'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 distinctly.
'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 together!'
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.