Chapter 50

by Charles Dickens

Matrimonial differences are usually discussed by the parties concerned in the form of dialogue, in which the lady bears at least her full half share. Those of Mr and Mrs Quilp, however, were an exception to the general rule; the remarks which they occasioned being limited to a long soliloquy on the part of the gentleman, with perhaps a few deprecatory observations from the lady, not extending beyond a trembling monosyllable uttered at long intervals, and in a very submissive and humble tone. On the present occasion, Mrs Quilp did not for a long time venture even on this gentle defence, but when she had recovered from her fainting-fit, sat in a tearful silence, meekly listening to the reproaches of her lord and master.

Of these Mr Quilp delivered himself with the utmost animation and rapidity, and with so many distortions of limb and feature, that even his wife, although tolerably well accustomed to his proficiency in these respects, was well-nigh beside herself with alarm. But the Jamaica rum, and the joy of having occasioned a heavy disappointment, by degrees cooled Mr Quilp’s wrath; which from being at savage heat, dropped slowly to the bantering or chuckling point, at which it steadily remained.

‘So you thought I was dead and gone, did you?’ said Quilp. ‘You thought you were a widow, eh? Ha, ha, ha, you jade.’

‘Indeed, Quilp,’ returned his wife. ‘I’m very sorry—’

‘Who doubts it!’ cried the dwarf. ‘You very sorry! to be sure you are. Who doubts that you’re very sorry!’

‘I don’t mean sorry that you have come home again alive and well,’ said his wife, ‘but sorry that I should have been led into such a belief. I am glad to see you, Quilp; indeed I am.’

In truth Mrs Quilp did seem a great deal more glad to behold her lord than might have been expected, and did evince a degree of interest in his safety which, all things considered, was rather unaccountable. Upon Quilp, however, this circumstance made no impression, farther than as it moved him to snap his fingers close to his wife’s eyes, with divers grins of triumph and derision.

‘How could you go away so long, without saying a word to me or letting me hear of you or know anything about you?’ asked the poor little woman, sobbing. ‘How could you be so cruel, Quilp?’

‘How could I be so cruel! cruel!’ cried the dwarf. ‘Because I was in the humour. I’m in the humour now. I shall be cruel when I like. I’m going away again.’

‘Not again!’

‘Yes, again. I’m going away now. I’m off directly. I mean to go and live wherever the fancy seizes me—at the wharf—at the counting-house—and be a jolly bachelor. You were a widow in anticipation. Damme,’ screamed the dwarf, ‘I’ll be a bachelor in earnest.’

‘You can’t be serious, Quilp,’ sobbed his wife.

‘I tell you,’ said the dwarf, exulting in his project, ‘that I’ll be a bachelor, a devil-may-care bachelor; and I’ll have my bachelor’s hall at the counting-house, and at such times come near it if you dare. And mind too that I don’t pounce in upon you at unseasonable hours again, for I’ll be a spy upon you, and come and go like a mole or a weazel. Tom Scott—where’s Tom Scott?’

‘Here I am, master,’ cried the voice of the boy, as Quilp threw up the window.

‘Wait there, you dog,’ returned the dwarf, ‘to carry a bachelor’s portmanteau. Pack it up, Mrs Quilp. Knock up the dear old lady to help; knock her up. Halloa there! Halloa!’

With these exclamations, Mr Quilp caught up the poker, and hurrying to the door of the good lady’s sleeping-closet, beat upon it therewith until she awoke in inexpressible terror, thinking that her amiable son-in-law surely intended to murder her in justification of the legs she had slandered. Impressed with this idea, she was no sooner fairly awake than she screamed violently, and would have quickly precipitated herself out of the window and through a neighbouring skylight, if her daughter had not hastened in to undeceive her, and implore her assistance. Somewhat reassured by her account of the service she was required to render, Mrs Jiniwin made her appearance in a flannel dressing-gown; and both mother and daughter, trembling with terror and cold—for the night was now far advanced—obeyed Mr Quilp’s directions in submissive silence. Prolonging his preparations as much as possible, for their greater comfort, that eccentric gentleman superintended the packing of his wardrobe, and having added to it with his own hands, a plate, knife and fork, spoon, teacup and saucer, and other small household matters of that nature, strapped up the portmanteau, took it on his shoulders, and actually marched off without another word, and with the case-bottle (which he had never once put down) still tightly clasped under his arm. Consigning his heavier burden to the care of Tom Scott when he reached the street, taking a dram from the bottle for his own encouragement, and giving the boy a rap on the head with it as a small taste for himself, Quilp very deliberately led the way to the wharf, and reached it at between three and four o’clock in the morning.

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