'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 go out of this place as often as I like, so long as he keeps Nell here; and that if he wants to be quit of me, he must first be quit of her. What have I done to be made a bugbear of, and to be shunned and dreaded as if I brought the plague? He'll tell you that I have no natural affection; and that I care no more for Nell, for her own sake, than I do for him. Let him say so. I care for the whim, then, of coming to and fro and reminding her of my existence. I WILL see her when I please. That's my point. I came here to-day to maintain it, and I'll come here again fifty times with the same object and always with the same success. I said I would stop till I had gained it. I have done so, and now my visit'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 was addressed.
'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. I came 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 a mutual friend that badgering, baiting, and bullying, was not the sort of thing calculated to expand the souls and promote the social harmony of the contending parties, I took upon myself to suggest a course which is THE course to be adopted to the present occasion. Will you allow me to whisper half a syllable, sir?'
Without waiting for the permission he sought, Mr Swiveller stepped up to the dwarf, and leaning on his shoulder and stooping down to get at his ear, said in a voice which was perfectly audible to all present,
'The watch-word to the old min is--fork.'
'Is what?' demanded Quilp.
'Is fork, sir, fork,' replied Mr Swiveller slapping his picket. 'You are awake, sir?'
The dwarf nodded. Mr Swiveller drew back and nodded likewise, then drew a little further back and nodded again, and so on. By these means he in time reached the door, where he gave a great cough to attract the dwarf's attention and gain an opportunity of expressing in dumb show, the closest confidence and most inviolable secrecy. Having performed the serious pantomime that was necessary for the due conveyance of these idea, he cast himself upon his friend's track, and vanished.
'Humph!' said the dwarf with a sour look and a shrug of his shoulders, 'so much 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, and nearly 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 the compliment, for such he evidently considered it; and grinning like a devil as he rubbed his dirty hands together. 'Ask Mrs Quilp, pretty Mrs Quilp, obedient, timid, loving Mrs Quilp. But that reminds me--I have left her all alone, and she will be anxious and know not a moment's peace till I return. I know she's always in that condition when I'm away, thought she doesn't dare to say so, unless I lead her on and tell her she may speak freely and I won't be angry 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 something fantastic even in his manner of performing this slight action--and, dropping his shaggy brows and cocking his chin in the air, glanced upward with a stealthy look of exultation that an imp might have copied and appropriated to himself.