'A fine night, master!' said this person. 'And a rare sunset.'
'I didn't see it,' was his hasty answer.
'Didn't see it?' returned the man.
'How the devil could I see it, if I was asleep?'
'Asleep! Aye, aye.' The man appeared surprised by his unexpected irritability, and saying no more, smoked his pipe in silence. They had not sat very long, when there was a knocking within.
'What's that?' cried Jonas.
'Can't say, I'm sure,' replied the man.
He made no further inquiry, for the last question had escaped him in spite of himself. But he was thinking, at the moment, of the closed-up room; of the possibility of their knocking at the door on some special occasion; of their being alarmed at receiving no answer; of their bursting it open; of their finding the room empty; of their fastening the door into the court, and rendering it impossible for him to get into the house without showing himself in the garb he wore, which would lead to rumour, rumour to detection, detection to death. At that instant, as if by some design and order of circumstances, the knocking had come.
It still continued; like a warning echo of the dread reality he had conjured up. As he could not sit and hear it, he paid for his beer and walked on again. And having slunk about, in places unknown to him all day; and being out at night, in a lonely road, in an unusual dress and in that wandering and unsettled frame of mind; he stopped more than once to look about him, hoping he might be in a dream.
Still he was not sorry. No. He had hated the man too much, and had been bent, too desperately and too long, on setting himself free. If the thing could have come over again, he would have done it again. His malignant and revengeful passions were not so easily laid. There was no more penitence or remorse within him now than there had been while the deed was brewing.
Dread and fear were upon him, to an extent he had never counted on, and could not manage in the least degree. He was so horribly afraid of that infernal room at home. This made him, in a gloomy murderous, mad way, not only fearful FOR himself, but OF himself; for being, as it were, a part of the room: a something supposed to be there, yet missing from it: he invested himself with its mysterious terrors; and when he pictured in his mind the ugly chamber, false and quiet, false and quiet, through the dark hours of two nights; and the tumbled bed, and he not in it, though believed to be; he became in a manner his own ghost and phantom, and was at once the haunting spirit and the haunted man.
When the coach came up, which it soon did, he got a place outside and was carried briskly onward towards home. Now, in taking his seat among the people behind, who were chiefly country people, he conceived a fear that they knew of the murder, and would tell him that the body had been found; which, considering the time and place of the commission of the crime, were events almost impossible to have happened yet, as he very well knew. But although he did know it, and had therefore no reason to regard their ignorance as anything but the natural sequence to the facts, still this very ignorance of theirs encouraged him. So far encouraged him, that he began to believe the body never would be found, and began to speculate on that probability. Setting off from this point, and measuring time by the rapid hurry of his guilty thoughts, and what had gone before the bloodshed, and the troops of incoherent and disordered images of which he was the constant prey; he came by daylight to regard the murder as an old murder, and to think himself comparatively safe because it had not been discovered yet. Yet! When the sun which looked into the wood, and gilded with its rising light a dead man's lace, had seen that man alive, and sought to win him to a thought of Heaven, on its going down last night!
But here were London streets again. Hush!
It was but five o'clock. He had time enough to reach his own house unobserved, and before there were many people in the streets, if nothing had happened so far, tending to his discovery. He slipped down from the coach without troubling the driver to stop his horses; and hurrying across the road, and in and out of every by-way that lay near his course, at length approached his own dwelling. He used additional caution in his immediate neighbourhood; halting first to look all down the street before him; then gliding swiftly through that one, and stopping to survey the next, and so on.
The passage-way was empty when his murderer's face looked into it. He stole on, to the door on tiptoe, as if he dreaded to disturb his own imaginary rest.
He listened. Not a sound. As he turned the key with a trembling hand, and pushed the door softly open with his knee, a monstrous fear beset his mind.
What if the murdered man were there before him!
He cast a fearful glance all round. But there was nothing there.
He went in, locked the door, drew the key through and through the dust and damp in the fire-place to sully it again, and hung it up as of old. He took off his disguise, tied it up in a bundle ready for carrying away and sinking in the river before night, and locked it up in a cupboard. These precautions taken, he undressed and went to bed.
The raging thirst, the fire that burnt within him as he lay beneath the clothes, the augmented horror of the room when they shut it out from his view; the agony of listening, in which he paid enforced regard to every sound, and thought the most unlikely one the prelude to that knocking which should bring the news; the starts with which he left his couch, and looking in the glass, imagined that his deed was broadly written in his face, and lying down and burying himself once more beneath the blankets, heard his own heart beating Murder, Murder, Murder, in the bed; what words can paint tremendous truths like these!
The morning advanced. There were footsteps in the house. He heard the blinds drawn up, and shutters opened; and now and then a stealthy tread outside his own door. He tried to call out, more than once, but his mouth was dry as if it had been filled with sand. At last he sat up in his bed, and cried:
It was his wife.
He asked her what it was o'clock? Nine.
'Did—did no one knock at my door yesterday?' he faltered. 'Something disturbed me; but unless you had knocked the door down, you would have got no notice from me.'
'No one,' she replied. That was well. He had waited, almost breathless, for her answer. It was a relief to him, if anything could be.
'Mr Nadgett wanted to see you,' she said, 'but I told him you were tired, and had requested not to be disturbed. He said it was of little consequence, and went away. As I was opening my window to let in the cool air, I saw him passing through the street this morning, very early; but he hasn't been again.'
Passing through the street that morning? Very early! Jonas trembled at the thought of having had a narrow chance of seeing him himself; even him, who had no object but to avoid people, and sneak on unobserved, and keep his own secrets; and who saw nothing.
He called to her to get his breakfast ready, and prepared to go upstairs; attiring himself in the clothes he had taken off when he came into that room, which had been, ever since, outside the door. In his secret dread of meeting the household for the first time, after what he had done, he lingered at the door on slight pretexts that they might see him without looking in his face; and left it ajar while he dressed; and called out to have the windows opened, and the pavement watered, that they might become accustomed to his voice. Even when he had put off the time, by one means or other, so that he had seen or spoken to them all, he could not muster courage for a long while to go in among them, but stood at his own door listening to the murmur of their distant conversation.
He could not stop there for ever, and so joined them. His last glance at the glass had seen a tell-tale face, but that might have been because of his anxious looking in it. He dared not look at them to see if they observed him, but he thought them very silent.
And whatsoever guard he kept upon himself, he could not help listening, and showing that he listened. Whether he attended to their talk, or tried to think of other things, or talked himself, or held his peace, or resolutely counted the dull tickings of a hoarse clock at his back, he always lapsed, as if a spell were on him, into eager listening. For he knew it must come. And his present punishment, and torture and distraction, were, to listen for its coming.
BEARS TIDINGS OF MARTIN AND OF MARK, AS WELL AS OF A THIRD PERSON NOT QUITE UNKNOWN TO THE READER. EXHIBITS FILIAL PIETY IN AN UGLY ASPECT; AND CASTS A DOUBTFUL RAY OF LIGHT UPON A VERY DARK PLACE
Tom Pinch and Ruth were sitting at their early breakfast, with the window open, and a row of the freshest little plants ranged before it on the inside by Ruth's own hands; and Ruth had fastened a sprig of geranium in Tom's button-hole, to make him very smart and summer-like for the day (it was obliged to be fastened in, or that dear old Tom was certain to lose it); and people were crying flowers up and down the street; and a blundering bee, who had got himself in between the two sashes of the window, was bruising his head against the glass, endeavouring to force himself out into the fine morning, and considering himself enchanted because he couldn't do it; and the morning was as fine a morning as ever was seen; and the fragrant air was kissing Ruth and rustling about Tom, as if it said, 'how are you, my dears; I came all this way on purpose to salute you;' and it was one of those glad times when we form, or ought to form, the wish that every one on earth were able to be happy, and catching glimpses of the summer of the heart, to feel the beauty of the summer of the year.
It was even a pleasanter breakfast than usual; and it was always a pleasant one. For little Ruth had now two pupils to attend, each three times a week; and each two hours at a time; and besides this, she had painted some screens and card-racks, and, unknown to Tom (was there ever anything so delightful!), had walked into a certain shop which dealt in such articles, after often peeping through the window; and had taken courage to ask the Mistress of that shop whether she would buy them. And the mistress had not only bought them, but had ordered more, and that very morning Ruth had made confession of these facts to Tom, and had handed him the money in a little purse she had worked expressly for the purpose. They had been in a flutter about this, and perhaps had shed a happy tear or two for anything the history knows to the contrary; but it was all over now; and a brighter face than Tom's, or a brighter face than Ruth's, the bright sun had not looked on since he went to bed last night.
'My dear girl,' said Tom, coming so abruptly on the subject, that he interrupted himself in the act of cutting a slice of bread, and left the knife sticking in the loaf, 'what a queer fellow our landlord is! I don't believe he has been home once since he got me into that unsatisfactory scrape. I begin to think he will never come home again. What a mysterious life that man does lead, to be sure!'
'Very strange. Is it not, Tom?'
'Really,' said Tom, 'I hope it is only strange. I hope there may be nothing wrong in it. Sometimes I begin to be doubtful of that. I must have an explanation with him,' said Tom, shaking his head as if this were a most tremendous threat, 'when I can catch him!'
A short double knock at the door put Tom's menacing looks to flight, and awakened an expression of surprise instead.
'Heyday!' said Tom. 'An early hour for visitors! It must be John, I suppose.'
'I—I—don't think it was his knock, Tom,' observed his little sister.
'No?' said Tom. 'It surely can't be my employer suddenly arrived in town; directed here by Mr Fips; and come for the key of the office. It's somebody inquiring for me, I declare! Come in, if you please!'
But when the person came in, Tom Pinch, instead of saying, 'Did you wish to speak with me, sir?' or, 'My name is Pinch, sir; what is your business, may I ask?' or addressing him in any such distant terms; cried out, 'Good gracious Heaven!' and seized him by both hands, with the liveliest manifestations of astonishment and pleasure.
The visitor was not less moved than Tom himself, and they shook hands a great many times, without another word being spoken on either side. Tom was the first to find his voice.
'Mark Tapley, too!' said Tom, running towards the door, and shaking hands with somebody else. 'My dear Mark, come in. How are you, Mark? He don't look a day older than he used to do at the Dragon. How ARE you, Mark?'
'Uncommonly jolly, sir, thank'ee,' returned Mr Tapley, all smiles and bows. 'I hope I see you well, sir.'
'Good gracious me!' cried Tom, patting him tenderly on the back. 'How delightful it is to hear his old voice again! My dear Martin, sit down. My sister, Martin. Mr Chuzzlewit, my love. Mark Tapley from the Dragon, my dear. Good gracious me, what a surprise this is! Sit down. Lord, bless me!'
Tom was in such a state of excitement that he couldn't keep himself still for a moment, but was constantly running between Mark and Martin, shaking hands with them alternately, and presenting them over and over again to his sister.
'I remember the day we parted, Martin, as well as if it were yesterday,' said Tom. 'What a day it was! and what a passion you were in! And don't you remember my overtaking you in the road that morning, Mark, when I was going to Salisbury in the gig to fetch him, and you were looking out for a situation? And don't you recollect the dinner we had at Salisbury, Martin, with John Westlock, eh! Good gracious me! Ruth, my dear, Mr Chuzzlewit. Mark Tapley, my love, from the Dragon. More cups and saucers, if you please. Bless my soul, how glad I am to see you both!'
And then Tom (as John Westlock had done on his arrival) ran off to the loaf to cut some bread and butter for them; and before he had spread a single slice, remembered something else, and came running back again to tell it; and then he shook hands with them again; and then he introduced his sister again; and then he did everything he had done already all over again; and nothing Tom could do, and nothing Tom could say, was half sufficient to express his joy at their safe return.
Mr Tapley was the first to resume his composure. In a very short space of time he was discovered to have somehow installed himself in office as waiter, or attendant upon the party; a fact which was first suggested to them by his temporary absence in the kitchen, and speedy return with a kettle of boiling water, from which he replenished the tea-pot with a self-possession that was quite his own.
'Sit down, and take your breakfast, Mark,' said Tom. 'Make him sit down and take his breakfast, Martin.'
'Oh! I gave him up, long ago, as incorrigible,' Martin replied. 'He takes his own way, Tom. You would excuse him, Miss Pinch, if you knew his value.'
'She knows it, bless you!' said Tom. 'I have told her all about Mark Tapley. Have I not, Ruth?'
'Not all,' returned Martin, in a low voice. 'The best of Mark Tapley is only known to one man, Tom; and but for Mark he would hardly be alive to tell it!'
'Mark!' said Tom Pinch energetically; 'if you don't sit down this minute, I'll swear at you!'
'Well, sir,' returned Mr Tapley, 'sooner than you should do that, I'll com-ply. It's a considerable invasion of a man's jollity to be made so partickler welcome, but a Werb is a word as signifies to be, to do, or to suffer (which is all the grammar, and enough too, as ever I wos taught); and if there's a Werb alive, I'm it. For I'm always a-bein', sometimes a-doin', and continually a-sufferin'.'
'Not jolly yet?' asked Tom, with a smile.
'Why, I was rather so, over the water, sir,' returned Mr Tapley; 'and not entirely without credit. But Human Natur' is in a conspiracy again' me; I can't get on. I shall have to leave it in my will, sir, to be wrote upon my tomb: "He was a man as might have come out strong if he could have got a chance. But it was denied him."'
Mr Tapley took this occasion of looking about him with a grin, and subsequently attacking the breakfast, with an appetite not at all expressive of blighted hopes, or insurmountable despondency.
In the meanwhile, Martin drew his chair a little nearer to Tom and his sister, and related to them what had passed at Mr Pecksniff's house; adding in few words a general summary of the distresses and disappointments he had undergone since he left England.
'For your faithful stewardship in the trust I left with you, Tom,' he said, 'and for all your goodness and disinterestedness, I can never thank you enough. When I add Mary's thanks to mine—'
Ah, Tom! The blood retreated from his cheeks, and came rushing back, so violently, that it was pain to feel it; ease though, ease, compared with the aching of his wounded heart.
'When I add Mary's thanks to mine,' said Martin, 'I have made the only poor acknowledgment it is in our power to offer; but if you knew how much we feel, Tom, you would set some store by it, I am sure.'
And if they had known how much Tom felt—but that no human creature ever knew—they would have set some store by him. Indeed they would.
Tom changed the topic of discourse. He was sorry he could not pursue it, as it gave Martin pleasure; but he was unable, at that moment. No drop of envy or bitterness was in his soul; but he could not master the firm utterance of her name.
He inquired what Martin's projects were.
'No longer to make your fortune, Tom,' said Martin, 'but to try to live. I tried that once in London, Tom; and failed. If you will give me the benefit of your advice and friendly counsel, I may succeed better under your guidance. I will do anything Tom, anything, to gain a livelihood by my own exertions. My hopes do not soar above that, now.'
High-hearted, noble Tom! Sorry to find the pride of his old companion humbled, and to hear him speaking in this altered strain at once, at once, he drove from his breast the inability to contend with its deep emotions, and spoke out bravely.
'Your hopes do not soar above that!' cried Tom. 'Yes they do. How can you talk so! They soar up to the time when you will be happy with her, Martin. They soar up to the time when you will be able to claim her, Martin. They soar up to the time when you will not be able to believe that you were ever cast down in spirit, or poor in pocket, Martin. Advice, and friendly counsel! Why, of course. But you shall have better advice and counsel (though you cannot have more friendly) than mine. You shall consult John Westlock. We'll go there immediately. It is yet so early that I shall have time to take you to his chambers before I go to business; they are in my way; and I can leave you there, to talk over your affairs with him. So come along. Come along. I am a man of occupation now, you know,' said Tom, with his pleasantest smile; 'and have no time to lose. Your hopes don't soar higher than that? I dare say they don't. I know you, pretty well. They'll be soaring out of sight soon, Martin, and leaving all the rest of us leagues behind.'
'Aye! But I may be a little changed,' said Martin, 'since you knew me pretty well, Tom.'
'What nonsense!' exclaimed Tom. 'Why should you be changed? You talk as if you were an old man. I never heard such a fellow! Come to John Westlock's, come. Come along, Mark Tapley. It's Mark's doing, I have no doubt; and it serves you right for having such a grumbler for your companion.'
'There's no credit to be got through being jolly with YOU, Mr Pinch, anyways,' said Mark, with his face all wrinkled up with grins. 'A parish doctor might be jolly with you. There's nothing short of goin' to the U-nited States for a second trip, as would make it at all creditable to be jolly, arter seein' you again!'
Tom laughed, and taking leave of his sister, hurried Mark and Martin out into the street, and away to John Westlock's by the nearest road; for his hour of business was very near at hand, and he prided himself on always being exact to his time.
John Westlock was at home, but, strange to say, was rather embarrassed to see them; and when Tom was about to go into the room where he was breakfasting, said he had a stranger there. It appeared to be a mysterious stranger, for John shut that door as he said it, and led them into the next room.
He was very much delighted, though, to see Mark Tapley; and received Martin with his own frank courtesy. But Martin felt that he did not inspire John Westlock with any unusual interest; and twice or thrice observed that he looked at Tom Pinch doubtfully; not to say compassionately. He thought, and blushed to think, that he knew the cause of this.
'I apprehend you are engaged,' said Martin, when Tom had announced the purport of their visit. 'If you will allow me to come again at your own time, I shall be glad to do so.'
'I AM engaged,' replied John, with some reluctance; 'but the matter on which I am engaged is one, to say the truth, more immediately demanding your knowledge than mine.'
'Indeed!' cried Martin.
'It relates to a member of your family, and is of a serious nature. If you will have the kindness to remain here, it will be a satisfaction to me to have it privately communicated to you, in order that you may judge of its importance for yourself.'
'And in the meantime,' said Tom, 'I must really take myself off, without any further ceremony.'
'Is your business so very particular,' asked Martin, 'that you cannot remain with us for half an hour? I wish you could. What IS your business, Tom?'
It was Tom's turn to be embarrassed now; but he plainly said, after a little hesitation:
'Why, I am not at liberty to say what it is, Martin; though I hope soon to be in a condition to do so, and am aware of no other reason to prevent my doing so now, than the request of my employer. It's an awkward position to be placed in,' said Tom, with an uneasy sense of seeming to doubt his friend, 'as I feel every day; but I really cannot help it, can I, John?'
John Westlock replied in the negative; and Martin, expressing himself perfectly satisfied, begged them not to say another word; though he could not help wondering very much what curious office Tom held, and why he was so secret, and embarrassed, and unlike himself, in reference to it. Nor could he help reverting to it, in his own mind, several times after Tom went away, which he did as soon as this conversation was ended, taking Mr Tapley with him, who, as he laughingly said, might accompany him as far as Fleet Street without injury.
'And what do you mean to do, Mark?' asked Tom, as they walked on together.
'Mean to do, sir?' returned Mr Tapley.
'Aye. What course of life do you mean to pursue?'
'Well, sir,' said Mr Tapley. 'The fact is, that I have been a-thinking rather of the matrimonial line, sir.'
'You don't say so, Mark!' cried Tom.
'Yes, sir. I've been a-turnin' of it over.'
'And who is the lady, Mark?'
'The which, sir?' said Mr Tapley.
'The lady. Come! You know what I said,' replied Tom, laughing, 'as well as I do!'
Mr Tapley suppressed his own inclination to laugh; and with one of his most whimsically-twisted looks, replied:
'You couldn't guess, I suppose, Mr Pinch?'
'How is it possible?' said Tom. 'I don't know any of your flames, Mark. Except Mrs Lupin, indeed.'
'Well, sir!' retorted Mr Tapley. 'And supposing it was her!'
Tom stopping in the street to look at him, Mr Tapley for a moment presented to his view an utterly stolid and expressionless face; a perfect dead wall of countenance. But opening window after window in it with astonishing rapidity, and lighting them all up as for a general illumination, he repeated:
'Supposin', for the sake of argument, as it was her, sir!'
'Why I thought such a connection wouldn't suit you, Mark, on any terms!' cried Tom.
'Well, sir! I used to think so myself, once,' said Mark. 'But I ain't so clear about it now. A dear, sweet creetur, sir!'
'A dear, sweet creature? To be sure she is,' cried Tom. 'But she always was a dear, sweet creature, was she not?'
'WAS she not!' assented Mr Tapley.
'Then why on earth didn't you marry her at first, Mark, instead of wandering abroad, and losing all this time, and leaving her alone by herself, liable to be courted by other people?'
'Why, sir,' retorted Mr Tapley, in a spirit of unbounded confidence, 'I'll tell you how it come about. You know me, Mr Pinch, sir; there ain't a gentleman alive as knows me better. You're acquainted with my constitution, and you're acquainted with my weakness. My constitution is, to be jolly; and my weakness is, to wish to find a credit in it. Wery good, sir. In this state of mind, I gets a notion in my head that she looks on me with a eye of—with what you may call a favourable sort of a eye in fact,' said Mr Tapley, with modest hesitation.
'No doubt,' replied Tom. 'We knew that perfectly well when we spoke on this subject long ago; before you left the Dragon.'
Mr Tapley nodded assent. 'Well, sir! But bein' at that time full of hopeful wisions, I arrives at the conclusion that no credit is to be got out of such a way of life as that, where everything agreeable would be ready to one's hand. Lookin' on the bright side of human life in short, one of my hopeful wisions is, that there's a deal of misery awaitin' for me; in the midst of which I may come out tolerable strong, and be jolly under circumstances as reflects some credit. I goes into the world, sir, wery boyant, and I tries this. I goes aboard ship first, and wery soon discovers (by the ease with which I'm jolly, mind you) as there's no credit to be got THERE. I might have took warning by this, and gave it up; but I didn't. I gets to the U-nited States; and then I DO begin, I won't deny it, to feel some little credit in sustaining my spirits. What follows? Jest as I'm a-beginning to come out, and am a-treadin' on the werge, my master deceives me.'
'Deceives you!' cried Tom.
'Swindles me,' retorted Mr Tapley with a beaming face. 'Turns his back on everything as made his service a creditable one, and leaves me high and dry, without a leg to stand upon. In which state I returns home. Wery good. Then all my hopeful wisions bein' crushed; and findin' that there ain't no credit for me nowhere; I abandons myself to despair, and says, "Let me do that as has the least credit in it of all; marry a dear, sweet creetur, as is wery fond of me; me bein', at the same time, wery fond of her; lead a happy life, and struggle no more again' the blight which settles on my prospects."'
'If your philosophy, Mark,' said Tom, who laughed heartily at this speech, 'be the oddest I ever heard of, it is not the least wise. Mrs Lupin has said "yes," of course?'
'Why, no, sir,' replied Mr Tapley; 'she hasn't gone so far as that yet. Which I attribute principally to my not havin' asked her. But we was wery agreeable together—comfortable, I may say—the night I come home. It's all right, sir.'
'Well!' said Tom, stopping at the Temple Gate. 'I wish you joy, Mark, with all my heart. I shall see you again to-day, I dare say. Good-bye for the present.'
'Good-bye, sir! Good-bye, Mr Pinch!' he added by way of soliloquy, as he stood looking after him. 'Although you ARE a damper to a honourable ambition. You little think it, but you was the first to dash my hopes. Pecksniff would have built me up for life, but your sweet temper pulled me down. Good-bye, Mr Pinch!'
While these confidences were interchanged between Tom Pinch and Mark, Martin and John Westlock were very differently engaged. They were no sooner left alone together than Martin said, with an effort he could not disguise:
'Mr Westlock, we have met only once before, but you have known Tom a long while, and that seems to render you familiar to me. I cannot talk freely with you on any subject unless I relieve my mind of what oppresses it just now. I see with pain that you so far mistrust me that you think me likely to impose on Tom's regardlessness of himself, or on his kind nature, or some of his good qualities.'
'I had no intention,' replied John, 'of conveying any such impression to you, and am exceedingly sorry to have done so.'
'But you entertain it?' said Martin.
'You ask me so pointedly and directly,' returned the other, 'that I cannot deny the having accustomed myself to regard you as one who, not in wantonness but in mere thoughtlessness of character, did not sufficiently consider his nature and did not quite treat it as it deserves to be treated. It is much easier to slight than to appreciate Tom Pinch.'
This was not said warmly, but was energetically spoken too; for there was no subject in the world (but one) on which the speaker felt so strongly.
'I grew into the knowledge of Tom,' he pursued, 'as I grew towards manhood; and I have learned to love him as something, infinitely better than myself. I did not think that you understood him when we met before. I did not think that you greatly cared to understand him. The instances of this which I observed in you were, like my opportunities for observation, very trivial—and were very harmless, I dare say. But they were not agreeable to me, and they forced themselves upon me; for I was not upon the watch for them, believe me. You will say,' added John, with a smile, as he subsided into more of his accustomed manner, 'that I am not by any means agreeable to you. I can only assure you, in reply, that I would not have originated this topic on any account.'
'I originated it,' said Martin; 'and so far from having any complaint to make against you, highly esteem the friendship you entertain for Tom, and the very many proofs you have given him of it. Why should I endeavour to conceal from you'—he coloured deeply though—'that I neither understood him nor cared to understand him when I was his companion; and that I am very truly sorry for it now!'
It was so sincerely said, at once so modestly and manfully, that John offered him his hand as if he had not done so before; and Martin giving his in the same open spirit, all constraint between the young men vanished.
'Now pray,' said John, 'when I tire your patience very much in what I am going to say, recollect that it has an end to it, and that the end is the point of the story.'
With this preface, he related all the circumstances connected with his having presided over the illness and slow recovery of the patient at the Bull; and tacked on to the skirts of that narrative Tom's own account of the business on the wharf. Martin was not a little puzzled when he came to an end, for the two stories seemed to have no connection with each other, and to leave him, as the phrase is, all abroad.
'If you will excuse me for one moment,' said John, rising, 'I will beg you almost immediately to come into the next room.'
Upon that, he left Martin to himself, in a state of considerable astonishment; and soon came back again to fulfil his promise. Accompanying him into the next room, Martin found there a third person; no doubt the stranger of whom his host had spoken when Tom Pinch introduced him.
He was a young man; with deep black hair and eyes. He was gaunt and pale; and evidently had not long recovered from a severe illness. He stood as Martin entered, but sat again at John's desire. His eyes were cast downward; and but for one glance at them both, half in humiliation and half in entreaty, he kept them so, and sat quite still and silent.
'This person's name is Lewsome,' said John Westlock, 'whom I have mentioned to you as having been seized with an illness at the inn near here, and undergone so much. He has had a very hard time of it, ever since he began to recover; but, as you see, he is now doing well.'
As he did not move or speak, and John Westlock made a pause, Martin, not knowing what to say, said that he was glad to hear it.
'The short statement that I wish you to hear from his own lips, Mr Chuzzlewit,' John pursued—looking attentively at him, and not at Martin—'he made to me for the first time yesterday, and repeated to me this morning, without the least variation of any essential particular. I have already told you that he informed me before he was removed from the Inn, that he had a secret to disclose to me which lay heavy on his mind. But, fluctuating between sickness and health and between his desire to relieve himself of it, and his dread of involving himself by revealing it, he has, until yesterday, avoided the disclosure. I never pressed him for it (having no idea of its weight or import, or of my right to do so), until within a few days past; when, understanding from him, on his own voluntary avowal, in a letter from the country, that it related to a person whose name was Jonas Chuzzlewit; and thinking that it might throw some light on that little mystery which made Tom anxious now and then; I urged the point upon him, and heard his statement, as you will now, from his own lips. It is due to him to say, that in the apprehension of death, he committed it to writing sometime since, and folded it in a sealed paper, addressed to me; which he could not resolve, however, to place of his own act in my hands. He has the paper in his breast, I believe, at this moment.'
The young man touched it hastily; in corroboration of the fact.
'It will be well to leave that in our charge, perhaps,' said John. 'But do not mind it now.'
As he said this, he held up his hand to bespeak Martin's attention. It was already fixed upon the man before him, who, after a short silence said, in a low, weak, hollow voice:
'What relation was Mr Anthony Chuzzlewit, who—'
'—Who died—to me?' said Martin. 'He was my grandfather's brother.'
'I fear he was made away with. Murdered!'
'My God!' said Martin. 'By whom?'
The young man, Lewsome, looked up in his face, and casting down his eyes again, replied:
'I fear, by me.'
'By you?' cried Martin.
'Not by my act, but I fear by my means.'
'Speak out!' said Martin, 'and speak the truth.'
'I fear this IS the truth.'
Martin was about to interrupt him again, but John Westlock saying softly, 'Let him tell his story in his own way,' Lewsome went on thus:
'I have been bred a surgeon, and for the last few years have served a general practitioner in the City, as his assistant. While I was in his employment I became acquainted with Jonas Chuzzlewit. He is the principal in this deed.'
'What do you mean?' demanded Martin, sternly. 'Do you know he is the son of the old man of whom you have spoken?'
'I do,' he answered.
He remained silent for some moments, when he resumed at the point where he had left off.
'I have reason to know it; for I have often heard him wish his old father dead, and complain of his being wearisome to him, and a drag upon him. He was in the habit of doing so, at a place of meeting we had—three or four of us—at night. There was no good in the place you may suppose, when you hear that he was the chief of the party. I wish I had died myself, and never seen it!'
He stopped again; and again resumed as before.
'We met to drink and game; not for large sums, but for sums that were large to us. He generally won. Whether or no, he lent money at interest to those who lost; and in this way, though I think we all secretly hated him, he came to be the master of us. To propitiate him we made a jest of his father; it began with his debtors; I was one; and we used to toast a quicker journey to the old man, and a swift inheritance to the young one.'
He paused again.
'One night he came there in a very bad humour. He had been greatly tried, he said, by the old man that day. He and I were alone together; and he angrily told me, that the old man was in his second childhood; that he was weak, imbecile, and drivelling; as unbearable to himself as he was to other people; and that it would be a charity to put him out of the way. He swore that he had often thought of mixing something with the stuff he took for his cough, which should help him to die easily. People were sometimes smothered who were bitten by mad dogs, he said; and why not help these lingering old men out of their troubles too? He looked full at me as he said so, and I looked full at him; but it went no farther that night.'
He stopped once more, and was silent for so long an interval that John Westlock said 'Go on.' Martin had never removed his eyes from his face, but was so absorbed in horror and astonishment that he could not speak.
'It may have been a week after that, or it may have been less or more—the matter was in my mind all the time, but I cannot recollect the time, as I should any other period—when he spoke to me again. We were alone then, too; being there before the usual hour of assembling. There was no appointment between us; but I think I went there to meet him, and I know he came there to meet me. He was there first. He was reading a newspaper when I went in, and nodded to me without looking up, or leaving off reading. I sat down opposite and close to him. He said, immediately, that he wanted me to get him some of two sorts of drugs. One that was instantaneous in its effect; of which he wanted very little. One that was slow and not suspicious in appearance; of which he wanted more. While he was speaking to me he still read the newspaper. He said "Drugs," and never used any other word. Neither did I.'
'This all agrees with what I have heard before,' observed John Westlock.
'I asked him what he wanted the drugs for? He said for no harm; to physic cats; what did it matter to me? I was going out to a distant colony (I had recently got the appointment, which, as Mr Westlock knows, I have since lost by my sickness, and which was my only hope of salvation from ruin), and what did it matter to me? He could get them without my aid at half a hundred places, but not so easily as he could get them of me. This was true. He might not want them at all, he said, and he had no present idea of using them; but he wished to have them by him. All this time he still read the newspaper. We talked about the price. He was to forgive me a small debt—I was quite in his power—and to pay me five pounds; and there the matter dropped, through others coming in. But, next night, under exactly similar circumstances, I gave him the drugs, on his saying I was a fool to think that he should ever use them for any harm; and he gave me the money. We have never met since. I only know that the poor old father died soon afterwards, just as he would have died from this cause; and that I have undergone, and suffer now, intolerable misery. Nothing' he added, stretching out his hands, 'can paint my misery! It is well deserved, but nothing can paint it.'
With that he hung his head, and said no more, wasted and wretched, he was not a creature upon whom to heap reproaches that were unavailing.
'Let him remain at hand,' said Martin, turning from him; 'but out of sight, in Heaven's name!'
'He will remain here,' John whispered. 'Come with me!' Softly turning the key upon him as they went out, he conducted Martin into the adjoining room, in which they had been before.
Martin was so amazed, so shocked, and confounded by what he had heard that it was some time before he could reduce it to any order in his mind, or could sufficiently comprehend the bearing of one part upon another, to take in all the details at one view. When he, at length, had the whole narrative clearly before him, John Westlock went on to point out the great probability of the guilt of Jonas being known to other people, who traded in it for their own benefit, and who were, by such means, able to exert that control over him which Tom Pinch had accidentally witnessed, and unconsciously assisted. This appeared so plain, that they agreed upon it without difficulty; but instead of deriving the least assistance from this source, they found that it embarrassed them the more.
They knew nothing of the real parties who possessed this power. The only person before them was Tom's landlord. They had no right to question Tom's landlord, even if they could find him, which, according to Tom's account, it would not be easy to do. And granting that they did question him, and he answered (which was taking a good deal for granted), he had only to say, with reference to the adventure on the wharf, that he had been sent from such and such a place to summon Jonas back on urgent business, and there was an end of it.
Besides, there was the great difficulty and responsibility of moving at all in the matter. Lewsome's story might be false; in his wretched state it might be greatly heightened by a diseased brain; or admitting it to be entirely true, the old man might have died a natural death. Mr Pecksniff had been there at the time; as Tom immediately remembered, when he came back in the afternoon, and shared their counsels; and there had been no secrecy about it. Martin's grandfather was of right the person to decide upon the course that should be taken; but to get at his views would be impossible, for Mr Pecksniff's views were certain to be his. And the nature of Mr Pecksniff's views in reference to his own son-in-law might be easily reckoned upon.
Apart from these considerations, Martin could not endure the thought of seeming to grasp at this unnatural charge against his relative, and using it as a stepping-stone to his grandfather's favour. But that he would seem to do so, if he presented himself before his grandfather in Mr Pecksniff's house again, for the purpose of declaring it; and that Mr Pecksniff, of all men, would represent his conduct in that despicable light, he perfectly well knew. On the other hand to be in possession of such a statement, and take no measures of further inquiry in reference to it, was tantamount to being a partner in the guilt it professed to disclose.
In a word, they were wholly unable to discover any outlet from this maze of difficulty, which did not lie through some perplexed and entangled thicket. And although Mr Tapley was promptly taken into their confidence; and the fertile imagination of that gentleman suggested many bold expedients, which, to do him justice, he was quite ready to carry into instant operation on his own personal responsibility; still 'bating the general zeal of Mr Tapley's nature, nothing was made particularly clearer by these offers of service.
It was in this position of affairs that Tom's account of the strange behaviour of the decayed clerk, on the night of the tea-party, became of great moment, and finally convinced them that to arrive at a more accurate knowledge of the workings of that old man's mind and memory, would be to take a most important stride in their pursuit of the truth. So, having first satisfied themselves that no communication had ever taken place between Lewsome and Mr Chuffey (which would have accounted at once for any suspicions the latter might entertain), they unanimously resolved that the old clerk was the man they wanted.
But, like the unanimous resolution of a public meeting, which will oftentimes declare that this or that grievance is not to be borne a moment longer, which is nevertheless borne for a century or two afterwards, without any modification, they only reached in this the conclusion that they were all of one mind. For it was one thing to want Mr Chuffey, and another thing to get at him; and to do that without alarming him, or without alarming Jonas, or without being discomfited by the difficulty of striking, in an instrument so out of tune and so unused, the note they sought, was an end as far from their reach as ever.
The question then became, who of those about the old clerk had had most influence with him that night? Tom said his young mistress clearly. But Tom and all of them shrunk from the thought of entrapping her, and making her the innocent means of bringing retribution on her cruel husband. Was there nobody else? Why yes. In a very different way, Tom said, he was influenced by Mrs Gamp, the nurse; who had once had the control of him, as he understood, for some time.
They caught at this immediately. Here was a new way out, developed in a quarter until then overlooked. John Westlock knew Mrs Gamp; he had given her employment; he was acquainted with her place of residence: for that good lady had obligingly furnished him, at parting, with a pack of her professional cards for general distribution. It was decided that Mrs Gamp should be approached with caution, but approached without delay; and that the depths of that discreet matron's knowledge of Mr Chuffey, and means of bringing them, or one of them, into communication with him, should be carefully sounded.
On this service, Martin and John Westlock determined to proceed that night; waiting on Mrs Gamp first, at her lodgings; and taking their chance of finding her in the repose of private life, or of having to seek her out, elsewhere, in the exercise of her professional duties. Tom returned home, that he might lose no opportunity of having an interview with Nadgett, by being absent in the event of his reappearance. And Mr Tapley remained (by his own particular desire) for the time being in Furnival's Inn, to look after Lewsome; who might safely have been left to himself, however, for any thought he seemed to entertain of giving them the slip.
Before they parted on their several errands, they caused him to read aloud, in the presence of them all, the paper which he had about him, and the declaration he had attached to it, which was to the effect that he had written it voluntarily, in the fear of death and in the torture of his mind. And when he had done so, they all signed it, and taking it from him, of his free will, locked it in a place of safety.
Martin also wrote, by John's advice, a letter to the trustees of the famous Grammar School, boldly claiming the successful design as his, and charging Mr Pecksniff with the fraud he had committed. In this proceeding also, John was hotly interested; observing, with his usual irreverance, that Mr Pecksniff had been a successful rascal all his life through, and that it would be a lasting source of happiness to him (John) if he could help to do him justice in the smallest particular.
A busy day! But Martin had no lodgings yet; so when these matters were disposed of, he excused himself from dining with John Westlock and was fain to wander out alone, and look for some. He succeeded, after great trouble, in engaging two garrets for himself and Mark, situated in a court in the Strand, not far from Temple Bar. Their luggage, which was waiting for them at a coach-office, he conveyed to this new place of refuge; and it was with a glow of satisfaction, which as a selfish man he never could have known and never had, that, thinking how much pains and trouble he had saved Mark, and how pleased and astonished Mark would be, he afterwards walked up and down, in the Temple, eating a meat-pie for his dinner.
IN WHICH MRS HARRIS ASSISTED BY A TEAPOT, IS THE CAUSE OF A DIVISION BETWEEN FRIENDS
Mrs Gamp's apartment in Kingsgate Street, High Holborn, wore, metaphorically speaking, a robe of state. It was swept and garnished for the reception of a visitor. That visitor was Betsey Prig; Mrs Prig, of Bartlemy's; or as some said Barklemy's, or as some said Bardlemy's; for by all these endearing and familiar appellations, had the hospital of Saint Bartholomew become a household word among the sisterhood which Betsey Prig adorned.
Mrs Gamp's apartment was not a spacious one, but, to a contented mind, a closet is a palace; and the first-floor front at Mr Sweedlepipe's may have been, in the imagination of Mrs Gamp, a stately pile. If it were not exactly that, to restless intellects, it at least comprised as much accommodation as any person, not sanguine to insanity, could have looked for in a room of its dimensions. For only keep the bedstead always in your mind; and you were safe. That was the grand secret. Remembering the bedstead, you might even stoop to look under the little round table for anything you had dropped, without hurting yourself much against the chest of drawers, or qualifying as a patient of Saint Bartholomew, by falling into the fire.
Visitors were much assisted in their cautious efforts to preserve an unflagging recollection of this piece of furniture, by its size; which was great. It was not a turn-up bedstead, nor yet a French bedstead, nor yet a four-post bedstead, but what is poetically called a tent; the sacking whereof was low and bulgy, insomuch that Mrs Gamp's box would not go under it, but stopped half-way, in a manner which, while it did violence to the reason, likewise endangered the legs of a stranger. The frame too, which would have supported the canopy and hangings if there had been any, was ornamented with divers pippins carved in timber, which on the slightest provocation, and frequently on none at all, came tumbling down; harassing the peaceful guest with inexplicable terrors.
The bed itself was decorated with a patchwork quilt of great antiquity; and at the upper end, upon the side nearest to the door, hung a scanty curtain of blue check, which prevented the Zephyrs that were abroad in Kingsgate Street, from visiting Mrs Gamp's head too roughly. Some rusty gowns and other articles of that lady's wardrobe depended from the posts; and these had so adapted themselves by long usage to her figure, that more than one impatient husband coming in precipitately, at about the time of twilight, had been for an instant stricken dumb by the supposed discovery that Mrs Gamp had hanged herself. One gentleman, coming on the usual hasty errand, had said indeed, that they looked like guardian angels 'watching of her in her sleep.' But that, as Mrs Gamp said, 'was his first;' and he never repeated the sentiment, though he often repeated his visit.
The chairs in Mrs Gamp's apartment were extremely large and broad-backed, which was more than a sufficient reason for there being but two in number. They were both elbow-chairs, of ancient mahogany; and were chiefly valuable for the slippery nature of their seats, which had been originally horsehair, but were now covered with a shiny substance of a bluish tint, from which the visitor began to slide away with a dismayed countenance, immediately after sitting down. What Mrs Gamp wanted in chairs she made up in bandboxes; of which she had a great collection, devoted to the reception of various miscellaneous valuables, which were not, however, as well protected as the good woman, by a pleasant fiction, seemed to think; for, though every bandbox had a carefully closed lid, not one among them had a bottom; owing to which cause the property within was merely, as it were, extinguished. The chest of drawers having been originally made to stand upon the top of another chest, had a dwarfish, elfin look, alone; but in regard of its security it had a great advantage over the bandboxes, for as all the handles had been long ago pulled off, it was very difficult to get at its contents. This indeed was only to be done by one or two devices; either by tilting the whole structure forward until all the drawers fell out together, or by opening them singly with knives, like oysters.
Mrs Gamp stored all her household matters in a little cupboard by the fire-place; beginning below the surface (as in nature) with the coals, and mounting gradually upwards to the spirits, which, from motives of delicacy, she kept in a teapot. The chimney-piece was ornamented with a small almanack, marked here and there in Mrs Gamp's own hand with a memorandum of the date at which some lady was expected to fall due. It was also embellished with three profiles: one, in colours, of Mrs Gamp herself in early life; one, in bronze, of a lady in feathers, supposed to be Mrs Harris, as she appeared when dressed for a ball; and one, in black, of Mr Gamp, deceased. The last was a full length, in order that the likeness might be rendered more obvious and forcible by the introduction of the wooden leg.
A pair of bellows, a pair of pattens, a toasting-fork, a kettle, a pap-boat, a spoon for the administration of medicine to the refractory, and lastly, Mrs Gamp's umbrella, which as something of great price and rarity, was displayed with particular ostentation, completed the decorations of the chimney-piece and adjacent wall. Towards these objects Mrs Gamp raised her eyes in satisfaction when she had arranged the tea-board, and had concluded her arrangements for the reception of Betsey Prig, even unto the setting forth of two pounds of Newcastle salmon, intensely pickled.
'There! Now drat you, Betsey, don't be long!' said Mrs Gamp, apostrophizing her absent friend. 'For I can't abear to wait, I do assure you. To wotever place I goes, I sticks to this one mortar, "I'm easy pleased; it is but little as I wants; but I must have that little of the best, and to the minute when the clock strikes, else we do not part as I could wish, but bearin' malice in our arts."'
Her own preparations were of the best, for they comprehended a delicate new loaf, a plate of fresh butter, a basin of fine white sugar, and other arrangements on the same scale. Even the snuff with which she now refreshed herself, was so choice in quality that she took a second pinch.
'There's the little bell a-ringing now,' said Mrs Gamp, hurrying to the stair-head and looking over. 'Betsey Prig, my—why it's that there disapintin' Sweedlepipes, I do believe.'
'Yes, it's me,' said the barber in a faint voice; 'I've just come in.'
'You're always a-comin' in, I think,' muttered Mrs Gamp to herself, 'except wen you're a-goin' out. I ha'n't no patience with that man!'
'Mrs Gamp,' said the barber. 'I say! Mrs Gamp!'
'Well,' cried Mrs Gamp, impatiently, as she descended the stairs. 'What is it? Is the Thames a-fire, and cooking its own fish, Mr Sweedlepipes? Why wot's the man gone and been a-doin' of to himself? He's as white as chalk!'
She added the latter clause of inquiry, when she got downstairs, and found him seated in the shaving-chair, pale and disconsolate.
'You recollect,' said Poll. 'You recollect young—'
'Not young Wilkins!' cried Mrs Gamp. 'Don't say young Wilkins, wotever you do. If young Wilkins's wife is took—'
'It isn't anybody's wife,' exclaimed the little barber. 'Bailey, young Bailey!'
'Why, wot do you mean to say that chit's been a-doin' of?' retorted Mrs Gamp, sharply. 'Stuff and nonsense, Mrs Sweedlepipes!'
'He hasn't been a-doing anything!' exclaimed poor Poll, quite desperate. 'What do you catch me up so short for, when you see me put out to that extent that I can hardly speak? He'll never do anything again. He's done for. He's killed. The first time I ever see that boy,' said Poll, 'I charged him too much for a red-poll. I asked him three-halfpence for a penny one, because I was afraid he'd beat me down. But he didn't. And now he's dead; and if you was to crowd all the steam-engines and electric fluids that ever was, into this shop, and set 'em every one to work their hardest, they couldn't square the account, though it's only a ha'penny!'
Mr Sweedlepipe turned aside to the towel, and wiped his eyes with it.
'And what a clever boy he was!' he said. 'What a surprising young chap he was! How he talked! and what a deal he know'd! Shaved in this very chair he was; only for fun; it was all his fun; he was full of it. Ah! to think that he'll never be shaved in earnest! The birds might every one have died, and welcome,' cried the little barber, looking round him at the cages, and again applying to the towel, 'sooner than I'd have heard this news!'
'How did you ever come to hear it?' said Mrs Gamp, 'who told you?'
'I went out,' returned the little barber, 'into the City, to meet a sporting gent upon the Stock Exchange, that wanted a few slow pigeons to practice at; and when I'd done with him, I went to get a little drop of beer, and there I heard everybody a-talking about it. It's in the papers.'
'You are in a nice state of confugion, Mr Sweedlepipes, you are!' said Mrs Gamp, shaking her head; 'and my opinion is, as half-a-dudgeon fresh young lively leeches on your temples, wouldn't be too much to clear your mind, which so I tell you. Wot were they a-talkin' on, and wot was in the papers?'
'All about it!' cried the barber. 'What else do you suppose? Him and his master were upset on a journey, and he was carried to Salisbury, and was breathing his last when the account came away. He never spoke afterwards. Not a single word. That's the worst of it to me; but that ain't all. His master can't be found. The other manager of their office in the city, Crimple, David Crimple, has gone off with the money, and is advertised for, with a reward, upon the walls. Mr Montague, poor young Bailey's master (what a boy he was!) is advertised for, too. Some say he's slipped off, to join his friend abroad; some say he mayn't have got away yet; and they're looking for him high and low. Their office is a smash; a swindle altogether. But what's a Life Assurance office to a Life! And what a Life Young Bailey's was!'
'He was born into a wale,' said Mrs Gamp, with philosophical coolness. 'and he lived in a wale; and he must take the consequences of sech a sitiwation. But don't you hear nothink of Mr Chuzzlewit in all this?'
'No,' said Poll, 'nothing to speak of. His name wasn't printed as one of the board, though some people say it was just going to be. Some believe he was took in, and some believe he was one of the takers-in; but however that may be, they can't prove nothing against him. This morning he went up of his own accord afore the Lord Mayor or some of them City big-wigs, and complained that he'd been swindled, and that these two persons had gone off and cheated him, and that he had just found out that Montague's name wasn't even Montague, but something else. And they do say that he looked like Death, owing to his losses. But, Lord forgive me,' cried the barber, coming back again to the subject of his individual grief, 'what's his looks to me! He might have died and welcome, fifty times, and not been such a loss as Bailey!'
At this juncture the little bell rang, and the deep voice of Mrs Prig struck into the conversation.
'Oh! You're a-talkin' about it, are you!' observed that lady. 'Well, I hope you've got it over, for I ain't interested in it myself.'
'My precious Betsey,' said Mrs Gamp, 'how late you are!'
The worthy Mrs Prig replied, with some asperity, 'that if perwerse people went off dead, when they was least expected, it warn't no fault of her'n.' And further, 'that it was quite aggrawation enough to be made late when one was dropping for one's tea, without hearing on it again.'
Mrs Gamp, deriving from this exhibition of repartee some clue to the state of Mrs Prig's feelings, instantly conducted her upstairs; deeming that the sight of pickled salmon might work a softening change.
But Betsey Prig expected pickled salmon. It was obvious that she did; for her first words, after glancing at the table, were:
'I know'd she wouldn't have a cowcumber!'
Mrs Gamp changed colour, and sat down upon the bedstead.
'Lord bless you, Betsey Prig, your words is true. I quite forgot it!'
Mrs Prig, looking steadfastly at her friend, put her hand in her pocket, and with an air of surly triumph drew forth either the oldest of lettuces or youngest of cabbages, but at any rate, a green vegetable of an expansive nature, and of such magnificent proportions that she was obliged to shut it up like an umbrella before she could pull it out. She also produced a handful of mustard and cress, a trifle of the herb called dandelion, three bunches of radishes, an onion rather larger than an average turnip, three substantial slices of beetroot, and a short prong or antler of celery; the whole of this garden-stuff having been publicly exhibited, but a short time before, as a twopenny salad, and purchased by Mrs Prig on condition that the vendor could get it all into her pocket. Which had been happily accomplished, in High Holborn, to the breathless interest of a hackney-coach stand. And she laid so little stress on this surprising forethought, that she did not even smile, but returning her pocket into its accustomed sphere, merely recommended that these productions of nature should be sliced up, for immediate consumption, in plenty of vinegar.
'And don't go a-droppin' none of your snuff in it,' said Mrs Prig. 'In gruel, barley-water, apple-tea, mutton-broth, and that, it don't signify. It stimulates a patient. But I don't relish it myself.'
'Why, Betsey Prig!' cried Mrs Gamp, 'how CAN you talk so!'
'Why, ain't your patients, wotever their diseases is, always asneezin' their wery heads off, along of your snuff?' said Mrs Prig.
'And wot if they are!' said Mrs Gamp
'Nothing if they are,' said Mrs Prig. 'But don't deny it, Sairah.'
'Who deniges of it?' Mrs Gamp inquired.
Mrs Prig returned no answer.
'WHO deniges of it, Betsey?' Mrs Gamp inquired again. Then Mrs Gamp, by reversing the question, imparted a deeper and more awful character of solemnity to the same. 'Betsey, who deniges of it?'
It was the nearest possible approach to a very decided difference of opinion between these ladies; but Mrs Prig's impatience for the meal being greater at the moment than her impatience of contradiction, she replied, for the present, 'Nobody, if you don't, Sairah,' and prepared herself for tea. For a quarrel can be taken up at any time, but a limited quantity of salmon cannot.
Her toilet was simple. She had merely to 'chuck' her bonnet and shawl upon the bed; give her hair two pulls, one upon the right side and one upon the left, as if she were ringing a couple of bells; and all was done. The tea was already made, Mrs Gamp was not long over the salad, and they were soon at the height of their repast.
The temper of both parties was improved, for the time being, by the enjoyments of the table. When the meal came to a termination (which it was pretty long in doing), and Mrs Gamp having cleared away, produced the teapot from the top shelf, simultaneously with a couple of wine-glasses, they were quite amiable.
'Betsey,' said Mrs Gamp, filling her own glass and passing the teapot, 'I will now propoge a toast. My frequent pardner, Betsey Prig!'
'Which, altering the name to Sairah Gamp; I drink,' said Mrs Prig, 'with love and tenderness.'
From this moment symptoms of inflammation began to lurk in the nose of each lady; and perhaps, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, in the temper also.
'Now, Sairah,' said Mrs Prig, 'joining business with pleasure, wot is this case in which you wants me?'
Mrs Gamp betraying in her face some intention of returning an evasive answer, Betsey added:
'IS it Mrs Harris?'
'No, Betsey Prig, it ain't,' was Mrs Gamp's reply.
'Well!' said Mrs Prig, with a short laugh. 'I'm glad of that, at any rate.'
'Why should you be glad of that, Betsey?' Mrs Gamp retorted, warmly. 'She is unbeknown to you except by hearsay, why should you be glad? If you have anythink to say contrairy to the character of Mrs Harris, which well I knows behind her back, afore her face, or anywheres, is not to be impeaged, out with it, Betsey. I have know'd that sweetest and best of women,' said Mrs Gamp, shaking her head, and shedding tears, 'ever since afore her First, which Mr Harris who was dreadful timid went and stopped his ears in a empty dog-kennel, and never took his hands away or come out once till he was showed the baby, wen bein' took with fits, the doctor collared him and laid him on his back upon the airy stones, and she was told to ease her mind, his owls was organs. And I have know'd her, Betsey Prig, when he has hurt her feelin' art by sayin' of his Ninth that it was one too many, if not two, while that dear innocent was cooin' in his face, which thrive it did though bandy, but I have never know'd as you had occagion to be glad, Betsey, on accounts of Mrs Harris not requiring you. Require she never will, depend upon it, for her constant words in sickness is, and will be, "Send for Sairey?"'
During this touching address, Mrs Prig adroitly feigning to be the victim of that absence of mind which has its origin in excessive attention to one topic, helped herself from the teapot without appearing to observe it. Mrs Gamp observed it, however, and came to a premature close in consequence.
'Well, it ain't her, it seems,' said Mrs Prig, coldly; 'who is it then?'
'You have heerd me mention, Betsey,' Mrs Gamp replied, after glancing in an expressive and marked manner at the tea-pot, 'a person as I took care on at the time as you and me was pardners off and on, in that there fever at the Bull?'
'Old Snuffey,' Mrs Prig observed.
Sarah Gamp looked at her with an eye of fire, for she saw in this mistake of Mrs Prig, another willful and malignant stab at that same weakness or custom of hers, an ungenerous allusion to which, on the part of Betsey, had first disturbed their harmony that evening. And she saw it still more clearly, when, politely but firmly correcting that lady by the distinct enunciation of the word 'Chuffey,' Mrs Prig received the correction with a diabolical laugh.
The best among us have their failings, and it must be conceded of Mrs Prig, that if there were a blemish in the goodness of her disposition, it was a habit she had of not bestowing all its sharp and acid properties upon her patients (as a thoroughly amiable woman would have done), but of keeping a considerable remainder for the service of her friends. Highly pickled salmon, and lettuces chopped up in vinegar, may, as viands possessing some acidity of their own, have encouraged and increased this failing in Mrs Prig; and every application to the teapot certainly did; for it was often remarked of her by her friends, that she was most contradictory when most elevated. It is certain that her countenance became about this time derisive and defiant, and that she sat with her arms folded, and one eye shut up, in a somewhat offensive, because obstrusively intelligent, manner.
Mrs Gamp observing this, felt it the more necessary that Mrs Prig should know her place, and be made sensible of her exact station in society, as well as of her obligations to herself. She therefore assumed an air of greater patronage and importance, as she went on to answer Mrs Prig a little more in detail.
'Mr Chuffey, Betsey,' said Mrs Gamp, 'is weak in his mind. Excuge me if I makes remark, that he may neither be so weak as people thinks, nor people may not think he is so weak as they pretends, and what I knows, I knows; and what you don't, you don't; so do not ask me, Betsey. But Mr Chuffey's friends has made propojals for his bein' took care on, and has said to me, "Mrs Gamp, WILL you undertake it? We couldn't think," they says, "of trusting him to nobody but you, for, Sairey, you are gold as has passed the furnage. Will you undertake it, at your own price, day and night, and by your own self?" "No," I says, "I will not. Do not reckon on it. There is," I says, "but one creetur in the world as I would undertake on sech terms, and her name is Harris. But," I says, "I am acquainted with a friend, whose name is Betsey Prig, that I can recommend, and will assist me. Betsey," I says, "is always to be trusted under me, and will be guided as I could desire."'
Here Mrs Prig, without any abatement of her offensive manner again counterfeited abstraction of mind, and stretched out her hand to the teapot. It was more than Mrs Gamp could bear. She stopped the hand of Mrs Prig with her own, and said, with great feeling:
'No, Betsey! Drink fair, wotever you do!'
Mrs Prig, thus baffled, threw herself back in her chair, and closing the same eye more emphatically, and folding her arms tighter, suffered her head to roll slowly from side to side, while she surveyed her friend with a contemptuous smile.
Mrs Gamp resumed:
'Mrs Harris, Betsey—'
'Bother Mrs Harris!' said Betsey Prig.
Mrs Gamp looked at her with amazement, incredulity, and indignation; when Mrs Prig, shutting her eye still closer, and folding her arms still tighter, uttered these memorable and tremendous words:
'I don't believe there's no sich a person!'
After the utterance of which expressions, she leaned forward, and snapped her fingers once, twice, thrice; each time nearer to the face of Mrs Gamp, and then rose to put on her bonnet, as one who felt that there was now a gulf between them, which nothing could ever bridge across.
The shock of this blow was so violent and sudden, that Mrs Gamp sat staring at nothing with uplifted eyes, and her mouth open as if she were gasping for breath, until Betsey Prig had put on her bonnet and her shawl, and was gathering the latter about her throat. Then Mrs Gamp rose—morally and physically rose—and denounced her.
'What!' said Mrs Gamp, 'you bage creetur, have I know'd Mrs Harris five and thirty year, to be told at last that there ain't no sech a person livin'! Have I stood her friend in all her troubles, great and small, for it to come at last to sech a end as this, which her own sweet picter hanging up afore you all the time, to shame your Bragian words! But well you mayn't believe there's no sech a creetur, for she wouldn't demean herself to look at you, and often has she said, when I have made mention of your name, which, to my sinful sorrow, I have done, "What, Sairey Gamp! debage yourself to HER!" Go along with you!'
'I'm a-goin', ma'am, ain't I?' said Mrs Prig, stopping as she said it.
'You had better, ma'am,' said Mrs Gamp.
'Do you know who you're talking to, ma'am?' inquired her visitor.
'Aperiently,' said Mrs Gamp, surveying her with scorn from head to foot, 'to Betsey Prig. Aperiently so. I know her. No one better. Go along with you!'
'And YOU was a-goin' to take me under you!' cried Mrs Prig, surveying Mrs Gamp from head to foot in her turn. 'YOU was, was you? Oh, how kind! Why, deuce take your imperence,' said Mrs Prig, with a rapid change from banter to ferocity, 'what do you mean?'
'Go along with you!' said Mrs Gamp. 'I blush for you.'
'You had better blush a little for yourself, while you ARE about it!' said Mrs Prig. 'You and your Chuffeys! What, the poor old creetur isn't mad enough, isn't he? Aha!'
'He'd very soon be mad enough, if you had anything to do with him,' said Mrs Gamp.
'And that's what I was wanted for, is it?' cried Mrs Prig, triumphantly. 'Yes. But you'll find yourself deceived. I won't go near him. We shall see how you get on without me. I won't have nothink to do with him.'
'You never spoke a truer word than that!' said Mrs Gamp. 'Go along with you!'
She was prevented from witnessing the actual retirement of Mrs Prig from the room, notwithstanding the great desire she had expressed to behold it, by that lady, in her angry withdrawal, coming into contact with the bedstead, and bringing down the previously mentioned pippins; three or four of which came rattling on the head of Mrs Gamp so smartly, that when she recovered from this wooden shower-bath, Mrs Prig was gone.
She had the satisfaction, however, of hearing the deep voice of Betsey, proclaiming her injuries and her determination to have nothing to do with Mr Chuffey, down the stairs, and along the passage, and even out in Kingsgate Street. Likewise of seeing in her own apartment, in the place of Mrs Prig, Mr Sweedlepipe and two gentlemen.
'Why, bless my life!' exclaimed the little barber, 'what's amiss? The noise you ladies have been making, Mrs Gamp! Why, these two gentlemen have been standing on the stairs, outside the door, nearly all the time, trying to make you hear, while you were pelting away, hammer and tongs! It'll be the death of the little bullfinch in the shop, that draws his own water. In his fright, he's been a-straining himself all to bits, drawing more water than he could drink in a twelvemonth. He must have thought it was Fire!'
Mrs Gamp had in the meanwhile sunk into her chair, from whence, turning up her overflowing eyes, and clasping her hands, she delivered the following lamentation:
'Oh, Mr Sweedlepipes, which Mr Westlock also, if my eyes do not deceive, and a friend not havin' the pleasure of bein' beknown, wot I have took from Betsey Prig this blessed night, no mortial creetur knows! If she had abuged me, bein' in liquor, which I thought I smelt her wen she come, but could not so believe, not bein' used myself'—Mrs Gamp, by the way, was pretty far gone, and the fragrance of the teapot was strong in the room—'I could have bore it with a thankful art. But the words she spoke of Mrs Harris, lambs could not forgive. No, Betsey!' said Mrs Gamp, in a violent burst of feeling, 'nor worms forget!'
The little barber scratched his head, and shook it, and looked at the teapot, and gradually got out of the room. John Westlock, taking a chair, sat down on one side of Mrs Gamp. Martin, taking the foot of the bed, supported her on the other.
'You wonder what we want, I daresay,' observed John. 'I'll tell you presently, when you have recovered. It's not pressing, for a few minutes or so. How do you find yourself? Better?'
Mrs Gamp shed more tears, shook her head and feebly pronounced Mrs Harris's name.
'Have a little—' John was at a loss what to call it.
'Tea,' suggested Martin.
'It ain't tea,' said Mrs Gamp.
'Physic of some sort, I suppose,' cried John. 'Have a little.'
Mrs Gamp was prevailed upon to take a glassful. 'On condition,' she passionately observed, 'as Betsey never has another stroke of work from me.'
'Certainly not,' said John. 'She shall never help to nurse ME.'
'To think,' said Mrs Gamp, 'as she should ever have helped to nuss that friend of yourn, and been so near of hearing things that—Ah!'
John looked at Martin.
'Yes,' he said. 'That was a narrow escape, Mrs Gamp.'
'Narrer, in-deed!' she returned. 'It was only my having the night, and hearin' of him in his wanderins; and her the day, that saved it. Wot would she have said and done, if she had know'd what I know; that perfeejus wretch! Yet, oh good gracious me!' cried Mrs Gamp, trampling on the floor, in the absence of Mrs Prig, 'that I should hear from that same woman's lips what I have heerd her speak of Mrs Harris!'
'Never mind,' said John. 'You know it is not true.'
'Isn't true!' cried Mrs Gamp. 'True! Don't I know as that dear woman is expecting of me at this minnit, Mr Westlock, and is a-lookin' out of window down the street, with little Tommy Harris in her arms, as calls me his own Gammy, and truly calls, for bless the mottled little legs of that there precious child (like Canterbury Brawn his own dear father says, which so they are) his own I have been, ever since I found him, Mr Westlock, with his small red worsted shoe a-gurglin' in his throat, where he had put it in his play, a chick, wile they was leavin' of him on the floor a-lookin' for it through the ouse and him a-choakin' sweetly in the parlour! Oh, Betsey Prig, what wickedness you've showed this night, but never shall you darken Sairey's doors agen, you twining serpiant!'
'You were always so kind to her, too!' said John, consolingly.
'That's the cutting part. That's where it hurts me, Mr Westlock,' Mrs Gamp replied; holding out her glass unconsciously, while Martin filled it.
'Chosen to help you with Mr Lewsome!' said John. 'Chosen to help you with Mr Chuffey!'
'Chose once, but chose no more,' cried Mrs Gamp. 'No pardnership with Betsey Prig agen, sir!'
'No, no,' said John. 'That would never do.'
'I don't know as it ever would have done, sir,' Mrs Gamp replied, with a solemnity peculiar to a certain stage of intoxication. 'Now that the marks,' by which Mrs Gamp is supposed to have meant mask, 'is off that creetur's face, I do not think it ever would have done. There are reagions in families for keeping things a secret, Mr Westlock, and havin' only them about you as you knows you can repoge in. Who could repoge in Betsey Prig, arter her words of Mrs Harris, setting in that chair afore my eyes!'
'Quite true,' said John; 'quite. I hope you have time to find another assistant, Mrs Gamp?'
Between her indignation and the teapot, her powers of comprehending what was said to her began to fail. She looked at John with tearful eyes, and murmuring the well-remembered name which Mrs Prig had challenged—as if it were a talisman against all earthly sorrows—seemed to wander in her mind.
'I hope,' repeated John, 'that you have time to find another assistant?'
'Which short it is, indeed,' cried Mrs Gamp, turning up her languid eyes, and clasping Mr Westlock's wrist with matronly affection. 'To-morrow evenin', sir, I waits upon his friends. Mr Chuzzlewit apinted it from nine to ten.'
'From nine to ten,' said John, with a significant glance at Martin. 'and then Mr Chuffey retires into safe keeping, does he?'
'He needs to be kep safe, I do assure you,' Mrs Gamp replied with a mysterious air. 'Other people besides me has had a happy deliverance from Betsey Prig. I little know'd that woman. She'd have let it out!'
'Let HIM out, you mean,' said John.
'Do I!' retorted Mrs Gamp. 'Oh!'
The severely ironical character of this reply was strengthened by a very slow nod, and a still slower drawing down of the corners of Mrs Gamp's mouth. She added with extreme stateliness of manner after indulging in a short doze:
'But I am a-keepin' of you gentlemen, and time is precious.'
Mingling with that delusion of the teapot which inspired her with the belief that they wanted her to go somewhere immediately, a shrewd avoidance of any further reference to the topics into which she had lately strayed, Mrs Gamp rose; and putting away the teapot in its accustomed place, and locking the cupboard with much gravity proceeded to attire herself for a professional visit.
This preparation was easily made, as it required nothing more than the snuffy black bonnet, the snuffy black shawl, the pattens and the indispensable umbrella, without which neither a lying-in nor a laying-out could by any possibility be attempted. When Mrs Gamp had invested herself with these appendages she returned to her chair, and sitting down again, declared herself quite ready.
'It's a 'appiness to know as one can benefit the poor sweet creetur,' she observed, 'I'm sure. It isn't all as can. The torters Betsey Prig inflicts is frightful!'
Closing her eyes as she made this remark, in the acuteness of her commiseration for Betsey's patients, she forgot to open them again until she dropped a patten. Her nap was also broken at intervals like the fabled slumbers of Friar Bacon, by the dropping of the other patten, and of the umbrella. But when she had got rid of those incumbrances, her sleep was peaceful.
The two young men looked at each other, ludicrously enough; and Martin, stifling his disposition to laugh, whispered in John Westlock's ear,
'What shall we do now?'
'Stay here,' he replied.
Mrs Gamp was heard to murmur 'Mrs Harris' in her sleep.
'Rely upon it,' whispered John, looking cautiously towards her, 'that you shall question this old clerk, though you go as Mrs Harris herself. We know quite enough to carry her our own way now, at all events; thanks to this quarrel, which confirms the old saying that when rogues fall out, honest people get what they want. Let Jonas Chuzzlewit look to himself; and let her sleep as long as she likes. We shall gain our end in good time.'
SURPRISES TOM PINCH VERY MUCH, AND SHOWS HOW CERTAIN CONFIDENCES PASSED BETWEEN HIM AND HIS SISTER
It was the next evening; and Tom and his sister were sitting together before tea, talking, in their usual quiet way, about a great many things, but not at all about Lewsome's story or anything connected with it; for John Westlock—really John, for so young a man, was one of the most considerate fellows in the world—had particularly advised Tom not to mention it to his sister just yet, in case it should disquiet her. 'And I wouldn't, Tom,' he said, with a little hesitation, 'I wouldn't have a shadow on her happy face, or an uneasy thought in her gentle heart, for all the wealth and honours of the universe!' Really John was uncommonly kind; extraordinarily kind. If he had been her father, Tom said, he could not have taken a greater interest in her.
But although Tom and his sister were extremely conversational, they were less lively, and less cheerful, than usual. Tom had no idea that this originated with Ruth, but took it for granted that he was rather dull himself. In truth he was; for the lightest cloud upon the Heaven of her quiet mind, cast its shadow upon Tom.
And there was a cloud on little Ruth that evening. Yes, indeed. When Tom was looking in another direction, her bright eyes, stealing on towards his face, would sparkle still more brightly than their custom was, and then grow dim. When Tom was silent, looking out upon the summer weather, she would sometimes make a hasty movement, as if she were about to throw herself upon his neck; then check the impulse, and when he looked round, show a laughing face, and speak to him very merrily; when she had anything to give Tom, or had any excuse for coming near him, she would flutter about him, and lay her bashful hand upon his shoulder, and not be willing to withdraw it; and would show by all such means that there was something on her heart which in her great love she longed to say to him, but had not the courage to utter.
So they were sitting, she with her work before her, but not working, and Tom with his book beside him, but not reading, when Martin knocked at the door. Anticipating who it was, Tom went to open it; and he and Martin came back into the room together. Tom looked surprised, for in answer to his cordial greeting Martin had hardly spoken a word.
Ruth also saw that there was something strange in the manner of their visitor, and raised her eyes inquiringly to Tom's face, as if she were seeking an explanation there. Tom shook his head, and made the same mute appeal to Martin.
Martin did not sit down but walked up to the window, and stood there looking out. He turned round after a few moments to speak, but hastily averted his head again, without doing so.
'What has happened, Martin?' Tom anxiously inquired. 'My dear fellow, what bad news do you bring?'
'Oh, Tom!' replied Martin, in a tone of deep reproach. 'To hear you feign that interest in anything that happens to me, hurts me even more than your ungenerous dealing.'
'My ungenerous dealing! Martin! My—' Tom could say no more.
'How could you, Tom, how could you suffer me to thank you so fervently and sincerely for your friendship; and not tell me, like a man, that you had deserted me! Was it true, Tom! Was it honest! Was it worthy of what you used to be—of what I am sure you used to be—to tempt me, when you had turned against me, into pouring out my heart! Oh, Tom!'
His tone was one of such strong injury and yet of so much grief for the loss of a friend he had trusted in—it expressed such high past love for Tom, and so much sorrow and compassion for his supposed unworthiness—that Tom, for a moment, put his hand before his face, and had no more power of justifying himself, than if he had been a monster of deceit and falsehood.
'I protest, as I must die,' said Martin, 'that I grieve over the loss of what I thought you; and have no anger in the recollection of my own injuries. It is only at such a time, and after such a discovery, that we know the full measure of our old regard for the subject of it. I swear, little as I showed it—little as I know I showed it—that when I had the least consideration for you, Tom, I loved you like a brother.'
Tom was composed by this time, and might have been the Spirit of Truth, in a homely dress—it very often wears a homely dress, thank God!—when he replied to him.
'Martin,' he said, 'I don't know what is in your mind, or who has abused it, or by what extraordinary means. But the means are false. There is no truth whatever in the impression under which you labour. It is a delusion from first to last; and I warn you that you will deeply regret the wrong you do me. I can honestly say that I have been true to you, and to myself. You will be very sorry for this. Indeed, you will be very sorry for it, Martin.'
'I AM sorry,' returned Martin, shaking his head. 'I think I never knew what it was to be sorry in my heart, until now.'
'At least,' said Tom, 'if I had always been what you charge me with being now, and had never had a place in your regard, but had always been despised by you, and had always deserved it, you should tell me in what you have found me to be treacherous; and on what grounds you proceed. I do not intreat you, therefore, to give me that satisfaction as a favour, Martin, but I ask it of you as a right.'
'My own eyes are my witnesses,' returned Martin. 'Am I to believe them?'
'No,' said Tom, calmly. 'Not if they accuse me.'
'Your own words. Your own manner,' pursued Martin. 'Am I to believe THEM?'
'No,' replied Tom, calmly. 'Not if they accuse me. But they never have accused me. Whoever has perverted them to such a purpose, has wronged me almost as cruelly'—his calmness rather failed him here—'as you have done.'
'I came here,' said Martin; 'and I appeal to your good sister to hear me—'
'Not to her,' interrupted Tom. 'Pray, do not appeal to her. She will never believe you.'
He drew her arm through his own, as he said it.
'I believe it, Tom!'
'No, no,' cried Tom, 'of course not. I said so. Why, tut, tut, tut. What a silly little thing you are!'
'I never meant,' said Martin, hastily, 'to appeal to you against your brother. Do not think me so unmanly and unkind. I merely appealed to you to hear my declaration, that I came here for no purpose of reproach—I have not one reproach to vent—but in deep regret. You could not know in what bitterness of regret, unless you knew how often I have thought of Tom; how long in almost hopeless circumstances, I have looked forward to the better estimation of his friendship; and how steadfastly I have believed and trusted in him.'