'Is it like Kit--is it his picture, his image, his very self?' cried the dwarf, aiming a shower of blows at the insensible countenance, and covering it with deep dimples. 'Is it the exact model and counterpart of the dog--is it--is it--is it?' And with every repetition of the question, he battered the great image, until the perspiration streamed down his face with the violence of the exercise.
Although this might have been a very comical thing to look at from a secure gallery, as a bull-fight is found to be a comfortable spectacle by those who are not in the arena, and a house on fire is better than a play to people who don't live near it, there was something in the earnestness of Mr Quilp's manner which made his legal adviser feel that the counting-house was a little too small, and a deal too lonely, for the complete enjoyment of these humours. Therefore, he stood as far off as he could, while the dwarf was thus engaged; whimpering out but feeble applause; and when Quilp left off and sat down again from pure exhaustion, approached with more obsequiousness than ever.
'Excellent indeed!' cried Brass. 'He he! Oh, very good Sir. You know,' said Sampson, looking round as if in appeal to the bruised animal, 'he's quite a remarkable man--quite!'
'Sit down,' said the dwarf. 'I bought the dog yesterday. I've been screwing gimlets into him, and sticking forks in his eyes, and cutting my name on him. I mean to burn him at last.'
'Ha ha!' cried Brass. 'Extremely entertaining, indeed!'
'Come here,' said Quilp, beckoning him to draw near. 'What's injudicious, hey?'
'Nothing Sir--nothing. Scarcely worth mentioning Sir; but I thought that song--admirably humorous in itself you know--was perhaps rather--'
'Yes,' said Quilp, 'rather what?'
'Just bordering, or as one may say remotely verging, upon the confines of injudiciousness perhaps, Sir,' returned Brass, looking timidly at the dwarf's cunning eyes, which were turned towards the fire and reflected its red light.
'Why?' inquired Quilp, without looking up.
'Why, you know, sir,' returned Brass, venturing to be more familiar: '--the fact is, sir, that any allusion to these little combinings together, of friends, for objects in themselves extremely laudable, but which the law terms conspiracies, are--you take me, sir?--best kept snug and among friends, you know.'
'Eh!' said Quilp, looking up with a perfectly vacant countenance. 'What do you mean?'
'Cautious, exceedingly cautious, very right and proper!' cried Brass, nodding his head. 'Mum, sir, even here--my meaning, sir, exactly.'
'YOUR meaning exactly, you brazen scarecrow,--what's your meaning?' retorted Quilp. 'Why do you talk to me of combining together? Do I combine? Do I know anything about your combinings?'
'No no, sir--certainly not; not by any means,' returned Brass.
'if you so wink and nod at me,' said the dwarf, looking about him as if for his poker, 'I'll spoil the expression of your monkey's face, I will.' 'Don't put yourself out of the way I beg, sir,' rejoined Brass, checking himself with great alacrity. 'You're quite right, sir, quite right. I shouldn't have mentioned the subject, sir. It's much better not to. You're quite right, sir. Let us change it, if you please. You were asking, sir, Sally told me, about our lodger. He has not returned, sir.'
'No?' said Quilp, heating some rum in a little saucepan, and watching it to prevent its boiling over. 'Why not?'
'Why, sir,' returned Brass, 'he--dear me, Mr Quilp, sir--'
'What's the matter?' said the dwarf, stopping his hand in the act of carrying the saucepan to his mouth.
'You have forgotten the water, sir,' said Brass. 'And--excuse me, sir--but it's burning hot.'
Deigning no other than a practical answer to this remonstrance, Mr Quilp raised the hot saucepan to his lips, and deliberately drank off all the spirit it contained, which might have been in quantity about half a pint, and had been but a moment before, when he took it off the fire, bubbling and hissing fiercely.