The child was closely followed by an elderly man of remarkably hard features and forbidding aspect, and so low in stature as to be quite a dwarf, though his head and face were large enough for the body of a giant. His black eyes were restless, sly, and cunning; his mouth and chin, bristly with the stubble of a coarse hard beard; and his complexion was one of that kind which never looks clean or wholesome. But what added most to the grotesque expression of his face was a ghastly smile, which, appearing to be the mere result of habit and to have no connection with any mirthful or complacent feeling, constantly revealed the few discoloured fangs that were yet scattered in his mouth, and gave him the aspect of a panting dog. His dress consisted of a large high-crowned hat, a worn dark suit, a pair of capacious shoes, and a dirty white neckerchief sufficiently limp and crumpled to disclose the greater portion of his wiry throat. Such hair as he had was of a grizzled black, cut short and straight upon his temples, and hanging in a frowzy fringe about his ears. His hands, which were of a rough, coarse grain, were very dirty; his fingernails were crooked, long, and yellow.
There was ample time to note these particulars, for besides that they were sufficiently obvious without very close observation, some moments elapsed before any one broke silence. The child advanced timidly towards her brother and put her hand in his, the dwarf (if we may call him so) glanced keenly at all present, and the curiosity-dealer, who plainly had not expected his uncouth visitor, seemed disconcerted and embarrassed.
‘Ah!’ said the dwarf, who with his hand stretched out above his eyes had been surveying the young man attentively, ‘that should be your grandson, neighbour!’
‘Say rather that he should not be,’ replied the old man. ‘But he is.’
‘And that?’ said the dwarf, pointing to Dick Swiveller.
‘Some friend of his, as welcome here as he,’ said the old man.
‘And that?’ inquired the dwarf, wheeling round and pointing straight at me.
‘A gentleman who was so good as to bring Nell home the other night when she lost her way, coming from your house.’
The little man turned to the child as if to chide her or express his wonder, but as she was talking to the young man, held his peace, and bent his head to listen.
‘Well, Nelly,’ said the young fellow aloud. ‘Do they teach you to hate me, eh?’
‘No, no. For shame. Oh, no!’ cried the child.
‘To love me, perhaps?’ pursued her brother with a sneer.
‘To do neither,’ she returned. ‘They never speak to me about you. Indeed they never do.’
‘I dare be bound for that,’ he said, darting a bitter look at the grandfather. ‘I dare be bound for that Nell. Oh! I believe you there!’
‘But I love you dearly, Fred,’ said the child.
‘I do indeed, and always will,’ the child repeated with great emotion, ‘but oh! If you would leave off vexing him and making him unhappy, then I could love you more.’
‘I see!’ said the young man, as he stooped carelessly over the child, and having kissed her, pushed her from him: ‘There—get you away now you have said your lesson. You needn’t whimper. We part good friends enough, if that’s the matter.’
He remained silent, following her with his eyes, until she had gained her little room and closed the door; and then turning to the dwarf, said abruptly,
‘Meaning me?’ returned the dwarf. ‘Quilp is my name. You might remember. It’s not a long one—Daniel Quilp.’
‘Harkee, Mr Quilp, then,’ pursued the other, ‘You have some influence with my grandfather there.’
‘Some,’ said Mr Quilp emphatically.
‘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.’