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The Old Curiosity Shop - Chapter 6 Post by :Paul_Walsh Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dickens Date :June 2011 Read :1763

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The Old Curiosity Shop - Chapter 6


Little Nell stood timidly by, with her eyes raised to the countenance
of Mr Quilp as he read the letter, plainly showing by her looks that
while she entertained some fear and distrust of the little man, she
was much inclined to laugh at his uncouth appearance and grotesque
attitude. And yet there was visible on the part of the child a painful
anxiety for his reply, and consciousness of his power to render it
disagreeable or distressing, which was strongly at variance with this
impulse and restrained it more effectually than she could possibly
have done by any efforts of her own.

That Mr Quilp was himself perplexed, and that in no small degree,
by the contents of the letter, was sufficiently obvious. Before he had
got through the first two or three lines he began to open his eyes
very wide and to frown most horribly, the next two or three caused
him to scratch his head in an uncommonly vicious manner, and when
he came to the conclusion he gave a long dismal whistle indicative of
surprise and dismay. After folding and laying it down beside him, he
bit the nails of all of his ten fingers with extreme voracity; and
taking it up sharply, read it again. The second perusal was to all
appearance as unsatisfactory as the first, and plunged him into a
profound reverie from which he awakened to another assault upon
his nails and a long stare at the child, who with her eyes turned
towards the ground awaited his further pleasure.

'Halloa here!' he said at length, in a voice, and with a suddenness,
which made the child start as though a gun had been fired off at her
ear. 'Nelly!'

'Yes, sir.'

'Do you know what's inside this letter, Nell?'

'No, sir!'

'Are you sure, quite sure, quite certain, upon your soul?'

'Quite sure, sir.'

'Do you wish you may die if you do know, hey?' said the dwarf.

'Indeed I don't know,' returned the child.

'Well!' muttered Quilp as he marked her earnest look. 'I believe
you. Humph! Gone already? Gone in four-and-twenty hours! What
the devil has he done with it, that's the mystery!'

This reflection set him scratching his head and biting his nails once
more. While he was thus employed his features gradually relaxed
into what was with him a cheerful smile, but which in any other man
would have been a ghastly grin of pain, and when the child looked
up again she found that he was regarding her with extraordinary
favour and complacency.

'You look very pretty to-day, Nelly, charmingly pretty. Are you
tired, Nelly?'

'No, sir. I'm in a hurry to get back, for he will be anxious while I
am away.'

'There's no hurry, little Nell, no hurry at all,' said Quilp. 'How
should you like to be my number two, Nelly?'

'To be what, sir?'

'My number two, Nelly, my second, my Mrs Quilp,' said the dwarf.

The child looked frightened, but seemed not to understand him,
which Mr Quilp observing, hastened to make his meaning more

'To be Mrs Quilp the second, when Mrs Quilp the first is dead,
sweet Nell,' said Quilp, wrinkling up his eyes and luring her towards
him with his bent forefinger, 'to be my wife, my little cherry-cheeked,
red-lipped wife. Say
that Mrs Quilp lives five year, or only
four, you'll be just the proper age for me. Ha ha! Be a good girl,
Nelly, a very good girl, and see if one of these days you don't come
to be Mrs Quilp of Tower Hill.'

So far from being sustained and stimulated by this delightful
prospect, the child shrank from him in great agitation, and trembled
violently. Mr Quilp, either because frightening anybody afforded
him a constitutional delight, or because it was pleasant to
contemplate the death of Mrs Quilp number one, and the elevation of
Mrs Quilp number two to her post and title, or because he was
determined from purposes of his own to be agreeable and good-humoured at
that particular
time, only laughed and feigned to take no
heed of her alarm.

'You shall home with me to Tower Hill and see Mrs Quilp that is,
directly,' said the dwarf. 'She's very fond of you, Nell, though not
so fond as I am. You shall come home with me.'

'I must go back indeed,' said the child. 'He told me to return directly
I had the answer.'

'But you haven't it, Nelly,' retorted the dwarf, 'and won't have it,
and can't have it, until I have been home, so you see that to do your
errand, you must go with me. Reach me yonder hat, my dear, and
we'll go directly.' With that, Mr Quilp suffered himself to roll
gradually off the desk until his short legs touched the ground, when
he got upon them and led the way from the counting-house to the
wharf outside, when the first objects that presented themselves were
the boy who had stood on his head and another young gentleman of
about his own stature, rolling in the mud together, locked in a tight
embrace, and cuffing each other with mutual heartiness.

'It's Kit!' cried Nelly, clasping her hand, 'poor Kit who came with
me! Oh, pray stop them, Mr Quilp!'

'I'll stop 'em,' cried Quilp, diving into the little counting-house and
returning with a thick stick, 'I'll stop 'em. Now, my boys, fight
away. I'll fight you both. I'll take bot of you, both together, both

With which defiances the dwarf flourished his cudgel, and dancing
round the combatants and treading upon them and skipping over
them, in a kind of frenzy, laid about him, now on one and now on
the other, in a most desperate manner, always aiming at their heads
and dealing such blows as none but the veriest little savage would
have inflicted. This being warmer work than they had calculated
upon, speedily cooled the courage of the belligerents, who scrambled
to their feet and called for quarter.

'I'll beat you to a pulp, you dogs,' said Quilp, vainly endeavoring to
get near either of them for a parting blow. 'I'll bruise you until
you're copper-coloured, I'll break your faces till you haven't a
profile between you, I will.'

'Come, you drop that stick or it'll be worse for you,' said his boy,
dodging round him and watching an opportunity to rush in; 'you
drop that stick.'

'Come a little nearer, and I'll drop it on your skull, you dog,' said
Quilp, with gleaming eyes; 'a little nearer--nearer yet.'

But the boy declined the invitation until his master was apparently a
little off his guard, when he darted in and seizing the weapon tried to
wrest it from his grasp. Quilp, who was as strong as a lion, easily
kept his hold until the boy was tugging at it with his utmost power,
when he suddenly let it go and sent him reeling backwards, so that
he fell violently upon his head. the success of this manoeuvre tickled
Mr Quilp beyond description, and he laughed and stamped upon the
ground as at a most irresistible jest.

'Never mind,' said the boy, nodding his head and rubbing it at the
same time; 'you see if ever I offer to strike anybody again because
they say you're an uglier dwarf than can be seen anywheres for a
penny, that's all.'

'Do you mean to say, I'm not, you dog?' returned Quilp.

'No!' retorted the boy.

'Then what do you fight on my wharf for, you villain?' said Quilp.

'Because he said so,' replied to boy, pointing to Kit, 'not because
you an't.'

'Then why did he say,' bawled Kit, 'that Miss Nelly was ugly, and
that she and my master was obliged to do whatever his master liked?
Why did he say that?'

'He said what he did because he's a fool, and you said what you did
because you're very wise and clever--almost too clever to live,
unless you're very careful of yourself, Kit.' said Quilp, with great
suavity in his manner, but still more of quiet malice about his eyes
and mouth. 'Here's sixpence for you, Kit. Always speak the truth.
At all times, Kit, speak the truth. Lock the counting-house, you dog,
and bring me the key.'

The other boy, to whom this order was addresed, did as he was told,
and was rewarded for his partizanship in behalf of his master, by a
dexterous rap on the nose with the key, which brought the water into
his eyes. Then Mr Quilp departed with the child and Kit in a boat,
and the boy revenged himself by dancing on his head at intervals on
the extreme verge of the wharf, during the whole time they crossed
the river.

There was only Mrs Quilp at home, and she, little expecting the
return of her lord, was just composing herself for a refreshing
slumber when the sound of his footsteps roused her. She had barely
time to seem to be occupied in some needle-work, when he entered,
accompanied by the child; having left Kit downstairs.

'Here's Nelly Trent, dear Mrs Quilp,' said her husband. 'A glass of
wine, my dear, and a biscuit, for she has had a long walk. She'll sit
with you, my soul, while I write a letter.'

Mrs Quilp looked tremblingly in her spouse's face to know what this
unusual courtesy might portend, and obedient to the summons she
saw in his gesture, followed him into the next room.

'Mind what I say to you,' whispered Quilp. 'See if you can get out
of her anything about her grandfather, or what they do, or how they
live, or what he tells her. I've my reasons for knowing, if I can. You
women talk more freely to one another than you do to us, and you
have a soft, mild way with you that'll win upon her. Do you hear?'

'Yes, Quilp.'

'Go then. What's the matter now?'

'Dear Quilp,' faltered his wife. 'I love the child--if you could do
without making me deceive her--'

The dwarf muttering a terrible oath looked round as if for some
weapon with which to inflict condign punishment upon his
disobedient wife. the submissive little woman hurriedly entreated
him not to be angry, and promised to do as he bade her.

'Do you hear me,' whispered Quilp, nipping and pinching her arm;
'worm yourself into her secrets; I know you can. I'm listening,
recollect. If you're not sharp enough, I'll creak the door, and woe
betide you if I have to creak it much. Go!'

Mrs Quilp departed according to order, and her amiable husband,
ensconcing himself behind the partly opened door, and applying his
ear close to it, began to listen with a face of great craftiness and

Poor Mrs Quilp was thinking, however, in what manner to begin or
what kind of inquiries she could make; and it was not until the door,
creaking in a very urgent manner, warned her to proceed without
further consideration, that the sound of her voice was heard.

'How very often you have come backwards and forwards lately to
Mr Quilp, my dear.'

'I have said so to grandfather, a hundred times,' returned Nell

'And what has he said to that?'

'Only sighed, and dropped his head, and seemed so sad and wretched
that if you could have seen him I am sure you must have cried; you
could not have helped it more than I, I know. How that door creaks!'

'It often does.' returned Mrs Quilp, with an uneasy glance towards
it. 'But your grandfather--he used not to be so wretched?'

'Oh, no!' said the child eagerly, 'so different! We were once so
happy and he so cheerful and contented! You cannot think what a sad
change has fallen on us since.'

'I am very, very sorry, to hear you speak like this, my dear!' said
Mrs Quilp. And she spoke the truth.

'Thank you,' returned the child, kissing her cheek, 'you are always
kind to me, and it is a pleasure to talk to you. I can speak to no one
else about him, but poor Kit. I am very happy still, I ought to feel
happier perhaps than I do, but you cannot think how it grieves me
sometimes to see him alter so.'

'He'll alter again, Nelly,' said Mrs Quilp, 'and be what he was

'Oh, if God would only let that come about!' said the child with
streaming eyes; 'but it is a long time now, since he first began to--I
thought I saw that door moving!'

'It's the wind,' said Mrs Quilp, fainly. 'Began to ---'

'To be so thoughtful and dejected, and to forget our old way ot
spending the time in the long evenings,' said the child. 'I used to
read to him by the fireside, and he sat listening, and when I stopped
and we began to talk, he told me about my mother, and how she
once looked and spoke just like me when she was a little child. Then
he used to take me on his knee, and try to make me understand that
she was not lying in her grave, but had flown to a beautiful country
beyond the sky where nothing died or ever grew old--we were very
happy once!'

'Nelly, Nelly!' said the poor woman, 'I can't bear to see one as
young as you so sorrowful. Pray don't cry.'

'I do so very seldom,' said Nell,' but I have kept this to myself a
long time, and I am not quite well, I think, for the tears come into
my eyes and I cannot keep them back. I don't mind telling you my
grief, for I know you will not tell it to any one again.'

Mrs Quilp turned away her head and made no answer.

'Then,' said the child, 'we often walked in the fields and among the
green trees, and when we came home at night, we liked it better for
being tired, and said what a happy place it was. And if it was dark
and rather dull, we used to say, what did it matter to us, for it only
made us remember our last walk with greater pleasure, and look
forward to our next one. But now we never have these walks, and
though it is the same house it is darker and much more gloomy than
it used to be, indeed!'

She paused here, but though the door creaked more than once, Mrs
Quilp said nothing.

'Mind you don't suppose,' said the child earnestly, 'that grandfather
is less kind to me than he was. I think he loves me better every day,
and is kinder and more afectionate than he was the day before. You
do not know how fond he is of me!'

'I am sure he loves you dearly,' said Mrs Quilp.

'Indeed, indeed he does!' cried Nell, 'as dearly as I love him. But I
have not told you the greatest change of all, and this you must never
breathe again to any one. He has no sleep or rest, but that which he
takes by day in his easy chair; for every night and neary all night
long he is away from home.'


'Hush!' said the child, laying her finger on her lip and looking
round. 'When he comes home in the morning, which is generally just
before day, I let him in. Last night he was very late, and it was quite
light. I saw that his face was deadly pale, that his eyes were
bloodshot, and that his legs trembled as he walked. When I had gone
to bed again, I heard him groan. I got up and ran back to him, and
heard him say, before he knew that I was there, that he could not
bear his life much longer, and if it was not for the child, would wish
to die. What shall I do! Oh! What shall I do!'

The fountains of her heart were opened; the child, overpowered by
the weight of her sorrows and anxieties, by the first confidence she
had ever shown, and the sympathy with which her little tale had been
received, hid her face in the arms of her helpless friend, and burst
into a passion of tears.

In a few minutes Mr Quilp returned, and expressed the utmost
surprise to find her in this condtiion, which he did very naturally and
with admirable effect, for that kind of acting had been rendered
familiar to him by long practice, and he was quite at home in it.

'She's tired you see, Mrs Quilp,' said the dwarf, squinting in a
hideous manner to imply that his wife was to follow his lead. 'It's a
long way from her home to the wharf, and then she was alrmed to
see a couple of young scoundrels fighting, and was timorous on the
water besides. All this together has been too much for her. Poor

Mr Quilp unintentionally adopted the very best means he could have
devised for the recovery of his young visitor, by patting her on the
head. Such an application from any other hand might not have
produced a remarkable effect, but the child shrank so quickly from
his touch and felt such an instinctive desire to get out of his reach,
that she rose directly and declared herself ready to return.

'But you'd better wait, and dine with Mrs Quilp and me.' said the

'I have been away too long, sir, already,' returned Nell, drying her

'Well,' said Mr Quilp, 'if you will go, you will, Nelly. Here's the
note. It's only to say that I shall see him to-morrow or maybe next
day, and that I couldn't do that little business for him this morning.
Good-bye, Nelly. Here, you sir; take care of her, d'ye hear?'

Kit, who appeared at the summons, deigned to make no reply to so
needless an injunction, and after staring at Quilp in a threatening
manner, as if he doubted whether he might not have been the cause
of Nelly shedding tears, and felt more than half disposed to revenge
the fact upon him on the mere suspicion, turned about and followed
his young mistress, who had by this time taken her leave of Mrs
Quilp and departed.

'You're a keen questioner, an't you, Mrs Quilp?' said the dwarf,
turning upon her as soon as they were left alone.

'What more could I do?' returned his wife mildly?

'What more could you do!' sneered Quilp, 'couldn't you have done
something less? Couldn't you have done what you had to do, without
appearing in your favourite part of the crocodile, you minx?'

'I am very sorry for the child, Quilp,' said his wife. 'Surely I've
done enough. I've led her on to tell her secret she supposed we were
alone; and you were by, God forgive me.'

'You led her on! You did a great deal truly!' said Quilp. 'What did I
tell you about making me creak the door? It's lucky for you that
from what she let fall, I've got the clue I want, for if I hadn't, I'd
have visited the failure upon you, I can tell you.'

Mrs Quilp being fully persuaded of this, made no reply. Her husband
added with some exultation,

'But you may thank your fortunate stars--the same stars that made
you Mrs Quilp--you may thank them that I'm upon the old
gentleman's track, and have got a new light. So let me hear no more
about this matter now or at any other time, and don't get anything
too nice for dinner, for I shan't be home to it.'

So saying, Mr Quilp put his hat on and took himself off, and Mrs
Quilp, who was afflicted beyond measure by the recollection of the
part she had just acted, shut herself up in her chamber, and
smothering her head in the bed-clothes bemoaned her fault more
bitterly than many less tender-hearted persons would have mourned a
much greater offence; for, in the majority of cases, conscience is an
elastic and very flexible article, which will bear a deal of stretching
and adapt itself to a great variety of circumstances. Some people by
prudent management and leaving it off piece by piece like a flannel
waistcoat in warm weather, even contrive, in time, to dispense with
it altogether; but there be others who can assume the garment and
throw it off at pleasure; and this, being the greatest and most
convenient improvement, is the one most in vogue.

Content of CHAPTER 6 (Charles Dickens' novel: The Old Curiosity Shop)

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The Old Curiosity Shop - Chapter 7
CHAPTER 7'Fred,' said Mr Swiveller, 'remember the once popular melody ofBegone dull care; fan the sinking flame of hilarity with the wing offriendship; and pass the rosy wine.'Mr Richard Swiveller's apartments were in the neighbourhood ofDrury Lane, and in addition to this convenience of situation had theadvantage of being over a tobacconist's shop, so that he was enabledto procure a refreshing sneeze at any time by merely stepping outupon the staircase, and was saved the trouble and expense ofmaintaining a snuff-box. It was in these apartments that Mr Swivellermade use of the expressions above recorded for the consolation andencouragement of his

The Old Curiosity Shop - Chapter 5 The Old Curiosity Shop - Chapter 5

The Old Curiosity Shop - Chapter 5
CHAPTER 5Whether Mr Quilp took any sleep by snatches of a few winks at atime, or whether he sat with his eyes wide open all night long,certain it is that he kept his cigar alight, and kindled every fresh onefrom the ashes of that which was nearly consumed, without requiringthe assistance of a candle. Nor did the striking of the clocks, hourafter hour, appear to inspire him with any sense of drowsiness or anynatural desire to go to rest, but rather to increase his wakefulness,which he showed, at every such indication of the progress of thenight, by a suppressed cackling in