Mr Crimple also departed on the business of the morning; and Jonas Chuzzlewit and Tigg were left alone.
'I learn from our friend,' said Tigg, drawing his chair towards Jonas with a winning ease of manner, 'that you have been thinking—'
'Oh! Ecod then he'd no right to say so,' cried Jonas, interrupting. 'I didn't tell HIM my thoughts. If he took it into his head that I was coming here for such or such a purpose, why, that's his lookout. I don't stand committed by that.'
Jonas said this offensively enough; for over and above the habitual distrust of his character, it was in his nature to seek to revenge himself on the fine clothes and the fine furniture, in exact proportion as he had been unable to withstand their influence.
'If I come here to ask a question or two, and get a document or two to consider of, I don't bind myself to anything. Let's understand that, you know,' said Jonas.
'My dear fellow!' cried Tigg, clapping him on the shoulder, 'I applaud your frankness. If men like you and I speak openly at first, all possible misunderstanding is avoided. Why should I disguise what you know so well, but what the crowd never dream of? We companies are all birds of prey; mere birds of prey. The only question is, whether in serving our own turn, we can serve yours too; whether in double-lining our own nest, we can put a single living into yours. Oh, you're in our secret. You're behind the scenes. We'll make a merit of dealing plainly with you, when we know we can't help it.'
It was remarked, on the first introduction of Mr Jonas into these pages, that there is a simplicity of cunning no less than a simplicity of innocence, and that in all matters involving a faith in knavery, he was the most credulous of men. If Mr Tigg had preferred any claim to high and honourable dealing, Jonas would have suspected him though he had been a very model of probity; but when he gave utterance to Jonas's own thoughts of everything and everybody, Jonas began to feel that he was a pleasant fellow, and one to be talked to freely.
He changed his position in the chair, not for a less awkward, but for a more boastful attitude; and smiling in his miserable conceit rejoined:
'You an't a bad man of business, Mr Montague. You know how to set about it, I WILL say.'
'Tut, tut,' said Tigg, nodding confidentially, and showing his white teeth; 'we are not children, Mr Chuzzlewit; we are grown men, I hope.'
Jonas assented, and said after a short silence, first spreading out his legs, and sticking one arm akimbo to show how perfectly at home he was,
'The truth is—'
'Don't say, the truth,' interposed Tigg, with another grin. 'It's so like humbug.'
Greatly charmed by this, Jonas began again.
'The long and the short of it is—'
'Better,' muttered Tigg. 'Much better!'
'—That I didn't consider myself very well used by one or two of the old companies in some negotiations I have had with 'em—once had, I mean. They started objections they had no right to start, and put questions they had no right to put, and carried things much too high for my taste.'
As he made these observations he cast down his eyes, and looked curiously at the carpet. Mr Tigg looked curiously at him.
He made so long a pause, that Tigg came to the rescue, and said, in his pleasantest manner:
'Take a glass of wine.'
'No, no,' returned Jonas, with a cunning shake of the head; 'none of that, thankee. No wine over business. All very well for you, but it wouldn't do for me.'
'What an old hand you are, Mr Chuzzlewit!' said Tigg, leaning back in his chair, and leering at him through his half-shut eyes.
Jonas shook his head again, as much as to say, 'You're right there;' And then resumed, jocosely:
'Not such an old hand, either, but that I've been and got married. That's rather green, you'll say. Perhaps it is, especially as she's young. But one never knows what may happen to these women, so I'm thinking of insuring her life. It is but fair, you know, that a man should secure some consolation in case of meeting with such a loss.'
'If anything can console him under such heart-breaking circumstances,' murmured Tigg, with his eyes shut up as before.
'Exactly,' returned Jonas; 'if anything can. Now, supposing I did it here, I should do it cheap, I know, and easy, without bothering her about it; which I'd much rather not do, for it's just in a woman's way to take it into her head, if you talk to her about such things, that she's going to die directly.'
'So it is,' cried Tigg, kissing his hand in honour of the sex. 'You're quite right. Sweet, silly, fluttering little simpletons!'
'Well,' said Jonas, 'on that account, you know, and because offence has been given me in other quarters, I wouldn't mind patronizing this Company. But I want to know what sort of security there is for the Company's going on. That's the—'
'Not the truth?' cried Tigg, holding up his jewelled hand. 'Don't use that Sunday School expression, please!'
'The long and the short of it,' said Jonas. 'The long and the short of it is, what's the security?'
'The paid-up capital, my dear sir,' said Tigg, referring to some papers on the table, 'is, at this present moment—'
'Oh! I understand all about paid-up capitals, you know,' said Jonas.
'You do?' cried Tigg, stopping short.
'I should hope so.'
He turned the papers down again, and moving nearer to him, said in his ear:
'I know you do. I know you do. Look at me!'
It was not much in Jonas's way to look straight at anybody; but thus requested, he made shift to take a tolerable survey of the chairman's features. The chairman fell back a little, to give him the better opportunity.
'You know me?' he inquired, elevating his eyebrows. 'You recollect? You've seen me before?'
'Why, I thought I remembered your face when I first came in,' said Jonas, gazing at it; 'but I couldn't call to mind where I had seen it. No. I don't remember, even now. Was it in the street?'
'Was it in Pecksniff's parlour?' said Tigg
'In Pecksniff's parlour!' echoed Jonas, fetching a long breath. 'You don't mean when—'
'Yes,' cried Tigg, 'when there was a very charming and delightful little family party, at which yourself and your respected father assisted.'
'Well, never mind HIM,' said Jonas. 'He's dead, and there's no help for it.'
'Dead, is he!' cried Tigg, 'Venerable old gentleman, is he dead! You're very like him.'
Jonas received this compliment with anything but a good grace, perhaps because of his own private sentiments in reference to the personal appearance of his deceased parent; perhaps because he was not best pleased to find that Montague and Tigg were one. That gentleman perceived it, and tapping him familiarly on the sleeve, beckoned him to the window. From this moment, Mr Montague's jocularity and flow of spirits were remarkable.
'Do you find me at all changed since that time?' he asked. 'Speak plainly.'
Jonas looked hard at his waistcoat and jewels; and said 'Rather, ecod!'
'Was I at all seedy in those days?' asked Montague.
'Precious seedy,' said Jonas.
Mr Montague pointed down into the street, where Bailey and the cab were in attendance.
'Neat; perhaps dashing. Do you know whose it is?'
'Mine. Do you like this room?'
'It must have cost a lot of money,' said Jonas.
'You're right. Mine too. Why don't you'—he whispered this, and nudged him in the side with his elbow—'why don't you take premiums, instead of paying 'em? That's what a man like you should do. Join us!'
Jonas stared at him in amazement.
'Is that a crowded street?' asked Montague, calling his attention to the multitude without.
'Very,' said Jonas, only glancing at it, and immediately afterwards looking at him again.
'There are printed calculations,' said his companion, 'which will tell you pretty nearly how many people will pass up and down that thoroughfare in the course of a day. I can tell you how many of 'em will come in here, merely because they find this office here; knowing no more about it than they do of the Pyramids. Ha, ha! Join us. You shall come in cheap.'
Jonas looked at him harder and harder.
'I can tell you,' said Tigg in his ear, 'how many of 'em will buy annuities, effect insurances, bring us their money in a hundred shapes and ways, force it upon us, trust us as if we were the Mint; yet know no more about us than you do of that crossing-sweeper at the corner. Not so much. Ha, ha!'
Jonas gradually broke into a smile.
'Yah!' said Montague, giving him a pleasant thrust in the breast; 'you're too deep for us, you dog, or I wouldn't have told you. Dine with me to-morrow, in Pall Mall!'
'I will' said Jonas.
'Done!' cried Montague. 'Wait a bit. Take these papers with you and look 'em over. See,' he said, snatching some printed forms from the table. 'B is a little tradesman, clerk, parson, artist, author, any common thing you like.'
'Yes,' said Jonas, looking greedily over his shoulder. 'Well!'
'B wants a loan. Say fifty or a hundred pound; perhaps more; no matter. B proposes self and two securities. B is accepted. Two securities give a bond. B assures his own life for double the amount, and brings two friends' lives also—just to patronize the office. Ha ha, ha! Is that a good notion?'
'Ecod, that's a capital notion!' cried Jonas. 'But does he really do it?'
'Do it!' repeated the chairman. 'B's hard up, my good fellow, and will do anything. Don't you see? It's my idea.'
'It does you honour. I'm blest if it don't,' said Jonas.
'I think it does,' replied the chairman, 'and I'm proud to hear you say so. B pays the highest lawful interest—'
'That an't much,' interrupted Jonas.
'Right! quite right!' retorted Tigg. 'And hard it is upon the part of the law that it should be so confoundedly down upon us unfortunate victims; when it takes such amazing good interest for itself from all its clients. But charity begins at home, and justice begins next door. Well! The law being hard upon us, we're not exactly soft upon B; for besides charging B the regular interest, we get B's premium, and B's friends' premiums, and we charge B for the bond, and, whether we accept him or not, we charge B for "inquiries" (we keep a man, at a pound a week, to make 'em), and we charge B a trifle for the secretary; and in short, my good fellow, we stick it into B, up hill and down dale, and make a devilish comfortable little property out of him. Ha, ha, ha! I drive B, in point of fact,' said Tigg, pointing to the cabriolet, 'and a thoroughbred horse he is. Ha, ha, ha!'
Jonas enjoyed this joke very much indeed. It was quite in his peculiar vein of humour.
'Then,' said Tigg Montague, 'we grant annuities on the very lowest and most advantageous terms known in the money market; and the old ladies and gentlemen down in the country buy 'em. Ha, ha, ha! And we pay 'em too—perhaps. Ha, ha, ha!'
'But there's responsibility in that,' said Jonas, looking doubtful.
'I take it all myself,' said Tigg Montague. 'Here I am responsible for everything. The only responsible person in the establishment! Ha, ha, ha! Then there are the Life Assurances without loans; the common policies. Very profitable, very comfortable. Money down, you know; repeated every year; capital fun!'
'But when they begin to fall in,' observed Jonas. 'It's all very well, while the office is young, but when the policies begin to die—that's what I am thinking of.'
'At the first start, my dear fellow,' said Montague, 'to show you how correct your judgment is, we had a couple of unlucky deaths that brought us down to a grand piano.'
'Brought you down where?' cried Jonas.
'I give you my sacred word of honour,' said Tigg Montague, 'that I raised money on every other individual piece of property, and was left alone in the world with a grand piano. And it was an upright-grand too, so that I couldn't even sit upon it. But, my dear fellow, we got over it. We granted a great many new policies that week (liberal allowance to solicitors, by the bye), and got over it in no time. Whenever they should chance to fall in heavily, as you very justly observe they may, one of these days; then—' he finished the sentence in so low a whisper, that only one disconnected word was audible, and that imperfectly. But it sounded like 'Bolt.'
'Why, you're as bold as brass!' said Jonas, in the utmost admiration.
'A man can well afford to be as bold as brass, my good fellow, when he gets gold in exchange!' cried the chairman, with a laugh that shook him from head to foot. 'You'll dine with me to-morrow?'
'At what time?' asked Jonas.
'Seven. Here's my card. Take the documents. I see you'll join us!'
'I don't know about that,' said Jonas. 'There's a good deal to be looked into first.'
'You shall look,' said Montague, slapping him on the back, 'into anything and everything you please. But you'll join us, I am convinced. You were made for it. Bullamy!'
Obedient to the summons and the little bell, the waistcoat appeared. Being charged to show Jonas out, it went before; and the voice within it cried, as usual, 'By your leave there, by your leave! Gentleman from the board-room, by your leave!'
Mr Montague being left alone, pondered for some moments, and then said, raising his voice:
'Is Nadgett in the office there?'
'Here he is, sir.' And he promptly entered; shutting the board-room door after him, as carefully as if he were about to plot a murder.
He was the man at a pound a week who made the inquiries. It was no virtue or merit in Nadgett that he transacted all his Anglo-Bengalee business secretly and in the closest confidence; for he was born to be a secret. He was a short, dried-up, withered old man, who seemed to have secreted his very blood; for nobody would have given him credit for the possession of six ounces of it in his whole body. How he lived was a secret; where he lived was a secret; and even what he was, was a secret. In his musty old pocket-book he carried contradictory cards, in some of which he called himself a coal-merchant, in others a wine-merchant, in others a commission-agent, in others a collector, in others an accountant; as if he really didn't know the secret himself. He was always keeping appointments in the City, and the other man never seemed to come. He would sit on 'Change for hours, looking at everybody who walked in and out, and would do the like at Garraway's, and in other business coffee-rooms, in some of which he would be occasionally seen drying a very damp pocket-handkerchief before the fire, and still looking over his shoulder for the man who never appeared. He was mildewed, threadbare, shabby; always had flue upon his legs and back; and kept his linen so secretly buttoning up and wrapping over, that he might have had none—perhaps he hadn't. He carried one stained beaver glove, which he dangled before him by the forefinger as he walked or sat; but even its fellow was a secret. Some people said he had been a bankrupt, others that he had gone an infant into an ancient Chancery suit which was still depending, but it was all a secret. He carried bits of sealing-wax and a hieroglyphical old copper seal in his pocket, and often secretly indited letters in corner boxes of the trysting-places before mentioned; but they never appeared to go to anybody, for he would put them into a secret place in his coat, and deliver them to himself weeks afterwards, very much to his own surprise, quite yellow. He was that sort of man that if he had died worth a million of money, or had died worth twopence halfpenny, everybody would have been perfectly satisfied, and would have said it was just as they expected. And yet he belonged to a class; a race peculiar to the City; who are secrets as profound to one another, as they are to the rest of mankind.
'Mr Nadgett,' said Montague, copying Jonas Chuzzlewit's address upon a piece of paper, from the card which was still lying on the table, 'any information about this name, I shall be glad to have myself. Don't you mind what it is. Any you can scrape together, bring me. Bring it to me, Mr Nadgett.'
Nadgett put on his spectacles, and read the name attentively; then looked at the chairman over his glasses, and bowed; then took them off, and put them in their case; and then put the case in his pocket. When he had done so, he looked, without his spectacles, at the paper as it lay before him, and at the same time produced his pocket-book from somewhere about the middle of his spine. Large as it was, it was very full of documents, but he found a place for this one; and having clasped it carefully, passed it by a kind of solemn legerdemain into the same region as before.
He withdrew with another bow and without a word; opening the door no wider than was sufficient for his passage out; and shutting it as carefully as before. The chairman of the board employed the rest of the morning in affixing his sign-manual of gracious acceptance to various new proposals of annuity-purchase and assurance. The Company was looking up, for they flowed in gayly.
MR MONTAGUE AT HOME. AND MR JONAS CHUZZLEWIT AT HOME
There were many powerful reasons for Jonas Chuzzlewit being strongly prepossessed in favour of the scheme which its great originator had so boldly laid open to him; but three among them stood prominently forward. Firstly, there was money to be made by it. Secondly, the money had the peculiar charm of being sagaciously obtained at other people's cost. Thirdly, it involved much outward show of homage and distinction: a board being an awful institution in its own sphere, and a director a mighty man. 'To make a swingeing profit, have a lot of chaps to order about, and get into regular good society by one and the same means, and them so easy to one's hand, ain't such a bad look-out,' thought Jonas. The latter considerations were only second to his avarice; for, conscious that there was nothing in his person, conduct, character, or accomplishments, to command respect, he was greedy of power, and was, in his heart, as much a tyrant as any laureled conqueror on record.
But he determined to proceed with cunning and caution, and to be very keen on his observation of the gentility of Mr Montague's private establishment. For it no more occurred to this shallow knave that Montague wanted him to be so, or he wouldn't have invited him while his decision was yet in abeyance, than the possibility of that genius being able to overreach him in any way, pierced through his self-deceit by the inlet of a needle's point. He had said, in the outset, that Jonas was too sharp for him; and Jonas, who would have been sharp enough to believe him in nothing else, though he had solemnly sworn it, believed him in that, instantly.
It was with a faltering hand, and yet with an imbecile attempt at a swagger, that he knocked at his new friend's door in Pall Mall when the appointed hour arrived. Mr Bailey quickly answered to the summons. He was not proud and was kindly disposed to take notice of Jonas; but Jonas had forgotten him.
'Mr Montague at home?'
'I should hope he wos at home, and waiting dinner, too,' said Bailey, with the ease of an old acquaintance. 'Will you take your hat up along with you, or leave it here?'
Mr Jonas preferred leaving it there.
'The hold name, I suppose?' said Bailey, with a grin.
Mr Jonas stared at him in mute indignation.
'What, don't you remember hold mother Todgers's?' said Mr Bailey, with his favourite action of the knees and boots. 'Don't you remember my taking your name up to the young ladies, when you came a-courting there? A reg'lar scaly old shop, warn't it? Times is changed ain't they. I say how you've growed!'
Without pausing for any acknowledgement of this compliment, he ushered the visitor upstairs, and having announced him, retired with a private wink.
The lower story of the house was occupied by a wealthy tradesman, but Mr Montague had all the upper portion, and splendid lodging it was. The room in which he received Jonas was a spacious and elegant apartment, furnished with extreme magnificence; decorated with pictures, copies from the antique in alabaster and marble, china vases, lofty mirrors, crimson hangings of the richest silk, gilded carvings, luxurious couches, glistening cabinets inlaid with precious woods; costly toys of every sort in negligent abundance. The only guests besides Jonas were the doctor, the resident Director, and two other gentlemen, whom Montague presented in due form.
'My dear friend, I am delighted to see you. Jobling you know, I believe?'
'I think so,' said the doctor pleasantly, as he stepped out of the circle to shake hands. 'I trust I have the honour. I hope so. My dear sir, I see you well. Quite well? THAT'S well!'
'Mr Wolf,' said Montague, as soon as the doctor would allow him to introduce the two others, 'Mr Chuzzlewit. Mr Pip, Mr Chuzzlewit.'
Both gentlemen were exceedingly happy to have the honour of making Mr Chuzzlewit's acquaintance. The doctor drew Jonas a little apart, and whispered behind his hand:
'Men of the world, my dear sir—men of the world. Hem! Mr Wolf—literary character—you needn't mention it—remarkably clever weekly paper—oh, remarkably clever! Mr Pip—theatrical man—capital man to know—oh, capital man!'
'Well!' said Wolf, folding his arms and resuming a conversation which the arrival of Jonas had interrupted. 'And what did Lord Nobley say to that?'
'Why,' returned Pip, with an oath. 'He didn't know what to say. Same, sir, if he wasn't as mute as a poker. But you know what a good fellow Nobley is!'
'The best fellow in the world!' cried Wolf. 'It as only last week that Nobley said to me, "By Gad, Wolf, I've got a living to bestow, and if you had but been brought up at the University, strike me blind if I wouldn't have made a parson of you!"'
'Just like him,' said Pip with another oath. 'And he'd have done it!'
'Not a doubt of it,' said Wolf. 'But you were going to tell us—'
'Oh, yes!' cried Pip. 'To be sure. So I was. At first he was dumb—sewn up, dead, sir—but after a minute he said to the Duke, "Here's Pip. Ask Pip. Pip's our mutual friend. Ask Pip. He knows." "Damme!" said the Duke, "I appeal to Pip then. Come, Pip. Bandy or not bandy? Speak out!" "Bandy, your Grace, by the Lord Harry!" said I. "Ha, ha!" laughed the Duke. "To be sure she is. Bravo, Pip. Well said Pip. I wish I may die if you're not a trump, Pip. Pop me down among your fashionable visitors whenever I'm in town, Pip." And so I do, to this day.'
The conclusion of this story gave immense satisfaction, which was in no degree lessened by the announcement of dinner. Jonas repaired to the dining room, along with his distinguished host, and took his seat at the board between that individual and his friend the doctor. The rest fell into their places like men who were well accustomed to the house; and dinner was done full justice to, by all parties.
It was a good a one as money (or credit, no matter which) could produce. The dishes, wines, and fruits were of the choicest kind. Everything was elegantly served. The plate was gorgeous. Mr Jonas was in the midst of a calculation of the value of this item alone, when his host disturbed him.
'A glass of wine?'
'Oh!' said Jonas, who had had several glasses already. 'As much of that as you like! It's too good to refuse.'
'Well said, Mr Chuzzlewit!' cried Wolf.
'Tom Gag, upon my soul!' said Pip.
'Positively, you know, that's—ha, ha, ha!' observed the doctor, laying down his knife and fork for one instant, and then going to work again, pell-mell—'that's epigrammatic; quite!'
'You're tolerably comfortable, I hope?' said Tigg, apart to Jonas.
'Oh! You needn't trouble your head about ME,' he replied, 'Famous!'
'I thought it best not to have a party,' said Tigg. 'You feel that?'
'Why, what do you call this?' retorted Jonas. 'You don't mean to say you do this every day, do you?'
'My dear fellow,' said Montague, shrugging his shoulders, 'every day of my life, when I dine at home. This is my common style. It was of no use having anything uncommon for you. You'd have seen through it. "You'll have a party?" said Crimple. "No, I won't," I said, "he shall take us in the rough!"
'And pretty smooth, too, ecod!' said Jonas, glancing round the table. 'This don't cost a trifle.'
'Why, to be candid with you, it does not,' returned the other. 'But I like this sort of thing. It's the way I spend my money.'
Jonas thrust his tongue into his cheek, and said, 'Was it?'
'When you join us, you won't get rid of your share of the profits in the same way?' said Tigg.
'Quite different,' retorted Jonas.
'Well, and you're right,' said Tigg, with friendly candour. 'You needn't. It's not necessary. One of a Company must do it to hold the connection together; but, as I take a pleasure in it, that's my department. You don't mind dining expensively at another man's expense, I hope?'
'Not a bit,' said Jonas.
'Then I hope you'll often dine with me?'
'Ah!' said Jonas, 'I don't mind. On the contrary.'
'And I'll never attempt to talk business to you over wine, I take my oath,' said Tigg. 'Oh deep, deep, deep of you this morning! I must tell 'em that. They're the very men to enjoy it. Pip, my good fellow, I've a splendid little trait to tell you of my friend Chuzzlewit who is the deepest dog I know; I give you my sacred word of honour he is the deepest dog I know, Pip!'
Pip swore a frightful oath that he was sure of it already; and the anecdote, being told, was received with loud applause, as an incontestable proof of Mr Jonas's greatness. Pip, in a natural spirit of emulation, then related some instances of his own depth; and Wolf not to be left behind-hand, recited the leading points of one or two vastly humorous articles he was then preparing. These lucubrations being of what he called 'a warm complexion,' were highly approved; and all the company agreed that they were full of point.
'Men of the world, my dear sir,' Jobling whispered to Jonas; 'thorough men of the world! To a professional person like myself it's quite refreshing to come into this kind of society. It's not only agreeable—and nothing CAN be more agreeable—but it's philosophically improving. It's character, my dear sir; character!'
It is so pleasant to find real merit appreciated, whatever its particular walk in life may be, that the general harmony of the company was doubtless much promoted by their knowing that the two men of the world were held in great esteem by the upper classes of society, and by the gallant defenders of their country in the army and navy, but particularly the former. The least of their stories had a colonel in it; lords were as plentiful as oaths; and even the Blood Royal ran in the muddy channel of their personal recollections.
'Mr Chuzzlewit didn't know him, I'm afraid,' said Wolf, in reference to a certain personage of illustrious descent, who had previously figured in a reminiscence.
'No,' said Tigg. 'But we must bring him into contact with this sort of fellows.'
'He was very fond of literature,' observed Wolf.
'Was he?' said Tigg.
'Oh, yes; he took my paper regularly for many years. Do you know he said some good things now and then? He asked a certain Viscount, who's a friend of mine—Pip knows him—"What's the editor's name, what's the editor's name?" "Wolf." "Wolf, eh? Sharp biter, Wolf. We must keep the Wolf from the door, as the proverb says." It was very well. And being complimentary, I printed it.'
'But the Viscount's the boy!' cried Pip, who invented a new oath for the introduction of everything he said. 'The Viscount's the boy! He came into our place one night to take Her home; rather slued, but not much; and said, "Where's Pip? I want to see Pip. Produce Pip!"—"What's the row, my lord?"—"Shakspeare's an infernal humbug, Pip! What's the good of Shakspeare, Pip? I never read him. What the devil is it all about, Pip? There's a lot of feet in Shakspeare's verse, but there an't any legs worth mentioning in Shakspeare's plays, are there, Pip? Juliet, Desdemona, Lady Macbeth, and all the rest of 'em, whatever their names are, might as well have no legs at all, for anything the audience know about it, Pip. Why, in that respect they're all Miss Biffins to the audience, Pip. I'll tell you what it is. What the people call dramatic poetry is a collection of sermons. Do I go to the theatre to be lectured? No, Pip. If I wanted that, I'd go to church. What's the legitimate object of the drama, Pip? Human nature. What are legs? Human nature. Then let us have plenty of leg pieces, Pip, and I'll stand by you, my buck!" and I am proud to say,' added Pip, 'that he DID stand by me, handsomely.'
The conversation now becoming general, Mr Jonas's opinion was requested on this subject; and as it was in full accordance with the sentiments of Mr Pip, that gentleman was extremely gratified. Indeed, both himself and Wolf had so much in common with Jonas, that they became very amicable; and between their increasing friendship and the fumes of wine, Jonas grew talkative.
It does not follow in the case of such a person that the more talkative he becomes, the more agreeable he is; on the contrary, his merits show to most advantage, perhaps, in silence. Having no means, as he thought, of putting himself on an equality with the rest, but by the assertion of that depth and sharpness on which he had been complimented, Jonas exhibited that faculty to the utmost; and was so deep and sharp that he lost himself in his own profundity, and cut his fingers with his own edge-tools.
It was especially in his way and character to exhibit his quality at his entertainer's expense; and while he drank of his sparkling wines, and partook of his monstrous profusion, to ridicule the extravagance which had set such costly fare before him. Even at such a wanton board, and in such more than doubtful company, this might have proved a disagreeable experiment, but that Tigg and Crimple, studying to understand their man thoroughly, gave him what license he chose: knowing that the more he took, the better for their purpose. And thus while the blundering cheat—gull that he was, for all his cunning—thought himself rolled up hedgehog fashion, with his sharpest points towards them, he was, in fact, betraying all his vulnerable parts to their unwinking watchfulness.
Whether the two gentlemen who contributed so much to the doctor's philosophical knowledge (by the way, the doctor slipped off quietly, after swallowing his usual amount of wine) had had their cue distinctly from the host, or took it from what they saw and heard, they acted their parts very well. They solicited the honour of Jonas's better acquaintance; trusted that they would have the pleasure of introducing him into that elevated society in which he was so well qualified to shine; and informed him, in the most friendly manner that the advantages of their respective establishments were entirely at his control. In a word, they said 'Be one of us!' And Jonas said he was infinitely obliged to them, and he would be; adding within himself, that so long as they 'stood treat,' there was nothing he would like better.
After coffee, which was served in the drawing-room, there was a short interval (mainly sustained by Pip and Wolf) of conversation; rather highly spiced and strongly seasoned. When it flagged, Jonas took it up and showed considerable humour in appraising the furniture; inquiring whether such an article was paid for; what it had originally cost, and the like. In all of this, he was, as he considered, desperately hard on Montague, and very demonstrative of his own brilliant parts.
Some Champagne Punch gave a new though temporary fillip to the entertainments of the evening. For after leading to some noisy proceedings, which were not intelligible, it ended in the unsteady departure of the two gentlemen of the world, and the slumber of Mr Jonas upon one of the sofas.
As he could not be made to understand where he was, Mr Bailey received orders to call a hackney-coach, and take him home; which that young gentleman roused himself from an uneasy sleep in the hall to do. It being now almost three o'clock in the morning.
'Is he hooked, do you think?' whispered Crimple, as himself and partner stood in a distant part of the room observing him as he lay.
'Aye!' said Tigg, in the same tone. 'With a strong iron, perhaps. Has Nadgett been here to-night?'
'Yes. I went out to him. Hearing you had company, he went away.'
'Why did he do that?'
'He said he would come back early in the morning, before you were out of bed.'
'Tell them to be sure and send him up to my bedside. Hush! Here's the boy! Now Mr Bailey, take this gentleman home, and see him safely in. Hallo, here! Why Chuzzlewit, halloa!'
They got him upright with some difficulty, and assisted him downstairs, where they put his hat upon his head, and tumbled him into the coach. Mr Bailey, having shut him in, mounted the box beside the coachman, and smoked his cigar with an air of particular satisfaction; the undertaking in which he was engaged having a free and sporting character about it, which was quite congenial to his taste.
Arriving in due time at the house in the City, Mr Bailey jumped down, and expressed the lively nature of his feelings in a knock the like of which had probably not been heard in that quarter since the great fire of London. Going out into the road to observe the effect of this feat, he saw that a dim light, previously visible at an upper window, had been already removed and was travelling downstairs. To obtain a foreknowledge of the bearer of this taper, Mr Bailey skipped back to the door again, and put his eye to the keyhole.
It was the merry one herself. But sadly, strangely altered! So careworn and dejected, so faltering and full of fear; so fallen, humbled, broken; that to have seen her quiet in her coffin would have been a less surprise.
She set the light upon a bracket in the hall, and laid her hand upon her heart; upon her eyes; upon her burning head. Then she came on towards the door with such a wild and hurried step that Mr Bailey lost his self-possession, and still had his eye where the keyhole had been, when she opened it.
'Aha!' said Mr Bailey, with an effort. 'There you are, are you? What's the matter? Ain't you well, though?'
In the midst of her astonishment as she recognized him in his altered dress, so much of her old smile came back to her face that Bailey was glad. But next moment he was sorry again, for he saw tears standing in her poor dim eyes.
'Don't be frightened,' said Bailey. 'There ain't nothing the matter. I've brought home Mr Chuzzlewit. He ain't ill. He's only a little swipey, you know.' Mr Bailey reeled in his boots, to express intoxication.
'Have you come from Mrs Todgers's?' asked Merry, trembling.
'Todgers's, bless you! No!' cried Mr Bailey. 'I haven't got nothin, to do with Todgers's. I cut that connection long ago. He's been a-dining with my governor at the west-end. Didn't you know he was a-coming to see us?'
'No,' she said, faintly.
'Oh yes! We're heavy swells too, and so I tell you. Don't you come out, a-catching cold in your head. I'll wake him!' Mr Bailey expressing in his demeanour a perfect confidence that he could carry him in with ease, if necessary, opened the coach door, let down the steps, and giving Jonas a shake, cried 'We've got home, my flower! Tumble up, then!'
He was so far recovered as to be able to respond to this appeal, and to come stumbling out of the coach in a heap, to the great hazard of Mr Bailey's person. When he got upon the pavement, Mr Bailey first butted at him in front, and then dexterously propped him up behind; and having steadied him by these means, he assisted him into the house.
'You go up first with the light,' said Bailey to Mr Jonas, 'and we'll foller. Don't tremble so. He won't hurt you. When I've had a drop too much, I'm full of good natur myself.'
She went on before; and her husband and Bailey, by dint of tumbling over each other, and knocking themselves about, got at last into the sitting-room above stairs, where Jonas staggered into a seat.
'There!' said Mr Bailey. 'He's all right now. You ain't got nothing to cry for, bless you! He's righter than a trivet!'
The ill-favoured brute, with dress awry, and sodden face, and rumpled hair, sat blinking and drooping, and rolling his idiotic eyes about, until, becoming conscious by degrees, he recognized his wife, and shook his fist at her.
'Ah!' cried Mr Bailey, squaring his arms with a sudden emotion. 'What, you're wicious, are you? Would you though! You'd better not!'
'Pray, go away!' said Merry. 'Bailey, my good boy, go home. Jonas!' she said; timidly laying her hand upon his shoulder, and bending her head down over him. 'Jonas!'
'Look at her!' cried Jonas, pushing her off with his extended arm. 'Look here! Look at her! Here's a bargain for a man!'
'Dear Devil!' he replied, with a fierce gesture. 'You're a pretty clog to be tied to a man for life, you mewling, white-faced cat! Get out of my sight!'
'I know you don't mean it, Jonas. You wouldn't say it if you were sober.'
With affected gayety she gave Bailey a piece of money, and again implored him to be gone. Her entreaty was so earnest, that the boy had not the heart to stay there. But he stopped at the bottom of the stairs, and listened.
'I wouldn't say it if I was sober!' retorted Jonas. 'You know better. Have I never said it when I was sober?'
'Often, indeed!' she answered through her tears.
'Hark ye!' cried Jonas, stamping his foot upon the ground. 'You made me bear your pretty humours once, and ecod I'll make you bear mine now. I always promised myself I would. I married you that I might. I'll know who's master, and who's slave!'
'Heaven knows I am obedient!' said the sobbing girl. 'Much more so than I ever thought to be!'
Jonas laughed in his drunken exultation. 'What! you're finding it out, are you! Patience, and you will in time! Griffins have claws, my girl. There's not a pretty slight you ever put upon me, nor a pretty trick you ever played me, nor a pretty insolence you ever showed me, that I won't pay back a hundred-fold. What else did I marry you for? YOU, too!' he said, with coarse contempt.
It might have softened him—indeed it might—to hear her turn a little fragment of a song he used to say he liked; trying, with a heart so full, to win him back.
'Oho!' he said, 'you're deaf, are you? You don't hear me, eh? So much the better for you. I hate you. I hate myself, for having, been fool enough to strap a pack upon my back for the pleasure of treading on it whenever I choose. Why, things have opened to me, now, so that I might marry almost where I liked. But I wouldn't; I'd keep single. I ought to be single, among the friends I know. Instead of that, here I am, tied like a log to you. Pah! Why do you show your pale face when I come home? Am I never to forget you?'
'How late it is!' she said cheerfully, opening the shutter after an interval of silence. 'Broad day, Jonas!'
'Broad day or black night, what do I care!' was the kind rejoinder.
'The night passed quickly, too. I don't mind sitting up, at all.'
'Sit up for me again, if you dare!' growled Jonas.
'I was reading,' she proceeded, 'all night long. I began when you went out, and read till you came home again. The strangest story, Jonas! And true, the book says. I'll tell it you to-morrow.'
'True, was it?' said Jonas, doggedly.
'So the book says.'
'Was there anything in it, about a man's being determined to conquer his wife, break her spirit, bend her temper, crush all her humours like so many nut-shells—kill her, for aught I know?' said Jonas.
'No. Not a word,' she answered quickly.
'Oh!' he returned. 'That'll be a true story though, before long; for all the book says nothing about it. It's a lying book, I see. A fit book for a lying reader. But you're deaf. I forgot that.'
There was another interval of silence; and the boy was stealing away, when he heard her footstep on the floor, and stopped. She went up to him, as it seemed, and spoke lovingly; saying that she would defer to him in everything and would consult his wishes and obey them, and they might be very happy if he would be gentle with her. He answered with an imprecation, and—
Not with a blow? Yes. Stern truth against the base-souled villain; with a blow.
No angry cries; no loud reproaches. Even her weeping and her sobs were stifled by her clinging round him. She only said, repeating it in agony of heart, how could he, could he, could he—and lost utterance in tears.
Oh woman, God beloved in old Jerusalem! The best among us need deal lightly with thy faults, if only for the punishment thy nature will endure, in bearing heavy evidence against us, on the Day of Judgment!
IN WHICH SOME PEOPLE ARE PRECOCIOUS, OTHERS PROFESSIONAL, AND OTHERS MYSTERIOUS; ALL IN THEIR SEVERAL WAYS
It may have been the restless remembrance of what he had seen and heard overnight, or it may have been no deeper mental operation than the discovery that he had nothing to do, which caused Mr Bailey, on the following afternoon, to feel particularly disposed for agreeable society, and prompted him to pay a visit to his friend Poll Sweedlepipe.
On the little bell giving clamorous notice of a visitor's approach (for Mr Bailey came in at the door with a lunge, to get as much sound out of the bell as possible), Poll Sweedlepipe desisted from the contemplation of a favourite owl, and gave his young friend hearty welcome.
'Why, you look smarter by day,' said Poll, 'than you do by candle-light. I never see such a tight young dasher.'
'Reether so, Polly. How's our fair friend, Sairah?'
'Oh, she's pretty well,' said Poll. 'She's at home.'
'There's the remains of a fine woman about Sairah, Poll,' observed Mr Bailey, with genteel indifference.
'Oh!' thought Poll, 'he's old. He must be very old!'
'Too much crumb, you know,' said Mr Bailey; 'too fat, Poll. But there's many worse at her time of life.'
'The very owl's a-opening his eyes!' thought Poll. 'I don't wonder at it in a bird of his opinions.'
He happened to have been sharpening his razors, which were lying open in a row, while a huge strop dangled from the wall. Glancing at these preparations, Mr Bailey stroked his chin, and a thought appeared to occur to him.
'Poll,' he said, 'I ain't as neat as I could wish about the gills. Being here, I may as well have a shave, and get trimmed close.'
The barber stood aghast; but Mr Bailey divested himself of his neck-cloth, and sat down in the easy shaving chair with all the dignity and confidence in life. There was no resisting his manner. The evidence of sight and touch became as nothing. His chin was as smooth as a new-laid egg or a scraped Dutch cheese; but Poll Sweedlepipe wouldn't have ventured to deny, on affidavit, that he had the beard of a Jewish rabbi.
'Go WITH the grain, Poll, all round, please,' said Mr Bailey, screwing up his face for the reception of the lather. 'You may do wot you like with the bits of whisker. I don't care for 'em.'
The meek little barber stood gazing at him with the brush and soap-dish in his hand, stirring them round and round in a ludicrous uncertainty, as if he were disabled by some fascination from beginning. At last he made a dash at Mr Bailey's cheek. Then he stopped again, as if the ghost of a beard had suddenly receded from his touch; but receiving mild encouragement from Mr Bailey, in the form of an adjuration to 'Go in and win,' he lathered him bountifully. Mr Bailey smiled through the suds in his satisfaction. 'Gently over the stones, Poll. Go a tip-toe over the pimples!'
Poll Sweedlepipe obeyed, and scraped the lather off again with particular care. Mr Bailey squinted at every successive dab, as it was deposited on a cloth on his left shoulder, and seemed, with a microscopic eye, to detect some bristles in it; for he murmured more than once 'Reether redder than I could wish, Poll.' The operation being concluded, Poll fell back and stared at him again, while Mr Bailey, wiping his face on the jack-towel, remarked, 'that arter late hours nothing freshened up a man so much as a easy shave.'
He was in the act of tying his cravat at the glass, without his coat, and Poll had wiped his razor, ready for the next customer, when Mrs Gamp, coming downstairs, looked in at the shop-door to give the barber neighbourly good day. Feeling for her unfortunate situation, in having conceived a regard for himself which it was not in the nature of things that he could return, Mr Bailey hastened to soothe her with words of kindness.
'Hallo!' he said, 'Sairah! I needn't ask you how you've been this long time, for you're in full bloom. All a-blowin and a-growin; ain't she, Polly?'
'Why, drat the Bragian boldness of that boy!' cried Mrs Gamp, though not displeased. 'What a imperent young sparrow it is! I wouldn't be that creetur's mother not for fifty pound!'
Mr Bailey regarded this as a delicate confession of her attachment, and a hint that no pecuniary gain could recompense her for its being rendered hopeless. He felt flattered. Disinterested affection is always flattering.
'Ah, dear!' moaned Mrs Gamp, sinking into the shaving chair, 'that there blessed Bull, Mr Sweedlepipe, has done his wery best to conker me. Of all the trying inwalieges in this walley of the shadder, that one beats 'em black and blue.'
It was the practice of Mrs Gamp and her friends in the profession, to say this of all the easy customers; as having at once the effect of discouraging competitors for office, and accounting for the necessity of high living on the part of the nurses.
'Talk of constitooshun!' Mrs Gamp observed. 'A person's constitooshun need be made of bricks to stand it. Mrs Harris jestly says to me, but t'other day, "Oh! Sairey Gamp," she says, "how is it done?" "Mrs Harris, ma'am," I says to her, "we gives no trust ourselves, and puts a deal o'trust elsevere; these is our religious feelins, and we finds 'em answer." "Sairey," says Mrs Harris, "sech is life. Vich likeways is the hend of all things!"'
The barber gave a soft murmur, as much as to say that Mrs Harris's remark, though perhaps not quite so intelligible as could be desired from such an authority, did equal honour to her head and to her heart.
'And here,' continued Mrs Gamp, 'and here am I a-goin twenty mile in distant, on as wentersome a chance as ever any one as monthlied ever run, I do believe. Says Mrs Harris, with a woman's and a mother's art a-beatin in her human breast, she says to me, "You're not a-goin, Sairey, Lord forgive you!" "Why am I not a-goin, Mrs Harris?" I replies. "Mrs Gill," I says, "wos never wrong with six; and is it likely, ma'am—I ast you as a mother—that she will begin to be unreg'lar now? Often and often have I heerd him say," I says to Mrs Harris, meaning Mr Gill, "that he would back his wife agen Moore's almanack, to name the very day and hour, for ninepence farden. IS it likely, ma'am," I says, "as she will fail this once?" Says Mrs Harris "No, ma'am, not in the course of natur. But," she says, the tears a-fillin in her eyes, "you knows much betterer than me, with your experienge, how little puts us out. A Punch's show," she says, "a chimbley sweep, a newfundlan dog, or a drunkin man a-comin round the corner sharp may do it." So it may, Mr Sweedlepipes,' said Mrs Gamp, 'there's no deniging of it; and though my books is clear for a full week, I takes a anxious art along with me, I do assure you, sir.'
'You're so full of zeal, you see!' said Poll. 'You worrit yourself so.'
'Worrit myself!' cried Mrs Gamp, raising her hands and turning up her eyes. 'You speak truth in that, sir, if you never speaks no more 'twixt this and when two Sundays jines together. I feels the sufferins of other people more than I feels my own, though no one mayn't suppoge it. The families I've had,' said Mrs Gamp, 'if all was knowd and credit done where credit's doo, would take a week to chris'en at Saint Polge's fontin!'
'Where's the patient goin?' asked Sweedlepipe.
'Into Har'fordshire, which is his native air. But native airs nor native graces neither,' Mrs Gamp observed, 'won't bring HIM round.'
'So bad as that?' inquired the wistful barber. 'Indeed!'
Mrs Gamp shook her head mysteriously, and pursed up her lips. 'There's fevers of the mind,' she said, 'as well as body. You may take your slime drafts till you files into the air with efferwescence; but you won't cure that.'
'Ah!' said the barber, opening his eyes, and putting on his raven aspect; 'Lor!'
'No. You may make yourself as light as any gash balloon,' said Mrs Gamp. 'But talk, when you're wrong in your head and when you're in your sleep, of certain things; and you'll be heavy in your mind.'
'Of what kind of things now?' inquired Poll, greedily biting his nails in his great interest. 'Ghosts?'
Mrs Gamp, who perhaps had been already tempted further than she had intended to go, by the barber's stimulating curiosity, gave a sniff of uncommon significance, and said, it didn't signify.
'I'm a-goin down with my patient in the coach this arternoon,' she proceeded. 'I'm a-goin to stop with him a day or so, till he gets a country nuss (drat them country nusses, much the orkard hussies knows about their bis'ness); and then I'm a-comin back; and that's my trouble, Mr Sweedlepipes. But I hope that everythink'll only go on right and comfortable as long as I'm away; perwisin which, as Mrs Harris says, Mrs Gill is welcome to choose her own time; all times of the day and night bein' equally the same to me.'
During the progress of the foregoing remarks, which Mrs Gamp had addressed exclusively to the barber, Mr Bailey had been tying his cravat, getting on his coat, and making hideous faces at himself in the glass. Being now personally addressed by Mrs Gamp, he turned round, and mingled in the conversation.
'You ain't been in the City, I suppose, sir, since we was all three there together,' said Mrs Gamp, 'at Mr Chuzzlewit's?'
'Yes, I have, Sairah. I was there last night.'
'Last night!' cried the barber.
'Yes, Poll, reether so. You can call it this morning, if you like to be particular. He dined with us.'
'Who does that young Limb mean by "hus?"' said Mrs Gamp, with most impatient emphasis.
'Me and my Governor, Sairah. He dined at our house. We wos very merry, Sairah. So much so, that I was obliged to see him home in a hackney coach at three o'clock in the morning.' It was on the tip of the boy's tongue to relate what had followed; but remembering how easily it might be carried to his master's ears, and the repeated cautions he had had from Mr Crimple 'not to chatter,' he checked himself; adding, only, 'She was sitting up, expecting him.'
'And all things considered,' said Mrs Gamp sharply, 'she might have know'd better than to go a-tirin herself out, by doin' anythink of the sort. Did they seem pretty pleasant together, sir?'
'Oh, yes,' answered Bailey, 'pleasant enough.'
'I'm glad on it,' said Mrs Gamp, with a second sniff of significance.
'They haven't been married so long,' observed Poll, rubbing his hands, 'that they need be anything but pleasant yet awhile.'
'No,' said Mrs Gamp, with a third significant signal.
'Especially,' pursued the barber, 'when the gentleman bears such a character as you gave him.'
'I speak; as I find, Mr Sweedlepipes,' said Mrs Gamp. 'Forbid it should be otherways! But we never knows wot's hidden in each other's hearts; and if we had glass winders there, we'd need keep the shetters up, some on us, I do assure you!'
'But you don't mean to say—' Poll Sweedlepipe began.
'No,' said Mrs Gamp, cutting him very short, 'I don't. Don't think I do. The torters of the Imposition shouldn't make me own I did. All I says is,' added the good woman, rising and folding her shawl about her, 'that the Bull's a-waitin, and the precious moments is a-flyin' fast.'
The little barber having in his eager curiosity a great desire to see Mrs Gamp's patient, proposed to Mr Bailey that they should accompany her to the Bull, and witness the departure of the coach. That young gentleman assenting, they all went out together.
Arriving at the tavern, Mrs Gamp (who was full-dressed for the journey, in her latest suit of mourning) left her friends to entertain themselves in the yard, while she ascended to the sick room, where her fellow-labourer Mrs Prig was dressing the invalid.
He was so wasted, that it seemed as if his bones would rattle when they moved him. His cheeks were sunken, and his eyes unnaturally large. He lay back in the easy-chair like one more dead than living; and rolled his languid eyes towards the door when Mrs Gamp appeared, as painfully as if their weight alone were burdensome to move.
'And how are we by this time?' Mrs Gamp observed. 'We looks charming.'
'We looks a deal charminger than we are, then,' returned Mrs Prig, a little chafed in her temper. 'We got out of bed back'ards, I think, for we're as cross as two sticks. I never see sich a man. He wouldn't have been washed, if he'd had his own way.'
'She put the soap in my mouth,' said the unfortunate patient feebly.
'Couldn't you keep it shut then?' retorted Mrs Prig. 'Who do you think's to wash one feater, and miss another, and wear one's eyes out with all manner of fine work of that description, for half-a-crown a day! If you wants to be tittivated, you must pay accordin'.'
'Oh dear me!' cried the patient, 'oh dear, dear!'
'There!' said Mrs Prig, 'that's the way he's been a-conductin of himself, Sarah, ever since I got him out of bed, if you'll believe it.'
'Instead of being grateful,' Mrs Gamp observed, 'for all our little ways. Oh, fie for shame, sir, fie for shame!'
Here Mrs Prig seized the patient by the chin, and began to rasp his unhappy head with a hair-brush.
'I suppose you don't like that, neither!' she observed, stopping to look at him.
It was just possible that he didn't for the brush was a specimen of the hardest kind of instrument producible by modern art; and his very eyelids were red with the friction. Mrs Prig was gratified to observe the correctness of her supposition, and said triumphantly 'she know'd as much.'
When his hair was smoothed down comfortably into his eyes, Mrs Prig and Mrs Gamp put on his neckerchief; adjusting his shirt collar with great nicety, so that the starched points should also invade those organs, and afflict them with an artificial ophthalmia. His waistcoat and coat were next arranged; and as every button was wrenched into a wrong button-hole, and the order of his boots was reversed, he presented on the whole rather a melancholy appearance.
'I don't think it's right,' said the poor weak invalid. 'I feel as if I was in somebody else's clothes. I'm all on one side; and you've made one of my legs shorter than the other. There's a bottle in my pocket too. What do you make me sit upon a bottle for?'
'Deuce take the man!' cried Mrs Gamp, drawing it forth. 'If he ain't been and got my night-bottle here. I made a little cupboard of his coat when it hung behind the door, and quite forgot it, Betsey. You'll find a ingun or two, and a little tea and sugar in his t'other pocket, my dear, if you'll just be good enough to take 'em out.'
Betsey produced the property in question, together with some other articles of general chandlery; and Mrs Gamp transferred them to her own pocket, which was a species of nankeen pannier. Refreshment then arrived in the form of chops and strong ale for the ladies, and a basin of beef-tea for the patient; which refection was barely at an end when John Westlock appeared.
'Up and dressed!' cried John, sitting down beside him. 'That's brave. How do you feel?'
'Much better. But very weak.'
'No wonder. You have had a hard bout of it. But country air, and change of scene,' said John, 'will make another man of you! Why, Mrs Gamp,' he added, laughing, as he kindly arranged the sick man's garments, 'you have odd notions of a gentleman's dress!'
'Mr Lewsome an't a easy gent to get into his clothes, sir,' Mrs Gamp replied with dignity; 'as me and Betsey Prig can certify afore the Lord Mayor and Uncommon Counsellors, if needful!'
John at that moment was standing close in front of the sick man, in the act of releasing him from the torture of the collars before mentioned, when he said in a whisper:
'Mr Westlock! I don't wish to be overheard. I have something very particular and strange to say to you; something that has been a dreadful weight on my mind, through this long illness.'
Quick in all his motions, John was turning round to desire the women to leave the room; when the sick man held him by the sleeve.
'Not now. I've not the strength. I've not the courage. May I tell it when I have? May I write it, if I find that easier and better?'
'May you!' cried John. 'Why, Lewsome, what is this!'
'Don't ask me what it is. It's unnatural and cruel. Frightful to think of. Frightful to tell. Frightful to know. Frightful to have helped in. Let me kiss your hand for all your goodness to me. Be kinder still, and don't ask me what it is!'
At first, John gazed at him in great surprise; but remembering how very much reduced he was, and how recently his brain had been on fire with fever, believed that he was labouring under some imaginary horror or despondent fancy. For farther information on this point, he took an opportunity of drawing Mrs Gamp aside, while Betsey Prig was wrapping him in cloaks and shawls, and asked her whether he was quite collected in his mind.
'Oh bless you, no!' said Mrs Gamp. 'He hates his nusses to this hour. They always does it, sir. It's a certain sign. If you could have heerd the poor dear soul a-findin fault with me and Betsey Prig, not half an hour ago, you would have wondered how it is we don't get fretted to the tomb.'
This almost confirmed John in his suspicion; so, not taking what had passed into any serious account, he resumed his former cheerful manner, and assisted by Mrs Gamp and Betsey Prig, conducted Lewsome downstairs to the coach; just then upon the point of starting. Poll Sweedlepipe was at the door with his arms tight folded and his eyes wide open, and looked on with absorbing interest, while the sick man was slowly moved into the vehicle. His bony hands and haggard face impressed Poll wonderfully; and he informed Mr Bailey in confidence, that he wouldn't have missed seeing him for a pound. Mr Bailey, who was of a different constitution, remarked that he would have stayed away for five shillings.
It was a troublesome matter to adjust Mrs Gamp's luggage to her satisfaction; for every package belonging to that lady had the inconvenient property of requiring to be put in a boot by itself, and to have no other luggage near it, on pain of actions at law for heavy damages against the proprietors of the coach. The umbrella with the circular patch was particularly hard to be got rid of, and several times thrust out its battered brass nozzle from improper crevices and chinks, to the great terror of the other passengers. Indeed, in her intense anxiety to find a haven of refuge for this chattel, Mrs Gamp so often moved it, in the course of five minutes, that it seemed not one umbrella but fifty. At length it was lost, or said to be; and for the next five minutes she was face to face with the coachman, go wherever he might, protesting that it should be 'made good,' though she took the question to the House of Commons.
At last, her bundle, and her pattens, and her basket, and everything else, being disposed of, she took a friendly leave of Poll and Mr Bailey, dropped a curtsey to John Westlock, and parted as from a cherished member of the sisterhood with Betsey Prig.
'Wishin you lots of sickness, my darlin creetur,' Mrs Gamp observed, 'and good places. It won't be long, I hope, afore we works together, off and on, again, Betsey; and may our next meetin' be at a large family's, where they all takes it reg'lar, one from another, turn and turn about, and has it business-like.'
'I don't care how soon it is,' said Mrs Prig; 'nor how many weeks it lasts.'
Mrs Gamp with a reply in a congenial spirit was backing to the coach, when she came in contact with a lady and gentleman who were passing along the footway.
'Take care, take care here!' cried the gentleman. 'Halloo! My dear! Why, it's Mrs Gamp!'
'What, Mr Mould!' exclaimed the nurse. 'And Mrs Mould! who would have thought as we should ever have a meetin' here, I'm sure!'
'Going out of town, Mrs Gamp?' cried Mould. 'That's unusual, isn't it?'
'It IS unusual, sir,' said Mrs Gamp. 'But only for a day or two at most. The gent,' she whispered, 'as I spoke about.'
'What, in the coach!' cried Mould. 'The one you thought of recommending? Very odd. My dear, this will interest you. The gentleman that Mrs Gamp thought likely to suit us is in the coach, my love.'
Mrs Mould was greatly interested.
'Here, my dear. You can stand upon the door-step,' said Mould, 'and take a look at him. Ha! There he is. Where's my glass? Oh! all right. I've got it. Do you see him, my dear?'
'Quite plain,' said Mrs Mould.
'Upon my life, you know, this is a very singular circumstance,' said Mould, quite delighted. 'This is the sort of thing, my dear, I wouldn't have missed on any account. It tickles one. It's interesting. It's almost a little play, you know. Ah! There he is! To be sure. Looks poorly, Mrs M., don't he?'
Mrs Mould assented.
'He's coming our way, perhaps, after all,' said Mould. 'Who knows! I feel as if I ought to show him some little attention, really. He don't seem a stranger to me. I'm very much inclined to move my hat, my dear.'
'He's looking hard this way,' said Mrs Mould.
'Then I will!' cried Mould. 'How d'ye do, sir! I wish you good day. Ha! He bows too. Very gentlemanly. Mrs Gamp has the cards in her pocket, I have no doubt. This is very singular, my dear—and very pleasant. I am not superstitious, but it really seems as if one was destined to pay him those little melancholy civilities which belong to our peculiar line of business. There can be no kind of objection to your kissing your hand to him, my dear.'
Mrs Mould did so.
'Ha!' said Mould. 'He's evidently gratified. Poor fellow! I am quite glad you did it, my love. Bye bye, Mrs Gamp!' waving his hand. 'There he goes; there he goes!'
So he did; for the coach rolled off as the words were spoken. Mr and Mrs Mould, in high good humour, went their merry way. Mr Bailey retired with Poll Sweedlepipe as soon as possible; but some little time elapsed before he could remove his friend from the ground, owing to the impression wrought upon the barber's nerves by Mrs Prig, whom he pronounced, in admiration of her beard, to be a woman of transcendent charms.
When the light cloud of bustle hanging round the coach was thus dispersed, Nadgett was seen in the darkest box of the Bull coffee-room, looking wistfully up at the clock—as if the man who never appeared were a little behind his time.
PROVES THAT CHANGES MAY BE RUNG IN THE BEST-REGULATED FAMILIES, AND THAT MR PECKNIFF WAS A SPECIAL HAND AT A TRIPLE-BOB-MAJOR
As the surgeon's first care after amputating a limb, is to take up the arteries the cruel knife has severed, so it is the duty of this history, which in its remorseless course has cut from the Pecksniffian trunk its right arm, Mercy, to look to the parent stem, and see how in all its various ramifications it got on without her.
And first of Mr Pecksniff it may be observed, that having provided for his youngest daughter that choicest of blessings, a tender and indulgent husband; and having gratified the dearest wish of his parental heart by establishing her in life so happily; he renewed his youth, and spreading the plumage of his own bright conscience, felt himself equal to all kinds of flights. It is customary with fathers in stage-plays, after giving their daughters to the men of their hearts, to congratulate themselves on having no other business on their hands but to die immediately; though it is rarely found that they are in a hurry to do it. Mr Pecksniff, being a father of a more sage and practical class, appeared to think that his immediate business was to live; and having deprived himself of one comfort, to surround himself with others.
But however much inclined the good man was to be jocose and playful, and in the garden of his fancy to disport himself (if one may say so) like an architectural kitten, he had one impediment constantly opposed to him. The gentle Cherry, stung by a sense of slight and injury, which far from softening down or wearing out, rankled and festered in her heart—the gentle Cherry was in flat rebellion. She waged fierce war against her dear papa, she led her parent what is usually called, for want of a better figure of speech, the life of a dog. But never did that dog live, in kennel, stable-yard, or house, whose life was half as hard as Mr Pecksniff's with his gentle child.
The father and daughter were sitting at their breakfast. Tom had retired, and they were alone. Mr Pecksniff frowned at first; but having cleared his brow, looked stealthily at his child. Her nose was very red indeed, and screwed up tight, with hostile preparation.
'Cherry,' cried Mr Pecksniff, 'what is amiss between us? My child, why are we disunited?'
Miss Pecksniff's answer was scarcely a response to this gush of affection, for it was simply, 'Bother, Pa!'
'Bother!' repeated Mr Pecksniff, in a tone of anguish.
'Oh! 'tis too late, Pa,' said his daughter, calmly 'to talk to me like this. I know what it means, and what its value is.'
'This is hard!' cried Mr Pecksniff, addressing his breakfast-cup. 'This is very hard! She is my child. I carried her in my arms when she wore shapeless worsted shoes—I might say, mufflers—many years ago!'
'You needn't taunt me with that, Pa,' retorted Cherry, with a spiteful look. 'I am not so many years older than my sister, either, though she IS married to your friend!'
'Ah, human nature, human nature! Poor human nature!' said Mr Pecksniff, shaking his head at human nature, as if he didn't belong to it. 'To think that this discord should arise from such a cause! oh dear, oh dear!'
'From such a cause indeed!' cried Cherry. 'State the real cause, Pa, or I'll state it myself. Mind! I will!'
Perhaps the energy with which she said this was infectious. However that may be, Mr Pecksniff changed his tone and the expression of his face for one of anger, if not downright violence, when he said:
'You will! you have. You did yesterday. You do always. You have no decency; you make no secret of your temper; you have exposed yourself to Mr Chuzzlewit a hundred times.'
'Myself!' cried Cherry, with a bitter smile. 'Oh indeed! I don't mind that.'
'Me, too, then,' said Mr Pecksniff.
His daughter answered with a scornful laugh.
'And since we have come to an explanation, Charity,' said Mr Pecksniff, rolling his head portentously, 'let me tell you that I won't allow it. None of your nonsense, Miss! I won't permit it to be done.'
'I shall do,' said Charity, rocking her chair backwards and forwards, and raising her voice to a high pitch, 'I shall do, Pa, what I please and what I have done. I am not going to be crushed in everything, depend upon it. I've been more shamefully used than anybody ever was in this world,' here she began to cry and sob, 'and may expect the worse treatment from you, I know. But I don't care for that. No, I don't!'
Mr Pecksniff was made so desperate by the loud tone in which she spoke, that, after looking about him in frantic uncertainty for some means of softening it, he rose and shook her until the ornamental bow of hair upon her head nodded like a plume. She was so very much astonished by this assault, that it really had the desired effect.
'I'll do it again!' cried Mr Pecksniff, as he resumed his seat and fetched his breath, 'if you dare to talk in that loud manner. How do you mean about being shamefully used? If Mr Jonas chose your sister in preference to you, who could help it, I should wish to know? What have I to do with it?'
'Wasn't I made a convenience of? Weren't my feelings trifled with? Didn't he address himself to me first?' sobbed Cherry, clasping her hands; 'and oh, good gracious, that I should live to be shook!'
'You'll live to be shaken again,' returned her parent, 'if you drive me to that means of maintaining the decorum of this humble roof. You surprise me. I wonder you have not more spirit. If Mr Jonas didn't care for you, how could you wish to have him?'
'I wish to have him!' exclaimed Cherry. 'I wish to have him, Pa!'
'Then what are you making all this piece of work for,' retorted her father, 'if you didn't wish to have him?'
'Because I was treated with duplicity,' said Cherry; 'and because my own sister and my own father conspired against me. I am not angry with HER,' said Cherry; looking much more angry than ever. 'I pity her. I'm sorry for her. I know the fate that's in store for her, with that Wretch.'
'Mr Jonas will survive your calling him a wretch, my child, I dare say,' said Mr Pecksniff, with returning resignation; 'but call him what you like and make an end of it.'
'Not an end, Pa,' said Charity. 'No, not an end. That's not the only point on which we're not agreed. I won't submit to it. It's better you should know that at once. No; I won't submit to it indeed, Pa! I am not quite a fool, and I am not blind. All I have got to say is, I won't submit to it.'
Whatever she meant, she shook Mr Pecksniff now; for his lame attempt to seem composed was melancholy in the last degree. His anger changed to meekness, and his words were mild and fawning.
'My dear,' he said; 'if in the short excitement of an angry moment I resorted to an unjustifiable means of suppressing a little outbreak calculated to injure you as well as myself—it's possible I may have done so; perhaps I did—I ask your pardon. A father asking pardon of his child,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'is, I believe, a spectacle to soften the most rugged nature.'
But it didn't at all soften Miss Pecksniff; perhaps because her nature was not rugged enough. On the contrary, she persisted in saying, over and over again, that she wasn't quite a fool, and wasn't blind, and wouldn't submit to it.
'You labour under some mistake, my child!' said Mr Pecksniff, 'but I will not ask you what it is; I don't desire to know. No, pray!' he added, holding out his hand and colouring again, 'let us avoid the subject, my dear, whatever it is!'
'It's quite right that the subject should be avoided between us, sir,' said Cherry. 'But I wish to be able to avoid it altogether, and consequently must beg you to provide me with a home.'
Mr Pecksniff looked about the room, and said, 'A home, my child!'
'Another home, papa,' said Cherry, with increasing stateliness 'Place me at Mrs Todgers's or somewhere, on an independent footing; but I will not live here, if such is to be the case.'
It is possible that Miss Pecksniff saw in Mrs Todgers's a vision of enthusiastic men, pining to fall in adoration at her feet. It is possible that Mr Pecksniff, in his new-born juvenility, saw, in the suggestion of that same establishment, an easy means of relieving himself from an irksome charge in the way of temper and watchfulness. It is undoubtedly a fact that in the attentive ears of Mr Pecksniff, the proposition did not sound quite like the dismal knell of all his hopes.
But he was a man of great feeling and acute sensibility; and he squeezed his pocket-handkerchief against his eyes with both hands—as such men always do, especially when they are observed. 'One of my birds,' Mr Pecksniff said, 'has left me for the stranger's breast; the other would take wing to Todgers's! Well, well, what am I? I don't know what I am, exactly. Never mind!'
Even this remark, made more pathetic perhaps by his breaking down in the middle of it, had no effect upon Charity. She was grim, rigid, and inflexible.
'But I have ever,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'sacrificed my children's happiness to my own—I mean my own happiness to my children's—and I will not begin to regulate my life by other rules of conduct now. If you can be happier at Mrs Todgers's than in your father's house, my dear, go to Mrs Todgers's! Do not think of me, my girl!' said Mr Pecksniff with emotion; 'I shall get on pretty well, no doubt.'
Miss Charity, who knew he had a secret pleasure in the contemplation of the proposed change, suppressed her own, and went on to negotiate the terms. His views upon this subject were at first so very limited that another difference, involving possibly another shaking, threatened to ensue; but by degrees they came to something like an understanding, and the storm blew over. Indeed, Miss Charity's idea was so agreeable to both, that it would have been strange if they had not come to an amicable agreement. It was soon arranged between them that the project should be tried, and that immediately; and that Cherry's not being well, and needing change of scene, and wishing to be near her sister, should form the excuse for her departure to Mr Chuzzlewit and Mary, to both of whom she had pleaded indisposition for some time past. These premises agreed on, Mr Pecksniff gave her his blessing, with all the dignity of a self-denying man who had made a hard sacrifice, but comforted himself with the reflection that virtue is its own reward. Thus they were reconciled for the first time since that not easily forgiven night, when Mr Jonas, repudiating the elder, had confessed his passion for the younger sister, and Mr Pecksniff had abetted him on moral grounds.
But how happened it—in the name of an unexpected addition to that small family, the Seven Wonders of the World, whatever and wherever they may be, how happened it—that Mr Pecksniff and his daughter were about to part? How happened it that their mutual relations were so greatly altered? Why was Miss Pecksniff so clamorous to have it understood that she was neither blind nor foolish, and she wouldn't bear it? It is not possible that Mr Pecksniff had any thoughts of marrying again; or that his daughter, with the sharp eye of a single woman, fathomed his design!
Let us inquire into this.
Mr Pecksniff, as a man without reproach, from whom the breath of slander passed like common breath from any other polished surface, could afford to do what common men could not. He knew the purity of his own motives; and when he had a motive worked at it as only a very good man (or a very bad one) can. Did he set before himself any strong and palpable motives for taking a second wife? Yes; and not one or two of them, but a combination of very many.
Old Martin Chuzzlewit had gradually undergone an important change. Even upon the night when he made such an ill-timed arrival at Mr Pecksniff's house, he was comparatively subdued and easy to deal with. This Mr Pecksniff attributed, at the time, to the effect his brother's death had had upon him. But from that hour his character seemed to have modified by regular degrees, and to have softened down into a dull indifference for almost every one but Mr Pecksniff. His looks were much the same as ever, but his mind was singularly altered. It was not that this or that passion stood out in brighter or in dimmer hues; but that the colour of the whole man was faded. As one trait disappeared, no other trait sprung up to take its place. His senses dwindled too. He was less keen of sight; was deaf sometimes; took little notice of what passed before him; and would be profoundly taciturn for days together. The process of this alteration was so easy that almost as soon as it began to be observed it was complete. But Mr Pecksniff saw it first, and having Anthony Chuzzlewit fresh in his recollection, saw in his brother Martin the same process of decay.
To a gentleman of Mr Pecksniff's tenderness, this was a very mournful sight. He could not but foresee the probability of his respected relative being made the victim of designing persons, and of his riches falling into worthless hands. It gave him so much pain that he resolved to secure the property to himself; to keep bad testamentary suitors at a distance; to wall up the old gentleman, as it were, for his own use. By little and little, therefore, he began to try whether Mr Chuzzlewit gave any promise of becoming an instrument in his hands, and finding that he did, and indeed that he was very supple in his plastic fingers, he made it the business of his life—kind soul!—to establish an ascendancy over him; and every little test he durst apply meeting with a success beyond his hopes, he began to think he heard old Martin's cash already chinking in his own unworldly pockets.
But when Mr Pecksniff pondered on this subject (as, in his zealous way, he often did), and thought with an uplifted heart of the train of circumstances which had delivered the old gentleman into his hands for the confusion of evil-doers and the triumph of a righteous nature, he always felt that Mary Graham was his stumbling-block. Let the old man say what he would, Mr Pecksniff knew he had a strong affection for her. He knew that he showed it in a thousand little ways; that he liked to have her near him, and was never quite at ease when she was absent long. That he had ever really sworn to leave her nothing in his will, Mr Pecksniff greatly doubted. That even if he had, there were many ways by which he could evade the oath and satisfy his conscience, Mr Pecksniff knew. That her unprotected state was no light burden on the old man's mind, he also knew, for Mr Chuzzlewit had plainly told him so. 'Then,' said Mr Pecksniff 'what if I married her! What,' repeated Mr Pecksniff, sticking up his hair and glancing at his bust by Spoker; 'what if, making sure of his approval first—he is nearly imbecile, poor gentleman—I married her!'
Mr Pecksniff had a lively sense of the Beautiful; especially in women. His manner towards the sex was remarkable for its insinuating character. It is recorded of him in another part of these pages, that he embraced Mrs Todgers on the smallest provocation; and it was a way he had; it was a part of the gentle placidity of his disposition. Before any thought of matrimony was in his mind, he had bestowed on Mary many little tokens of his spiritual admiration. They had been indignantly received, but that was nothing. True, as the idea expanded within him, these had become too ardent to escape the piercing eye of Cherry, who read his scheme at once; but he had always felt the power of Mary's charms. So Interest and Inclination made a pair, and drew the curricle of Mr Pecksniff's plan.
As to any thought of revenging himself on young Martin for his insolent expressions when they parted, and of shutting him out still more effectually from any hope of reconciliation with his grandfather, Mr Pecksniff was much too meek and forgiving to be suspected of harbouring it. As to being refused by Mary, Mr Pecksniff was quite satisfied that in her position she could never hold out if he and Mr Chuzzlewit were both against her. As to consulting the wishes of her heart in such a case, it formed no part of Mr Pecksniff's moral code; for he knew what a good man he was, and what a blessing he must be to anybody. His daughter having broken the ice, and the murder being out between them, Mr Pecksniff had now only to pursue his design as cleverly as he could, and by the craftiest approaches.
'Well, my good sir,' said Mr Pecksniff, meeting old Martin in the garden, for it was his habit to walk in and out by that way, as the fancy took him; 'and how is my dear friend this delicious morning?'
'Do you mean me?' asked the old man.
'Ah!' said Mr Pecksniff, 'one of his deaf days, I see. Could I mean any one else, my dear sir?'
'You might have meant Mary,' said the old man.
'Indeed I might. Quite true. I might speak of her as a dear, dear friend, I hope?' observed Mr Pecksniff.
'I hope so,' returned old Martin. 'I think she deserves it.'
'Think!' cried Pecksniff, 'think, Mr Chuzzlewit!'
'You are speaking, I know,' returned Martin, 'but I don't catch what you say. Speak up!'
'He's getting deafer than a flint,' said Pecksniff. 'I was saying, my dear sir, that I am afraid I must make up my mind to part with Cherry.'
'What has SHE been doing?' asked the old man.
'He puts the most ridiculous questions I ever heard!' muttered Mr Pecksniff. 'He's a child to-day.' After which he added, in a mild roar: 'She hasn't been doing anything, my dear friend.'
'What are you going to part with her for?' demanded Martin.
'She hasn't her health by any means,' said Mr Pecksniff. 'She misses her sister, my dear sir; they doted on each other from the cradle. And I think of giving her a run in London for a change. A good long run, sir, if I find she likes it.'
'Quite right,' cried Martin. 'It's judicious.'
'I am glad to hear you say so. I hope you mean to bear me company in this dull part, while she's away?' said Mr Pecksniff.
'I have no intention of removing from it,' was Martin's answer.
'Then why,' said Mr Pecksniff, taking the old man's arm in his, and walking slowly on; 'Why, my good sir, can't you come and stay with me? I am sure I could surround you with more comforts—lowly as is my Cot—than you can obtain at a village house of entertainment. And pardon me, Mr Chuzzlewit, pardon me if I say that such a place as the Dragon, however well-conducted (and, as far as I know, Mrs Lupin is one of the worthiest creatures in this county), is hardly a home for Miss Graham.'
Martin mused a moment; and then said, as he shook him by the hand:
'No. You're quite right; it is not.'
'The very sight of skittles,' Mr Pecksniff eloquently pursued, 'is far from being congenial to a delicate mind.'
'It's an amusement of the vulgar,' said old Martin, 'certainly.'
'Of the very vulgar,' Mr Pecksniff answered. 'Then why not bring Miss Graham here, sir? Here is the house. Here am I alone in it, for Thomas Pinch I do not count as any one. Our lovely friend shall occupy my daughter's chamber; you shall choose your own; we shall not quarrel, I hope!'
'We are not likely to do that,' said Martin.
Mr Pecksniff pressed his hand. 'We understand each other, my dear sir, I see!—I can wind him,' he thought, with exultation, 'round my little finger.'
'You leave the recompense to me?' said the old man, after a minute's silence.
'Oh! do not speak of recompense!' cried Pecksniff.
'I say,' repeated Martin, with a glimmer of his old obstinacy, 'you leave the recompense to me. Do you?'
'Since you desire it, my good sir.'
'I always desire it,' said the old man. 'You know I always desire it. I wish to pay as I go, even when I buy of you. Not that I do not leave a balance to be settled one day, Pecksniff.'
The architect was too much overcome to speak. He tried to drop a tear upon his patron's hand, but couldn't find one in his dry distillery.
'May that day be very distant!' was his pious exclamation. 'Ah, sir! If I could say how deep an interest I have in you and yours! I allude to our beautiful young friend.'
'True,' he answered. 'True. She need have some one interested in her. I did her wrong to train her as I did. Orphan though she was, she would have found some one to protect her whom she might have loved again. When she was a child, I pleased myself with the thought that in gratifying my whim of placing her between me and false-hearted knaves, I had done her a kindness. Now she is a woman, I have no such comfort. She has no protector but herself. I have put her at such odds with the world, that any dog may bark or fawn upon her at his pleasure. Indeed she stands in need of delicate consideration. Yes; indeed she does!'
'If her position could be altered and defined, sir?' Mr Pecksniff hinted.
'How can that be done? Should I make a seamstress of her, or a governess?'
'Heaven forbid!' said Mr Pecksniff. 'My dear sir, there are other ways. There are indeed. But I am much excited and embarrassed at present, and would rather not pursue the subject. I scarcely know what I mean. Permit me to resume it at another time.'
'You are not unwell?' asked Martin anxiously.
'No, no!' cried Pecksniff. 'No. Permit me to resume it at another time. I'll walk a little. Bless you!'
Old Martin blessed him in return, and squeezed his hand. As he turned away, and slowly walked towards the house, Mr Pecksniff stood gazing after him; being pretty well recovered from his late emotion, which, in any other man, one might have thought had been assumed as a machinery for feeling Martin's pulse. The change in the old man found such a slight expression in his figure, that Mr Pecksniff, looking after him, could not help saying to himself: