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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Old Curiosity Shop - Chapter 9
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The Old Curiosity Shop - Chapter 9 Post by :Larryeh Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dickens Date :June 2011 Read :1518

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The Old Curiosity Shop - Chapter 9

CHAPTER 9


The child, in her confidence with Mrs Quilp, had but feebly
described the sadness and sorrow of her thoughts, or the heaviness
of the cloud which overhung her home, and cast dark shadows on its
hearth. Besides that it was very difficult to impart to any person
not intimately acquainted with the life she led, an adequate sense
of its gloom and loneliness, a constant fear of in some way
committing or injuring the old man to whom she was so tenderly
attached, had restrained her, even in the midst of her heart's
overflowing, and made her timid of allusion to the main cause of
her anxiety and distress.

For, it was not the monotonous days unchequered by variety and
uncheered by pleasant companionship, it was not the dark dreary
evenings or the long solitary nights, it was not the absence of
every slight and easy pleasure for which young hearts beat high, or
the knowing nothing of childhood but its weakness and its easily
wounded spirit, that had wrung such tears from Nell. To see the old
man struck down beneath the pressure of some hidden grief, to mark
his wavering and unsettled state, to be agitated at times with a
dreadful fear that his mind was wandering, and to trace in his
words and looks the dawning of despondent madness; to watch and
wait and listen for confirmation of these things day after day, and
to feel and know that, come what might, they were alone in the
world with no one to help or advise or care about them--these were
causes of depression and anxiety that might have sat heavily on an
older breast with many influences at work to cheer and gladden it,
but how heavily on the mind of a young child to whom they were ever
present, and who was constantly surrounded by all that could keep
such thoughts in restless action!

And yet, to the old man's vision, Nell was still the same. When he
could, for a moment, disengage his mind from the phantom that
haunted and brooded on it always, there was his young companion
with the same smile for him, the same earnest words, the same merry
laugh, the same love and care that, sinking deep into his soul,
seemed to have been present to him through his whole life. And so
he went on, content to read the book of her heart from the page
first presented to him, little dreaming of the story that lay
hidden in its other leaves, and murmuring within himself that at
least the child was happy.

She had been once. She had gone singing through the dim rooms, and
moving with gay and lightsome step among their dusty treasures,
making them older by her young life, and sterner and more grim by
her gay and cheerful presence. But, now, the chambers were cold and
gloomy, and when she left her own little room to while away the
tedious hours, and sat in one of them, she was still and motionless
as their inanimate occupants, and had no heart to startle the
echoes--hoarse from their long silence--with her voice.

In one of these rooms, was a window looking into the street, where
the child sat, many and many a long evening, and often far into the
night, alone and thoughtful. None are so anxious as those who watch
and wait; at these times, mournful fancies came flocking on her
mind, in crowds.

She would take her station here, at dusk, and watch the people as
they passed up and down the street, or appeared at the windows of
the opposite houses; wondering whether those rooms were as lonesome
as that in which she sat, and whether those people felt it company
to see her sitting there, as she did only to see them look out and
draw in their heads again. There was a crooked stack of chimneys on
one of the roofs, in which, by often looking at them, she had
fancied ugly faces that were frowning over at her and trying to
peer into the room; and she felt glad when it grew too dark to make
them out, though she was sorry too, when the man came to light the
lamps in the street--for it made it late, and very dull inside.
Then, she would draw in her head to look round the room and see
that everything was in its place and hadn't moved; and looking out
into the street again, would perhaps see a man passing with a
coffin on his back, and two or three others silently following him
to a house where somebody lay dead; which made her shudder and
think of such things until they suggested afresh the old man's
altered face and manner, and a new train of fears and speculations.
If he were to die--if sudden illness had happened to him, and he
were never to come home again, alive--if, one night, he should
come home, and kiss and bless her as usual, and after she had gone
to bed and had fallen asleep and was perhaps dreaming pleasantly,
and smiling in her sleep, he should kill himself and his blood come
creeping, creeping, on the ground to her own bed-room door! These
thoughts were too terrible to dwell upon, and again she would have
recourse to the street, now trodden by fewer feet, and darker and
more silent than before. The shops were closing fast, and lights
began to shine from the upper windows, as the neighbours went to
bed. By degrees, these dwindled away and disappeared or were
replaced, here and there, by a feeble rush-candle which was to burn
all night. Still, there was one late shop at no great distance
which sent forth a ruddy glare upon the pavement even yet, and
looked bright and companionable. But, in a little time, this
closed, the light was extinguished, and all was gloomy and quiet,
except when some stray footsteps sounded on the pavement, or a
neighbour, out later than his wont, knocked lustily at his
house-door to rouse the sleeping inmates.

When the night had worn away thus far (and seldom now until it had)
the child would close the window, and steal softly down stairs,
thinking as she went that if one of those hideous faces below,
which often mingled with her dreams, were to meet her by the way,
rendering itself visible by some strange light of its own, how
terrified she would be. But these fears vanished before a
well-trimmed lamp and the familiar aspect of her own room. After
praying fervently, and with many bursting tears, for the old man,
and the restoration of his peace of mind and the happiness they had
once enjoyed, she would lay her head upon the pillow and sob
herself to sleep: often starting up again, before the day-light
came, to listen for the bell and respond to the imaginary summons
which had roused her from her slumber.

One night, the third after Nelly's interview with Mrs Quilp, the
old man, who had been weak and ill all day, said he should not
leave home. The child's eyes sparkled at the intelligence, but her
joy subsided when they reverted to his worn and sickly face.

'Two days,' he said, 'two whole, clear, days have passed, and there
is no reply. What did he tell thee, Nell?'

'Exactly what I told you, dear grandfather, indeed.'

'True,' said the old man, faintly. 'Yes. But tell me again, Nell.
My head fails me. What was it that he told thee? Nothing more than
that he would see me to-morrow or next day? That was in the note.'

'Nothing more,' said the child. 'Shall I go to him again to-
morrow, dear grandfather? Very early? I will be there and back,
before breakfast.'

The old man shook his head, and sighing mournfully, drew her
towards him.

''Twould be of no use, my dear, no earthly use. But if he deserts
me, Nell, at this moment--if he deserts me now, when I should,
with his assistance, be recompensed for all the time and money I
have lost, and all the agony of mind I have undergone, which makes
me what you see, I am ruined, and--worse, far worse than that--
have ruined thee, for whom I ventured all. If we are beggars--!'

'What if we are?' said the child boldly. 'Let us be beggars, and be
happy.'

'Beggars--and happy!' said the old man. 'Poor child!'

'Dear grandfather,' cried the girl with an energy which shone in
her flushed face, trembling voice, and impassioned gesture, 'I am
not a child in that I think, but even if I am, oh hear me pray that
we may beg, or work in open roads or fields, to earn a scanty
living, rather than live as we do now.'

'Nelly!' said the old man.

'Yes, yes, rather than live as we do now,' the child repeated, more
earnestly than before. 'If you are sorrowful, let me know why and
be sorrowful too; if you waste away and are paler and weaker every
day, let me be your nurse and try to comfort you. If you are poor,
let us be poor together; but let me be with you, do let me be with
you; do not let me see such change and not know why, or I shall
break my heart and die. Dear grandfather, let us leave this sad
place to-morrow, and beg our way from door to door.'

The old man covered his face with his hands, and hid it in the
pillow of the couch on which he lay.

'Let us be beggars,' said the child passing an arm round his neck,
'I have no fear but we shall have enough, I am sure we shall. Let
us walk through country places, and sleep in fields and under
trees, and never think of money again, or anything that can make
you sad, but rest at nights, and have the sun and wind upon our
faces in the day, and thank God together! Let us never set foot in
dark rooms or melancholy houses, any more, but wander up and down
wherever we like to go; and when you are tired, you shall stop to
rest in the pleasantest place that we can find, and I will go and
beg for both.'

The child's voice was lost in sobs as she dropped upon the old
man's neck; nor did she weep alone.

These were not words for other ears, nor was it a scene for other
eyes. And yet other ears and eyes were there and greedily taking in
all that passed, and moreover they were the ears and eyes of no
less a person than Mr Daniel Quilp, who, having entered unseen when
the child first placed herself at the old man's side, refrained--
actuated, no doubt, by motives of the purest delicacy--from
interrupting the conversation, and stood looking on with his
accustomed grin. Standing, however, being a tiresome attitude to a
gentleman already fatigued with walking, and the dwarf being one of
that kind of persons who usually make themselves at home, he soon
cast his eyes upon a chair, into which he skipped with uncommon
agility, and perching himself on the back with his feet upon the
seat, was thus enabled to look on and listen with greater comfort
to himself, besides gratifying at the same time that taste for
doing something fantastic and monkey-like, which on all occasions
had strong possession of him. Here, then, he sat, one leg cocked
carelessly over the other, his chin resting on the palm of his
hand, his head turned a little on one side, and his ugly features
twisted into a complacent grimace. And in this position the old
man, happening in course of time to look that way, at length
chanced to see him: to his unbounded astonishment.

The child uttered a suppressed shriek on beholding this agreeable
figure; in their first surprise both she and the old man, not
knowing what to say, and half doubting its reality, looked
shrinkingly at it. Not at all disconcerted by this reception,
Daniel Quilp preserved the same attitude, merely nodding twice or
thrice with great condescension. At length, the old man pronounced
his name, and inquired how he came there.

'Through the door,' said Quilp pointing over his shoulder with his
thumb. 'I'm not quite small enough to get through key-holes. I
wish I was. I want to have some talk with you, particularly, and in
private. With nobody present, neighbour. Good-bye, little Nelly.'

Nell looked at the old man, who nodded to her to retire, and kissed
her cheek.

'Ah!' said the dwarf, smacking his lips, 'what a nice kiss that was--
just upon the rosy part. What a capital kiss!'

Nell was none the slower in going away, for this remark. Quilp
looked after her with an admiring leer, and when she had closed the
door, fell to complimenting the old man upon her charms.

'Such a fresh, blooming, modest little bud, neighbour,' said Quilp,
nursing his short leg, and making his eyes twinkle very much; 'such
a chubby, rosy, cosy, little Nell!'

The old man answered by a forced smile, and was plainly struggling
with a feeling of the keenest and most exquisite impatience. It was
not lost upon Quilp, who delighted in torturing him, or indeed
anybody else, when he could.

'She's so,' said Quilp, speaking very slowly, and feigning to be
quite absorbed in the subject, 'so small, so compact, so
beautifully modelled, so fair, with such blue veins and such a
transparent skin, and such little feet, and such winning ways--
but bless me, you're nervous! Why neighbour, what's the matter? I
swear to you,' continued the dwarf dismounting from the chair and
sitting down in it, with a careful slowness of gesture very
different from the rapidity with which he had sprung up unheard, 'I
swear to you that I had no idea old blood ran so fast or kept so
warm. I thought it was sluggish in its course, and cool, quite
cool. I am pretty sure it ought to be. Yours must be out of order,
neighbour.'

'I believe it is,' groaned the old man, clasping his head with both
hands. 'There's burning fever here, and something now and then to
which I fear to give a name.'

The dwarf said never a word, but watched his companion as he paced
restlessly up and down the room, and presently returned to his
seat. Here he remained, with his head bowed upon his breast for
some time, and then suddenly raising it, said,

'Once, and once for all, have you brought me any money?'

'No!' returned Quilp.

'Then,' said the old man, clenching his hands desperately, and
looking upwards, 'the child and I are lost!'

'Neighbour,' said Quilp glancing sternly at him, and beating his
hand twice or thrice upon the table to attract his wandering
attention, 'let me be plain with you, and play a fairer game than
when you held all the cards, and I saw but the backs and nothing
more. You have no secret from me now.'

The old man looked up, trembling.

'You are surprised,' said Quilp. 'Well, perhaps that's natural. You
have no secret from me now, I say; no, not one. For now, I know,
that all those sums of money, that all those loans, advances, and
supplies that you have had from me, have found their way to--shall
I say the word?'

'Aye!' replied the old man, 'say it, if you will.'

'To the gaming-table,' rejoined Quilp, 'your nightly haunt. This
was the precious scheme to make your fortune, was it; this was the
secret certain source of wealth in which I was to have sunk my
money (if I had been the fool you took me for); this was your
inexhaustible mine of gold, your El Dorado, eh?'

'Yes,' cried the old man, turning upon him with gleaming eyes, 'it
was. It is. It will be, till I die.'

'That I should have been blinded,' said Quilp looking
contemptuously at him, 'by a mere shallow gambler!'

'I am no gambler,' cried the old man fiercely. 'I call Heaven to
witness that I never played for gain of mine, or love of play; that
at every piece I staked, I whispered to myself that orphan's name
and called on Heaven to bless the venture;--which it never did.
Whom did it prosper? Who were those with whom I played? Men who
lived by plunder, profligacy, and riot; squandering their gold in
doing ill, and propagating vice and evil. My winnings would have
been from them, my winnings would have been bestowed to the last
farthing on a young sinless child whose life they would have
sweetened and made happy. What would they have contracted? The
means of corruption, wretchedness, and misery. Who would not have
hoped in such a cause? Tell me that! Who would not have hoped as I
did?'

'When did you first begin this mad career?' asked Quilp, his
taunting inclination subdued, for a moment, by the old man's grief
and wildness.

'When did I first begin?' he rejoined, passing his hand across his
brow. 'When was it, that I first began? When should it be, but when
I began to think how little I had saved, how long a time it took to
save at all, how short a time I might have at my age to live, and
how she would be left to the rough mercies of the world, with
barely enough to keep her from the sorrows that wait on poverty;
then it was that I began to think about it.'

'After you first came to me to get your precious grandson packed
off to sea?' said Quilp.

'Shortly after that,' replied the old man. 'I thought of it a long
time, and had it in my sleep for months. Then I began. I found no
pleasure in it, I expected none. What has it ever brought me but
anxious days and sleepless nights; but loss of health and peace of
mind, and gain of feebleness and sorrow!'

'You lost what money you had laid by, first, and then came to me.
While I thought you were making your fortune (as you said you were)
you were making yourself a beggar, eh? Dear me! And so it comes to
pass that I hold every security you could scrape together, and a
bill of sale upon the--upon the stock and property,' said Quilp
standing up and looking about him, as if to assure himself that
none of it had been taken away. 'But did you never win?'

'Never!' groaned the old man. 'Never won back my loss!'

'I thought,' sneered the dwarf, 'that if a man played long enough
he was sure to win at last, or, at the worst, not to come off a
loser.'

'And so he is,' cried the old man, suddenly rousing himself from
his state of despondency, and lashed into the most violent
excitement, 'so he is; I have felt that from the first, I have
always known it, I've seen it, I never felt it half so strongly as
I feel it now. Quilp, I have dreamed, three nights, of winning the
same large sum, I never could dream that dream before, though I
have often tried. Do not desert me, now I have this chance. I have
no resource but you, give me some help, let me try this one last
hope.'

The dwarf shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.

'See, Quilp, good tender-hearted Quilp,' said the old man, drawing
some scraps of paper from his pocket with a trembling hand, and
clasping the dwarf's arm, 'only see here. Look at these figures,
the result of long calculation, and painful and hard experience. I
MUST win. I only want a little help once more, a few pounds, but
two score pounds, dear Quilp.'

'The last advance was seventy,' said the dwarf; 'and it went in one
night.'

'I know it did,' answered the old man, 'but that was the very worst
fortune of all, and the time had not come then. Quilp, consider,
consider,' the old man cried, trembling so much the while, that the
papers in his hand fluttered as if they were shaken by the wind,
'that orphan child! If I were alone, I could die with gladness--
perhaps even anticipate that doom which is dealt out so unequally:
coming, as it does, on the proud and happy in their strength, and
shunning the needy and afflicted, and all who court it in their
despair--but what I have done, has been for her. Help me for her
sake I implore you; not for mine; for hers!'

'I'm sorry I've got an appointment in the city,' said Quilp,
looking at his watch with perfect self-possession, 'or I should
have been very glad to have spent half an hour with you while you
composed yourself, very glad.'

'Nay, Quilp, good Quilp,' gasped the old man, catching at his
skirts, 'you and I have talked together, more than once, of her
poor mother's story. The fear of her coming to poverty has perhaps
been bred in me by that. Do not be hard upon me, but take that into
account. You are a great gainer by me. Oh spare me the money for
this one last hope!'

'I couldn't do it really,' said Quilp with unusual politeness,
'though I tell you what--and this is a circumstance worth bearing
in mind as showing how the sharpest among us may be taken in
sometimes--I was so deceived by the penurious way in which you
lived, alone with Nelly--'

'All done to save money for tempting fortune, and to make her
triumph greater,' cried the old man.

'Yes, yes, I understand that now,' said Quilp; 'but I was going to
say, I was so deceived by that, your miserly way, the reputation
you had among those who knew you of being rich, and your repeated
assurances that you would make of my advances treble and quadruple
the interest you paid me, that I'd have advanced you, even now,
what you want, on your simple note of hand, if I hadn't
unexpectedly become acquainted with your secret way of life.'

'Who is it,' retorted the old man desperately, 'that,
notwithstanding all my caution, told you? Come. Let me know the
name--the person.'

The crafty dwarf, bethinking himself that his giving up the child
would lead to the disclosure of the artifice he had employed,
which, as nothing was to be gained by it, it was well to conceal,
stopped short in his answer and said, 'Now, who do you think?'

'It was Kit, it must have been the boy; he played the spy, and you
tampered with him?' said the old man.

'How came you to think of him?' said the dwarf in a tone of great
commiseration. 'Yes, it was Kit. Poor Kit!'

So saying, he nodded in a friendly manner, and took his leave:
stopping when he had passed the outer door a little distance, and
grinning with extraordinary delight.

'Poor Kit!' muttered Quilp. 'I think it was Kit who said I was an
uglier dwarf than could be seen anywhere for a penny, wasn't it. Ha
ha ha! Poor Kit!' And with that he went his way, still chuckling as
he went.

Content of CHAPTER 9 (Charles Dickens' novel: The Old Curiosity Shop)

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