'Tom,' he said, as they were walking along, 'I begin to think you must be somebody's son.'
'I suppose I am,' Tom answered in his quiet way.
'But I mean somebody's of consequence.'
'Bless your heart,' replied Tom, 'my poor father was of no consequence, nor my mother either.'
'You remember them perfectly, then?'
'Remember them? oh dear yes. My poor mother was the last. She died when Ruth was a mere baby, and then we both became a charge upon the savings of that good old grandmother I used to tell you of. You remember! Oh! There's nothing romantic in our history, John.'
'Very well,' said John in quiet despair. 'Then there is no way of accounting for my visitor of this morning. So we'll not try, Tom.'
They did try, notwithstanding, and never left off trying until they got to Austin Friars, where, in a very dark passage on the first floor, oddly situated at the back of a house, across some leads, they found a little blear-eyed glass door up in one corner, with Mr FIPS painted on it in characters which were meant to be transparent. There was also a wicked old sideboard hiding in the gloom hard by, meditating designs upon the ribs of visitors; and an old mat, worn into lattice work, which, being useless as a mat (even if anybody could have seen it, which was impossible), had for many years directed its industry into another channel, and regularly tripped up every one of Mr Fips's clients.
Mr Fips, hearing a violent concussion between a human hat and his office door, was apprised, by the usual means of communication, that somebody had come to call upon him, and giving that somebody admission, observed that it was 'rather dark.'
'Dark indeed,' John whispered in Tom Pinch's ear. 'Not a bad place to dispose of a countryman in, I should think, Tom.'
Tom had been already turning over in his mind the possibility of their having been tempted into that region to furnish forth a pie; but the sight of Mr Fips, who was small and spare, and looked peaceable, and wore black shorts and powder, dispelled his doubts.
'Walk in,' said Mr Fips.
They walked in. And a mighty yellow-jaundiced little office Mr Fips had of it; with a great, black, sprawling splash upon the floor in one corner, as if some old clerk had cut his throat there, years ago, and had let out ink instead of blood.
'I have brought my friend Mr Pinch, sir,' said John Westlock.
'Be pleased to sit,' said Mr Fips.
They occupied the two chairs, and Mr Fips took the office stool from the stuffing whereof he drew forth a piece of horse-hair of immense length, which he put into his mouth with a great appearance of appetite.
He looked at Tom Pinch curiously, but with an entire freedom from any such expression as could be reasonably construed into an unusual display of interest. After a short silence, during which Mr Fips was so perfectly unembarrassed as to render it manifest that he could have broken it sooner without hesitation, if he had felt inclined to do so, he asked if Mr Westlock had made his offer fully known to Mr Pinch.
John answered in the affirmative.
'And you think it worth your while, sir, do you?' Mr Fips inquired of Tom.
'I think it a piece of great good fortune, sir,' said Tom. 'I am exceedingly obliged to you for the offer.'
'Not to me,' said Mr Fips. 'I act upon instructions.'
'To your friend, sir, then,' said Tom. 'To the gentleman with whom I am to engage, and whose confidence I shall endeavour to deserve. When he knows me better, sir, I hope he will not lose his good opinion of me. He will find me punctual and vigilant, and anxious to do what is right. That I think I can answer for, and so,' looking towards him, 'can Mr Westlock.'
'Most assuredly,' said John.
Mr Fips appeared to have some little difficulty in resuming the conversation. To relieve himself, he took up the wafer-stamp, and began stamping capital F's all over his legs.
'The fact is,' said Mr Fips, 'that my friend is not, at this present moment, in town.'
Tom's countenance fell; for he thought this equivalent to telling him that his appearance did not answer; and that Fips must look out for somebody else.
'When do you think he will be in town, sir?' he asked.
'I can't say; it's impossible to tell. I really have no idea. But,' said Fips, taking off a very deep impression of the wafer-stamp upon the calf of his left leg, and looking steadily at Tom, 'I don't know that it's a matter of much consequence.'
Poor Tom inclined his head deferentially, but appeared to doubt that.
'I say,' repeated Mr Fips, 'that I don't know it's a matter of much consequence. The business lies entirely between yourself and me, Mr Pinch. With reference to your duties, I can set you going; and with reference to your salary, I can pay it. Weekly,' said Mr Fips, putting down the wafer-stamp, and looking at John Westlock and Tom Pinch by turns, 'weekly; in this office; at any time between the hours of four and five o'clock in the afternoon.' As Mr Fips said this, he made up his face as if he were going to whistle. But he didn't.
'You are very good,' said Tom, whose countenance was now suffused with pleasure; 'and nothing can be more satisfactory or straightforward. My attendance will be required—'
'From half-past nine to four o'clock or so, I should say,' interrupted Mr Fips. 'About that.'
'I did not mean the hours of attendance,' retorted Tom, 'which are light and easy, I am sure; but the place.'
'Oh, the place! The place is in the Temple.'
Tom was delighted.
'Perhaps,' said Mr Fips, 'you would like to see the place?'
'Oh, dear!' cried Tom. 'I shall only be too glad to consider myself engaged, if you will allow me; without any further reference to the place.'
'You may consider yourself engaged, by all means,' said Mr Fips; 'you couldn't meet me at the Temple Gate in Fleet Street, in an hour from this time, I suppose, could you?'
Certainly Tom could.
'Good,' said Mr Fips, rising. 'Then I will show you the place; and you can begin your attendance to-morrow morning. In an hour, therefore, I shall see you. You too, Mr Westlock? Very good. Take care how you go. It's rather dark.'
With this remark, which seemed superfluous, he shut them out upon the staircase, and they groped their way into the street again. The interview had done so little to remove the mystery in which Tom's new engagement was involved, and had done so much to thicken it, that neither could help smiling at the puzzled looks of the other. They agreed, however, that the introduction of Tom to his new office and office companions could hardly fail to throw a light upon the subject; and therefore postponed its further consideration until after the fulfillment of the appointment they had made with Mr Fips.
After looking at John Westlock's chambers, and devoting a few spare minutes to the Boar's Head, they issued forth again to the place of meeting. The time agreed upon had not quite come; but Mr Fips was already at the Temple Gate, and expressed his satisfaction at their punctuality.
He led the way through sundry lanes and courts, into one more quiet and more gloomy than the rest, and, singling out a certain house, ascended a common staircase; taking from his pocket, as he went, a bunch of rusty keys. Stopping before a door upon an upper story, which had nothing but a yellow smear of paint where custom would have placed the tenant's name, he began to beat the dust out of one of these keys, very deliberately, upon the great broad handrail of the balustrade.
'You had better have a little plug made,' he said, looking round at Tom, after blowing a shrill whistle into the barrel of the key. 'It's the only way of preventing them from getting stopped up. You'll find the lock go the better, too, I dare say, for a little oil.'
Tom thanked him; but was too much occupied with his own speculations, and John Westlock's looks, to be very talkative. In the meantime Mr Fips opened the door, which yielded to his hand very unwillingly, and with a horribly discordant sound. He took the key out, when he had done so, and gave it to Tom.
'Aye, aye!' said Mr Fips. 'The dust lies rather thick here.'
Truly, it did. Mr Fips might have gone so far as to say, very thick. It had accumulated everywhere; lay deep on everything, and in one part, where a ray of sun shone through a crevice in the shutter and struck upon the opposite wall, it went twirling round and round, like a gigantic squirrel-cage.
Dust was the only thing in the place that had any motion about it. When their conductor admitted the light freely, and lifting up the heavy window-sash, let in the summer air, he showed the mouldering furniture, discoloured wainscoting and ceiling, rusty stove, and ashy hearth, in all their inert neglect. Close to the door there stood a candlestick, with an extinguisher upon it; as if the last man who had been there had paused, after securing a retreat, to take a parting look at the dreariness he left behind, and then had shut out light and life together, and closed the place up like a tomb.
There were two rooms on that floor; and in the first or outer one a narrow staircase, leading to two more above. These last were fitted up as bed-chambers. Neither in them, nor in the rooms below, was any scarcity of convenient furniture observable, although the fittings were of a bygone fashion; but solitude and want of use seemed to have rendered it unfit for any purposes of comfort, and to have given it a grisly, haunted air.
Movables of every kind lay strewn about, without the least attempt at order, and were intermixed with boxes, hampers, and all sorts of lumber. On all the floors were piles of books, to the amount, perhaps, of some thousands of volumes: these, still in bales; those, wrapped in paper, as they had been purchased; others scattered singly or in heaps; not one upon the shelves which lined the walls. To these Mr Fips called Tom's attention.
'Before anything else can be done, we must have them put in order, catalogued, and ranged upon the book-shelves, Mr Pinch. That will do to begin with, I think, sir.'
Tom rubbed his hands in the pleasant anticipation of a task so congenial to his taste, and said:
'An occupation full of interest for me, I assure you. It will occupy me, perhaps, until Mr—'
'Until Mr—' repeated Fips; as much as to ask Tom what he was stopping for.
'I forgot that you had not mentioned the gentleman's name,' said Tom.
'Oh!' cried Mr Fips, pulling on his glove, 'didn't I? No, by-the-bye, I don't think I did. Ah! I dare say he'll be here soon. You will get on very well together, I have no doubt. I wish you success I am sure. You won't forget to shut the door? It'll lock of itself if you slam it. Half-past nine, you know. Let us say from half-past nine to four, or half-past four, or thereabouts; one day, perhaps, a little earlier, another day, perhaps, a little later, according as you feel disposed, and as you arrange your work. Mr Fips, Austin Friars of course you'll remember? And you won't forget to slam the door, if you please!'
He said all this in such a comfortable, easy manner, that Tom could only rub his hands, and nod his head, and smile in acquiescence which he was still doing, when Mr Fips walked coolly out.
'Why, he's gone!' cried Tom.
'And what's more, Tom,' said John Westlock, seating himself upon a pile of books, and looking up at his astonished friend, 'he is evidently not coming back again; so here you are, installed. Under rather singular circumstances, Tom!'
It was such an odd affair throughout, and Tom standing there among the books with his hat in one hand and the key in the other, looked so prodigiously confounded, that his friend could not help laughing heartily. Tom himself was tickled; no less by the hilarity of his friend than by the recollection of the sudden manner in which he had been brought to a stop, in the very height of his urbane conference with Mr Fips; so by degrees Tom burst out laughing too; and each making the other laugh more, they fairly roared.
When they had had their laugh out, which did not happen very soon, for give John an inch that way and he was sure to take several ells, being a jovial, good-tempered fellow, they looked about them more closely, groping among the lumber for any stray means of enlightenment that might turn up. But no scrap or shred of information could they find. The books were marked with a variety of owner's names, having, no doubt, been bought at sales, and collected here and there at different times; but whether any one of these names belonged to Tom's employer, and, if so, which of them, they had no means whatever of determining. It occurred to John as a very bright thought to make inquiry at the steward's office, to whom the chambers belonged, or by whom they were held; but he came back no wiser than he went, the answer being, 'Mr Fips, of Austin Friars.'
'After all, Tom, I begin to think it lies no deeper than this. Fips is an eccentric man; has some knowledge of Pecksniff; despises him, of course; has heard or seen enough of you to know that you are the man he wants; and engages you in his own whimsical manner.'
'But why in his own whimsical manner?' asked Tom.
'Oh! why does any man entertain his own whimsical taste? Why does Mr Fips wear shorts and powder, and Mr Fips's next-door neighbour boots and a wig?'
Tom, being in that state of mind in which any explanation is a great relief, adopted this last one (which indeed was quite as feasible as any other) readily, and said he had no doubt of it. Nor was his faith at all shaken by his having said exactly the same thing to each suggestion of his friend's in turn, and being perfectly ready to say it again if he had any new solution to propose.
As he had not, Tom drew down the window-sash, and folded the shutter; and they left the rooms. He closed the door heavily, as Mr Fips had desired him; tried it, found it all safe, and put the key in his pocket.
They made a pretty wide circuit in going back to Islington, as they had time to spare, and Tom was never tired of looking about him. It was well he had John Westlock for his companion, for most people would have been weary of his perpetual stoppages at shop-windows, and his frequent dashes into the crowded carriage-way at the peril of his life, to get the better view of church steeples, and other public buildings. But John was charmed to see him so much interested, and every time Tom came back with a beaming face from among the wheels of carts and hackney-coaches, wholly unconscious of the personal congratulations addressed to him by the drivers, John seemed to like him better than before.
There was no flour on Ruth's hands when she received them in the triangular parlour, but there were pleasant smiles upon her face, and a crowd of welcomes shining out of every smile, and gleaming in her bright eyes. By the bye, how bright they were! Looking into them for but a moment, when you took her hand, you saw, in each, such a capital miniature of yourself, representing you as such a restless, flashing, eager, brilliant little fellow—
Ah! if you could only have kept them for your own miniature! But, wicked, roving, restless, too impartial eyes, it was enough for any one to stand before them, and, straightway, there he danced and sparkled quite as merrily as you!
The table was already spread for dinner; and though it was spread with nothing very choice in the way of glass or linen, and with green-handled knives, and very mountebanks of two-pronged forks, which seemed to be trying how far asunder they could possibly stretch their legs without converting themselves into double the number of iron toothpicks, it wanted neither damask, silver, gold, nor china; no, nor any other garniture at all. There it was; and, being there, nothing else would have done as well.
The success of that initiative dish; that first experiment of hers in cookery; was so entire, so unalloyed and perfect, that John Westlock and Tom agreed she must have been studying the art in secret for a long time past; and urged her to make a full confession of the fact. They were exceedingly merry over this jest, and many smart things were said concerning it; but John was not as fair in his behaviour as might have been expected, for, after luring Tom Pinch on for a long time, he suddenly went over to the enemy, and swore to everything his sister said. However, as Tom observed the same night before going to bed, it was only in joke, and John had always been famous for being polite to ladies, even when he was quite a boy. Ruth said, 'Oh! indeed!' She didn't say anything else.
It is astonishing how much three people may find to talk about. They scarcely left off talking once. And it was not all lively chat which occupied them; for when Tom related how he had seen Mr Pecksniff's daughters, and what a change had fallen on the younger, they were very serious.
John Westlock became quite absorbed in her fortunes; asking many questions of Tom Pinch about her marriage, inquiring whether her husband was the gentleman whom Tom had brought to dine with him at Salisbury; in what degree of relationship they stood towards each other, being different persons; and taking, in short, the greatest interest in the subject. Tom then went into it, at full length; he told how Martin had gone abroad, and had not been heard of for a long time; how Dragon Mark had borne him company; how Mr Pecksniff had got the poor old doting grandfather into his power; and how he basely sought the hand of Mary Graham. But not a word said Tom of what lay hidden in his heart; his heart, so deep, and true, and full of honour, and yet with so much room for every gentle and unselfish thought; not a word.
Tom, Tom! The man in all this world most confident in his sagacity and shrewdness; the man in all this world most proud of his distrust of other men, and having most to show in gold and silver as the gains belonging to his creed; the meekest favourer of that wise doctrine, Every man for himself, and God for us all (there being high wisdom in the thought that the Eternal Majesty of Heaven ever was, or can be, on the side of selfish lust and love!); shall never find, oh, never find, be sure of that, the time come home to him, when all his wisdom is an idiot's folly, weighed against a simple heart!
Well, well, Tom, it was simple too, though simple in a different way, to be so eager touching that same theatre, of which John said, when tea was done, he had the absolute command, so far as taking parties in without the payment of a sixpence was concerned; and simpler yet, perhaps, never to suspect that when he went in first, alone, he paid the money! Simple in thee, dear Tom, to laugh and cry so heartily at such a sorry show, so poorly shown; simple to be so happy and loquacious trudging home with Ruth; simple to be so surprised to find that merry present of a cookery-book awaiting her in the parlour next morning, with the beef-steak-pudding-leaf turned down and blotted out. There! Let the record stand! Thy quality of soul was simple, simple, quite contemptible, Tom Pinch!
THE PINCHES MAKE A NEW ACQUAINTANCE, AND HAVE FRESH OCCASION FOR SURPRISE AND WONDER
There was a ghostly air about these uninhabited chambers in the Temple, and attending every circumstance of Tom's employment there, which had a strange charm in it. Every morning when he shut his door at Islington, he turned his face towards an atmosphere of unaccountable fascination, as surely as he turned it to the London smoke; and from that moment it thickened round and round him all day long, until the time arrived for going home again, and leaving it, like a motionless cloud, behind.
It seemed to Tom, every morning, that he approached this ghostly mist, and became enveloped in it, by the easiest succession of degrees imaginable. Passing from the roar and rattle of the streets into the quiet court-yards of the Temple, was the first preparation. Every echo of his footsteps sounded to him like a sound from the old walls and pavements, wanting language to relate the histories of the dim, dismal rooms; to tell him what lost documents were decaying in forgotten corners of the shut-up cellars, from whose lattices such mouldy sighs came breathing forth as he went past; to whisper of dark bins of rare old wine, bricked up in vaults among the old foundations of the Halls; or mutter in a lower tone yet darker legends of the cross-legged knights, whose marble effigies were in the church. With the first planting of his foot upon the staircase of his dusty office, all these mysteries increased; until, ascending step by step, as Tom ascended, they attained their full growth in the solitary labours of the day.
Every day brought one recurring, never-failing source of speculation. This employer; would he come to-day, and what would he be like? For Tom could not stop short at Mr Fips; he quite believed that Mr Fips had spoken truly, when he said he acted for another; and what manner of man that other was, became a full-blown flower of wonder in the garden of Tom's fancy, which never faded or got trodden down.
At one time, he conceived that Mr Pecksniff, repenting of his falsehood, might, by exertion of his influence with some third person have devised these means of giving him employment. He found this idea so insupportable after what had taken place between that good man and himself, that he confided it to John Westlock on the very same day; informing John that he would rather ply for hire as a porter, than fall so low in his own esteem as to accept the smallest obligation from the hands of Mr Pecksniff. But John assured him that he (Tom Pinch) was far from doing justice to the character of Mr Pecksniff yet, if he supposed that gentleman capable of performing a generous action; and that he might make his mind quite easy on that head until he saw the sun turn green and the moon black, and at the same time distinctly perceived with the naked eye, twelve first-rate comets careering round those planets. In which unusual state of things, he said (and not before), it might become not absolutely lunatic to suspect Mr Pecksniff of anything so monstrous. In short he laughed the idea down completely; and Tom, abandoning it, was thrown upon his beam-ends again, for some other solution.
In the meantime Tom attended to his duties daily, and made considerable progress with the books; which were already reduced to some sort of order, and made a great appearance in his fairly-written catalogue. During his business hours, he indulged himself occasionally with snatches of reading; which were often, indeed, a necessary part of his pursuit; and as he usually made bold to carry one of these goblin volumes home at night (always bringing it back again next morning, in case his strange employer should appear and ask what had become of it), he led a happy, quiet, studious kind of life, after his own heart.
But though the books were never so interesting, and never so full of novelty to Tom, they could not so enchain him, in those mysterious chambers, as to render him unconscious, for a moment, of the lightest sound. Any footstep on the flags without set him listening attentively and when it turned into that house, and came up, up, up the stairs, he always thought with a beating heart, 'Now I am coming face to face with him at last!' But no footstep ever passed the floor immediately below: except his own.
This mystery and loneliness engendered fancies in Tom's mind, the folly of which his common sense could readily discover, but which his common sense was quite unable to keep away, notwithstanding; that quality being with most of us, in such a case, like the old French Police—quick at detection, but very weak as a preventive power. Misgivings, undefined, absurd, inexplicable, that there was some one hiding in the inner room—walking softly overhead, peeping in through the door-chink, doing something stealthy, anywhere where he was not—came over him a hundred times a day, making it pleasant to throw up the sash, and hold communication even with the sparrows who had built in the roof and water-spout, and were twittering about the windows all day long.
He sat with the outer door wide open, at all times, that he might hear the footsteps as they entered, and turned off into the chambers on the lower floor. He formed odd prepossessions too, regarding strangers in the streets; and would say within himself of such or such a man, who struck him as having anything uncommon in his dress or aspect, 'I shouldn't wonder, now, if that were he!' But it never was. And though he actually turned back and followed more than one of these suspected individuals, in a singular belief that they were going to the place he was then upon his way from, he never got any other satisfaction by it, than the satisfaction of knowing it was not the case.
Mr Fips, of Austin Friars, rather deepened than illumined the obscurity of his position; for on the first occasion of Tom's waiting on him to receive his weekly pay, he said:
'Oh! by the bye, Mr Pinch, you needn't mention it, if you please!'
Tom thought he was going to tell him a secret; so he said that he wouldn't on any account, and that Mr Fips might entirely depend upon him. But as Mr Fips said 'Very good,' in reply, and nothing more, Tom prompted him:
'Not on any account,' repeated Tom.
Mr Fips repeated: 'Very good.'
'You were going to say'—Tom hinted.
'Oh dear no!' cried Fips. 'Not at all.' However, seeing Tom confused, he added, 'I mean that you needn't mention any particulars about your place of employment, to people generally. You'll find it better not.'
'I have not had the pleasure of seeing my employer yet, sir,' observed Tom, putting his week's salary in his pocket.
'Haven't you?' said Fips. 'No, I don't suppose you have though.'
'I should like to thank him, and to know that what I have done so far, is done to his satisfaction,' faltered Tom.
'Quite right,' said Mr Fips, with a yawn. 'Highly creditable. Very proper.'
Tom hastily resolved to try him on another tack.
'I shall soon have finished with the books,' he said. 'I hope that will not terminate my engagement, sir, or render me useless?'
'Oh dear no!' retorted Fips. 'Plenty to do; plen-ty to do! Be careful how you go. It's rather dark.'
This was the very utmost extent of information Tom could ever get out of HIM. So it was dark enough in all conscience; and if Mr Fips expressed himself with a double meaning, he had good reason for doing so.
But now a circumstance occurred, which helped to divert Tom's thoughts from even this mystery, and to divide them between it and a new channel, which was a very Nile in itself.
The way it came about was this. Having always been an early riser and having now no organ to engage him in sweet converse every morning, it was his habit to take a long walk before going to the Temple; and naturally inclining, as a stranger, towards those parts of the town which were conspicuous for the life and animation pervading them, he became a great frequenter of the market-places, bridges, quays, and especially the steam-boat wharves; for it was very lively and fresh to see the people hurrying away upon their many schemes of business or pleasure, and it made Tom glad to think that there was that much change and freedom in the monotonous routine of city lives.
In most of these morning excursions Ruth accompanied him. As their landlord was always up and away at his business (whatever that might be, no one seemed to know) at a very early hour, the habits of the people of the house in which they lodged corresponded with their own. Thus they had often finished their breakfast, and were out in the summer air, by seven o'clock. After a two hours' stroll they parted at some convenient point; Tom going to the Temple, and his sister returning home, as methodically as you please.
Many and many a pleasant stroll they had in Covent Garden Market; snuffing up the perfume of the fruits and flowers, wondering at the magnificence of the pineapples and melons; catching glimpses down side avenues, of rows and rows of old women, seated on inverted baskets, shelling peas; looking unutterable things at the fat bundles of asparagus with which the dainty shops were fortified as with a breastwork; and, at the herbalist's doors, gratefully inhaling scents as of veal-stuffing yet uncooked, dreamily mixed up with capsicums, brown-paper, seeds, even with hints of lusty snails and fine young curly leeches. Many and many a pleasant stroll they had among the poultry markets, where ducks and fowls, with necks unnaturally long, lay stretched out in pairs, ready for cooking; where there were speckled eggs in mossy baskets, white country sausages beyond impeachment by surviving cat or dog, or horse or donkey; new cheeses to any wild extent, live birds in coops and cages, looking much too big to be natural, in consequence of those receptacles being much too little; rabbits, alive and dead, innumerable. Many a pleasant stroll they had among the cool, refreshing, silvery fish-stalls, with a kind of moonlight effect about their stock-in-trade, excepting always for the ruddy lobsters. Many a pleasant stroll among the waggon-loads of fragrant hay, beneath which dogs and tired waggoners lay fast asleep, oblivious of the pieman and the public-house. But never half so good a stroll as down among the steamboats on a bright morning.
There they lay, alongside of each other; hard and fast for ever, to all appearance, but designing to get out somehow, and quite confident of doing it; and in that faith shoals of passengers, and heaps of luggage, were proceeding hurriedly on board. Little steam-boats dashed up and down the stream incessantly. Tiers upon tiers of vessels, scores of masts, labyrinths of tackle, idle sails, splashing oars, gliding row-boats, lumbering barges, sunken piles, with ugly lodgings for the water-rat within their mud-discoloured nooks; church steeples, warehouses, house-roofs, arches, bridges, men and women, children, casks, cranes, boxes horses, coaches, idlers, and hard-labourers; there they were, all jumbled up together, any summer morning, far beyond Tom's power of separation.
In the midst of all this turmoil there was an incessant roar from every packet's funnel, which quite expressed and carried out the uppermost emotion of the scene. They all appeared to be perspiring and bothering themselves, exactly as their passengers did; they never left off fretting and chafing, in their own hoarse manner, once; but were always panting out, without any stops, 'Come along do make haste I'm very nervous come along oh good gracious we shall never get there how late you are do make haste I'm off directly come along!'
Even when they had left off, and had got safely out into the current, on the smallest provocation they began again; for the bravest packet of them all, being stopped by some entanglement in the river, would immediately begin to fume and pant afresh, 'oh here's a stoppage what's the matter do go on there I'm in a hurry it's done on purpose did you ever oh my goodness DO go on here!' and so, in a state of mind bordering on distraction, would be last seen drifting slowly through the mist into the summer light beyond, that made it red.
Tom's ship, however; or, at least, the packet-boat in which Tom and his sister took the greatest interest on one particular occasion; was not off yet, by any means; but was at the height of its disorder. The press of passengers was very great; another steam-boat lay on each side of her; the gangways were choked up; distracted women, obviously bound for Gravesend, but turning a deaf ear to all representations that this particular vessel was about to sail for Antwerp, persisted in secreting baskets of refreshments behind bulk-heads, and water-casks, and under seats; and very great confusion prevailed.
It was so amusing, that Tom, with Ruth upon his arm, stood looking down from the wharf, as nearly regardless as it was in the nature of flesh and blood to be, of an elderly lady behind him, who had brought a large umbrella with her, and didn't know what to do with it. This tremendous instrument had a hooked handle; and its vicinity was first made known to him by a painful pressure on the windpipe, consequent upon its having caught him round the throat. Soon after disengaging himself with perfect good humour, he had a sensation of the ferule in his back; immediately afterwards, of the hook entangling his ankles; then of the umbrella generally, wandering about his hat, and flapping at it like a great bird; and, lastly, of a poke or thrust below the ribs, which give him such exceeding anguish, that he could not refrain from turning round to offer a mild remonstrance.
Upon his turning round, he found the owner of the umbrella struggling on tip-toe, with a countenance expressive of violent animosity, to look down upon the steam-boats; from which he inferred that she had attacked him, standing in the front row, by design, and as her natural enemy.
'What a very ill-natured person you must be!' said Tom.
The lady cried out fiercely, 'Where's the pelisse!'—meaning the constabulary—and went on to say, shaking the handle of the umbrella at Tom, that but for them fellers never being in the way when they was wanted, she'd have given him in charge, she would.
'If they greased their whiskers less, and minded the duties which they're paid so heavy for, a little more,' she observed, 'no one needn't be drove mad by scrouding so!'
She had been grievously knocked about, no doubt, for her bonnet was bent into the shape of a cocked hat. Being a fat little woman, too, she was in a state of great exhaustion and intense heat. Instead of pursuing the altercation, therefore, Tom civilly inquired what boat she wanted to go on board of?
'I suppose,' returned the lady, 'as nobody but yourself can want to look at a steam package, without wanting to go a-boarding of it, can they! Booby!'
'Which one do you want to look at then?' said Tom. 'We'll make room for you if we can. Don't be so ill-tempered.'
'No blessed creetur as ever I was with in trying times,' returned the lady, somewhat softened, 'and they're a many in their numbers, ever brought it as a charge again myself that I was anythin' but mild and equal in my spirits. Never mind a contradicting of me, if you seem to feel it does you good, ma'am, I often says, for well you know that Sairey may be trusted not to give it back again. But I will not denige that I am worrited and wexed this day, and with good reagion, Lord forbid!'
By this time, Mrs Gamp (for it was no other than that experienced practitioner) had, with Tom's assistance, squeezed and worked herself into a small corner between Ruth and the rail; where, after breathing very hard for some little time, and performing a short series of dangerous evolutions with her umbrella, she managed to establish herself pretty comfortably.
'And which of all them smoking monsters is the Ankworks boat, I wonder. Goodness me!' cried Mrs Gamp.
'What boat did you want?' asked Ruth.
'The Ankworks package,' Mrs Gamp replied. 'I will not deceive you, my sweet. Why should I?'
'That is the Antwerp packet in the middle,' said Ruth.
'And I wish it was in Jonadge's belly, I do,' cried Mrs Gamp; appearing to confound the prophet with the whale in this miraculous aspiration.
Ruth said nothing in reply; but, as Mrs Gamp, laying her chin against the cool iron of the rail, continued to look intently at the Antwerp boat, and every now and then to give a little groan, she inquired whether any child of hers was going aboard that morning? Or perhaps her husband, she said kindly.
'Which shows,' said Mrs Gamp, casting up her eyes, 'what a little way you've travelled into this wale of life, my dear young creetur! As a good friend of mine has frequent made remark to me, which her name, my love, is Harris, Mrs Harris through the square and up the steps a-turnin' round by the tobacker shop, "Oh Sairey, Sairey, little do we know wot lays afore us!" "Mrs Harris, ma'am," I says, "not much, it's true, but more than you suppoge. Our calcilations, ma'am," I says, "respectin' wot the number of a family will be, comes most times within one, and oftener than you would suppoge, exact." "Sairey," says Mrs Harris, in a awful way, "Tell me wot is my indiwidgle number." "No, Mrs Harris," I says to her, "ex-cuge me, if you please. My own," I says, "has fallen out of three-pair backs, and had damp doorsteps settled on their lungs, and one was turned up smilin' in a bedstead unbeknown. Therefore, ma'am," I says, "seek not to proticipate, but take 'em as they come and as they go." Mine,' says Mrs Gamp, 'mine is all gone, my dear young chick. And as to husbands, there's a wooden leg gone likeways home to its account, which in its constancy of walkin' into wine vaults, and never comin' out again 'till fetched by force, was quite as weak as flesh, if not weaker.'
When she had delivered this oration, Mrs Gamp leaned her chin upon the cool iron again; and looking intently at the Antwerp packet, shook her head and groaned.
'I wouldn't,' said Mrs Gamp, 'I wouldn't be a man and have such a think upon my mind!—but nobody as owned the name of man, could do it!'
Tom and his sister glanced at each other; and Ruth, after a moment's hesitation, asked Mrs Gamp what troubled her so much.
'My dear,' returned that lady, dropping her voice, 'you are single, ain't you?'
Ruth laughed blushed, and said 'Yes.'
'Worse luck,' proceeded Mrs Gamp, 'for all parties! But others is married, and in the marriage state; and there is a dear young creetur a-comin' down this mornin' to that very package, which is no more fit to trust herself to sea, than nothin' is!'
She paused here to look over the deck of the packet in question, and on the steps leading down to it, and on the gangways. Seeming to have thus assured herself that the object of her commiseration had not yet arrived, she raised her eyes gradually up to the top of the escape-pipe, and indignantly apostrophised the vessel:
'Oh, drat you!' said Mrs Gamp, shaking her umbrella at it, 'you're a nice spluttering nisy monster for a delicate young creetur to go and be a passinger by; ain't you! YOU never do no harm in that way, do you? With your hammering, and roaring, and hissing, and lamp-iling, you brute! Them Confugion steamers,' said Mrs Gamp, shaking her umbrella again, 'has done more to throw us out of our reg'lar work and bring ewents on at times when nobody counted on 'em (especially them screeching railroad ones), than all the other frights that ever was took. I have heerd of one young man, a guard upon a railway, only three years opened—well does Mrs Harris know him, which indeed he is her own relation by her sister's marriage with a master sawyer—as is godfather at this present time to six-and-twenty blessed little strangers, equally unexpected, and all on 'um named after the Ingeines as was the cause. Ugh!' said Mrs Gamp, resuming her apostrophe, 'one might easy know you was a man's inwention, from your disregardlessness of the weakness of our naturs, so one might, you brute!'
It would not have been unnatural to suppose, from the first part of Mrs Gamp's lamentations, that she was connected with the stage-coaching or post-horsing trade. She had no means of judging of the effect of her concluding remarks upon her young companion; for she interrupted herself at this point, and exclaimed:
'There she identically goes! Poor sweet young creetur, there she goes, like a lamb to the sacrifige! If there's any illness when that wessel gets to sea,' said Mrs Gamp, prophetically, 'it's murder, and I'm the witness for the persecution.'
She was so very earnest on the subject, that Tom's sister (being as kind as Tom himself) could not help saying something to her in reply.
'Pray, which is the lady,' she inquired, 'in whom you are so much interested?'
'There!' groaned Mrs Gamp. 'There she goes! A-crossin' the little wooden bridge at this minute. She's a-slippin' on a bit of orangepeel!' tightly clutching her umbrella. 'What a turn it give me.'
'Do you mean the lady who is with that man wrapped up from head to foot in a large cloak, so that his face is almost hidden?'
'Well he may hide it!' Mrs Gamp replied. 'He's good call to be ashamed of himself. Did you see him a-jerking of her wrist, then?'
'He seems to be hasty with her, indeed.'
'Now he's a-taking of her down into the close cabin!' said Mrs Gamp, impatiently. 'What's the man about! The deuce is in him, I think. Why can't he leave her in the open air?'
He did not, whatever his reason was, but led her quickly down and disappeared himself, without loosening his cloak, or pausing on the crowded deck one moment longer than was necessary to clear their way to that part of the vessel.
Tom had not heard this little dialogue; for his attention had been engaged in an unexpected manner. A hand upon his sleeve had caused him to look round, just when Mrs Gamp concluded her apostrophe to the steam-engine; and on his right arm, Ruth being on his left, he found their landlord, to his great surprise.
He was not so much surprised at the man's being there, as at his having got close to him so quietly and swiftly; for another person had been at his elbow one instant before; and he had not in the meantime been conscious of any change or pressure in the knot of people among whom he stood. He and Ruth had frequently remarked how noiselessly this landlord of theirs came into and went out of his own house; but Tom was not the less amazed to see him at his elbow now.
'I beg your pardon, Mr Pinch,' he said in his ear. 'I am rather infirm, and out of breath, and my eyes are not very good. I am not as young as I was, sir. You don't see a gentleman in a large cloak down yonder, with a lady on his arm; a lady in a veil and a black shawl; do you?'
If HE did not, it was curious that in speaking he should have singled out from all the crowd the very people whom he described; and should have glanced hastily from them to Tom, as if he were burning to direct his wandering eyes.
'A gentleman in a large cloak!' said Tom, 'and a lady in a black shawl! Let me see!'
'Yes, yes!' replied the other, with keen impatience. 'A gentleman muffled up from head to foot—strangely muffled up for such a morning as this—like an invalid, with his hand to his face at this minute, perhaps. No, no, no! not there,' he added, following Tom's gaze; 'the other way; in that direction; down yonder.' Again he indicated, but this time in his hurry, with his outstretched finger, the very spot on which the progress of these persons was checked at that moment.
'There are so many people, and so much motion, and so many objects,' said Tom, 'that I find it difficult to—no, I really don't see a gentleman in a large cloak, and a lady in a black shawl. There's a lady in a red shawl over there!'
'No, no, no!' cried his landlord, pointing eagerly again, 'not there. The other way; the other way. Look at the cabin steps. To the left. They must be near the cabin steps. Do you see the cabin steps? There's the bell ringing already! DO you see the steps?'
'Stay!' said Tom, 'you're right. Look! there they go now. Is that the gentleman you mean? Descending at this minute, with the folds of a great cloak trailing down after him?'
'The very man!' returned the other, not looking at what Tom pointed out, however, but at Tom's own face. 'Will you do me a kindness, sir, a great kindness? Will you put that letter in his hand? Only give him that! He expects it. I am charged to do it by my employers, but I am late in finding him, and, not being as young as I have been, should never be able to make my way on board and off the deck again in time. Will you pardon my boldness, and do me that great kindness?'
His hands shook, and his face bespoke the utmost interest and agitation, as he pressed the letter upon Tom, and pointed to its destination, like the Tempter in some grim old carving.
To hesitate in the performance of a good-natured or compassionate office was not in Tom's way. He took the letter; whispered Ruth to wait till he returned, which would be immediately; and ran down the steps with all the expedition he could make. There were so many people going down, so many others coming up, such heavy goods in course of transit to and fro, such a ringing of bell, blowing-off of steam, and shouting of men's voices, that he had much ado to force his way, or keep in mind to which boat he was going. But he reached the right one with good speed, and going down the cabin-stairs immediately, described the object of his search standing at the upper end of the saloon, with his back towards him, reading some notice which was hung against the wall. As Tom advanced to give him the letter, he started, hearing footsteps, and turned round.
What was Tom's astonishment to find in him the man with whom he had had the conflict in the field—poor Mercy's husband. Jonas!
Tom understood him to say, what the devil did he want; but it was not easy to make out what he said; he spoke so indistinctly.
'I want nothing with you for myself,' said Tom; 'I was asked, a moment since, to give you this letter. You were pointed out to me, but I didn't know you in your strange dress. Take it!'
He did so, opened it, and read the writing on the inside. The contents were evidently very brief; not more perhaps than one line; but they struck upon him like a stone from a sling. He reeled back as he read.
His emotion was so different from any Tom had ever seen before that he stopped involuntarily. Momentary as his state of indecision was, the bell ceased while he stood there, and a hoarse voice calling down the steps, inquired if there was any to go ashore?
'Yes,' cried Jonas, 'I—I am coming. Give me time. Where's that woman! Come back; come back here.'
He threw open another door as he spoke, and dragged, rather than led, her forth. She was pale and frightened, and amazed to see her old acquaintance; but had no time to speak, for they were making a great stir above; and Jonas drew her rapidly towards the deck.
'Where are we going? What is the matter?'
'We are going back,' said Jonas. 'I have changed my mind. I can't go. Don't question me, or I shall be the death of you, or some one else. Stop there! Stop! We're for the shore. Do you hear? We're for the shore!'
He turned, even in the madness of his hurry, and scowling darkly back at Tom, shook his clenched hand at him. There are not many human faces capable of the expression with which he accompanied that gesture.
He dragged her up, and Tom followed them. Across the deck, over the side, along the crazy plank, and up the steps, he dragged her fiercely; not bestowing any look on her, but gazing upwards all the while among the faces on the wharf. Suddenly he turned again, and said to Tom with a tremendous oath:
'Where is he?'
Before Tom, in his indignation and amazement, could return an answer to a question he so little understood, a gentleman approached Tom behind, and saluted Jonas Chuzzlewit by name. He has a gentleman of foreign appearance, with a black moustache and whiskers; and addressed him with a polite composure, strangely different from his own distracted and desperate manner.
'Chuzzlewit, my good fellow!' said the gentleman, raising his hat in compliment to Mrs Chuzzlewit, 'I ask your pardon twenty thousand times. I am most unwilling to interfere between you and a domestic trip of this nature (always so very charming and refreshing, I know, although I have not the happiness to be a domestic man myself, which is the great infelicity of my existence); but the beehive, my dear friend, the beehive—will you introduce me?'
'This is Mr Montague,' said Jonas, whom the words appeared to choke.
'The most unhappy and most penitent of men, Mrs Chuzzlewit,' pursued that gentleman, 'for having been the means of spoiling this excursion; but as I tell my friend, the beehive, the beehive. You projected a short little continental trip, my dear friend, of course?'
Jonas maintained a dogged silence.
'May I die,' cried Montague, 'but I am shocked! Upon my soul I am shocked. But that confounded beehive of ours in the city must be paramount to every other consideration, when there is honey to be made; and that is my best excuse. Here is a very singular old female dropping curtseys on my right,' said Montague, breaking off in his discourse, and looking at Mrs Gamp, 'who is not a friend of mine. Does anybody know her?'
'Ah! Well they knows me, bless their precious hearts!' said Mrs Gamp, 'not forgettin' your own merry one, sir, and long may it be so! Wishin' as every one' (she delivered this in the form of a toast or sentiment) 'was as merry, and as handsome-lookin', as a little bird has whispered me a certain gent is, which I will not name for fear I give offence where none is doo! My precious lady,' here she stopped short in her merriment, for she had until now affected to be vastly entertained, 'you're too pale by half!'
'YOU are here too, are you?' muttered Jonas. 'Ecod, there are enough of you.'
'I hope, sir,' returned Mrs Gamp, dropping an indignant curtsey, 'as no bones is broke by me and Mrs Harris a-walkin' down upon a public wharf. Which was the very words she says to me (although they was the last I ever had to speak) was these: "Sairey," she says, "is it a public wharf?" "Mrs Harris," I makes answer, "can you doubt it? You have know'd me now, ma'am, eight and thirty year; and did you ever know me go, or wish to go, where I was not made welcome, say the words." "No, Sairey," Mrs Harris says, "contrairy quite." And well she knows it too. I am but a poor woman, but I've been sought after, sir, though you may not think it. I've been knocked up at all hours of the night, and warned out by a many landlords, in consequence of being mistook for Fire. I goes out workin' for my bread, 'tis true, but I maintains my independency, with your kind leave, and which I will till death. I has my feelins as a woman, sir, and I have been a mother likeways; but touch a pipkin as belongs to me, or make the least remarks on what I eats or drinks, and though you was the favouritest young for'ard hussy of a servant-gal as ever come into a house, either you leaves the place, or me. My earnins is not great, sir, but I will not be impoged upon. Bless the babe, and save the mother, is my mortar, sir; but I makes so free as add to that, Don't try no impogician with the Nuss, for she will not abear it!'
Mrs Gamp concluded by drawing her shawl tightly over herself with both hands, and, as usual, referring to Mrs Harris for full corroboration of these particulars. She had that peculiar trembling of the head which, in ladies of her excitable nature, may be taken as a sure indication of their breaking out again very shortly; when Jonas made a timely interposition.
'As you ARE here,' he said, 'you had better see to her, and take her home. I am otherwise engaged.' He said nothing more; but looked at Montague as if to give him notice that he was ready to attend him.
'I am sorry to take you away,' said Montague.
Jonas gave him a sinister look, which long lived in Tom's memory, and which he often recalled afterwards.
'I am, upon my life,' said Montague. 'Why did you make it necessary?'
With the same dark glance as before, Jonas replied, after a moment's silence:
'The necessity is none of my making. You have brought it about yourself.'
He said nothing more. He said even this as if he were bound, and in the other's power, but had a sullen and suppressed devil within him, which he could not quite resist. His very gait, as they walked away together, was like that of a fettered man; but, striving to work out at his clenched hands, knitted brows, and fast-set lips, was the same imprisoned devil still.
They got into a handsome cabriolet which was waiting for them and drove away.
The whole of this extraordinary scene had passed so rapidly and the tumult which prevailed around as so unconscious of any impression from it, that, although Tom had been one of the chief actors, it was like a dream. No one had noticed him after they had left the packet. He had stood behind Jonas, and so near him, that he could not help hearing all that passed. He had stood there, with his sister on his arm, expecting and hoping to have an opportunity of explaining his strange share in this yet stranger business. But Jonas had not raised his eyes from the ground; no one else had even looked towards him; and before he could resolve on any course of action, they were all gone.
He gazed round for his landlord. But he had done that more than once already, and no such man was to be seen. He was still pursuing this search with his eyes, when he saw a hand beckoning to him from a hackney-coach; and hurrying towards it, found it was Merry's. She addressed him hurriedly, but bent out of the window, that she might not be overheard by her companion, Mrs Gamp.
'What is it?' she said. 'Good heaven, what is it? Why did he tell me last night to prepare for a long journey, and why have you brought us back like criminals? Dear Mr Pinch!' she clasped her hands distractedly, 'be merciful to us. Whatever this dreadful secret is, be merciful, and God will bless you!'
'If any power of mercy lay with me,' cried Tom, 'trust me, you shouldn't ask in vain. But I am far more ignorant and weak than you.'
She withdrew into the coach again, and he saw the hand waving towards him for a moment; but whether in reproachfulness or incredulity or misery, or grief, or sad adieu, or what else, he could not, being so hurried, understand. SHE was gone now; and Ruth and he were left to walk away, and wonder.
Had Mr Nadgett appointed the man who never came, to meet him upon London Bridge that morning? He was certainly looking over the parapet, and down upon the steamboat-wharf at that moment. It could not have been for pleasure; he never took pleasure. No. He must have had some business there.
MR JONAS AND HIS FRIEND, ARRIVING AT A PLEASANT UNDERSTANDING, SET FORTH UPON AN ENTERPRISE
The office of the Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Loan and Life Assurance Company being near at hand, and Mr Montague driving Jonas straight there, they had very little way to go. But the journey might have been one of several hours' duration, without provoking a remark from either; for it was clear that Jonas did not mean to break the silence which prevailed between them, and that it was not, as yet, his dear friend's cue to tempt them into conversation.
He had thrown aside his cloak, as having now no motive for concealment, and with that garment huddled on his knees, sat as far removed from his companion as the limited space in such a carriage would allow. There was a striking difference in his manner, compared with what it had been, within a few minutes, when Tom encountered him so unexpectedly on board the packet, or when the ugly change had fallen on him in Mr Montague's dressing-room. He had the aspect of a man found out and held at bay; of being baffled, hunted, and beset; but there was now a dawning and increasing purpose in his face, which changed it very much. It was gloomy, distrustful, lowering; pale with anger and defeat; it still was humbled, abject, cowardly and mean; but, let the conflict go on as it would, there was one strong purpose wrestling with every emotion of his mind, and casting the whole series down as they arose.
Not prepossessing in appearance at the best of times, it may be readily supposed that he was not so now. He had left deep marks of his front teeth in his nether lip; and those tokens of the agitation he had lately undergone improved his looks as little as the heavy corrugations in his forehead. But he was self-possessed now; unnaturally self-possessed, indeed, as men quite otherwise than brave are known to be in desperate extremities; and when the carriage stopped, he waited for no invitation, but leapt hardily out, and went upstairs.
The chairman followed him; and closing the board-room door as soon as they had entered, threw himself upon a sofa. Jonas stood before the window, looking down into the street; and leaned against the sash, resting his head upon his arms.
'This is not handsome, Chuzzlewit!' said Montague at length. 'Not handsome upon my soul!'
'What would you have me do?' he answered, looking round abruptly; 'What do you expect?'
'Confidence, my good fellow. Some confidence!' said Montague in an injured tone.
'Ecod! You show great confidence in me,' retorted Jonas. 'Don't you?'
'Do I not?' said his companion, raising his head, and looking at him, but he had turned again. 'Do I not? Have I not confided to you the easy schemes I have formed for our advantage; OUR advantage, mind; not mine alone; and what is my return? Attempted flight!'
'How do you know that? Who said I meant to fly?'
'Who said? Come, come. A foreign boat, my friend, an early hour, a figure wrapped up for disguise! Who said? If you didn't mean to jilt me, why were you there? If you didn't mean to jilt me, why did you come back?'
'I came back,' said Jonas, 'to avoid disturbance.'
'You were wise,' rejoined his friend.
Jonas stood quite silent; still looking down into the street, and resting his head upon his arms.
'Now, Chuzzlewit,' said Montague, 'notwithstanding what has passed I will be plain with you. Are you attending to me there? I only see your back.'
'I hear you. Go on!'
'I say that notwithstanding what has passed, I will be plain with you.'
'You said that before. And I have told you once I heard you say it. Go on.'
'You are a little chafed, but I can make allowance for that, and am, fortunately, myself in the very best of tempers. Now, let us see how circumstances stand. A day or two ago, I mentioned to you, my dear fellow, that I thought I had discovered—'
'Will you hold your tongue?' said Jonas, looking fiercely round, and glancing at the door.
'Well, well!' said Montague. 'Judicious! Quite correct! My discoveries being published, would be like many other men's discoveries in this honest world; of no further use to me. You see, Chuzzlewit, how ingenuous and frank I am in showing you the weakness of my own position! To return. I make, or think I make, a certain discovery which I take an early opportunity of mentioning in your ear, in that spirit of confidence which I really hoped did prevail between us, and was reciprocated by you. Perhaps there is something in it; perhaps there is nothing. I have my knowledge and opinion on the subject. You have yours. We will not discuss the question. But, my good fellow, you have been weak; what I wish to point out to you is, that you have been weak. I may desire to turn this little incident to my account (indeed, I do—I'll not deny it), but my account does not lie in probing it, or using it against you.'
'What do you call using it against me?' asked Jonas, who had not yet changed his attitude.
'Oh!' said Montague, with a laugh. 'We'll not enter into that.'
'Using it to make a beggar of me. Is that the use you mean?'
'Ecod,' muttered Jonas, bitterly. 'That's the use in which your account DOES lie. You speak the truth there.'
'I wish you to venture (it's a very safe venture) a little more with us, certainly, and to keep quiet,' said Montague. 'You promised me you would; and you must. I say it plainly, Chuzzlewit, you MUST. Reason the matter. If you don't, my secret is worthless to me: and being so, it may as well become the public property as mine; better, for I shall gain some credit, bringing it to light. I want you, besides, to act as a decoy in a case I have already told you of. You don't mind that, I know. You care nothing for the man (you care nothing for any man; you are too sharp; so am I, I hope); and could bear any loss of his with pious fortitude. Ha, ha, ha! You have tried to escape from the first consequence. You cannot escape it, I assure you. I have shown you that to-day. Now, I am not a moral man, you know. I am not the least in the world affected by anything you may have done; by any little indiscretion you may have committed; but I wish to profit by it if I can; and to a man of your intelligence I make that free confession. I am not at all singular in that infirmity. Everybody profits by the indiscretion of his neighbour; and the people in the best repute, the most. Why do you give me this trouble? It must come to a friendly agreement, or an unfriendly crash. It must. If the former, you are very little hurt. If the latter—well! you know best what is likely to happen then.'
Jonas left the window, and walked up close to him. He did not look him in the face; it was not his habit to do that; but he kept his eyes towards him—on his breast, or thereabouts—and was at great pains to speak slowly and distinctly in reply. Just as a man in a state of conscious drunkenness might be.
'Lying is of no use now,' he said. 'I DID think of getting away this morning, and making better terms with you from a distance.'
'To be sure! to be sure!' replied Montague. 'Nothing more natural. I foresaw that, and provided against it. But I am afraid I am interrupting you.'
'How the devil,' pursued Jonas, with a still greater effort, 'you made choice of your messenger, and where you found him, I'll not ask you. I owed him one good turn before to-day. If you are so careless of men in general, as you said you were just now, you are quite indifferent to what becomes of such a crop-tailed cur as that, and will leave me to settle my account with him in my own manner.'
If he had raised his eyes to his companion's face, he would have seen that Montague was evidently unable to comprehend his meaning. But continuing to stand before him, with his furtive gaze directed as before, and pausing here only to moisten his dry lips with his tongue, the fact was lost upon him. It might have struck a close observer that this fixed and steady glance of Jonas's was a part of the alteration which had taken place in his demeanour. He kept it riveted on one spot, with which his thoughts had manifestly nothing to do; like as a juggler walking on a cord or wire to any dangerous end, holds some object in his sight to steady him, and never wanders from it, lest he trip.
Montague was quick in his rejoinder, though he made it at a venture. There was no difference of opinion between him and his friend on THAT point. Not the least.
'Your great discovery,' Jonas proceeded, with a savage sneer that got the better of him for the moment, 'may be true, and may be false. Whichever it is, I dare say I'm no worse than other men.'
'Not a bit,' said Tigg. 'Not a bit. We're all alike—or nearly so.'
'I want to know this,' Jonas went on to say; 'is it your own? You'll not wonder at my asking the question.'
'My own!' repeated Montague.
'Aye!' returned the other, gruffly. 'Is it known to anybody else? Come! Don't waver about that.'
'No!' said Montague, without the smallest hesitation. 'What would it be worth, do you think, unless I had the keeping of it?'
Now, for the first time, Jonas looked at him. After a pause, he put out his hand, and said, with a laugh:
'Come! make things easy to me, and I'm yours. I don't know that I may not be better off here, after all, than if I had gone away this morning. But here I am, and here I'll stay now. Take your oath!'
He cleared his throat, for he was speaking hoarsely and said in a lighter tone:
'Shall I go to Pecksniff? When? Say when!'
'Immediately!' cried Montague. 'He cannot be enticed too soon.'
'Ecod!' cried Jonas, with a wild laugh. 'There's some fun in catching that old hypocrite. I hate him. Shall I go to-night?'
'Aye! This,' said Montague, ecstatically, 'is like business! We understand each other now! To-night, my good fellow, by all means.'
'Come with me,' cried Jonas. 'We must make a dash; go down in state, and carry documents, for he's a deep file to deal with, and must be drawn on with an artful hand, or he'll not follow. I know him. As I can't take your lodgings or your dinners down, I must take you. Will you come to-night?'
His friend appeared to hesitate; and neither to have anticipated this proposal, nor to relish it very much.
'We can concert our plans upon the road,' said Jonas. 'We must not go direct to him, but cross over from some other place, and turn out of our way to see him. I may not want to introduce you, but I must have you on the spot. I know the man, I tell you.'
'But what if the man knows me?' said Montague, shrugging his shoulders.
'He know!' cried Jonas. 'Don't you run that risk with fifty men a day! Would your father know you? Did I know you? Ecod! You were another figure when I saw you first. Ha, ha, ha! I see the rents and patches now! No false hair then, no black dye! You were another sort of joker in those days, you were! You even spoke different then. You've acted the gentleman so seriously since, that you've taken in yourself. If he should know you, what does it matter? Such a change is a proof of your success. You know that, or you would not have made yourself known to me. Will you come?'
'My good fellow,' said Montague, still hesitating, 'I can trust you alone.'
'Trust me! Ecod, you may trust me now, far enough. I'll try to go away no more—no more!' He stopped, and added in a more sober tone, 'I can't get on without you. Will you come?'
'I will,' said Montague, 'if that's your opinion.' And they shook hands upon it.
The boisterous manner which Jonas had exhibited during the latter part of this conversation, and which had gone on rapidly increasing with almost every word he had spoken, from the time when he looked his honourable friend in the face until now, did not now subside, but, remaining at its height, abided by him. Most unusual with him at any period; most inconsistent with his temper and constitution; especially unnatural it would appear in one so darkly circumstanced; it abided by him. It was not like the effect of wine, or any ardent drink, for he was perfectly coherent. It even made him proof against the usual influence of such means of excitement; for, although he drank deeply several times that day, with no reserve or caution, he remained exactly the same man, and his spirits neither rose nor fell in the least observable degree.
Deciding, after some discussion, to travel at night, in order that the day's business might not be broken in upon, they took counsel together in reference to the means. Mr Montague being of opinion that four horses were advisable, at all events for the first stage, as throwing a great deal of dust into people's eyes, in more senses than one, a travelling chariot and four lay under orders for nine o'clock. Jonas did not go home; observing, that his being obliged to leave town on business in so great a hurry, would be a good excuse for having turned back so unexpectedly in the morning. So he wrote a note for his portmanteau, and sent it by a messenger, who duly brought his luggage back, with a short note from that other piece of luggage, his wife, expressive of her wish to be allowed to come and see him for a moment. To this request he sent for answer, 'she had better;' and one such threatening affirmative being sufficient, in defiance of the English grammar, to express a negative, she kept away.
Mr Montague being much engaged in the course of the day, Jonas bestowed his spirits chiefly on the doctor, with whom he lunched in the medical officer's own room. On his way thither, encountering Mr Nadgett in the outer room, he bantered that stealthy gentleman on always appearing anxious to avoid him, and inquired if he were afraid of him. Mr Nadgett slyly answered, 'No, but he believed it must be his way as he had been charged with much the same kind of thing before.'
Mr Montague was listening to, or, to speak with greater elegance, he overheard, this dialogue. As soon as Jonas was gone he beckoned Nadgett to him with the feather of his pen, and whispered in his ear.
'Who gave him my letter this morning?'
'My lodger, sir,' said Nadgett, behind the palm of his hand.
'How came that about?'
'I found him on the wharf, sir. Being so much hurried, and you not arrived, it was necessary to do something. It fortunately occurred to me, that if I gave it him myself I could be of no further use. I should have been blown upon immediately.'
'Mr Nadgett, you are a jewel,' said Montague, patting him on the back. 'What's your lodger's name?'
'Pinch, sir. Thomas Pinch.'
Montague reflected for a little while, and then asked:
'From the country, do you know?'
'From Wiltshire, sir, he told me.'
They parted without another word. To see Mr Nadgett's bow when Montague and he next met, and to see Mr Montague acknowledge it, anybody might have undertaken to swear that they had never spoken to each other confidentially in all their lives.
In the meanwhile, Mr Jonas and the doctor made themselves very comfortable upstairs, over a bottle of the old Madeira and some sandwiches; for the doctor having been already invited to dine below at six o'clock, preferred a light repast for lunch. It was advisable, he said, in two points of view: First, as being healthy in itself. Secondly as being the better preparation for dinner.
'And you are bound for all our sakes to take particular care of your digestion, Mr Chuzzlewit, my dear sir,' said the doctor smacking his lips after a glass of wine; 'for depend upon it, it is worth preserving. It must be in admirable condition, sir; perfect chronometer-work. Otherwise your spirits could not be so remarkable. Your bosom's lord sits lightly on its throne, Mr Chuzzlewit, as what's-his-name says in the play. I wish he said it in a play which did anything like common justice to our profession, by the bye. There is an apothecary in that drama, sir, which is a low thing; vulgar, sir; out of nature altogether.'
Mr Jobling pulled out his shirt-frill of fine linen, as though he would have said, 'This is what I call nature in a medical man, sir;' and looked at Jonas for an observation.
Jonas not being in a condition to pursue the subject, took up a case of lancets that was lying on the table, and opened it.
'Ah!' said the doctor, leaning back in his chair, 'I always take 'em out of my pocket before I eat. My pockets are rather tight. Ha, ha, ha!'
Jonas had opened one of the shining little instruments; and was scrutinizing it with a look as sharp and eager as its own bright edge.
'Good steel, doctor. Good steel! Eh!'
'Ye-es,' replied the doctor, with the faltering modesty of ownership. 'One might open a vein pretty dexterously with that, Mr Chuzzlewit.'
'It has opened a good many in its time, I suppose?' said Jonas looking at it with a growing interest.
'Not a few, my dear sir, not a few. It has been engaged in a—in a pretty good practice, I believe I may say,' replied the doctor, coughing as if the matter-of-fact were so very dry and literal that he couldn't help it. 'In a pretty good practice,' repeated the doctor, putting another glass of wine to his lips.
'Now, could you cut a man's throat with such a thing as this?' demanded Jonas.
'Oh certainly, certainly, if you took him in the right place,' returned the doctor. 'It all depends upon that.'
'Where you have your hand now, hey?' cried Jonas, bending forward to look at it.
'Yes,' said the doctor; 'that's the jugular.'
Jonas, in his vivacity, made a sudden sawing in the air, so close behind the doctor's jugular that he turned quite red. Then Jonas (in the same strange spirit of vivacity) burst into a loud discordant laugh.
'No, no,' said the doctor, shaking his head; 'edge tools, edge tools; never play with 'em. A very remarkable instance of the skillful use of edge-tools, by the way, occurs to me at this moment. It was a case of murder. I am afraid it was a case of murder, committed by a member of our profession; it was so artistically done.'
'Aye!' said Jonas. 'How was that?'
'Why, sir,' returned Jobling, 'the thing lies in a nutshell. A certain gentleman was found, one morning, in an obscure street, lying in an angle of a doorway—I should rather say, leaning, in an upright position, in the angle of a doorway, and supported consequently by the doorway. Upon his waistcoat there was one solitary drop of blood. He was dead and cold; and had been murdered, sir.'
'Only one drop of blood!' said Jonas.
'Sir, that man,' replied the doctor, 'had been stabbed to the heart. Had been stabbed to the heart with such dexterity, sir, that he had died instantly, and had bled internally. It was supposed that a medical friend of his (to whom suspicion attached) had engaged him in conversation on some pretence; had taken him, very likely, by the button in a conversational manner; had examined his ground at leisure with his other hand; had marked the exact spot; drawn out the instrument, whatever it was, when he was quite prepared; and—'
'And done the trick,' suggested Jonas.
'Exactly so,' replied the doctor. 'It was quite an operation in its way, and very neat. The medical friend never turned up; and, as I tell you, he had the credit of it. Whether he did it or not I can't say. But, having had the honour to be called in with two or three of my professional brethren on the occasion, and having assisted to make a careful examination of the wound, I have no hesitation in saying that it would have reflected credit on any medical man; and that in an unprofessional person it could not but be considered, either as an extraordinary work of art, or the result of a still more extraordinary, happy, and favourable conjunction of circumstances.'
His hearer was so much interested in this case, that the doctor went on to elucidate it with the assistance of his own finger and thumb and waistcoat; and at Jonas's request, he took the further trouble of going into a corner of the room, and alternately representing the murdered man and the murderer; which he did with great effect. The bottle being emptied and the story done, Jonas was in precisely the same boisterous and unusual state as when they had sat down. If, as Jobling theorized, his good digestion were the cause, he must have been a very ostrich.
At dinner it was just the same; and after dinner too; though wine was drunk in abundance, and various rich meats eaten. At nine o'clock it was still the same. There being a lamp in the carriage, he swore they would take a pack of cards, and a bottle of wine; and with these things under his cloak, went down to the door.
'Out of the way, Tom Thumb, and get to bed!'
This was the salutation he bestowed on Mr Bailey, who, booted and wrapped up, stood at the carriage door to help him in.
'To bed, sir! I'm a-going, too,' said Bailey.
He alighted quickly, and walked back into the hall, where Montague was lighting a cigar; conducting Mr Bailey with him, by the collar.
'You are not a-going to take this monkey of a boy, are you?'
'Yes,' said Montague.
He gave the boy a shake, and threw him roughly aside. There was more of his familiar self in the action, than in anything he had done that day; but he broke out laughing immediately afterwards, and making a thrust at the doctor with his hand, in imitation of his representation of the medical friend, went out to the carriage again, and took his seat. His companion followed immediately. Mr Bailey climbed into the rumble. 'It will be a stormy night!' exclaimed the doctor, as they started.
CONTINUATION OF THE ENTERPRISE OF MR JONAS AND HIS FRIEND
The doctor's prognostication in reference to the weather was speedily verified. Although the weather was not a patient of his, and no third party had required him to give an opinion on the case, the quick fulfilment of his prophecy may be taken as an instance of his professional tact; for, unless the threatening aspect of the night had been perfectly plain and unmistakable, Mr Jobling would never have compromised his reputation by delivering any sentiments on the subject. He used this principle in Medicine with too much success to be unmindful of it in his commonest transactions.
It was one of those hot, silent nights, when people sit at windows listening for the thunder which they know will shortly break; when they recall dismal tales of hurricanes and earthquakes; and of lonely travellers on open plains, and lonely ships at sea, struck by lightning. Lightning flashed and quivered on the black horizon even now; and hollow murmurings were in the wind, as though it had been blowing where the thunder rolled, and still was charged with its exhausted echoes. But the storm, though gathering swiftly, had not yet come up; and the prevailing stillness was the more solemn, from the dull intelligence that seemed to hover in the air, of noise and conflict afar off.
It was very dark; but in the murky sky there were masses of cloud which shone with a lurid light, like monstrous heaps of copper that had been heated in a furnace, and were growing cold. These had been advancing steadily and slowly, but they were now motionless, or nearly so. As the carriage clattered round the corners of the streets, it passed at every one a knot of persons who had come there—many from their houses close at hand, without hats—to look up at that quarter of the sky. And now a very few large drops of rain began to fall, and thunder rumbled in the distance.
Jonas sat in a corner of the carriage with his bottle resting on his knee, and gripped as tightly in his hand as if he would have ground its neck to powder if he could. Instinctively attracted by the night, he had laid aside the pack of cards upon the cushion; and with the same involuntary impulse, so intelligible to both of them as not to occasion a remark on either side, his companion had extinguished the lamp. The front glasses were down; and they sat looking silently out upon the gloomy scene before them.
They were clear of London, or as clear of it as travellers can be whose way lies on the Western Road, within a stage of that enormous city. Occasionally they encountered a foot-passenger, hurrying to the nearest place of shelter; or some unwieldy cart proceeding onward at a heavy trot, with the same end in view. Little clusters of such vehicles were gathered round the stable-yard or baiting-place of every wayside tavern; while their drivers watched the weather from the doors and open windows, or made merry within. Everywhere the people were disposed to bear each other company rather than sit alone; so that groups of watchful faces seemed to be looking out upon the night AND THEM, from almost every house they passed.
It may appear strange that this should have disturbed Jonas, or rendered him uneasy; but it did. After muttering to himself, and often changing his position, he drew up the blind on his side of the carriage, and turned his shoulder sulkily towards it. But he neither looked at his companion, nor broke the silence which prevailed between them, and which had fallen so suddenly upon himself, by addressing a word to him.
The thunder rolled, the lightning flashed; the rain poured down like Heaven's wrath. Surrounded at one moment by intolerable light, and at the next by pitchy darkness, they still pressed forward on their journey. Even when they arrived at the end of the stage, and might have tarried, they did not; but ordered horses out immediately. Nor had this any reference to some five minutes' lull, which at that time seemed to promise a cessation of the storm. They held their course as if they were impelled and driven by its fury. Although they had not exchanged a dozen words, and might have tarried very well, they seemed to feel, by joint consent, that onward they must go.
Louder and louder the deep thunder rolled, as through the myriad halls of some vast temple in the sky; fiercer and brighter became the lightning, more and more heavily the rain poured down. The horses (they were travelling now with a single pair) plunged and started from the rills of quivering fire that seemed to wind along the ground before them; but there these two men sat, and forward they went as if they were led on by an invisible attraction.
The eye, partaking of the quickness of the flashing light, saw in its every gleam a multitude of objects which it could not see at steady noon in fifty times that period. Bells in steeples, with the rope and wheel that moved them; ragged nests of birds in cornices and nooks; faces full of consternation in the tilted waggons that came tearing past; their frightened teams ringing out a warning which the thunder drowned; harrows and ploughs left out in fields; miles upon miles of hedge-divided country, with the distant fringe of trees as obvious as the scarecrow in the bean-field close at hand; in a trembling, vivid, flickering instant, everything was clear and plain; then came a flush of red into the yellow light; a change to blue; a brightness so intense that there was nothing else but light; and then the deepest and profoundest darkness.
The lightning being very crooked and very dazzling may have presented or assisted a curious optical illusion, which suddenly rose before the startled eyes of Montague in the carriage, and as rapidly disappeared. He thought he saw Jonas with his hand lifted, and the bottle clenched in it like a hammer, making as if he would aim a blow at his head. At the same time he observed (or so believed) an expression in his face—a combination of the unnatural excitement he had shown all day, with a wild hatred and fear—which might have rendered a wolf a less terrible companion.
He uttered an involuntary exclamation, and called to the driver, who brought his horses to a stop with all speed.
It could hardly have been as he supposed, for although he had not taken his eyes off his companion, and had not seen him move, he sat reclining in his corner as before.
'What's the matter?' said Jonas. 'Is that your general way of waking out of your sleep?'
'I could swear,' returned the other, 'that I have not closed my eyes!'
'When you have sworn it,' said Jonas, composedly, 'we had better go on again, if you have only stopped for that.'
He uncorked the bottle with the help of his teeth; and putting it to his lips, took a long draught.
'I wish we had never started on this journey. This is not,' said Montague, recoiling instinctively, and speaking in a voice that betrayed his agitation; 'this is not a night to travel in.'
'Ecod! you're right there,' returned Jonas, 'and we shouldn't be out in it but for you. If you hadn't kept me waiting all day, we might have been at Salisbury by this time; snug abed and fast asleep. What are we stopping for?'
His companion put his head out of window for a moment, and drawing it in again, observed (as if that were his cause of anxiety), that the boy was drenched to the skin.
'Serve him right,' said Jonas. 'I'm glad of it. What the devil are we stopping for? Are you going to spread him out to dry?'
'I have half a mind to take him inside,' observed the other with some hesitation.
'Oh! thankee!' said Jonas. 'We don't want any damp boys here; especially a young imp like him. Let him be where he is. He ain't afraid of a little thunder and lightning, I dare say; whoever else is. Go on, driver. We had better have HIM inside perhaps,' he muttered with a laugh; 'and the horses!'
'Don't go too fast,' cried Montague to the postillion; 'and take care how you go. You were nearly in the ditch when I called to you.'
This was not true; and Jonas bluntly said so, as they moved forward again. Montague took little or no heed of what he said, but repeated that it was not a night for travelling, and showed himself, both then and afterwards, unusually anxious.
From this time Jonas recovered his former spirits, if such a term may be employed to express the state in which he had left the city. He had his bottle often at his mouth; roared out snatches of songs, without the least regard to time or tune or voice, or anything but loud discordance; and urged his silent friend to be merry with him.
'You're the best company in the world, my good fellow,' said Montague with an effort, 'and in general irresistible; but to-night—do you hear it?'
'Ecod! I hear and see it too,' cried Jonas, shading his eyes, for the moment, from the lightning which was flashing, not in any one direction, but all around them. 'What of that? It don't change you, nor me, nor our affairs. Chorus, chorus,
It may lighten and storm, Till it hunt the red worm From the grass where the gibbet is driven; But it can't hurt the dead, And it won't save the head That is doom'd to be rifled and riven.
That must be a precious old song,' he added with an oath, as he stopped short in a kind of wonder at himself. 'I haven't heard it since I was a boy, and how it comes into my head now, unless the lightning put it there, I don't know. "Can't hurt the dead"! No, no. "And won't save the head"! No, no. No! Ha, ha, ha!'
His mirth was of such a savage and extraordinary character, and was, in an inexplicable way, at once so suited to the night, and yet such a coarse intrusion on its terrors, that his fellow-traveller, always a coward, shrunk from him in positive fear. Instead of Jonas being his tool and instrument, their places seemed to be reversed. But there was reason for this too, Montague thought; since the sense of his debasement might naturally inspire such a man with the wish to assert a noisy independence, and in that licence to forget his real condition. Being quick enough, in reference to such subjects of contemplation, he was not long in taking this argument into account and giving it its full weight. But still, he felt a vague sense of alarm, and was depressed and uneasy.
He was certain he had not been asleep; but his eyes might have deceived him; for, looking at Jonas now in any interval of darkness, he could represent his figure to himself in any attitude his state of mind suggested. On the other hand, he knew full well that Jonas had no reason to love him; and even taking the piece of pantomime which had so impressed his mind to be a real gesture, and not the working of his fancy, the most that could be said of it was, that it was quite in keeping with the rest of his diabolical fun, and had the same impotent expression of truth in it. 'If he could kill me with a wish,' thought the swindler, 'I should not live long.'
He resolved that when he should have had his use of Jonas, he would restrain him with an iron curb; in the meantime, that he could not do better than leave him to take his own way, and preserve his own peculiar description of good-humour, after his own uncommon manner. It was no great sacrifice to bear with him; 'for when all is got that can be got,' thought Montague, 'I shall decamp across the water, and have the laugh on my side—and the gains.'
Such were his reflections from hour to hour; his state of mind being one in which the same thoughts constantly present themselves over and over again in wearisome repetition; while Jonas, who appeared to have dismissed reflection altogether, entertained himself as before. They agreed that they would go to Salisbury, and would cross to Mr Pecksniff's in the morning; and at the prospect of deluding that worthy gentleman, the spirits of his amiable son-in-law became more boisterous than ever.
As the night wore on, the thunder died away, but still rolled gloomily and mournfully in the distance. The lightning too, though now comparatively harmless, was yet bright and frequent. The rain was quite as violent as it had ever been.
It was their ill-fortune, at about the time of dawn and in the last stage of their journey, to have a restive pair of horses. These animals had been greatly terrified in their stable by the tempest; and coming out into the dreary interval between night and morning, when the glare of the lightning was yet unsubdued by day, and the various objects in their view were presented in indistinct and exaggerated shapes which they would not have worn by night, they gradually became less and less capable of control; until, taking a sudden fright at something by the roadside, they dashed off wildly down a steep hill, flung the driver from his saddle, drew the carriage to the brink of a ditch, stumbled headlong down, and threw it crashing over.