'When are you to be married?'
'Oh! dear Mr Chuzzlewit, my goodness me! I'm sure I don't know. Not yet awhile, I hope.'
'You hope?' said the old man.
It was very gravely said, but she took it for banter, and giggled excessively.
'Come!' said the old man, with unusual kindness, 'you are young, good-looking, and I think good-natured! Frivolous you are, and love to be, undoubtedly; but you must have some heart.'
'I have not given it all away, I can tell you,' said Merry, nodding her head shrewdly, and plucking up the grass.
'Have you parted with any of it?'
She threw the grass about, and looked another way, but said nothing.
Martin repeated his question.
'Lor, my dear Mr Chuzzlewit! really you must excuse me! How very odd you are.'
'If it be odd in me to desire to know whether you love the young man whom I understand you are to marry, I AM very odd,' said Martin. 'For that is certainly my wish.'
'He's such a monster, you know,' said Merry, pouting.
'Then you don't love him?' returned the old man. 'Is that your meaning?'
'Why, my dear Mr Chuzzlewit, I'm sure I tell him a hundred times a day that I hate him. You must have heard me tell him that.'
'Often,' said Martin.
'And so I do,' cried Merry. 'I do positively.'
'Being at the same time engaged to marry him,' observed the old man.
'Oh yes,' said Merry. 'But I told the wretch—my dear Mr Chuzzlewit, I told him when he asked me—that if I ever did marry him, it should only be that I might hate and tease him all my life.'
She had a suspicion that the old man regarded Jonas with anything but favour, and intended these remarks to be extremely captivating. He did not appear, however, to regard them in that light by any means; for when he spoke again, it was in a tone of severity.
'Look about you,' he said, pointing to the graves; 'and remember that from your bridal hour to the day which sees you brought as low as these, and laid in such a bed, there will be no appeal against him. Think, and speak, and act, for once, like an accountable creature. Is any control put upon your inclinations? Are you forced into this match? Are you insidiously advised or tempted to contract it, by any one? I will not ask by whom; by any one?'
'No,' said Merry, shrugging her shoulders. 'I don't know that I am.'
'Don't know that you are! Are you?'
'No,' replied Merry. 'Nobody ever said anything to me about it. If any one had tried to make me have him, I wouldn't have had him at all.'
'I am told that he was at first supposed to be your sister's admirer,' said Martin.
'Oh, good gracious! My dear Mr Chuzzlewit, it would be very hard to make him, though he IS a monster, accountable for other people's vanity,' said Merry. 'And poor dear Cherry is the vainest darling!'
'It was her mistake, then?'
'I hope it was,' cried Merry; 'but, all along, the dear child has been so dreadfully jealous, and SO cross, that, upon my word and honour, it's impossible to please her, and it's of no use trying.'
'Not forced, persuaded, or controlled,' said Martin, thoughtfully. 'And that's true, I see. There is one chance yet. You may have lapsed into this engagement in very giddiness. It may have been the wanton act of a light head. Is that so?'
'My dear Mr Chuzzlewit,' simpered Merry, 'as to light-headedness, there never was such a feather of a head as mine. It's perfect balloon, I declare! You never DID, you know!'
He waited quietly till she had finished, and then said, steadily and slowly, and in a softened voice, as if he would still invite her confidence:
'Have you any wish—or is there anything within your breast that whispers you may form the wish, if you have time to think—to be released from this engagement?'
Again Miss Merry pouted, and looked down, and plucked the grass, and shrugged her shoulders. No. She didn't know that she had. She was pretty sure she hadn't. Quite sure, she might say. She 'didn't mind it.'
'Has it ever occurred to you,' said Martin, 'that your married life may perhaps be miserable, full of bitterness, and most unhappy?'
Merry looked down again; and now she tore the grass up by the roots.
'My dear Mr Chuzzlewit, what shocking words! Of course, I shall quarrel with him. I should quarrel with any husband. Married people always quarrel, I believe. But as to being miserable, and bitter, and all those dreadful things, you know, why I couldn't be absolutely that, unless he always had the best of it; and I mean to have the best of it myself. I always do now,' cried Merry, nodding her head and giggling very much; 'for I make a perfect slave of the creature.'
'Let it go on,' said Martin, rising. 'Let it go on! I sought to know your mind, my dear, and you have shown it me. I wish you joy. Joy!' he repeated, looking full upon her, and pointing to the wicket-gate where Jonas entered at the moment. And then, without waiting for his nephew, he passed out at another gate, and went away.
'Oh, you terrible old man!' cried the facetious Merry to herself. 'What a perfectly hideous monster to be wandering about churchyards in the broad daylight, frightening people out of their wits! Don't come here, Griffin, or I'll go away directly.'
Mr Jonas was the Griffin. He sat down upon the grass at her side, in spite of this warning, and sulkily inquired:
'What's my uncle been a-talking about?'
'About you,' rejoined Merry. 'He says you're not half good enough for me.'
'Oh, yes, I dare say! We all know that. He means to give you some present worth having, I hope. Did he say anything that looked like it?'
'THAT he didn't!' cried Merry, most decisively.
'A stingy old dog he is,' said Jonas. 'Well?'
'Griffin!' cried Miss Mercy, in counterfeit amazement; 'what are you doing, Griffin?'
'Only giving you a squeeze,' said the discomfited Jonas. 'There's no harm in that, I suppose?'
'But there is great deal of harm in it, if I don't consider it agreeable,' returned his cousin. 'Do go along, will you? You make me so hot!'
Mr Jonas withdrew his arm, and for a moment looked at her more like a murderer than a lover. But he cleared his brow by degrees, and broke silence with:
'I say, Mel!'
'What do you say, you vulgar thing—you low savage?' cried his fair betrothed.
'When is it to be? I can't afford to go on dawdling about here half my life, I needn't tell you, and Pecksniff says that father's being so lately dead makes very little odds; for we can be married as quiet as we please down here, and my being lonely is a good reason to the neighbours for taking a wife home so soon, especially one that he knew. As to crossbones (my uncle, I mean), he's sure not to put a spoke in the wheel, whatever we settle on, for he told Pecksniff only this morning, that if YOU liked it he'd nothing at all to say. So, Mel,' said Jonas, venturing on another squeeze; 'when shall it be?'
'Upon my word!' cried Merry.
'Upon my soul, if you like,' said Jonas. 'What do you say to next week, now?'
'To next week! If you had said next quarter, I should have wondered at your impudence.'
'But I didn't say next quarter,' retorted Jonas. 'I said next week.'
'Then, Griffin,' cried Miss Merry, pushing him off, and rising. 'I say no! not next week. It shan't be till I choose, and I may not choose it to be for months. There!'
He glanced up at her from the ground, almost as darkly as he had looked at Tom Pinch; but held his peace.
'No fright of a Griffin with a patch over his eye shall dictate to me or have a voice in the matter,' said Merry. 'There!'
Still Mr Jonas held his peace.
'If it's next month, that shall be the very earliest; but I won't say when it shall be till to-morrow; and if you don't like that, it shall never be at all,' said Merry; 'and if you follow me about and won't leave me alone, it shall never be at all. There! And if you don't do everything I order you to do, it shall never be at all. So don't follow me. There, Griffin!'
And with that, she skipped away, among the trees.
'Ecod, my lady!' said Jonas, looking after her, and biting a piece of straw, almost to powder; 'you'll catch it for this, when you ARE married. It's all very well now—it keeps one on, somehow, and you know it—but I'll pay you off scot and lot by-and-bye. This is a plaguey dull sort of a place for a man to be sitting by himself in. I never could abide a mouldy old churchyard.'
As he turned into the avenue himself, Miss Merry, who was far ahead, happened to look back.
'Ah!' said Jonas, with a sullen smile, and a nod that was not addressed to her. 'Make the most of it while it lasts. Get in your hay while the sun shines. Take your own way as long as it's in your power, my lady!'
IS IN PART PROFESSIONAL, AND FURNISHES THE READER WITH SOME VALUABLE HINTS IN RELATION TO THE MANAGEMENT OF A SICK CHAMBER
Mr Mould was surrounded by his household gods. He was enjoying the sweets of domestic repose, and gazing on them with a calm delight. The day being sultry, and the window open, the legs of Mr Mould were on the window-seat, and his back reclined against the shutter. Over his shining head a handkerchief was drawn, to guard his baldness from the flies. The room was fragrant with the smell of punch, a tumbler of which grateful compound stood upon a small round table, convenient to the hand of Mr Mould; so deftly mixed that as his eye looked down into the cool transparent drink, another eye, peering brightly from behind the crisp lemon-peel, looked up at him, and twinkled like a star.
Deep in the City, and within the ward of Cheap, stood Mr Mould's establishment. His Harem, or, in other words, the common sitting room of Mrs Mould and family, was at the back, over the little counting-house behind the shop; abutting on a churchyard small and shady. In this domestic chamber Mr Mould now sat; gazing, a placid man, upon his punch and home. If, for a moment at a time, he sought a wider prospect, whence he might return with freshened zest to these enjoyments, his moist glance wandered like a sunbeam through a rural screen of scarlet runners, trained on strings before the window, and he looked down, with an artist's eye, upon the graves.
The partner of his life, and daughters twain, were Mr Mould's companions. Plump as any partridge was each Miss Mould, and Mrs M. was plumper than the two together. So round and chubby were their fair proportions, that they might have been the bodies once belonging to the angels' faces in the shop below, grown up, with other heads attached to make them mortal. Even their peachy cheeks were puffed out and distended, as though they ought of right to be performing on celestial trumpets. The bodiless cherubs in the shop, who were depicted as constantly blowing those instruments for ever and ever without any lungs, played, it is to be presumed, entirely by ear.
Mr Mould looked lovingly at Mrs Mould, who sat hard by, and was a helpmate to him in his punch as in all other things. Each seraph daughter, too, enjoyed her share of his regards, and smiled upon him in return. So bountiful were Mr Mould's possessions, and so large his stock in trade, that even there, within his household sanctuary, stood a cumbrous press, whose mahogany maw was filled with shrouds, and winding-sheets, and other furniture of funerals. But, though the Misses Mould had been brought up, as one may say, beneath his eye, it had cast no shadow on their timid infancy or blooming youth. Sporting behind the scenes of death and burial from cradlehood, the Misses Mould knew better. Hat-bands, to them, were but so many yards of silk or crape; the final robe but such a quantity of linen. The Misses Mould could idealise a player's habit, or a court-lady's petticoat, or even an act of parliament. But they were not to be taken in by palls. They made them sometimes.
The premises of Mr Mould were hard of hearing to the boisterous noises in the great main streets, and nestled in a quiet corner, where the City strife became a drowsy hum, that sometimes rose and sometimes fell and sometimes altogether ceased; suggesting to a thoughtful mind a stoppage in Cheapside. The light came sparkling in among the scarlet runners, as if the churchyard winked at Mr Mould, and said, 'We understand each other;' and from the distant shop a pleasant sound arose of coffin-making with a low melodious hammer, rat, tat, tat, tat, alike promoting slumber and digestion.
'Quite the buzz of insects,' said Mr Mould, closing his eyes in a perfect luxury. 'It puts one in mind of the sound of animated nature in the agricultural districts. It's exactly like the woodpecker tapping.'
'The woodpecker tapping the hollow ELM tree,' observed Mrs Mould, adapting the words of the popular melody to the description of wood commonly used in the trade.
'Ha, ha!' laughed Mr Mould. 'Not at all bad, my dear. We shall be glad to hear from you again, Mrs M. Hollow elm tree, eh! Ha, ha! Very good indeed. I've seen worse than that in the Sunday papers, my love.'
Mrs Mould, thus encouraged, took a little more of the punch, and handed it to her daughters, who dutifully followed the example of their mother.
'Hollow ELM tree, eh?' said Mr Mould, making a slight motion with his legs in his enjoyment of the joke. 'It's beech in the song. Elm, eh? Yes, to be sure. Ha, ha, ha! Upon my soul, that's one of the best things I know?' He was so excessively tickled by the jest that he couldn't forget it, but repeated twenty times, 'Elm, eh? Yes, to be sure. Elm, of course. Ha, ha, ha! Upon my life, you know, that ought to be sent to somebody who could make use of it. It's one of the smartest things that ever was said. Hollow ELM tree, eh? of course. Very hollow. Ha, ha, ha!'
Here a knock was heard at the room door.
'That's Tacker, I know,' said Mrs Mould, 'by the wheezing he makes. Who that hears him now, would suppose he'd ever had wind enough to carry the feathers on his head! Come in, Tacker.'
'Beg your pardon, ma'am,' said Tacker, looking in a little way. 'I thought our Governor was here.'
'Well! so he is,' cried Mould.
'Oh! I didn't see you, I'm sure,' said Tacker, looking in a little farther. 'You wouldn't be inclined to take a walking one of two, with the plain wood and a tin plate, I suppose?'
'Certainly not,' replied Mr Mould, 'much too common. Nothing to say to it.'
'I told 'em it was precious low,' observed Mr Tacker.
'Tell 'em to go somewhere else. We don't do that style of business here,' said Mr Mould. 'Like their impudence to propose it. Who is it?'
'Why,' returned Tacker, pausing, 'that's where it is, you see. It's the beadle's son-in-law.'
'The beadle's son-in-law, eh?' said Mould. 'Well! I'll do it if the beadle follows in his cocked hat; not else. We carry it off that way, by looking official, but it'll be low enough, then. His cocked hat, mind!'
'I'll take care, sir,' rejoined Tacker. 'Oh! Mrs Gamp's below, and wants to speak to you.'
'Tell Mrs Gamp to come upstairs,' said Mould. 'Now Mrs Gamp, what's YOUR news?'
The lady in question was by this time in the doorway, curtseying to Mrs Mould. At the same moment a peculiar fragrance was borne upon the breeze, as if a passing fairy had hiccoughed, and had previously been to a wine-vaults.
Mrs Gamp made no response to Mr Mould, but curtseyed to Mrs Mould again, and held up her hands and eyes, as in a devout thanksgiving that she looked so well. She was neatly, but not gaudily attired, in the weeds she had worn when Mr Pecksniff had the pleasure of making her acquaintance; and was perhaps the turning of a scale more snuffy.
'There are some happy creeturs,' Mrs Gamp observed, 'as time runs back'ards with, and you are one, Mrs Mould; not that he need do nothing except use you in his most owldacious way for years to come, I'm sure; for young you are and will be. I says to Mrs Harris,' Mrs Gamp continued, 'only t'other day; the last Monday evening fortnight as ever dawned upon this Piljian's Projiss of a mortal wale; I says to Mrs Harris when she says to me, "Years and our trials, Mrs Gamp, sets marks upon us all."—"Say not the words, Mrs Harris, if you and me is to be continual friends, for sech is not the case. Mrs Mould," I says, making so free, I will confess, as use the name,' (she curtseyed here), '"is one of them that goes agen the obserwation straight; and never, Mrs Harris, whilst I've a drop of breath to draw, will I set by, and not stand up, don't think it."—"I ast your pardon, ma'am," says Mrs Harris, "and I humbly grant your grace; for if ever a woman lived as would see her feller creeturs into fits to serve her friends, well do I know that woman's name is Sairey Gamp."'
At this point she was fain to stop for breath; and advantage may be taken of the circumstance, to state that a fearful mystery surrounded this lady of the name of Harris, whom no one in the circle of Mrs Gamp's acquaintance had ever seen; neither did any human being know her place of residence, though Mrs Gamp appeared on her own showing to be in constant communication with her. There were conflicting rumours on the subject; but the prevalent opinion was that she was a phantom of Mrs Gamp's brain—as Messrs. Doe and Roe are fictions of the law—created for the express purpose of holding visionary dialogues with her on all manner of subjects, and invariably winding up with a compliment to the excellence of her nature.
'And likeways what a pleasure,' said Mrs Gamp, turning with a tearful smile towards the daughters, 'to see them two young ladies as I know'd afore a tooth in their pretty heads was cut, and have many a day seen—ah, the sweet creeturs!—playing at berryins down in the shop, and follerin' the order-book to its long home in the iron safe! But that's all past and over, Mr Mould;' as she thus got in a carefully regulated routine to that gentleman, she shook her head waggishly; 'That's all past and over now, sir, an't it?'
'Changes, Mrs Gamp, changes!' returned the undertaker.
'More changes too, to come, afore we've done with changes, sir,' said Mrs Gamp, nodding yet more waggishly than before. 'Young ladies with such faces thinks of something else besides berryins, don't they, sir?'
'I am sure I don't know, Mrs Gamp,' said Mould, with a chuckle—'Not bad in Mrs Gamp, my dear?'
'Oh yes, you do know, sir!' said Mrs Gamp, 'and so does Mrs Mould, your 'ansome pardner too, sir; and so do I, although the blessing of a daughter was deniged me; which, if we had had one, Gamp would certainly have drunk its little shoes right off its feet, as with our precious boy he did, and arterward send the child a errand to sell his wooden leg for any money it would fetch as matches in the rough, and bring it home in liquor; which was truly done beyond his years, for ev'ry individgle penny that child lost at toss or buy for kidney ones; and come home arterwards quite bold, to break the news, and offering to drown himself if sech would be a satisfaction to his parents.—Oh yes, you do know, sir,' said Mrs Gamp, wiping her eye with her shawl, and resuming the thread of her discourse. 'There's something besides births and berryins in the newspapers, an't there, Mr Mould?'
Mr Mould winked at Mrs Mould, whom he had by this time taken on his knee, and said: 'No doubt. A good deal more, Mrs Gamp. Upon my life, Mrs Gamp is very far from bad, my dear!'
'There's marryings, an't there, sir?' said Mrs Gamp, while both the daughters blushed and tittered. 'Bless their precious hearts, and well they knows it! Well you know'd it too, and well did Mrs Mould, when you was at their time of life! But my opinion is, you're all of one age now. For as to you and Mrs Mould, sir, ever having grandchildren—'
'Oh! Fie, fie! Nonsense, Mrs Gamp,' replied the undertaker. 'Devilish smart, though. Ca-pi-tal!'—this was in a whisper. 'My dear'—aloud again—'Mrs Gamp can drink a glass of rum, I dare say. Sit down, Mrs Gamp, sit down.'
Mrs Gamp took the chair that was nearest the door, and casting up her eyes towards the ceiling, feigned to be wholly insensible to the fact of a glass of rum being in preparation, until it was placed in her hand by one of the young ladies, when she exhibited the greatest surprise.
'A thing,' she said, 'as hardly ever, Mrs Mould, occurs with me unless it is when I am indispoged, and find my half a pint of porter settling heavy on the chest. Mrs Harris often and often says to me, "Sairey Gamp," she says, "you raly do amaze me!" "Mrs Harris," I says to her, "why so? Give it a name, I beg." "Telling the truth then, ma'am," says Mrs Harris, "and shaming him as shall be nameless betwixt you and me, never did I think till I know'd you, as any woman could sick-nurse and monthly likeways, on the little that you takes to drink." "Mrs Harris," I says to her, "none on us knows what we can do till we tries; and wunst, when me and Gamp kept 'ouse, I thought so too. But now," I says, "my half a pint of porter fully satisfies; perwisin', Mrs Harris, that it is brought reg'lar, and draw'd mild. Whether I sicks or monthlies, ma'am, I hope I does my duty, but I am but a poor woman, and I earns my living hard; therefore I DO require it, which I makes confession, to be brought reg'lar and draw'd mild."'
The precise connection between these observations and the glass of rum, did not appear; for Mrs Gamp proposing as a toast 'The best of lucks to all!' took off the dram in quite a scientific manner, without any further remarks.
'And what's your news, Mrs Gamp?' asked Mould again, as that lady wiped her lips upon her shawl, and nibbled a corner off a soft biscuit, which she appeared to carry in her pocket as a provision against contingent drams. 'How's Mr Chuffey?'
'Mr Chuffey, sir,' she replied, 'is jest as usual; he an't no better and he an't no worse. I take it very kind in the gentleman to have wrote up to you and said, "let Mrs Gamp take care of him till I come home;" but ev'rythink he does is kind. There an't a many like him. If there was, we shouldn't want no churches.'
'What do you want to speak to me about, Mrs Gamp?' said Mould, coming to the point.
'Jest this, sir,' Mrs Gamp returned, 'with thanks to you for asking. There IS a gent, sir, at the Bull in Holborn, as has been took ill there, and is bad abed. They have a day nurse as was recommended from Bartholomew's; and well I knows her, Mr Mould, her name bein' Mrs Prig, the best of creeturs. But she is otherways engaged at night, and they are in wants of night-watching; consequent she says to them, having reposed the greatest friendliness in me for twenty year, "The soberest person going, and the best of blessings in a sick room, is Mrs Gamp. Send a boy to Kingsgate Street," she says, "and snap her up at any price, for Mrs Gamp is worth her weight and more in goldian guineas." My landlord brings the message down to me, and says, "bein' in a light place where you are, and this job promising so well, why not unite the two?" "No, sir," I says, "not unbeknown to Mr Mould, and therefore do not think it. But I will go to Mr Mould," I says, "and ast him, if you like."' Here she looked sideways at the undertaker, and came to a stop.
'Night-watching, eh?' said Mould, rubbing his chin.
'From eight o'clock till eight, sir. I will not deceive you,' Mrs Gamp rejoined.
'And then go back, eh?' said would.
'Quite free, then, sir, to attend to Mr Chuffey. His ways bein' quiet, and his hours early, he'd be abed, sir, nearly all the time. I will not deny,' said Mrs Gamp with meekness, 'that I am but a poor woman, and that the money is a object; but do not let that act upon you, Mr Mould. Rich folks may ride on camels, but it an't so easy for 'em to see out of a needle's eye. That is my comfort, and I hope I knows it.'
'Well, Mrs Gamp,' observed Mould, 'I don't see any particular objection to your earning an honest penny under such circumstances. I should keep it quiet, I think, Mrs Gamp. I wouldn't mention it to Mr Chuzzlewit on his return, for instance, unless it were necessary, or he asked you pointblank.'
'The very words was on my lips, sir,' Mrs Gamp rejoined. 'Suppoging that the gent should die, I hope I might take the liberty of saying as I know'd some one in the undertaking line, and yet give no offence to you, sir?'
'Certainly, Mrs Gamp,' said Mould, with much condescension. 'You may casually remark, in such a case, that we do the thing pleasantly and in a great variety of styles, and are generally considered to make it as agreeable as possible to the feelings of the survivors. But don't obtrude it, don't obtrude it. Easy, easy! My dear, you may as well give Mrs Gamp a card or two, if you please.'
Mrs Gamp received them, and scenting no more rum in the wind (for the bottle was locked up again) rose to take her departure.
'Wishing ev'ry happiness to this happy family,' said Mrs Gamp 'with all my heart. Good arternoon, Mrs Mould! If I was Mr would I should be jealous of you, ma'am; and I'm sure, if I was you, I should be jealous of Mr Mould.'
'Tut, tut! Bah, bah! Go along, Mrs Gamp!' cried the delighted undertaker.
'As to the young ladies,' said Mrs Gamp, dropping a curtsey, 'bless their sweet looks—how they can ever reconsize it with their duties to be so grown up with such young parents, it an't for sech as me to give a guess at.'
'Nonsense, nonsense. Be off, Mrs Gamp!' cried Mould. But in the height of his gratification he actually pinched Mrs Mould as he said it.
'I'll tell you what, my dear,' he observed, when Mrs Gamp had at last withdrawn and shut the door, 'that's a ve-ry shrewd woman. That's a woman whose intellect is immensely superior to her station in life. That's a woman who observes and reflects in an uncommon manner. She's the sort of woman now,' said Mould, drawing his silk handkerchief over his head again, and composing himself for a nap 'one would almost feel disposed to bury for nothing; and do it neatly, too!'
Mrs Mould and her daughters fully concurred in these remarks; the subject of which had by this time reached the street, where she experienced so much inconvenience from the air, that she was obliged to stand under an archway for a short time, to recover herself. Even after this precaution, she walked so unsteadily as to attract the compassionate regards of divers kind-hearted boys, who took the liveliest interest in her disorder; and in their simple language bade her be of good cheer, for she was 'only a little screwed.'
Whatever she was, or whatever name the vocabulary of medical science would have bestowed upon her malady, Mrs Gamp was perfectly acquainted with the way home again; and arriving at the house of Anthony Chuzzlewit & Son, lay down to rest. Remaining there until seven o'clock in the evening, and then persuading poor old Chuffey to betake himself to bed, she sallied forth upon her new engagement. First, she went to her private lodgings in Kingsgate Street, for a bundle of robes and wrappings comfortable in the night season; and then repaired to the Bull in Holborn, which she reached as the clocks were striking eight.
As she turned into the yard, she stopped; for the landlord, landlady, and head chambermaid, were all on the threshold together talking earnestly with a young gentleman who seemed to have just come or to be just going away. The first words that struck upon Mrs Gamp's ear obviously bore reference to the patient; and it being expedient that all good attendants should know as much as possible about the case on which their skill is brought to bear, Mrs Gamp listened as a matter of duty.
'No better, then?' observed the gentleman.
'Worse!' said the landlord.
'Much worse,' added the landlady.
'Oh! a deal badder,' cried the chambermaid from the background, opening her eyes very wide, and shaking her head.
'Poor fellow!' said the gentleman, 'I am sorry to hear it. The worst of it is, that I have no idea what friends or relations he has, or where they live, except that it certainly is not in London.'
The landlord looked at the landlady; the landlady looked at the landlord; and the chambermaid remarked, hysterically, 'that of all the many wague directions she had ever seen or heerd of (and they wasn't few in an hotel), THAT was the waguest.'
'The fact is, you see,' pursued the gentleman, 'as I told you yesterday when you sent to me, I really know very little about him. We were school-fellows together; but since that time I have only met him twice. On both occasions I was in London for a boy's holiday (having come up for a week or so from Wiltshire), and lost sight of him again directly. The letter bearing my name and address which you found upon his table, and which led to your applying to me, is in answer, you will observe, to one he wrote from this house the very day he was taken ill, making an appointment with him at his own request. Here is his letter, if you wish to see it.'
The landlord read it; the landlady looked over him. The chambermaid, in the background, made out as much of it as she could, and invented the rest; believing it all from that time forth as a positive piece of evidence.
'He has very little luggage, you say?' observed the gentleman, who was no other than our old friend, John Westlock.
'Nothing but a portmanteau,' said the landlord; 'and very little in it.'
'A few pounds in his purse, though?'
'Yes. It's sealed up, and in the cash-box. I made a memorandum of the amount, which you're welcome to see.'
'Well!' said John, 'as the medical gentleman says the fever must take its course, and nothing can be done just now beyond giving him his drinks regularly and having him carefully attended to, nothing more can be said that I know of, until he is in a condition to give us some information. Can you suggest anything else?'
'N-no,' replied the landlord, 'except—'
'Except, who's to pay, I suppose?' said John.
'Why,' hesitated the landlord, 'it would be as well.'
'Quite as well,' said the landlady.
'Not forgetting to remember the servants,' said the chambermaid in a bland whisper.
'It is but reasonable, I fully admit,' said John Westlock. 'At all events, you have the stock in hand to go upon for the present; and I will readily undertake to pay the doctor and the nurses.'
'Ah!' cried Mrs Gamp. 'A rayal gentleman!'
She groaned her admiration so audibly, that they all turned round. Mrs Gamp felt the necessity of advancing, bundle in hand, and introducing herself.
'The night-nurse,' she observed, 'from Kingsgate Street, well beknown to Mrs Prig the day-nurse, and the best of creeturs. How is the poor dear gentleman to-night? If he an't no better yet, still that is what must be expected and prepared for. It an't the fust time by a many score, ma'am,' dropping a curtsey to the landlady, 'that Mrs Prig and me has nussed together, turn and turn about, one off, one on. We knows each other's ways, and often gives relief when others fail. Our charges is but low, sir'—Mrs Gamp addressed herself to John on this head—'considerin' the nater of our painful dooty. If they wos made accordin' to our wishes, they would be easy paid.'
Regarding herself as having now delivered her inauguration address, Mrs Gamp curtseyed all round, and signified her wish to be conducted to the scene of her official duties. The chambermaid led her, through a variety of intricate passages, to the top of the house; and pointing at length to a solitary door at the end of a gallery, informed her that yonder was the chamber where the patient lay. That done, she hurried off with all the speed she could make.
Mrs Gamp traversed the gallery in a great heat from having carried her large bundle up so many stairs, and tapped at the door which was immediately opened by Mrs Prig, bonneted and shawled and all impatience to be gone. Mrs Prig was of the Gamp build, but not so fat; and her voice was deeper and more like a man's. She had also a beard.
'I began to think you warn't a-coming!' Mrs Prig observed, in some displeasure.
'It shall be made good to-morrow night,' said Mrs Gamp 'Honorable. I had to go and fetch my things.' She had begun to make signs of inquiry in reference to the position of the patient and his overhearing them—for there was a screen before the door—when Mrs Prig settled that point easily.
'Oh!' she said aloud, 'he's quiet, but his wits is gone. It an't no matter wot you say.'
'Anythin' to tell afore you goes, my dear?' asked Mrs Gamp, setting her bundle down inside the door, and looking affectionately at her partner.
'The pickled salmon,' Mrs Prig replied, 'is quite delicious. I can partlck'ler recommend it. Don't have nothink to say to the cold meat, for it tastes of the stable. The drinks is all good.'
Mrs Gamp expressed herself much gratified.
'The physic and them things is on the drawers and mankleshelf,' said Mrs Prig, cursorily. 'He took his last slime draught at seven. The easy-chair an't soft enough. You'll want his piller.'
Mrs Gamp thanked her for these hints, and giving her a friendly good night, held the door open until she had disappeared at the other end of the gallery. Having thus performed the hospitable duty of seeing her safely off, she shut it, locked it on the inside, took up her bundle, walked round the screen, and entered on her occupation of the sick chamber.
'A little dull, but not so bad as might be,' Mrs Gamp remarked. 'I'm glad to see a parapidge, in case of fire, and lots of roofs and chimley-pots to walk upon.'
It will be seen from these remarks that Mrs Gamp was looking out of window. When she had exhausted the prospect, she tried the easy-chair, which she indignantly declared was 'harder than a brickbadge.' Next she pursued her researches among the physic-bottles, glasses, jugs, and tea-cups; and when she had entirely satisfied her curiosity on all these subjects of investigation, she untied her bonnet-strings and strolled up to the bedside to take a look at the patient.
A young man—dark and not ill-looking—with long black hair, that seemed the blacker for the whiteness of the bed-clothes. His eyes were partly open, and he never ceased to roll his head from side to side upon the pillow, keeping his body almost quiet. He did not utter words; but every now and then gave vent to an expression of impatience or fatigue, sometimes of surprise; and still his restless head—oh, weary, weary hour!—went to and fro without a moment's intermission.
Mrs Gamp solaced herself with a pinch of snuff, and stood looking at him with her head inclined a little sideways, as a connoisseur might gaze upon a doubtful work of art. By degrees, a horrible remembrance of one branch of her calling took possession of the woman; and stooping down, she pinned his wandering arms against his sides, to see how he would look if laid out as a dead man. Her fingers itched to compose his limbs in that last marble attitude.
'Ah!' said Mrs Gamp, walking away from the bed, 'he'd make a lovely corpse.'
She now proceeded to unpack her bundle; lighted a candle with the aid of a fire-box on the drawers; filled a small kettle, as a preliminary to refreshing herself with a cup of tea in the course of the night; laid what she called 'a little bit of fire,' for the same philanthropic purpose; and also set forth a small tea-board, that nothing might be wanting for her comfortable enjoyment. These preparations occupied so long, that when they were brought to a conclusion it was high time to think about supper; so she rang the bell and ordered it.
'I think, young woman,' said Mrs Gamp to the assistant chambermaid, in a tone expressive of weakness, 'that I could pick a little bit of pickled salmon, with a nice little sprig of fennel, and a sprinkling of white pepper. I takes new bread, my dear, with just a little pat of fresh butter, and a mossel of cheese. In case there should be such a thing as a cowcumber in the 'ouse, will you be so kind as bring it, for I'm rather partial to 'em, and they does a world of good in a sick room. If they draws the Brighton Old Tipper here, I takes THAT ale at night, my love, it bein' considered wakeful by the doctors. And whatever you do, young woman, don't bring more than a shilling's-worth of gin and water-warm when I rings the bell a second time; for that is always my allowance, and I never takes a drop beyond!'
Having preferred these moderate requests, Mrs Gamp observed that she would stand at the door until the order was executed, to the end that the patient might not be disturbed by her opening it a second time; and therefore she would thank the young woman to 'look sharp.'
A tray was brought with everything upon it, even to the cucumber and Mrs Gamp accordingly sat down to eat and drink in high good humour. The extent to which she availed herself of the vinegar, and supped up that refreshing fluid with the blade of her knife, can scarcely be expressed in narrative.
'Ah!' sighed Mrs Gamp, as she meditated over the warm shilling's-worth, 'what a blessed thing it is—living in a wale—to be contented! What a blessed thing it is to make sick people happy in their beds, and never mind one's self as long as one can do a service! I don't believe a finer cowcumber was ever grow'd. I'm sure I never see one!'
She moralised in the same vein until her glass was empty, and then administered the patient's medicine, by the simple process of clutching his windpipe to make him gasp, and immediately pouring it down his throat.
'I a'most forgot the piller, I declare!' said Mrs Gamp, drawing it away. 'There! Now he's comfortable as he can be, I'm sure! I must try to make myself as much so as I can.'
With this view, she went about the construction of an extemporaneous bed in the easy-chair, with the addition of the next easy one for her feet. Having formed the best couch that the circumstances admitted of, she took out of her bundle a yellow night-cap, of prodigious size, in shape resembling a cabbage; which article of dress she fixed and tied on with the utmost care, previously divesting herself of a row of bald old curls that could scarcely be called false, they were so very innocent of anything approaching to deception. From the same repository she brought forth a night-jacket, in which she also attired herself. Finally, she produced a watchman's coat which she tied round her neck by the sleeves, so that she become two people; and looked, behind, as if she were in the act of being embraced by one of the old patrol.
All these arrangements made, she lighted the rush-light, coiled herself up on her couch, and went to sleep. Ghostly and dark the room became, and full of lowering shadows. The distant noises in the streets were gradually hushed; the house was quiet as a sepulchre; the dead of might was coffined in the silent city.
Oh, weary, weary hour! Oh, haggard mind, groping darkly through the past; incapable of detaching itself from the miserable present; dragging its heavy chain of care through imaginary feasts and revels, and scenes of awful pomp; seeking but a moment's rest among the long-forgotten haunts of childhood, and the resorts of yesterday; and dimly finding fear and horror everywhere! Oh, weary, weary hour! What were the wanderings of Cain, to these!
Still, without a moment's interval, the burning head tossed to and fro. Still, from time to time, fatigue, impatience, suffering, and surprise, found utterance upon that rack, and plainly too, though never once in words. At length, in the solemn hour of midnight, he began to talk; waiting awfully for answers sometimes; as though invisible companions were about his bed; and so replying to their speech and questioning again.
Mrs Gamp awoke, and sat up in her bed; presenting on the wall the shadow of a gigantic night constable, struggling with a prisoner.
'Come! Hold your tongue!' she cried, in sharp reproof. 'Don't make none of that noise here.'
There was no alteration in the face, or in the incessant motion of the head, but he talked on wildly.
'Ah!' said Mrs Gamp, coming out of the chair with an impatient shiver; 'I thought I was a-sleepin' too pleasant to last! The devil's in the night, I think, it's turned so chilly!'
'Don't drink so much!' cried the sick man. 'You'll ruin us all. Don't you see how the fountain sinks? Look at the mark where the sparkling water was just now!'
'Sparkling water, indeed!' said Mrs Gamp. 'I'll have a sparkling cup o' tea, I think. I wish you'd hold your noise!'
He burst into a laugh, which, being prolonged, fell off into a dismal wail. Checking himself, with fierce inconstancy he began to count—fast.
"One, two, buckle my shoe,"' said Mrs Gamp, who was now on her knees, lighting the fire, "three, four, shut the door,"—I wish you'd shut your mouth, young man—"five, six, picking up sticks." If I'd got a few handy, I should have the kettle boiling all the sooner.'
Awaiting this desirable consummation, she sat down so close to the fender (which was a high one) that her nose rested upon it; and for some time she drowsily amused herself by sliding that feature backwards and forwards along the brass top, as far as she could, without changing her position to do it. She maintained, all the while, a running commentary upon the wanderings of the man in bed.
'That makes five hundred and twenty-one men, all dressed alike, and with the same distortion on their faces, that have passed in at the window, and out at the door,' he cried, anxiously. 'Look there! Five hundred and twenty-two—twenty-three—twenty-four. Do you see them?'
'Ah! I see 'em,' said Mrs Gamp; 'all the whole kit of 'em numbered like hackney-coaches, an't they?'
'Touch me! Let me be sure of this. Touch me!'
'You'll take your next draught when I've made the kettle bile,' retorted Mrs Gamp, composedly, 'and you'll be touched then. You'll be touched up, too, if you don't take it quiet.'
'Five hundred and twenty-eight, five hundred and twenty-nine, five hundred and thirty.—Look here!'
'What's the matter now?' said Mrs Gamp.
'They're coming four abreast, each man with his arm entwined in the next man's, and his hand upon his shoulder. What's that upon the arm of every man, and on the flag?'
'Spiders, p'raps,' said Mrs Gamp.
'Crape! Black crape! Good God! why do they wear it outside?'
'Would you have 'em carry black crape in their insides?' Mrs Gamp retorted. 'Hold your noise, hold your noise.'
The fire beginning by this time to impart a grateful warmth, Mrs Gamp became silent; gradually rubbed her nose more and more slowly along the top of the fender; and fell into a heavy doze. She was awakened by the room ringing (as she fancied) with a name she knew:
The sound was so distinct and real, and so full of agonised entreaty, that Mrs Gamp jumped up in terror, and ran to the door. She expected to find the passage filled with people, come to tell her that the house in the city had taken fire. But the place was empty; not a soul was there. She opened the window, and looked out. Dark, dull, dingy, and desolate house-tops. As she passed to her seat again, she glanced at the patient. Just the same; but silent. Mrs Gamp was so warm now, that she threw off the watchman's coat, and fanned herself.
'It seemed to make the wery bottles ring,' she said. 'What could I have been a-dreaming of? That dratted Chuffey, I'll be bound.'
The supposition was probable enough. At any rate, a pinch of snuff, and the song of the steaming kettle, quite restored the tone of Mrs Gamp's nerves, which were none of the weakest. She brewed her tea; made some buttered toast; and sat down at the tea-board, with her face to the fire.
When once again, in a tone more terrible than that which had vibrated in her slumbering ear, these words were shrieked out:
'Chuzzlewit! Jonas! No!'
Mrs Gamp dropped the cup she was in the act of raising to her lips, and turned round with a start that made the little tea-board leap. The cry had come from the bed.
It was bright morning the next time Mrs Gamp looked out of the window, and the sun was rising cheerfully. Lighter and lighter grew the sky, and noisier the streets; and high into the summer air uprose the smoke of newly kindled fires, until the busy day was broad awake.
Mrs Prig relieved punctually, having passed a good night at her other patient's. Mr Westlock came at the same time, but he was not admitted, the disorder being infectious. The doctor came too. The doctor shook his head. It was all he could do, under the circumstances, and he did it well.
'What sort of a night, nurse?'
'Restless, sir,' said Mrs Gamp.
'Middling, sir,' said Mrs Gamp.
'Nothing to the purpose, I suppose?'
'Oh bless you, no, sir. Only jargon.'
'Well!' said the doctor, 'we must keep him quiet; keep the room cool; give him his draughts regularly; and see that he's carefully looked to. That's all!'
'And as long as Mrs Prig and me waits upon him, sir, no fear of that,' said Mrs Gamp.
'I suppose,' observed Mrs Prig, when they had curtseyed the doctor out; 'there's nothin' new?'
'Nothin' at all, my dear,' said Mrs Gamp. 'He's rather wearin' in his talk from making up a lot of names; elseways you needn't mind him.'
'Oh, I shan't mind him,' Mrs Prig returned. 'I have somethin' else to think of.'
'I pays my debts to-night, you know, my dear, and comes afore my time,' said Mrs Gamp. 'But, Betsy Prig'—speaking with great feeling, and laying her hand upon her arm—'try the cowcumbers, God bless you!'
AN UNEXPECTED MEETING, AND A PROMISING PROSPECT
The laws of sympathy between beards and birds, and the secret source of that attraction which frequently impels a shaver of the one to be a dealer in the other, are questions for the subtle reasoning of scientific bodies; not the less so, because their investigation would seem calculated to lead to no particular result. It is enough to know that the artist who had the honour of entertaining Mrs Gamp as his first-floor lodger, united the two pursuits of barbering and bird-fancying; and that it was not an original idea of his, but one in which he had, dispersed about the by-streets and suburbs of the town, a host of rivals.
The name of the householder was Paul Sweedlepipe. But he was commonly called Poll Sweedlepipe; and was not uncommonly believed to have been so christened, among his friends and neighbours.
With the exception of the staircase, and his lodger's private apartment, Poll Sweedlepipe's house was one great bird's nest. Gamecocks resided in the kitchen; pheasants wasted the brightness of their golden plumage on the garret; bantams roosted in the cellar; owls had possession of the bedroom; and specimens of all the smaller fry of birds chirrupped and twittered in the shop. The staircase was sacred to rabbits. There in hutches of all shapes and kinds, made from old packing-cases, boxes, drawers, and tea-chests, they increased in a prodigious degree, and contributed their share towards that complicated whiff which, quite impartially, and without distinction of persons, saluted every nose that was put into Sweedlepipe's easy shaving-shop.
Many noses found their way there, for all that, especially on Sunday morning, before church-time. Even archbishops shave, or must be shaved, on a Sunday, and beards WILL grow after twelve o'clock on Saturday night, though it be upon the chins of base mechanics; who, not being able to engage their valets by the quarter, hire them by the job, and pay them—oh, the wickedness of copper coin!—in dirty pence. Poll Sweedlepipe, the sinner, shaved all comers at a penny each, and cut the hair of any customer for twopence; and being a lone unmarried man, and having some connection in the bird line, Poll got on tolerably well.
He was a little elderly man, with a clammy cold right hand, from which even rabbits and birds could not remove the smell of shaving-soap. Poll had something of the bird in his nature; not of the hawk or eagle, but of the sparrow, that builds in chimney-stacks and inclines to human company. He was not quarrelsome, though, like the sparrow; but peaceful, like the dove. In his walk he strutted; and, in this respect, he bore a faint resemblance to the pigeon, as well as in a certain prosiness of speech, which might, in its monotony, be likened to the cooing of that bird. He was very inquisitive; and when he stood at his shop-door in the evening-tide, watching the neighbours, with his head on one side, and his eye cocked knowingly, there was a dash of the raven in him. Yet there was no more wickedness in Poll than in a robin. Happily, too, when any of his ornithological properties were on the verge of going too far, they were quenched, dissolved, melted down, and neutralised in the barber; just as his bald head—otherwise, as the head of a shaved magpie—lost itself in a wig of curly black ringlets, parted on one side, and cut away almost to the crown, to indicate immense capacity of intellect.
Poll had a very small, shrill treble voice, which might have led the wags of Kingsgate Street to insist the more upon his feminine designation. He had a tender heart, too; for, when he had a good commission to provide three or four score sparrows for a shooting-match, he would observe, in a compassionate tone, how singular it was that sparrows should have been made expressly for such purposes. The question, whether men were made to shoot them, never entered into Poll's philosophy.
Poll wore, in his sporting character, a velveteen coat, a great deal of blue stocking, ankle boots, a neckerchief of some bright colour, and a very tall hat. Pursuing his more quiet occupation of barber, he generally subsided into an apron not over-clean, a flannel jacket, and corduroy knee-shorts. It was in this latter costume, but with his apron girded round his waist, as a token of his having shut up shop for the night, that he closed the door one evening, some weeks after the occurrences detailed in the last chapter, and stood upon the steps in Kingsgate Street, listening until the little cracked bell within should leave off ringing. For until it did—this was Mr Sweedlepipe's reflection—the place never seemed quiet enough to be left to itself.
'It's the greediest little bell to ring,' said Poll, 'that ever was. But it's quiet at last.'
He rolled his apron up a little tighter as he said these words, and hastened down the street. Just as he was turning into Holborn, he ran against a young gentleman in a livery. This youth was bold, though small, and with several lively expressions of displeasure, turned upon him instantly.
'Now, STOO-PID!' cried the young gentleman. 'Can't you look where you're a-going to—eh? Can't you mind where you're a-coming to—eh? What do you think your eyes was made for—eh? Ah! Yes. Oh! Now then!'
The young gentleman pronounced the two last words in a very loud tone and with frightful emphasis, as though they contained within themselves the essence of the direst aggravation. But he had scarcely done so, when his anger yielded to surprise, and he cried, in a milder tone:
'Why, it an't you, sure!' cried Poll. 'It can't be you!'
'No. It an't me,' returned the youth. 'It's my son, my oldest one. He's a credit to his father, an't he, Polly?' With this delicate little piece of banter, he halted on the pavement, and went round and round in circles, for the better exhibition of his figure; rather to the inconvenience of the passengers generally, who were not in an equal state of spirits with himself.
'I wouldn't have believed it,' said Poll. 'What! You've left your old place, then? Have you?'
'Have I!' returned his young friend, who had by this time stuck his hands into the pockets of his white cord breeches, and was swaggering along at the barber's side. 'D'ye know a pair of top-boots when you see 'em, Polly?—look here!'
'Beau-ti-ful' cried Mr Sweedlepipe.
'D'ye know a slap-up sort of button, when you see it?' said the youth. 'Don't look at mine, if you ain't a judge, because these lions' heads was made for men of taste; not snobs.'
'Beau-ti-ful!' cried the barber again. 'A grass-green frock-coat, too, bound with gold; and a cockade in your hat!'
'I should hope so,' replied the youth. 'Blow the cockade, though; for, except that it don't turn round, it's like the wentilator that used to be in the kitchen winder at Todgers's. You ain't seen the old lady's name in the Gazette, have you?'
'No,' returned the barber. 'Is she a bankrupt?'
'If she ain't, she will be,' retorted Bailey. 'That bis'ness never can be carried on without ME. Well! How are you?'
'Oh! I'm pretty well,' said Poll. 'Are you living at this end of the town, or were you coming to see me? Was that the bis'ness that brought you to Holborn?'
'I haven't got no bis'ness in Holborn,' returned Bailey, with some displeasure. 'All my bis'ness lays at the West End. I've got the right sort of governor now. You can't see his face for his whiskers, and can't see his whiskers for the dye upon 'em. That's a gentleman ain't it? You wouldn't like a ride in a cab, would you? Why, it wouldn't be safe to offer it. You'd faint away, only to see me a-comin' at a mild trot round the corner.'
To convey a slight idea of the effect of this approach, Mr Bailey counterfeited in his own person the action of a high-trotting horse and threw up his head so high, in backing against a pump, that he shook his hat off.
'Why, he's own uncle to Capricorn,' said Bailey, 'and brother to Cauliflower. He's been through the winders of two chaney shops since we've had him, and was sold for killin' his missis. That's a horse, I hope?'
'Ah! you'll never want to buy any more red polls, now,' observed Poll, looking on his young friend with an air of melancholy. 'You'll never want to buy any more red polls now, to hang up over the sink, will you?'
'I should think not,' replied Bailey. 'Reether so. I wouldn't have nothin' to say to any bird below a Peacock; and HE'd be wulgar. Well, how are you?'
'Oh! I'm pretty well,' said Poll. He answered the question again because Mr Bailey asked it again; Mr Bailey asked it again, because—accompanied with a straddling action of the white cords, a bend of the knees, and a striking forth of the top-boots—it was an easy horse-fleshy, turfy sort of thing to do.
'Wot are you up to, old feller?' added Mr Bailey, with the same graceful rakishness. He was quite the man-about-town of the conversation, while the easy-shaver was the child.
'Why, I am going to fetch my lodger home,' said Paul.
'A woman!' cried Mr Bailey, 'for a twenty-pun' note!'
The little barber hastened to explain that she was neither a young woman, nor a handsome woman, but a nurse, who had been acting as a kind of house-keeper to a gentleman for some weeks past, and left her place that night, in consequence of being superseded by another and a more legitimate house-keeper—to wit, the gentleman's bride.
'He's newly married, and he brings his young wife home to-night,' said the barber. 'So I'm going to fetch my lodger away—Mr Chuzzlewit's, close behind the Post Office—and carry her box for her.'
'Jonas Chuzzlewit's?' said Bailey.
'Ah!' returned Paul: 'that's the name sure enough. Do you know him?'
'Oh, no!' cried Mr Bailey; 'not at all. And I don't know her! Not neither! Why, they first kept company through me, a'most.'
'Ah?' said Paul.
'Ah!' said Mr Bailey, with a wink; 'and she ain't bad looking mind you. But her sister was the best. SHE was the merry one. I often used to have a bit of fun with her, in the hold times!'
Mr Bailey spoke as if he already had a leg and three-quarters in the grave, and this had happened twenty or thirty years ago. Paul Sweedlepipe, the meek, was so perfectly confounded by his precocious self-possession, and his patronizing manner, as well as by his boots, cockade, and livery, that a mist swam before his eyes, and he saw—not the Bailey of acknowledged juvenility from Todgers's Commercial Boarding House, who had made his acquaintance within a twelvemonth, by purchasing, at sundry times, small birds at twopence each—but a highly-condensed embodiment of all the sporting grooms in London; an abstract of all the stable-knowledge of the time; a something at a high-pressure that must have had existence many years, and was fraught with terrible experiences. And truly, though in the cloudy atmosphere of Todgers's, Mr Bailey's genius had ever shone out brightly in this particular respect, it now eclipsed both time and space, cheated beholders of their senses, and worked on their belief in defiance of all natural laws. He walked along the tangible and real stones of Holborn Hill, an undersized boy; and yet he winked the winks, and thought the thoughts, and did the deeds, and said the sayings of an ancient man. There was an old principle within him, and a young surface without. He became an inexplicable creature; a breeched and booted Sphinx. There was no course open to the barber, but to go distracted himself, or to take Bailey for granted; and he wisely chose the latter.
Mr Bailey was good enough to continue to bear him company, and to entertain him, as they went, with easy conversation on various sporting topics; especially on the comparative merits, as a general principle, of horses with white stockings, and horses without. In regard to the style of tail to be preferred, Mr Bailey had opinions of his own, which he explained, but begged they might by no means influence his friend's, as here he knew he had the misfortune to differ from some excellent authorities. He treated Mr Sweedlepipe to a dram, compounded agreeably to his own directions, which he informed him had been invented by a member of the Jockey Club; and, as they were by this time near the barber's destination, he observed that, as he had an hour to spare, and knew the parties, he would, if quite agreeable, be introduced to Mrs Gamp.
Paul knocked at Jonas Chuzzlewit's; and, on the door being opened by that lady, made the two distinguished persons known to one another. It was a happy feature in Mrs Gamp's twofold profession, that it gave her an interest in everything that was young as well as in everything that was old. She received Mr Bailey with much kindness.
'It's very good, I'm sure, of you to come,' she said to her landlord, 'as well as bring so nice a friend. But I'm afraid that I must trouble you so far as to step in, for the young couple has not yet made appearance.'
'They're late, ain't they?' inquired her landlord, when she had conducted them downstairs into the kitchen.
'Well, sir, considern' the Wings of Love, they are,' said Mrs Gamp.
Mr Bailey inquired whether the Wings of Love had ever won a plate, or could be backed to do anything remarkable; and being informed that it was not a horse, but merely a poetical or figurative expression, evinced considerable disgust. Mrs Gamp was so very much astonished by his affable manners and great ease, that she was about to propound to her landlord in a whisper the staggering inquiry, whether he was a man or a boy, when Mr Sweedlepipe, anticipating her design, made a timely diversion.
'He knows Mrs Chuzzlewit,' said Paul aloud.
'There's nothin' he don't know; that's my opinion,' observed Mrs Gamp. 'All the wickedness of the world is Print to him.'
Mr Bailey received this as a compliment, and said, adjusting his cravat, 'reether so.'
'As you knows Mrs Chuzzlewit, you knows, p'raps, what her chris'en name is?' Mrs Gamp observed.
'Charity,' said Bailey.
'That it ain't!' cried Mrs Gamp.
'Cherry, then,' said Bailey. 'Cherry's short for it. It's all the same.'
'It don't begin with a C at all,' retorted Mrs Gamp, shaking her head. 'It begins with a M.'
'Whew!' cried Mr Bailey, slapping a little cloud of pipe-clay out of his left leg, 'then he's been and married the merry one!'
As these words were mysterious, Mrs Gamp called upon him to explain, which Mr Bailey proceeded to do; that lady listening greedily to everything he said. He was yet in the fullness of his narrative when the sound of wheels, and a double knock at the street door, announced the arrival of the newly married couple. Begging him to reserve what more he had to say for her hearing on the way home, Mrs Gamp took up the candle, and hurried away to receive and welcome the young mistress of the house.
'Wishing you appiness and joy with all my art,' said Mrs Gamp, dropping a curtsey as they entered the hall; 'and you, too, sir. Your lady looks a little tired with the journey, Mr Chuzzlewit, a pretty dear!'
'She has bothered enough about it,' grumbled Mr Jonas. 'Now, show a light, will you?'
'This way, ma'am, if you please,' said Mrs Gamp, going upstairs before them. 'Things has been made as comfortable as they could be, but there's many things you'll have to alter your own self when you gets time to look about you! Ah! sweet thing! But you don't,' added Mrs Gamp, internally, 'you don't look much like a merry one, I must say!'
It was true; she did not. The death that had gone before the bridal seemed to have left its shade upon the house. The air was heavy and oppressive; the rooms were dark; a deep gloom filled up every chink and corner. Upon the hearthstone, like a creature of ill omen, sat the aged clerk, with his eyes fixed on some withered branches in the stove. He rose and looked at her.
'So there you are, Mr Chuff,' said Jonas carelessly, as he dusted his boots; 'still in the land of the living, eh?'
'Still in the land of the living, sir,' retorted Mrs Gamp. 'And Mr Chuffey may thank you for it, as many and many a time I've told him.'
Mr Jonas was not in the best of humours, for he merely said, as he looked round, 'We don't want you any more, you know, Mrs Gamp.'
'I'm a-going immediate, sir,' returned the nurse; 'unless there's nothink I can do for you, ma'am. Ain't there,' said Mrs Gamp, with a look of great sweetness, and rummaging all the time in her pocket; 'ain't there nothink I can do for you, my little bird?'
'No,' said Merry, almost crying. 'You had better go away, please!'
With a leer of mingled sweetness and slyness; with one eye on the future, one on the bride, and an arch expression in her face, partly spiritual, partly spirituous, and wholly professional and peculiar to her art; Mrs Gamp rummaged in her pocket again, and took from it a printed card, whereon was an inscription copied from her signboard.
'Would you be so good, my darling dovey of a dear young married lady,' Mrs Gamp observed, in a low voice, 'as put that somewheres where you can keep it in your mind? I'm well beknown to many ladies, and it's my card. Gamp is my name, and Gamp my nater. Livin' quite handy, I will make so bold as call in now and then, and make inquiry how your health and spirits is, my precious chick!'
And with innumerable leers, winks, coughs, nods, smiles, and curtseys, all leading to the establishment of a mysterious and confidential understanding between herself and the bride, Mrs Gamp, invoking a blessing upon the house, leered, winked, coughed, nodded, smiled, and curtseyed herself out of the room.
'But I will say, and I would if I was led a Martha to the Stakes for it,' Mrs Gamp remarked below stairs, in a whisper, 'that she don't look much like a merry one at this present moment of time.'
'Ah! wait till you hear her laugh!' said Bailey.
'Hem!' cried Mrs Gamp, in a kind of groan. 'I will, child.'
They said no more in the house, for Mrs Gamp put on her bonnet, Mr Sweedlepipe took up her box; and Mr Bailey accompanied them towards Kingsgate Street; recounting to Mrs Gamp as they went along, the origin and progress of his acquaintance with Mrs Chuzzlewit and her sister. It was a pleasant instance of this youth's precocity, that he fancied Mrs Gamp had conceived a tenderness for him, and was much tickled by her misplaced attachment.
As the door closed heavily behind them, Mrs Jonas sat down in a chair, and felt a strange chill creep upon her, whilst she looked about the room. It was pretty much as she had known it, but appeared more dreary. She had thought to see it brightened to receive her.
'It ain't good enough for you, I suppose?' said Jonas, watching her looks.
'Why, it IS dull,' said Merry, trying to be more herself.
'It'll be duller before you're done with it,' retorted Jonas, 'if you give me any of your airs. You're a nice article, to turn sulky on first coming home! Ecod, you used to have life enough, when you could plague me with it. The gal's downstairs. Ring the bell for supper, while I take my boots off!'
She roused herself from looking after him as he left the room, to do what he had desired; when the old man Chuffey laid his hand softly on her arm.
'You are not married?' he said eagerly. 'Not married?'
'Yes. A month ago. Good Heaven, what is the matter?'
He answered nothing was the matter; and turned from her. But in her fear and wonder, turning also, she saw him raise his trembling hands above his head, and heard him say:
'Oh! woe, woe, woe, upon this wicked house!'
It was her welcome—HOME.
SHOWING THAT OLD FRIENDS MAY NOT ONLY APPEAR WITH NEW FACES, BUT IN FALSE COLOURS. THAT PEOPLE ARE PRONE TO BITE, AND THAT BITERS MAY SOMETIMES BE BITTEN.
Mr Bailey, Junior—for the sporting character, whilom of general utility at Todgers's, had now regularly set up in life under that name, without troubling himself to obtain from the legislature a direct licence in the form of a Private Bill, which of all kinds and classes of bills is without exception the most unreasonable in its charges—Mr Bailey, Junior, just tall enough to be seen by an inquiring eye, gazing indolently at society from beneath the apron of his master's cab, drove slowly up and down Pall Mall, about the hour of noon, in waiting for his 'Governor.' The horse of distinguished family, who had Capricorn for his nephew, and Cauliflower for his brother, showed himself worthy of his high relations by champing at the bit until his chest was white with foam, and rearing like a horse in heraldry; the plated harness and the patent leather glittered in the sun; pedestrians admired; Mr Bailey was complacent, but unmoved. He seemed to say, 'A barrow, good people, a mere barrow; nothing to what we could do, if we chose!' and on he went, squaring his short green arms outside the apron, as if he were hooked on to it by his armpits.
Mr Bailey had a great opinion of Brother to Cauliflower, and estimated his powers highly. But he never told him so. On the contrary, it was his practice, in driving that animal, to assail him with disrespectful, if not injurious, expressions, as, 'Ah! would you!' 'Did you think it, then?' 'Where are you going to now?' 'No, you won't, my lad!' and similar fragmentary remarks. These being usually accompanied by a jerk of the rein, or a crack of the whip, led to many trials of strength between them, and to many contentions for the upper-hand, terminating, now and then, in china-shops, and other unusual goals, as Mr Bailey had already hinted to his friend Poll Sweedlepipe.
On the present occasion Mr Bailey, being in spirits, was more than commonly hard upon his charge; in consequence of which that fiery animal confined himself almost entirely to his hind legs in displaying his paces, and constantly got himself into positions with reference to the cabriolet that very much amazed the passengers in the street. But Mr Bailey, not at all disturbed, had still a shower of pleasantries to bestow on any one who crossed his path; as, calling to a full-grown coal-heaver in a wagon, who for a moment blocked the way, 'Now, young 'un, who trusted YOU with a cart?' inquiring of elderly ladies who wanted to cross, and ran back again, 'Why they didn't go to the workhouse and get an order to be buried?' tempting boys, with friendly words, to get up behind, and immediately afterwards cutting them down; and the like flashes of a cheerful humour, which he would occasionally relieve by going round St. James's Square at a hand gallop, and coming slowly into Pall Mall by another entry, as if, in the interval, his pace had been a perfect crawl.
It was not until these amusements had been very often repeated, and the apple-stall at the corner had sustained so many miraculous escapes as to appear impregnable, that Mr Bailey was summoned to the door of a certain house in Pall Mall, and turning short, obeyed the call and jumped out. It was not until he had held the bridle for some minutes longer, every jerk of Cauliflower's brother's head, and every twitch of Cauliflower's brother's nostril, taking him off his legs in the meanwhile, that two persons entered the vehicle, one of whom took the reins and drove rapidly off. Nor was it until Mr Bailey had run after it some hundreds of yards in vain, that he managed to lift his short leg into the iron step, and finally to get his boots upon the little footboard behind. Then, indeed, he became a sight to see; and—standing now on one foot and now upon the other, now trying to look round the cab on this side, now on that, and now endeavouring to peep over the top of it, as it went dashing in among the carts and coaches—was from head to heel Newmarket.
The appearance of Mr Bailey's governor as he drove along fully justified that enthusiastic youth's description of him to the wondering Poll. He had a world of jet-black shining hair upon his head, upon his cheeks, upon his chin, upon his upper lip. His clothes, symmetrically made, were of the newest fashion and the costliest kind. Flowers of gold and blue, and green and blushing red, were on his waistcoat; precious chains and jewels sparkled on his breast; his fingers, clogged with brilliant rings, were as unwieldly as summer flies but newly rescued from a honey-pot. The daylight mantled in his gleaming hat and boots as in a polished glass. And yet, though changed his name, and changed his outward surface, it was Tigg. Though turned and twisted upside down, and inside out, as great men have been sometimes known to be; though no longer Montague Tigg, but Tigg Montague; still it was Tigg; the same Satanic, gallant, military Tigg. The brass was burnished, lacquered, newly stamped; yet it was the true Tigg metal notwithstanding.
Beside him sat a smiling gentleman, of less pretensions and of business looks, whom he addressed as David. Surely not the David of the—how shall it be phrased?—the triumvirate of golden balls? Not David, tapster at the Lombards' Arms? Yes. The very man.
'The secretary's salary, David,' said Mr Montague, 'the office being now established, is eight hundred pounds per annum, with his house-rent, coals, and candles free. His five-and-twenty shares he holds, of course. Is that enough?'
David smiled and nodded, and coughed behind a little locked portfolio which he carried; with an air that proclaimed him to be the secretary in question.
'If that's enough,' said Montague, 'I will propose it at the Board to-day, in my capacity as chairman.'
The secretary smiled again; laughed, indeed, this time; and said, rubbing his nose slily with one end of the portfolio:
'It was a capital thought, wasn't it?'
'What was a capital thought, David?' Mr Montague inquired.
'The Anglo-Bengalee,' tittered the secretary.
'The Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Loan and Life Assurance Company is rather a capital concern, I hope, David,' said Montague.
'Capital indeed!' cried the secretary, with another laugh—' in one sense.'
'In the only important one,' observed the chairman; 'which is number one, David.'
'What,' asked the secretary, bursting into another laugh, 'what will be the paid up capital, according to the next prospectus?'
'A figure of two, and as many oughts after it as the printer can get into the same line,' replied his friend. 'Ha, ha!'
At this they both laughed; the secretary so vehemently, that in kicking up his feet, he kicked the apron open, and nearly started Cauliflower's brother into an oyster shop; not to mention Mr Bailey's receiving such a sudden swing, that he held on for a moment quite a young Fame, by one strap and no legs.
'What a chap you are!' exclaimed David admiringly, when this little alarm had subsided.
'Say, genius, David, genius.'
'Well, upon my soul, you ARE a genius then,' said David. 'I always knew you had the gift of the gab, of course; but I never believed you were half the man you are. How could I?'
'I rise with circumstances, David. That's a point of genius in itself,' said Tigg. 'If you were to lose a hundred pound wager to me at this minute David, and were to pay it (which is most confoundedly improbable), I should rise, in a mental point of view, directly.'
It is due to Mr Tigg to say that he had really risen with his opportunities; and, peculating on a grander scale, he had become a grander man altogether.
'Ha, ha,' cried the secretary, laying his hand, with growing familiarity, upon the chairman's arm. 'When I look at you, and think of your property in Bengal being—ha, ha, ha!—'
The half-expressed idea seemed no less ludicrous to Mr Tigg than to his friend, for he laughed too, heartily.
'—Being,' resumed David, 'being amenable—your property in Bengal being amenable—to all claims upon the company; when I look at you and think of that, you might tickle me into fits by waving the feather of a pen at me. Upon my soul you might!'
'It a devilish fine property,' said Tigg Montague, 'to be amenable to any claims. The preserve of tigers alone is worth a mint of money, David.'
David could only reply in the intervals of his laughter, 'Oh, what a chap you are!' and so continued to laugh, and hold his sides, and wipe his eyes, for some time, without offering any other observation.
'A capital idea?' said Tigg, returning after a time to his companion's first remark; 'no doubt it was a capital idea. It was my idea.'
'No, no. It was my idea,' said David. 'Hang it, let a man have some credit. Didn't I say to you that I'd saved a few pounds?—'
'You said! Didn't I say to you,' interposed Tigg, 'that I had come into a few pounds?'
'Certainly you did,' returned David, warmly, 'but that's not the idea. Who said, that if we put the money together we could furnish an office, and make a show?'
'And who said,' retorted Mr Tigg, 'that, provided we did it on a sufficiently large scale, we could furnish an office and make a show, without any money at all? Be rational, and just, and calm, and tell me whose idea was that.'
'Why, there,' David was obliged to confess, 'you had the advantage of me, I admit. But I don't put myself on a level with you. I only want a little credit in the business.'
'All the credit you deserve to have,' said Tigg.
'The plain work of the company, David—figures, books, circulars, advertisements, pen, ink, and paper, sealing-wax and wafers—is admirably done by you. You are a first-rate groveller. I don't dispute it. But the ornamental department, David; the inventive and poetical department—'
'Is entirely yours,' said his friend. 'No question of it. But with such a swell turnout as this, and all the handsome things you've got about you, and the life you lead, I mean to say it's a precious comfortable department too.'
'Does it gain the purpose? Is it Anglo-Bengalee?' asked Tigg.
'Yes,' said David.
'Could you undertake it yourself?' demanded Tigg.
'No,' said David.
'Ha, ha!' laughed Tigg. 'Then be contented with your station and your profits, David, my fine fellow, and bless the day that made us acquainted across the counter of our common uncle, for it was a golden day to you.'
It will have been already gathered from the conversation of these worthies, that they were embarked in an enterprise of some magnitude, in which they addressed the public in general from the strong position of having everything to gain and nothing at all to lose; and which, based upon this great principle, was thriving pretty comfortably.
The Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Loan and Life Assurance Company started into existence one morning, not an Infant Institution, but a Grown-up Company running alone at a great pace, and doing business right and left: with a 'branch' in a first floor over a tailor's at the west-end of the town, and main offices in a new street in the City, comprising the upper part of a spacious house resplendent in stucco and plate-glass, with wire-blinds in all the windows, and 'Anglo-Bengalee' worked into the pattern of every one of them. On the doorpost was painted again in large letters, 'offices of the Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Loan and Life Assurance Company,' and on the door was a large brass plate with the same inscription; always kept very bright, as courting inquiry; staring the City out of countenance after office hours on working days, and all day long on Sundays; and looking bolder than the Bank. Within, the offices were newly plastered, newly painted, newly papered, newly countered, newly floor-clothed, newly tabled, newly chaired, newly fitted up in every way, with goods that were substantial and expensive, and designed (like the company) to last. Business! Look at the green ledgers with red backs, like strong cricket-balls beaten flat; the court-guides directories, day-books, almanacks, letter-boxes, weighing-machines for letters, rows of fire-buckets for dashing out a conflagration in its first spark, and saving the immense wealth in notes and bonds belonging to the company; look at the iron safes, the clock, the office seal—in its capacious self, security for anything. Solidity! Look at the massive blocks of marble in the chimney-pieces, and the gorgeous parapet on the top of the house! Publicity! Why, Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Loan and Life Assurance company is painted on the very coal-scuttles. It is repeated at every turn until the eyes are dazzled with it, and the head is giddy. It is engraved upon the top of all the letter paper, and it makes a scroll-work round the seal, and it shines out of the porter's buttons, and it is repeated twenty times in every circular and public notice wherein one David Crimple, Esquire, Secretary and resident Director, takes the liberty of inviting your attention to the accompanying statement of the advantages offered by the Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Loan and Life Assurance Company; and fully proves to you that any connection on your part with that establishment must result in a perpetual Christmas Box and constantly increasing Bonus to yourself, and that nobody can run any risk by the transaction except the office, which, in its great liberality is pretty sure to lose. And this, David Crimple, Esquire, submits to you (and the odds are heavy you believe him), is the best guarantee that can reasonably be suggested by the Board of Management for its permanence and stability.
This gentleman's name, by the way, had been originally Crimp; but as the word was susceptible of an awkward construction and might be misrepresented, he had altered it to Crimple.
Lest with all these proofs and confirmations, any man should be suspicious of the Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Loan and Life Assurance company; should doubt in tiger, cab, or person, Tigg Montague, Esquire, (of Pall Mall and Bengal), or any other name in the imaginative List of Directors; there was a porter on the premises—a wonderful creature, in a vast red waistcoat and a short-tailed pepper-and-salt coat—who carried more conviction to the minds of sceptics than the whole establishment without him. No confidences existed between him and the Directorship; nobody knew where he had served last; no character or explanation had been given or required. No questions had been asked on either side. This mysterious being, relying solely on his figure, had applied for the situation, and had been instantly engaged on his own terms. They were high; but he knew, doubtless, that no man could carry such an extent of waistcoat as himself, and felt the full value of his capacity to such an institution. When he sat upon a seat erected for him in a corner of the office, with his glazed hat hanging on a peg over his head, it was impossible to doubt the respectability of the concern. It went on doubling itself with every square inch of his red waistcoat until, like the problem of the nails in the horse's shoes, the total became enormous. People had been known to apply to effect an insurance on their lives for a thousand pounds, and looking at him, to beg, before the form of proposal was filled up, that it might be made two. And yet he was not a giant. His coat was rather small than otherwise. The whole charm was in his waistcoat. Respectability, competence, property in Bengal or anywhere else, responsibility to any amount on the part of the company that employed him, were all expressed in that one garment.
Rival offices had endeavoured to lure him away; Lombard Street itself had beckoned to him; rich companies had whispered 'Be a Beadle!' but he still continued faithful to the Anglo-Bengalee. Whether he was a deep rogue, or a stately simpleton, it was impossible to make out, but he appeared to believe in the Anglo-Bengalee. He was grave with imaginary cares of office; and having nothing whatever to do, and something less to take care of, would look as if the pressure of his numerous duties, and a sense of the treasure in the company's strong-room, made him a solemn and a thoughtful man.
As the cabriolet drove up to the door, this officer appeared bare-headed on the pavement, crying aloud 'Room for the chairman, room for the chairman, if you please!' much to the admiration of the bystanders, who, it is needless to say, had their attention directed to the Anglo-Bengalee Company thenceforth, by that means. Mr Tigg leaped gracefully out, followed by the Managing Director (who was by this time very distant and respectful), and ascended the stairs, still preceded by the porter, who cried as he went, 'By your leave there! by your leave! The Chairman of the Board, Gentle—MEN! In like manner, but in a still more stentorian voice, he ushered the chairman through the public office, where some humble clients were transacting business, into an awful chamber, labelled Board-room; the door of which sanctuary immediately closed, and screened the great capitalist from vulgar eyes.
The board-room had a Turkey carpet in it, a sideboard, a portrait of Tigg Montague, Esquire, as chairman; a very imposing chair of office, garnished with an ivory hammer and a little hand-bell; and a long table, set out at intervals with sheets of blotting-paper, foolscap, clean pens, and inkstands. The chairman having taken his seat with great solemnity, the secretary supported him on his right hand, and the porter stood bolt upright behind them, forming a warm background of waistcoat. This was the board: everything else being a light-hearted little fiction.
'Bullamy!' said Mr Tigg.
'Sir!' replied the porter.
'Let the Medical Officer know, with my compliments, that I wish to see him.'
Bullamy cleared his throat, and bustled out into the office, crying 'The Chairman of the Board wishes to see the Medical Officer. By your leave there! By your leave!' He soon returned with the gentleman in question; and at both openings of the board-room door—at his coming in and at his going out—simple clients were seen to stretch their necks and stand upon their toes, thirsting to catch the slightest glimpse of that mysterious chamber.
'Jobling, my dear friend!' said Mr Tigg, 'how are you? Bullamy, wait outside. Crimple, don't leave us. Jobling, my good fellow, I am glad to see you.'
'And how are you, Mr Montague, eh?' said the Medical Officer, throwing himself luxuriously into an easy-chair (they were all easy-chairs in the board-room), and taking a handsome gold snuff-box from the pocket of his black satin waistcoat. 'How are you? A little worn with business, eh? If so, rest. A little feverish from wine, humph? If so, water. Nothing at all the matter, and quite comfortable? Then take some lunch. A very wholesome thing at this time of day to strengthen the gastric juices with lunch, Mr Montague.'
The Medical Officer (he was the same medical officer who had followed poor old Anthony Chuzzlewit to the grave, and who had attended Mrs Gamp's patient at the Bull) smiled in saying these words; and casually added, as he brushed some grains of snuff from his shirt-frill, 'I always take it myself about this time of day, do you know!'
'Bullamy!' said the Chairman, ringing the little bell.
'Not on my account, I hope?' said the doctor. 'You are very good. Thank you. I'm quite ashamed. Ha, ha! if I had been a sharp practitioner, Mr Montague, I shouldn't have mentioned it without a fee; for you may depend upon it, my dear sir, that if you don't make a point of taking lunch, you'll very soon come under my hands. Allow me to illustrate this. In Mr Crimple's leg—'
The resident Director gave an involuntary start, for the doctor, in the heat of his demonstration, caught it up and laid it across his own, as if he were going to take it off, then and there.
'In Mr Crimple's leg, you'll observe,' pursued the doctor, turning back his cuffs and spanning the limb with both hands, 'where Mr Crimple's knee fits into the socket, here, there is—that is to say, between the bone and the socket—a certain quantity of animal oil.'
'What do you pick MY leg out for?' said Mr Crimple, looking with something of an anxious expression at his limb. 'It's the same with other legs, ain't it?'
'Never you mind, my good sir,' returned the doctor, shaking his head, 'whether it is the same with other legs, or not the same.'
'But I do mind,' said David.
'I take a particular case, Mr Montague,' returned the doctor, 'as illustrating my remark, you observe. In this portion of Mr Crimple's leg, sir, there is a certain amount of animal oil. In every one of Mr Crimple's joints, sir, there is more or less of the same deposit. Very good. If Mr Crimple neglects his meals, or fails to take his proper quantity of rest, that oil wanes, and becomes exhausted. What is the consequence? Mr Crimple's bones sink down into their sockets, sir, and Mr Crimple becomes a weazen, puny, stunted, miserable man!'
The doctor let Mr Crimple's leg fall suddenly, as if he were already in that agreeable condition; turned down his wristbands again, and looked triumphantly at the chairman.
'We know a few secrets of nature in our profession, sir,' said the doctor. 'Of course we do. We study for that; we pass the Hall and the College for that; and we take our station in society BY that. It's extraordinary how little is known on these subjects generally. Where do you suppose, now'—the doctor closed one eye, as he leaned back smilingly in his chair, and formed a triangle with his hands, of which his two thumbs composed the base—'where do you suppose Mr Crimple's stomach is?'
Mr Crimple, more agitated than before, clapped his hand immediately below his waistcoat.
'Not at all,' cried the doctor; 'not at all. Quite a popular mistake! My good sir, you're altogether deceived.'
'I feel it there, when it's out of order; that's all I know,' said Crimple.
'You think you do,' replied the doctor; 'but science knows better. There was a patient of mine once,' touching one of the many mourning rings upon his fingers, and slightly bowing his head, 'a gentleman who did me the honour to make a very handsome mention of me in his will—"in testimony," as he was pleased to say, "of the unremitting zeal, talent, and attention of my friend and medical attendant, John Jobling, Esquire, M.R.C.S.,"—who was so overcome by the idea of having all his life laboured under an erroneous view of the locality of this important organ, that when I assured him on my professional reputation, he was mistaken, he burst into tears, put out his hand, and said, "Jobling, God bless you!" Immediately afterwards he became speechless, and was ultimately buried at Brixton.'
'By your leave there!' cried Bullamy, without. 'By your leave! Refreshment for the Board-room!'
'Ha!' said the doctor, jocularly, as he rubbed his hands, and drew his chair nearer to the table. 'The true Life Assurance, Mr Montague. The best Policy in the world, my dear sir. We should be provident, and eat and drink whenever we can. Eh, Mr Crimple?'
The resident Director acquiesced rather sulkily, as if the gratification of replenishing his stomach had been impaired by the unsettlement of his preconceived opinions in reference to its situation. But the appearance of the porter and under-porter with a tray covered with a snow-white cloth, which, being thrown back, displayed a pair of cold roast fowls, flanked by some potted meats and a cool salad, quickly restored his good humour. It was enhanced still further by the arrival of a bottle of excellent madeira, and another of champagne; and he soon attacked the repast with an appetite scarcely inferior to that of the medical officer.
The lunch was handsomely served, with a profusion of rich glass plate, and china; which seemed to denote that eating and drinking on a showy scale formed no unimportant item in the business of the Anglo-Bengalee Directorship. As it proceeded, the Medical Officer grew more and more joyous and red-faced, insomuch that every mouthful he ate, and every drop of wine he swallowed, seemed to impart new lustre to his eyes, and to light up new sparks in his nose and forehead.
In certain quarters of the City and its neighbourhood, Mr Jobling was, as we have already seen in some measure, a very popular character. He had a portentously sagacious chin, and a pompous voice, with a rich huskiness in some of its tones that went directly to the heart, like a ray of light shining through the ruddy medium of choice old burgundy. His neckerchief and shirt-frill were ever of the whitest, his clothes of the blackest and sleekest, his gold watch-chain of the heaviest, and his seals of the largest. His boots, which were always of the brightest, creaked as he walked. Perhaps he could shake his head, rub his hands, or warm himself before a fire, better than any man alive; and he had a peculiar way of smacking his lips and saying, 'Ah!' at intervals while patients detailed their symptoms, which inspired great confidence. It seemed to express, 'I know what you're going to say better than you do; but go on, go on.' As he talked on all occasions whether he had anything to say or not, it was unanimously observed of him that he was 'full of anecdote;' and his experience and profit from it were considered, for the same reason, to be something much too extensive for description. His female patients could never praise him too highly; and the coldest of his male admirers would always say this for him to their friends, 'that whatever Jobling's professional skill might be (and it could not be denied that he had a very high reputation), he was one of the most comfortable fellows you ever saw in your life!'
Jobling was for many reasons, and not last in the list because his connection lay principally among tradesmen and their families, exactly the sort of person whom the Anglo-Bengalee Company wanted for a medical officer. But Jobling was far too knowing to connect himself with the company in any closer ties than as a paid (and well paid) functionary, or to allow his connection to be misunderstood abroad, if he could help it. Hence he always stated the case to an inquiring patient, after this manner:
'Why, my dear sir, with regard to the Anglo-Bengalee, my information, you see, is limited; very limited. I am the medical officer, in consideration of a certain monthly payment. The labourer is worthy of his hire; BIS DAT QUI CITO DAT'—('classical scholar, Jobling!' thinks the patient, 'well-read man!')—'and I receive it regularly. Therefore I am bound, so far as my own knowledge goes, to speak well of the establishment.' ('Nothing can be fairer than Jobling's conduct,' thinks the patient, who has just paid Jobling's bill himself.) 'If you put any question to me, my dear friend,' says the doctor, 'touching the responsibility or capital of the company, there I am at fault; for I have no head for figures, and not being a shareholder, am delicate of showing any curiosity whatever on the subject. Delicacy—your amiable lady will agree with me I am sure—should be one of the first characteristics of a medical man.' ('Nothing can be finer or more gentlemanly than Jobling's feeling,' thinks the patient.) 'Very good, my dear sir, so the matter stands. You don't know Mr Montague? I'm sorry for it. A remarkably handsome man, and quite the gentleman in every respect. Property, I am told, in India. House and everything belonging to him, beautiful. Costly furniture on the most elegant and lavish scale. And pictures, which, even in an anatomical point of view, are perfection. In case you should ever think of doing anything with the company, I'll pass you, you may depend upon it. I can conscientiously report you a healthy subject. If I understand any man's constitution, it is yours; and this little indisposition has done him more good, ma'am,' says the doctor, turning to the patient's wife, 'than if he had swallowed the contents of half the nonsensical bottles in my surgery. For they ARE nonsense—to tell the honest truth, one half of them are nonsense—compared with such a constitution as his!' ('Jobling is the most friendly creature I ever met with in my life,' thinks the patient; 'and upon my word and honour, I'll consider of it!')
'Commission to you, doctor, on four new policies, and a loan this morning, eh?' said Crimple, looking, when they had finished lunch, over some papers brought in by the porter. 'Well done!'
'Jobling, my dear friend,' said Tigg, 'long life to you.'
'No, no. Nonsense. Upon my word I've no right to draw the commission,' said the doctor, 'I haven't really. It's picking your pocket. I don't recommend anybody here. I only say what I know. My patients ask me what I know, and I tell 'em what I know. Nothing else. Caution is my weak side, that's the truth; and always was from a boy. That is,' said the doctor, filling his glass, 'caution in behalf of other people. Whether I would repose confidence in this company myself, if I had not been paying money elsewhere for many years—that's quite another question.'
He tried to look as if there were no doubt about it; but feeling that he did it but indifferently, changed the theme and praised the wine.
'Talking of wine,' said the doctor, 'reminds me of one of the finest glasses of light old port I ever drank in my life; and that was at a funeral. You have not seen anything of—of THAT party, Mr Montague, have you?' handing him a card.
'He is not buried, I hope?' said Tigg, as he took it. 'The honour of his company is not requested if he is.'
'Ha, ha!' laughed the doctor. 'No; not quite. He was honourably connected with that very occasion though.'
'Oh!' said Tigg, smoothing his moustache, as he cast his eyes upon the name. 'I recollect. No. He has not been here.'
The words were on his lips, when Bullamy entered, and presented a card to the Medical Officer.
'Talk of the what's his name—' observed the doctor rising.
'And he's sure to appear, eh?' said Tigg.
'Why, no, Mr Montague, no,' returned the doctor. 'We will not say that in the present case, for this gentleman is very far from it.'
'So much the better,' retorted Tigg. 'So much the more adaptable to the Anglo-Bengalee. Bullamy, clear the table and take the things out by the other door. Mr Crimple, business.'
'Shall I introduce him?' asked Jobling.
'I shall be eternally delighted,' answered Tigg, kissing his hand and smiling sweetly.
The doctor disappeared into the outer office, and immediately returned with Jonas Chuzzlewit.
'Mr Montague,' said Jobling. 'Allow me. My friend Mr Chuzzlewit. My dear friend—our chairman. Now do you know,' he added checking himself with infinite policy, and looking round with a smile; 'that's a very singular instance of the force of example. It really is a very remarkable instance of the force of example. I say OUR chairman. Why do I say our chairman? Because he is not MY chairman, you know. I have no connection with the company, farther than giving them, for a certain fee and reward, my poor opinion as a medical man, precisely as I may give it any day to Jack Noakes or Tom Styles. Then why do I say our chairman? Simply because I hear the phrase constantly repeated about me. Such is the involuntary operation of the mental faculty in the imitative biped man. Mr Crimple, I believe you never take snuff? Injudicious. You should.'
Pending these remarks on the part of the doctor, and the lengthened and sonorous pinch with which he followed them up, Jonas took a seat at the board; as ungainly a man as ever he has been within the reader's knowledge. It is too common with all of us, but it is especially in the nature of a mean mind, to be overawed by fine clothes and fine furniture. They had a very decided influence on Jonas.
'Now you two gentlemen have business to discuss, I know,' said the doctor, 'and your time is precious. So is mine; for several lives are waiting for me in the next room, and I have a round of visits to make after—after I have taken 'em. Having had the happiness to introduce you to each other, I may go about my business. Good-bye. But allow me, Mr Montague, before I go, to say this of my friend who sits beside you: That gentleman has done more, sir,' rapping his snuff-box solemnly, 'to reconcile me to human nature, than any man alive or dead. Good-bye!'
With these words Jobling bolted abruptly out of the room, and proceeded in his own official department, to impress the lives in waiting with a sense of his keen conscientiousness in the discharge of his duty, and the great difficulty of getting into the Anglo-Bengalee; by feeling their pulses, looking at their tongues, listening at their ribs, poking them in the chest, and so forth; though, if he didn't well know beforehand that whatever kind of lives they were, the Anglo-Bengalee would accept them readily, he was far from being the Jobling that his friend considered him; and was not the original Jobling, but a spurious imitation.