The child was closely followed by an elderly man of remarkably hard feature_nd forbidding aspect, and so low in stature as to be quite a dwarf, thoug_is head and face were large enough for the body of a giant. His black eye_ere restless, sly, and cunning; his mouth and chin, bristly with the stubbl_f a coarse hard beard; and his complexion was one of that kind which neve_ooks clean or wholesome. But what added most to the grotesque expression o_is face was a ghastly smile, which, appearing to be the mere result of habi_nd to have no connection with any mirthful or complacent feeling, constantl_evealed the few discoloured fangs that were yet scattered in his mouth, an_ave 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 whit_eckerchief sufficiently limp and crumpled to disclose the greater portion o_is wiry throat. Such hair as he had was of a grizzled black, cut short an_traight upon his temples, and hanging in a frowzy fringe about his ears. Hi_ands, which were of a rough, coarse grain, were very dirty; his fingernail_ere crooked, long, and yellow.
There was ample time to note these particulars, for besides that they wer_ufficiently obvious without very close observation, some moments elapse_efore any one broke silence. The child advanced timidly towards her brothe_nd put her hand in his, the dwarf (if we may call him so) glanced keenly a_ll present, and the curiosity-dealer, who plainly had not expected hi_ncouth visitor, seemed disconcerted and embarrassed.
'Ah!' said the dwarf, who with his hand stretched out above his eyes had bee_urveying the young man attentively, 'that should be your grandson, neighbour!'
'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 at me.
'A gentleman who was so good as to bring Nell home the other night when sh_ost 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 t_isten.
'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 the_ever 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, 'bu_h! If you would leave off vexing him and making him unhappy, then I coul_ove you more.'
'I see!' said the young man, as he stooped carelessly over the child, an_aving kissed her, pushed her from him: 'There—get you away now you have sai_our lesson. You needn't whimper. We part good friends enough, if that's th_atter.'
He remained silent, following her with his eyes, until she had gained he_ittle room and closed the door; and then turning to the dwarf, said abruptly,
'Meaning me?' returned the dwarf. 'Quilp is my name. You might remember. It'_ot a long one—Daniel Quilp.'
'Harkee, Mr Quilp, then,' pursued the other, 'You have some influence with m_randfather 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 g_ut of this place as often as I like, so long as he keeps Nell here; and tha_f he wants to be quit of me, he must first be quit of her. What have I don_o be made a bugbear of, and to be shunned and dreaded as if I brought th_lague? He'll tell you that I have no natural affection; and that I care n_ore for Nell, for her own sake, than I do for him. Let him say so. I care fo_he whim, then, of coming to and fro and reminding her of my existence. I WIL_ee her when I please. That's my point. I came here to-day to maintain it, an_'ll come here again fifty times with the same object and always with the sam_uccess. I said I would stop till I had gained it. I have done so, and now m_isit's ended. Come Dick.'
'Stop!' cried Mr Swiveller, as his companion turned toward the door. 'Sir!'
'Sir, I am your humble servant,' said Mr Quilp, to whom the monosyllable wa_ddressed.
'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. _ame 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 stop.
'Inspired by this idea and the sentiments it awakened, sir, and feeling as _utual friend that badgering, baiting, and bullying, was not the sort of thin_alculated to expand the souls and promote the social harmony of th_ontending parties, I took upon myself to suggest a course which is THE cours_o be adopted to the present occasion. Will you allow me to whisper half _yllable, sir?'
Without waiting for the permission he sought, Mr Swiveller stepped up to th_warf, and leaning on his shoulder and stooping down to get at his ear, sai_n a voice which was perfectly audible to all present,
The dwarf nodded. Mr Swiveller drew back and nodded likewise, then drew _ittle further back and nodded again, and so on. By these means he in tim_eached the door, where he gave a great cough to attract the dwarf's attentio_nd gain an opportunity of expressing in dumb show, the closest confidence an_ost inviolable secrecy. Having performed the serious pantomime that wa_ecessary for the due conveyance of these idea, he cast himself upon hi_riend's track, and vanished.
'Humph!' said the dwarf with a sour look and a shrug of his shoulders, 's_uch 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, an_early 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 th_ompliment, for such he evidently considered it; and grinning like a devil a_e rubbed his dirty hands together. 'Ask Mrs Quilp, pretty Mrs Quilp, obedient, timid, loving Mrs Quilp. But that reminds me—I have left her al_lone, and she will be anxious and know not a moment's peace till I return. _now she's always in that condition when I'm away, thought she doesn't dare t_ay so, unless I lead her on and tell her she may speak freely and I won't b_ngry 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 somethin_antastic even in his manner of performing this slight action—and, droppin_is shaggy brows and cocking his chin in the air, glanced upward with _tealthy look of exultation that an imp might have copied and appropriated t_imself.
'Here,' he said, putting his hand into his breast and sidling up to the ol_an as he spoke; 'I brought it myself for fear of accidents, as, being i_old, it was something large and heavy for Nell to carry in her bag. She nee_e accustomed to such loads betimes thought, neighbor, for she will carr_eight when you are dead.'
'Heaven send she may! I hope so,' said the old man with something like _roan.'
'Hope so!' echoed the dwarf, approaching close to his ear; 'neighbour, I woul_ knew in what good investment all these supplies are sunk. But you are a dee_an, and keep your secret close.'
'My secret!' said the other with a haggard look. 'Yes, you're right—I—I—kee_t 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 dwar_atched him sharply, while he passed into the little sitting-room and locke_t in an iron safe above the chimney-piece; and after musing for a shor_pace, 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 lov_or Nelly and hoping she may never lose her way again, though her doing so HA_rocured 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 withi_is range of vision, however, small or trivial, went his way.
I had several times essayed to go myself, but the old man had always oppose_t and entreated me to remain. As he renewed his entreaties on our being lef_long, and adverted with many thanks to the former occasion of our bein_ogether, I willingly yielded to his persuasions, and sat down, pretending t_xamine some curious miniatures and a few old medals which he placed befor_e. It needed no great pressing to induce me to stay, for if my curiosity ha_een excited on the occasion of my first visit, it certainly was no_iminished now.
Nell joined us before long, and bringing some needle-work to the table, sat b_he 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 o_reshness and youth which seemed to rustle through the old dull house an_over round the child. It was curious, but not so pleasant, to turn from th_eauty and grace of the girl, to the stooping figure, care-worn face, an_aded aspect of the old man. As he grew weaker and more feeble, what woul_ecome of this lonely litle creature; poor protector as he was, say that h_ied—what we be her fate, then?
The old man almost answered my thoughts, as he laid his hand on hers, an_poke aloud.
'I'll be of better cheer, Nell,' he said; 'there must be good fortune in stor_or thee—I do not ask it for myself, but thee. Such miseries must fall on th_nnocent head without it, that I cannot believe but that, being tempted, i_ill 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 tho_as lived with me; of my monotonous existence, knowing no companions of th_wn age nor any childish pleasures; of the solitutde in which thou has grow_o be what thou art, and in which thou hast lived apart from nearly all th_ind 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 tim_hat should enable thee to mix among the gayest and prettiest, and take th_tation 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 fo_truggles with the world? The poor bird yonder is as well qualified t_ncounter it, and be turned adrift upon its mercies—Hark! I hear Kit outside.
Go to him, Nell, go to him.'
She rose, and hurrying away, stopped, turned back, and put her arms about th_ld man's neck, then left him and hurried away again—but faster this time, t_ide her falling tears.
'A word in your ear, sir,' said the old man in a hurried whisper. 'I have bee_endered uneasy by what you said the other night, and can only plead that _ave done all for the best—that it is too late to retract, if I could (thoug_ cannot)—and that I hope to triumph yet. All is for her sake. I have born_reat poverty myself, and would spare her the sufferings that poverty carrie_ith it. I would spare her the miseries that brought her mother, my own dea_hild, to an early grave. I would leave her—not with resources which could b_asily spent or squandered away, but with what would place her beyond th_each of want for ever. you mark me sir? She shall have no pittance, but _ortune—Hush! I can say no more than that, now or at any other time, and sh_s here again!'
The eagerness with which all this was poured into my ear, the trembling of th_and with which he clasped my arm, the strained and starting eyes he fixe_pon me, the wild vehemence and agitation of his manner, filled me wit_mazement. All that I had heard and seen, and a great part of what he had sai_imself, led me to suppose that he was a wealthy man. I could form n_omprehension of his character, unless he were one of those miserable wretche_ho, having made gain the sole end and object of their lives and havin_ucceeded in amassing great riches, are constantly tortured by the dread o_overty, and best by fears of loss and ruin. Many things he had said which _ad been at a loss to understand, were quite reconcilable with the idea thu_resented to me, and at length I concluded that beyond all doubt he was one o_his unhappy race.
The opinion was not the result of hasty consideration, for which indeed ther_as no opportunity at that time, as the child came directly, and soon occupie_erself in preparations for giving Kit a writing lesson, of which it seemed h_ad a couple every week, and one regularly on that evening, to the great mirt_nd enjoyment both of himself and his instructress. To relate how it was _ong time before his modesty could be so far prevailed upon as it admit of hi_itting down in the parlour, in the presence of an unknown gentleman—how, whe_e did set down, he tucked up his sleeves and squared his elbows and put hi_ace close to the copy-book and squinted horribly at the lines—how, from th_ery 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 di_y accident form a letter properly, he immediately smeared it out again wit_is 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 les_earty 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 o_is to learn—to relate all these particulars would no doubt occupy more spac_nd time than they deserve. It will be sufficient to say that the lesson wa_iven—that evening passed and night came on—that the old man again gre_estless and impatient—that he quitted the house secretly at the same hour a_efore—and that the child was once more left alone within its gloomy walls.
And now that I have carried this history so far in my own character an_ntroduced these personages to the reader, I shall for the convenience of th_arrative detach myself from its further course, and leave those who hav_rominent and necessary parts in it to speak and act for themselves.