Matrimonial differences are usually discussed by the parties concerned in th_orm of dialogue, in which the lady bears at least her full half share. Thos_f Mr and Mrs Quilp, however, were an exception to the general rule; th_emarks which they occasioned being limited to a long soliloquy on the part o_he gentleman, with perhaps a few deprecatory observations from the lady, no_xtending beyond a trembling monosyllable uttered at long intervals, and in _ery submissive and humble tone. On the present occasion, Mrs Quilp did no_or a long time venture even on this gentle defence, but when she ha_ecovered from her fainting-fit, sat in a tearful silence, meekly listening t_he reproaches of her lord and master.
Of these Mr Quilp delivered himself with the utmost animation and rapidity, and with so many distortions of limb and feature, that even his wife, althoug_olerably well accustomed to his proficiency in these respects, was well-nig_eside herself with alarm. But the Jamaica rum, and the joy of havin_ccasioned a heavy disappointment, by degrees cooled Mr Quilp's wrath; whic_rom being at savage heat, dropped slowly to the bantering or chuckling point, at which it steadily remained.
'So you thought I was dead and gone, did you?' said Quilp. 'You thought yo_ere a widow, eh? Ha, ha, ha, you jade."
'Indeed, Quilp,' returned his wife. 'I'm very sorry—'
'Who doubts it!' cried the dwarf. 'You very sorry! to be sure you are. Wh_oubts that you're VERY sorry!'
'I don't mean sorry that you have come home again alive and well,' said hi_ife, 'but sorry that I should have been led into such a belief. I am glad t_ee you, Quilp; indeed I am.'
In truth Mrs Quilp did seem a great deal more glad to behold her lord tha_ight have been expected, and did evince a degree of interest in his safet_hich, all things considered, was rather unaccountable. Upon Quilp, however, this circumstance made no impression, farther than as it moved him to snap hi_ingers close to his wife's eyes, with divers grins of triumph and derision.
'How could you go away so long, without saying a word to me or letting me hea_f you or know anything about you?' asked the poor little woman, sobbing. 'Ho_ould you be so cruel, Quilp?'
'How could I be so cruel! cruel!' cried the dwarf. 'Because I was in th_umour. I'm in the humour now. I shall be cruel when I like. I'm going awa_gain.'
'Yes, again. I'm going away now. I'm off directly. I mean to go and liv_herever the fancy seizes me—at the wharf—at the counting-house—and be a joll_achelor. You were a widow in anticipation. Damme,' screamed the dwarf, 'I'l_e a bachelor in earnest.'
'You can't be serious, Quilp,' sobbed his wife.
'I tell you,' said the dwarf, exulting in his project, 'that I'll be _achelor, a devil-may-care bachelor; and I'll have my bachelor's hall at th_ounting-house, and at such times come near it if you dare. And mind too tha_ don't pounce in upon you at unseasonable hours again, for I'll be a spy upo_ou, and come and go like a mole or a weazel. Tom Scott—where's Tom Scott?'
'Here I am, master,' cried the voice of the boy, as Quilp threw up the window.
'Wait there, you dog,' returned the dwarf, 'to carry a bachelor's portmanteau.
Pack it up, Mrs Quilp. Knock up the dear old lady to help; knock her up.
Halloa there! Halloa!'
With these exclamations, Mr Quilp caught up the poker, and hurrying to th_oor of the good lady's sleeping-closet, beat upon it therewith until sh_woke in inexpressible terror, thinking that her amiable son-in-law surel_ntended to murder her in justification of the legs she had slandered.
Impressed with this idea, she was no sooner fairly awake than she screame_iolently, and would have quickly precipitated herself out of the window an_hrough a neighbouring skylight, if her daughter had not hastened in t_ndeceive her, and implore her assistance. Somewhat reassured by her accoun_f the service she was required to render, Mrs Jiniwin made her appearance i_ flannel dressing-gown; and both mother and daughter, trembling with terro_nd cold—for the night was now far advanced—obeyed Mr Quilp's directions i_ubmissive silence. Prolonging his preparations as much as possible, for thei_reater comfort, that eccentric gentleman superintended the packing of hi_ardrobe, and having added to it with his own hands, a plate, knife and fork, spoon, teacup and saucer, and other small household matters of that nature, strapped up the portmanteau, took it on his shoulders, and actually marche_ff without another word, and with the case-bottle (which he had never onc_ut down) still tightly clasped under his arm. Consigning his heavier burde_o the care of Tom Scott when he reached the street, taking a dram from th_ottle for his own encouragement, and giving the boy a rap on the head with i_s a small taste for himself, Quilp very deliberately led the way to th_harf, and reached it at between three and four o'clock in the morning.
'Snug!' said Quilp, when he had groped his way to the wooden counting-house, and opened the door with a key he carried about with him. 'Beautifully snug!
Call me at eight, you dog.'
With no more formal leave-taking or explanation, he clutched the portmanteau, shut the door on his attendant, and climbing on the desk, and rolling himsel_p as round as a hedgehog, in an old boat-cloak, fell fast asleep.
Being roused in the morning at the appointed time, and roused with difficulty, after his late fatigues, Quilp instructed Tom Scott to make a fire in the yar_f sundry pieces of old timber, and to prepare some coffee for breakfast; fo_he better furnishing of which repast he entrusted him with certain smal_oneys, to be expended in the purchase of hot rolls, butter, sugar, Yarmout_loaters, and other articles of housekeeping; so that in a few minutes _avoury meal was smoking on the board. With this substantial comfort, th_warf regaled himself to his heart's content; and being highly satisfied wit_his free and gipsy mode of life (which he had often meditated, as offering, whenever he chose to avail himself of it, an agreeable freedom from th_estraints of matrimony, and a choice means of keeping Mrs Quilp and he_other in a state of incessant agitation and suspense), bestirred himself t_mprove his retreat, and render it more commodious and comfortable.
With this view, he issued forth to a place hard by, where sea- stores wer_old, purchased a second-hand hammock, and had it slung in seamanlike fashio_rom the ceiling of the counting-house. He also caused to be erected, in th_ame mouldy cabin, an old ship's stove with a rusty funnel to carry the smok_hrough the roof; and these arrangements completed, surveyed them wit_neffable delight.
'I've got a country-house like Robinson Crusoe," said the dwarf, ogling th_ccommodations; 'a solitary, sequestered, desolate-island sort of spot, wher_ can be quite alone when I have business on hand, and be secure from al_pies and listeners. Nobody near me here, but rats, and they are fine stealth_ecret fellows. I shall be as merry as a grig among these gentry. I'll loo_ut for one like Christopher, and poison him—ha, ha, ha! Busines_hough—business—we must be mindful of business in the midst of pleasure, an_he time has flown this morning, I declare.'
Enjoining Tom Scott to await his return, and not to stand upon his head, o_hrow a summerset, or so much as walk upon his hands meanwhile, on pain o_ingering torments, the dwarf threw himself into a boat, and crossing to th_ther side of the river, and then speeding away on foot, reached M_wiveller's usual house of entertainment in Bevis Marks, just as tha_entleman sat down alone to dinner in its dusky parlour.
'Dick'- said the dwarf, thrusting his head in at the door, 'my pet, my pupil, the apple of my eye, hey, hey!'
'Oh you're there, are you?' returned Mr Swiveller; 'how are you?'
'How's Dick?' retorted Quilp. 'How's the cream of clerkship, eh?'
'Why, rather sour, sir,' replied Mr Swiveller. 'Beginning to border upo_heesiness, in fact.'
'What's the matter?' said the dwarf, advancing. 'Has Sally proved unkind. "O_ll the girls that are so smart, there's none like—" eh, Dick!'
'Certainly not,' replied Mr Swiveller, eating his dinner with great gravity,
'none like her. She's the sphynx of private life, is Sally B.'
'You're out of spirits,' said Quilp, drawing up a chair. 'What's the matter?'
'The law don't agree with me,' returned Dick. 'It isn't moist enough, an_here's too much confinement. I have been thinking of running away.'
'Bah!' said the dwarf. 'Where would you run to, Dick?'
'I don't know' returned Mr Swiveller. 'Towards Highgate, I suppose. Perhap_he bells might strike up "Turn again Swiveller, Lord Mayor of London."
Whittington's name was Dick. I wish cats were scarcer."
Quilp looked at his companion with his eyes screwed up into a comica_xpression of curiosity, and patiently awaited his further explanation; upo_hich, however, Mr Swiveller appeared in no hurry to enter, as he ate a ver_ong dinner in profound silence, finally pushed away his plate, threw himsel_ack into his chair, folded his arms, and stared ruefully at the fire, i_hich some ends of cigars were smoking on their own account, and sending up _ragrant odour.
'Perhaps you'd like a bit of cake'—said Dick, at last turning to the dwarf.
'You're quite welcome to it. You ought to be, for it's of your making.'
'What do you mean?' said Quilp.
Mr Swiveller replied by taking from his pocket a small and very greasy parcel, slowly unfolding it, and displaying a little slab of plum-cake extremel_ndigestible in appearance, and bordered with a paste of white sugar an inc_nd a half deep.
'What should you say this was?' demanded Mr Swiveller.
'It looks like bride-cake,' replied the dwarf, grinning.
'And whose should you say it was?' inquired Mr Swiveller, rubbing the pastr_gainst his nose with a dreadful calmness. 'Whose?'
'Yes,' said Dick, 'the same. You needn't mention her name. There's no suc_ame now. Her name is Cheggs now, Sophy Cheggs. Yet loved I as man never love_hat hadn't wooden legs, and my heart, my heart is breaking for the love o_ophy Cheggs.'
With this extemporary adaptation of a popular ballad to the distressin_ircumstances of his own case, Mr Swiveller folded up the parcel again, bea_t very flat between the palms of his hands, thrust it into his breast, buttoned his coat over it, and folded his arms upon the whole.
'Now, I hope you're satisfied, sir,' said Dick; 'and I hope Fred's satisfied.
You went partners in the mischief, and I hope you like it. This is the triump_ was to have, is it? It's like the old country-dance of that name, wher_here are two gentlemen to one lady, and one has her, and the other hasn't, but comes limping up behind to make out the figure. But it's Destiny, an_ine's a crusher.'
Disguising his secret joy in Mr Swiveller's defeat, Daniel Quilp adopted th_urest means of soothing him, by ringing the bell, and ordering in a supply o_osy wine (that is to say, of its usual representative), which he put abou_ith great alacrity, calling upon Mr Swiveller to pledge him in various toast_erisive of Cheggs, and eulogistic of the happiness of single men. Such wa_heir impression on Mr Swiveller, coupled with the reflection that no ma_ould oppose his destiny, that in a very short space of time his spirits ros_urprisingly, and he was enabled to give the dwarf an account of the receip_f the cake, which, it appeared, had been brought to Bevis Marks by the tw_urviving Miss Wackleses in person, and delivered at the office door with muc_iggling and joyfulness.
'Ha!' said Quilp. 'It will be our turn to giggle soon. And that reminds me—yo_poke of young Trent—where is he?'
Mr Swiveller explained that his respectable friend had recently accepted _esponsible situation in a locomotive gaming-house, and was at that tim_bsent on a professional tour among the adventurous spirits of Great Britain.
'That's unfortunate,' said the dwarf, 'for I came, in fact, to ask you abou_im. A thought has occurred to me, Dick; your friend over the way—'
'In the first floor.'
'Your friend in the first floor, Dick, may know him.'
'No, he don't,' said Mr Swiveller, shaking his head.
'Don't! No, because he has never seen him,' rejoined Quilp; 'but if we were t_ring them together, who knows, Dick, but Fred, properly introduced, woul_erve his turn almost as well as little Nell or her grandfather—who knows bu_t might make the young fellow's fortune, and, through him, yours, eh?'
'Why, the fact is, you see,' said Mr Swiveller, 'that they HAVE been brough_ogether.'
'Have been!' cried the dwarf, looking suspiciously at his companion. 'Throug_hose means?' 'Through mine,' said Dick, slightly confused. 'Didn't I mentio_t to you the last time you called over yonder?'
'You know you didn't,' returned the dwarf.
'I believe you're right,' said Dick. 'No. I didn't, I recollect. Oh yes, _rought 'em together that very day. It was Fred's suggestion.'
'And what came of it?'
'Why, instead of my friend's bursting into tears when he knew who Fred was, embracing him kindly, and telling him that he was his grandfather, or hi_randmother in disguise (which we fully expected), he flew into a tremendou_assion; called him all manner of names; said it was in a great measure hi_ault that little Nell and the old gentleman had ever been brought to poverty; didn't hint at our taking anything to drink; and—and in short rather turned u_ut of the room than otherwise.'
'That's strange,' said the dwarf, musing.
'So we remarked to each other at the time,' returned Dick coolly, 'but quit_rue.'
Quilp was plainly staggered by this intelligence, over which he brooded fo_ome time in moody silence, often raising his eyes to Mr Swiveller's face, an_harply scanning its expression. As he could read in it, however, n_dditional information or anything to lead him to believe he had spoke_alsely; and as Mr Swiveller, left to his own meditations, sighed deeply, an_as evidently growing maudlin on the subject of Mrs Cheggs; the dwarf soo_roke up the conference and took his departure, leaving the bereaved one t_is melancholy ruminations.
'Have been brought together, eh?' said the dwarf as he walked the street_lone. 'My friend has stolen a march upon me. It led him to nothing, an_herefore is no great matter, save in the intention. I'm glad he has lost hi_istress. Ha ha! The blockhead mustn't leave the law at present. I'm sure o_im where he is, whenever I want him for my own purposes, and, besides, he's _ood unconscious spy on Brass, and tells, in his cups, all that he sees an_ears. You're useful to me, Dick, and cost nothing but a little treating no_nd then. I am not sure that it may not be worth while, before long, to tak_redit with the stranger, Dick, by discovering your designs upon the child; but for the present we'll remain the best friends in the world, with your goo_eave.'
Pursuing these thoughts, and gasping as he went along, after his own peculia_ashion, Mr Quilp once more crossed the Thames, and shut himself up in hi_achelor's Hall, which, by reason of its newly-erected chimney depositing th_moke inside the room and carrying none of it off, was not quite so agreeabl_s more fastidious people might have desired. Such inconveniences, however, instead of disgusting the dwarf with his new abode, rather suited his humour; so, after dining luxuriously from the public-house, he lighted his pipe, an_moked against the chimney until nothing of him was visible through the mis_ut a pair of red and highly inflamed eyes, with sometimes a dim vision of hi_ead and face, as, in a violent fit of coughing, he slightly stirred the smok_nd scattered the heavy wreaths by which they were obscured. In the midst o_his atmosphere, which must infallibly have smothered any other man, Mr Quil_assed the evening with great cheerfulness; solacing himself all the time wit_he pipe and the case-bottle; and occasionally entertaining himself with _elodious howl, intended for a song, but bearing not the faintest resemblanc_o any scrap of any piece of music, vocal or instrumental, ever invented b_an. Thus he amused himself until nearly midnight, when he turned into hi_ammock with the utmost satisfaction.
The first sound that met his ears in the morning—as he half opened his eyes, and, finding himself so unusually near the ceiling, entertained a drowsy ide_hat he must have been transformed into a fly or blue-bottle in the course o_he night, —was that of a stifled sobbing and weeping in the room. Peepin_autiously over the side of his hammock, he descried Mrs Quilp, to whom, afte_ontemplating her for some time in silence, he communicated a violent start b_uddenly yelling out—'Halloa!'
'Oh, Quilp!' cried his poor little wife, looking up. 'How you frightened me!'
'I meant to, you jade,' returned the dwarf. 'What do you want here? I'm dead, an't I?'
'Oh, please come home, do come home,' said Mrs Quilp, sobbing; 'we'll never d_o any more, Quilp, and after all it was only a mistake that grew out of ou_nxiety.'
'Out of your anxiety,' grinned the dwarf. 'Yes, I know that—out of you_nxiety for my death. I shall come home when I please, I tell you. I shal_ome home when I please, and go when I please. I'll be a Will o' the Wisp, no_ere, now there, dancing about you always, starting up when you least expec_e, and keeping you in a constant state of restlessness and irritation. Wil_ou begone?'
Mrs Quilp durst only make a gesture of entreaty.
'I tell you no,' cried the dwarf. 'No. If you dare to come here again unles_ou're sent for, I'll keep watch-dogs in the yard that'll growl and bite—I'l_ave man-traps, cunningly altered and improved for catching women—I'll hav_pring guns, that shall explode when you tread upon the wires, and blow yo_nto little pieces. Will you begone?'
'Do forgive me. Do come back,' said his wife, earnestly.
'No-o-o-o-o!' roared Quilp. 'Not till my own good time, and then I'll retur_gain as often as I choose, and be accountable to nobody for my goings o_omings. You see the door there. Will you go?'
Mr Quilp delivered this last command in such a very energetic voice, an_oreover accompanied it with such a sudden gesture, indicative of an intentio_o spring out of his hammock, and, night-capped as he was, bear his wife hom_gain through the public streets, that she sped away like an arrow. Her worth_ord stretched his neck and eyes until she had crossed the yard, and then, no_t all sorry to have had this opportunity of carrying his point, and assertin_he sanctity of his castle, fell into an immoderate fit of laughter, and lai_imself down to sleep again.