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 at the same time slily and by stealth.
At length the day broke, and poor Mrs Quilp, shivering with the 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 occasional 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 recognise her presence by any word or sign. He might not have done so even then, but for certain impatient tappings 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, its 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 hawks eye of the ugly little man, who, perfectly understanding what passed in the old ladys mind, turned uglier still in the fullness of his satisfaction, and bade her good-morning, with a leer or triumph.
Why, Betsy, said the old woman, you havent been ayou dont mean to say youve 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.
Youre a brute! exclaimed Mrs Jiniwin.
Come come, said Quilp, wilfully misunderstanding her, of course, you mustnt call her names. Shes 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. Heres 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! Im 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 morningthe earlier the better, so be quick.
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