‘Judas!’ cried Brass. ‘He has such extraordinary spirits! His humour is so extremely playful! Judas! Oh yes—dear me, how very good! Ha ha ha!’

All this time, Sampson was rubbing his hands, and staring, with ludicrous surprise and dismay, at a great, goggle-eyed, blunt-nosed figure-head of some old ship, which was reared up against the wall in a corner near the stove, looking like a goblin or hideous idol whom the dwarf worshipped. A mass of timber on its head, carved into the dim and distant semblance of a cocked hat, together with a representation of a star on the left breast and epaulettes on the shoulders, denoted that it was intended for the effigy of some famous admiral; but, without those helps, any observer might have supposed it the authentic portrait of a distinguished merman, or great sea-monster. Being originally much too large for the apartment which it was now employed to decorate, it had been sawn short off at the waist. Even in this state it reached from floor to ceiling; and thrusting itself forward with that excessively wide-awake aspect, and air of somewhat obtrusive politeness, by which figure-heads are usually characterised, seemed to reduce everything else to mere pigmy proportions.

‘Do you know it?’ said the dwarf, watching Sampson’s eyes. ‘Do you see the likeness?’

‘Eh?’ said Brass, holding his head on one side, and throwing it a little back, as connoisseurs do. ‘Now I look at it again, I fancy I see a—yes, there certainly is something in the smile that reminds me of—and yet upon my word I—’

Now, the fact was, that Sampson, having never seen anything in the smallest degree resembling this substantial phantom, was much perplexed; being uncertain whether Mr Quilp considered it like himself, and had therefore bought it for a family portrait; or whether he was pleased to consider it as the likeness of some enemy. He was not very long in doubt; for, while he was surveying it with that knowing look which people assume when they are contemplating for the first time portraits which they ought to recognise but don’t, the dwarf threw down the newspaper from which he had been chanting the words already quoted, and seizing a rusty iron bar, which he used in lieu of poker, dealt the figure such a stroke on the nose that it rocked again.

‘Is it like Kit—is it his picture, his image, his very self?’ cried the dwarf, aiming a shower of blows at the insensible countenance, and covering it with deep dimples. ‘Is it the exact model and counterpart of the dog—is it—is it—is it?’ And with every repetition of the question, he battered the great image until the perspiration streamed down his face with the violence of the exercise.

Although this might have been a very comical thing to look at from a secure gallery, as a bull-fight is found to be a comfortable spectacle by those who are not in the arena, and a house on fire is better than a play to people who don’t live near it, there was something in the earnestness of Mr Quilp’s manner which made his legal adviser feel that the counting-house was a little too small, and a great deal too lonely, for the due enjoyment of these humours. Therefore he stood as far off as he could while the dwarf was thus engaged; whimpering out but feeble applause, and when he left off and sat down again from pure exhaustion, approached with more obsequiousness than ever.

‘Excellent indeed!’ cried Brass. ‘He he! Oh, very good, Sir. You know,’ said Sampson, looking round as if in appeal to the bruised animal, ‘he’s quite a remarkable man—quite!’

‘Sit down,’ said the dwarf. ‘I bought the dog yesterday. I’ve been screwing gimlets into him, and sticking forks in his eyes, and cutting my name on him. I mean to burn him at last.’

‘Ha ha!’ cried Brass. ‘Extremely entertaining, indeed!’

‘Come here!’ said Quilp, beckoning him to draw near. ‘What’s injudicious, hey?’

‘Nothing, Sir—nothing. Scarcely worth mentioning, Sir; but I thought that song—admirably humorous in itself you know—was perhaps rather—’

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