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Martin Chuzzlewit

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CHAPTER FORTY-SIX. IN WHICH MISS PECKSNIFF MAKES LOVE, MR JONAS MAKES WRATH, MRS GAMP MAKES TEA, AND MR CHUFFEY MAKES BUSINESS


On the next day’s official duties coming to a close, Tom hurried home without losing any time by the way; and after dinner and a short rest sallied out again, accompanied by Ruth, to pay his projected visit to Todgers’s. Tom took Ruth with him, not only because it was a great pleasure to him to have her for his companion whenever he could, but because he wished her to cherish and comfort poor Merry; which she, for her own part (having heard the wretched history of that young wife from Tom), was all eagerness to do.

‘She was so glad to see me,’ said Tom, ‘that I am sure she will be glad to see you. Your sympathy is certain to be much more delicate and acceptable than mine.’

‘I am very far from being certain of that, Tom,’ she replied; ‘and indeed you do yourself an injustice. Indeed you do. But I hope she may like me, Tom.’

‘Oh, she is sure to do that!’ cried Tom, confidently.

‘What a number of friends I should have, if everybody was of your way of thinking. Shouldn’t I, Tom, dear?’ said his little sister pinching him upon the cheek.

Tom laughed, and said that with reference to this particular case he had no doubt at all of finding a disciple in Merry. ‘For you women,’ said Tom, ‘you women, my dear, are so kind, and in your kindness have such nice perception; you know so well how to be affectionate and full of solicitude without appearing to be; your gentleness of feeling is like your touch so light and easy, that the one enables you to deal with wounds of the mind as tenderly as the other enables you to deal with wounds of the body. You are such—’

‘My goodness, Tom!’ his sister interposed. ‘You ought to fall in love immediately.’

Tom put this observation off good humouredly, but somewhat gravely too; and they were soon very chatty again on some other subject.

As they were passing through a street in the City, not very far from Mrs Todgers’s place of residence, Ruth checked Tom before the window of a large Upholstery and Furniture Warehouse, to call his attention to something very magnificent and ingenious, displayed there to the best advantage, for the admiration and temptation of the public. Tom had hazarded some most erroneous and extravagantly wrong guess in relation to the price of this article, and had joined his sister in laughing heartily at his mistake, when he pressed her arm in his, and pointed to two persons at a little distance, who were looking in at the same window with a deep interest in the chests of drawers and tables.

‘Hush!’ Tom whispered. ‘Miss Pecksniff, and the young gentleman to whom she is going to be married.’

‘Why does he look as if he was going to be buried, Tom?’ inquired his little sister.

‘Why, he is naturally a dismal young gentleman, I believe,’ said Tom ‘but he is very civil and inoffensive.’

‘I suppose they are furnishing their house,’ whispered Ruth.

‘Yes, I suppose they are,’ replied Tom. ‘We had better avoid speaking to them.’

They could not very well avoid looking at them, however, especially as some obstruction on the pavement, at a little distance, happened to detain them where they were for a few moments. Miss Pecksniff had quite the air of having taken the unhappy Moddle captive, and brought him up to the contemplation of the furniture like a lamb to the altar. He offered no resistance, but was perfectly resigned and quiet. The melancholy depicted in the turn of his languishing head, and in his dejected attitude, was extreme; and though there was a full-sized four-post bedstead in the window, such a tear stood trembling in his eye as seemed to blot it out.

‘Augustus, my love,’ said Miss Pecksniff, ‘ask the price of the eight rosewood chairs, and the loo table.’

‘Perhaps they are ordered already,’ said Augustus. ‘Perhaps they are Another’s.’

‘They can make more like them, if they are,’ rejoined Miss Pecksniff.

‘No, no, they can’t,’ said Moddle. ‘It’s impossible!’

He appeared, for the moment, to be quite overwhelmed and stupefied by the prospect of his approaching happiness; but recovering, entered the shop. He returned immediately, saying in a tone of despair

‘Twenty-four pound ten!’

Miss Pecksniff, turning to receive this announcement, became conscious of the observation of Tom Pinch and his sister.

‘Oh, really!’ cried Miss Pecksniff, glancing about her, as if for some convenient means of sinking into the earth. ‘Upon my word, I—there never was such a—to think that one should be so very—Mr Augustus Moddle, Miss Pinch!’

Miss Pecksniff was quite gracious to Miss Pinch in this triumphant introduction; exceedingly gracious. She was more than gracious; she was kind and cordial. Whether the recollection of the old service Tom had rendered her in knocking Mr Jonas on the head had wrought this change in her opinions; or whether her separation from her parent had reconciled her to all human-kind, or to all that interesting portion of human-kind which was not friendly to him; or whether the delight of having some new female acquaintance to whom to communicate her interesting prospects was paramount to every other consideration; cordial and kind Miss Pecksniff was. And twice Miss Pecksniff kissed Miss Pinch upon the cheek.

‘Augustus—Mr Pinch, you know. My dear girl!’ said Miss Pecksniff, aside. ‘I never was so ashamed in my life.’

Ruth begged her not to think of it.

‘I mind your brother less than anybody else,’ simpered Miss Pecksniff. ‘But the indelicacy of meeting any gentleman under such circumstances! Augustus, my child, did you—’

Here Miss Pecksniff whispered in his ear. The suffering Moddle repeated:

‘Twenty-four pound ten!’

‘Oh, you silly man! I don’t mean them,’ said Miss Pecksniff. ‘I am speaking of the—’

Here she whispered him again.

‘If it’s the same patterned chintz as that in the window; thirty-two, twelve, six,’ said Moddle, with a sigh. ‘And very dear.’

Miss Pecksniff stopped him from giving any further explanation by laying her hand upon his lips, and betraying a soft embarrassment. She then asked Tom Pinch which way he was going.

‘I was going to see if I could find your sister,’ answered Tom, ‘to whom I wished to say a few words. We were going to Mrs Todgers’s, where I had the pleasure of seeing her before.’

‘It’s of no use your going on, then,’ said Cherry, ‘for we have not long left there; and I know she is not at home. But I’ll take you to my sister’s house, if you please. Augustus—Mr Moddle, I mean—and myself, are on our way to tea there, now. You needn’t think of him,’ she added, nodding her head as she observed some hesitation on Tom’s part. ‘He is not at home.’

‘Are you sure?’ asked Tom.

‘Oh, I am quite sure of that. I don’t want any more revenge,’ said Miss Pecksniff, expressively. ‘But, really, I must beg you two gentlemen to walk on, and allow me to follow with Miss Pinch. My dear, I never was so taken by surprise!’

In furtherance of this bashful arrangement, Moddle gave his arm to Tom; and Miss Pecksniff linked her own in Ruth’s.

‘Of course, my love,’ said Miss Pecksniff, ‘it would be useless for me to disguise, after what you have seen, that I am about to be united to the gentleman who is walking with your brother. It would be in vain to conceal it. What do you think of him? Pray, let me have your candid opinion.’

Ruth intimated that, as far as she could judge, he was a very eligible swain.

‘I am curious to know,’ said Miss Pecksniff, with loquacious frankness, ‘whether you have observed, or fancied, in this very short space of time, that he is of a rather melancholy turn?’

‘So very short a time,’ Ruth pleaded.

‘No, no; but don’t let that interfere with your answer,’ returned Miss Pecksniff. ‘I am curious to hear what you say.’

Ruth acknowledged that he had impressed her at first sight as looking ‘rather low.’

‘No, really?’ said Miss Pecksniff. ‘Well! that is quite remarkable! Everybody says the same. Mrs Todgers says the same; and Augustus informs me that it is quite a joke among the gentlemen in the house. Indeed, but for the positive commands I have laid upon him, I believe it would have been the occasion of loaded fire-arms being resorted to more than once. What do you think is the cause of his appearance of depression?’

Ruth thought of several things; such as his digestion, his tailor, his mother, and the like. But hesitating to give utterance to any one of them, she refrained from expressing an opinion.

‘My dear,’ said Miss Pecksniff; ‘I shouldn’t wish it to be known, but I don’t mind mentioning it to you, having known your brother for so many years—I refused Augustus three times. He is of a most amiable and sensitive nature, always ready to shed tears if you look at him, which is extremely charming; and he has never recovered the effect of that cruelty. For it was cruel,’ said Miss Pecksniff, with a self-conviction candour that might have adorned the diadem of her own papa. ‘There is no doubt of it. I look back upon my conduct now with blushes. I always liked him. I felt that he was not to me what the crowd of young men who had made proposals had been, but something very different. Then what right had I to refuse him three times?’

‘It was a severe trial of his fidelity, no doubt,’ said Ruth.

‘My dear,’ returned Miss Pecksniff. ‘It was wrong. But such is the caprice and thoughtlessness of our sex! Let me be a warning to you. Don’t try the feelings of any one who makes you an offer, as I have tried the feelings of Augustus; but if you ever feel towards a person as I really felt towards him, at the very time when I was driving him to distraction, let that feeling find expression, if that person throws himself at your feet, as Augustus Moddle did at mine. Think,’ said Miss Pecksniff, ‘what my feelings would have been, if I had goaded him to suicide, and it had got into the papers!’

Ruth observed that she would have been full of remorse, no doubt.

‘Remorse!’ cried Miss Pecksniff, in a sort of snug and comfortable penitence. ‘What my remorse is at this moment, even after making reparation by accepting him, it would be impossible to tell you! Looking back upon my giddy self, my dear, now that I am sobered down and made thoughtful, by treading on the very brink of matrimony; and contemplating myself as I was when I was like what you are now; I shudder. I shudder. What is the consequence of my past conduct? Until Augustus leads me to the altar he is not sure of me. I have blighted and withered the affections of his heart to that extent that he is not sure of me. I see that preying on his mind and feeding on his vitals. What are the reproaches of my conscience, when I see this in the man I love!’

Ruth endeavoured to express some sense of her unbounded and flattering confidence; and presumed that she was going to be married soon.

‘Very soon indeed,’ returned Miss Pecksniff. ‘As soon as our house is ready. We are furnishing now as fast as we can.’

In the same vein of confidence Miss Pecksniff ran through a general inventory of the articles that were already bought with the articles that remained to be purchased; what garments she intended to be married in, and where the ceremony was to be performed; and gave Miss Pinch, in short (as she told her), early and exclusive information on all points of interest connected with the event.

While this was going forward in the rear, Tom and Mr Moddle walked on, arm in arm, in the front, in a state of profound silence, which Tom at last broke; after thinking for a long time what he could say that should refer to an indifferent topic, in respect of which he might rely, with some degree of certainty, on Mr Moddle’s bosom being unruffled.

‘I wonder,’ said Tom, ‘that in these crowded streets the foot-passengers are not oftener run over.’

Mr Moddle, with a dark look, replied:

‘The drivers won’t do it.’

‘Do you mean?’ Tom began—

‘That there are some men,’ interrupted Moddle, with a hollow laugh, ‘who can’t get run over. They live a charmed life. Coal waggons recoil from them, and even cabs refuse to run them down. Ah!’ said Augustus, marking Tom’s astonishment. ‘There are such men. One of ‘em is a friend of mine.’

‘Upon my word and honour,’ thought Tom, ‘this young gentleman is in a state of mind which is very serious indeed!’ Abandoning all idea of conversation, he did not venture to say another word, but he was careful to keep a tight hold upon Augustus’s arm, lest he should fly into the road, and making another and a more successful attempt, should get up a private little Juggernaut before the eyes of his betrothed. Tom was so afraid of his committing this rash act, that he had scarcely ever experienced such mental relief as when they arrived in safety at Mrs Jonas Chuzzlewit’s house.

‘Walk up, pray, Mr Pinch,’ said Miss Pecksniff. For Tom halted, irresolutely, at the door.

‘I am doubtful whether I should be welcome,’ replied Tom, ‘or, I ought rather to say, I have no doubt about it. I will send up a message, I think.’

‘But what nonsense that is!’ returned Miss Pecksniff, speaking apart to Tom. ‘He is not at home, I am certain. I know he is not; and Merry hasn’t the least idea that you ever—’

‘No,’ interrupted Tom. ‘Nor would I have her know it, on any account. I am not so proud of that scuffle, I assure you.’

‘Ah, but then you are so modest, you see,’ returned Miss Pecksniff, with a smile. ‘But pray walk up. If you don’t wish her to know it, and do wish to speak to her, pray walk up. Pray walk up, Miss Pinch. Don’t stand here.’

Tom still hesitated for he felt that he was in an awkward position. But Cherry passing him at this juncture, and leading his sister upstairs, and the house-door being at the same time shut behind them, he followed without quite knowing whether it was well or ill-judged so to do.

‘Merry, my darling!’ said the fair Miss Pecksniff, opening the door of the usual sitting-room. ‘Here are Mr Pinch and his sister come to see you! I thought we should find you here, Mrs Todgers! How do you do, Mrs Gamp? And how do you do, Mr Chuffey, though it’s of no use asking you the question, I am well aware.’

Honouring each of these parties, as she severally addressed them, with an acid smile, Miss Charity presented ‘Mr Moddle.’

‘I believe you have seen him before,’ she pleasantly observed. ‘Augustus, my sweet child, bring me a chair.’

The sweet child did as he was told; and was then about to retire into a corner to mourn in secret, when Miss Charity, calling him in an audible whisper a ‘little pet,’ gave him leave to come and sit beside her. It is to be hoped, for the general cheerfulness of mankind, that such a doleful little pet was never seen as Mr Moddle looked when he complied. So despondent was his temper, that he showed no outward thrill of ecstasy when Miss Pecksniff placed her lily hand in his, and concealed this mark of her favour from the vulgar gaze by covering it with a corner of her shawl. Indeed, he was infinitely more rueful then than he had been before; and, sitting uncomfortably upright in his chair, surveyed the company with watery eyes, which seemed to say, without the aid of language, ‘Oh, good gracious! look here! Won’t some kind Christian help me!’

But the ecstasies of Mrs Gamp were sufficient to have furnished forth a score of young lovers; and they were chiefly awakened by the sight of Tom Pinch and his sister. Mrs Gamp was a lady of that happy temperament which can be ecstatic without any other stimulating cause than a general desire to establish a large and profitable connection. She added daily so many strings to her bow, that she made a perfect harp of it; and upon that instrument she now began to perform an extemporaneous concerto.

‘Why, goodness me!’ she said, ‘Mrs Chuzzlewit! To think as I should see beneath this blessed ‘ouse, which well I know it, Miss Pecksniff, my sweet young lady, to be a ‘ouse as there is not a many like, worse luck, and wishin’ it were not so, which then this tearful walley would be changed into a flowerin’ guardian, Mr Chuffey; to think as I should see beneath this indiwidgle roof, identically comin’, Mr Pinch (I take the liberty, though almost unbeknown), and do assure you of it, sir, the smilinest and sweetest face as ever, Mrs Chuzzlewit, I see exceptin’ yourn, my dear good lady, and your good lady’s too, sir, Mr Moddle, if I may make so bold as speak so plain of what is plain enough to them as needn’t look through millstones, Mrs Todgers, to find out wot is wrote upon the wall behind. Which no offence is meant, ladies and gentlemen; none bein’ took, I hope. To think as I should see that smilinest and sweetest face which me and another friend of mine, took notice of among the packages down London Bridge, in this promiscous place, is a surprige in-deed!’

Having contrived, in this happy manner, to invest every member of her audience with an individual share and immediate personal interest in her address, Mrs Gamp dropped several curtseys to Ruth, and smilingly shaking her head a great many times, pursued the thread of her discourse:

‘Now, ain’t we rich in beauty this here joyful arternoon, I’m sure. I knows a lady, which her name, I’ll not deceive you, Mrs Chuzzlewit, is Harris, her husband’s brother bein’ six foot three, and marked with a mad bull in Wellington boots upon his left arm, on account of his precious mother havin’ been worrited by one into a shoemaker’s shop, when in a sitiwation which blessed is the man as has his quiver full of sech, as many times I’ve said to Gamp when words has roge betwixt us on account of the expense—and often have I said to Mrs Harris, “Oh, Mrs Harris, ma’am! your countenance is quite a angel’s!” Which, but for Pimples, it would be. “No, Sairey Gamp,” says she, “you best of hard-working and industrious creeturs as ever was underpaid at any price, which underpaid you are, quite diff’rent. Harris had it done afore marriage at ten and six,” she says, “and wore it faithful next his heart till the colour run, when the money was declined to be give back, and no arrangement could be come to. But he never said it was a angel’s, Sairey, wotever he might have thought.” If Mrs Harris’s husband was here now,’ said Mrs Gamp, looking round, and chuckling as she dropped a general curtsey, ‘he’d speak out plain, he would, and his dear wife would be the last to blame him! For if ever a woman lived as know’d not wot it was to form a wish to pizon them as had good looks, and had no reagion give her by the best of husbands, Mrs Harris is that ev’nly dispogician!’

With these words the worthy woman, who appeared to have dropped in to take tea as a delicate little attention, rather than to have any engagement on the premises in an official capacity, crossed to Mr Chuffey, who was seated in the same corner as of old, and shook him by the shoulder.

‘Rouge yourself, and look up! Come!’ said Mrs Gamp. ‘Here’s company, Mr Chuffey.’

‘I am sorry for it,’ cried the old man, looking humbly round the room. ‘I know I’m in the way. I ask pardon, but I’ve nowhere else to go to. Where is she?’

Merry went to him.

‘Ah!’ said the old man, patting her on the check. ‘Here she is. Here she is! She’s never hard on poor old Chuffey. Poor old Chuff!’

As she took her seat upon a low chair by the old man’s side, and put herself within the reach of his hand, she looked up once at Tom. It was a sad look that she cast upon him, though there was a faint smile trembling on her face. It was a speaking look, and Tom knew what it said. ‘You see how misery has changed me. I can feel for a dependant now, and set some value on his attachment.’

‘Aye, aye!’ cried Chuffey in a soothing tone. ‘Aye, aye, aye! Never mind him. It’s hard to hear, but never mind him. He’ll die one day. There are three hundred and sixty-five days in the year—three hundred and sixty-six in leap year—and he may die on any one of ‘em.’

‘You’re a wearing old soul, and that’s the sacred truth,’ said Mrs Gamp, contemplating him from a little distance with anything but favour, as he continued to mutter to himself. ‘It’s a pity that you don’t know wot you say, for you’d tire your own patience out if you did, and fret yourself into a happy releage for all as knows you.’

‘His son,’ murmured the old man, lifting up his hand. ‘His son!’

‘Well, I’m sure!’ said Mrs Gamp, ‘you’re a-settlin’ of it, Mr Chuffey. To your satigefaction, sir, I hope. But I wouldn’t lay a new pincushion on it myself, sir, though you are so well informed. Drat the old creetur, he’s a-layin’ down the law tolerable confident, too! A deal he knows of sons! or darters either! Suppose you was to favour us with some remarks on twins, sir, would you be so good!’

The bitter and indignant sarcasm which Mrs Gamp conveyed into these taunts was altogether lost on the unconscious Chuffey, who appeared to be as little cognizant of their delivery as of his having given Mrs Gamp offence. But that high-minded woman being sensitively alive to any invasion of her professional province, and imagining that Mr Chuffey had given utterance to some prediction on the subject of sons, which ought to have emanated in the first instance from herself as the only lawful authority, or which should at least have been on no account proclaimed without her sanction and concurrence, was not so easily appeased. She continued to sidle at Mr Chuffey with looks of sharp hostility, and to defy him with many other ironical remarks, uttered in that low key which commonly denotes suppressed indignation; until the entrance of the teaboard, and a request from Mrs Jonas that she would make tea at a side-table for the party that had unexpectedly assembled, restored her to herself. She smiled again, and entered on her ministration with her own particular urbanity.

‘And quite a family it is to make tea for,’ said Mrs Gamp; ‘and wot a happiness to do it! My good young ‘ooman’—to the servant-girl—‘p’raps somebody would like to try a new-laid egg or two, not biled too hard. Likeways, a few rounds o’ buttered toast, first cuttin’ off the crust, in consequence of tender teeth, and not too many of ‘em; which Gamp himself, Mrs Chuzzlewit, at one blow, being in liquor, struck out four, two single, and two double, as was took by Mrs Harris for a keepsake, and is carried in her pocket at this present hour, along with two cramp-bones, a bit o’ ginger, and a grater like a blessed infant’s shoe, in tin, with a little heel to put the nutmeg in; as many times I’ve seen and said, and used for candle when required, within the month.’

As the privileges of the side-table—besides including the small prerogatives of sitting next the toast, and taking two cups of tea to other people’s one, and always taking them at a crisis, that is to say, before putting fresh water into the tea-pot, and after it had been standing for some time—also comprehended a full view of the company, and an opportunity of addressing them as from a rostrum, Mrs Gamp discharged the functions entrusted to her with extreme good-humour and affability. Sometimes resting her saucer on the palm of her outspread hand, and supporting her elbow on the table, she stopped between her sips of tea to favour the circle with a smile, a wink, a roll of the head, or some other mark of notice; and at those periods her countenance was lighted up with a degree of intelligence and vivacity, which it was almost impossible to separate from the benignant influence of distilled waters.

But for Mrs Gamp, it would have been a curiously silent party. Miss Pecksniff only spoke to her Augustus, and to him in whispers. Augustus spoke to nobody, but sighed for every one, and occasionally gave himself such a sounding slap upon the forehead as would make Mrs Todgers, who was rather nervous, start in her chair with an involuntary exclamation. Mrs Todgers was occupied in knitting, and seldom spoke. Poor Merry held the hand of cheerful little Ruth between her own, and listening with evident pleasure to all she said, but rarely speaking herself, sometimes smiled, and sometimes kissed her on the cheek, and sometimes turned aside to hide the tears that trembled in her eyes. Tom felt this change in her so much, and was so glad to see how tenderly Ruth dealt with her, and how she knew and answered to it, that he had not the heart to make any movement towards their departure, although he had long since given utterance to all he came to say.

The old clerk, subsiding into his usual state, remained profoundly silent, while the rest of the little assembly were thus occupied, intent upon the dreams, whatever they might be, which hardly seemed to stir the surface of his sluggish thoughts. The bent of these dull fancies combining probably with the silent feasting that was going on about him, and some struggling recollection of the last approach to revelry he had witnessed, suggested a strange question to his mind. He looked round upon a sudden, and said:

‘Who’s lying dead upstairs?’

‘No one,’ said Merry, turning to him. ‘What is the matter? We are all here.’

‘All here!’ cried the old man. ‘All here! Where is he then—my old master, Mr Chuzzlewit, who had the only son? Where is he?’

‘Hush! Hush!’ said Merry, speaking kindly to him. ‘That happened long ago. Don’t you recollect?’

‘Recollect!’ rejoined the old man, with a cry of grief. ‘As if I could forget! As if I ever could forget!’

He put his hand up to his face for a moment; and then repeated turning round exactly as before:

‘Who’s lying dead upstairs?’

‘No one!’ said Merry.

At first he gazed angrily upon her, as upon a stranger who endeavoured to deceive him; but peering into her face, and seeing that it was indeed she, he shook his head in sorrowful compassion.

‘You think not. But they don’t tell you. No, no, poor thing! They don’t tell you. Who are these, and why are they merry-making here, if there is no one dead? Foul play! Go see who it is!’

She made a sign to them not to speak to him, which indeed they had little inclination to do; and remained silent herself. So did he for a short time; but then he repeated the same question with an eagerness that had a peculiar terror in it.

‘There’s some one dead,’ he said, ‘or dying; and I want to knows who it is. Go see, go see! Where’s Jonas?’

‘In the country,’ she replied.

The old man gazed at her as if he doubted what she said, or had not heard her; and, rising from his chair, walked across the room and upstairs, whispering as he went, ‘Foul play!’ They heard his footsteps overhead, going up into that corner of the room in which the bed stood (it was there old Anthony had died); and then they heard him coming down again immediately. His fancy was not so strong or wild that it pictured to him anything in the deserted bedchamber which was not there; for he returned much calmer, and appeared to have satisfied himself.

‘They don’t tell you,’ he said to Merry in his quavering voice, as he sat down again, and patted her upon the head. ‘They don’t tell me either; but I’ll watch, I’ll watch. They shall not hurt you; don’t be frightened. When you have sat up watching, I have sat up watching too. Aye, aye, I have!’ he piped out, clenching his weak, shrivelled hand. ‘Many a night I have been ready!’

He said this with such trembling gaps and pauses in his want of breath, and said it in his jealous secrecy so closely in her ear, that little or nothing of it was understood by the visitors. But they had heard and seen enough of the old man to be disquieted, and to have left their seats and gathered about him; thereby affording Mrs Gamp, whose professional coolness was not so easily disturbed, an eligible opportunity for concentrating the whole resources of her powerful mind and appetite upon the toast and butter, tea and eggs. She had brought them to bear upon those viands with such vigour that her face was in the highest state of inflammation, when she now (there being nothing left to eat or drink) saw fit to interpose.

‘Why, highty tighty, sir!’ cried Mrs Gamp, ‘is these your manners? You want a pitcher of cold water throw’d over you to bring you round; that’s my belief, and if you was under Betsey Prig you’d have it, too, I do assure you, Mr Chuffey. Spanish Flies is the only thing to draw this nonsense out of you; and if anybody wanted to do you a kindness, they’d clap a blister of ‘em on your head, and put a mustard poultige on your back. ‘Who’s dead, indeed! It wouldn’t be no grievous loss if some one was, I think!’

‘He’s quiet now, Mrs Gamp,’ said Merry. ‘Don’t disturb him.’

‘Oh, bother the old wictim, Mrs Chuzzlewit,’ replied that zealous lady, ‘I ain’t no patience with him. You give him his own way too much by half. A worritin’ wexagious creetur!’

No doubt with the view of carrying out the precepts she enforced, and ‘bothering the old wictim’ in practice as well as in theory, Mrs Gamp took him by the collar of his coat, and gave him some dozen or two of hearty shakes backward and forward in his chair; that exercise being considered by the disciples of the Prig school of nursing (who are very numerous among professional ladies) as exceedingly conducive to repose, and highly beneficial to the performance of the nervous functions. Its effect in this instance was to render the patient so giddy and addle-headed, that he could say nothing more; which Mrs Gamp regarded as the triumph of her art.

‘There!’ she said, loosening the old man’s cravat, in consequence of his being rather black in the face, after this scientific treatment. ‘Now, I hope, you’re easy in your mind. If you should turn at all faint we can soon rewive you, sir, I promige you. Bite a person’s thumbs, or turn their fingers the wrong way,’ said Mrs Gamp, smiling with the consciousness of at once imparting pleasure and instruction to her auditors, ‘and they comes to, wonderful, Lord bless you!’

As this excellent woman had been formerly entrusted with the care of Mr Chuffey on a previous occasion, neither Mrs Jonas nor anybody else had the resolution to interfere directly with her mode of treatment; though all present (Tom Pinch and his sister especially) appeared to be disposed to differ from her views. For such is the rash boldness of the uninitiated, that they will frequently set up some monstrous abstract principle, such as humanity, or tenderness, or the like idle folly, in obstinate defiance of all precedent and usage; and will even venture to maintain the same against the persons who have made the precedents and established the usage, and who must therefore be the best and most impartial judges of the subject.

‘Ah, Mr Pinch!’ said Miss Pecksniff. ‘It all comes of this unfortunate marriage. If my sister had not been so precipitate, and had not united herself to a Wretch, there would have been no Mr Chuffey in the house.’

‘Hush!’ cried Tom. ‘She’ll hear you.’

‘I should be very sorry if she did hear me, Mr Pinch,’ said Cherry, raising her voice a little; ‘for it is not in my nature to add to the uneasiness of any person; far less of my own sister. I know what a sister’s duties are, Mr Pinch, and I hope I always showed it in my practice. Augustus, my dear child, find my pocket-handkerchief, and give it to me.’

Augustus obeyed, and took Mrs Todgers aside to pour his griefs into her friendly bosom.

‘I am sure, Mr Pinch,’ said Charity, looking after her betrothed and glancing at her sister, ‘that I ought to be very grateful for the blessings I enjoy, and those which are yet in store for me. When I contrast Augustus’—here she was modest and embarrased—‘who, I don’t mind saying to you, is all softness, mildness, and devotion, with the detestable man who is my sister’s husband; and when I think, Mr Pinch, that in the dispensations of this world, our cases might have been reversed; I have much to be thankful for, indeed, and much to make me humble and contented.’

Contented she might have been, but humble she assuredly was not. Her face and manner experienced something so widely different from humility, that Tom could not help understanding and despising the base motives that were working in her breast. He turned away, and said to Ruth, that it was time for them to go.

‘I will write to your husband,’ said Tom to Merry, ‘and explain to him, as I would have done if I had met him here, that if he has sustained any inconvenience through my means, it is not my fault; a postman not being more innocent of the news he brings, than I was when I handed him that letter.’

‘I thank you!’ said Merry. ‘It may do some good.’

She parted tenderly from Ruth, who with her brother was in the act of leaving the room, when a key was heard in the lock of the door below, and immediately afterwards a quick footstep in the passage. Tom stopped, and looked at Merry.

It was Jonas, she said timidly.

‘I had better not meet him on the stairs, perhaps,’ said Tom, drawing his sister’s arm through his, and coming back a step or two. ‘I’ll wait for him here, a moment.’

He had scarcely said it when the door opened, and Jonas entered. His wife came forward to receive him; but he put her aside with his hand, and said in a surly tone:

‘I didn’t know you’d got a party.’

As he looked, at the same time, either by accident or design, towards Miss Pecksniff; and as Miss Pecksniff was only too delighted to quarrel with him, she instantly resented it.

‘Oh dear!’ she said, rising. ‘Pray don’t let us intrude upon your domestic happiness! That would be a pity. We have taken tea here, sir, in your absence; but if you will have the goodness to send us a note of the expense, receipted, we shall be happy to pay it. Augustus, my love, we will go, if you please. Mrs Todgers, unless you wish to remain here, we shall be happy to take you with us. It would be a pity, indeed, to spoil the bliss which this gentleman always brings with him, especially into his own home.’

‘Charity! Charity!’ remonstrated her sister, in such a heartfelt tone that she might have been imploring her to show the cardinal virtue whose name she bore.

‘Merry, my dear, I am much obliged to you for your advice,’ returned Miss Pecksniff, with a stately scorn—by the way, she had not been offered any—‘but I am not his slave—’

‘No, nor wouldn’t have been if you could,’ interrupted Jonas. ‘We know all about it.’

‘What did you say, sir?’ cried Miss Pecksniff, sharply.

‘Didn’t you hear?’ retorted Jonas, lounging down upon a chair. ‘I am not a-going to say it again. If you like to stay, you may stay. If you like to go, you may go. But if you stay, please to be civil.’

‘Beast!’ cried Miss Pecksniff, sweeping past him. ‘Augustus! He is beneath your notice!’ Augustus had been making some faint and sickly demonstration of shaking his fist. ‘Come away, child,’ screamed Miss Pecksniff, ‘I command you!’

The scream was elicited from her by Augustus manifesting an intention to return and grapple with him. But Miss Pecksniff giving the fiery youth a pull, and Mrs Todgers giving him a push they all three tumbled out of the room together, to the music of Miss Pecksniff’s shrill remonstrances.

All this time Jonas had seen nothing of Tom and his sister; for they were almost behind the door when he opened it, and he had sat down with his back towards them, and had purposely kept his eyes upon the opposite side of the street during his altercation with Miss Pecksniff, in order that his seeming carelessness might increase the exasperation of that wronged young damsel. His wife now faltered out that Tom had been waiting to see him; and Tom advanced.

The instant he presented himself, Jonas got up from his chair, and swearing a great oath, caught it in his grasp, as if he would have felled Tom to the ground with it. As he most unquestionably would have done, but that his very passion and surprise made him irresolute, and gave Tom, in his calmness, an opportunity of being heard.

‘You have no cause to be violent, sir,’ said Tom. ‘Though what I wish to say relates to your own affairs, I know nothing of them, and desire to know nothing of them.’

Jonas was too enraged to speak. He held the door open; and stamping his foot upon the ground, motioned Tom away.

‘As you cannot suppose,’ said Tom, ‘that I am here with any view of conciliating you or pleasing myself, I am quite indifferent to your reception of me, or your dismissal of me. Hear what I have to say, if you are not a madman! I gave you a letter the other day, when you were about to go abroad.’

‘You Thief, you did!’ retorted Jonas. ‘I’ll pay you for the carriage of it one day, and settle an old score besides. I will!’

‘Tut, tut,’ said Tom, ‘you needn’t waste words or threats. I wish you to understand—plainly because I would rather keep clear of you and everything that concerns you: not because I have the least apprehension of your doing me any injury: which would be weak indeed—that I am no party to the contents of that letter. That I know nothing of it. That I was not even aware that it was to be delivered to you; and that I had it from—’

‘By the Lord!’ cried Jonas, fiercely catching up the chair, ‘I’ll knock your brains out, if you speak another word.’

Tom, nevertheless, persisting in his intention, and opening his lips to speak again, Jonas set upon him like a savage; and in the quickness and ferocity of his attack would have surely done him some grievous injury, defenceless as he was, and embarrassed by having his frightened sister clinging to his arm, if Merry had not run between them, crying to Tom for the love of Heaven to leave the house. The agony of this poor creature, the terror of his sister, the impossibility of making himself audible, and the equal impossibility of bearing up against Mrs Gamp, who threw herself upon him like a feather-bed, and forced him backwards down the stairs by the mere oppression of her dead weight, prevailed. Tom shook the dust of that house off his feet, without having mentioned Nadgett’s name.

If the name could have passed his lips; if Jonas, in the insolence of his vile nature, had never roused him to do that old act of manliness, for which (and not for his last offence) he hated him with such malignity; if Jonas could have learned, as then he could and would have learned, through Tom’s means, what unsuspected spy there was upon him; he would have been saved from the commission of a Guilty Deed, then drawing on towards its black accomplishment. But the fatality was of his own working; the pit was of his own digging; the gloom that gathered round him was the shadow of his own life.

His wife had closed the door, and thrown herself before it, on the ground, upon her knees. She held up her hands to him now, and besought him not to be harsh with her, for she had interposed in fear of bloodshed.

‘So, so!’ said Jonas, looking down upon her, as he fetched his breath. ‘These are your friends, are they, when I am away? You plot and tamper with this sort of people, do you?’

‘No, indeed! I have no knowledge of these secrets, and no clue to their meaning. I have never seen him since I left home but once—but twice—before to-day.’

‘Oh!’ sneered Jonas, catching at this correction. ‘But once, but twice, eh? Which do you mean? Twice and once, perhaps. Three times! How many more, you lying jade?’

As he made an angry motion with his hand, she shrunk down hastily. A suggestive action! Full of a cruel truth!

‘How many more times?’ he repeated.

‘No more. The other morning, and to-day, and once besides.’

He was about to retort upon her, when the clock struck. He started stopped, and listened; appearing to revert to some engagement, or to some other subject, a secret within his own breast, recalled to him by this record of the progress of the hours.

‘Don’t lie there! Get up!’

Having helped her to rise, or rather hauled her up by the arm, he went on to say:

‘Listen to me, young lady; and don’t whine when you have no occasion, or I may make some for you. If I find him in my house again, or find that you have seen him in anybody else’s house, you’ll repent it. If you are not deaf and dumb to everything that concerns me, unless you have my leave to hear and speak, you’ll repent it. If you don’t obey exactly what I order, you’ll repent it. Now, attend. What’s the time?’

‘It struck eight a minute ago.’

He looked towards her intently; and said, with a laboured distinctness, as if he had got the words off by heart:

‘I have been travelling day and night, and am tired. I have lost some money, and that don’t improve me. Put my supper in the little off-room below, and have the truckle-bed made. I shall sleep there to-night, and maybe to-morrow night; and if I can sleep all day to-morrow, so much the better, for I’ve got trouble to sleep off, if I can. Keep the house quiet, and don’t call me. Mind! Don’t call me. Don’t let anybody call me. Let me lie there.’

She said it should be done. Was that all?

‘All what? You must be prying and questioning!’ he angrily retorted. ‘What more do you want to know?’

‘I want to know nothing, Jonas, but what you tell me. All hope of confidence between us has long deserted me!’

‘Ecod, I should hope so!’ he muttered.

‘But if you will tell me what you wish, I will be obedient and will try to please you. I make no merit of that, for I have no friend in my father or my sister, but am quite alone. I am very humble and submissive. You told me you would break my spirit, and you have done so. Do not break my heart too!’

She ventured, as she said these words, to lay her hand upon his shoulder. He suffered it to rest there, in his exultation; and the whole mean, abject, sordid, pitiful soul of the man, looked at her, for the moment, through his wicked eyes.

For the moment only; for, with the same hurried return to something within himself, he bade her, in a surly tone, show her obedience by executing his commands without delay. When she had withdrawn he paced up and down the room several times; but always with his right hand clenched, as if it held something; which it did not, being empty. When he was tired of this, he threw himself into a chair, and thoughtfully turned up the sleeve of his right arm, as if he were rather musing about its strength than examining it; but, even then, he kept the hand clenched.

He was brooding in this chair, with his eyes cast down upon the ground, when Mrs Gamp came in to tell him that the little room was ready. Not being quite sure of her reception after interfering in the quarrel, Mrs Gamp, as a means of interesting and propitiating her patron, affected a deep solicitude in Mr Chuffey.

‘How is he now, sir?’ she said.

‘Who?’ cried Jonas, raising his head, and staring at her.

‘To be sure!’ returned the matron with a smile and a curtsey. ‘What am I thinking of! You wasn’t here, sir, when he was took so strange. I never see a poor dear creetur took so strange in all my life, except a patient much about the same age, as I once nussed, which his calling was the custom-’us, and his name was Mrs Harris’s own father, as pleasant a singer, Mr Chuzzlewit, as ever you heerd, with a voice like a Jew’s-harp in the bass notes, that it took six men to hold at sech times, foaming frightful.’

‘Chuffey, eh?’ said Jonas carelessly, seeing that she went up to the old, clerk, and looked at him. ‘Ha!’

‘The creetur’s head’s so hot,’ said Mrs Gamp, ‘that you might heat a flat-iron at it. And no wonder I am sure, considerin’ the things he said!’

‘Said!’ cried Jonas. ‘What did he say?’

Mrs Gamp laid her hand upon her heart, to put some check upon its palpitations, and turning up her eyes replied in a faint voice:

‘The awfulest things, Mr Chuzzlewit, as ever I heerd! Which Mrs Harris’s father never spoke a word when took so, some does and some don’t, except sayin’ when he come round, “Where is Sairey Gamp?” But raly, sir, when Mr Chuffey comes to ask who’s lyin’ dead upstairs, and—’

‘Who’s lying dead upstairs!’ repeated Jonas, standing aghast.

Mrs Gamp nodded, made as if she were swallowing, and went on.

‘Who’s lying dead upstairs; sech was his Bible language; and where was Mr Chuzzlewit as had the only son; and when he goes upstairs a-looking in the beds and wandering about the rooms, and comes down again a-whisperin’ softly to his-self about foul play and that; it gives me sech a turn, I don’t deny it, Mr Chuzzlewit, that I never could have kep myself up but for a little drain o’ spirits, which I seldom touches, but could always wish to know where to find, if so dispoged, never knowin’ wot may happen next, the world bein’ so uncertain.’

‘Why, the old fool’s mad!’ cried Jonas, much disturbed.

‘That’s my opinion, sir,’ said Mrs Gamp, ‘and I will not deceive you. I believe as Mr Chuffey, sir, rekwires attention (if I may make so bold), and should not have his liberty to wex and worrit your sweet lady as he does.’

‘Why, who minds what he says?’ retorted Jonas.

‘Still he is worritin’ sir,’ said Mrs Gamp. ‘No one don’t mind him, but he is a ill conwenience.’

‘Ecod you’re right,’ said Jonas, looking doubtfully at the subject of this conversation. ‘I have half a mind to shut him up.’

Mrs Gamp rubbed her hands, and smiled, and shook her head, and sniffed expressively, as scenting a job.

‘Could you—could you take care of such an idiot, now, in some spare room upstairs?’ asked Jonas.

‘Me and a friend of mine, one off, one on, could do it, Mr Chuzzlewit,’ replied the nurse; ‘our charges not bein’ high, but wishin’ they was lower, and allowance made considerin’ not strangers. Me and Betsey Prig, sir, would undertake Mr Chuffey reasonable,’ said Mrs Gamp, looking at him with her head on one side, as if he had been a piece of goods, for which she was driving a bargain; ‘and give every satigefaction. Betsey Prig has nussed a many lunacies, and well she knows their ways, which puttin’ ‘em right close afore the fire, when fractious, is the certainest and most compoging.’

While Mrs Gamp discoursed to this effect, Jonas was walking up and down the room again, glancing covertly at the old clerk, as he did so. He now made a stop, and said:

‘I must look after him, I suppose, or I may have him doing some mischief. What say you?’

‘Nothin’ more likely!’ Mrs Gamp replied. ‘As well I have experienged, I do assure you, sir.’

‘Well! Look after him for the present, and—let me see—three days from this time let the other woman come here, and we’ll see if we can make a bargain of it. About nine or ten o’clock at night, say. Keep your eye upon him in the meanwhile, and don’t talk about it. He’s as mad as a March hare!’

‘Madder!’ cried Mrs Gamp. ‘A deal madder!’

‘See to him, then; take care that he does no harm; and recollect what I have told you.’

Leaving Mrs Gamp in the act of repeating all she had been told, and of producing in support of her memory and trustworthiness, many commendations selected from among the most remarkable opinions of the celebrated Mrs Harris, he descended to the little room prepared for him, and pulling off his coat and his boots, put them outside the door before he locked it. In locking it, he was careful so to adjust the key as to baffle any curious person who might try to peep in through the key-hole; and when he had taken these precautions, he sat down to his supper.

‘Mr Chuff,’ he muttered, ‘it’ll be pretty easy to be even with you. It’s of no use doing things by halves, and as long as I stop here, I’ll take good care of you. When I’m off you may say what you please. But it’s a d—d strange thing,’ he added, pushing away his untouched plate, and striding moodily to and fro, ‘that his drivellings should have taken this turn just now.’

After pacing the little room from end to end several times, he sat down in another chair.

‘I say just now, but for anything I know, he may have been carrying on the same game all along. Old dog! He shall be gagged!’

He paced the room again in the same restless and unsteady way; and then sat down upon the bedstead, leaning his chin upon his hand, and looking at the table. When he had looked at it for a long time, he remembered his supper; and resuming the chair he had first occupied, began to eat with great rapacity; not like a hungry man, but as if he were determined to do it. He drank too, roundly; sometimes stopping in the middle of a draught to walk, and change his seat and walk again, and dart back to the table and fall to, in a ravenous hurry, as before.

It was now growing dark. As the gloom of evening, deepening into night, came on, another dark shade emerging from within him seemed to overspread his face, and slowly change it. Slowly, slowly; darker and darker; more and more haggard; creeping over him by little and little, until it was black night within him and without.

The room in which he had shut himself up, was on the ground floor, at the back of the house. It was lighted by a dirty skylight, and had a door in the wall, opening into a narrow covered passage or blind-alley, very little frequented after five or six o’clock in the evening, and not in much use as a thoroughfare at any hour. But it had an outlet in a neighbouring street.

The ground on which this chamber stood had, at one time, not within his recollection, been a yard; and had been converted to its present purpose for use as an office. But the occasion for it died with the man who built it; and saving that it had sometimes served as an apology for a spare bedroom, and that the old clerk had once held it (but that was years ago) as his recognized apartment, it had been little troubled by Anthony Chuzzlewit and Son. It was a blotched, stained, mouldering room, like a vault; and there were water-pipes running through it, which at unexpected times in the night, when other things were quiet, clicked and gurgled suddenly, as if they were choking.

The door into the court had not been open for a long, long time; but the key had always hung in one place, and there it hung now. He was prepared for its being rusty; for he had a little bottle of oil in his pocket and the feather of a pen, with which he lubricated the key and the lock too, carefully. All this while he had been without his coat, and had nothing on his feet but his stockings. He now got softly into bed in the same state, and tossed from side to side to tumble it. In his restless condition that was easily done.

When he arose, he took from his portmanteau, which he had caused to be carried into that place when he came home, a pair of clumsy shoes, and put them on his feet; also a pair of leather leggings, such as countrymen are used to wear, with straps to fasten them to the waistband. In these he dressed himself at leisure. Lastly, he took out a common frock of coarse dark jean, which he drew over his own under-clothing; and a felt hat—he had purposely left his own upstairs. He then sat himself down by the door, with the key in his hand, waiting.

He had no light; the time was dreary, long, and awful. The ringers were practicing in a neighbouring church, and the clashing of the bells was almost maddening. Curse the clamouring bells, they seemed to know that he was listening at the door, and to proclaim it in a crowd of voices to all the town! Would they never be still?

They ceased at last, and then the silence was so new and terrible that it seemed the prelude to some dreadful noise. Footsteps in the court! Two men. He fell back from the door on tiptoe, as if they could have seen him through its wooden panels.

They passed on, talking (he could make out) about a skeleton which had been dug up yesterday, in some work of excavation near at hand, and was supposed to be that of a murdered man. ‘So murder is not always found out, you see,’ they said to one another as they turned the corner.

Hush!

He put the key into the lock, and turned it. The door resisted for a while, but soon came stiffly open; mingling with the sense of fever in his mouth, a taste of rust, and dust, and earth, and rotting wood. He looked out; passed out; locked it after him.

All was clear and quiet, as he fled away.






CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN. CONCLUSION OF THE ENTERPRISE OF MR JONAS AND HIS FRIEND

Did no men passing through the dim streets shrink without knowing why, when he came stealing up behind them? As he glided on, had no child in its sleep an indistinct perception of a guilty shadow falling on its bed, that troubled its innocent rest? Did no dog howl, and strive to break its rattling chain, that it might tear him; no burrowing rat, scenting the work he had in hand, essay to gnaw a passage after him, that it might hold a greedy revel at the feast of his providing? When he looked back, across his shoulder, was it to see if his quick footsteps still fell dry upon the dusty pavement, or were already moist and clogged with the red mire that stained the naked feet of Cain!

He shaped his course for the main western road, and soon reached it; riding a part of the way, then alighting and walking on again. He travelled for a considerable distance upon the roof of a stage-coach, which came up while he was afoot; and when it turned out of his road, bribed the driver of a return post-chaise to take him on with him; and then made across the country at a run, and saved a mile or two before he struck again into the road. At last, as his plan was, he came up with a certain lumbering, slow, night-coach, which stopped wherever it could, and was stopping then at a public-house, while the guard and coachman ate and drank within.

He bargained for a seat outside this coach, and took it. And he quitted it no more until it was within a few miles of its destination, but occupied the same place all night.

All night! It is a common fancy that nature seems to sleep by night. It is a false fancy, as who should know better than he?

The fishes slumbered in the cold, bright, glistening streams and rivers, perhaps; and the birds roosted on the branches of the trees; and in their stalls and pastures beasts were quiet; and human creatures slept. But what of that, when the solemn night was watching, when it never winked, when its darkness watched no less than its light! The stately trees, the moon and shining stars, the softly stirring wind, the over-shadowed lane, the broad, bright countryside, they all kept watch. There was not a blade of growing grass or corn, but watched; and the quieter it was, the more intent and fixed its watch upon him seemed to be.

And yet he slept. Riding on among those sentinels of God, he slept, and did not change the purpose of his journey. If he forgot it in his troubled dreams, it came up steadily, and woke him. But it never woke him to remorse, or to abandonment of his design.

He dreamed at one time that he was lying calmly in his bed, thinking of a moonlight night and the noise of wheels, when the old clerk put his head in at the door, and beckoned him. At this signal he arose immediately—being already dressed in the clothes he actually wore at that time—and accompanied him into a strange city, where the names of the streets were written on the walls in characters quite new to him; which gave him no surprise or uneasiness, for he remembered in his dream to have been there before. Although these streets were very precipitous, insomuch that to get from one to another it was necessary to descend great heights by ladders that were too short, and ropes that moved deep bells, and swung and swayed as they were clung to, the danger gave him little emotion beyond the first thrill of terror; his anxieties being concentrated on his dress which was quite unfitted for some festival that was about to be holden there, and in which he had come to take a part. Already, great crowds began to fill the streets, and in one direction myriads of people came rushing down an interminable perspective, strewing flowers and making way for others on white horses, when a terrible figure started from the throng, and cried out that it was the Last Day for all the world. The cry being spread, there was a wild hurrying on to Judgment; and the press became so great that he and his companion (who was constantly changing, and was never the same man two minutes together, though he never saw one man come or another go), stood aside in a porch, fearfully surveying the multitude; in which there were many faces that he knew, and many that he did not know, but dreamed he did; when all at once a struggling head rose up among the rest—livid and deadly, but the same as he had known it—and denounced him as having appointed that direful day to happen. They closed together. As he strove to free the hand in which he held a club, and strike the blow he had so often thought of, he started to the knowledge of his waking purpose and the rising of the sun.

The sun was welcome to him. There were life and motion, and a world astir, to divide the attention of Day. It was the eye of Night—of wakeful, watchful, silent, and attentive Night, with so much leisure for the observation of his wicked thoughts—that he dreaded most. There is no glare in the night. Even Glory shows to small advantage in the night, upon a crowded battle-field. How then shows Glory’s blood-relation, bastard Murder!

Aye! He made no compromise, and held no secret with himself now. Murder. He had come to do it.

‘Let me get down here’ he said

‘Short of the town, eh!’ observed the coachman.

‘I may get down where I please, I suppose?’

‘You got up to please yourself, and may get down to please yourself. It won’t break our hearts to lose you, and it wouldn’t have broken ‘em if we’d never found you. Be a little quicker. That’s all.’

The guard had alighted, and was waiting in the road to take his money. In the jealousy and distrust of what he contemplated, he thought this man looked at him with more than common curiosity.

‘What are you staring at?’ said Jonas.

‘Not at a handsome man,’ returned the guard. ‘If you want your fortune told, I’ll tell you a bit of it. You won’t be drowned. That’s a consolation for you.’

Before he could retort or turn away, the coachman put an end to the dialogue by giving him a cut with his whip, and bidding him get out for a surly dog. The guard jumped up to his seat at the same moment, and they drove off, laughing; leaving him to stand in the road and shake his fist at them. He was not displeased though, on second thoughts, to have been taken for an ill-conditioned common country fellow; but rather congratulated himself upon it as a proof that he was well disguised.

Wandering into a copse by the road-side—but not in that place; two or three miles off—he tore out from a fence a thick, hard, knotted stake; and, sitting down beneath a hayrick, spent some time in shaping it, in peeling off the bark, and fashioning its jagged head with his knife.

The day passed on. Noon, afternoon, evening. Sunset.

At that serene and peaceful time two men, riding in a gig, came out of the city by a road not much frequented. It was the day on which Mr Pecksniff had agreed to dine with Montague. He had kept his appointment, and was now going home. His host was riding with him for a short distance; meaning to return by a pleasant track, which Mr Pecksniff had engaged to show him, through some fields. Jonas knew their plans. He had hung about the inn-yard while they were at dinner and had heard their orders given.

They were loud and merry in their conversation, and might have been heard at some distance; far above the sound of their carriage wheels or horses’ hoofs. They came on noisily, to where a stile and footpath indicated their point of separation. Here they stopped.

‘It’s too soon. Much too soon,’ said Mr Pecksniff. ‘But this is the place, my dear sir. Keep the path, and go straight through the little wood you’ll come to. The path is narrower there, but you can’t miss it. When shall I see you again? Soon I hope?’

‘I hope so,’ replied Montague.

‘Good night!’

‘Good night. And a pleasant ride!’

So long as Mr Pecksniff was in sight, and turned his head at intervals to salute him, Montague stood in the road smiling, and waving his hand. But when his new partner had disappeared, and this show was no longer necessary, he sat down on the stile with looks so altered, that he might have grown ten years older in the meantime.

He was flushed with wine, but not gay. His scheme had succeeded, but he showed no triumph. The effort of sustaining his difficult part before his late companion had fatigued him, perhaps, or it may be that the evening whispered to his conscience, or it may be (as it has been) that a shadowy veil was dropping round him, closing out all thoughts but the presentiment and vague foreknowledge of impending doom.

If there be fluids, as we know there are, which, conscious of a coming wind, or rain, or frost, will shrink and strive to hide themselves in their glass arteries; may not that subtle liquor of the blood perceive, by properties within itself, that hands are raised to waste and spill it; and in the veins of men run cold and dull as his did, in that hour!

So cold, although the air was warm; so dull, although the sky was bright; that he rose up shivering from his seat, and hastily resumed his walk. He checked himself as hastily; undecided whether to pursue the footpath, which was lonely and retired, or to go back by the road.

He took the footpath.

The glory of the departing sun was on his face. The music of the birds was in his ears. Sweet wild flowers bloomed about him. Thatched roofs of poor men’s homes were in the distance; and an old grey spire, surmounted by a Cross, rose up between him and the coming night.

He had never read the lesson which these things conveyed; he had ever mocked and turned away from it; but, before going down into a hollow place, he looked round, once, upon the evening prospect, sorrowfully. Then he went down, down, down, into the dell.

It brought him to the wood; a close, thick, shadowy wood, through which the path went winding on, dwindling away into a slender sheep-track. He paused before entering; for the stillness of this spot almost daunted him.

The last rays of the sun were shining in, aslant, making a path of golden light along the stems and branches in its range, which, even as he looked, began to die away, yielding gently to the twilight that came creeping on. It was so very quiet that the soft and stealthy moss about the trunks of some old trees, seemed to have grown out of the silence, and to be its proper offspring. Those other trees which were subdued by blasts of wind in winter time, had not quite tumbled down, but being caught by others, lay all bare and scathed across their leafy arms, as if unwilling to disturb the general repose by the crash of their fall. Vistas of silence opened everywhere, into the heart and innermost recesses of the wood; beginning with the likeness of an aisle, a cloister, or a ruin open to the sky; then tangling off into a deep green rustling mystery, through which gnarled trunks, and twisted boughs, and ivy-covered stems, and trembling leaves, and bark-stripped bodies of old trees stretched out at length, were faintly seen in beautiful confusion.

As the sunlight died away, and evening fell upon the wood, he entered it. Moving, here and there a bramble or a drooping bough which stretched across his path, he slowly disappeared. At intervals a narrow opening showed him passing on, or the sharp cracking of some tender branch denoted where he went; then, he was seen or heard no more.

Never more beheld by mortal eye or heard by mortal ear; one man excepted. That man, parting the leaves and branches on the other side, near where the path emerged again, came leaping out soon afterwards.

What had he left within the wood, that he sprang out of it as if it were a hell!

The body of a murdered man. In one thick solitary spot, it lay among the last year’s leaves of oak and beech, just as it had fallen headlong down. Sopping and soaking in among the leaves that formed its pillow; oozing down into the boggy ground, as if to cover itself from human sight; forcing its way between and through the curling leaves, as if those senseless things rejected and forswore it and were coiled up in abhorrence; went a dark, dark stain that dyed the whole summer night from earth to heaven.

The doer of this deed came leaping from the wood so fiercely, that he cast into the air a shower of fragments of young boughs, torn away in his passage, and fell with violence upon the grass. But he quickly gained his feet again, and keeping underneath a hedge with his body bent, went running on towards the road. The road once reached, he fell into a rapid walk, and set on toward London.

And he was not sorry for what he had done. He was frightened when he thought of it—when did he not think of it!—but he was not sorry. He had had a terror and dread of the wood when he was in it; but being out of it, and having committed the crime, his fears were now diverted, strangely, to the dark room he had left shut up at home. He had a greater horror, infinitely greater, of that room than of the wood. Now that he was on his return to it, it seemed beyond comparison more dismal and more dreadful than the wood. His hideous secret was shut up in the room, and all its terrors were there; to his thinking it was not in the wood at all.

He walked on for ten miles; and then stopped at an ale-house for a coach, which he knew would pass through, on its way to London, before long; and which he also knew was not the coach he had travelled down by, for it came from another place. He sat down outside the door here, on a bench, beside a man who was smoking his pipe. Having called for some beer, and drunk, he offered it to this companion, who thanked him, and took a draught. He could not help thinking that, if the man had known all, he might scarcely have relished drinking out of the same cup with him.

‘A fine night, master!’ said this person. ‘And a rare sunset.’

‘I didn’t see it,’ was his hasty answer.

‘Didn’t see it?’ returned the man.

‘How the devil could I see it, if I was asleep?’

‘Asleep! Aye, aye.’ The man appeared surprised by his unexpected irritability, and saying no more, smoked his pipe in silence. They had not sat very long, when there was a knocking within.

‘What’s that?’ cried Jonas.

‘Can’t say, I’m sure,’ replied the man.

He made no further inquiry, for the last question had escaped him in spite of himself. But he was thinking, at the moment, of the closed-up room; of the possibility of their knocking at the door on some special occasion; of their being alarmed at receiving no answer; of their bursting it open; of their finding the room empty; of their fastening the door into the court, and rendering it impossible for him to get into the house without showing himself in the garb he wore, which would lead to rumour, rumour to detection, detection to death. At that instant, as if by some design and order of circumstances, the knocking had come.

It still continued; like a warning echo of the dread reality he had conjured up. As he could not sit and hear it, he paid for his beer and walked on again. And having slunk about, in places unknown to him all day; and being out at night, in a lonely road, in an unusual dress and in that wandering and unsettled frame of mind; he stopped more than once to look about him, hoping he might be in a dream.

Still he was not sorry. No. He had hated the man too much, and had been bent, too desperately and too long, on setting himself free. If the thing could have come over again, he would have done it again. His malignant and revengeful passions were not so easily laid. There was no more penitence or remorse within him now than there had been while the deed was brewing.

Dread and fear were upon him, to an extent he had never counted on, and could not manage in the least degree. He was so horribly afraid of that infernal room at home. This made him, in a gloomy murderous, mad way, not only fearful for himself, but of himself; for being, as it were, a part of the room: a something supposed to be there, yet missing from it: he invested himself with its mysterious terrors; and when he pictured in his mind the ugly chamber, false and quiet, false and quiet, through the dark hours of two nights; and the tumbled bed, and he not in it, though believed to be; he became in a manner his own ghost and phantom, and was at once the haunting spirit and the haunted man.

When the coach came up, which it soon did, he got a place outside and was carried briskly onward towards home. Now, in taking his seat among the people behind, who were chiefly country people, he conceived a fear that they knew of the murder, and would tell him that the body had been found; which, considering the time and place of the commission of the crime, were events almost impossible to have happened yet, as he very well knew. But although he did know it, and had therefore no reason to regard their ignorance as anything but the natural sequence to the facts, still this very ignorance of theirs encouraged him. So far encouraged him, that he began to believe the body never would be found, and began to speculate on that probability. Setting off from this point, and measuring time by the rapid hurry of his guilty thoughts, and what had gone before the bloodshed, and the troops of incoherent and disordered images of which he was the constant prey; he came by daylight to regard the murder as an old murder, and to think himself comparatively safe because it had not been discovered yet. Yet! When the sun which looked into the wood, and gilded with its rising light a dead man’s lace, had seen that man alive, and sought to win him to a thought of Heaven, on its going down last night!

But here were London streets again. Hush!

It was but five o’clock. He had time enough to reach his own house unobserved, and before there were many people in the streets, if nothing had happened so far, tending to his discovery. He slipped down from the coach without troubling the driver to stop his horses; and hurrying across the road, and in and out of every by-way that lay near his course, at length approached his own dwelling. He used additional caution in his immediate neighbourhood; halting first to look all down the street before him; then gliding swiftly through that one, and stopping to survey the next, and so on.

The passage-way was empty when his murderer’s face looked into it. He stole on, to the door on tiptoe, as if he dreaded to disturb his own imaginary rest.

He listened. Not a sound. As he turned the key with a trembling hand, and pushed the door softly open with his knee, a monstrous fear beset his mind.

What if the murdered man were there before him!

He cast a fearful glance all round. But there was nothing there.

He went in, locked the door, drew the key through and through the dust and damp in the fire-place to sully it again, and hung it up as of old. He took off his disguise, tied it up in a bundle ready for carrying away and sinking in the river before night, and locked it up in a cupboard. These precautions taken, he undressed and went to bed.

The raging thirst, the fire that burnt within him as he lay beneath the clothes, the augmented horror of the room when they shut it out from his view; the agony of listening, in which he paid enforced regard to every sound, and thought the most unlikely one the prelude to that knocking which should bring the news; the starts with which he left his couch, and looking in the glass, imagined that his deed was broadly written in his face, and lying down and burying himself once more beneath the blankets, heard his own heart beating Murder, Murder, Murder, in the bed; what words can paint tremendous truths like these!

The morning advanced. There were footsteps in the house. He heard the blinds drawn up, and shutters opened; and now and then a stealthy tread outside his own door. He tried to call out, more than once, but his mouth was dry as if it had been filled with sand. At last he sat up in his bed, and cried:

‘Who’s there?’

It was his wife.

He asked her what it was o’clock? Nine.

‘Did—did no one knock at my door yesterday?’ he faltered. ‘Something disturbed me; but unless you had knocked the door down, you would have got no notice from me.’

‘No one,’ she replied. That was well. He had waited, almost breathless, for her answer. It was a relief to him, if anything could be.

‘Mr Nadgett wanted to see you,’ she said, ‘but I told him you were tired, and had requested not to be disturbed. He said it was of little consequence, and went away. As I was opening my window to let in the cool air, I saw him passing through the street this morning, very early; but he hasn’t been again.’

Passing through the street that morning? Very early! Jonas trembled at the thought of having had a narrow chance of seeing him himself; even him, who had no object but to avoid people, and sneak on unobserved, and keep his own secrets; and who saw nothing.

He called to her to get his breakfast ready, and prepared to go upstairs; attiring himself in the clothes he had taken off when he came into that room, which had been, ever since, outside the door. In his secret dread of meeting the household for the first time, after what he had done, he lingered at the door on slight pretexts that they might see him without looking in his face; and left it ajar while he dressed; and called out to have the windows opened, and the pavement watered, that they might become accustomed to his voice. Even when he had put off the time, by one means or other, so that he had seen or spoken to them all, he could not muster courage for a long while to go in among them, but stood at his own door listening to the murmur of their distant conversation.

He could not stop there for ever, and so joined them. His last glance at the glass had seen a tell-tale face, but that might have been because of his anxious looking in it. He dared not look at them to see if they observed him, but he thought them very silent.

And whatsoever guard he kept upon himself, he could not help listening, and showing that he listened. Whether he attended to their talk, or tried to think of other things, or talked himself, or held his peace, or resolutely counted the dull tickings of a hoarse clock at his back, he always lapsed, as if a spell were on him, into eager listening. For he knew it must come. And his present punishment, and torture and distraction, were, to listen for its coming.

Hush!






CHAPTER FORTY-EIGHT. BEARS TIDINGS OF MARTIN AND OF MARK, AS WELL AS OF A THIRD PERSON NOT QUITE UNKNOWN TO THE READER. EXHIBITS FILIAL PIETY IN AN UGLY ASPECT; AND CASTS A DOUBTFUL RAY OF LIGHT UPON A VERY DARK PLACE


Tom Pinch and Ruth were sitting at their early breakfast, with the window open, and a row of the freshest little plants ranged before it on the inside by Ruth’s own hands; and Ruth had fastened a sprig of geranium in Tom’s button-hole, to make him very smart and summer-like for the day (it was obliged to be fastened in, or that dear old Tom was certain to lose it); and people were crying flowers up and down the street; and a blundering bee, who had got himself in between the two sashes of the window, was bruising his head against the glass, endeavouring to force himself out into the fine morning, and considering himself enchanted because he couldn’t do it; and the morning was as fine a morning as ever was seen; and the fragrant air was kissing Ruth and rustling about Tom, as if it said, ‘how are you, my dears; I came all this way on purpose to salute you;’ and it was one of those glad times when we form, or ought to form, the wish that every one on earth were able to be happy, and catching glimpses of the summer of the heart, to feel the beauty of the summer of the year.

It was even a pleasanter breakfast than usual; and it was always a pleasant one. For little Ruth had now two pupils to attend, each three times a week; and each two hours at a time; and besides this, she had painted some screens and card-racks, and, unknown to Tom (was there ever anything so delightful!), had walked into a certain shop which dealt in such articles, after often peeping through the window; and had taken courage to ask the Mistress of that shop whether she would buy them. And the mistress had not only bought them, but had ordered more, and that very morning Ruth had made confession of these facts to Tom, and had handed him the money in a little purse she had worked expressly for the purpose. They had been in a flutter about this, and perhaps had shed a happy tear or two for anything the history knows to the contrary; but it was all over now; and a brighter face than Tom’s, or a brighter face than Ruth’s, the bright sun had not looked on since he went to bed last night.

‘My dear girl,’ said Tom, coming so abruptly on the subject, that he interrupted himself in the act of cutting a slice of bread, and left the knife sticking in the loaf, ‘what a queer fellow our landlord is! I don’t believe he has been home once since he got me into that unsatisfactory scrape. I begin to think he will never come home again. What a mysterious life that man does lead, to be sure!’

‘Very strange. Is it not, Tom?’

‘Really,’ said Tom, ‘I hope it is only strange. I hope there may be nothing wrong in it. Sometimes I begin to be doubtful of that. I must have an explanation with him,’ said Tom, shaking his head as if this were a most tremendous threat, ‘when I can catch him!’

A short double knock at the door put Tom’s menacing looks to flight, and awakened an expression of surprise instead.

‘Heyday!’ said Tom. ‘An early hour for visitors! It must be John, I suppose.’

‘I—I—don’t think it was his knock, Tom,’ observed his little sister.

‘No?’ said Tom. ‘It surely can’t be my employer suddenly arrived in town; directed here by Mr Fips; and come for the key of the office. It’s somebody inquiring for me, I declare! Come in, if you please!’

But when the person came in, Tom Pinch, instead of saying, ‘Did you wish to speak with me, sir?’ or, ‘My name is Pinch, sir; what is your business, may I ask?’ or addressing him in any such distant terms; cried out, ‘Good gracious Heaven!’ and seized him by both hands, with the liveliest manifestations of astonishment and pleasure.

The visitor was not less moved than Tom himself, and they shook hands a great many times, without another word being spoken on either side. Tom was the first to find his voice.

‘Mark Tapley, too!’ said Tom, running towards the door, and shaking hands with somebody else. ‘My dear Mark, come in. How are you, Mark? He don’t look a day older than he used to do at the Dragon. How are you, Mark?’

‘Uncommonly jolly, sir, thank’ee,’ returned Mr Tapley, all smiles and bows. ‘I hope I see you well, sir.’

‘Good gracious me!’ cried Tom, patting him tenderly on the back. ‘How delightful it is to hear his old voice again! My dear Martin, sit down. My sister, Martin. Mr Chuzzlewit, my love. Mark Tapley from the Dragon, my dear. Good gracious me, what a surprise this is! Sit down. Lord, bless me!’

Tom was in such a state of excitement that he couldn’t keep himself still for a moment, but was constantly running between Mark and Martin, shaking hands with them alternately, and presenting them over and over again to his sister.

‘I remember the day we parted, Martin, as well as if it were yesterday,’ said Tom. ‘What a day it was! and what a passion you were in! And don’t you remember my overtaking you in the road that morning, Mark, when I was going to Salisbury in the gig to fetch him, and you were looking out for a situation? And don’t you recollect the dinner we had at Salisbury, Martin, with John Westlock, eh! Good gracious me! Ruth, my dear, Mr Chuzzlewit. Mark Tapley, my love, from the Dragon. More cups and saucers, if you please. Bless my soul, how glad I am to see you both!’

And then Tom (as John Westlock had done on his arrival) ran off to the loaf to cut some bread and butter for them; and before he had spread a single slice, remembered something else, and came running back again to tell it; and then he shook hands with them again; and then he introduced his sister again; and then he did everything he had done already all over again; and nothing Tom could do, and nothing Tom could say, was half sufficient to express his joy at their safe return.

Mr Tapley was the first to resume his composure. In a very short space of time he was discovered to have somehow installed himself in office as waiter, or attendant upon the party; a fact which was first suggested to them by his temporary absence in the kitchen, and speedy return with a kettle of boiling water, from which he replenished the tea-pot with a self-possession that was quite his own.

‘Sit down, and take your breakfast, Mark,’ said Tom. ‘Make him sit down and take his breakfast, Martin.’

‘Oh! I gave him up, long ago, as incorrigible,’ Martin replied. ‘He takes his own way, Tom. You would excuse him, Miss Pinch, if you knew his value.’

‘She knows it, bless you!’ said Tom. ‘I have told her all about Mark Tapley. Have I not, Ruth?’

‘Yes, Tom.’

‘Not all,’ returned Martin, in a low voice. ‘The best of Mark Tapley is only known to one man, Tom; and but for Mark he would hardly be alive to tell it!’

‘Mark!’ said Tom Pinch energetically; ‘if you don’t sit down this minute, I’ll swear at you!’

‘Well, sir,’ returned Mr Tapley, ‘sooner than you should do that, I’ll com-ply. It’s a considerable invasion of a man’s jollity to be made so partickler welcome, but a Werb is a word as signifies to be, to do, or to suffer (which is all the grammar, and enough too, as ever I wos taught); and if there’s a Werb alive, I’m it. For I’m always a-bein’, sometimes a-doin’, and continually a-sufferin’.’

‘Not jolly yet?’ asked Tom, with a smile.

‘Why, I was rather so, over the water, sir,’ returned Mr Tapley; ‘and not entirely without credit. But Human Natur’ is in a conspiracy again’ me; I can’t get on. I shall have to leave it in my will, sir, to be wrote upon my tomb: “He was a man as might have come out strong if he could have got a chance. But it was denied him.”’

Mr Tapley took this occasion of looking about him with a grin, and subsequently attacking the breakfast, with an appetite not at all expressive of blighted hopes, or insurmountable despondency.

In the meanwhile, Martin drew his chair a little nearer to Tom and his sister, and related to them what had passed at Mr Pecksniff’s house; adding in few words a general summary of the distresses and disappointments he had undergone since he left England.

‘For your faithful stewardship in the trust I left with you, Tom,’ he said, ‘and for all your goodness and disinterestedness, I can never thank you enough. When I add Mary’s thanks to mine—’

Ah, Tom! The blood retreated from his cheeks, and came rushing back, so violently, that it was pain to feel it; ease though, ease, compared with the aching of his wounded heart.

‘When I add Mary’s thanks to mine,’ said Martin, ‘I have made the only poor acknowledgment it is in our power to offer; but if you knew how much we feel, Tom, you would set some store by it, I am sure.’

And if they had known how much Tom felt—but that no human creature ever knew—they would have set some store by him. Indeed they would.

Tom changed the topic of discourse. He was sorry he could not pursue it, as it gave Martin pleasure; but he was unable, at that moment. No drop of envy or bitterness was in his soul; but he could not master the firm utterance of her name.

He inquired what Martin’s projects were.

‘No longer to make your fortune, Tom,’ said Martin, ‘but to try to live. I tried that once in London, Tom; and failed. If you will give me the benefit of your advice and friendly counsel, I may succeed better under your guidance. I will do anything Tom, anything, to gain a livelihood by my own exertions. My hopes do not soar above that, now.’

High-hearted, noble Tom! Sorry to find the pride of his old companion humbled, and to hear him speaking in this altered strain at once, at once, he drove from his breast the inability to contend with its deep emotions, and spoke out bravely.

‘Your hopes do not soar above that!’ cried Tom. ‘Yes they do. How can you talk so! They soar up to the time when you will be happy with her, Martin. They soar up to the time when you will be able to claim her, Martin. They soar up to the time when you will not be able to believe that you were ever cast down in spirit, or poor in pocket, Martin. Advice, and friendly counsel! Why, of course. But you shall have better advice and counsel (though you cannot have more friendly) than mine. You shall consult John Westlock. We’ll go there immediately. It is yet so early that I shall have time to take you to his chambers before I go to business; they are in my way; and I can leave you there, to talk over your affairs with him. So come along. Come along. I am a man of occupation now, you know,’ said Tom, with his pleasantest smile; ‘and have no time to lose. Your hopes don’t soar higher than that? I dare say they don’t. I know you, pretty well. They’ll be soaring out of sight soon, Martin, and leaving all the rest of us leagues behind.’

‘Aye! But I may be a little changed,’ said Martin, ‘since you knew me pretty well, Tom.’

‘What nonsense!’ exclaimed Tom. ‘Why should you be changed? You talk as if you were an old man. I never heard such a fellow! Come to John Westlock’s, come. Come along, Mark Tapley. It’s Mark’s doing, I have no doubt; and it serves you right for having such a grumbler for your companion.’

‘There’s no credit to be got through being jolly with you, Mr Pinch, anyways,’ said Mark, with his face all wrinkled up with grins. ‘A parish doctor might be jolly with you. There’s nothing short of goin’ to the U-nited States for a second trip, as would make it at all creditable to be jolly, arter seein’ you again!’

Tom laughed, and taking leave of his sister, hurried Mark and Martin out into the street, and away to John Westlock’s by the nearest road; for his hour of business was very near at hand, and he prided himself on always being exact to his time.

John Westlock was at home, but, strange to say, was rather embarrassed to see them; and when Tom was about to go into the room where he was breakfasting, said he had a stranger there. It appeared to be a mysterious stranger, for John shut that door as he said it, and led them into the next room.

He was very much delighted, though, to see Mark Tapley; and received Martin with his own frank courtesy. But Martin felt that he did not inspire John Westlock with any unusual interest; and twice or thrice observed that he looked at Tom Pinch doubtfully; not to say compassionately. He thought, and blushed to think, that he knew the cause of this.

‘I apprehend you are engaged,’ said Martin, when Tom had announced the purport of their visit. ‘If you will allow me to come again at your own time, I shall be glad to do so.’

‘I am engaged,’ replied John, with some reluctance; ‘but the matter on which I am engaged is one, to say the truth, more immediately demanding your knowledge than mine.’

‘Indeed!’ cried Martin.

‘It relates to a member of your family, and is of a serious nature. If you will have the kindness to remain here, it will be a satisfaction to me to have it privately communicated to you, in order that you may judge of its importance for yourself.’

‘And in the meantime,’ said Tom, ‘I must really take myself off, without any further ceremony.’

‘Is your business so very particular,’ asked Martin, ‘that you cannot remain with us for half an hour? I wish you could. What is your business, Tom?’

It was Tom’s turn to be embarrassed now; but he plainly said, after a little hesitation:

‘Why, I am not at liberty to say what it is, Martin; though I hope soon to be in a condition to do so, and am aware of no other reason to prevent my doing so now, than the request of my employer. It’s an awkward position to be placed in,’ said Tom, with an uneasy sense of seeming to doubt his friend, ‘as I feel every day; but I really cannot help it, can I, John?’

John Westlock replied in the negative; and Martin, expressing himself perfectly satisfied, begged them not to say another word; though he could not help wondering very much what curious office Tom held, and why he was so secret, and embarrassed, and unlike himself, in reference to it. Nor could he help reverting to it, in his own mind, several times after Tom went away, which he did as soon as this conversation was ended, taking Mr Tapley with him, who, as he laughingly said, might accompany him as far as Fleet Street without injury.

‘And what do you mean to do, Mark?’ asked Tom, as they walked on together.

‘Mean to do, sir?’ returned Mr Tapley.

‘Aye. What course of life do you mean to pursue?’

‘Well, sir,’ said Mr Tapley. ‘The fact is, that I have been a-thinking rather of the matrimonial line, sir.’

‘You don’t say so, Mark!’ cried Tom.

‘Yes, sir. I’ve been a-turnin’ of it over.’

‘And who is the lady, Mark?’

‘The which, sir?’ said Mr Tapley.

‘The lady. Come! You know what I said,’ replied Tom, laughing, ‘as well as I do!’

Mr Tapley suppressed his own inclination to laugh; and with one of his most whimsically-twisted looks, replied:

‘You couldn’t guess, I suppose, Mr Pinch?’

‘How is it possible?’ said Tom. ‘I don’t know any of your flames, Mark. Except Mrs Lupin, indeed.’

‘Well, sir!’ retorted Mr Tapley. ‘And supposing it was her!’

Tom stopping in the street to look at him, Mr Tapley for a moment presented to his view an utterly stolid and expressionless face; a perfect dead wall of countenance. But opening window after window in it with astonishing rapidity, and lighting them all up as for a general illumination, he repeated:

‘Supposin’, for the sake of argument, as it was her, sir!’

‘Why I thought such a connection wouldn’t suit you, Mark, on any terms!’ cried Tom.

‘Well, sir! I used to think so myself, once,’ said Mark. ‘But I ain’t so clear about it now. A dear, sweet creetur, sir!’

‘A dear, sweet creature? To be sure she is,’ cried Tom. ‘But she always was a dear, sweet creature, was she not?’

‘Was she not!’ assented Mr Tapley.

‘Then why on earth didn’t you marry her at first, Mark, instead of wandering abroad, and losing all this time, and leaving her alone by herself, liable to be courted by other people?’

‘Why, sir,’ retorted Mr Tapley, in a spirit of unbounded confidence, ‘I’ll tell you how it come about. You know me, Mr Pinch, sir; there ain’t a gentleman alive as knows me better. You’re acquainted with my constitution, and you’re acquainted with my weakness. My constitution is, to be jolly; and my weakness is, to wish to find a credit in it. Wery good, sir. In this state of mind, I gets a notion in my head that she looks on me with a eye of—with what you may call a favourable sort of a eye in fact,’ said Mr Tapley, with modest hesitation.

‘No doubt,’ replied Tom. ‘We knew that perfectly well when we spoke on this subject long ago; before you left the Dragon.’

Mr Tapley nodded assent. ‘Well, sir! But bein’ at that time full of hopeful wisions, I arrives at the conclusion that no credit is to be got out of such a way of life as that, where everything agreeable would be ready to one’s hand. Lookin’ on the bright side of human life in short, one of my hopeful wisions is, that there’s a deal of misery awaitin’ for me; in the midst of which I may come out tolerable strong, and be jolly under circumstances as reflects some credit. I goes into the world, sir, wery boyant, and I tries this. I goes aboard ship first, and wery soon discovers (by the ease with which I’m jolly, mind you) as there’s no credit to be got there. I might have took warning by this, and gave it up; but I didn’t. I gets to the U-nited States; and then I do begin, I won’t deny it, to feel some little credit in sustaining my spirits. What follows? Jest as I’m a-beginning to come out, and am a-treadin’ on the werge, my master deceives me.’

‘Deceives you!’ cried Tom.

‘Swindles me,’ retorted Mr Tapley with a beaming face. ‘Turns his back on everything as made his service a creditable one, and leaves me high and dry, without a leg to stand upon. In which state I returns home. Wery good. Then all my hopeful wisions bein’ crushed; and findin’ that there ain’t no credit for me nowhere; I abandons myself to despair, and says, “Let me do that as has the least credit in it of all; marry a dear, sweet creetur, as is wery fond of me; me bein’, at the same time, wery fond of her; lead a happy life, and struggle no more again’ the blight which settles on my prospects.”’

‘If your philosophy, Mark,’ said Tom, who laughed heartily at this speech, ‘be the oddest I ever heard of, it is not the least wise. Mrs Lupin has said “yes,” of course?’

‘Why, no, sir,’ replied Mr Tapley; ‘she hasn’t gone so far as that yet. Which I attribute principally to my not havin’ asked her. But we was wery agreeable together—comfortable, I may say—the night I come home. It’s all right, sir.’

‘Well!’ said Tom, stopping at the Temple Gate. ‘I wish you joy, Mark, with all my heart. I shall see you again to-day, I dare say. Good-bye for the present.’

‘Good-bye, sir! Good-bye, Mr Pinch!’ he added by way of soliloquy, as he stood looking after him. ‘Although you are a damper to a honourable ambition. You little think it, but you was the first to dash my hopes. Pecksniff would have built me up for life, but your sweet temper pulled me down. Good-bye, Mr Pinch!’

While these confidences were interchanged between Tom Pinch and Mark, Martin and John Westlock were very differently engaged. They were no sooner left alone together than Martin said, with an effort he could not disguise:

‘Mr Westlock, we have met only once before, but you have known Tom a long while, and that seems to render you familiar to me. I cannot talk freely with you on any subject unless I relieve my mind of what oppresses it just now. I see with pain that you so far mistrust me that you think me likely to impose on Tom’s regardlessness of himself, or on his kind nature, or some of his good qualities.’

‘I had no intention,’ replied John, ‘of conveying any such impression to you, and am exceedingly sorry to have done so.’

‘But you entertain it?’ said Martin.

‘You ask me so pointedly and directly,’ returned the other, ‘that I cannot deny the having accustomed myself to regard you as one who, not in wantonness but in mere thoughtlessness of character, did not sufficiently consider his nature and did not quite treat it as it deserves to be treated. It is much easier to slight than to appreciate Tom Pinch.’

This was not said warmly, but was energetically spoken too; for there was no subject in the world (but one) on which the speaker felt so strongly.

‘I grew into the knowledge of Tom,’ he pursued, ‘as I grew towards manhood; and I have learned to love him as something, infinitely better than myself. I did not think that you understood him when we met before. I did not think that you greatly cared to understand him. The instances of this which I observed in you were, like my opportunities for observation, very trivial—and were very harmless, I dare say. But they were not agreeable to me, and they forced themselves upon me; for I was not upon the watch for them, believe me. You will say,’ added John, with a smile, as he subsided into more of his accustomed manner, ‘that I am not by any means agreeable to you. I can only assure you, in reply, that I would not have originated this topic on any account.’

‘I originated it,’ said Martin; ‘and so far from having any complaint to make against you, highly esteem the friendship you entertain for Tom, and the very many proofs you have given him of it. Why should I endeavour to conceal from you’—he coloured deeply though—‘that I neither understood him nor cared to understand him when I was his companion; and that I am very truly sorry for it now!’

It was so sincerely said, at once so modestly and manfully, that John offered him his hand as if he had not done so before; and Martin giving his in the same open spirit, all constraint between the young men vanished.

‘Now pray,’ said John, ‘when I tire your patience very much in what I am going to say, recollect that it has an end to it, and that the end is the point of the story.’

With this preface, he related all the circumstances connected with his having presided over the illness and slow recovery of the patient at the Bull; and tacked on to the skirts of that narrative Tom’s own account of the business on the wharf. Martin was not a little puzzled when he came to an end, for the two stories seemed to have no connection with each other, and to leave him, as the phrase is, all abroad.

‘If you will excuse me for one moment,’ said John, rising, ‘I will beg you almost immediately to come into the next room.’

Upon that, he left Martin to himself, in a state of considerable astonishment; and soon came back again to fulfil his promise. Accompanying him into the next room, Martin found there a third person; no doubt the stranger of whom his host had spoken when Tom Pinch introduced him.

He was a young man; with deep black hair and eyes. He was gaunt and pale; and evidently had not long recovered from a severe illness. He stood as Martin entered, but sat again at John’s desire. His eyes were cast downward; and but for one glance at them both, half in humiliation and half in entreaty, he kept them so, and sat quite still and silent.

‘This person’s name is Lewsome,’ said John Westlock, ‘whom I have mentioned to you as having been seized with an illness at the inn near here, and undergone so much. He has had a very hard time of it, ever since he began to recover; but, as you see, he is now doing well.’

As he did not move or speak, and John Westlock made a pause, Martin, not knowing what to say, said that he was glad to hear it.

‘The short statement that I wish you to hear from his own lips, Mr Chuzzlewit,’ John pursued—looking attentively at him, and not at Martin—‘he made to me for the first time yesterday, and repeated to me this morning, without the least variation of any essential particular. I have already told you that he informed me before he was removed from the Inn, that he had a secret to disclose to me which lay heavy on his mind. But, fluctuating between sickness and health and between his desire to relieve himself of it, and his dread of involving himself by revealing it, he has, until yesterday, avoided the disclosure. I never pressed him for it (having no idea of its weight or import, or of my right to do so), until within a few days past; when, understanding from him, on his own voluntary avowal, in a letter from the country, that it related to a person whose name was Jonas Chuzzlewit; and thinking that it might throw some light on that little mystery which made Tom anxious now and then; I urged the point upon him, and heard his statement, as you will now, from his own lips. It is due to him to say, that in the apprehension of death, he committed it to writing sometime since, and folded it in a sealed paper, addressed to me; which he could not resolve, however, to place of his own act in my hands. He has the paper in his breast, I believe, at this moment.’

The young man touched it hastily; in corroboration of the fact.

‘It will be well to leave that in our charge, perhaps,’ said John. ‘But do not mind it now.’

As he said this, he held up his hand to bespeak Martin’s attention. It was already fixed upon the man before him, who, after a short silence said, in a low, weak, hollow voice:

‘What relation was Mr Anthony Chuzzlewit, who—’

‘—Who died—to me?’ said Martin. ‘He was my grandfather’s brother.’

‘I fear he was made away with. Murdered!’

‘My God!’ said Martin. ‘By whom?’

The young man, Lewsome, looked up in his face, and casting down his eyes again, replied:

‘I fear, by me.’

‘By you?’ cried Martin.

‘Not by my act, but I fear by my means.’

‘Speak out!’ said Martin, ‘and speak the truth.’

‘I fear this is the truth.’

Martin was about to interrupt him again, but John Westlock saying softly, ‘Let him tell his story in his own way,’ Lewsome went on thus:

‘I have been bred a surgeon, and for the last few years have served a general practitioner in the City, as his assistant. While I was in his employment I became acquainted with Jonas Chuzzlewit. He is the principal in this deed.’

‘What do you mean?’ demanded Martin, sternly. ‘Do you know he is the son of the old man of whom you have spoken?’

‘I do,’ he answered.

He remained silent for some moments, when he resumed at the point where he had left off.

‘I have reason to know it; for I have often heard him wish his old father dead, and complain of his being wearisome to him, and a drag upon him. He was in the habit of doing so, at a place of meeting we had—three or four of us—at night. There was no good in the place you may suppose, when you hear that he was the chief of the party. I wish I had died myself, and never seen it!’

He stopped again; and again resumed as before.

‘We met to drink and game; not for large sums, but for sums that were large to us. He generally won. Whether or no, he lent money at interest to those who lost; and in this way, though I think we all secretly hated him, he came to be the master of us. To propitiate him we made a jest of his father; it began with his debtors; I was one; and we used to toast a quicker journey to the old man, and a swift inheritance to the young one.’

He paused again.

‘One night he came there in a very bad humour. He had been greatly tried, he said, by the old man that day. He and I were alone together; and he angrily told me, that the old man was in his second childhood; that he was weak, imbecile, and drivelling; as unbearable to himself as he was to other people; and that it would be a charity to put him out of the way. He swore that he had often thought of mixing something with the stuff he took for his cough, which should help him to die easily. People were sometimes smothered who were bitten by mad dogs, he said; and why not help these lingering old men out of their troubles too? He looked full at me as he said so, and I looked full at him; but it went no farther that night.’

He stopped once more, and was silent for so long an interval that John Westlock said ‘Go on.’ Martin had never removed his eyes from his face, but was so absorbed in horror and astonishment that he could not speak.

‘It may have been a week after that, or it may have been less or more—the matter was in my mind all the time, but I cannot recollect the time, as I should any other period—when he spoke to me again. We were alone then, too; being there before the usual hour of assembling. There was no appointment between us; but I think I went there to meet him, and I know he came there to meet me. He was there first. He was reading a newspaper when I went in, and nodded to me without looking up, or leaving off reading. I sat down opposite and close to him. He said, immediately, that he wanted me to get him some of two sorts of drugs. One that was instantaneous in its effect; of which he wanted very little. One that was slow and not suspicious in appearance; of which he wanted more. While he was speaking to me he still read the newspaper. He said “Drugs,” and never used any other word. Neither did I.’

‘This all agrees with what I have heard before,’ observed John Westlock.

‘I asked him what he wanted the drugs for? He said for no harm; to physic cats; what did it matter to me? I was going out to a distant colony (I had recently got the appointment, which, as Mr Westlock knows, I have since lost by my sickness, and which was my only hope of salvation from ruin), and what did it matter to me? He could get them without my aid at half a hundred places, but not so easily as he could get them of me. This was true. He might not want them at all, he said, and he had no present idea of using them; but he wished to have them by him. All this time he still read the newspaper. We talked about the price. He was to forgive me a small debt—I was quite in his power—and to pay me five pounds; and there the matter dropped, through others coming in. But, next night, under exactly similar circumstances, I gave him the drugs, on his saying I was a fool to think that he should ever use them for any harm; and he gave me the money. We have never met since. I only know that the poor old father died soon afterwards, just as he would have died from this cause; and that I have undergone, and suffer now, intolerable misery. Nothing’ he added, stretching out his hands, ‘can paint my misery! It is well deserved, but nothing can paint it.’

With that he hung his head, and said no more, wasted and wretched, he was not a creature upon whom to heap reproaches that were unavailing.

‘Let him remain at hand,’ said Martin, turning from him; ‘but out of sight, in Heaven’s name!’

‘He will remain here,’ John whispered. ‘Come with me!’ Softly turning the key upon him as they went out, he conducted Martin into the adjoining room, in which they had been before.

Martin was so amazed, so shocked, and confounded by what he had heard that it was some time before he could reduce it to any order in his mind, or could sufficiently comprehend the bearing of one part upon another, to take in all the details at one view. When he, at length, had the whole narrative clearly before him, John Westlock went on to point out the great probability of the guilt of Jonas being known to other people, who traded in it for their own benefit, and who were, by such means, able to exert that control over him which Tom Pinch had accidentally witnessed, and unconsciously assisted. This appeared so plain, that they agreed upon it without difficulty; but instead of deriving the least assistance from this source, they found that it embarrassed them the more.

They knew nothing of the real parties who possessed this power. The only person before them was Tom’s landlord. They had no right to question Tom’s landlord, even if they could find him, which, according to Tom’s account, it would not be easy to do. And granting that they did question him, and he answered (which was taking a good deal for granted), he had only to say, with reference to the adventure on the wharf, that he had been sent from such and such a place to summon Jonas back on urgent business, and there was an end of it.

Besides, there was the great difficulty and responsibility of moving at all in the matter. Lewsome’s story might be false; in his wretched state it might be greatly heightened by a diseased brain; or admitting it to be entirely true, the old man might have died a natural death. Mr Pecksniff had been there at the time; as Tom immediately remembered, when he came back in the afternoon, and shared their counsels; and there had been no secrecy about it. Martin’s grandfather was of right the person to decide upon the course that should be taken; but to get at his views would be impossible, for Mr Pecksniff’s views were certain to be his. And the nature of Mr Pecksniff’s views in reference to his own son-in-law might be easily reckoned upon.

Apart from these considerations, Martin could not endure the thought of seeming to grasp at this unnatural charge against his relative, and using it as a stepping-stone to his grandfather’s favour. But that he would seem to do so, if he presented himself before his grandfather in Mr Pecksniff’s house again, for the purpose of declaring it; and that Mr Pecksniff, of all men, would represent his conduct in that despicable light, he perfectly well knew. On the other hand to be in possession of such a statement, and take no measures of further inquiry in reference to it, was tantamount to being a partner in the guilt it professed to disclose.

In a word, they were wholly unable to discover any outlet from this maze of difficulty, which did not lie through some perplexed and entangled thicket. And although Mr Tapley was promptly taken into their confidence; and the fertile imagination of that gentleman suggested many bold expedients, which, to do him justice, he was quite ready to carry into instant operation on his own personal responsibility; still ‘bating the general zeal of Mr Tapley’s nature, nothing was made particularly clearer by these offers of service.

It was in this position of affairs that Tom’s account of the strange behaviour of the decayed clerk, on the night of the tea-party, became of great moment, and finally convinced them that to arrive at a more accurate knowledge of the workings of that old man’s mind and memory, would be to take a most important stride in their pursuit of the truth. So, having first satisfied themselves that no communication had ever taken place between Lewsome and Mr Chuffey (which would have accounted at once for any suspicions the latter might entertain), they unanimously resolved that the old clerk was the man they wanted.

But, like the unanimous resolution of a public meeting, which will oftentimes declare that this or that grievance is not to be borne a moment longer, which is nevertheless borne for a century or two afterwards, without any modification, they only reached in this the conclusion that they were all of one mind. For it was one thing to want Mr Chuffey, and another thing to get at him; and to do that without alarming him, or without alarming Jonas, or without being discomfited by the difficulty of striking, in an instrument so out of tune and so unused, the note they sought, was an end as far from their reach as ever.

The question then became, who of those about the old clerk had had most influence with him that night? Tom said his young mistress clearly. But Tom and all of them shrunk from the thought of entrapping her, and making her the innocent means of bringing retribution on her cruel husband. Was there nobody else? Why yes. In a very different way, Tom said, he was influenced by Mrs Gamp, the nurse; who had once had the control of him, as he understood, for some time.

They caught at this immediately. Here was a new way out, developed in a quarter until then overlooked. John Westlock knew Mrs Gamp; he had given her employment; he was acquainted with her place of residence: for that good lady had obligingly furnished him, at parting, with a pack of her professional cards for general distribution. It was decided that Mrs Gamp should be approached with caution, but approached without delay; and that the depths of that discreet matron’s knowledge of Mr Chuffey, and means of bringing them, or one of them, into communication with him, should be carefully sounded.

On this service, Martin and John Westlock determined to proceed that night; waiting on Mrs Gamp first, at her lodgings; and taking their chance of finding her in the repose of private life, or of having to seek her out, elsewhere, in the exercise of her professional duties. Tom returned home, that he might lose no opportunity of having an interview with Nadgett, by being absent in the event of his reappearance. And Mr Tapley remained (by his own particular desire) for the time being in Furnival’s Inn, to look after Lewsome; who might safely have been left to himself, however, for any thought he seemed to entertain of giving them the slip.

Before they parted on their several errands, they caused him to read aloud, in the presence of them all, the paper which he had about him, and the declaration he had attached to it, which was to the effect that he had written it voluntarily, in the fear of death and in the torture of his mind. And when he had done so, they all signed it, and taking it from him, of his free will, locked it in a place of safety.

Martin also wrote, by John’s advice, a letter to the trustees of the famous Grammar School, boldly claiming the successful design as his, and charging Mr Pecksniff with the fraud he had committed. In this proceeding also, John was hotly interested; observing, with his usual irreverance, that Mr Pecksniff had been a successful rascal all his life through, and that it would be a lasting source of happiness to him (John) if he could help to do him justice in the smallest particular.

A busy day! But Martin had no lodgings yet; so when these matters were disposed of, he excused himself from dining with John Westlock and was fain to wander out alone, and look for some. He succeeded, after great trouble, in engaging two garrets for himself and Mark, situated in a court in the Strand, not far from Temple Bar. Their luggage, which was waiting for them at a coach-office, he conveyed to this new place of refuge; and it was with a glow of satisfaction, which as a selfish man he never could have known and never had, that, thinking how much pains and trouble he had saved Mark, and how pleased and astonished Mark would be, he afterwards walked up and down, in the Temple, eating a meat-pie for his dinner.






CHAPTER FORTY-NINE. IN WHICH MRS HARRIS ASSISTED BY A TEAPOT, IS THE CAUSE OF A DIVISION BETWEEN FRIENDS


Mrs Gamp’s apartment in Kingsgate Street, High Holborn, wore, metaphorically speaking, a robe of state. It was swept and garnished for the reception of a visitor. That visitor was Betsey Prig; Mrs Prig, of Bartlemy’s; or as some said Barklemy’s, or as some said Bardlemy’s; for by all these endearing and familiar appellations, had the hospital of Saint Bartholomew become a household word among the sisterhood which Betsey Prig adorned.

Mrs Gamp’s apartment was not a spacious one, but, to a contented mind, a closet is a palace; and the first-floor front at Mr Sweedlepipe’s may have been, in the imagination of Mrs Gamp, a stately pile. If it were not exactly that, to restless intellects, it at least comprised as much accommodation as any person, not sanguine to insanity, could have looked for in a room of its dimensions. For only keep the bedstead always in your mind; and you were safe. That was the grand secret. Remembering the bedstead, you might even stoop to look under the little round table for anything you had dropped, without hurting yourself much against the chest of drawers, or qualifying as a patient of Saint Bartholomew, by falling into the fire.

Visitors were much assisted in their cautious efforts to preserve an unflagging recollection of this piece of furniture, by its size; which was great. It was not a turn-up bedstead, nor yet a French bedstead, nor yet a four-post bedstead, but what is poetically called a tent; the sacking whereof was low and bulgy, insomuch that Mrs Gamp’s box would not go under it, but stopped half-way, in a manner which, while it did violence to the reason, likewise endangered the legs of a stranger. The frame too, which would have supported the canopy and hangings if there had been any, was ornamented with divers pippins carved in timber, which on the slightest provocation, and frequently on none at all, came tumbling down; harassing the peaceful guest with inexplicable terrors.

The bed itself was decorated with a patchwork quilt of great antiquity; and at the upper end, upon the side nearest to the door, hung a scanty curtain of blue check, which prevented the Zephyrs that were abroad in Kingsgate Street, from visiting Mrs Gamp’s head too roughly. Some rusty gowns and other articles of that lady’s wardrobe depended from the posts; and these had so adapted themselves by long usage to her figure, that more than one impatient husband coming in precipitately, at about the time of twilight, had been for an instant stricken dumb by the supposed discovery that Mrs Gamp had hanged herself. One gentleman, coming on the usual hasty errand, had said indeed, that they looked like guardian angels ‘watching of her in her sleep.’ But that, as Mrs Gamp said, ‘was his first;’ and he never repeated the sentiment, though he often repeated his visit.

The chairs in Mrs Gamp’s apartment were extremely large and broad-backed, which was more than a sufficient reason for there being but two in number. They were both elbow-chairs, of ancient mahogany; and were chiefly valuable for the slippery nature of their seats, which had been originally horsehair, but were now covered with a shiny substance of a bluish tint, from which the visitor began to slide away with a dismayed countenance, immediately after sitting down. What Mrs Gamp wanted in chairs she made up in bandboxes; of which she had a great collection, devoted to the reception of various miscellaneous valuables, which were not, however, as well protected as the good woman, by a pleasant fiction, seemed to think; for, though every bandbox had a carefully closed lid, not one among them had a bottom; owing to which cause the property within was merely, as it were, extinguished. The chest of drawers having been originally made to stand upon the top of another chest, had a dwarfish, elfin look, alone; but in regard of its security it had a great advantage over the bandboxes, for as all the handles had been long ago pulled off, it was very difficult to get at its contents. This indeed was only to be done by one or two devices; either by tilting the whole structure forward until all the drawers fell out together, or by opening them singly with knives, like oysters.

Mrs Gamp stored all her household matters in a little cupboard by the fire-place; beginning below the surface (as in nature) with the coals, and mounting gradually upwards to the spirits, which, from motives of delicacy, she kept in a teapot. The chimney-piece was ornamented with a small almanack, marked here and there in Mrs Gamp’s own hand with a memorandum of the date at which some lady was expected to fall due. It was also embellished with three profiles: one, in colours, of Mrs Gamp herself in early life; one, in bronze, of a lady in feathers, supposed to be Mrs Harris, as she appeared when dressed for a ball; and one, in black, of Mr Gamp, deceased. The last was a full length, in order that the likeness might be rendered more obvious and forcible by the introduction of the wooden leg.

A pair of bellows, a pair of pattens, a toasting-fork, a kettle, a pap-boat, a spoon for the administration of medicine to the refractory, and lastly, Mrs Gamp’s umbrella, which as something of great price and rarity, was displayed with particular ostentation, completed the decorations of the chimney-piece and adjacent wall. Towards these objects Mrs Gamp raised her eyes in satisfaction when she had arranged the tea-board, and had concluded her arrangements for the reception of Betsey Prig, even unto the setting forth of two pounds of Newcastle salmon, intensely pickled.

‘There! Now drat you, Betsey, don’t be long!’ said Mrs Gamp, apostrophizing her absent friend. ‘For I can’t abear to wait, I do assure you. To wotever place I goes, I sticks to this one mortar, “I’m easy pleased; it is but little as I wants; but I must have that little of the best, and to the minute when the clock strikes, else we do not part as I could wish, but bearin’ malice in our arts.”’

Her own preparations were of the best, for they comprehended a delicate new loaf, a plate of fresh butter, a basin of fine white sugar, and other arrangements on the same scale. Even the snuff with which she now refreshed herself, was so choice in quality that she took a second pinch.

‘There’s the little bell a-ringing now,’ said Mrs Gamp, hurrying to the stair-head and looking over. ‘Betsey Prig, my—why it’s that there disapintin’ Sweedlepipes, I do believe.’

‘Yes, it’s me,’ said the barber in a faint voice; ‘I’ve just come in.’

‘You’re always a-comin’ in, I think,’ muttered Mrs Gamp to herself, ‘except wen you’re a-goin’ out. I ha’n’t no patience with that man!’

‘Mrs Gamp,’ said the barber. ‘I say! Mrs Gamp!’

‘Well,’ cried Mrs Gamp, impatiently, as she descended the stairs. ‘What is it? Is the Thames a-fire, and cooking its own fish, Mr Sweedlepipes? Why wot’s the man gone and been a-doin’ of to himself? He’s as white as chalk!’

She added the latter clause of inquiry, when she got downstairs, and found him seated in the shaving-chair, pale and disconsolate.

‘You recollect,’ said Poll. ‘You recollect young—’

‘Not young Wilkins!’ cried Mrs Gamp. ‘Don’t say young Wilkins, wotever you do. If young Wilkins’s wife is took—’

‘It isn’t anybody’s wife,’ exclaimed the little barber. ‘Bailey, young Bailey!’

‘Why, wot do you mean to say that chit’s been a-doin’ of?’ retorted Mrs Gamp, sharply. ‘Stuff and nonsense, Mrs Sweedlepipes!’

‘He hasn’t been a-doing anything!’ exclaimed poor Poll, quite desperate. ‘What do you catch me up so short for, when you see me put out to that extent that I can hardly speak? He’ll never do anything again. He’s done for. He’s killed. The first time I ever see that boy,’ said Poll, ‘I charged him too much for a red-poll. I asked him three-halfpence for a penny one, because I was afraid he’d beat me down. But he didn’t. And now he’s dead; and if you was to crowd all the steam-engines and electric fluids that ever was, into this shop, and set ‘em every one to work their hardest, they couldn’t square the account, though it’s only a ha’penny!’

Mr Sweedlepipe turned aside to the towel, and wiped his eyes with it.

‘And what a clever boy he was!’ he said. ‘What a surprising young chap he was! How he talked! and what a deal he know’d! Shaved in this very chair he was; only for fun; it was all his fun; he was full of it. Ah! to think that he’ll never be shaved in earnest! The birds might every one have died, and welcome,’ cried the little barber, looking round him at the cages, and again applying to the towel, ‘sooner than I’d have heard this news!’

‘How did you ever come to hear it?’ said Mrs Gamp, ‘who told you?’

‘I went out,’ returned the little barber, ‘into the City, to meet a sporting gent upon the Stock Exchange, that wanted a few slow pigeons to practice at; and when I’d done with him, I went to get a little drop of beer, and there I heard everybody a-talking about it. It’s in the papers.’

‘You are in a nice state of confugion, Mr Sweedlepipes, you are!’ said Mrs Gamp, shaking her head; ‘and my opinion is, as half-a-dudgeon fresh young lively leeches on your temples, wouldn’t be too much to clear your mind, which so I tell you. Wot were they a-talkin’ on, and wot was in the papers?’

‘All about it!’ cried the barber. ‘What else do you suppose? Him and his master were upset on a journey, and he was carried to Salisbury, and was breathing his last when the account came away. He never spoke afterwards. Not a single word. That’s the worst of it to me; but that ain’t all. His master can’t be found. The other manager of their office in the city, Crimple, David Crimple, has gone off with the money, and is advertised for, with a reward, upon the walls. Mr Montague, poor young Bailey’s master (what a boy he was!) is advertised for, too. Some say he’s slipped off, to join his friend abroad; some say he mayn’t have got away yet; and they’re looking for him high and low. Their office is a smash; a swindle altogether. But what’s a Life Assurance office to a Life! And what a Life Young Bailey’s was!’

‘He was born into a wale,’ said Mrs Gamp, with philosophical coolness. ‘and he lived in a wale; and he must take the consequences of sech a sitiwation. But don’t you hear nothink of Mr Chuzzlewit in all this?’

‘No,’ said Poll, ‘nothing to speak of. His name wasn’t printed as one of the board, though some people say it was just going to be. Some believe he was took in, and some believe he was one of the takers-in; but however that may be, they can’t prove nothing against him. This morning he went up of his own accord afore the Lord Mayor or some of them City big-wigs, and complained that he’d been swindled, and that these two persons had gone off and cheated him, and that he had just found out that Montague’s name wasn’t even Montague, but something else. And they do say that he looked like Death, owing to his losses. But, Lord forgive me,’ cried the barber, coming back again to the subject of his individual grief, ‘what’s his looks to me! He might have died and welcome, fifty times, and not been such a loss as Bailey!’

At this juncture the little bell rang, and the deep voice of Mrs Prig struck into the conversation.

‘Oh! You’re a-talkin’ about it, are you!’ observed that lady. ‘Well, I hope you’ve got it over, for I ain’t interested in it myself.’

‘My precious Betsey,’ said Mrs Gamp, ‘how late you are!’

The worthy Mrs Prig replied, with some asperity, ‘that if perwerse people went off dead, when they was least expected, it warn’t no fault of her’n.’ And further, ‘that it was quite aggrawation enough to be made late when one was dropping for one’s tea, without hearing on it again.’

Mrs Gamp, deriving from this exhibition of repartee some clue to the state of Mrs Prig’s feelings, instantly conducted her upstairs; deeming that the sight of pickled salmon might work a softening change.

But Betsey Prig expected pickled salmon. It was obvious that she did; for her first words, after glancing at the table, were:

‘I know’d she wouldn’t have a cowcumber!’

Mrs Gamp changed colour, and sat down upon the bedstead.

‘Lord bless you, Betsey Prig, your words is true. I quite forgot it!’

Mrs Prig, looking steadfastly at her friend, put her hand in her pocket, and with an air of surly triumph drew forth either the oldest of lettuces or youngest of cabbages, but at any rate, a green vegetable of an expansive nature, and of such magnificent proportions that she was obliged to shut it up like an umbrella before she could pull it out. She also produced a handful of mustard and cress, a trifle of the herb called dandelion, three bunches of radishes, an onion rather larger than an average turnip, three substantial slices of beetroot, and a short prong or antler of celery; the whole of this garden-stuff having been publicly exhibited, but a short time before, as a twopenny salad, and purchased by Mrs Prig on condition that the vendor could get it all into her pocket. Which had been happily accomplished, in High Holborn, to the breathless interest of a hackney-coach stand. And she laid so little stress on this surprising forethought, that she did not even smile, but returning her pocket into its accustomed sphere, merely recommended that these productions of nature should be sliced up, for immediate consumption, in plenty of vinegar.

‘And don’t go a-droppin’ none of your snuff in it,’ said Mrs Prig. ‘In gruel, barley-water, apple-tea, mutton-broth, and that, it don’t signify. It stimulates a patient. But I don’t relish it myself.’

‘Why, Betsey Prig!’ cried Mrs Gamp, ‘how can you talk so!’

‘Why, ain’t your patients, wotever their diseases is, always asneezin’ their wery heads off, along of your snuff?’ said Mrs Prig.

‘And wot if they are!’ said Mrs Gamp

‘Nothing if they are,’ said Mrs Prig. ‘But don’t deny it, Sairah.’

‘Who deniges of it?’ Mrs Gamp inquired.

Mrs Prig returned no answer.

‘Who deniges of it, Betsey?’ Mrs Gamp inquired again. Then Mrs Gamp, by reversing the question, imparted a deeper and more awful character of solemnity to the same. ‘Betsey, who deniges of it?’

It was the nearest possible approach to a very decided difference of opinion between these ladies; but Mrs Prig’s impatience for the meal being greater at the moment than her impatience of contradiction, she replied, for the present, ‘Nobody, if you don’t, Sairah,’ and prepared herself for tea. For a quarrel can be taken up at any time, but a limited quantity of salmon cannot.

Her toilet was simple. She had merely to ‘chuck’ her bonnet and shawl upon the bed; give her hair two pulls, one upon the right side and one upon the left, as if she were ringing a couple of bells; and all was done. The tea was already made, Mrs Gamp was not long over the salad, and they were soon at the height of their repast.

The temper of both parties was improved, for the time being, by the enjoyments of the table. When the meal came to a termination (which it was pretty long in doing), and Mrs Gamp having cleared away, produced the teapot from the top shelf, simultaneously with a couple of wine-glasses, they were quite amiable.

‘Betsey,’ said Mrs Gamp, filling her own glass and passing the teapot, ‘I will now propoge a toast. My frequent pardner, Betsey Prig!’

‘Which, altering the name to Sairah Gamp; I drink,’ said Mrs Prig, ‘with love and tenderness.’

From this moment symptoms of inflammation began to lurk in the nose of each lady; and perhaps, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, in the temper also.

‘Now, Sairah,’ said Mrs Prig, ‘joining business with pleasure, wot is this case in which you wants me?’

Mrs Gamp betraying in her face some intention of returning an evasive answer, Betsey added:

‘Is it Mrs Harris?’

‘No, Betsey Prig, it ain’t,’ was Mrs Gamp’s reply.

‘Well!’ said Mrs Prig, with a short laugh. ‘I’m glad of that, at any rate.’

‘Why should you be glad of that, Betsey?’ Mrs Gamp retorted, warmly. ‘She is unbeknown to you except by hearsay, why should you be glad? If you have anythink to say contrairy to the character of Mrs Harris, which well I knows behind her back, afore her face, or anywheres, is not to be impeaged, out with it, Betsey. I have know’d that sweetest and best of women,’ said Mrs Gamp, shaking her head, and shedding tears, ‘ever since afore her First, which Mr Harris who was dreadful timid went and stopped his ears in a empty dog-kennel, and never took his hands away or come out once till he was showed the baby, wen bein’ took with fits, the doctor collared him and laid him on his back upon the airy stones, and she was told to ease her mind, his owls was organs. And I have know’d her, Betsey Prig, when he has hurt her feelin’ art by sayin’ of his Ninth that it was one too many, if not two, while that dear innocent was cooin’ in his face, which thrive it did though bandy, but I have never know’d as you had occagion to be glad, Betsey, on accounts of Mrs Harris not requiring you. Require she never will, depend upon it, for her constant words in sickness is, and will be, “Send for Sairey?”’

During this touching address, Mrs Prig adroitly feigning to be the victim of that absence of mind which has its origin in excessive attention to one topic, helped herself from the teapot without appearing to observe it. Mrs Gamp observed it, however, and came to a premature close in consequence.

‘Well, it ain’t her, it seems,’ said Mrs Prig, coldly; ‘who is it then?’

‘You have heerd me mention, Betsey,’ Mrs Gamp replied, after glancing in an expressive and marked manner at the tea-pot, ‘a person as I took care on at the time as you and me was pardners off and on, in that there fever at the Bull?’

‘Old Snuffey,’ Mrs Prig observed.

Sarah Gamp looked at her with an eye of fire, for she saw in this mistake of Mrs Prig, another willful and malignant stab at that same weakness or custom of hers, an ungenerous allusion to which, on the part of Betsey, had first disturbed their harmony that evening. And she saw it still more clearly, when, politely but firmly correcting that lady by the distinct enunciation of the word ‘Chuffey,’ Mrs Prig received the correction with a diabolical laugh.

The best among us have their failings, and it must be conceded of Mrs Prig, that if there were a blemish in the goodness of her disposition, it was a habit she had of not bestowing all its sharp and acid properties upon her patients (as a thoroughly amiable woman would have done), but of keeping a considerable remainder for the service of her friends. Highly pickled salmon, and lettuces chopped up in vinegar, may, as viands possessing some acidity of their own, have encouraged and increased this failing in Mrs Prig; and every application to the teapot certainly did; for it was often remarked of her by her friends, that she was most contradictory when most elevated. It is certain that her countenance became about this time derisive and defiant, and that she sat with her arms folded, and one eye shut up, in a somewhat offensive, because obstrusively intelligent, manner.

Mrs Gamp observing this, felt it the more necessary that Mrs Prig should know her place, and be made sensible of her exact station in society, as well as of her obligations to herself. She therefore assumed an air of greater patronage and importance, as she went on to answer Mrs Prig a little more in detail.

‘Mr Chuffey, Betsey,’ said Mrs Gamp, ‘is weak in his mind. Excuge me if I makes remark, that he may neither be so weak as people thinks, nor people may not think he is so weak as they pretends, and what I knows, I knows; and what you don’t, you don’t; so do not ask me, Betsey. But Mr Chuffey’s friends has made propojals for his bein’ took care on, and has said to me, “Mrs Gamp, will you undertake it? We couldn’t think,” they says, “of trusting him to nobody but you, for, Sairey, you are gold as has passed the furnage. Will you undertake it, at your own price, day and night, and by your own self?” “No,” I says, “I will not. Do not reckon on it. There is,” I says, “but one creetur in the world as I would undertake on sech terms, and her name is Harris. But,” I says, “I am acquainted with a friend, whose name is Betsey Prig, that I can recommend, and will assist me. Betsey,” I says, “is always to be trusted under me, and will be guided as I could desire.”’

Here Mrs Prig, without any abatement of her offensive manner again counterfeited abstraction of mind, and stretched out her hand to the teapot. It was more than Mrs Gamp could bear. She stopped the hand of Mrs Prig with her own, and said, with great feeling:

‘No, Betsey! Drink fair, wotever you do!’

Mrs Prig, thus baffled, threw herself back in her chair, and closing the same eye more emphatically, and folding her arms tighter, suffered her head to roll slowly from side to side, while she surveyed her friend with a contemptuous smile.

Mrs Gamp resumed:

‘Mrs Harris, Betsey—’

‘Bother Mrs Harris!’ said Betsey Prig.

Mrs Gamp looked at her with amazement, incredulity, and indignation; when Mrs Prig, shutting her eye still closer, and folding her arms still tighter, uttered these memorable and tremendous words:

‘I don’t believe there’s no sich a person!’

After the utterance of which expressions, she leaned forward, and snapped her fingers once, twice, thrice; each time nearer to the face of Mrs Gamp, and then rose to put on her bonnet, as one who felt that there was now a gulf between them, which nothing could ever bridge across.

The shock of this blow was so violent and sudden, that Mrs Gamp sat staring at nothing with uplifted eyes, and her mouth open as if she were gasping for breath, until Betsey Prig had put on her bonnet and her shawl, and was gathering the latter about her throat. Then Mrs Gamp rose—morally and physically rose—and denounced her.

‘What!’ said Mrs Gamp, ‘you bage creetur, have I know’d Mrs Harris five and thirty year, to be told at last that there ain’t no sech a person livin’! Have I stood her friend in all her troubles, great and small, for it to come at last to sech a end as this, which her own sweet picter hanging up afore you all the time, to shame your Bragian words! But well you mayn’t believe there’s no sech a creetur, for she wouldn’t demean herself to look at you, and often has she said, when I have made mention of your name, which, to my sinful sorrow, I have done, “What, Sairey Gamp! debage yourself to her!” Go along with you!’

‘I’m a-goin’, ma’am, ain’t I?’ said Mrs Prig, stopping as she said it.

‘You had better, ma’am,’ said Mrs Gamp.

‘Do you know who you’re talking to, ma’am?’ inquired her visitor.

‘Aperiently,’ said Mrs Gamp, surveying her with scorn from head to foot, ‘to Betsey Prig. Aperiently so. I know her. No one better. Go along with you!’

‘And you was a-goin’ to take me under you!’ cried Mrs Prig, surveying Mrs Gamp from head to foot in her turn. ‘You was, was you? Oh, how kind! Why, deuce take your imperence,’ said Mrs Prig, with a rapid change from banter to ferocity, ‘what do you mean?’

‘Go along with you!’ said Mrs Gamp. ‘I blush for you.’

‘You had better blush a little for yourself, while you are about it!’ said Mrs Prig. ‘You and your Chuffeys! What, the poor old creetur isn’t mad enough, isn’t he? Aha!’

‘He’d very soon be mad enough, if you had anything to do with him,’ said Mrs Gamp.

‘And that’s what I was wanted for, is it?’ cried Mrs Prig, triumphantly. ‘Yes. But you’ll find yourself deceived. I won’t go near him. We shall see how you get on without me. I won’t have nothink to do with him.’

‘You never spoke a truer word than that!’ said Mrs Gamp. ‘Go along with you!’

She was prevented from witnessing the actual retirement of Mrs Prig from the room, notwithstanding the great desire she had expressed to behold it, by that lady, in her angry withdrawal, coming into contact with the bedstead, and bringing down the previously mentioned pippins; three or four of which came rattling on the head of Mrs Gamp so smartly, that when she recovered from this wooden shower-bath, Mrs Prig was gone.

She had the satisfaction, however, of hearing the deep voice of Betsey, proclaiming her injuries and her determination to have nothing to do with Mr Chuffey, down the stairs, and along the passage, and even out in Kingsgate Street. Likewise of seeing in her own apartment, in the place of Mrs Prig, Mr Sweedlepipe and two gentlemen.

‘Why, bless my life!’ exclaimed the little barber, ‘what’s amiss? The noise you ladies have been making, Mrs Gamp! Why, these two gentlemen have been standing on the stairs, outside the door, nearly all the time, trying to make you hear, while you were pelting away, hammer and tongs! It’ll be the death of the little bullfinch in the shop, that draws his own water. In his fright, he’s been a-straining himself all to bits, drawing more water than he could drink in a twelvemonth. He must have thought it was Fire!’

Mrs Gamp had in the meanwhile sunk into her chair, from whence, turning up her overflowing eyes, and clasping her hands, she delivered the following lamentation:

‘Oh, Mr Sweedlepipes, which Mr Westlock also, if my eyes do not deceive, and a friend not havin’ the pleasure of bein’ beknown, wot I have took from Betsey Prig this blessed night, no mortial creetur knows! If she had abuged me, bein’ in liquor, which I thought I smelt her wen she come, but could not so believe, not bein’ used myself’—Mrs Gamp, by the way, was pretty far gone, and the fragrance of the teapot was strong in the room—‘I could have bore it with a thankful art. But the words she spoke of Mrs Harris, lambs could not forgive. No, Betsey!’ said Mrs Gamp, in a violent burst of feeling, ‘nor worms forget!’

The little barber scratched his head, and shook it, and looked at the teapot, and gradually got out of the room. John Westlock, taking a chair, sat down on one side of Mrs Gamp. Martin, taking the foot of the bed, supported her on the other.

‘You wonder what we want, I daresay,’ observed John. ‘I’ll tell you presently, when you have recovered. It’s not pressing, for a few minutes or so. How do you find yourself? Better?’

Mrs Gamp shed more tears, shook her head and feebly pronounced Mrs Harris’s name.

‘Have a little—’ John was at a loss what to call it.

‘Tea,’ suggested Martin.

‘It ain’t tea,’ said Mrs Gamp.

‘Physic of some sort, I suppose,’ cried John. ‘Have a little.’

Mrs Gamp was prevailed upon to take a glassful. ‘On condition,’ she passionately observed, ‘as Betsey never has another stroke of work from me.’

‘Certainly not,’ said John. ‘She shall never help to nurse me.’

‘To think,’ said Mrs Gamp, ‘as she should ever have helped to nuss that friend of yourn, and been so near of hearing things that—Ah!’

John looked at Martin.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘That was a narrow escape, Mrs Gamp.’

‘Narrer, in-deed!’ she returned. ‘It was only my having the night, and hearin’ of him in his wanderins; and her the day, that saved it. Wot would she have said and done, if she had know’d what I know; that perfeejus wretch! Yet, oh good gracious me!’ cried Mrs Gamp, trampling on the floor, in the absence of Mrs Prig, ‘that I should hear from that same woman’s lips what I have heerd her speak of Mrs Harris!’

‘Never mind,’ said John. ‘You know it is not true.’

‘Isn’t true!’ cried Mrs Gamp. ‘True! Don’t I know as that dear woman is expecting of me at this minnit, Mr Westlock, and is a-lookin’ out of window down the street, with little Tommy Harris in her arms, as calls me his own Gammy, and truly calls, for bless the mottled little legs of that there precious child (like Canterbury Brawn his own dear father says, which so they are) his own I have been, ever since I found him, Mr Westlock, with his small red worsted shoe a-gurglin’ in his throat, where he had put it in his play, a chick, wile they was leavin’ of him on the floor a-lookin’ for it through the ouse and him a-choakin’ sweetly in the parlour! Oh, Betsey Prig, what wickedness you’ve showed this night, but never shall you darken Sairey’s doors agen, you twining serpiant!’

‘You were always so kind to her, too!’ said John, consolingly.

‘That’s the cutting part. That’s where it hurts me, Mr Westlock,’ Mrs Gamp replied; holding out her glass unconsciously, while Martin filled it.

‘Chosen to help you with Mr Lewsome!’ said John. ‘Chosen to help you with Mr Chuffey!’

‘Chose once, but chose no more,’ cried Mrs Gamp. ‘No pardnership with Betsey Prig agen, sir!’

‘No, no,’ said John. ‘That would never do.’

‘I don’t know as it ever would have done, sir,’ Mrs Gamp replied, with a solemnity peculiar to a certain stage of intoxication. ‘Now that the marks,’ by which Mrs Gamp is supposed to have meant mask, ‘is off that creetur’s face, I do not think it ever would have done. There are reagions in families for keeping things a secret, Mr Westlock, and havin’ only them about you as you knows you can repoge in. Who could repoge in Betsey Prig, arter her words of Mrs Harris, setting in that chair afore my eyes!’

‘Quite true,’ said John; ‘quite. I hope you have time to find another assistant, Mrs Gamp?’

Between her indignation and the teapot, her powers of comprehending what was said to her began to fail. She looked at John with tearful eyes, and murmuring the well-remembered name which Mrs Prig had challenged—as if it were a talisman against all earthly sorrows—seemed to wander in her mind.

‘I hope,’ repeated John, ‘that you have time to find another assistant?’

‘Which short it is, indeed,’ cried Mrs Gamp, turning up her languid eyes, and clasping Mr Westlock’s wrist with matronly affection. ‘To-morrow evenin’, sir, I waits upon his friends. Mr Chuzzlewit apinted it from nine to ten.’

‘From nine to ten,’ said John, with a significant glance at Martin. ‘and then Mr Chuffey retires into safe keeping, does he?’

‘He needs to be kep safe, I do assure you,’ Mrs Gamp replied with a mysterious air. ‘Other people besides me has had a happy deliverance from Betsey Prig. I little know’d that woman. She’d have let it out!’

‘Let him out, you mean,’ said John.

‘Do I!’ retorted Mrs Gamp. ‘Oh!’

The severely ironical character of this reply was strengthened by a very slow nod, and a still slower drawing down of the corners of Mrs Gamp’s mouth. She added with extreme stateliness of manner after indulging in a short doze:

‘But I am a-keepin’ of you gentlemen, and time is precious.’

Mingling with that delusion of the teapot which inspired her with the belief that they wanted her to go somewhere immediately, a shrewd avoidance of any further reference to the topics into which she had lately strayed, Mrs Gamp rose; and putting away the teapot in its accustomed place, and locking the cupboard with much gravity proceeded to attire herself for a professional visit.

This preparation was easily made, as it required nothing more than the snuffy black bonnet, the snuffy black shawl, the pattens and the indispensable umbrella, without which neither a lying-in nor a laying-out could by any possibility be attempted. When Mrs Gamp had invested herself with these appendages she returned to her chair, and sitting down again, declared herself quite ready.

‘It’s a ‘appiness to know as one can benefit the poor sweet creetur,’ she observed, ‘I’m sure. It isn’t all as can. The torters Betsey Prig inflicts is frightful!’

Closing her eyes as she made this remark, in the acuteness of her commiseration for Betsey’s patients, she forgot to open them again until she dropped a patten. Her nap was also broken at intervals like the fabled slumbers of Friar Bacon, by the dropping of the other patten, and of the umbrella. But when she had got rid of those incumbrances, her sleep was peaceful.

The two young men looked at each other, ludicrously enough; and Martin, stifling his disposition to laugh, whispered in John Westlock’s ear,

‘What shall we do now?’

‘Stay here,’ he replied.

Mrs Gamp was heard to murmur ‘Mrs Harris’ in her sleep.

‘Rely upon it,’ whispered John, looking cautiously towards her, ‘that you shall question this old clerk, though you go as Mrs Harris herself. We know quite enough to carry her our own way now, at all events; thanks to this quarrel, which confirms the old saying that when rogues fall out, honest people get what they want. Let Jonas Chuzzlewit look to himself; and let her sleep as long as she likes. We shall gain our end in good time.’






CHAPTER FIFTY. SURPRISES TOM PINCH VERY MUCH, AND SHOWS HOW CERTAIN CONFIDENCES PASSED BETWEEN HIM AND HIS SISTER


It was the next evening; and Tom and his sister were sitting together before tea, talking, in their usual quiet way, about a great many things, but not at all about Lewsome’s story or anything connected with it; for John Westlock—really John, for so young a man, was one of the most considerate fellows in the world—had particularly advised Tom not to mention it to his sister just yet, in case it should disquiet her. ‘And I wouldn’t, Tom,’ he said, with a little hesitation, ‘I wouldn’t have a shadow on her happy face, or an uneasy thought in her gentle heart, for all the wealth and honours of the universe!’ Really John was uncommonly kind; extraordinarily kind. If he had been her father, Tom said, he could not have taken a greater interest in her.

But although Tom and his sister were extremely conversational, they were less lively, and less cheerful, than usual. Tom had no idea that this originated with Ruth, but took it for granted that he was rather dull himself. In truth he was; for the lightest cloud upon the Heaven of her quiet mind, cast its shadow upon Tom.

And there was a cloud on little Ruth that evening. Yes, indeed. When Tom was looking in another direction, her bright eyes, stealing on towards his face, would sparkle still more brightly than their custom was, and then grow dim. When Tom was silent, looking out upon the summer weather, she would sometimes make a hasty movement, as if she were about to throw herself upon his neck; then check the impulse, and when he looked round, show a laughing face, and speak to him very merrily; when she had anything to give Tom, or had any excuse for coming near him, she would flutter about him, and lay her bashful hand upon his shoulder, and not be willing to withdraw it; and would show by all such means that there was something on her heart which in her great love she longed to say to him, but had not the courage to utter.

So they were sitting, she with her work before her, but not working, and Tom with his book beside him, but not reading, when Martin knocked at the door. Anticipating who it was, Tom went to open it; and he and Martin came back into the room together. Tom looked surprised, for in answer to his cordial greeting Martin had hardly spoken a word.

Ruth also saw that there was something strange in the manner of their visitor, and raised her eyes inquiringly to Tom’s face, as if she were seeking an explanation there. Tom shook his head, and made the same mute appeal to Martin.

Martin did not sit down but walked up to the window, and stood there looking out. He turned round after a few moments to speak, but hastily averted his head again, without doing so.

‘What has happened, Martin?’ Tom anxiously inquired. ‘My dear fellow, what bad news do you bring?’

‘Oh, Tom!’ replied Martin, in a tone of deep reproach. ‘To hear you feign that interest in anything that happens to me, hurts me even more than your ungenerous dealing.’

‘My ungenerous dealing! Martin! My—’ Tom could say no more.

‘How could you, Tom, how could you suffer me to thank you so fervently and sincerely for your friendship; and not tell me, like a man, that you had deserted me! Was it true, Tom! Was it honest! Was it worthy of what you used to be—of what I am sure you used to be—to tempt me, when you had turned against me, into pouring out my heart! Oh, Tom!’

His tone was one of such strong injury and yet of so much grief for the loss of a friend he had trusted in—it expressed such high past love for Tom, and so much sorrow and compassion for his supposed unworthiness—that Tom, for a moment, put his hand before his face, and had no more power of justifying himself, than if he had been a monster of deceit and falsehood.

‘I protest, as I must die,’ said Martin, ‘that I grieve over the loss of what I thought you; and have no anger in the recollection of my own injuries. It is only at such a time, and after such a discovery, that we know the full measure of our old regard for the subject of it. I swear, little as I showed it—little as I know I showed it—that when I had the least consideration for you, Tom, I loved you like a brother.’

Tom was composed by this time, and might have been the Spirit of Truth, in a homely dress—it very often wears a homely dress, thank God!—when he replied to him.

‘Martin,’ he said, ‘I don’t know what is in your mind, or who has abused it, or by what extraordinary means. But the means are false. There is no truth whatever in the impression under which you labour. It is a delusion from first to last; and I warn you that you will deeply regret the wrong you do me. I can honestly say that I have been true to you, and to myself. You will be very sorry for this. Indeed, you will be very sorry for it, Martin.’

‘I am sorry,’ returned Martin, shaking his head. ‘I think I never knew what it was to be sorry in my heart, until now.’

‘At least,’ said Tom, ‘if I had always been what you charge me with being now, and had never had a place in your regard, but had always been despised by you, and had always deserved it, you should tell me in what you have found me to be treacherous; and on what grounds you proceed. I do not intreat you, therefore, to give me that satisfaction as a favour, Martin, but I ask it of you as a right.’

‘My own eyes are my witnesses,’ returned Martin. ‘Am I to believe them?’

‘No,’ said Tom, calmly. ‘Not if they accuse me.’

‘Your own words. Your own manner,’ pursued Martin. ‘Am I to believe them?’

‘No,’ replied Tom, calmly. ‘Not if they accuse me. But they never have accused me. Whoever has perverted them to such a purpose, has wronged me almost as cruelly’—his calmness rather failed him here—‘as you have done.’

‘I came here,’ said Martin; ‘and I appeal to your good sister to hear me—’

‘Not to her,’ interrupted Tom. ‘Pray, do not appeal to her. She will never believe you.’

He drew her arm through his own, as he said it.

‘I believe it, Tom!’

‘No, no,’ cried Tom, ‘of course not. I said so. Why, tut, tut, tut. What a silly little thing you are!’

‘I never meant,’ said Martin, hastily, ‘to appeal to you against your brother. Do not think me so unmanly and unkind. I merely appealed to you to hear my declaration, that I came here for no purpose of reproach—I have not one reproach to vent—but in deep regret. You could not know in what bitterness of regret, unless you knew how often I have thought of Tom; how long in almost hopeless circumstances, I have looked forward to the better estimation of his friendship; and how steadfastly I have believed and trusted in him.’

‘Tut, tut,’ said Tom, stopping her as she was about to speak. ‘He is mistaken. He is deceived. Why should you mind? He is sure to be set right at last.’

‘Heaven bless the day that sets me right!’ cried Martin, ‘if it could ever come!’

‘Amen!’ said Tom. ‘And it will!’

Martin paused, and then said in a still milder voice:

‘You have chosen for yourself, Tom, and will be relieved by our parting. It is not an angry one. There is no anger on my side—’

‘There is none on mine,’ said Tom.

‘—It is merely what you have brought about, and worked to bring about. I say again, you have chosen for yourself. You have made the choice that might have been expected in most people situated as you are, but which I did not expect in you. For that, perhaps, I should blame my own judgment more than you. There is wealth and favour worth having, on one side; and there is the worthless friendship of an abandoned, struggling fellow, on the other. You were free to make your election, and you made it; and the choice was not difficult. But those who have not the courage to resist such temptations, should have the courage to avow what they have yielded to them; and I do blame you for this, Tom: that you received me with a show of warmth, encouraged me to be frank and plain-spoken, tempted me to confide in you, and professed that you were able to be mine; when you had sold yourself to others. I do not believe,’ said Martin, with emotion—‘hear me say it from my heart—I cannot believe, Tom, now that I am standing face to face with you, that it would have been in your nature to do me any serious harm, even though I had not discovered, by chance, in whose employment you were. But I should have encumbered you; I should have led you into more double-dealing; I should have hazarded your retaining the favour for which you have paid so high a price, bartering away your former self; and it is best for both of us that I have found out what you so much desired to keep secret.’

‘Be just,’ said Tom; who, had not removed his mild gaze from Martin’s face since the commencement of this last address; ‘be just even in your injustice, Martin. You forget. You have not yet told me what your accusation is!’

‘Why should I?’ returned Martin, waving his hand, and moving towards the door. ‘You could not know it the better for my dwelling on it, and though it would be really none the worse, it might seem to me to be. No, Tom. Bygones shall be bygones between us. I can take leave of you at this moment, and in this place—in which you are so amiable and so good—as heartily, if not as cheerfully, as ever I have done since we first met. All good go with you, Tom!—I—’

‘You leave me so? You can leave me so, can you?’ said Tom.

‘I—you—you have chosen for yourself, Tom! I—I hope it was a rash choice,’ Martin faltered. ‘I think it was. I am sure it was! Good-bye!’

And he was gone.

Tom led his little sister to her chair, and sat down in his own. He took his book, and read, or seemed to read. Presently he said aloud, turning a leaf as he spoke: ‘He will be very sorry for this.’ And a tear stole down his face, and dropped upon the page.

Ruth nestled down beside him on her knees, and clasped her arms about his neck.

‘No, Tom! No, no! Be comforted! Dear Tom!’

‘I am quite—comforted,’ said Tom. ‘It will be set right.’

‘Such a cruel, bad return!’ cried Ruth.

‘No, no,’ said Tom. ‘He believes it. I cannot imagine why. But it will be set right.’

More closely yet, she nestled down about him; and wept as if her heart would break.

‘Don’t. Don’t,’ said Tom. ‘Why do you hide your face, my dear!’

Then in a burst of tears, it all broke out at last.

‘Oh Tom, dear Tom, I know your secret heart. I have found it out; you couldn’t hide the truth from me. Why didn’t you tell me? I am sure I could have made you happier, if you had! You love her, Tom, so dearly!’

Tom made a motion with his hand as if he would have put his sister hurriedly away; but it clasped upon hers, and all his little history was written in the action. All its pathetic eloquence was in the silent touch.

‘In spite of that,’ said Ruth, ‘you have been so faithful and so good, dear; in spite of that, you have been so true and self-denying, and have struggled with yourself; in spite of that, you have been so gentle, and so kind, and even-tempered, that I have never seen you give a hasty look, or heard you say one irritable word. In spite of all, you have been so cruelly mistaken. Oh Tom, dear Tom, will this be set right too! Will it, Tom? Will you always have this sorrow in your breast; you who deserve to be so happy; or is there any hope?’

And still she hid her face from Tom, and clasped him round the neck, and wept for him, and poured out all her woman’s heart and soul in the relief and pain of this disclosure.

It was not very long before she and Tom were sitting side by side, and she was looking with an earnest quietness in Tom’s face. Then Tom spoke to her thus, cheerily, though gravely:

‘I am very glad, my dear, that this has passed between us. Not because it assures me of your tender affection (for I was well assured of that before), but because it relieves my mind of a great weight.’

Tom’s eyes glistened when he spoke of her affection; and he kissed her on the cheek.

‘My dear girl,’ said Tom; ‘with whatever feeling I regard her’—they seemed to avoid the name by mutual consent—‘I have long ago—I am sure I may say from the very first—looked upon it as a dream. As something that might possibly have happened under very different circumstances, but which can never be. Now, tell me. What would you have set right?’

She gave Tom such a significant little look, that he was obliged to take it for an answer whether he would or no; and to go on.

‘By her own choice and free consent, my love, she is betrothed to Martin; and was, long before either of them knew of my existence. You would have her betrothed to me?’

‘Yes,’ she said directly.

‘Yes,’ rejoined Tom, ‘but that might be setting it wrong, instead of right. Do you think,’ said Tom, with a grave smile, ‘that even if she had never seen him, it is very likely she would have fallen in love with Me?’

‘Why not, dear Tom?’

Tom shook his head, and smiled again.

‘You think of me, Ruth,’ said Tom, ‘and it is very natural that you should, as if I were a character in a book; and you make it a sort of poetical justice that I should, by some impossible means or other, come, at last, to marry the person I love. But there is a much higher justice than poetical justice, my dear, and it does not order events upon the same principle. Accordingly, people who read about heroes in books, and choose to make heroes of themselves out of books, consider it a very fine thing to be discontented and gloomy, and misanthropical, and perhaps a little blasphemous, because they cannot have everything ordered for their individual accommodation. Would you like me to become one of that sort of people?’

‘No, Tom. But still I know,’ she added timidly, ‘that this is a sorrow to you in your own better way.’

Tom thought of disputing the position. But it would have been mere folly, and he gave it up.

‘My dear,’ said Tom, ‘I will repay your affection with the Truth and all the Truth. It is a sorrow to me. I have proved it to be so sometimes, though I have always striven against it. But somebody who is precious to you may die, and you may dream that you are in heaven with the departed spirit, and you may find it a sorrow to wake to the life on earth, which is no harder to be borne than when you fell asleep. It is sorrowful to me to contemplate my dream which I always knew was a dream, even when it first presented itself; but the realities about me are not to blame. They are the same as they were. My sister, my sweet companion, who makes this place so dear, is she less devoted to me, Ruth, than she would have been, if this vision had never troubled me? My old friend John, who might so easily have treated me with coldness and neglect, is he less cordial to me? The world about me, is there less good in that? Are my words to be harsh and my looks to be sour, and is my heart to grow cold, because there has fallen in my way a good and beautiful creature, who but for the selfish regret that I cannot call her my own, would, like all other good and beautiful creatures, make me happier and better! No, my dear sister. No,’ said Tom stoutly. ‘Remembering all my means of happiness, I hardly dare to call this lurking something a sorrow; but whatever name it may justly bear, I thank Heaven that it renders me more sensible of affection and attachment, and softens me in fifty ways. Not less happy. Not less happy, Ruth!’

She could not speak to him, but she loved him, as he well deserved. Even as he deserved, she loved him.

‘She will open Martin’s eyes,’ said Tom, with a glow of pride, ‘and that (which is indeed wrong) will be set right. Nothing will persuade her, I know, that I have betrayed him. It will be set right through her, and he will be very sorry for it. Our secret, Ruth, is our own, and lives and dies with us. I don’t believe I ever could have told it you,’ said Tom, with a smile, ‘but how glad I am to think you have found it out!’

They had never taken such a pleasant walk as they took that night. Tom told her all so freely and so simply, and was so desirous to return her tenderness with his fullest confidence, that they prolonged it far beyond their usual hour, and sat up late when they came home. And when they parted for the night there was such a tranquil, beautiful expression in Tom’s face, that she could not bear to shut it out, but going back on tiptoe to his chamber-door, looked in and stood there till he saw her, and then embracing him again, withdrew. And in her prayers and in her sleep—good times to be remembered with such fervour, Tom!—his name was uppermost.

When he was left alone, Tom pondered very much on this discovery of hers, and greatly wondered what had led her to it. ‘Because,’ thought Tom, ‘I have been so very careful. It was foolish and unnecessary in me, as I clearly see now, when I am so relieved by her knowing it; but I have been so very careful to conceal it from her. Of course I knew that she was intelligent and quick, and for that reason was more upon my guard; but I was not in the least prepared for this. I am sure her discovery has been sudden too. Dear me!’ said Tom. ‘It’s a most singular instance of penetration!’

Tom could not get it out of his head. There it was, when his head was on his pillow.

‘How she trembled when she began to tell me she knew it!’ thought Tom, recalling all the little incidents and circumstances; ‘and how her face flushed! But that was natural! Oh, quite natural! That needs no accounting for.’

Tom little thought how natural it was. Tom little knew that there was that in Ruth’s own heart, but newly set there, which had helped her to the reading of his mystery. Ah, Tom! He didn’t understand the whispers of the Temple Fountain, though he passed it every day.

Who so lively and cheerful as busy Ruth next morning! Her early tap at Tom’s door, and her light foot outside, would have been music to him though she had not spoken. But she said it was the brightest morning ever seen; and so it was; and if it had been otherwise, she would have made it so to Tom.

She was ready with his neat breakfast when he went downstairs, and had her bonnet ready for the early walk, and was so full of news, that Tom was lost in wonder. She might have been up all night, collecting it for his entertainment. There was Mr Nadgett not come home yet, and there was bread down a penny a loaf, and there was twice as much strength in this tea as in the last, and the milk-woman’s husband had come out of the hospital cured, and the curly-headed child over the way had been lost all yesterday, and she was going to make all sorts of preserves in a desperate hurry, and there happened to be a saucepan in the house which was the very saucepan for the purpose; and she knew all about the last book Tom had brought home, all through, though it was a teaser to read; and she had so much to tell him that she had finished breakfast first. Then she had her little bonnet on, and the tea and sugar locked up, and the keys in her reticule, and the flower, as usual, in Tom’s coat, and was in all respects quite ready to accompany him, before Tom knew she had begun to prepare. And in short, as Tom said, with a confidence in his own assertion which amounted to a defiance of the public in general, there never was such a little woman.

She made Tom talkative. It was impossible to resist her. She put such enticing questions to him; about books, and about dates of churches, and about organs and about the Temple, and about all kinds of things. Indeed, she lightened the way (and Tom’s heart with it) to that degree, that the Temple looked quite blank and solitary when he parted from her at the gate.

‘No Mr Fips’s friend to-day, I suppose,’ thought Tom, as he ascended the stairs.

Not yet, at any rate, for the door was closed as usual, and Tom opened it with his key. He had got the books into perfect order now, and had mended the torn leaves, and had pasted up the broken backs, and substituted neat labels for the worn-out letterings. It looked a different place, it was so orderly and neat. Tom felt some pride in comtemplating the change he had wrought, though there was no one to approve or disapprove of it.

He was at present occupied in making a fair copy of his draught of the catalogue; on which, as there was no hurry, he was painfully concentrating all the ingenious and laborious neatness he had ever expended on map or plan in Mr Pecksniff’s workroom. It was a very marvel of a catalogue; for Tom sometimes thought he was really getting his money too easily, and he had determined within himself that this document should take a little of his superfluous leisure out of him.

So with pens and ruler, and compasses and india-rubber, and pencil, and black ink, and red ink, Tom worked away all the morning. He thought a good deal about Martin, and their interview of yesterday, and would have been far easier in his mind if he could have resolved to confide it to his friend John, and to have taken his opinion on the subject. But besides that he knew what John’s boiling indignation would be, he bethought himself that he was helping Martin now in a matter of great moment, and that to deprive the latter of his assistance at such a crisis of affairs, would be to inflict a serious injury upon him.

‘So I’ll keep it to myself,’ said Tom, with a sigh. ‘I’ll keep it to myself.’

And to work he went again, more assiduously than ever, with the pens, and the ruler, and the india-rubber, and the pencils, and the red ink, that he might forget it.

He had laboured away another hour or more, when he heard a footstep in the entry, down below.

‘Ah!’ said Tom, looking towards the door; ‘time was, not long ago either, when that would have set me wondering and expecting. But I have left off now.’

The footstep came on, up the stairs.

‘Thirty-six, thirty-seven, thirty-eight,’ said Tom, counting. ‘Now you’ll stop. Nobody ever comes past the thirty-eighth stair.’

The person did, certainly, but only to take breath; for up the footstep came again. Forty, forty-one, forty-two, and so on.

The door stood open. As the tread advanced, Tom looked impatiently and eagerly towards it. When a figure came upon the landing, and arriving in the doorway, stopped and gazed at him, he rose up from his chair, and half believed he saw a spirit.

Old Martin Chuzzlewit! The same whom he had left at Mr Pecksniff’s, weak and sinking!

The same? No, not the same, for this old man, though old, was strong, and leaned upon his stick with a vigorous hand, while with the other he signed to Tom to make no noise. One glance at the resolute face, the watchful eye, the vigorous hand upon the staff, the triumphant purpose in the figure, and such a light broke in on Tom as blinded him.

‘You have expected me,’ said Martin, ‘a long time.’

‘I was told that my employer would arrive soon,’ said Tom; ‘but—’

‘I know. You were ignorant who he was. It was my desire. I am glad it has been so well observed. I intended to have been with you much sooner. I thought the time had come. I thought I could know no more, and no worse, of him, than I did on that day when I saw you last. But I was wrong.’

He had by this time come up to Tom, and now he grasped his hand.

‘I have lived in his house, Pinch, and had him fawning on me days and weeks and months. You know it. I have suffered him to treat me like his tool and instrument. You know it; you have seen me there. I have undergone ten thousand times as much as I could have endured if I had been the miserable weak old man he took me for. You know it. I have seen him offer love to Mary. You know it; who better—who better, my true heart! I have had his base soul bare before me, day by day, and have not betrayed myself once. I never could have undergone such torture but for looking forward to this time.’

He stopped, even in the passion of his speech—if that can be called passion which was so resolute and steady—to press Tom’s hand again. Then he said, in great excitement:

‘Close the door, close the door. He will not be long after me, but may come too soon. The time now drawing on,’ said the old man, hurriedly—his eyes and whole face brightening as he spoke—‘will make amends for all. I wouldn’t have him die or hang himself, for millions of golden pieces! Close the door!’

Tom did so; hardly knowing yet whether he was awake or in a dream.