity, and thinking of that same gold and silver which Mr Quilp ha_entioned.