Chapter 5

by Charles Dickens

Whether Mr Quilp took any sleep by snatches of a few winks at a time, or whether he sat with his eyes wide open all night long, certain it is that he kept his cigar alight, and kindled every fresh one from the ashes of that which was nearly consumed, without requiring the assistance of a candle. Nor did the striking of the clocks, hour after hour, appear to inspire him with any sense of drowsiness or any natural desire to go to rest, but rather to increase his wakefulness, which he showed, at every such indication of the progress of the night, by a suppressed cackling in his throat, and a motion of his shoulders, like one who laughs heartily but the same time slyly and by stealth.

At length the day broke, and poor Mrs Quilp, shivering with cold of early morning and harassed by fatigue and want of sleep, was discovered sitting patiently on her chair, raising her eyes at intervals in mute appeal to the compassion and clemency of her lord, and gently reminding him by an occasion cough that she was still unpardoned and that her penance had been of long duration. But her dwarfish spouse still smoked his cigar and drank his rum without heeding her; and it was not until the sun had some time risen, and the activity and noise of city day were rife in the street, that he deigned to recognize her presence by any word or sign. He might not have done so even then, but for certain impatient tapping at the door he seemed to denote that some pretty hard knuckles were actively engaged upon the other side.

‘Why dear me!’ he said looking round with a malicious grin, ‘it’s day. Open the door, sweet Mrs Quilp!’

His obedient wife withdrew the bolt, and her lady mother entered.

Now, Mrs Jiniwin bounced into the room with great impetuosity; for, supposing her son-in-law to be still a-bed, she had come to relieve her feelings by pronouncing a strong opinion upon his general conduct and character. Seeing that he was up and dressed, and that the room appeared to have been occupied ever since she quitted it on the previous evening, she stopped short, in some embarrassment.

Nothing escaped the hawk’s eye of the ugly little man, who, perfectly understanding what passed in the old lady’s mind, turned uglier still in the fulness of his satisfaction, and bade her good morning, with a leer or triumph.

‘Why, Betsy,’ said the old woman, ‘you haven’t been—you don’t mean to say you’ve been a—’

‘Sitting up all night?’ said Quilp, supplying the conclusion of the sentence. ‘Yes she has!’

‘All night?’ cried Mrs Jiniwin.

‘Ay, all night. Is the dear old lady deaf?’ said Quilp, with a smile of which a frown was part. ‘Who says man and wife are bad company? Ha ha! The time has flown.’

‘You’re a brute!’ exclaimed Mrs Jiniwin.

‘Come come,’ said Quilp, wilfully misunderstanding her, of course, ‘you mustn’t call her names. She’s married now, you know. And though she did beguile the time and keep me from my bed, you must not be so tenderly careful of me as to be out of humour with her. Bless you for a dear old lady. Here’s to your health!’

‘I am much obliged to you,’ returned the old woman, testifying by a certain restlessness in her hands a vehement desire to shake her matronly fist at her son-in-law. ‘Oh! I’m very much obliged to you!’

‘Grateful soul!’ cried the dwarf. ‘Mrs Quilp.’

‘Yes, Quilp,’ said the timid sufferer.

‘Help your mother to get breakfast, Mrs Quilp. I am going to the wharf this morning—the earlier the better, so be quick.’

Mrs Jiniwin made a faint demonstration of rebellion by sitting down in a chair near the door and folding her arms as if in a resolute determination to do nothing. But a few whispered words from her daughter, and a kind inquiry from her son-in-law whether she felt faint, with a hint that there was abundance of cold water in the next apartment, routed these symptoms effectually, and she applied herself to the prescribed preparations with sullen diligence.

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