With this substantial comfort, the dwarf regaled himself to his heart's content; and being highly satisfied with this 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 the restraints of matrimony, and a choice means of keeping Mrs Quilp and her mother in a state of incessant agitation and suspense), bestirred himself to improve his retreat, and render it more commodious and comfortable.
With this view, he issued forth to a place hard by, where sea- stores were sold, purchased a second-hand hammock, and had it slung in seamanlike fashion from the ceiling of the counting-house. He also caused to be erected, in the same mouldy cabin, an old ship's stove with a rusty funnel to carry the smoke through the roof; and these arrangements completed, surveyed them with ineffable delight.
'I've got a country-house like Robinson Crusoe," said the dwarf, ogling the accommodations; 'a solitary, sequestered, desolate-island sort of spot, where I can be quite alone when I have business on hand, and be secure from all spies and listeners. Nobody near me here, but rats, and they are fine stealthy secret fellows. I shall be as merry as a grig among these gentry. I'll look out for one like Christopher, and poison him--ha, ha, ha! Business though--business--we must be mindful of business in the midst of pleasure, and the time has flown this morning, I declare.'
Enjoining Tom Scott to await his return, and not to stand upon his head, or throw a summerset, or so much as walk upon his hands meanwhile, on pain of lingering torments, the dwarf threw himself into a boat, and crossing to the other side of the river, and then speeding away on foot, reached Mr Swiveller's usual house of entertainment in Bevis Marks, just as that gentleman 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 upon cheesiness, in fact.'
'What's the matter?' said the dwarf, advancing. 'Has Sally proved unkind. "Of all 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, and there'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. Perhaps the 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 comical expression of curiosity, and patiently awaited his further explanation; upon which, however, Mr Swiveller appeared in no hurry to enter, as he ate a very long dinner in profound silence, finally pushed away his plate, threw himself back into his chair, folded his arms, and stared ruefully at the fire, in which some ends of cigars were smoking on their own account, and sending up a fragrant 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 extremely indigestible in appearance, and bordered with a paste of white sugar an inch and a half deep.
'What should you say this was?' demanded Mr Swiveller.
'It looks like bride-cake,' replied the dwarf, grinning.