At length, the crisis of the old man’s disorder was past, and he began to mend. By very slow and feeble degrees his consciousness came back; but the mind was weakened and its functions were impaired. He was patient, and quiet; often sat brooding, but not despondently, for a long space; was easily amused, even by a sun-beam on the wall or ceiling; made no complaint that the days were long, or the nights tedious; and appeared indeed to have lost all count of time, and every sense of care or weariness. He would sit, for hours together, with Nell’s small hand in his, playing with the fingers and stopping sometimes to smooth her hair or kiss her brow; and, when he saw that tears were glistening in her eyes, would look, amazed, about him for the cause, and forget his wonder even while he looked.
The child and he rode out; the old man propped up with pillows, and the child beside him. They were hand in hand as usual. The noise and motion in the streets fatigued his brain at first, but he was not surprised, or curious, or pleased, or irritated. He was asked if he remembered this, or that. ‘O yes,’ he said, ‘quite well—why not?’ Sometimes he turned his head, and looked, with earnest gaze and outstretched neck, after some stranger in the crowd, until he disappeared from sight; but, to the question why he did this, he answered not a word.
He was sitting in his easy chair one day, and Nell upon a stool beside him, when a man outside the door inquired if he might enter. ‘Yes,’ he said without emotion, ‘it was Quilp, he knew. Quilp was master there. Of course he might come in.’ And so he did.
‘I’m glad to see you well again at last, neighbour,’ said the dwarf, sitting down opposite him. ‘You’re quite strong now?’
‘Yes,’ said the old man feebly, ‘yes.’
‘I don’t want to hurry you, you know, neighbour,’ said the dwarf, raising his voice, for the old man’s senses were duller than they had been; ‘but, as soon as you can arrange your future proceedings, the better.’
‘Surely,’ said the old man. ‘The better for all parties.’
‘You see,’ pursued Quilp after a short pause, ‘the goods being once removed, this house would be uncomfortable; uninhabitable in fact.’
‘You say true,’ returned the old man. ‘Poor Nell too, what would she do?’
‘Exactly,’ bawled the dwarf nodding his head; ‘that’s very well observed. Then will you consider about it, neighbour?’
‘I will, certainly,’ replied the old man. ‘We shall not stop here.’
‘So I supposed,’ said the dwarf. ‘I have sold the things. They have not yielded quite as much as they might have done, but pretty well—pretty well. To-day’s Tuesday. When shall they be moved? There’s no hurry—shall we say this afternoon?’
‘Say Friday morning,’ returned the old man.
‘Very good,’ said the dwarf. ‘So be it—with the understanding that I can’t go beyond that day, neighbour, on any account.’
‘Good,’ returned the old man. ‘I shall remember it.’
Mr Quilp seemed rather puzzled by the strange, even spiritless way in which all this was said; but as the old man nodded his head and repeated ‘on Friday morning. I shall remember it,’ he had no excuse for dwelling on the subject any further, and so took a friendly leave with many expressions of good-will and many compliments to his friend on his looking so remarkably well; and went below stairs to report progress to Mr Brass.
All that day, and all the next, the old man remained in this state. He wandered up and down the house and into and out of the various rooms, as if with some vague intent of bidding them adieu, but he referred neither by direct allusions nor in any other manner to the interview of the morning or the necessity of finding some other shelter. An indistinct idea he had, that the child was desolate and in want of help; for he often drew her to his bosom and bade her be of good cheer, saying that they would not desert each other; but he seemed unable to contemplate their real position more distinctly, and was still the listless, passionless creature that suffering of mind and body had left him.