'And I can wind him round my little finger! Only think!'
Old Martin happening to turn his head, saluted him affectionately. Mr Pecksniff returned the gesture.
'Why, the time was,' said Mr Pecksniff; 'and not long ago, when he wouldn't look at me! How soothing is this change. Such is the delicate texture of the human heart; so complicated is the process of its being softened! Externally he looks the same, and I can wind him round my little finger. Only think!'
In sober truth, there did appear to be nothing on which Mr Pecksniff might not have ventured with Martin Chuzzlewit; for whatever Mr Pecksniff said or did was right, and whatever he advised was done. Martin had escaped so many snares from needy fortune-hunters, and had withered in the shell of his suspicion and distrust for so many years, but to become the good man's tool and plaything. With the happiness of this conviction painted on his face, the architect went forth upon his morning walk.
The summer weather in his bosom was reflected in the breast of Nature. Through deep green vistas where the boughs arched overhead, and showed the sunlight flashing in the beautiful perspective; through dewy fern from which the startled hares leaped up, and fled at his approach; by mantled pools, and fallen trees, and down in hollow places, rustling among last year's leaves whose scent woke memory of the past; the placid Pecksniff strolled. By meadow gates and hedges fragrant with wild roses; and by thatched-roof cottages whose inmates humbly bowed before him as a man both good and wise; the worthy Pecksniff walked in tranquil meditation. The bee passed onward, humming of the work he had to do; the idle gnats for ever going round and round in one contracting and expanding ring, yet always going on as fast as he, danced merrily before him; the colour of the long grass came and went, as if the light clouds made it timid as they floated through the distant air. The birds, so many Pecksniff consciences, sang gayly upon every branch; and Mr Pecksniff paid HIS homage to the day by ruminating on his projects as he walked along.
Chancing to trip, in his abstraction, over the spreading root of an old tree, he raised his pious eyes to take a survey of the ground before him. It startled him to see the embodied image of his thoughts not far ahead. Mary herself. And alone.
At first Mr Pecksniff stopped as if with the intention of avoiding her; but his next impulse was to advance, which he did at a brisk pace; caroling as he went so sweetly and with so much innocence that he only wanted feathers and wings to be a bird.
Hearing notes behind her, not belonging to the songsters of the grove, she looked round. Mr Pecksniff kissed his hand, and was at her side immediately.
'Communing with nature?' said Mr Pecksniff. 'So am I.'
She said the morning was so beautiful that she had walked further than she intended, and would return. Mr Pecksniff said it was exactly his case, and he would return with her.
'Take my arm, sweet girl,' said Mr Pecksniff.
Mary declined it, and walked so very fast that he remonstrated. 'You were loitering when I came upon you,' Mr Pecksniff said. 'Why be so cruel as to hurry now? You would not shun me, would you?'
'Yes, I would,' she answered, turning her glowing cheek indignantly upon him, 'you know I would. Release me, Mr Pecksniff. Your touch is disagreeable to me.'
His touch! What? That chaste patriarchal touch which Mrs Todgers—surely a discreet lady—had endured, not only without complaint, but with apparent satisfaction! This was positively wrong. Mr Pecksniff was sorry to hear her say it.
'If you have not observed,' said Mary, 'that it is so, pray take assurance from my lips, and do not, as you are a gentleman, continue to offend me.'
'Well, well!' said Mr Pecksniff, mildly, 'I feel that I might consider this becoming in a daughter of my own, and why should I object to it in one so beautiful! It's harsh. It cuts me to the soul,' said Mr Pecksniff; 'but I cannot quarrel with you, Mary.'
She tried to say she was sorry to hear it, but burst into tears. Mr Pecksniff now repeated the Todgers performance on a comfortable scale, as if he intended it to last some time; and in his disengaged hand, catching hers, employed himself in separating the fingers with his own, and sometimes kissing them, as he pursued the conversation thus:
'I am glad we met. I am very glad we met. I am able now to ease my bosom of a heavy load, and speak to you in confidence. Mary,' said Mr Pecksniff in his tenderest tones, indeed they were so very tender that he almost squeaked: 'My soul! I love you!'
A fantastic thing, that maiden affectation! She made believe to shudder.
'I love you,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'my gentle life, with a devotion which is quite surprising, even to myself. I did suppose that the sensation was buried in the silent tomb of a lady, only second to you in qualities of the mind and form; but I find I am mistaken.'
She tried to disengage her hand, but might as well have tried to free herself from the embrace of an affectionate boa-constrictor; if anything so wily may be brought into comparison with Pecksniff.
'Although I am a widower,' said Mr Pecksniff, examining the rings upon her fingers, and tracing the course of one delicate blue vein with his fat thumb, 'a widower with two daughters, still I am not encumbered, my love. One of them, as you know, is married. The other, by her own desire, but with a view, I will confess—why not?—to my altering my condition, is about to leave her father's house. I have a character, I hope. People are pleased to speak well of me, I think. My person and manner are not absolutely those of a monster, I trust. Ah! naughty Hand!' said Mr Pecksniff, apostrophizing the reluctant prize, 'why did you take me prisoner? Go, go!'
He slapped the hand to punish it; but relenting, folded it in his waistcoat to comfort it again.
'Blessed in each other, and in the society of our venerable friend, my darling,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'we shall be happy. When he is wafted to a haven of rest, we will console each other. My pretty primrose, what do you say?'
'It is possible,' Mary answered, in a hurried manner, 'that I ought to feel grateful for this mark of your confidence. I cannot say that I do, but I am willing to suppose you may deserve my thanks. Take them; and pray leave me, Mr Pecksniff.'
The good man smiled a greasy smile; and drew her closer to him.
'Pray, pray release me, Mr Pecksniff. I cannot listen to your proposal. I cannot receive it. There are many to whom it may be acceptable, but it is not so to me. As an act of kindness and an act of pity, leave me!'
Mr Pecksniff walked on with his arm round her waist, and her hand in his, as contentedly as if they had been all in all to each other, and were joined in the bonds of truest love.
'If you force me by your superior strength,' said Mary, who finding that good words had not the least effect upon him, made no further effort to suppress her indignation; 'if you force me by your superior strength to accompany you back, and to be the subject of your insolence upon the way, you cannot constrain the expression of my thoughts. I hold you in the deepest abhorrence. I know your real nature and despise it.'
'No, no,' said Mr Pecksniff, sweetly. 'No, no, no!'
'By what arts or unhappy chances you have gained your influence over Mr Chuzzlewit, I do not know,' said Mary; 'it may be strong enough to soften even this, but he shall know of this, trust me, sir.'
Mr Pecksniff raised his heavy eyelids languidly, and let them fall again. It was saying with perfect coolness, 'Aye, aye! Indeed!'
'Is it not enough,' said Mary, 'that you warp and change his nature, adapt his every prejudice to your bad ends, and harden a heart naturally kind by shutting out the truth and allowing none but false and distorted views to reach it; is it not enough that you have the power of doing this, and that you exercise it, but must you also be so coarse, so cruel, and so cowardly to me?'
Still Mr Pecksniff led her calmly on, and looked as mild as any lamb that ever pastured in the fields.
'Will nothing move you, sir?' cried Mary.
'My dear,' observed Mr Pecksniff, with a placid leer, 'a habit of self-examination, and the practice of—shall I say of virtue?'
'Of hypocrisy,' said Mary.
'No, no,' resumed Mr Pecksniff, chafing the captive hand reproachfully, 'of virtue—have enabled me to set such guards upon myself, that it is really difficult to ruffle me. It is a curious fact, but it is difficult, do you know, for any one to ruffle me. And did she think,' said Mr Pecksniff, with a playful tightening of his grasp 'that SHE could! How little did she know his heart!'
Little, indeed! Her mind was so strangely constituted that she would have preferred the caresses of a toad, an adder, or a serpent—nay, the hug of a bear—to the endearments of Mr Pecksniff.
'Come, come,' said that good gentleman, 'a word or two will set this matter right, and establish a pleasant understanding between us. I am not angry, my love.'
'No,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'I am not. I say so. Neither are you.'
There was a beating heart beneath his hand that told another story though.
'I am sure you are not,' said Mr Pecksniff: 'and I will tell you why. There are two Martin Chuzzlewits, my dear; and your carrying your anger to one might have a serious effect—who knows!—upon the other. You wouldn't wish to hurt him, would you?'
She trembled violently, and looked at him with such a proud disdain that he turned his eyes away. No doubt lest he should be offended with her in spite of his better self.
'A passive quarrel, my love,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'may be changed into an active one, remember. It would be sad to blight even a disinherited young man in his already blighted prospects; but how easy to do it. Ah, how easy! HAVE I influence with our venerable friend, do you think? Well, perhaps I have. Perhaps I have.'
He raised his eyes to hers; and nodded with an air of banter that was charming.
'No,' he continued, thoughtfully. 'Upon the whole, my sweet, if I were you I'd keep my secret to myself. I am not at all sure—very far from it—that it would surprise our friend in any way, for he and I have had some conversation together only this morning, and he is anxious, very anxious, to establish you in some more settled manner. But whether he was surprised or not surprised, the consequence of your imparting it might be the same. Martin junior might suffer severely. I'd have compassion on Martin junior, do you know?' said Mr Pecksniff, with a persuasive smile. 'Yes. He don't deserve it, but I would.'
She wept so bitterly now, and was so much distressed, that he thought it prudent to unclasp her waist, and hold her only by the hand.
'As to our own share in the precious little mystery,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'we will keep it to ourselves, and talk of it between ourselves, and you shall think it over. You will consent, my love; you will consent, I know. Whatever you may think; you will. I seem to remember to have heard—I really don't know where, or how'—he added, with bewitching frankness, 'that you and Martin junior, when you were children, had a sort of childish fondness for each other. When we are married, you shall have the satisfaction of thinking that it didn't last to ruin him, but passed away to do him good; for we'll see then what we can do to put some trifling help in Martin junior's way. HAVE I any influence with our venerable friend? Well! Perhaps I have. Perhaps I have.'
The outlet from the wood in which these tender passages occurred, was close to Mr Pecksniff's house. They were now so near it that he stopped, and holding up her little finger, said in playful accents, as a parting fancy:
'Shall I bite it?'
Receiving no reply he kissed it instead; and then stooping down, inclined his flabby face to hers—he had a flabby face, although he WAS a good man—and with a blessing, which from such a source was quite enough to set her up in life, and prosper her from that time forth permitted her to leave him.
Gallantry in its true sense is supposed to ennoble and dignify a man; and love has shed refinements on innumerable Cymons. But Mr Pecksniff—perhaps because to one of his exalted nature these were mere grossnesses—certainly did not appear to any unusual advantage, now that he was left alone. On the contrary, he seemed to be shrunk and reduced; to be trying to hide himself within himself; and to be wretched at not having the power to do it. His shoes looked too large; his sleeve looked too long; his hair looked too limp; his features looked too mean; his exposed throat looked as if a halter would have done it good. For a minute or two, in fact, he was hot, and pale, and mean, and shy, and slinking, and consequently not at all Pecksniffian. But after that, he recovered himself, and went home with as beneficent an air as if he had been the High Priest of the summer weather.
'I have arranged to go, Papa,' said Charity, 'to-morrow.'
'So soon, my child!'
'I can't go too soon,' said Charity, 'under the circumstances. I have written to Mrs Todgers to propose an arrangement, and have requested her to meet me at the coach, at all events. You'll be quite your own master now, Mr Pinch!'
Mr Pecksniff had just gone out of the room, and Tom had just come into it.
'My own master!' repeated Tom.
'Yes, you'll have nobody to interfere with you,' said Charity. 'At least I hope you won't. Hem! It's a changing world.'
'What! are YOU going to be married, Miss Pecksniff?' asked Tom in great surprise.
'Not exactly,' faltered Cherry. 'I haven't made up my mind to be. I believe I could be, if I chose, Mr Pinch.'
'Of course you could!' said Tom. And he said it in perfect good faith. He believed it from the bottom of his heart.
'No,' said Cherry, 'I am not going to be married. Nobody is, that I know of. Hem! But I am not going to live with Papa. I have my reasons, but it's all a secret. I shall always feel very kindly towards you, I assure you, for the boldness you showed that night. As to you and me, Mr Pinch, WE part the best friends possible!'
Tom thanked her for her confidence, and for her friendship, but there was a mystery in the former which perfectly bewildered him. In his extravagant devotion to the family, he had felt the loss of Merry more than any one but those who knew that for all the slights he underwent he thought his own demerits were to blame, could possibly have understood. He had scarcely reconciled himself to that when here was Charity about to leave them. She had grown up, as it were, under Tom's eye. The sisters were a part of Pecksniff, and a part of Tom; items in Pecksniff's goodness, and in Tom's service. He couldn't bear it; not two hours' sleep had Tom that night, through dwelling in his bed upon these dreadful changes.
When morning dawned he thought he must have dreamed this piece of ambiguity; but no, on going downstairs he found them packing trunks and cording boxes, and making other preparations for Miss Charity's departure, which lasted all day long. In good time for the evening coach, Miss Charity deposited her housekeeping keys with much ceremony upon the parlour table; took a gracious leave of all the house; and quitted her paternal roof—a blessing for which the Pecksniffian servant was observed by some profane persons to be particularly active in the thanksgiving at church next Sunday.
MR PINCH IS DISCHARGED OF A DUTY WHICH HE NEVER OWED TO ANYBODY, AND MR PECKSNIFF DISCHARGES A DUTY WHICH HE OWES TO SOCIETY
The closing words of the last chapter lead naturally to the commencement of this, its successor; for it has to do with a church. With the church, so often mentioned heretofore, in which Tom Pinch played the organ for nothing.
One sultry afternoon, about a week after Miss Charity's departure for London, Mr Pecksniff being out walking by himself, took it into his head to stray into the churchyard. As he was lingering among the tombstones, endeavouring to extract an available sentiment or two from the epitaphs—for he never lost an opportunity of making up a few moral crackers, to be let off as occasion served—Tom Pinch began to practice. Tom could run down to the church and do so whenever he had time to spare; for it was a simple little organ, provided with wind by the action of the musician's feet; and he was independent, even of a bellows-blower. Though if Tom had wanted one at any time, there was not a man or boy in all the village, and away to the turnpike (tollman included), but would have blown away for him till he was black in the face.
Mr Pecksniff had no objection to music; not the least. He was tolerant of everything; he often said so. He considered it a vagabond kind of trifling, in general, just suited to Tom's capacity. But in regard to Tom's performance upon this same organ, he was remarkably lenient, singularly amiable; for when Tom played it on Sundays, Mr Pecksniff in his unbounded sympathy felt as if he played it himself, and were a benefactor to the congregation. So whenever it was impossible to devise any other means of taking the value of Tom's wages out of him, Mr Pecksniff gave him leave to cultivate this instrument. For which mark of his consideration Tom was very grateful.
The afternoon was remarkably warm, and Mr Pecksniff had been strolling a long way. He had not what may be called a fine ear for music, but he knew when it had a tranquilizing influence on his soul; and that was the case now, for it sounded to him like a melodious snore. He approached the church, and looking through the diamond lattice of a window near the porch, saw Tom, with the curtains in the loft drawn back, playing away with great expression and tenderness.
The church had an inviting air of coolness. The old oak roof supported by cross-beams, the hoary walls, the marble tablets, and the cracked stone pavement, were refreshing to look at. There were leaves of ivy tapping gently at the opposite windows; and the sun poured in through only one; leaving the body of the church in tempting shade. But the most tempting spot of all, was one red-curtained and soft-cushioned pew, wherein the official dignitaries of the place (of whom Mr Pecksniff was the head and chief) enshrined themselves on Sundays. Mr Pecksniff's seat was in the corner; a remarkably comfortable corner; where his very large Prayer-Book was at that minute making the most of its quarto self upon the desk. He determined to go in and rest.
He entered very softly; in part because it was a church; in part because his tread was always soft; in part because Tom played a solemn tune; in part because he thought he would surprise him when he stopped. Unbolting the door of the high pew of state, he glided in and shut it after him; then sitting in his usual place, and stretching out his legs upon the hassocks, he composed himself to listen to the music.
It is an unaccountable circumstance that he should have felt drowsy there, where the force of association might surely have been enough to keep him wide awake; but he did. He had not been in the snug little corner five minutes before he began to nod. He had not recovered himself one minute before he began to nod again. In the very act of opening his eyes indolently, he nodded again. In the very act of shutting them, he nodded again. So he fell out of one nod into another until at last he ceased to nod at all, and was as fast as the church itself.
He had a consciousness of the organ, long after he fell asleep, though as to its being an organ he had no more idea of that than he had of its being a bull. After a while he began to have at intervals the same dreamy impressions of voices; and awakening to an indolent curiosity upon the subject, opened his eyes.
He was so indolent, that after glancing at the hassocks and the pew, he was already half-way off to sleep again, when it occurred to him that there really were voices in the church; low voices, talking earnestly hard by; while the echoes seemed to mutter responses. He roused himself, and listened.
Before he had listened half a dozen seconds, he became as broad awake as ever he had been in all his life. With eyes, and ears, and mouth, wide open, he moved himself a very little with the utmost caution, and gathering the curtain in his hand, peeped out.
Tom Pinch and Mary. Of course. He had recognized their voices, and already knew the topic they discussed. Looking like the small end of a guillotined man, with his chin on a level with the top of the pew, so that he might duck down immediately in case of either of them turning round, he listened. Listened with such concentrated eagerness, that his very hair and shirt-collar stood bristling up to help him.
'No,' cried Tom. 'No letters have ever reached me, except that one from New York. But don't be uneasy on that account, for it's very likely they have gone away to some far-off place, where the posts are neither regular nor frequent. He said in that very letter that it might be so, even in that city to which they thought of travelling—Eden, you know.'
'It is a great weight upon my mind,' said Mary.
'Oh, but you mustn't let it be,' said Tom. 'There's a true saying that nothing travels so fast as ill news; and if the slightest harm had happened to Martin, you may be sure you would have heard of it long ago. I have often wished to say this to you,' Tom continued with an embarrassment that became him very well, 'but you have never given me an opportunity.'
'I have sometimes been almost afraid,' said Mary, 'that you might suppose I hesitated to confide in you, Mr Pinch.'
'No,' Tom stammered, 'I—I am not aware that I ever supposed that. I am sure that if I have, I have checked the thought directly, as an injustice to you. I feel the delicacy of your situation in having to confide in me at all,' said Tom, 'but I would risk my life to save you from one day's uneasiness; indeed I would!'
'I have dreaded sometimes,' Tom continued, 'that I might have displeased you by—by having the boldness to try and anticipate your wishes now and then. At other times I have fancied that your kindness prompted you to keep aloof from me.'
'It was very foolish; very presumptuous and ridiculous, to think so,' Tom pursued; 'but I feared you might suppose it possible that I—I—should admire you too much for my own peace; and so denied yourself the slight assistance you would otherwise have accepted from me. If such an idea has ever presented itself to you,' faltered Tom, 'pray dismiss it. I am easily made happy; and I shall live contented here long after you and Martin have forgotten me. I am a poor, shy, awkward creature; not at all a man of the world; and you should think no more of me, bless you, than if I were an old friar!'
If friars bear such hearts as thine, Tom, let friars multiply; though they have no such rule in all their stern arithmetic.
'Dear Mr Pinch!' said Mary, giving him her hand; 'I cannot tell you how your kindness moves me. I have never wronged you by the lightest doubt, and have never for an instant ceased to feel that you were all—much more than all—that Martin found you. Without the silent care and friendship I have experienced from you, my life here would have been unhappy. But you have been a good angel to me; filling me with gratitude of heart, hope, and courage.'
'I am as little like an angel, I am afraid,' replied Tom, shaking his head, 'as any stone cherubim among the grave-stones; and I don't think there are many real angels of THAT pattern. But I should like to know (if you will tell me) why you have been so very silent about Martin.'
'Because I have been afraid,' said Mary, 'of injuring you.'
'Of injuring me!' cried Tom.
'Of doing you an injury with your employer.'
The gentleman in question dived.
'With Pecksniff!' rejoined Tom, with cheerful confidence. 'Oh dear, he'd never think of us! He's the best of men. The more at ease you were, the happier he would be. Oh dear, you needn't be afraid of Pecksniff. He is not a spy.'
Many a man in Mr Pecksniff's place, if he could have dived through the floor of the pew of state and come out at Calcutta or any inhabited region on the other side of the earth, would have done it instantly. Mr Pecksniff sat down upon a hassock, and listening more attentively than ever, smiled.
Mary seemed to have expressed some dissent in the meanwhile, for Tom went on to say, with honest energy:
'Well, I don't know how it is, but it always happens, whenever I express myself in this way to anybody almost, that I find they won't do justice to Pecksniff. It is one of the most extraordinary circumstances that ever came within my knowledge, but it is so. There's John Westlock, who used to be a pupil here, one of the best-hearted young men in the world, in all other matters—I really believe John would have Pecksniff flogged at the cart's tail if he could. And John is not a solitary case, for every pupil we have had in my time has gone away with the same inveterate hatred of him. There was Mark Tapley, too, quite in another station of life,' said Tom; 'the mockery he used to make of Pecksniff when he was at the Dragon was shocking. Martin too: Martin was worse than any of 'em. But I forgot. He prepared you to dislike Pecksniff, of course. So you came with a prejudice, you know, Miss Graham, and are not a fair witness.'
Tom triumphed very much in this discovery, and rubbed his hands with great satisfaction.
'Mr Pinch,' said Mary, 'you mistake him.'
'No, no!' cried Tom. 'YOU mistake him. But,' he added, with a rapid change in his tone, 'what is the matter? Miss Graham, what is the matter?'
Mr Pecksniff brought up to the top of the pew, by slow degrees, his hair, his forehead, his eyebrow, his eye. She was sitting on a bench beside the door with her hands before her face; and Tom was bending over her.
'What is the matter?' cried Tom. 'Have I said anything to hurt you? Has any one said anything to hurt you? Don't cry. Pray tell me what it is. I cannot bear to see you so distressed. Mercy on us, I never was so surprised and grieved in all my life!'
Mr Pecksniff kept his eye in the same place. He could have moved it now for nothing short of a gimlet or a red-hot wire.
'I wouldn't have told you, Mr Pinch,' said Mary, 'if I could have helped it; but your delusion is so absorbing, and it is so necessary that we should be upon our guard; that you should not be compromised; and to that end that you should know by whom I am beset; that no alternative is left me. I came here purposely to tell you, but I think I should have wanted courage if you had not chanced to lead me so directly to the object of my coming.'
Tom gazed at her steadfastly, and seemed to say, 'What else?' But he said not a word.
'That person whom you think the best of men,' said Mary, looking up, and speaking with a quivering lip and flashing eye.
'Lord bless me!' muttered Tom, staggering back. 'Wait a moment. That person whom I think the best of men! You mean Pecksniff, of course. Yes, I see you mean Pecksniff. Good gracious me, don't speak without authority. What has he done? If he is not the best of men, what is he?'
'The worst. The falsest, craftiest, meanest, cruellest, most sordid, most shameless,' said the trembling girl—trembling with her indignation.
Tom sat down on a seat, and clasped his hands.
'What is he,' said Mary, 'who receiving me in his house as his guest; his unwilling guest; knowing my history, and how defenceless and alone I am, presumes before his daughters to affront me so, that if I had a brother but a child, who saw it, he would instinctively have helped me?'
'He is a scoundrel!' exclaimed Tom. 'Whoever he may be, he is a scoundrel.'
Mr Pecksniff dived again.
'What is he,' said Mary, 'who, when my only friend—a dear and kind one, too—was in full health of mind, humbled himself before him, but was spurned away (for he knew him then) like a dog. Who, in his forgiving spirit, now that that friend is sunk into a failing state, can crawl about him again, and use the influence he basely gains for every base and wicked purpose, and not for one—not one—that's true or good?'
'I say he is a scoundrel!' answered Tom.
'But what is he—oh, Mr Pinch, what IS he—who, thinking he could compass these designs the better if I were his wife, assails me with the coward's argument that if I marry him, Martin, on whom I have brought so much misfortune, shall be restored to something of his former hopes; and if I do not, shall be plunged in deeper ruin? What is he who makes my very constancy to one I love with all my heart a torture to myself and wrong to him; who makes me, do what I will, the instrument to hurt a head I would heap blessings on! What is he who, winding all these cruel snares about me, explains their purpose to me, with a smooth tongue and a smiling face, in the broad light of day; dragging me on, the while, in his embrace, and holding to his lips a hand,' pursued the agitated girl, extending it, 'which I would have struck off, if with it I could lose the shame and degradation of his touch?'
'I say,' cried Tom, in great excitement, 'he is a scoundrel and a villain! I don't care who he is, I say he is a double-dyed and most intolerable villain!'
Covering her face with her hands again, as if the passion which had sustained her through these disclosures lost itself in an overwhelming sense of shame and grief, she abandoned herself to tears.
Any sight of distress was sure to move the tenderness of Tom, but this especially. Tears and sobs from her were arrows in his heart. He tried to comfort her; sat down beside her; expended all his store of homely eloquence; and spoke in words of praise and hope of Martin. Aye, though he loved her from his soul with such a self-denying love as woman seldom wins; he spoke from first to last of Martin. Not the wealth of the rich Indies would have tempted Tom to shirk one mention of her lover's name.
When she was more composed, she impressed upon Tom that this man she had described, was Pecksniff in his real colours; and word by word and phrase by phrase, as well as she remembered it, related what had passed between them in the wood: which was no doubt a source of high gratification to that gentleman himself, who in his desire to see and his dread of being seen, was constantly diving down into the state pew, and coming up again like the intelligent householder in Punch's Show, who avoids being knocked on the head with a cudgel. When she had concluded her account, and had besought Tom to be very distant and unconscious in his manner towards her after this explanation, and had thanked him very much, they parted on the alarm of footsteps in the burial-ground; and Tom was left alone in the church again.
And now the full agitation and misery of the disclosure came rushing upon Tom indeed. The star of his whole life from boyhood had become, in a moment, putrid vapour. It was not that Pecksniff, Tom's Pecksniff, had ceased to exist, but that he never had existed. In his death Tom would have had the comfort of remembering what he used to be, but in this discovery, he had the anguish of recollecting what he never was. For, as Tom's blindness in this matter had been total and not partial, so was his restored sight. HIS Pecksniff could never have worked the wickedness of which he had just now heard, but any other Pecksniff could; and the Pecksniff who could do that could do anything, and no doubt had been doing anything and everything except the right thing, all through his career. From the lofty height on which poor Tom had placed his idol it was tumbled down headlong, and
Not all the king's horses, nor all the king's men, Could have set Mr Pecksniff up again.
Legions of Titans couldn't have got him out of the mud; and serve him right! But it was not he who suffered; it was Tom. His compass was broken, his chart destroyed, his chronometer had stopped, his masts were gone by the board; his anchor was adrift, ten thousand leagues away.
Mr Pecksniff watched him with a lively interest, for he divined the purpose of Tom's ruminations, and was curious to see how he conducted himself. For some time, Tom wandered up and down the aisle like a man demented, stopping occasionally to lean against a pew and think it over; then he stood staring at a blank old monument bordered tastefully with skulls and cross-bones, as if it were the finest work of Art he had ever seen, although at other times he held it in unspeakable contempt; then he sat down; then walked to and fro again; then went wandering up into the organ-loft, and touched the keys. But their minstrelsy was changed, their music gone; and sounding one long melancholy chord, Tom drooped his head upon his hands and gave it up as hopeless.
'I wouldn't have cared,' said Tom Pinch, rising from his stool and looking down into the church as if he had been the Clergyman, 'I wouldn't have cared for anything he might have done to Me, for I have tried his patience often, and have lived upon his sufferance and have never been the help to him that others could have been. I wouldn't have minded, Pecksniff,' Tom continued, little thinking who heard him, 'if you had done Me any wrong; I could have found plenty of excuses for that; and though you might have hurt me, could have still gone on respecting you. But why did you ever fall so low as this in my esteem! Oh Pecksniff, Pecksniff, there is nothing I would not have given, to have had you deserve my old opinion of you; nothing!'
Mr Pecksniff sat upon the hassock pulling up his shirt-collar, while Tom, touched to the quick, delivered this apostrophe. After a pause he heard Tom coming down the stairs, jingling the church keys; and bringing his eye to the top of the pew again, saw him go slowly out and lock the door.
Mr Pecksniff durst not issue from his place of concealment; for through the windows of the church he saw Tom passing on among the graves, and sometimes stopping at a stone, and leaning there as if he were a mourner who had lost a friend. Even when he had left the churchyard, Mr Pecksniff still remained shut up; not being at all secure but that in his restless state of mind Tom might come wandering back. At length he issued forth, and walked with a pleasant countenance into the vestry; where he knew there was a window near the ground, by which he could release himself by merely stepping out.
He was in a curious frame of mind, Mr Pecksniff; being in no hurry to go, but rather inclining to a dilatory trifling with the time, which prompted him to open the vestry cupboard, and look at himself in the parson's little glass that hung within the door. Seeing that his hair was rumpled, he took the liberty of borrowing the canonical brush and arranging it. He also took the liberty of opening another cupboard; but he shut it up again quickly, being rather startled by the sight of a black and a white surplice dangling against the wall; which had very much the appearance of two curates who had committed suicide by hanging themselves. Remembering that he had seen in the first cupboard a port-wine bottle and some biscuits, he peeped into it again, and helped himself with much deliberation; cogitating all the time though, in a very deep and weighty manner, as if his thoughts were otherwise employed.
He soon made up his mind, if it had ever been in doubt; and putting back the bottle and biscuits, opened the casement. He got out into the churchyard without any difficulty; shut the window after him; and walked straight home.
'Is Mr Pinch indoors?' asked Mr Pecksniff of his serving-maid.
'Just come in, sir.'
'Just come in, eh?' repeated Mr Pecksniff, cheerfully. 'And gone upstairs, I suppose?'
'Yes sir. Gone upstairs. Shall I call him, sir?'
'No,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'no. You needn't call him, Jane. Thank you, Jane. How are your relations, Jane?'
'Pretty well, I thank you, sir.'
'I am glad to hear it. Let them know I asked about them, Jane. Is Mr Chuzzlewit in the way, Jane?'
'Yes, sir. He's in the parlour, reading.'
'He's in the parlour, reading, is he, Jane?' said Mr Pecksniff. 'Very well. Then I think I'll go and see him, Jane.'
Never had Mr Pecksniff been beheld in a more pleasant humour!
But when he walked into the parlour where the old man was engaged as Jane had said; with pen and ink and paper on a table close at hand (for Mr Pecksniff was always very particular to have him well supplied with writing materials), he became less cheerful. He was not angry, he was not vindictive, he was not cross, he was not moody, but he was grieved; he was sorely grieved. As he sat down by the old man's side, two tears—not tears like those with which recording angels blot their entries out, but drops so precious that they use them for their ink—stole down his meritorious cheeks.
'What is the matter?' asked old Martin. 'Pecksniff, what ails you, man?'
'I am sorry to interrupt you, my dear sir, and I am still more sorry for the cause. My good, my worthy friend, I am deceived.'
'You are deceived!'
'Ah!' cried Mr Pecksniff, in an agony, 'deceived in the tenderest point. Cruelly deceived in that quarter, sir, in which I placed the most unbounded confidence. Deceived, Mr Chuzzlewit, by Thomas Pinch.'
'Oh! bad, bad, bad!' said Martin, laying down his book. 'Very bad! I hope not. Are you certain?'
'Certain, my good sir! My eyes and ears are witnesses. I wouldn't have believed it otherwise. I wouldn't have believed it, Mr Chuzzlewit, if a Fiery Serpent had proclaimed it from the top of Salisbury Cathedral. I would have said,' cried Mr Pecksniff, 'that the Serpent lied. Such was my faith in Thomas Pinch, that I would have cast the falsehood back into the Serpent's teeth, and would have taken Thomas to my heart. But I am not a Serpent, sir, myself, I grieve to say, and no excuse or hope is left me.'
Martin was greatly disturbed to see him so much agitated, and to hear such unexpected news. He begged him to compose himself, and asked upon what subject Mr Pinch's treachery had been developed.
'That is almost the worst of all, sir,' Mr Pecksniff answered, 'on a subject nearly concerning YOU. Oh! is it not enough,' said Mr Pecksniff, looking upward, 'that these blows must fall on me, but must they also hit my friends!'
'You alarm me,' cried the old man, changing colour. 'I am not so strong as I was. You terrify me, Pecksniff!'
'Cheer up, my noble sir,' said Mr Pecksniff, taking courage, 'and we will do what is required of us. You shall know all, sir, and shall be righted. But first excuse me, sir, excuse me. I have a duty to discharge, which I owe to society.'
He rang the bell, and Jane appeared. 'Send Mr Pinch here, if you please, Jane.'
Tom came. Constrained and altered in his manner, downcast and dejected, visibly confused; not liking to look Pecksniff in the face.
The honest man bestowed a glance on Mr Chuzzlewit, as who should say 'You see!' and addressed himself to Tom in these terms:
'Mr Pinch, I have left the vestry-window unfastened. Will you do me the favour to go and secure it; then bring the keys of the sacred edifice to me!'
'The vestry-window, sir?' cried Tom.
'You understand me, Mr Pinch, I think,' returned his patron. 'Yes, Mr Pinch, the vestry-window. I grieve to say that sleeping in the church after a fatiguing ramble, I overheard just now some fragments,' he emphasised that word, 'of a dialogue between two parties; and one of them locking the church when he went out, I was obliged to leave it myself by the vestry-window. Do me the favour to secure that vestry-window, Mr Pinch, and then come back to me.'
No physiognomist that ever dwelt on earth could have construed Tom's face when he heard these words. Wonder was in it, and a mild look of reproach, but certainly no fear or guilt, although a host of strong emotions struggled to display themselves. He bowed, and without saying one word, good or bad, withdrew.
'Pecksniff,' cried Martin, in a tremble, 'what does all this mean? You are not going to do anything in haste, you may regret!'
'No, my good sir,' said Mr Pecksniff, firmly, 'No. But I have a duty to discharge which I owe to society; and it shall be discharged, my friend, at any cost!'
Oh, late-remembered, much-forgotten, mouthing, braggart duty, always owed, and seldom paid in any other coin than punishment and wrath, when will mankind begin to know thee! When will men acknowledge thee in thy neglected cradle, and thy stunted youth, and not begin their recognition in thy sinful manhood and thy desolate old age! Oh, ermined Judge whose duty to society is, now, to doom the ragged criminal to punishment and death, hadst thou never, Man, a duty to discharge in barring up the hundred open gates that wooed him to the felon's dock, and throwing but ajar the portals to a decent life! Oh, prelate, prelate, whose duty to society it is to mourn in melancholy phrase the sad degeneracy of these bad times in which thy lot of honours has been cast, did nothing go before thy elevation to the lofty seat, from which thou dealest out thy homilies to other tarriers for dead men's shoes, whose duty to society has not begun! Oh! magistrate, so rare a country gentleman and brave a squire, had you no duty to society, before the ricks were blazing and the mob were mad; or did it spring up, armed and booted from the earth, a corps of yeomanry full-grown!
Mr Pecksniff's duty to society could not be paid till Tom came back. The interval which preceded the return of that young man, he occupied in a close conference with his friend; so that when Tom did arrive, he found the two quite ready to receive him. Mary was in her own room above, whither Mr Pecksniff, always considerate, had besought old Martin to entreat her to remain some half-hour longer, that her feelings might be spared.
When Tom came back, he found old Martin sitting by the window, and Mr Pecksniff in an imposing attitude at the table. On one side of him was his pocket-handkerchief; and on the other a little heap (a very little heap) of gold and silver, and odd pence. Tom saw, at a glance, that it was his own salary for the current quarter.
'Have you fastened the vestry-window, Mr Pinch?' said Pecksniff.
'Thank you. Put down the keys if you please, Mr Pinch.'
Tom placed them on the table. He held the bunch by the key of the organ-loft (though it was one of the smallest), and looked hard at it as he laid it down. It had been an old, old friend of Tom's; a kind companion to him, many and many a day.
'Mr Pinch,' said Pecksniff, shaking his head; 'oh, Mr Pinch! I wonder you can look me in the face!'
Tom did it though; and notwithstanding that he has been described as stooping generally, he stood as upright then as man could stand.
'Mr Pinch,' said Pecksniff, taking up his handkerchief, as if he felt that he should want it soon, 'I will not dwell upon the past. I will spare you, and I will spare myself, that pain at least.'
Tom's was not a very bright eye, but it was a very expressive one when he looked at Mr Pecksniff, and said:
'Thank you, sir. I am very glad you will not refer to the past.'
'The present is enough,' said Mr Pecksniff, dropping a penny, 'and the sooner THAT is past, the better. Mr Pinch, I will not dismiss you without a word of explanation. Even such a course would be quite justifiable under the circumstances; but it might wear an appearance of hurry, and I will not do it; for I am,' said Mr Pecksniff, knocking down another penny, 'perfectly self-possessed. Therefore I will say to you, what I have already said to Mr Chuzzlewit.'
Tom glanced at the old gentleman, who nodded now and then as approving of Mr Pecksniff's sentences and sentiments, but interposed between them in no other way.
'From fragments of a conversation which I overheard in the church, just now, Mr Pinch,' said Pecksniff, 'between yourself and Miss Graham—I say fragments, because I was slumbering at a considerable distance from you, when I was roused by your voices—and from what I saw, I ascertained (I would have given a great deal not to have ascertained, Mr Pinch) that you, forgetful of all ties of duty and of honour, sir; regardless of the sacred laws of hospitality, to which you were pledged as an inmate of this house; have presumed to address Miss Graham with unreturned professions of attachment and proposals of love.'
Tom looked at him steadily.
'Do you deny it, sir?' asked Mr Pecksniff, dropping one pound two and fourpence, and making a great business of picking it up again.
'No, sir,' replied Tom. 'I do not.'
'You do not,' said Mr Pecksniff, glancing at the old gentleman. 'Oblige me by counting this money, Mr Pinch, and putting your name to this receipt. You do not?'
No, Tom did not. He scorned to deny it. He saw that Mr Pecksniff having overheard his own disgrace, cared not a jot for sinking lower yet in his contempt. He saw that he had devised this fiction as the readiest means of getting rid of him at once, but that it must end in that any way. He saw that Mr Pecksniff reckoned on his not denying it, because his doing so and explaining would incense the old man more than ever against Martin and against Mary; while Pecksniff himself would only have been mistaken in his 'fragments.' Deny it! No.
'You find the amount correct, do you, Mr Pinch?' said Pecksniff.
'Quite correct, sir,' answered Tom.
'A person is waiting in the kitchen,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'to carry your luggage wherever you please. We part, Mr Pinch, at once, and are strangers from this time.'
Something without a name; compassion, sorrow, old tenderness, mistaken gratitude, habit; none of these, and yet all of them; smote upon Tom's gentle heart at parting. There was no such soul as Pecksniff's in that carcase; and yet, though his speaking out had not involved the compromise of one he loved, he couldn't have denounced the very shape and figure of the man. Not even then.
'I will not say,' cried Mr Pecksniff, shedding tears, 'what a blow this is. I will not say how much it tries me; how it works upon my nature; how it grates upon my feelings. I do not care for that. I can endure as well as another man. But what I have to hope, and what you have to hope, Mr Pinch (otherwise a great responsibility rests upon you), is, that this deception may not alter my ideas of humanity; that it may not impair my freshness, or contract, if I may use the expression, my Pinions. I hope it will not; I don't think it will. It may be a comfort to you, if not now, at some future time, to know that I shall endeavour not to think the worse of my fellow-creatures in general, for what has passed between us. Farewell!'
Tom had meant to spare him one little puncturation with a lancet, which he had it in his power to administer, but he changed his mind on hearing this, and said:
'I think you left something in the church, sir.'
'Thank you, Mr Pinch,' said Pecksniff. 'I am not aware that I did.'
'This is your double eye-glass, I believe?' said Tom.
'Oh!' cried Pecksniff, with some degree of confusion. 'I am obliged to you. Put it down, if you please.'
'I found it,' said Tom, slowly—'when I went to bolt the vestry-window—in the pew.'
So he had. Mr Pecksniff had taken it off when he was bobbing up and down, lest it should strike against the panelling; and had forgotten it. Going back to the church with his mind full of having been watched, and wondering very much from what part, Tom's attention was caught by the door of the state pew standing open. Looking into it he found the glass. And thus he knew, and by returning it gave Mr Pecksniff the information that he knew, where the listener had been; and that instead of overhearing fragments of the conversation, he must have rejoiced in every word of it.
'I am glad he's gone,' said Martin, drawing a long breath when Tom had left the room.
'It IS a relief,' assented Mr Pecksniff. 'It is a great relief. But having discharged—I hope with tolerable firmness—the duty which I owed to society, I will now, my dear sir, if you will give me leave, retire to shed a few tears in the back garden, as an humble individual.'
Tom went upstairs; cleared his shelf of books; packed them up with his music and an old fiddle in his trunk; got out his clothes (they were not so many that they made his head ache); put them on the top of his books; and went into the workroom for his case of instruments. There was a ragged stool there, with the horsehair all sticking out of the top like a wig: a very Beast of a stool in itself; on which he had taken up his daily seat, year after year, during the whole period of his service. They had grown older and shabbier in company. Pupils had served their time; seasons had come and gone. Tom and the worn-out stool had held together through it all. That part of the room was traditionally called 'Tom's Corner.' It had been assigned to him at first because of its being situated in a strong draught, and a great way from the fire; and he had occupied it ever since. There were portraits of him on the walls, with all his weak points monstrously portrayed. Diabolical sentiments, foreign to his character, were represented as issuing from his mouth in fat balloons. Every pupil had added something, even unto fancy portraits of his father with one eye, and of his mother with a disproportionate nose, and especially of his sister; who always being presented as extremely beautiful, made full amends to Tom for any other jokes. Under less uncommon circumstances, it would have cut Tom to the heart to leave these things and think that he saw them for the last time; but it didn't now. There was no Pecksniff; there never had been a Pecksniff; and all his other griefs were swallowed up in that.
So, when he returned into the bedroom, and, having fastened his box and a carpet-bag, put on his walking gaiters, and his great-coat, and his hat, and taken his stick in his hand, looked round it for the last time. Early on summer mornings, and by the light of private candle-ends on winter nights, he had read himself half blind in this same room. He had tried in this same room to learn the fiddle under the bedclothes, but yielding to objections from the other pupils, had reluctantly abandoned the design. At any other time he would have parted from it with a pang, thinking of all he had learned there, of the many hours he had passed there; for the love of his very dreams. But there was no Pecksniff; there never had been a Pecksniff, and the unreality of Pecksniff extended itself to the chamber, in which, sitting on one particular bed, the thing supposed to be that Great Abstraction had often preached morality with such effect that Tom had felt a moisture in his eyes, while hanging breathless on the words.
The man engaged to bear his box—Tom knew him well: a Dragon man—came stamping up the stairs, and made a roughish bow to Tom (to whom in common times he would have nodded with a grin) as though he were aware of what had happened, and wished him to perceive it made no difference to HIM. It was clumsily done; he was a mere waterer of horses; but Tom liked the man for it, and felt it more than going away.
Tom would have helped him with the box, but he made no more of it, though it was a heavy one, than an elephant would have made of a castle; just swinging it on his back and bowling downstairs as if, being naturally a heavy sort of fellow, he could carry a box infinitely better than he could go alone. Tom took the carpet-bag, and went downstairs along with him. At the outer door stood Jane, crying with all her might; and on the steps was Mrs Lupin, sobbing bitterly, and putting out her hand for Tom to shake.
'You're coming to the Dragon, Mr Pinch?'
'No,' said Tom, 'no. I shall walk to Salisbury to-night. I couldn't stay here. For goodness' sake, don't make me so unhappy, Mrs Lupin.'
'But you'll come to the Dragon, Mr Pinch. If it's only for tonight. To see me, you know; not as a traveller.'
'God bless my soul!' said Tom, wiping his eyes. 'The kindness of people is enough to break one's heart! I mean to go to Salisbury to-night, my dear good creature. If you'll take care of my box for me till I write for it, I shall consider it the greatest kindness you can do me.'
'I wish,' cried Mrs Lupin, 'there were twenty boxes, Mr Pinch, that I might have 'em all.'
'Thank'ee,' said Tom. 'It's like you. Good-bye. Good-bye.'
There were several people, young and old, standing about the door, some of whom cried with Mrs Lupin; while others tried to keep up a stout heart, as Tom did; and others were absorbed in admiration of Mr Pecksniff—a man who could build a church, as one may say, by squinting at a sheet of paper; and others were divided between that feeling and sympathy with Tom. Mr Pecksniff had appeared on the top of the steps, simultaneously with his old pupil, and while Tom was talking with Mrs Lupin kept his hand stretched out, as though he said 'Go forth!' When Tom went forth, and had turned the corner Mr Pecksniff shook his head, shut his eyes, and heaving a deep sigh, shut the door. On which, the best of Tom's supporters said he must have done some dreadful deed, or such a man as Mr Pecksniff never could have felt like that. If it had been a common quarrel (they observed), he would have said something, but when he didn't, Mr Pinch must have shocked him dreadfully.
Tom was out of hearing of their shrewd opinions, and plodded on as steadily as he could go, until he came within sight of the turnpike where the tollman's family had cried out 'Mr Pinch!' that frosty morning, when he went to meet young Martin. He had got through the village, and this toll-bar was his last trial; but when the infant toll-takers came screeching out, he had half a mind to run for it, and make a bolt across the country.
'Why, deary Mr Pinch! oh, deary sir!' cried the tollman's wife. 'What an unlikely time for you to be a-going this way with a bag!'
'I am going to Salisbury,' said Tom.
'Why, goodness, where's the gig, then?' cried the tollman's wife, looking down the road, as if she thought Tom might have been upset without observing it.
'I haven't got it,' said Tom. 'I—' he couldn't evade it; he felt she would have him in the next question, if he got over this one. 'I have left Mr Pecksniff.'
The tollman—a crusty customer, always smoking solitary pipes in a Windsor chair, inside, set artfully between two little windows that looked up and down the road, so that when he saw anything coming up he might hug himself on having toll to take, and when he saw it going down, might hug himself on having taken it—the tollman was out in an instant.
'Left Mr Pecksniff!' cried the tollman.
'Yes,' said Tom, 'left him.'
The tollman looked at his wife, uncertain whether to ask her if she had anything to suggest, or to order her to mind the children. Astonishment making him surly, he preferred the latter, and sent her into the toll-house with a flea in her ear.
'You left Mr Pecksniff!' cried the tollman, folding his arms, and spreading his legs. 'I should as soon have thought of his head leaving him.'
'Aye!' said Tom, 'so should I, yesterday. Good night!'
If a heavy drove of oxen hadn't come by immediately, the tollman would have gone down to the village straight, to inquire into it. As things turned out, he smoked another pipe, and took his wife into his confidence. But their united sagacity could make nothing of it, and they went to bed—metaphorically—in the dark. But several times that night, when a waggon or other vehicle came through, and the driver asked the tollkeeper 'What news?' he looked at the man by the light of his lantern, to assure himself that he had an interest in the subject, and then said, wrapping his watch-coat round his legs:
'You've heerd of Mr Pecksniff down yonder?'
'And of his young man Mr Pinch, p'raps?'
After every one of these disclosures, the tollman plunged into his house again, and was seen no more, while the other side went on in great amazement.
But this was long after Tom was abed, and Tom was now with his face towards Salisbury, doing his best to get there. The evening was beautiful at first, but it became cloudy and dull at sunset, and the rain fell heavily soon afterwards. For ten long miles he plodded on, wet through, until at last the lights appeared, and he came into the welcome precincts of the city.
He went to the inn where he had waited for Martin, and briefly answering their inquiries after Mr Pecksniff, ordered a bed. He had no heart for tea or supper, meat or drink of any kind, but sat by himself before an empty table in the public room while the bed was getting ready, revolving in his mind all that had happened that eventful day, and wondering what he could or should do for the future. It was a great relief when the chambermaid came in, and said the bed was ready.
It was a low four-poster, shelving downward in the centre like a trough, and the room was crowded with impracticable tables and exploded chests of drawers, full of damp linen. A graphic representation in oil of a remarkably fat ox hung over the fireplace, and the portrait of some former landlord (who might have been the ox's brother, he was so like him) stared roundly in, at the foot of the bed. A variety of queer smells were partially quenched in the prevailing scent of very old lavender; and the window had not been opened for such a long space of time that it pleaded immemorial usage, and wouldn't come open now.
These were trifles in themselves, but they added to the strangeness of the place, and did not induce Tom to forget his new position. Pecksniff had gone out of the world—had never been in it—and it was as much as Tom could do to say his prayers without him. But he felt happier afterwards, and went to sleep, and dreamed about him as he Never Was.
TREATS OF TODGER'S AGAIN; AND OF ANOTHER BLIGHTED PLANT BESIDES THE PLANTS UPON THE LEADS
Early on the day next after that on which she bade adieu to the halls of her youth and the scenes of her childhood, Miss Pecksniff, arriving safely at the coach-office in London, was there received, and conducted to her peaceful home beneath the shadow of the Monument, by Mrs Todgers. M. Todgers looked a little worn by cares of gravy and other such solicitudes arising out of her establishment, but displayed her usual earnestness and warmth of manner.
'And how, my sweet Miss Pecksniff,' said she, 'how is your princely pa?'
Miss Pecksniff signified (in confidence) that he contemplated the introduction of a princely ma; and repeated the sentiment that she wasn't blind, and wasn't quite a fool, and wouldn't bear it.
Mrs Todgers was more shocked by the intelligence than any one could have expected. She was quite bitter. She said there was no truth in man and that the warmer he expressed himself, as a general principle, the falser and more treacherous he was. She foresaw with astonishing clearness that the object of Mr Pecksniff's attachment was designing, worthless, and wicked; and receiving from Charity the fullest confirmation of these views, protested with tears in her eyes that she loved Miss Pecksniff like a sister, and felt her injuries as if they were her own.
'Your real darling sister, I have not seen her more than once since her marriage,' said Mrs Todgers, 'and then I thought her looking poorly. My sweet Miss Pecksniff, I always thought that you was to be the lady?'
'Oh dear no!' cried Cherry, shaking her head. 'Oh no, Mrs Todgers. Thank you. No! not for any consideration he could offer.'
'I dare say you are right,' said Mrs Todgers with a sigh. 'I feared it all along. But the misery we have had from that match, here among ourselves, in this house, my dear Miss Pecksniff, nobody would believe.'
'Lor, Mrs Todgers!'
'Awful, awful!' repeated Mrs Todgers, with strong emphasis. 'You recollect our youngest gentleman, my dear?'
'Of course I do,' said Cherry.
'You might have observed,' said Mrs Todgers, 'how he used to watch your sister; and that a kind of stony dumbness came over him whenever she was in company?'
'I am sure I never saw anything of the sort,' said Cherry, in a peevish manner. 'What nonsense, Mrs Todgers!'
'My dear,' returned that lady in a hollow voice, 'I have seen him again and again, sitting over his pie at dinner, with his spoon a perfect fixture in his mouth, looking at your sister. I have seen him standing in a corner of our drawing-room, gazing at her, in such a lonely, melancholy state, that he was more like a Pump than a man, and might have drawed tears.'
'I never saw it!' cried Cherry; 'that's all I can say.'
'But when the marriage took place,' said Mrs Todgers, proceeding with her subject, 'when it was in the paper, and was read out here at breakfast, I thought he had taken leave of his senses, I did indeed. The violence of that young man, my dear Miss Pecksniff; the frightful opinions he expressed upon the subject of self-destruction; the extraordinary actions he performed with his tea; the clenching way in which he bit his bread and butter; the manner in which he taunted Mr Jinkins; all combined to form a picture never to be forgotten.'
'It's a pity he didn't destroy himself, I think,' observed Miss Pecksniff.
'Himself!' said Mrs Todgers, 'it took another turn at night. He was for destroying other people then. There was a little chaffing going on—I hope you don't consider that a low expression, Miss Pecksniff; it is always in our gentlemen's mouths—a little chaffing going on, my dear, among 'em, all in good nature, when suddenly he rose up, foaming with his fury, and but for being held by three would have had Mr Jinkins's life with a bootjack.'
Miss Pecksniff's face expressed supreme indifference.
'And now,' said Mrs Todgers, 'now he is the meekest of men. You can almost bring the tears into his eyes by looking at him. He sits with me the whole day long on Sundays, talking in such a dismal way that I find it next to impossible to keep my spirits up equal to the accommodation of the boarders. His only comfort is in female society. He takes me half-price to the play, to an extent which I sometimes fear is beyond his means; and I see the tears a-standing in his eyes during the whole performance—particularly if it is anything of a comic nature. The turn I experienced only yesterday,' said Mrs Todgers putting her hand to her side, 'when the house-maid threw his bedside carpet out of the window of his room, while I was sitting here, no one can imagine. I thought it was him, and that he had done it at last!'
The contempt with which Miss Charity received this pathetic account of the state to which the youngest gentleman in company was reduced, did not say much for her power of sympathising with that unfortunate character. She treated it with great levity, and went on to inform herself, then and afterwards, whether any other changes had occurred in the commercial boarding-house.
Mr Bailey was gone, and had been succeeded (such is the decay of human greatness!) by an old woman whose name was reported to be Tamaroo—which seemed an impossibility. Indeed it appeared in the fullness of time that the jocular boarders had appropriated the word from an English ballad, in which it is supposed to express the bold and fiery nature of a certain hackney coachman; and that it was bestowed upon Mr Bailey's successor by reason of her having nothing fiery about her, except an occasional attack of that fire which is called St. Anthony's. This ancient female had been engaged, in fulfillment of a vow, registered by Mrs Todgers, that no more boys should darken the commercial doors; and she was chiefly remarkable for a total absence of all comprehension upon every subject whatever. She was a perfect Tomb for messages and small parcels; and when dispatched to the Post Office with letters, had been frequently seen endeavouring to insinuate them into casual chinks in private doors, under the delusion that any door with a hole in it would answer the purpose. She was a very little old woman, and always wore a very coarse apron with a bib before and a loop behind, together with bandages on her wrists, which appeared to be afflicted with an everlasting sprain. She was on all occasions chary of opening the street door, and ardent to shut it again; and she waited at table in a bonnet.
This was the only great change over and above the change which had fallen on the youngest gentleman. As for him, he more than corroborated the account of Mrs Todgers; possessing greater sensibility than even she had given him credit for. He entertained some terrible notions of Destiny, among other matters, and talked much about people's 'Missions'; upon which he seemed to have some private information not generally attainable, as he knew it had been poor Merry's mission to crush him in the bud. He was very frail and tearful; for being aware that a shepherd's mission was to pipe to his flocks, and that a boatswain's mission was to pipe all hands, and that one man's mission was to be a paid piper, and another man's mission was to pay the piper, so he had got it into his head that his own peculiar mission was to pipe his eye. Which he did perpetually.
He often informed Mrs Todgers that the sun had set upon him; that the billows had rolled over him; that the car of Juggernaut had crushed him, and also that the deadly Upas tree of Java had blighted him. His name was Moddle.
Towards this most unhappy Moddle, Miss Pecksniff conducted herself at first with distant haughtiness, being in no humour to be entertained with dirges in honour of her married sister. The poor young gentleman was additionally crushed by this, and remonstrated with Mrs Todgers on the subject.
'Even she turns from me, Mrs Todgers,' said Moddle.
'Then why don't you try and be a little bit more cheerful, sir?' retorted Mrs Todgers.
'Cheerful, Mrs Todgers! cheerful!' cried the youngest gentleman; 'when she reminds me of days for ever fled, Mrs Todgers!'
'Then you had better avoid her for a short time, if she does,' said Mrs Todgers, 'and come to know her again, by degrees. That's my advice.'
'But I can't avoid her,' replied Moddle, 'I haven't strength of mind to do it. Oh, Mrs Todgers, if you knew what a comfort her nose is to me!'
'Her nose, sir!' Mrs Todgers cried.
'Her profile, in general,' said the youngest gentleman, 'but particularly her nose. It's so like;' here he yielded to a burst of grief. 'It's so like hers who is Another's, Mrs Todgers!'
The observant matron did not fail to report this conversation to Charity, who laughed at the time, but treated Mr Moddle that very evening with increased consideration, and presented her side face to him as much as possible. Mr Moddle was not less sentimental than usual; was rather more so, if anything; but he sat and stared at her with glistening eyes, and seemed grateful.
'Well, sir!' said the lady of the Boarding-House next day. 'You held up your head last night. You're coming round, I think.'
'Only because she's so like her who is Another's, Mrs Todgers,' rejoined the youth. 'When she talks, and when she smiles, I think I'm looking on HER brow again, Mrs Todgers.'
This was likewise carried to Charity, who talked and smiled next evening in her most engaging manner, and rallying Mr Moddle on the lowness of his spirits, challenged him to play a rubber at cribbage. Mr Moddle taking up the gauntlet, they played several rubbers for sixpences, and Charity won them all. This may have been partially attributable to the gallantry of the youngest gentleman, but it was certainly referable to the state of his feelings also; for his eyes being frequently dimmed by tears, he thought that aces were tens, and knaves queens, which at times occasioned some confusion in his play.
On the seventh night of cribbage, when Mrs Todgers, sitting by, proposed that instead of gambling they should play for 'love,' Mr Moddle was seen to change colour. On the fourteenth night, he kissed Miss Pecksniff's snuffers, in the passage, when she went upstairs to bed; meaning to have kissed her hand, but missing it.
In short, Mr Moddle began to be impressed with the idea that Miss Pecksniff's mission was to comfort him; and Miss Pecksniff began to speculate on the probability of its being her mission to become ultimately Mrs Moddle. He was a young gentleman (Miss Pecksniff was not a very young lady) with rising prospects, and 'almost' enough to live on. Really it looked very well.
Besides—besides—he had been regarded as devoted to Merry. Merry had joked about him, and had once spoken of it to her sister as a conquest. He was better looking, better shaped, better spoken, better tempered, better mannered than Jonas. He was easy to manage, could be made to consult the humours of his Betrothed, and could be shown off like a lamb when Jonas was a bear. There was the rub!
In the meantime the cribbage went on, and Mrs Todgers went off; for the youngest gentleman, dropping her society, began to take Miss Pecksniff to the play. He also began, as Mrs Todgers said, to slip home 'in his dinner-times,' and to get away from 'the office' at unholy seasons; and twice, as he informed Mrs Todgers himself, he received anonymous letters, enclosing cards from Furniture Warehouses—clearly the act of that ungentlemanly ruffian Jinkins; only he hadn't evidence enough to call him out upon. All of which, so Mrs Todgers told Miss Pecksniff, spoke as plain English as the shining sun.
'My dear Miss Pecksniff, you may depend upon it,' said Mrs Todgers, 'that he is burning to propose.'
'My goodness me, why don't he then?' cried Cherry.
'Men are so much more timid than we think 'em, my dear,' returned Mrs Todgers. 'They baulk themselves continually. I saw the words on Todgers's lips for months and months and months, before he said 'em.'
Miss Pecksniff submitted that Todgers might not have been a fair specimen.
'Oh yes, he was. Oh bless you, yes, my dear. I was very particular in those days, I assure you,' said Mrs Todgers, bridling. 'No, no. You give Mr Moddle a little encouragement, Miss Pecksniff, if you wish him to speak; and he'll speak fast enough, depend upon it.'
'I am sure I don't know what encouragement he would have, Mrs Todgers,' returned Charity. 'He walks with me, and plays cards with me, and he comes and sits alone with me.'
'Quite right,' said Mrs Todgers. 'That's indispensable, my dear.'
'And he sits very close to me.'
'Also quite correct,' said Mrs Todgers.
'And he looks at me.'
'To be sure he does,' said Mrs Todgers.
'And he has his arm upon the back of the chair or sofa, or whatever it is—behind me, you know.'
'I should think so,' said Mrs Todgers.
'And then he begins to cry!'
Mrs Todgers admitted that he might do better than that; and might undoubtedly profit by the recollection of the great Lord Nelson's signal at the battle of Trafalgar. Still, she said, he would come round, or, not to mince the matter, would be brought round, if Miss Pecksniff took up a decided position, and plainly showed him that it must be done.
Determining to regulate her conduct by this opinion, the young lady received Mr Moddle, on the earliest subsequent occasion, with an air of constraint; and gradually leading him to inquire, in a dejected manner, why she was so changed, confessed to him that she felt it necessary for their mutual peace and happiness to take a decided step. They had been much together lately, she observed, much together, and had tasted the sweets of a genuine reciprocity of sentiment. She never could forget him, nor could she ever cease to think of him with feelings of the liveliest friendship, but people had begun to talk, the thing had been observed, and it was necessary that they should be nothing more to each other, than any gentleman and lady in society usually are. She was glad she had had the resolution to say thus much before her feelings had been tried too far; they had been greatly tried, she would admit; but though she was weak and silly, she would soon get the better of it, she hoped.
Moddle, who had by this time become in the last degree maudlin, and wept abundantly, inferred from the foregoing avowal, that it was his mission to communicate to others the blight which had fallen on himself; and that, being a kind of unintentional Vampire, he had had Miss Pecksniff assigned to him by the Fates, as Victim Number One. Miss Pecksniff controverting this opinion as sinful, Moddle was goaded on to ask whether she could be contented with a blighted heart; and it appearing on further examination that she could be, plighted his dismal troth, which was accepted and returned.
He bore his good fortune with the utmost moderation. Instead of being triumphant, he shed more tears than he had ever been known to shed before; and, sobbing, said:
'Oh! what a day this has been! I can't go back to the office this afternoon. Oh, what a trying day this has been! Good Gracious!'
FURTHER PROCEEDINGS IN EDEN, AND A PROCEEDING OUT OF IT. MARTIN MAKES A DISCOVERY OF SOME IMPORTANCE
From Mr Moddle to Eden is an easy and natural transition. Mr Moddle, living in the atmosphere of Miss Pecksniff's love, dwelt (if he had but known it) in a terrestrial Paradise. The thriving city of Eden was also a terrestrial Paradise, upon the showing of its proprietors. The beautiful Miss Pecksniff might have been poetically described as a something too good for man in his fallen and degraded state. That was exactly the character of the thriving city of Eden, as poetically heightened by Zephaniah Scadder, General Choke, and other worthies; part and parcel of the talons of that great American Eagle, which is always airing itself sky-high in purest aether, and never, no never, never, tumbles down with draggled wings into the mud.
When Mark Tapley, leaving Martin in the architectural and surveying offices, had effectually strengthened and encouraged his own spirits by the contemplation of their joint misfortunes, he proceeded, with new cheerfulness, in search of help; congratulating himself, as he went along, on the enviable position to which he had at last attained.
'I used to think, sometimes,' said Mr Tapley, 'as a desolate island would suit me, but I should only have had myself to provide for there, and being naturally a easy man to manage, there wouldn't have been much credit in THAT. Now here I've got my partner to take care on, and he's something like the sort of man for the purpose. I want a man as is always a-sliding off his legs when he ought to be on 'em. I want a man as is so low down in the school of life that he's always a-making figures of one in his copy-book, and can't get no further. I want a man as is his own great coat and cloak, and is always a-wrapping himself up in himself. And I have got him too,' said Mr Tapley, after a moment's silence. 'What a happiness!'
He paused to look round, uncertain to which of the log-houses he should repair.
'I don't know which to take,' he observed; 'that's the truth. They're equally prepossessing outside, and equally commodious, no doubt, within; being fitted up with every convenience that a Alligator, in a state of natur', could possibly require. Let me see! The citizen as turned out last night, lives under water, in the right hand dog-kennel at the corner. I don't want to trouble him if I can help it, poor man, for he is a melancholy object; a reg'lar Settler in every respect. There's house with a winder, but I am afraid of their being proud. I don't know whether a door ain't too aristocratic; but here goes for the first one!'
He went up to the nearest cabin, and knocked with his hand. Being desired to enter, he complied.
'Neighbour,' said Mark; 'for I AM a neighbour, though you don't know me; I've come a-begging. Hallo! hal—lo! Am I a-bed, and dreaming!'
He made this exclamation on hearing his own name pronounced, and finding himself clasped about the skirts by two little boys, whose faces he had often washed, and whose suppers he had often cooked, on board of that noble and fast-sailing line-of-packet ship, the Screw.
'My eyes is wrong!' said Mark. 'I don't believe 'em. That ain't my fellow-passenger younder, a-nursing her little girl, who, I am sorry to see, is so delicate; and that ain't her husband as come to New York to fetch her. Nor these,' he added, looking down upon the boys, 'ain't them two young shavers as was so familiar to me; though they are uncommon like 'em. That I must confess.'
The woman shed tears, in very joy to see him; the man shook both his hands and would not let them go; the two boys hugged his legs; the sick child in the mother's arms stretched out her burning little fingers, and muttered, in her hoarse, dry throat, his well-remembered name.
It was the same family, sure enough. Altered by the salubrious air of Eden. But the same.
'This is a new sort of a morning call,' said Mark, drawing a long breath. 'It strikes one all of a heap. Wait a little bit! I'm a-coming round fast. That'll do! These gentlemen ain't my friends. Are they on the visiting list of the house?'
The inquiry referred to certain gaunt pigs, who had walked in after him, and were much interested in the heels of the family. As they did not belong to the mansion, they were expelled by the two little boys.
'I ain't superstitious about toads,' said Mark, looking round the room, 'but if you could prevail upon the two or three I see in company, to step out at the same time, my young friends, I think they'd find the open air refreshing. Not that I at all object to 'em. A very handsome animal is a toad,' said Mr Tapley, sitting down upon a stool; 'very spotted; very like a partickler style of old gentleman about the throat; very bright-eyed, very cool, and very slippy. But one sees 'em to the best advantage out of doors perhaps.'
While pretending, with such talk as this, to be perfectly at his ease, and to be the most indifferent and careless of men, Mark Tapley had an eye on all around him. The wan and meagre aspect of the family, the changed looks of the poor mother, the fevered child she held in her lap, the air of great despondency and little hope on everything, were plain to him, and made a deep impression on his mind. He saw it all as clearly and as quickly, as with his bodily eyes he saw the rough shelves supported by pegs driven between the logs, of which the house was made; the flour-cask in the corner, serving also for a table; the blankets, spades, and other articles against the walls; the damp that blotched the ground; or the crop of vegetable rottenness in every crevice of the hut.
'How is it that you have come here?' asked the man, when their first expressions of surprise were over.
'Why, we come by the steamer last night,' replied Mark. 'Our intention is to make our fortuns with punctuality and dispatch; and to retire upon our property as soon as ever it's realised. But how are you all? You're looking noble!'
'We are but sickly now,' said the poor woman, bending over her child. 'But we shall do better when we are seasoned to the place.'
'There are some here,' thought Mark 'whose seasoning will last for ever.'
But he said cheerfully, 'Do better! To be sure you will. We shall all do better. What we've got to do is, to keep up our spirits, and be neighbourly. We shall come all right in the end, never fear. That reminds me, by the bye, that my partner's all wrong just at present; and that I looked in to beg for him. I wish you'd come and give me your opinion of him, master.'
That must have been a very unreasonable request on the part of Mark Tapley, with which, in their gratitude for his kind offices on board the ship, they would not have complied instantly. The man rose to accompany him without a moment's delay. Before they went, Mark took the sick child in his arms, and tried to comfort the mother; but the hand of death was on it then, he saw.
They found Martin in the house, lying wrapped up in his blanket on the ground. He was, to all appearance, very ill indeed, and shook and shivered horribly; not as people do from cold, but in a frightful kind of spasm or convulsion, that racked his whole body. Mark's friend pronounced his disease an aggravated kind of fever, accompanied with ague; which was very common in those parts, and which he predicted would be worse to-morrow, and for many more to-morrows. He had had it himself off and on, he said, for a couple of years or so; but he was thankful that, while so many he had known had died about him, he had escaped with life.
'And with not too much of that,' thought Mark, surveying his emaciated form. 'Eden for ever!'
They had some medicine in their chest; and this man of sad experience showed Mark how and when to administer it, and how he could best alleviate the sufferings of Martin. His attentions did not stop there; for he was backwards and forwards constantly, and rendered Mark good service in all his brisk attempts to make their situation more endurable. Hope or comfort for the future he could not bestow. The season was a sickly one; the settlement a grave. His child died that night; and Mark, keeping the secret from Martin, helped to bury it, beneath a tree, next day.
With all his various duties of attendance upon Martin (who became the more exacting in his claims, the worse he grew), Mark worked out of doors, early and late; and with the assistance of his friend and others, laboured to do something with their land. Not that he had the least strength of heart or hope, or steady purpose in so doing, beyond the habitual cheerfulness of his disposition, and his amazing power of self-sustainment; for within himself, he looked on their condition as beyond all hope, and, in his own words, 'came out strong' in consequence.
'As to coming out as strong as I could wish, sir,' he confided to Martin in a leisure moment; that is to say, one evening, while he was washing the linen of the establishment, after a hard day's work, 'that I give up. It's a piece of good fortune as never is to happen to me, I see!'
'Would you wish for circumstances stronger than these?' Martin retorted with a groan, from underneath his blanket.
'Why, only see how easy they might have been stronger, sir,' said Mark, 'if it wasn't for the envy of that uncommon fortun of mine, which is always after me, and tripping me up. The night we landed here, I thought things did look pretty jolly. I won't deny it. I thought they did look pretty jolly.'
'How do they look now?' groaned Martin.
'Ah!' said Mark, 'Ah, to be sure. That's the question. How do they look now? On the very first morning of my going out, what do I do? Stumble on a family I know, who are constantly assisting of us in all sorts of ways, from that time to this! That won't do, you know; that ain't what I'd a right to expect. If I had stumbled on a serpent and got bit; or stumbled on a first-rate patriot, and got bowie-knifed, or stumbled on a lot of Sympathisers with inverted shirt-collars, and got made a lion of; I might have distinguished myself, and earned some credit. As it is, the great object of my voyage is knocked on the head. So it would be, wherever I went. How do you feel to-night, sir?'
'Worse than ever,' said poor Martin.
'That's something,' returned Mark, 'but not enough. Nothing but being very bad myself, and jolly to the last, will ever do me justice.'
'In Heaven's name, don't talk of that,' said Martin with a thrill of terror. 'What should I do, Mark, if you were taken ill!'
Mr Tapley's spirits appeared to be stimulated by this remark, although it was not a very flattering one. He proceeded with his washing in a brighter mood; and observed 'that his glass was arising.'
'There's one good thing in this place, sir,' said Mr Tapley, scrubbing away at the linen, 'as disposes me to be jolly; and that is that it's a reg'lar little United States in itself. There's two or three American settlers left; and they coolly comes over one, even here, sir, as if it was the wholesomest and loveliest spot in the world. But they're like the cock that went and hid himself to save his life, and was found out by the noise he made. They can't help crowing. They was born to do it, and do it they must, whatever comes of it.'
Glancing from his work out at the door as he said these words, Mark's eyes encountered a lean person in a blue frock and a straw hat, with a short black pipe in his mouth, and a great hickory stick studded all over with knots, in his hand; who smoking and chewing as he came along, and spitting frequently, recorded his progress by a train of decomposed tobacco on the ground.
'Here's one on 'em,' cried Mark, 'Hannibal Chollop.'
'Don't let him in,' said Martin, feebly.
'He won't want any letting in,' replied Mark. 'He'll come in, sir.' Which turned out to be quite true, for he did. His face was almost as hard and knobby as his stick; and so were his hands. His head was like an old black hearth-broom. He sat down on the chest with his hat on; and crossing his legs and looking up at Mark, said, without removing his pipe:
'Well, Mr Co.! and how do you git along, sir?'
It may be necessary to observe that Mr Tapley had gravely introduced himself to all strangers, by that name.
'Pretty well, sir; pretty well,' said Mark.
'If this ain't Mr Chuzzlewit, ain't it!' exclaimed the visitor 'How do YOU git along, sir?'
Martin shook his head, and drew the blanket over it involuntarily; for he felt that Hannibal was going to spit; and his eye, as the song says, was upon him.
'You need not regard me, sir,' observed Mr Chollop, complacently. 'I am fever-proof, and likewise agur.'
'Mine was a more selfish motive,' said Martin, looking out again. 'I was afraid you were going to—'
'I can calc'late my distance, sir,' returned Mr Chollop, 'to an inch.'
With a proof of which happy faculty he immediately favoured him.
'I re-quire, sir,' said Hannibal, 'two foot clear in a circ'lar di-rection, and can engage my-self toe keep within it. I HAVE gone ten foot, in a circ'lar di-rection, but that was for a wager.'
'I hope you won it, sir,' said Mark.
'Well, sir, I realised the stakes,' said Chollop. 'Yes, sir.'
He was silent for a time, during which he was actively engaged in the formation of a magic circle round the chest on which he sat. When it was completed, he began to talk again.
'How do you like our country, sir?' he inquired, looking at Martin.
'Not at all,' was the invalid's reply.
Chollop continued to smoke without the least appearance of emotion, until he felt disposed to speak again. That time at length arriving, he took his pipe from his mouth, and said:
'I am not surprised to hear you say so. It re-quires An elevation, and A preparation of the intellect. The mind of man must be prepared for Freedom, Mr Co.'
He addressed himself to Mark; because he saw that Martin, who wished him to go, being already half-mad with feverish irritation, which the droning voice of this new horror rendered almost insupportable, had closed his eyes, and turned on his uneasy bed.
'A little bodily preparation wouldn't be amiss, either, would it, sir,' said Mark, 'in the case of a blessed old swamp like this?'
'Do you con-sider this a swamp, sir?' inquired Chollop gravely.
'Why yes, sir,' returned Mark. 'I haven't a doubt about it myself.'
'The sentiment is quite Europian,' said the major, 'and does not surprise me; what would your English millions say to such a swamp in England, sir?'
'They'd say it was an uncommon nasty one, I should think, said Mark; 'and that they would rather be inoculated for fever in some other way.'
'Europian!' remarked Chollop, with sardonic pity. 'Quite Europian!'
And there he sat. Silent and cool, as if the house were his; smoking away like a factory chimney.
Mr Chollop was, of course, one of the most remarkable men in the country; but he really was a notorious person besides. He was usually described by his friends, in the South and West, as 'a splendid sample of our na-tive raw material, sir,' and was much esteemed for his devotion to rational Liberty; for the better propagation whereof he usually carried a brace of revolving pistols in his coat pocket, with seven barrels a-piece. He also carried, amongst other trinkets, a sword-stick, which he called his 'Tickler.' and a great knife, which (for he was a man of a pleasant turn of humour) he called 'Ripper,' in allusion to its usefulness as a means of ventilating the stomach of any adversary in a close contest. He had used these weapons with distinguished effect in several instances, all duly chronicled in the newspapers; and was greatly beloved for the gallant manner in which he had 'jobbed out' the eye of one gentleman, as he was in the act of knocking at his own street-door.
Mr Chollop was a man of a roving disposition; and, in any less advanced community, might have been mistaken for a violent vagabond. But his fine qualities being perfectly understood and appreciated in those regions where his lot was cast, and where he had many kindred spirits to consort with, he may be regarded as having been born under a fortunate star, which is not always the case with a man so much before the age in which he lives. Preferring, with a view to the gratification of his tickling and ripping fancies, to dwell upon the outskirts of society, and in the more remote towns and cities, he was in the habit of emigrating from place to place, and establishing in each some business—usually a newspaper—which he presently sold; for the most part closing the bargain by challenging, stabbing, pistolling, or gouging the new editor, before he had quite taken possession of the property.
He had come to Eden on a speculation of this kind, but had abandoned it, and was about to leave. He always introduced himself to strangers as a worshipper of Freedom; was the consistent advocate of Lynch law, and slavery; and invariably recommended, both in print and speech, the 'tarring and feathering' of any unpopular person who differed from himself. He called this 'planting the standard of civilization in the wilder gardens of My country.'
There is little doubt that Chollop would have planted this standard in Eden at Mark's expense, in return for his plainness of speech (for the genuine Freedom is dumb, save when she vaunts herself), but for the utter desolation and decay prevailing in the settlement, and his own approaching departure from it. As it was, he contented himself with showing Mark one of the revolving-pistols, and asking him what he thought of that weapon.
'It ain't long since I shot a man down with that, sir, in the State of IllinOY,' observed Chollop.
'Did you, indeed!' said Mark, without the smallest agitation. 'Very free of you. And very independent!'
'I shot him down, sir,' pursued Chollop, 'for asserting in the Spartan Portico, a tri-weekly journal, that the ancient Athenians went a-head of the present Locofoco Ticket.'
'And what's that?' asked Mark.
'Europian not to know,' said Chollop, smoking placidly. 'Europian quite!'
After a short devotion to the interests of the magic circle, he resumed the conversation by observing:
'You won't half feel yourself at home in Eden, now?'
'No,' said Mark, 'I don't.'
'You miss the imposts of your country. You miss the house dues?' observed Chollop.
'And the houses—rather,' said Mark.
'No window dues here, sir,' observed Chollop.
'And no windows to put 'em on,' said Mark.
'No stakes, no dungeons, no blocks, no racks, no scaffolds, no thumbscrews, no pikes, no pillories,' said Chollop.
'Nothing but rewolwers and bowie-knives,' returned Mark. 'And what are they? Not worth mentioning!'
The man who had met them on the night of their arrival came crawling up at this juncture, and looked in at the door.
'Well, sir,' said Chollop. 'How do YOU git along?'
He had considerable difficulty in getting along at all, and said as much in reply.
'Mr Co. And me, sir,' observed Chollop, 'are disputating a piece. He ought to be slicked up pretty smart to disputate between the Old World and the New, I do expect?'
'Well!' returned the miserable shadow. 'So he had.'
'I was merely observing, sir,' said Mark, addressing this new visitor, 'that I looked upon the city in which we have the honour to live, as being swampy. What's your sentiments?'
'I opinionate it's moist perhaps, at certain times,' returned the man.
'But not as moist as England, sir?' cried Chollop, with a fierce expression in his face.
'Oh! Not as moist as England; let alone its Institutions,' said the man.
'I should hope there ain't a swamp in all Americay, as don't whip THAT small island into mush and molasses,' observed Chollop, decisively. 'You bought slick, straight, and right away, of Scadder, sir?' to Mark.
He answered in the affirmative. Mr Chollop winked at the other citizen.
'Scadder is a smart man, sir? He is a rising man? He is a man as will come up'ards, right side up, sir?' Mr Chollop winked again at the other citizen.
'He should have his right side very high up, if I had my way,' said Mark. 'As high up as the top of a good tall gallows, perhaps.'
Mr Chollop was so delighted at the smartness of his excellent countryman having been too much for the Britisher, and at the Britisher's resenting it, that he could contain himself no longer, and broke forth in a shout of delight. But the strangest exposition of this ruling passion was in the other—the pestilence-stricken, broken, miserable shadow of a man—who derived so much entertainment from the circumstance that he seemed to forget his own ruin in thinking of it, and laughed outright when he said 'that Scadder was a smart man, and had draw'd a lot of British capital that way, as sure as sun-up.'
After a full enjoyment of this joke, Mr Hannibal Chollop sat smoking and improving the circle, without making any attempts either to converse or to take leave; apparently labouring under the not uncommon delusion that for a free and enlightened citizen of the United States to convert another man's house into a spittoon for two or three hours together, was a delicate attention, full of interest and politeness, of which nobody could ever tire. At last he rose.
'I am a-going easy,' he observed.
Mark entreated him to take particular care of himself.
'Afore I go,' he said sternly, 'I have got a leetle word to say to you. You are darnation 'cute, you are.'