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Mr and Mrs Quilp resided on Tower Hill; and in her bower on
Tower Hill. Mrs Quilp was left to pine the absence of her lord, when
he quitted her on the business which he had already seen to transact.
Mr Quilp could scarcely be said to be of any particular trade or
calling, though his pursuits were diversified and his occupations
numerous. He collected the rents of whole colonies of filthy streets
and alleys by the waterside, advanced money to the seamen and petty
officers of merchant vessels, had a share in the ventures of divers
mates of East Indiamen, smoked his smuggled cigars under the very
nose of the Custom House, and made appointments on 'Change with
men in glazed hats and round jackets pretty well every day. On the
Surrey side of the river was a small rat-infested dreary yard called
'Quilp's Wharf,' in which were a little wooden counting-house
burrowing all awry in the dust as if it had fallen from the clouds and
ploughed into the ground; a few fragments of rusty anchors; several
large iron rings; some piles of rotten wood; and two or three heaps
of old sheet copper, crumpled, cracked, and battered. On Quilp's
Wharf, Daniel Quilp was a ship-breaker, yet to judge from these
appearances he must either have been a ship-breaker on a very small
scale, or have broken his ships up very small indeed. Neither did the
place present any extraordinary aspect of life or activity, as its only
human occupant was an amphibious boy in a canvas suit, whose sole
change of occupation was from sitting on the head of a pile and
throwing stones into the mud when the tide was out, to standing with
his hands in his pockets gazing listlessly on the motion and on the
bustle of the river at high-water.
The dwarf's lodging on Tower hill comprised, besides the needful
accommodation for himself and Mrs Quilp, a small sleeping-closet
for that lady's mother, who resided with the couple and waged
perpetual war with Daniel; of whom, notwithstanding, she stood in
no slight dread. Indeed, the ugly creature contrived by some means
or other--whether by his ugliness or his ferocity or his natural
cunning is no great matter--to impress with a wholesome fear of his
anger, most of those with whom he was brought into daily contact
and communication. Over nobody had he such complete ascendance
as Mrs Quilp herself--a pretty little, mild-spoken, blue-eyed woman,
who having allied herself in wedlock to the dwarf in one of those
strange infatuations of which examples are by no means scarce,
performed a sound practical penance for her folly, every day of her
It has been said that Mrs Quilp was pining in her bower. In her
bower she was, but not alone, for besides the old lady her mother of
whom mention has recently been made, there were present some
half-dozen ladies of the neighborhood who had happened by a
strange accident (and also by a little understanding among
themselves) to drop in one after another, just about tea-time. This
being a season favourable to conversation, and the room being a
cool, shady, lazy kind of place, with some plants at the open window
shutting out the dust, and interposing pleasantly enough between the
tea table within and the old Tower without, it is no wonder that the
ladies felt an inclination to talk and linger, especially when there are
taken into account the additional inducements of fresh butter, new
bread, shrimps, and watercresses.
Now, the ladies being together under these circumstances, it was
extremely natural that the discourse should turn upon the propensity
of mankind to tyrannize over the weaker sex, and the duty that
developed upon the weaker sex to resist that tyranny and assert their
rights and dignity. It was natural for four reasons: firstly, because
Mrs Quilp being a young woman and notoriously under the dominion
of her husband ought to be excited to rebel; secondly, because Mrs
Quilp's parent was known to be laudably shrewish in her disposition
and inclined to resist male authority; thirdly, because each visitor
wished to show for herself how superior she was in this respect to
the generality of her sex; and forthly, because the company being
accustomed to acandalise each other in pairs, were deprived of their
usual subject of conversation now that they were all assembled in
close friendship, and had consequently no better employment than to
attack the common enemy.
Moved by these considerations, a stout lady opened the proceedings
by inquiring, with an air of great concern and sympathy, how Mr
Quilp was; whereunto Mr Quilp's wife's mother replied sharply,
'Oh! He was well enough--nothing much was every the matter with
him--and ill weeds were sure to thrive.' All the ladies then sighed in
concert, shook their heads gravely, and looked at Mrs Quilp as a martyr.
'Ah!' said the spokeswoman, 'I wish you'd give her a little of your
advice, Mrs Jiniwin'--Mrs Quilp had been a Miss Jiniwin it should
be observed--'nobody knows better than you, ma'am, what us
women owe to ourselves.'
'Owe indeed, ma'am!' replied Mrs Jiniwin. 'When my poor husband,
her dear father, was alive, if he had ever venture'd a cross
word to me, I'd have--' The good old lady did not finish the
sentence, but she twisted off the head of a shrimp with a
vindictiveness which seemed to imply that the action was in some
degree a substitute for words. In this light it was clearly understood
by the other party, who immediately replied with great approbation,
'You quite enter into my feelings, ma'am, and it's jist what I'd do
'But you have no call to do it,' said Mrs Jiniwin. 'Luckily for you,
you have no more occasion to do it than I had.'
'No woman need have, if she was true to herself,' rejoined the stout
'Do you hear that, Betsy?' said Mrs Jiniwin, in a warning voice.
'How often have I said the same words to you, and almost gone
down my knees when I spoke 'em!'
Poor Mrs Quilp, who had looked in a state of helplessness from one
face of condolence to another, coloured, smiled, and shook her head
doubtfully. This was the signal for a general clamour, which
beginning in a low murmur gradually swelled into a great noise in
which everybody spoke at once, and all said that she being a young
woman had no right to set up her opinions against the experiences of
those who knew so much better; that it was very wrong of her not to
take the advice of people who had nothing at heart but her good; that
it was next door to being downright ungrateful to conduct herself in
that manner; that if she had no respect for herself she ought to have
some for other women, all of whom she compromised by her
meekness; and that if she had no respect for other women, the time
would come when other women would have no respect for her; and
she would be very sorry for that, they could tell her. Having dealt
out these admonitions, the ladies fell to a more powerful assault than
they had yet made upon the mixed tea, new bread, fresh butter,
shrimps, and watercresses, and said that their vexation was so great
to see her going on like that, that they could hardly bring themselves
to eat a single morsel.
It's all very fine to talk,' said Mrs Quilp with much simplicity, 'but I
know that if I was to die to-morrow, Quilp could marry anybody he
pleased--now that he could, I know!'
There was quite a scream of indignation at this idea. Marry whom he
pleased! They would like to see him dare to think of marrying any of
them; they would like to see the faintest approach to such a thing.
One lady (a widow) was quite certain she should stab him if he
hinted at it.
'Very well,' said Mrs Quilp, nodding her head, 'as I said just now,
it's very easy to talk, but I say again that I know--that I'm sure--Quilp
has such a way with
him when he likes, that the best looking
woman here couldn't refuse him if I was dead, and she was free, and
he chose to make love to him. Come!'
Everybody bridled up at this remark, as much as to say, 'I know you
mean me. Let him try--that's all.' and yet for some hidden reason
they were all angry with the widow, and each lady whispered in her
neighbour's ear that it was very plain that said widow thought herself
the person referred to, and what a puss she was!
'Mother knows,' said Mrs Quilp, 'that what I say is quite correct,
for she often said so before we were married. Didn't you say so,
This inquiry involved the respected lady in rather a delicate position,
for she certainly had been an active party in making her daughter
Mrs Quilp, and, besides, it was not supporting the family credit to
encourage the idea that she had married a man whom nobody else
would have. On the other hand, to exaggerate the captivating
qualities of her son-in-law would be to weaken the cause of revolt, in
which all her energies were deeply engaged. Beset by these opposing
considerations, Mrs Jiniwin admitted the powers of insinuation, but
denied the right to govern, and with a timely compliment to the stout
lady brought back the discussion to the point from which it had
'Oh! It's a sensible and proper thing indeed, what Mrs George has
said,!' exclaimed the old lady. 'If women are only true to
themselves!--But Betsy isn't, and more's the shame and pity.'
'Before I'd let a man order me about as Quilp orders her,' said Mrs
George, 'before I'd consent to stand in awe of a man as she does of
him, I'd--I'd kill myself, and write a letter first to say he did it!'
This remark being loudly commended and approved of, another lady
(from the Minories) put in her word:
'Mr Quilp may be a very nice man,' said this lady, 'and I supposed
there's no doubt he is, because Mrs Quilp says he is, and Mrs
Jiniwin says he is, and they ought to know, or nobody does. But still
he is not quite a--what one calls a handsome man, nor quite a young
man neither, which might be a little excuse for him if anything could
be; whereas his wife is young, and is good-looking, and is a woman--which
is the greatest
thing after all.'
This last clause being delivered with extraordinary pathos, elicited a
corresponding murmer from the hearers, stimulated by which the
lady went on to remark that if such a husband was cross and
unreasonable with such a wife, then--
'If he is!' interposed the mother, putting down her tea-cup and
brushing the crumbs out of her lap, preparatory to making a solemn
declaration. 'If he is! He is the greatest tyrant that every lived, she
daren't call her soul her own, he makes her tremble with a word and
even with a look, he frightens her to death, and she hasn't the spirit
to give him a word back, no, not a single word.'
Notwithstanding that the fact had been notorious beforehand to all
the tea-drinkers, and had been discussed and expatiated on at every
tea-drinking in the neighbourhood for the last twelve months, this
official communication was no sooner made than they all began to
talk at once and to vie with each other in vehemence and volubility.
Mrs George remarked that people would talk, that people had often
said this to her before, that Mrs Simmons then and there present had
told her so twenty times, that she had always said, 'No, Henrietta
Simmons, unless I see it with my own eyes and hear it with my own
ears, I never will believe it.' Mrs Simmons corroborated this
testimony and added strong evidence of her own. The lady from the
Minories recounted a successful course of treatment under which she
had placed her own husband, who, from manifesting one month after
marriage unequivocal symptoms of the tiger, had by this means
become subdued into a perfect lamb. Another lady recounted her
own personal struggle and final triumph, in the course whereof she
had found it necessary to call in her mother and two aunts, and to
weep incessantly night and day for six weeks. A third, who in the
general confusion could secure no other listener, fastened herself
upon a young woman still unmarried who happened to be amongst
them, and conjured her, as she valued her own peace of mind and
happiness to profit by this solemn occasion, to take example from the
weakness of Mrs Quilp, and from that time forth to direct her whole
thoughts to taming and subduing the rebellious spirit of man. The
noise was at its height, and half the company had elevated their
voices into a perfect shriek in order to drown the voices of the other
half, when Mrs Jiniwin was seen to change colour and shake her
forefinger stealthily, as if exhorting them to silence. Then, and not
until then, Daniel Quilp himself, the cause and occasion of all this
clamour, was observed to be in the room, looking on and listening
with profound attention.
'Go on, ladies, go on,' said Daniel. 'Mrs Quilp, pray ask the ladies
to stop to supper, and have a couple of lobsters and something light
'I--I--didn't ask them to tea, Quilp,' stammered his wife. It's quite an
'So much the better, Mrs Quilp; these accidental parties are always
the pleasantest,' said the dwarf, rubbing his hands so hard that he
seemed to be engaged in manufacturing, of the dirt with which they
were encrusted, little charges for popguns. 'What! Not going, ladies,
you are not going, surely!'
His fair enemies tossed their heads slightly as they sought their
respective bonnets and shawls, but left all verbal contention to Mrs
Jiniwin, who finding herself in the position of champion, made a
faint struggle to sustain the character.
'And why not stop to supper, Quilp,' said the old lady, 'if my
daughter had a mind?'
'To be sure,' rejoined Daniel. 'Why not?'
'There's nothing dishonest or wrong in a supper, I hope?' said Mrs
'Surely not,' returned the dwarf. 'Why should there be? Nor
anything unwholesome, either, unless there's lobster-salad or
prawns, which I'm told are not good for digestion.'
'And you wouldn't like your wife to be attacked with that, or
anything else that would make her uneasy would you?' said Mrs
'Not for a score of worlds,' replied the dwarf with a grin. 'Not even
to have a score of mothers-in-law at the same time--and what a
blessing that would be!'
'My daughter's your wife, Mr Quilp, certainly,' said the old lady
with a giggle, meant for satirical and to imply that he needed to be
reminded of the fact; 'your wedded wife.'
'So she is, certainly. So she is,' observed the dwarf.
'And she has has a right to do as she likes, I hope, Quilp,' said the
old lady trembling, partly with anger and partly with a secret fear of
her impish son-in-law.
'Hope she has!' he replied. 'Oh! Don't you know she has? Don't you
know she has, Mrs Jiniwin?
'I know she ought to have, Quilp, and would have, if she was of my
way of thiniking.'
'Why an't you of your mother's way of thinking, my dear?' said the
dwarf, turing round and addressing his wife, 'why don't you always
imitate your mother, my dear? She's the ornament of her sex--your
father said so every day of his life. I am sure he did.'
'Her father was a blessed creetur, Quilp, and worthy twenty
thousand of some people,' said Mrs Jiniwin; 'twenty hundred million
'I should like to have known him,' remarked the dwarf. 'I dare say
he was a blessed creature then; but I'm sure he is now. It was a
happy release. I believe he had suffered a long time?'
The old lady gave a gasp, but nothing came of it; Quilp resumed,
with the same malice in his eye and the same sarcastic politeness on
'You look ill, Mrs Jiniwin; I know you have been exciting yourself
too much--talking perhaps, for it is your weakness. Go to bed. Do go
'I shall go when I please, Quilp, and not before.'
'But please to do now. Do please to go now,' said the dwarf.
The old woman looked angrily at him, but retreated as he advanced,
and falling back before him, suffered him to shut the door upon her
and bolt her out among the guests, who were by this time crowding
downstairs. Being left along with his wife, who sat trembling in a
corner with her eyes fixed upon the ground, the little man planted
himself before her, and folding his arms looked steadily at her for a
long time without speaking.
'Mrs Quilp,' he said at last.
'Yes, Quilp,' she replead meekly.
Instead of pursing the theme he had in his mind, Quilp folded his
arms again, and looked at her more sternly than before, while she
averted her eyes and kept them on the ground.
'If ever you listen to these beldames again, I'll bite you.'
With this laconic threat, which he accompanied with a snarl that gave
him the appearance of being particularly in earnest, Mr Quilp bade
her clear the teaboard away, and bring the rum. The spirit being set
before him in a huge case-bottle, which had originally come out of
some ship's locker, he settled himself in an arm-chair with his large
head and face squeezed up against the back, and his little legs planted
on the table.
'Now, Mrs Quilp,' he said; 'I feel in a smoking humour, and shall
probably blaze away all night. But sit where you are, if you please,
in case I want you.'
His wife returned no other reply than the necessary 'Yes, Quilp,' and
the small lord of the creation took his first cigar and mixed his first
glass of grog. The sun went down and the stars peeped out, the
Tower turned from its own proper colours to grey and from grey to
black, the room became perfectly dark and the end of the cigar a
deep fiery red, but still Mr Quilp went on smoking and drinking in
the same position, and staring listlessly out of window with the
doglike smile always on his face, save when Mrs Quilp made some
involuntary movement of restlessness or fatigue; and then it
expanded into a grin of delight.