Chapter 62

A FAINT LIGHT, twinkling from the window of the counting-house on Quilp’s wharf, and looking inflamed and red through the night-fog, as though it suffered from it like an eye, forewarned Mr Sampson Brass, as he approached the wooden cabin with a cautious step, that the excellent proprietor, his esteemed client, was inside, and probably waiting with his accustomed patience and sweetness of temper the fulfilment of the appointment which now brought Mr Brass within his fair domain.

‘A treacherous place to pick one’s steps in of a dark night,’ muttered Sampson, as he stumbled for the twentieth time over some stray lumber, and limped in pain. ‘I believe that boy strews the ground differently every clay, on purpose to bruise and maim one; unless his master does it with his own hands, which is more than likely. I hate to come to this place without Sally. She’s more protection than a dozen men.’

As he paid this compliment to the merit of the absent charmer, Mr Brass came to a halt; looking doubtfully towards the light, and over his shoulder.

‘What’s he about, I wonder?’ murmured the lawyer, standing on tiptoe, and endeavouring to obtain a glimpse of what was passing inside, which at that distance was impossible—‘drinking, I suppose,—making himself more fiery and furious, and heating his malice and mischievousness till they boil. I’m always afraid to come here by myself, when his account’s a pretty large one. I don’t believe he’d mind throttling me, and dropping me softly into the river when the tide was at its strongest, any more than he’d mind killing a rat—indeed I don’t know whether he wouldn’t consider it a pleasant joke. Hark! Now he’s singing!’

Mr Quilp was certainly entertaining himself with vocal exercise, but it was rather a kind of chant than a song; being a monotonous repetition of one sentence in a very rapid manner, with a long stress upon the last word, which he swelled into a dismal roar. Nor did the burden of this performance bear any reference to love, or war, or wine, or loyalty, or any other, the standard topics of song, but to a subject not often set to music or generally known in ballads; the words being these:—‘The worthy magistrate, after remarking that the prisoner would find some difficulty in persuading a jury to believe his tale, committed him to take his trial at the approaching sessions; and directed the customary recognisances to be entered into for the pros-e-cu-tion.’

Every time he came to this concluding word, and had exhausted all possible stress upon it, Quilp burst into a shriek of laughter, and began again.

‘He’s dreadfully imprudent,’ muttered Brass, after he had listened to two or three repetitions of the chant. ‘Horribly imprudent. I wish he was dumb. I wish he was deaf. I wish he was blind. Hang him,’ cried Brass, as the chant began again, ‘I wish he was dead!’

Giving utterance to these friendly aspirations in behalf of his client, Mr Sampson composed his face into its usual state of smoothness, and waiting until the shriek came again and was dying away, went up to the wooden house, and knocked at the door.

‘Come in!’ cried the dwarf.

‘How do you do tonight Sir?’ said Sampson, peeping in. ‘Ha ha ha! How do you do, Sir? Oh dear me, how very whimsical! Amazingly whimsical to be sure!’

‘Come in, you fool!’ returned the dwarf, ‘and don’t stand there shaking your head and showing your teeth. Come in, you false witness, you perjurer, you suborner of evidence, come in!’

‘He has the richest humour!’ cried Brass, shutting the door behind him; ‘the most amazing vein of comicality! But isn’t it rather injudicious, Sir—?’

‘What?’ demanded Quilp., ‘What, Judas?’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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