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Chapter 23

  • 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.