Mr Richard Swiveller wending homeward from the Wilderness (for such was th_ppropriate name of Quilp's choice retreat), after a sinuous and corkscre_ashion, with many checks and stumbles; after stopping suddenly and starin_bout him, then as suddenly running forward for a few paces, and as suddenl_alting again and shaking his head; doing everything with a jerk and nothin_y premeditation;—Mr Richard Swiveller wending his way homeward after thi_ashion, which is considered by evil-minded men to be symbolical o_ntoxication, and is not held by such persons to denote that state of dee_isdom and reflection in which the actor knows himself to be, began to thin_hat possibly he had misplaced his confidence and that the dwarf might not b_recisely the sort of person to whom to entrust a secret of such delicacy an_mportance. And being led and tempted on by this remorseful thought into _ondition which the evil-minded class before referred to would term th_audlin state or stage of drunkenness, it occurred to Mr Swiveller to cast hi_at upon the ground, and moan, crying aloud that he was an unhappy orphan, an_hat if he had not been an unhappy orphan things had never come to this.
'Left an infant by my parents, at an early age,' said Mr Swiveller, bewailin_is hard lot, 'cast upon the world in my tenderest period, and thrown upon th_ercies of a deluding dwarf, who can wonder at my weakness! Here's a miserabl_rphan for you. Here,' said Mr Swiveller raising his voice to a high pitch, and looking sleepily round, 'is a miserable orphan!'
'Then,' said somebody hard by, 'let me be a father to you.'
Mr Swiveller swayed himself to and fro to preserve his balance, and, lookin_nto a kind of haze which seemed to surround him, at last perceived two eye_imly twinkling through the mist, which he observed after a short time were i_he neighbourhood of a nose and mouth. Casting his eyes down towards tha_uarter in which, with reference to a man's face, his legs are usually to b_ound, he observed that the face had a body attached; and when he looked mor_ntently he was satisfied that the person was Mr Quilp, who indeed had been i_is company all the time, but whom he had some vague idea of having left _ile or two behind.
'You have deceived an orphan, Sir,' said Mr Swiveller solemnly.'
'I! I'm a second father to you,' replied Quilp.
'You my father, Sir!' retorted Dick. 'Being all right myself, Sir, I reques_o be left alone—instantly, Sir.'
'What a funny fellow you are!' cried Quilp.
'Go, Sir,' returned Dick, leaning against a post and waving his hand. 'Go, deceiver, go, some day, Sir, p'r'aps you'll waken, from pleasure's dream t_now, the grief of orphans forsaken. Will you go, Sir?'
The dwarf taking no heed of this adjuration, Mr Swiveller advanced with th_iew of inflicting upon him condign chastisement. But forgetting his purpos_r changing his mind before he came close to him, he seized his hand and vowe_ternal friendship, declaring with an agreeable frankness that from that tim_orth they were brothers in everything but personal appearance. Then he tol_is secret over again, with the addition of being pathetic on the subject o_iss Wackles, who, he gave Mr Quilp to understand, was the occasion of an_light incoherency he might observe in his speech at that moment, which wa_ttributable solely to the strength of his affection and not to rosy wine o_ther fermented liquor. And then they went on arm-in-arm, very lovingl_ogether.
'I'm as sharp,' said Quilp to him, at parting, 'as sharp as a ferret, and a_unning as a weazel. You bring Trent to me; assure him that I'm his frien_hough i fear he a little distrusts me (I don't know why, I have not deserve_t); and you've both of you made your fortunes—in perspective.'
'That's the worst of it,' returned Dick. 'These fortunes in perspective loo_uch a long way off.'
'But they look smaller than they really are, on that account,' said Quilp, pressing his arm. 'You'll have no conception of the value of your prize unti_ou draw close to it. Mark that.'
'D'ye think not?' said Dick.
'Aye, I do; and I am certain of what I say, that's better,' returned th_warf. 'You bring Trent to me. Tell him I am his friend and yours—wh_houldn't I be?'
'There's no reason why you shouldn't, certainly,' replied Dick, 'and perhap_here are a great many why you should—at least there would be nothing strang_n your wanting to be my friend, if you were a choice spirit, but then yo_now you're not a choice spirit.'
'I not a choice spirit?' cried Quilp.
'Devil a bit,sir,' returned Dick. 'A man of your appearance couldn't be. I_ou're any spirit at all,sir, you're an evil spirit. Choice spirits,' adde_ick, smiting himself on the breast, 'are quite a different looking sort o_eople, you may take your oath of that,sir.'
Quilp glanced at his free-spoken friend with a mingled expression of cunnin_nd dislike, and wringing his hand almost at the same moment, declared that h_as an uncommon character and had his warmest esteem. With that they parted; Mr Swiveller to make the best of his way home and sleep himself sober; an_uilp to cogitate upon the discovery he had made, and exult in the prospect o_he rich field of enjoyment and reprisal it opened to him.
It was not without great reluctance and misgiving that Mr Swiveller, nex_orning, his head racked by the fumes of the renowned Schiedam, repaired t_he lodging of his friend Trent (which was in the roof of an old house in a_ld ghostly inn), and recounted by very slow degrees what had yesterday take_lace between him and Quilp. Nor was it without great surprise and muc_peculation on Quilp's probable motives, nor without many bitter comments o_ick Swiveller's folly, that his friend received the tale.
'I don't defend myself, Fred,' said the penitent Richard; 'but the fellow ha_uch a queer way with him and is such an artful dog, that first of all he se_e upon thinking whether there was any harm in telling him, and while I wa_hinking, screwed it out of me. If you had seen him drink and smoke, as I did, you couldn't have kept anything from him. He's a Salamander you know, that'_hat he is.'
Without inquiring whether Salamanders were of necessity good confidentia_gents, or whether a fire-proof man was as a matter of course trustworthy, Frederick Trent threw himself into a chair, and, burying his head in hi_ands, endeavoured to fathom the motives which had led Quilp to insinuat_imself into Richard Swiveller's confidence;—for that the disclosure was o_is seeking, and had not been spontaneously revealed by Dick, was sufficientl_lain from Quilp's seeking his company and enticing him away.
The dwarf had twice encountered him when he was endeavouring to obtai_ntelligence of the fugitives. This, perhaps, as he had not shown any previou_nxiety about them, was enough to awaken suspicion in the breast of a creatur_o jealous and distrustful by nature, setting aside any additional impulse t_uriosity that he might have derived from Dick's incautious manner. Bu_nowing the scheme they had planned, why should he offer to assist it? Thi_as a question more difficult of solution; but as knaves generally overreac_hemselves by imputing their own designs to others, the idea immediatel_resented itself that some circumstances of irritation between Quilp and th_ld man, arising out of their secret transactions and not unconnected perhap_ith his sudden disappearance, now rendered the former desirous of revengin_imself upon him by seeking to entrap the sole object of his love and anxiet_nto a connexion of which he knew he had a dread and hatred. As Frederic_rent himself, utterly regardless of his sister, had this object at heart, only second to the hope of gain, it seemed to him the more likely to b_uilp's main principle of action. Once investing the dwarf with a design o_is own in abetting them, which the attainment of their purpose would serve, it was easy to believe him sincere and hearty in the cause; and as there coul_e no doubt of his proving a powerful and useful auxiliary, Trent determine_o accept his invitation and go to his house that night, and if what he sai_nd did confirmed him in the impression he had formed, to let him share th_abour of their plan, but not the profit.
Having revolved these things in his mind and arrived at this conclusion, h_ommunicated to Mr Swiveller as much of his meditations as he thought proper (Dick would have been perfectly satisfied with less), and giving him the da_o recover himself from his late salamandering, accompanied him at evening t_r Quilp's house.
Mighty glad Mr Quilp was to see them, or mightily glad he seemed to be; an_earfully polite Mr Quilp was to Mrs Quilp and Mrs jiniwin; and very sharp wa_he look he cast on his wife to observe how she was affected by th_ecognition of young Trent. Mrs Quilp was as innocent as her own mother of an_motion, painful or pleasant, which the sight of him awakened, but as he_usband's glance made her timid and confused, and uncertain what to do or wha_as required of her, Mr Quilp did not fail to assign her embarrassment to th_ause he had in his mind, and while he chuckled at his penetration wa_ecretly exasperated by his jealousy.
Nothing of this appeared, however. On the contrary, Mr Quilp was all blandnes_nd suavity, and presided over the case-bottle of rum with extraordinary open- heartedness.
'Why, let me see,' said Quilp. 'It must be a matter of nearly two years sinc_e were first acquainted.'
'Nearer three, I think,' said Trent.
'Nearer three!' cried Quilp. 'How fast time flies. Does it seem as long a_hat to you, Mrs Quilp?'
'Yes, I think it seems full three years, Quilp,' was the unfortunate reply.
'Oh indeed, ma'am,' thought Quilp, 'you have been pining, have you? Very good, ma'am.'
'It seems to me but yesterday that you went out to Demerara in the Mary Anne,'
said Quilp; 'but yesterday, I declare. Well, I like a little wildness. I wa_ild myself once.'
Mr Quilp accompanied this admission with such an awful wink, indicative of ol_ovings and backslidings, that Mrs Jiniwin was indignant, and could no_orbear from remarking under her breath that he might at least put off hi_onfessions until his wife was absent; for which act of boldness an_nsubordination Mr Quilp first stared her out of countenance and then dran_er health ceremoniously.
'I thought you'd come back directly, Fred. I always thought that,' said Quil_etting down his glass. 'And when the Mary Anne returned with you on board, instead of a letter to say what a contrite heart you had, and how happy yo_ere in the situation that had been provided for you, I was amused—exceedingl_mused. Ha ha ha!'
The young man smiled, but not as though the theme was the most agreeable on_hat could have been selected for his entertainment; and for that reason Quil_ursued it.
'I always will say,' he resumed, 'that when a rich relation having two youn_eople—sisters or brothers, or brother and sister— dependent on him, attache_imself exclusively to one, and casts off the other, he does wrong.'
The young man made a movement of impatience, but Quilp went on as calmly as i_e were discussing some abstract question in which nobody present had th_lightest personal interest.
'It's very true,' said Quilp, 'that your grandfather urged repeate_orgiveness, ingratitude, riot, and extravagance, and all that; but as I tol_im "these are common faults." "But he's a scoundrel," said he. "Grantin_hat," said I (for the sake of argument of course), "a great many youn_oblemen and gentlemen are scoundrels too!" But he wouldn't be convinced.'
'I wonder at that, Mr Quilp,' said the young man sarcastically.
'Well, so did I at the time,' returned Quilp, 'but he was always obstinate. H_as in a manner a friend of mine, but he was always obstinate and wrong- headed. Little Nell is a nice girl, a charming girl, but you're her brother, Frederick. You're her brother after all; as you told him the last time yo_et, he can't alter that.'
'He would if he could, confound him for that and all other kindnesses,' sai_he young man impatiently. 'But nothing can come of this subject now, and le_s have done with it in the Devil's name.'
'Agreed,' returned Quilp, 'agreed on my part readily. Why have I alluded t_t? Just to show you, Frederick, that I have always stood your friend. Yo_ittle knew who was your friend, and who your foe; now did you? You thought _as against you, and so there has been a coolness between us; but it was al_n your side, entirely on your side. Let's shake hands again, Fred.'
With his head sunk down between his shoulders, and a hideous grin over- spreading his face, the dwarf stood up and stretched his short arm across th_able. After a moment's hesitation, the young man stretched out his to mee_t; Quilp clutched his fingers in a grip that for the moment stopped th_urrent of the blood within them, and pressing his other hand upon his lip an_rowning towards the unsuspicious Richard, released them and sat down.
This action was not lost upon Trent, who, knowing that Richard Swiveller was _ere tool in his hands and knew no more of his designs than he thought prope_o communicate, saw that the dwarf perfectly understood their relativ_osition, and fully entered into the character of his friend. It is somethin_o be appreciated, even in knavery. This silent homage to his superio_bilities, no less than a sense of the power with which the dwarf's quic_erception had already invested him, inclined the young man towards that ugl_orthy, and determined him to profit by his aid.
It being now Mr Quilp's cue to change the subject with all convenien_xpedition, lest Richard Swiveller in his heedlessness should reveal anythin_hich it was inexpedient for the women to know, he proposed a game at four- handed cribbage, and partners being cut for, Mrs Quilp fell to Frederic_rent, and Dick himself to Quilp. Mrs Jiniwin being very fond of cards wa_arefully excluded by her son-in-law from any participation in the game, an_ad assigned to her the duty of occasionally replenishing the glasses from th_ase-bottle; Mr Quilp from that moment keeping one eye constantly upon her, lest she should by any means procure a taste of the same, and thereb_antalising the wretched old lady (who was as much attached to the case-bottl_s the cards) in a double degree and most ingenious manner.
But it was not to Mrs Jiniwin alone that Mr Quilp's attention was restricted, as several other matters required his constant vigilance. Among his variou_ccentric habits he had a humorous one of always cheating at cards, whic_endered necessary on his part, not only a close observance of the game, and _leight-of-hand in counting and scoring, but also involved the constan_orrection, by looks, and frowns, and kicks under the table, of Richar_wiveller, who being bewildered by the rapidity with which his cards wer_old, and the rate at which the pegs travelled down the board, could not b_revented from sometimes expressing his surprise and incredulity. Mrs Quil_oo was the partner of young Trent, and for every look that passed betwee_hem, and every word they spoke, and every card they played, the dwarf ha_yes and ears; not occupied alone with what was passing above the table, bu_ith signals that might be exchanging beneath it, which he laid all kinds o_raps to detect; besides often treading on his wife's toes to see whether sh_ried out or remained silent under the infliction, in which latter case i_ould have been quite clear that Trent had been treading on her toes before.
Yet, in the most of all these distractions, the one eye was upon the old lad_lways, and if she so much as stealthily advanced a tea-spoon towards _eighbouring glass (which she often did), for the purpose of abstracting bu_ne sup of its sweet contents, Quilp's hand would overset it in the ver_oment of her triumph, and Quilp's mocking voice implore her to regard he_recious health. And in any one of these his many cares, from first to last, Quilp never flagged nor faltered.
At length, when they had played a great many rubbers and drawn pretty freel_pon the case-bottle, Mr Quilp warned his lady to retire to rest, and tha_ubmissive wife complying, and being followed by her indignant mother, M_wiveller fell asleep. The dwarf beckoning his remaining companion to th_ther end of the room, held a short conference with him in whispers.
'It's as well not to say more than one can help before our worthy friend,'
said Quilp, making a grimace towards the slumbering Dick. 'Is it a bargai_etween us, Fred? Shall he marry little rosy Nell by-and-by?'
'You have some end of your own to answer, of course,' returned the other.
'Of course I have, dear Fred,' said Quilp, grinning to think how little h_uspected what the real end was. 'It's retaliation perhaps; perhaps whim. _ave influence, Fred, to help or oppose. Which way shall I use it? There are _air of scales, and it goes into one.'
'Throw it into mine then,' said Trent.
'It's done, Fred,' rejoined Quilp, stretching out his clenched hand an_pening it as if he had let some weight fall out. 'It's in the scale from thi_ime, and turns it, Fred. Mind that.'
'Where have they gone?' asked Trent.
Quilp shook his head, and said that point remained to be discovered, which i_ight be, easily. When it was, they would begin their preliminary advances. H_ould visit the old man, or even Richard Swiveller might visit him, and b_ffecting a deep concern in his behalf, and imploring him to settle in som_orthy home, lead to the child's remembering him with gratitude and favour.
Once impressed to this extent, it would be easy, he said, to win her in a yea_r two, for she supposed the old man to be poor, as it was a part of hi_ealous policy (in common with many other misers) to feign to be so, to thos_bout him.
'He has feigned it often enough to me, of late,' said Trent.
'Oh! and to me too!' replied the dwarf. 'Which is more extraordinary, as _now how rich he really is.'
'I suppose you should,' said Trent.
'I think I should indeed,' rejoined the dwarf; and in that, at least, he spok_he truth.
After a few more whispered words, they returned to the table, and the youn_an rousing Richard Swiveller informed him that he was waiting to depart. Thi_as welcome news to Dick, who started up directly. After a few words o_onfidence in the result of their project had been exchanged, they bade th_rinning Quilp good night.
Quilp crept to the window as they passed in the street below, and listened.
Trent was pronouncing an encomium upon his wife, and they were both wonderin_y what enchantment she had been brought to marry such a misshapen wretch a_e. The dwarf after watching their retreating shadows with a wider grin tha_is face had yet displayed, stole softly in the dark to bed.
In this hatching of their scheme, neither Trent nor Quilp had had one though_bout the happiness or misery of poor innocent Nell. It would have bee_trange if the careless profligate, who was the butt of both, had bee_arassed by any such consideration; for his high opinion of his own merits an_eserts rendered the project rather a laudable one than otherwise; and if h_ad been visited by so unwonted a guest as reflection, he would—being a brut_nly in the gratification of his appetites—have soothed his conscience wit_he plea that he did not mean to beat or kill his wife, and would therefore, after all said and done, be a very tolerable, average husband.