فصل 04

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فصل 04

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Chapter four

Quilp Uncovers a Secret

Mr Quilp did not have one particular job, but he did all sorts of different things for money. He collected the rent for whole areas of dirty streets near the river Thames, he lent money to sailors and he kept his eyes open for new (and sometimes illegal) business opportunities. He lived in Tower Hill, near the London docks, but he also had a small yard full of rats called ‘Quilp’s Wharf’ not far away on the south side of the river Thames. It was a boatyard, but Quilp never seemed to buy or sell any boats there. He just used the old wooden building as a place to secretly keep and count all of his money.

Nell’s grandfather often asked her to come to this frightening, dangerous and far-away place. He would ask her to deliver letters to Quilp. Today Nell, who was very tired and worried, had brought another of those letters. When she arrived at the boatyard the first thing she saw was Mr Quilp and the young, untidy-looking boy who worked for him. They were fighting in the yard. Quilp was shouting and then suddenly laughing loudly, and all the while he was hitting the boy hard with a large stick. At last the boy managed to pull away from his ugly master for a moment. It was then that Quilp noticed Nell standing nearby.

‘Oh, Nelly!’ he cried.

‘Yes,’ said the child uncertainly.

‘Come in. Don’t worry about the boy,’ said Quilp, walking with Nell into the counting-house.

‘I’ve brought an important letter from my grandfather,’ Nell explained and handed the ugly little man the letter. Quilp, without saying a word, opened it and began to read.

Quilp shook his head and said to himself, ‘It’s all gone already? In just twenty-four hours! What on earth has he done with it? That is the mystery!’

Nell was uncomfortable and wanted to leave as soon as she could. A few moments passed during which nothing was said, but Quilp rubbed his hands together and scratched his head.

‘You’ve brought a lot of these letters to me recently, haven’t you, Nell?’ Quilp said coldly. ‘Have you asked your grandfather why you have to bring them?’

‘Yes, I’ve asked him a hundred times, but he won’t tell me,’ replied Nell. ‘It breaks my heart. He just shakes his head and looks sad.’

‘But he hasn’t always been such a sad old man, has he?’ said Quilp unkindly.

‘Oh, no!’ said the child quickly. ‘We were once so happy and he was so cheerful! But that has all changed since he…’ and she stopped, unsure that she should tell him anymore.

‘Yes?’ said Mr Quilp in a suddenly gentler voice. ‘Since he…?’

‘I… I… don’t know,’ replied Nell.

‘Come now, Nell, you can tell me anything! In fact, I won’t let you go until you tell me. So, since he…?’ he repeated.

‘Well, since he started going out all night, every night,’ finished Nell. ‘I don’t know where he goes. He has no sleep or rest, apart from in his chair during the day.’

Quilp said nothing, but simply nodded his head. He wanted her to say more.

‘When he comes home early in the morning,’ continued the child, ‘I let him in. This morning I saw that his face was white and he looked ill. And later, when he didn’t know I was in the room, I heard him say that he couldn’t bear his life anymore. He said, ‘I can’t believe how unlucky I’ve been with the cards I’ve been dealt.’ And then he said, ‘If I didn’t have young Nell, I would wish to die.’ Oh! What will I do?’

Then the child hid her face in her hands and started to cry.

Quilp looked about him as if he was deep in thought. He stared at Nell, then reached out and put his hand heavily on her shoulder. Nell immediately stopped crying and moved quickly away from him.

‘I have been away too long, sir. I have to go now,’ said Nell, drying her eyes.

Mr Quilp went to his desk and started to write. Then he turned to Nell and said, ‘Take this note to him. It’s only to say that I will see him tomorrow, and that I couldn’t do what he has asked me to do in his letter. Goodbye, Nelly.’

Mr Quilp waited for two days before he went to see the old man in The Old Curiosity Shop. When he went inside he found Nell’s grandfather alone in the shop.

‘At last!’ cried the old man. ‘Have you brought me any money?’

‘No, never again!’ answered Quilp.

‘Then,’ said the old man, standing up from his chair, ‘Nell and I have no hope!’

‘Listen to me,’ said Quilp, beating his hand on the table. ‘You have no secret from me now.’

The old man stared at Quilp with fear in his eyes.

‘I now know what has happened to all that money I have lent you,’ Quilp said. ‘Every night, you’ve been going out with my money and gambling with it, haven’t you? Was that your secret plan - to make your fortune by playing cards?’

‘Yes!’ cried the old man.

‘And I thought that you were investing my money carefully in some clever business opportunity! I have been tricked by a gambler!’ said Quilp, looking at him in anger.

‘I’m not a gambler,’ cried the old man. ‘I’ve never played cards to make money for myself, or because I love gambling. I’ve only done it to try and save Nell.’

‘So,’ said Quilp, ‘I suppose that you spent all your money first and then you came to me for some more. While you said you were making yourself rich, you were actually making yourself a beggar, eh? Dear me! And of course I hold every security you were able to give me - including the letter which says that this building and everything in it now belongs to me.’ As he said this, Quilp looked around him, as if to make sure that none of it had been taken away.

‘I’ve had some bad luck,’ said the old man. ‘But with a little more money my luck will change. It must change! Help me, please, or at least help Nell.’

‘I’m sorry, but I’ve got another business appointment,’ said Quilp calmly, looking at his watch. ‘If I hadn’t unexpectedly heard about your gambling secret, perhaps I would have lent you more money. But not now.’

‘Who was it that told you?’ asked the old man.

Quilp simply replied, ‘Who do you think it was?’

After a moment’s thought the old man said, ‘It was Kit. Yes, it must have been him.’

Mr Quilp said brightly, ‘Yes, it was Kit. Poor Kit!’ And then he turned, walked to the door and left.

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