HotFreeBooks.com
Life And Adventures Of Martin Chuzzlewit
by Charles Dickens
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21
Home - Random Browse

'Drag him away! Take him out of my reach!' said Martin; 'or I can't help it. The strong restraint I have put upon my hands has been enough to palsy them. I am not master of myself while he is within their range. Drag him away!'

Seeing that he still did not rise, Mr Tapley, without any compromise about it, actually did drag him away, and stick him up on the floor, with his back against the opposite wall.

'Hear me, rascal!' said Mr Chuzzlewit. 'I have summoned you here to witness your own work. I have summoned you here to witness it, because I know it will be gall and wormwood to you! I have summoned you here to witness it, because I know the sight of everybody here must be a dagger in your mean, false heart! What! do you know me as I am, at last!'

Mr Pecksniff had cause to stare at him, for the triumph in his face and speech and figure was a sight to stare at.

'Look there!' said the old man, pointing at him, and appealing to the rest. 'Look there! And then—come hither, my dear Martin—look here! here! here!' At every repetition of the word he pressed his grandson closer to his breast.

'The passion I felt, Martin, when I dared not do this,' he said, 'was in the blow I struck just now. Why did we ever part! How could we ever part! How could you ever fly from me to him!'

Martin was about to answer, but he stopped him, and went on.

'The fault was mine no less than yours. Mark has told me so today, and I have known it long; though not so long as I might have done. Mary, my love, come here.'

As she trembled and was very pale, he sat her in his own chair, and stood beside it with her hand in his; and Martin standing by him.

'The curse of our house,' said the old man, looking kindly down upon her, 'has been the love of self; has ever been the love of self. How often have I said so, when I never knew that I had wrought it upon others.'

He drew one hand through Martin's arm, and standing so, between them, proceeded thus:

'You all know how I bred this orphan up, to tend me. None of you can know by what degrees I have come to regard her as a daughter; for she has won upon me, by her self-forgetfulness, her tenderness, her patience, all the goodness of her nature, when Heaven is her witness that I took but little pains to draw it forth. It blossomed without cultivation, and it ripened without heat. I cannot find it in my heart to say that I am sorry for it now, or yonder fellow might be holding up his head.'

Mr Pecksniff put his hand into his waistcoat, and slightly shook that part of him to which allusion had been made; as if to signify that it was still uppermost.

'There is a kind of selfishness,' said Martin—'I have learned it in my own experience of my own breast—which is constantly upon the watch for selfishness in others; and holding others at a distance, by suspicions and distrusts, wonders why they don't approach, and don't confide, and calls that selfishness in them. Thus I once doubted those about me—not without reason in the beginning—and thus I once doubted you, Martin.'

'Not without reason,' Martin answered, 'either.'

'Listen, hypocrite! Listen, smooth-tongued, servile, crawling knave!' said Martin. 'Listen, you shallow dog. What! When I was seeking him, you had already spread your nets; you were already fishing for him, were ye? When I lay ill in this good woman's house and your meek spirit pleaded for my grandson, you had already caught him, had ye? Counting on the restoration of the love you knew I bore him, you designed him for one of your two daughters did ye? Or failing that, you traded in him as a speculation which at any rate should blind me with the lustre of your charity, and found a claim upon me! Why, even then I knew you, and I told you so. Did I tell you that I knew you, even then?'

'I am not angry, sir,' said Mr Pecksniff, softly. 'I can bear a great deal from you. I will never contradict you, Mr Chuzzlewit.'

'Observe!' said Martin, looking round. 'I put myself in that man's hands on terms as mean and base, and as degrading to himself, as I could render them in words. I stated them at length to him, before his own children, syllable by syllable, as coarsely as I could, and with as much offence, and with as plain an exposition of my contempt, as words—not looks and manner merely—could convey. If I had only called the angry blood into his face, I would have wavered in my purpose. If I had only stung him into being a man for a minute I would have abandoned it. If he had offered me one word of remonstrance, in favour of the grandson whom he supposed I had disinherited; if he had pleaded with me, though never so faintly, against my appeal to him to abandon him to misery and cast him from his house; I think I could have borne with him for ever afterwards. But not a word, not a word. Pandering to the worst of human passions was the office of his nature; and faithfully he did his work!'

'I am not angry,' observed Mr Pecksniff. 'I am hurt, Mr Chuzzlewit; wounded in my feelings; but I am not angry, my good sir.'

Mr Chuzzlewit resumed.

'Once resolved to try him, I was resolute to pursue the trial to the end; but while I was bent on fathoming the depth of his duplicity, I made a sacred compact with myself that I would give him credit on the other side for any latent spark of goodness, honour, forbearance—any virtue—that might glimmer in him. For first to last there has been no such thing. Not once. He cannot say I have not given him opportunity. He cannot say I have ever led him on. He cannot say I have not left him freely to himself in all things; or that I have not been a passive instrument in his hands, which he might have used for good as easily as evil. Or if he can, he Lies! And that's his nature, too.'

'Mr Chuzzlewit,' interrupted Pecksniff, shedding tears. 'I am not angry, sir. I cannot be angry with you. But did you never, my dear sir, express a desire that the unnatural young man who by his wicked arts has estranged your good opinion from me, for the time being; only for the time being; that your grandson, Mr Chuzzlewit, should be dismissed my house? Recollect yourself, my Christian friend.'

'I have said so, have I not?' retorted the old man, sternly. 'I could not tell how far your specious hypocrisy had deceived him, knave; and knew no better way of opening his eyes than by presenting you before him in your own servile character. Yes. I did express that desire. And you leaped to meet it; and you met it; and turning in an instant on the hand you had licked and beslavered, as only such hounds can, you strengthened, and confirmed, and justified me in my scheme.'

Mr Pecksniff made a bow; a submissive, not to say a grovelling and an abject bow. If he had been complimented on his practice of the loftiest virtues, he never could have bowed as he bowed then.

'The wretched man who has been murdered,' Mr Chuzzlewit went on to say; 'then passing by the name of—'

'Tigg,' suggested Mark.

'Of Tigg; brought begging messages to me on behalf of a friend of his, and an unworthy relative of mine; and finding him a man well enough suited to my purpose, I employed him to glean some news of you, Martin, for me. It was from him I learned that you had taken up your abode with yonder fellow. It was he, who meeting you here in town, one evening—you remember where?'

'At the pawnbroker's shop,' said Martin.

'Yes; watched you to your lodging, and enabled me to send you a bank-note.'

'I little thought,' said Martin, greatly moved, 'that it had come from you; I little thought that you were interested in my fate. If I had—'

'If you had,' returned the old man, sorrowfully, 'you would have shown less knowledge of me as I seemed to be, and as I really was. I hoped to bring you back, Martin, penitent and humbled. I hoped to distress you into coming back to me. Much as I loved you, I had that to acknowledge which I could not reconcile it to myself to avow, then, unless you made submission to me first. Thus it was I lost you. If I have had, indirectly, any act or part in the fate of that unhappy man, by putting means, however small, within his reach, Heaven forgive me! I might have known, perhaps, that he would misuse money; that it was ill-bestowed upon him; and that sown by his hands it could engender mischief only. But I never thought of him at that time as having the disposition or ability to be a serious impostor, or otherwise than as a thoughtless, idle-humoured, dissipated spendthrift, sinning more against himself than others, and frequenting low haunts and indulging vicious tastes, to his own ruin only.'

'Beggin' your pardon, sir,' said Mr Tapley, who had Mrs Lupin on his arm by this time, quite agreeably; 'if I may make so bold as say so, my opinion is, as you was quite correct, and that he turned out perfectly nat'ral for all that. There's surprisin' number of men sir, who as long as they've only got their own shoes and stockings to depend upon, will walk down hill, along the gutters quiet enough and by themselves, and not do much harm. But set any on 'em up with a coach and horses, sir; and it's wonderful what a knowledge of drivin' he'll show, and how he'll fill his wehicle with passengers, and start off in the middle of the road, neck or nothing, to the Devil! Bless your heart, sir, there's ever so many Tiggs a-passin' this here Temple-gate any hour in the day, that only want a chance to turn out full-blown Montagues every one!'

'Your ignorance, as you call it, Mark,' said Mr Chuzzlewit, 'is wiser than some men's enlightenment, and mine among them. You are right; not for the first time to-day. Now hear me out, my dears. And hear me, you, who, if what I have been told be accurately stated, are Bankrupt in pocket no less than in good name! And when you have heard me, leave this place, and poison my sight no more!'

Mr Pecksniff laid his hand upon his breast, and bowed again.

'The penance I have done in this house,' said Mr Chuzzlewit, 'has earned this reflection with it constantly, above all others. That if it had pleased Heaven to visit such infirmity on my old age as really had reduced me to the state in which I feigned to be, I should have brought its misery upon myself. Oh, you whose wealth, like mine, has been a source of continual unhappiness, leading you to distrust the nearest and dearest, and to dig yourself a living grave of suspicion and reserve; take heed that, having cast off all whom you might have bound to you, and tenderly, you do not become in your decay the instrument of such a man as this, and waken in another world to the knowledge of such wrong as would embitter Heaven itself, if wrong or you could ever reach it!'

And then he told them how he had sometimes thought, in the beginning, that love might grow up between Mary and Martin; and how he had pleased his fancy with the picture of observing it when it was new, and taking them to task, apart, in counterfeited doubt, and then confessing to them that it had been an object dear to his heart; and by his sympathy with them, and generous provision for their young fortunes, establishing a claim on their affection and regard which nothing should wither, and which should surround his old age with means of happiness. How in the first dawn of this design, and when the pleasure of such a scheme for the happiness of others was new and indistinct within him, Martin had come to tell him that he had already chosen for himself; knowing that he, the old man, had some faint project on that head, but ignorant whom it concerned. How it was little comfort to him to know that Martin had chosen Her, because the grace of his design was lost, and because finding that she had returned his love, he tortured himself with the reflection that they, so young, to whom he had been so kind a benefactor, were already like the world, and bent on their own selfish, stealthy ends. How in the bitterness of this impression, and of his past experience, he had reproached Martin so harshly (forgetting that he had never invited his confidence on such a point, and confounding what he had meant to do with what he had done), that high words sprung up between them, and they separated in wrath. How he loved him still, and hoped he would return. How on the night of his illness at the Dragon, he had secretly written tenderly of him, and made him his heir, and sanctioned his marriage with Mary; and how, after his interview with Mr Pecksniff, he had distrusted him again, and burnt the paper to ashes, and had lain down in his bed distracted by suspicions, doubts, and regrets.

And then he told them how, resolved to probe this Pecksniff, and to prove the constancy and truth of Mary (to himself no less than Martin), he had conceived and entered on his plan; and how, beneath her gentleness and patience, he had softened more and more; still more and more beneath the goodness and simplicity, the honour and the manly faith of Tom. And when he spoke of Tom, he said God bless him; and the tears were in his eyes; for he said that Tom, mistrusted and disliked by him at first, had come like summer rain upon his heart; and had disposed it to believe in better things. And Martin took him by the hand, and Mary too, and John, his old friend, stoutly too; and Mark, and Mrs Lupin, and his sister, little Ruth. And peace of mind, deep, tranquil peace of mind, was in Tom's heart.

The old man then related how nobly Mr Pecksniff had performed the duty in which he stood indebted to society, in the matter of Tom's dismissal; and how, having often heard disparagement of Mr Westlock from Pecksniffian lips, and knowing him to be a friend to Tom, he had used, through his confidential agent and solicitor, that little artifice which had kept him in readiness to receive his unknown friend in London. And he called on Mr Pecksniff (by the name of Scoundrel) to remember that there again he had not trapped him to do evil, but that he had done it of his own free will and agency; nay, that he had cautioned him against it. And once again he called on Mr Pecksniff (by the name of Hang-dog) to remember that when Martin coming home at last, an altered man, had sued for the forgiveness which awaited him, he, Pecksniff, had rejected him in language of his own, and had remorsely stepped in between him and the least touch of natural tenderness. 'For which,' said the old man, 'if the bending of my finger would remove a halter from your neck, I wouldn't bend it!'

'Martin,' he added, 'your rival has not been a dangerous one, but Mrs Lupin here has played duenna for some weeks; not so much to watch your love as to watch her lover. For that Ghoul'—his fertility in finding names for Mr Pecksniff was astonishing—'would have crawled into her daily walks otherwise, and polluted the fresh air. What's this? Her hand is trembling strangely. See if you can hold it.'

Hold it! If he clasped it half as tightly as he did her waist. Well, well!

But it was good in him that even then, in his high fortune and happiness, with her lips nearly printed on his own, and her proud young beauty in his close embrace, he had a hand still left to stretch out to Tom Pinch.

'Oh, Tom! Dear Tom! I saw you, accidentally, coming here. Forgive me!'

'Forgive!' cried Tom. 'I'll never forgive you as long as I live, Martin, if you say another syllable about it. Joy to you both! Joy, my dear fellow, fifty thousand times.'

Joy! There is not a blessing on earth that Tom did not wish them. There is not a blessing on earth that Tom would not have bestowed upon them, if he could.

'I beg your pardon, sir,' said Mr Tapley, stepping forward, 'but yow was mentionin', just now, a lady of the name of Lupin, sir.'

'I was,' returned old Martin

'Yes, sir. It's a pretty name, sir?'

'A very good name,' said Martin.

'It seems a'most a pity to change such a name into Tapley. Don't it, sir?' said Mark.

'That depends upon the lady. What is HER opinion?'

'Why, sir,' said Mr Tapley, retiring, with a bow, towards the buxom hostess, 'her opinion is as the name ain't a change for the better, but the indiwidual may be, and, therefore, if nobody ain't acquainted with no jest cause or impediment, et cetrer, the Blue Dragon will be con-werted into the Jolly Tapley. A sign of my own inwention, sir. Wery new, conwivial, and expressive!'

The whole of these proceedings were so agreeable to Mr Pecksniff that he stood with his eyes fixed upon the floor and his hands clasping one another alternately, as if a host of penal sentences were being passed upon him. Not only did his figure appear to have shrunk, but his discomfiture seemed to have extended itself even to his dress. His clothes seemed to have grown shabbier, his linen to have turned yellow, his hair to have become lank and frowsy; his very boots looked villanous and dim, as if their gloss had departed with his own.

Feeling, rather than seeing, that the old man now pointed to the door, he raised his eyes, picked up his hat, and thus addressed him:

'Mr Chuzzlewit, sir! you have partaken of my hospitality.'

'And paid for it,' he observed.

'Thank you. That savours,' said Mr Pecksniff, taking out his pocket-handkerchief, 'of your old familiar frankness. You have paid for it. I was about to make the remark. You have deceived me, sir. Thank you again. I am glad of it. To see you in the possession of your health and faculties on any terms, is, in itself, a sufficient recompense. To have been deceived implies a trusting nature. Mine is a trusting nature. I am thankful for it. I would rather have a trusting nature, do you know, sir, than a doubting one!'

Here Mr Pecksniff, with a sad smile, bowed, and wiped his eyes.

'There is hardly any person present, Mr Chuzzlewit,' said Pecksniff, 'by whom I have not been deceived. I have forgiven those persons on the spot. That was my duty; and, of course, I have done it. Whether it was worthy of you to partake of my hospitality, and to act the part you did act in my house, that, sir, is a question which I leave to your own conscience. And your conscience does not acquit you. No, sir, no!'

Pronouncing these last words in a loud and solemn voice, Mr Pecksniff was not so absolutely lost in his own fervour as to be unmindful of the expediency of getting a little nearer to the door.

'I have been struck this day,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'with a walking stick (which I have every reason to believe has knobs upon it), on that delicate and exquisite portion of the human anatomy—the brain. Several blows have been inflicted, sir, without a walking-stick, upon that tenderer portion of my frame—my heart. You have mentioned, sir, my being bankrupt in my purse. Yes, sir, I am. By an unfortunate speculation, combined with treachery, I find myself reduced to poverty; at a time, sir, when the child of my bosom is widowed, and affliction and disgrace are in my family.'

Here Mr Pecksniff wiped his eyes again, and gave himself two or three little knocks upon the breast, as if he were answering two or three other little knocks from within, given by the tinkling hammer of his conscience, to express 'Cheer up, my boy!'

'I know the human mind, although I trust it. That is my weakness. Do I not know, sir'—here he became exceedingly plaintive and was observed to glance towards Tom Pinch—'that my misfortunes bring this treatment on me? Do I not know, sir, that but for them I never should have heard what I have heard to-day? Do I not know that in the silence and the solitude of night, a little voice will whisper in your ear, Mr Chuzzlewit, "This was not well. This was not well, sir!" Think of this, sir (if you will have the goodness), remote from the impulses of passion, and apart from the specialities, if I may use that strong remark, of prejudice. And if you ever contemplate the silent tomb, sir, which you will excuse me for entertaining some doubt of your doing, after the conduct into which you have allowed yourself to be betrayed this day; if you ever contemplate the silent tomb sir, think of me. If you find yourself approaching to the silent tomb, sir, think of me. If you should wish to have anything inscribed upon your silent tomb, sir, let it be, that I—ah, my remorseful sir! that I—the humble individual who has now the honour of reproaching you, forgave you. That I forgave you when my injuries were fresh, and when my bosom was newly wrung. It may be bitterness to you to hear it now, sir, but you will live to seek a consolation in it. May you find a consolation in it when you want it, sir! Good morning!'

With this sublime address, Mr Pecksniff departed. But the effect of his departure was much impaired by his being immediately afterwards run against, and nearly knocked down, by a monstrously excited little man in velveteen shorts and a very tall hat; who came bursting up the stairs, and straight into the chambers of Mr Chuzzlewit, as if he were deranged.

'Is there anybody here that knows him?' cried the little man. 'Is there anybody here that knows him? Oh, my stars, is there anybody here that knows him?'

They looked at each other for an explanation; but nobody knew anything more than that here was an excited little man with a very tall hat on, running in and out of the room as hard as he could go; making his single pair of bright blue stockings appear at least a dozen; and constantly repeating in a shrill voice, 'IS there anybody here that knows him?'

'If your brains is not turned topjy turjey, Mr Sweedlepipes!' exclaimed another voice, 'hold that there nige of yourn, I beg you, sir.'

At the same time Mrs Gamp was seen in the doorway; out of breath from coming up so many stairs, and panting fearfully; but dropping curtseys to the last.

'Excuge the weakness of the man,' said Mrs Gamp, eyeing Mr Sweedlepipe with great indignation; 'and well I might expect it, as I should have know'd, and wishin' he was drownded in the Thames afore I had brought him here, which not a blessed hour ago he nearly shaved the noge off from the father of as lovely a family as ever, Mr Chuzzlewit, was born three sets of twins, and would have done it, only he see it a-goin' in the glass, and dodged the rager. And never, Mr Sweedlepipes, I do assure you, sir, did I so well know what a misfortun it was to be acquainted with you, as now I do, which so I say, sir, and I don't deceive you!'

'I ask your pardon, ladies and gentlemen all,' cried the little barber, taking off his hat, 'and yours too, Mrs Gamp. But—but,' he added this half laughing and half crying, 'IS there anybody here that knows him?'

As the barber said these words, a something in top-boots, with its head bandaged up, staggered into the room, and began going round and round and round, apparently under the impression that it was walking straight forward.

'Look at him!' cried the excited little barber. 'Here he is! That'll soon wear off, and then he'll be all right again. He's no more dead than I am. He's all alive and hearty. Aint you, Bailey?'

'R—r—reether so, Poll!' replied that gentleman.

'Look here!' cried the little barber, laughing and crying in the same breath. 'When I steady him he comes all right. There! He's all right now. Nothing's the matter with him now, except that he's a little shook and rather giddy; is there, Bailey?'

'R—r—reether shook, Poll—reether so!' said Mr Bailey. 'What, my lovely Sairey! There you air!'

'What a boy he is!' cried the tender-hearted Poll, actually sobbing over him. 'I never see sech a boy! It's all his fun. He's full of it. He shall go into the business along with me. I am determined he shall. We'll make it Sweedlepipe and Bailey. He shall have the sporting branch (what a one he'll be for the matches!) and me the shavin'. I'll make over the birds to him as soon as ever he's well enough. He shall have the little bullfinch in the shop, and all. He's sech a boy! I ask your pardon, ladies and gentlemen, but I thought there might be some one here that know'd him!'

Mrs Gamp had observed, not without jealousy and scorn, that a favourable impression appeared to exist in behalf of Mr Sweedlepipe and his young friend; and that she had fallen rather into the background in consequence. She now struggled to the front, therefore, and stated her business.

'Which, Mr Chuzzlewit,' she said, 'is well beknown to Mrs Harris as has one sweet infant (though she DO not wish it known) in her own family by the mother's side, kep in spirits in a bottle; and that sweet babe she see at Greenwich Fair, a-travelling in company with a pink-eyed lady, Prooshan dwarf, and livin' skelinton, which judge her feelings when the barrel organ played, and she was showed her own dear sister's child, the same not bein' expected from the outside picter, where it was painted quite contrairy in a livin' state, a many sizes larger, and performing beautiful upon the Arp, which never did that dear child know or do; since breathe it never did, to speak on in this wale! And Mrs Harris, Mr Chuzzlewit, has knowed me many year, and can give you information that the lady which is widdered can't do better and may do worse, than let me wait upon her, which I hope to do. Permittin' the sweet faces as I see afore me.'

'Oh!' said Mr Chuzzlewit. 'Is that your business? Was this good person paid for the trouble we gave her?'

'I paid her, sir,' returned Mark Tapley; 'liberal.'

'The young man's words is true,' said Mrs Gamp, 'and thank you kindly.'

'Then here we will close our acquaintance, Mrs Gamp,' retorted Mr Chuzzlewit. 'And Mr Sweedlepipe—is that your name?'

'That is my name, sir,' replied Poll, accepting with a profusion of gratitude, some chinking pieces which the old man slipped into his hand.

'Mr Sweedlepipe, take as much care of your lady-lodger as you can, and give her a word or two of good advice now and then. Such,' said old Martin, looking gravely at the astonished Mrs Gamp, 'as hinting at the expediency of a little less liquor, and a little more humanity, and a little less regard for herself, and a little more regard for her patients, and perhaps a trifle of additional honesty. Or when Mrs Gamp gets into trouble, Mr Sweedlepipe, it had better not be at a time when I am near enough to the Old Bailey to volunteer myself as a witness to her character. Endeavour to impress that upon her at your leisure, if you please.'

Mrs Gamp clasped her hands, turned up her eyes until they were quite invisible, threw back her bonnet for the admission of fresh air to her heated brow; and in the act of saying faintly—'Less liquor!—Sairey Gamp—Bottle on the chimney-piece, and let me put my lips to it, when I am so dispoged!'—fell into one of the walking swoons; in which pitiable state she was conducted forth by Mr Sweedlepipe, who, between his two patients, the swooning Mrs Gamp and the revolving Bailey, had enough to do, poor fellow.

The old man looked about him, with a smile, until his eyes rested on Tom Pinch's sister; when he smiled the more.

'We will all dine here together,' he said; 'and as you and Mary have enough to talk of, Martin, you shall keep house for us until the afternoon, with Mr and Mrs Tapley. I must see your lodgings in the meanwhile, Tom.'

Tom was quite delighted. So was Ruth. She would go with them.

'Thank you, my love,' said Mr Chuzzlewit. 'But I am afraid I must take Tom a little out of the way, on business. Suppose you go on first, my dear?'

Pretty little Ruth was equally delighted to do that.

'But not alone,' said Martin, 'not alone. Mr Westlock, I dare say, will escort you.'

Why, of course he would: what else had Mr Westlock in his mind? How dull these old men are!

'You are sure you have no engagement?' he persisted.

Engagement! As if he could have any engagement!

So they went off arm-in-arm. When Tom and Mr Chuzzlewit went off arm-in-arm a few minutes after them, the latter was still smiling; and really, for a gentleman of his habits, in rather a knowing manner.



CHAPTER FIFTY-THREE

WHAT JOHN WESTLOCK SAID TO TOM PINCH'S SISTER; WHAT TOM PINCH'S SISTER SAID TO JOHN WESTLOCK; WHAT TOM PINCH SAID TO BOTH OF THEM; AND HOW THEY ALL PASSED THE REMAINDER OF THE DAY

Brilliantly the Temple Fountain sparkled in the sun, and laughingly its liquid music played, and merrily the idle drops of water danced and danced, and peeping out in sport among the trees, plunged lightly down to hide themselves, as little Ruth and her companion came toward it.

And why they came toward the Fountain at all is a mystery; for they had no business there. It was not in their way. It was quite out of their way. They had no more to do with the Fountain, bless you, than they had with—with Love, or any out-of-the-way thing of that sort.

It was all very well for Tom and his sister to make appointments by the Fountain, but that was quite another affair. Because, of course, when she had to wait a minute or two, it would have been very awkward for her to have had to wait in any but a tolerably quiet spot; but that was as quiet a spot, everything considered, as they could choose. But when she had John Westlock to take care of her, and was going home with her arm in his (home being in a different direction altogether), their coming anywhere near that Fountain was quite extraordinary.

However, there they found themselves. And another extraordinary part of the matter was, that they seemed to have come there, by a silent understanding. Yet when they got there, they were a little confused by being there, which was the strangest part of all; because there is nothing naturally confusing in a Fountain. We all know that.

'What a good old place it was!' John said. With quite an earnest affection for it.

'A pleasant place indeed,' said little Ruth. 'So shady!'

Oh wicked little Ruth!

They came to a stop when John began to praise it. The day was exquisite; and stopping at all, it was quite natural—nothing could be more so—that they should glance down Garden Court; because Garden Court ends in the Garden, and the Garden ends in the River, and that glimpse is very bright and fresh and shining on a summer's day. Then, oh, little Ruth, why not look boldly at it! Why fit that tiny, precious, blessed little foot into the cracked corner of an insensible old flagstone in the pavement; and be so very anxious to adjust it to a nicety!

If the Fiery-faced matron in the crunched bonnet could have seen them as they walked away, how many years' purchase might Fiery Face have been disposed to take for her situation in Furnival's Inn as laundress to Mr Westlock!

They went away, but not through London's streets! Through some enchanted city, where the pavements were of air; where all the rough sounds of a stirring town were softened into gentle music; where everything was happy; where there was no distance, and no time. There were two good-tempered burly draymen letting down big butts of beer into a cellar, somewhere; and when John helped her—almost lifted her—the lightest, easiest, neatest thing you ever saw—across the rope, they said he owed them a good turn for giving him the chance. Celestial draymen!

Green pastures in the summer tide, deep-littered straw yards in the winter, no start of corn and clover, ever, to that noble horse who WOULD dance on the pavement with a gig behind him, and who frightened her, and made her clasp his arm with both hands (both hands meeting one upon the another so endearingly!), and caused her to implore him to take refuge in the pastry-cook's, and afterwards to peep out at the door so shrinkingly; and then, looking at him with those eyes, to ask him was he sure—now was he sure—they might go safely on! Oh for a string of rampant horses! For a lion, for a bear, for a mad bull, for anything to bring the little hands together on his arm again!

They talked, of course. They talked of Tom, and all these changes and the attachment Mr Chuzzlewit had conceived for him, and the bright prospects he had in such a friend, and a great deal more to the same purpose. The more they talked, the more afraid this fluttering little Ruth became of any pause; and sooner than have a pause she would say the same things over again; and if she hadn't courage or presence of mind enough for that (to say the truth she very seldom had), she was ten thousand times more charming and irresistible than she had been before.

'Martin will be married very soon now, I suppose?' said John.

She supposed he would. Never did a bewitching little woman suppose anything in such a faint voice as Ruth supposed that.

But seeing that another of those alarming pauses was approaching, she remarked that he would have a beautiful wife. Didn't Mr Westlock think so?

'Ye—yes,' said John, 'oh, yes.'

She feared he was rather hard to please, he spoke so coldly.

'Rather say already pleased,' said John. 'I have scarcely seen her. I had no care to see her. I had no eyes for HER, this morning.'

Oh, good gracious!

It was well they had reached their destination. She never could have gone any further. It would have been impossible to walk in such a tremble.

Tom had not come in. They entered the triangular parlour together, and alone. Fiery Face, Fiery Face, how many years' purchase NOW!

She sat down on the little sofa, and untied her bonnet-strings. He sat down by her side, and very near her; very, very near her. Oh rapid, swelling, bursting little heart, you knew that it would come to this, and hoped it would. Why beat so wildly, heart!

'Dear Ruth! Sweet Ruth! If I had loved you less, I could have told you that I loved you, long ago. I have loved you from the first. There never was a creature in the world more truly loved than you, dear Ruth, by me!'

She clasped her little hands before her face. The gushing tears of joy, and pride, and hope, and innocent affection, would not be restrained. Fresh from her full young heart they came to answer him.

'My dear love! If this is—I almost dare to hope it is, now—not painful or distressing to you, you make me happier than I can tell, or you imagine. Darling Ruth! My own good, gentle, winning Ruth! I hope I know the value of your heart, I hope I know the worth of your angel nature. Let me try and show you that I do; and you will make me happier, Ruth—'

'Not happier,' she sobbed, 'than you make me. No one can be happier, John, than you make me!'

Fiery Face, provide yourself! The usual wages or the usual warning. It's all over, Fiery Face. We needn't trouble you any further.

The little hands could meet each other now, without a rampant horse to urge them. There was no occasion for lions, bears, or mad bulls. It could all be done, and infinitely better, without their assistance. No burly drayman or big butts of beer, were wanted for apologies. No apology at all was wanted. The soft light touch fell coyly, but quite naturally, upon the lover's shoulder; the delicate waist, the drooping head, the blushing cheek, the beautiful eyes, the exquisite mouth itself, were all as natural as possible. If all the horses in Araby had run away at once, they couldn't have improved upon it.

They soon began to talk of Tom again.

'I hope he will be glad to hear of it!' said John, with sparkling eyes.

Ruth drew the little hands a little tighter when he said it, and looked up seriously into his face.

'I am never to leave him, AM I, dear? I could never leave Tom. I am sure you know that.'

'Do you think I would ask you?' he returned, with a—well! Never mind with what.

'I am sure you never would,' she answered, the bright tears standing in her eyes.

'And I will swear it, Ruth, my darling, if you please. Leave Tom! That would be a strange beginning. Leave Tom, dear! If Tom and we be not inseparable, and Tom (God bless him) have not all honour and all love in our home, my little wife, may that home never be! And that's a strong oath, Ruth.'

Shall it be recorded how she thanked him? Yes, it shall. In all simplicity and innocence and purity of heart, yet with a timid, graceful, half-determined hesitation, she set a little rosy seal upon the vow, whose colour was reflected in her face, and flashed up to the braiding of her dark brown hair.

'Tom will be so happy, and so proud, and glad,' she said, clasping her little hands. 'But so surprised! I am sure he had never thought of such a thing.'

Of course John asked her immediately—because you know they were in that foolish state when great allowances must be made—when SHE had begun to think of such a thing, and this made a little diversion in their talk; a charming diversion to them, but not so interesting to us; at the end of which, they came back to Tom again.

'Ah! dear Tom!' said Ruth. 'I suppose I ought to tell you everything now. I should have no secrets from you. Should I, John, love?'

It is of no use saying how that preposterous John answered her, because he answered in a manner which is untranslatable on paper though highly satisfactory in itself. But what he conveyed was, No no no, sweet Ruth; or something to that effect.

Then she told him Tom's great secret; not exactly saying how she had found it out, but leaving him to understand it if he liked; and John was sadly grieved to hear it, and was full of sympathy and sorrow. But they would try, he said, only the more, on this account to make him happy, and to beguile him with his favourite pursuits. And then, in all the confidence of such a time, he told her how he had a capital opportunity of establishing himself in his old profession in the country; and how he had been thinking, in the event of that happiness coming upon him which had actually come—there was another slight diversion here—how he had been thinking that it would afford occupation to Tom, and enable them to live together in the easiest manner, without any sense of dependence on Tom's part; and to be as happy as the day was long. And Ruth receiving this with joy, they went on catering for Tom to that extent that they had already purchased him a select library and built him an organ, on which he was performing with the greatest satisfaction, when they heard him knocking at the door.

Though she longed to tell him what had happened, poor little Ruth was greatly agitated by his arrival; the more so because she knew that Mr Chuzzlewit was with him. So she said, all in a tremble:

'What shall I do, dear John! I can't bear that he should hear it from any one but me, and I could not tell him, unless we were alone.'

'Do, my love,' said John, 'whatever is natural to you on the impulse of the moment, and I am sure it will be right.'

He had hardly time to say thus much, and Ruth had hardly time to—just to get a little farther off—upon the sofa, when Tom and Mr Chuzzlewit came in. Mr Chuzzlewit came first, and Tom was a few seconds behind him.

Now Ruth had hastily resolved that she would beckon Tom upstairs after a short time, and would tell him in his little bedroom. But when she saw his dear old face come in, her heart was so touched that she ran into his arms, and laid her head down on his breast and sobbed out, 'Bless me, Tom! My dearest brother!'

Tom looked up, in surprise, and saw John Westlock close beside him, holding out his hand.

'John!' cried Tom. 'John!'

'Dear Tom,' said his friend, 'give me your hand. We are brothers, Tom.'

Tom wrung it with all his force, embraced his sister fervently, and put her in John Westlock's arms.

'Don't speak to me, John. Heaven is very good to us. I—' Tom could find no further utterance, but left the room; and Ruth went after him.

And when they came back, which they did by-and-bye, she looked more beautiful, and Tom more good and true (if that were possible) than ever. And though Tom could not speak upon the subject even now; being yet too newly glad, he put both his hands in both of John's with emphasis sufficient for the best speech ever spoken.

'I am glad you chose to-day,' said Mr Chuzzlewit to John; with the same knowing smile as when they had left him. 'I thought you would. I hoped Tom and I lingered behind a discreet time. It's so long since I had any practical knowledge of these subjects, that I have been anxious, I assure you.'

'Your knowledge is still pretty accurate, sir,' returned John, laughing, 'if it led you to foresee what would happen to-day.'

'Why, I am not sure, Mr Westlock,' said the old man, 'that any great spirit of prophecy was needed, after seeing you and Ruth together. Come hither, pretty one. See what Tom and I purchased this morning, while you were dealing in exchange with that young merchant there.'

The old man's way of seating her beside him, and humouring his voice as if she were a child, was whimsical enough, but full of tenderness, and not ill adapted, somehow, to little Ruth.

'See here!' he said, taking a case from his pocket, 'what a beautiful necklace. Ah! How it glitters! Earrings, too, and bracelets, and a zone for your waist. This set is yours, and Mary has another like it. Tom couldn't understand why I wanted two. What a short-sighted Tom! Earrings and bracelets, and a zone for your waist! Ah! Beautiful! Let us see how brave they look. Ask Mr Westlock to clasp them on.'

It was the prettiest thing to see her holding out her round, white arm; and John (oh deep, deep John!) pretending that the bracelet was very hard to fasten; it was the prettiest thing to see her girding on the precious little zone, and yet obliged to have assistance because her fingers were in such terrible perplexity; it was the prettiest thing to see her so confused and bashful, with the smiles and blushes playing brightly on her face, like the sparkling light upon the jewels; it was the prettiest thing that you would see, in the common experiences of a twelvemonth, rely upon it.

'The set of jewels and the wearer are so well matched,' said the old man, 'that I don't know which becomes the other most. Mr Westlock could tell me, I have no doubt, but I'll not ask him, for he is bribed. Health to wear them, my dear, and happiness to make you forgetful of them, except as a remembrance from a loving friend!'

He patted her upon the cheek, and said to Tom:

'I must play the part of a father here, Tom, also. There are not many fathers who marry two such daughters on the same day; but we will overlook the improbability for the gratification of an old man's fancy. I may claim that much indulgence,' he added, 'for I have gratified few fancies enough in my life tending to the happiness of others, Heaven knows!'

These various proceedings had occupied so much time, and they fell into such a pleasant conversation now, that it was within a quarter of an hour of the time appointed for dinner before any of them thought about it. A hackney-coach soon carried them to the Temple, however; and there they found everything prepared for their reception.

Mr Tapley having been furnished with unlimited credentials relative to the ordering of dinner, had so exerted himself for the honour of the party, that a prodigious banquet was served, under the joint direction of himself and his Intended. Mr Chuzzlewit would have had them of the party, and Martin urgently seconded his wish, but Mark could by no means be persuaded to sit down at table; observing, that in having the honour of attending to their comforts, he felt himself, indeed, the landlord of the Jolly Tapley, and could almost delude himself into the belief that the entertainment was actually being held under the Jolly Tapley's roof.

For the better encouragement of himself in this fable, Mr Tapley took it upon him to issue divers general directions to the waiters from the hotel, relative to the disposal of the dishes and so forth; and as they were usually in direct opposition to all precedent, and were always issued in his most facetious form of thought and speech, they occasioned great merriment among those attendants; in which Mr Tapley participated, with an infinite enjoyment of his own humour. He likewise entertained them with short anecdotes of his travels appropriate to the occasion; and now and then with some comic passage or other between himself and Mrs Lupin; so that explosive laughs were constantly issuing from the side-board, and from the backs of chairs; and the head-waiter (who wore powder, and knee-smalls, and was usually a grave man) got to be a bright scarlet in the face, and broke his waistcoat-strings audibly.

Young Martin sat at the head of the table, and Tom Pinch at the foot; and if there were a genial face at that board, it was Tom's. They all took their tone from Tom. Everybody drank to him, everybody looked to him, everybody thought of him, everybody loved him. If he so much as laid down his knife and fork, somebody put out a hand to shake with him. Martin and Mary had taken him aside before dinner, and spoken to him so heartily of the time to come, laying such fervent stress upon the trust they had in his completion of their felicity, by his society and closest friendship, that Tom was positively moved to tears. He couldn't bear it. His heart was full, he said, of happiness. And so it was. Tom spoke the honest truth. It was. Large as thy heart was, dear Tom Pinch, it had no room that day for anything but happiness and sympathy!

And there was Fips, old Fips of Austin Friars, present at the dinner, and turning out to be the jolliest old dog that ever did violence to his convivial sentiments by shutting himself up in a dark office. 'Where is he?' said Fips, when he came in. And then he pounced on Tom, and told him that he wanted to relieve himself of all his old constraint; and in the first place shook him by one hand, and in the second place shook him by the other, and in the third place nudged him in the waistcoat, and in the fourth place said, 'How are you?' and in a great many other places did a great many other things to show his friendliness and joy. And he sang songs, did Fips; and made speeches, did Fips; and knocked off his wine pretty handsomely, did Fips; and in short, he showed himself a perfect Trump, did Fips, in all respects.

But ah! the happiness of strolling home at night—obstinate little Ruth, she wouldn't hear of riding!—as they had done on that dear night, from Furnival's Inn! The happiness of being able to talk about it, and to confide their happiness to each other! The happiness of stating all their little plans to Tom, and seeing his bright face grow brighter as they spoke!

When they reached home, Tom left John and his sister in the parlour, and went upstairs into his own room, under pretence of seeking a book. And Tom actually winked to himself when he got upstairs; he thought it such a deep thing to have done.

'They like to be by themselves, of course,' said Tom; 'and I came away so naturally, that I have no doubt they are expecting me, every moment, to return. That's capital!'

But he had not sat reading very long, when he heard a tap at his door.

'May I come in?' said John.

'Oh, surely!' Tom replied.

'Don't leave us, Tom. Don't sit by yourself. We want to make you merry; not melancholy.'

'My dear friend,' said Tom, with a cheerful smile.

'Brother, Tom. Brother.'

'My dear brother,' said Tom; 'there is no danger of my being melancholy, how can I be melancholy, when I know that you and Ruth are so blest in each other! I think I can find my tongue tonight, John,' he added, after a moment's pause. 'But I never can tell you what unutterable joy this day has given me. It would be unjust to you to speak of your having chosen a portionless girl, for I feel that you know her worth; I am sure you know her worth. Nor will it diminish in your estimation, John, which money might.'

'Which money would, Tom,' he returned. 'Her worth! Oh, who could see her here, and not love her! Who could know her, Tom, and not honour her! Who could ever stand possessed of such a heart as hers, and grow indifferent to the treasure! Who could feel the rapture that I feel to-day, and love as I love her, Tom, without knowing something of her worth! Your joy unutterable! No, no, Tom. It's mine, it's mine.

'No, no, John,' said Tom. 'It's mine, it's mine.'

Their friendly contention was brought to a close by little Ruth herself, who came peeping in at the door. And oh, the look, the glorious, half-proud, half-timid look she gave Tom, when her lover drew her to his side! As much as to say, 'Yes, indeed, Tom, he will do it. But then he has a right, you know. Because I AM fond of him, Tom.'

As to Tom, he was perfectly delighted. He could have sat and looked at them, just as they were, for hours.

'I have told Tom, love, as we agreed, that we are not going to permit him to run away, and that we cannot possibly allow it. The loss of one person, and such a person as Tom, too, out of our small household of three, is not to be endured; and so I have told him. Whether he is considerate, or whether he is only selfish, I don't know. But he needn't be considerate, for he is not the least restraint upon us. Is he, dearest Ruth?'

Well! He really did not seem to be any particular restraint upon them. Judging from what ensued.

Was it folly in Tom to be so pleased by their remembrance of him at such a time? Was their graceful love a folly, were their dear caresses follies, was their lengthened parting folly? Was it folly in him to watch her window from the street, and rate its scantiest gleam of light above all diamonds; folly in her to breathe his name upon her knees, and pour out her pure heart before that Being from whom such hearts and such affections come?

If these be follies, then Fiery Face go on and prosper! If they be not, then Fiery Face avaunt! But set the crunched bonnet at some other single gentleman, in any case, for one is lost to thee for ever!



CHAPTER FIFTY-FOUR

GIVES THE AUTHOR GREAT CONCERN. FOR IT IS THE LAST IN THE BOOK

Todger's was in high feather, and mighty preparations for a late breakfast were astir in its commercial bowers. The blissful morning had arrived when Miss Pecksniff was to be united in holy matrimony, to Augustus.

Miss Pecksniff was in a frame of mind equally becoming to herself and the occasion. She was full of clemency and conciliation. She had laid in several caldrons of live coals, and was prepared to heap them on the heads of her enemies. She bore no spite nor malice in her heart. Not the least.

Quarrels, Miss Pecksniff said, were dreadful things in families; and though she never could forgive her dear papa, she was willing to receive her other relations. They had been separated, she observed, too long. It was enough to call down a judgment upon the family. She believed the death of Jonas WAS a judgment on them for their internal dissensions. And Miss Pecksniff was confirmed in this belief, by the lightness with which the visitation had fallen on herself.

By way of doing sacrifice—not in triumph; not, of course, in triumph, but in humiliation of spirit—this amiable young person wrote, therefore, to her kinswoman of the strong mind, and informed her that her nuptials would take place on such a day. That she had been much hurt by the unnatural conduct of herself and daughters, and hoped they might not have suffered in their consciences. That, being desirous to forgive her enemies, and make her peace with the world before entering into the most solemn of covenants with the most devoted of men, she now held out the hand of friendship. That if the strong-minded women took that hand, in the temper in which it was extended to her, she, Miss Pecksniff, did invite her to be present at the ceremony of her marriage, and did furthermore invite the three red-nosed spinsters, her daughters (but Miss Pecksniff did not particularize their noses), to attend as bridesmaids.

The strong-minded women returned for answer, that herself and daughters were, as regarded their consciences, in the enjoyment of robust health, which she knew Miss Pecksniff would be glad to hear. That she had received Miss Pecksniff's note with unalloyed delight, because she never had attached the least importance to the paltry and insignificant jealousies with which herself and circle had been assailed; otherwise than as she had found them, in the contemplation, a harmless source of innocent mirth. That she would joyfully attend Miss Pecksniff's bridal; and that her three dear daughters would be happy to assist, on so interesting, and SO VERY UNEXPECTED—which the strong-minded woman underlined—SO VERY UNEXPECTED an occasion.

On the receipt of this gracious reply, Miss Pecksniff extended her forgiveness and her invitations to Mr and Mrs Spottletoe; to Mr George Chuzzlewit the bachelor cousin; to the solitary female who usually had the toothache; and to the hairy young gentleman with the outline of a face; surviving remnants of the party that had once assembled in Mr Pecksniff's parlour. After which Miss Pecksniff remarked that there was a sweetness in doing our duty, which neutralized the bitter in our cups.

The wedding guests had not yet assembled, and indeed it was so early that Miss Pecksniff herself was in the act of dressing at her leisure, when a carriage stopped near the Monument; and Mark, dismounting from the rumble, assisted Mr Chuzzlewit to alight. The carriage remained in waiting; so did Mr Tapley. Mr Chuzzlewit betook himself to Todger's.

He was shown, by the degenerate successor of Mr Bailey, into the dining-parlour; where—for his visit was expected—Mrs Todgers immediately appeared.

'You are dressed, I see, for the wedding,' he said.

Mrs Todgers, who was greatly flurried by the preparations, replied in the affirmative.

'It goes against my wishes to have it in progress just now, I assure you, sir,' said Mrs Todgers; 'but Miss Pecksniff's mind was set upon it, and it really is time that Miss Pecksniff was married. That cannot be denied, sir.'

'No,' said Mr Chuzzlewit, 'assuredly not. Her sister takes no part in the proceedings?'

'Oh, dear no, sir. Poor thing!' said Mrs Todgers, shaking her head, and dropping her voice. 'Since she has known the worst, she has never left my room; the next room.'

'Is she prepared to see me?' he inquired.

'Quite prepared, sir.'

'Then let us lose no time.'

Mrs Todgers conducted him into the little back chamber commanding the prospect of the cistern; and there, sadly different from when it had first been her lodging, sat poor Merry, in mourning weeds. The room looked very dark and sorrowful; and so did she; but she had one friend beside her, faithful to the last. Old Chuffey.

When Mr Chuzzlewit sat down at her side, she took his hand and put it to her lips. She was in great grief. He too was agitated; for he had not seen her since their parting in the churchyard.

'I judged you hastily,' he said, in a low voice. 'I fear I judged you cruelly. Let me know that I have your forgiveness.'

She kissed his hand again; and retaining it in hers, thanked him in a broken voice, for all his kindness to her since.

'Tom Pinch,' said Martin, 'has faithfully related to me all that you desired him to convey; at a time when he deemed it very improbable that he would ever have an opportunity of delivering your message. Believe me, that if I ever deal again with an ill-advised and unawakened nature, hiding the strength it thinks its weakness, I will have long and merciful consideration for it.'

'You had for me; even for me,' she answered. 'I quite believe it. I said the words you have repeated, when my distress was very sharp and hard to bear; I say them now for others; but I cannot urge them for myself. You spoke to me after you had seen and watched me day by day. There was great consideration in that. You might have spoken, perhaps, more kindly; you might have tried to invite my confidence by greater gentleness; but the end would have been the same.'

He shook his head in doubt, and not without some inward self-reproach.

'How can I hope,' she said, 'that your interposition would have prevailed with me, when I know how obdurate I was! I never thought at all; dear Mr Chuzzlewit, I never thought at all; I had no thought, no heart, no care to find one; at that time. It has grown out of my trouble. I have felt it in my trouble. I wouldn't recall my trouble such as it is and has been—and it is light in comparison with trials which hundreds of good people suffer every day, I know—I wouldn't recall it to-morrow, if I could. It has been my friend, for without it no one could have changed me; nothing could have changed me. Do not mistrust me because of these tears; I cannot help them. I am grateful for it, in my soul. Indeed I am!'

'Indeed she is!' said Mrs Todgers. 'I believe it, sir.'

'And so do I!' said Mr Chuzzlewit. 'Now, attend to me, my dear. Your late husband's estate, if not wasted by the confession of a large debt to the broken office (which document, being useless to the runaways, has been sent over to England by them; not so much for the sake of the creditors as for the gratification of their dislike to him, whom they suppose to be still living), will be seized upon by law; for it is not exempt, as I learn, from the claims of those who have suffered by the fraud in which he was engaged. Your father's property was all, or nearly all, embarked in the same transaction. If there be any left, it will be seized on, in like manner. There is no home THERE.'

'I couldn't return to him,' she said, with an instinctive reference to his having forced her marriage on. 'I could not return to him.'

'I know it,' Mr Chuzzlewit resumed; 'and I am here because I know it. Come with me! From all who are about me, you are certain (I have ascertained it) of a generous welcome. But until your health is re-established, and you are sufficiently composed to bear that welcome, you shall have your abode in any quiet retreat of your own choosing, near London; not so far removed but that this kind-hearted lady may still visit you as often as she pleases. You have suffered much; but you are young, and have a brighter and a better future stretching out before you. Come with me. Your sister is careless of you, I know. She hurries on and publishes her marriage, in a spirit which (to say no more of it) is barely decent, is unsisterly, and bad. Leave the house before her guests arrive. She means to give you pain. Spare her the offence, and come with me!'

Mrs Todgers, though most unwilling to part with her, added her persuasions. Even poor old Chuffey (of course included in the project) added his. She hurriedly attired herself, and was ready to depart, when Miss Pecksniff dashed into the room.

Miss Pecksniff dashed in so suddenly, that she was placed in an embarrassing position. For though she had completed her bridal toilette as to her head, on which she wore a bridal bonnet with orange flowers, she had not completed it as to her skirts, which displayed no choicer decoration than a dimity bedgown. She had dashed in, in fact, about half-way through, to console her sister, in her affliction, with a sight of the aforesaid bonnet; and being quite unconscious of the presence of a visitor, until she found Mr Chuzzlewit standing face to face with her, her surprise was an uncomfortable one.

'So, young lady!' said the old man, eyeing her with strong disfavour. 'You are to be married to-day!'

'Yes, sir,' returned Miss Pecksniff, modestly. 'I am. I—my dress is rather—really, Mrs Todgers!'

'Your delicacy,' said old Martin, 'is troubled, I perceive. I am not surprised to find it so. You have chosen the period of your marriage unfortunately.'

'I beg your pardon, Mr Chuzzlewit,' retorted Cherry; very red and angry in a moment; 'but if you have anything to say on that subject, I must beg to refer you to Augustus. You will scarcely think it manly, I hope, to force an argument on me, when Augustus is at all times ready to discuss it with you. I have nothing to do with any deceptions that may have been practiced on my parent,' said Miss Pecksniff, pointedly; 'and as I wish to be on good terms with everybody at such a time, I should have been glad if you would have favoured us with your company at breakfast. But I will not ask you as it is; seeing that you have been prepossessed and set against me in another quarter. I hope I have my natural affections for another quarter, and my natural pity for another quarter; but I cannot always submit to be subservient to it, Mr Chuzzlewit. That would be a little too much. I trust I have more respect for myself, as well as for the man who claims me as his Bride.'

'Your sister, meeting—as I think; not as she says, for she has said nothing about it—with little consideration from you, is going away with me,' said Mr Chuzzlewit.

'I am very happy to find that she has some good fortune at last,' returned Miss Pecksniff, tossing her head. 'I congratulate her, I am sure. I am not surprised that this event should be painful to her—painful to her—but I can't help that, Mr Chuzzlewit. It's not my fault.'

'Come, Miss Pecksniff!' said the old man, quietly. 'I should like to see a better parting between you. I should like to see a better parting on your side, in such circumstances. It would make me your friend. You may want a friend one day or other.'

'Every relation of life, Mr Chuzzlewit, begging your pardon; and every friend in life,' returned Miss Pecksniff, with dignity, 'is now bound up and cemented in Augustus. So long as Augustus is my own, I cannot want a friend. When you speak of friends, sir, I must beg, once for all, to refer you to Augustus. That is my impression of the religious ceremony in which I am so soon to take a part at that altar to which Augustus will conduct me. I bear no malice at any time, much less in a moment of triumph, towards any one; much less towards my sister. On the contrary, I congratulate her. If you didn't hear me say so, I am not to blame. And as I owe it to Augustus, to be punctual on an occasion when he may naturally be supposed to be—to be impatient—really, Mrs Todgers!—I must beg your leave, sir, to retire.'

After these words the bridal bonnet disappeared; with as much state as the dimity bedgown left in it.

Old Martin gave his arm to the younger sister without speaking; and led her out. Mrs Todgers, with her holiday garments fluttering in the wind, accompanied them to the carriage, clung round Merry's neck at parting, and ran back to her own dingy house, crying the whole way. She had a lean, lank body, Mrs Todgers, but a well-conditioned soul within. Perhaps the good Samaritan was lean and lank, and found it hard to live. Who knows!

Mr Chuzzlewit followed her so closely with his eyes, that, until she had shut her own door, they did not encounter Mr Tapley's face.

'Why, Mark!' he said, as soon as he observed it, 'what's the matter?'

'The wonderfulest ewent, sir!' returned Mark, pumping at his voice in a most laborious manner, and hardly able to articulate with all his efforts. 'A coincidence as never was equalled! I'm blessed if here ain't two old neighbours of ourn, sir!'

'What neighbours?' cried old Martin, looking out of window. 'Where?'

'I was a-walkin' up and down not five yards from this spot,' said Mr Tapley, breathless, 'and they come upon me like their own ghosts, as I thought they was! It's the wonderfulest ewent that ever happened. Bring a feather, somebody, and knock me down with it!'

'What do you mean!' exclaimed old Martin, quite as much excited by the spectacle of Mark's excitement as that strange person was himself. 'Neighbours, where?'

'Here, sir!' replied Mr Tapley. 'Here in the city of London! Here upon these very stones! Here they are, sir! Don't I know 'em? Lord love their welcome faces, don't I know 'em!'

With which ejaculations Mr Tapley not only pointed to a decent-looking man and woman standing by, but commenced embracing them alternately, over and over again, in Monument Yard.

'Neighbours, WHERE? old Martin shouted; almost maddened by his ineffectual efforts to get out at the coach-door.

'Neighbours in America! Neighbours in Eden!' cried Mark. 'Neighbours in the swamp, neighbours in the bush, neighbours in the fever. Didn't she nurse us! Didn't he help us! Shouldn't we both have died without 'em! Haven't they come a-strugglin' back, without a single child for their consolation! And talk to me of neighbours!'

Away he went again, in a perfectly wild state, hugging them, and skipping round them, and cutting in between them, as if he were performing some frantic and outlandish dance.

Mr Chuzzlewit no sooner gathered who these people were, than he burst open the coach-door somehow or other, and came tumbling out among them; and as if the lunacy of Mr Tapley were contagious, he immediately began to shake hands too, and exhibit every demonstration of the liveliest joy.

'Get up, behind!' he said. 'Get up in the rumble. Come along with me! Go you on the box, Mark. Home! Home!'

'Home!' cried Mr Tapley, seizing the old man's hand in a burst of enthusiasm. 'Exactly my opinion, sir. Home for ever! Excuse the liberty, sir, I can't help it. Success to the Jolly Tapley! There's nothin' in the house they shan't have for the askin' for, except a bill. Home to be sure! Hurrah!'

Home they rolled accordingly, when he had got the old man in again, as fast as they could go; Mark abating nothing of his fervour by the way, by allowing it to vent itself as unrestrainedly as if he had been on Salisbury Plain.

And now the wedding party began to assemble at Todgers's. Mr Jinkins, the only boarder invited, was on the ground first. He wore a white favour in his button-hole, and a bran new extra super double-milled blue saxony dress coat (that was its description in the bill), with a variety of tortuous embellishments about the pockets, invented by the artist to do honour to the day. The miserable Augustus no longer felt strongly even on the subject of Jinkins. He hadn't strength of mind enough to do it. 'Let him come!' he had said, in answer to Miss Pecksniff, when she urged the point. 'Let him come! He has ever been my rock ahead through life. 'Tis meet he should be there. Ha, ha! Oh, yes! let Jinkins come!'

Jinkins had come with all the pleasure in life, and there he was. For some few minutes he had no companion but the breakfast, which was set forth in the drawing-room, with unusual taste and ceremony. But Mrs Todgers soon joined him; and the bachelor cousin, the hairy young gentleman, and Mr and Mrs Spottletoe, arrived in quick succession.

Mr Spottletoe honoured Jinkins with an encouraging bow. 'Glad to know you, sir,' he said. 'Give you joy!' Under the impression that Jinkins was the happy man.

Mr Jinkins explained. He was merely doing the honours for his friend Moddle, who had ceased to reside in the house, and had not yet arrived.

'Not arrived, sir!' exclaimed Spottletoe, in a great heat.

'Not yet,' said Mr Jinkins.

'Upon my soul!' cried Spottletoe. 'He begins well! Upon my life and honour this young man begins well! But I should very much like to know how it is that every one who comes into contact with this family is guilty of some gross insult to it. Death! Not arrived yet. Not here to receive us!'

The nephew with the outline of a countenance, suggested that perhaps he had ordered a new pair of boots, and they hadn't come home.

'Don't talk to me of Boots, sir!' retorted Spottletoe, with immense indignation. 'He is bound to come here in his slippers then; he is bound to come here barefoot. Don't offer such a wretched and evasive plea to me on behalf of your friend, as Boots, sir.'

'He is not MY friend,' said the nephew. 'I never saw him.'

'Very well, sir,' returned the fiery Spottletoe. 'Then don't talk to me!'

The door was thrown open at this juncture, and Miss Pecksniff entered, tottering, and supported by her three bridesmaids. The strong-minded woman brought up the rear; having waited outside until now, for the purpose of spoiling the effect.

'How do you do, ma'am!' said Spottletoe to the strong-minded woman in a tone of defiance. 'I believe you see Mrs Spottletoe, ma'am?'

The strong-minded woman with an air of great interest in Mrs Spottletoe's health, regretted that she was not more easily seen. Nature erring, in that lady's case, upon the slim side.

'Mrs Spottletoe is at least more easily seen than the bridegroom, ma'am,' returned that lady's husband. 'That is, unless he has confined his attentions to any particular part or branch of this family, which would be quite in keeping with its usual proceedings.'

'If you allude to me, sir—' the strong-minded woman began.

'Pray,' interposed Miss Pecksniff, 'do not allow Augustus, at this awful moment of his life and mine, to be the means of disturbing that harmony which it is ever Augustus's and my wish to maintain. Augustus has not been introduced to any of my relations now present. He preferred not.'

'Why, then, I venture to assert,' cried Mr Spottletoe, 'that the man who aspires to join this family, and "prefers not" to be introduced to its members, is an impertinent Puppy. That is my opinion of HIM!'

The strong-minded woman remarked with great suavity, that she was afraid he must be. Her three daughters observed aloud that it was 'Shameful!'

'You do not know Augustus,' said Miss Pecksniff, tearfully, 'indeed you do not know him. Augustus is all mildness and humility. Wait till you see Augustus, and I am sure he will conciliate your affections.'

'The question arises,' said Spottletoe, folding his arms: 'How long we are to wait. I am not accustomed to wait; that's the fact. And I want to know how long we are expected to wait.'

'Mrs Todgers!' said Charity, 'Mr Jinkins! I am afraid there must be some mistake. I think Augustus must have gone straight to the Altar!'

As such a thing was possible, and the church was close at hand, Mr Jinkins ran off to see, accompanied by Mr George Chuzzlewit the bachelor cousin, who preferred anything to the aggravation of sitting near the breakfast, without being able to eat it. But they came back with no other tidings than a familiar message from the clerk, importing that if they wanted to be married that morning they had better look sharp, as the curate wasn't going to wait there all day.

The bride was now alarmed; seriously alarmed. Good Heavens, what could have happened! Augustus! Dear Augustus!

Mr Jinkins volunteered to take a cab, and seek him at the newly-furnished house. The strong-minded woman administered comfort to Miss Pecksniff. 'It was a specimen of what she had to expect. It would do her good. It would dispel the romance of the affair.' The red-nosed daughters also administered the kindest comfort. 'Perhaps he'd come,' they said. The sketchy nephew hinted that he might have fallen off a bridge. The wrath of Mr Spottletoe resisted all the entreaties of his wife. Everybody spoke at once, and Miss Pecksniff, with clasped hands, sought consolation everywhere and found it nowhere, when Jinkins, having met the postman at the door, came back with a letter, which he put into her hand.

Miss Pecksniff opened it, uttered a piercing shriek, threw it down upon the ground, and fainted away.

They picked it up; and crowding round, and looking over one another's shoulders, read, in the words and dashes following, this communication:

'OFF GRAVESEND.

'CLIPPER SCHOONER, CUPID

'Wednesday night

'EVER INJURED MISS PECKSNIFF—Ere this reaches you, the undersigned will be—if not a corpse—on the way to Van Dieman's Land. Send not in pursuit. I never will be taken alive!

'The burden—300 tons per register—forgive, if in my distraction, I allude to the ship—on my mind—has been truly dreadful. Frequently—when you have sought to soothe my brow with kisses—has self-destruction flashed across me. Frequently—incredible as it may seem—have I abandoned the idea.

'I love another. She is Another's. Everything appears to be somebody else's. Nothing in the world is mine—not even my Situation—which I have forfeited—by my rash conduct—in running away.

'If you ever loved me, hear my last appeal! The last appeal of a miserable and blighted exile. Forward the inclosed—it is the key of my desk—to the office—by hand. Please address to Bobbs and Cholberry—I mean to Chobbs and Bolberry—but my mind is totally unhinged. I left a penknife—with a buckhorn handle—in your work-box. It will repay the messenger. May it make him happier than ever it did me!

'Oh, Miss Pecksniff, why didn't you leave me alone! Was it not cruel, CRUEL! Oh, my goodness, have you not been a witness of my feelings—have you not seen them flowing from my eyes—did you not, yourself, reproach me with weeping more than usual on that dreadful night when last we met—in that house—where I once was peaceful—though blighted—in the society of Mrs Todgers!

'But it was written—in the Talmud—that you should involve yourself in the inscrutable and gloomy Fate which it is my mission to accomplish, and which wreathes itself—e'en now—about in temples. I will not reproach, for I have wronged you. May the Furniture make some amends!

'Farewell! Be the proud bride of a ducal coronet, and forget me! Long may it be before you know the anguish with which I now subscribe myself—amid the tempestuous howlings of the—sailors,

'Unalterably,

'Never yours,

'AUGUSTUS.'

They thought as little of Miss Pecksniff, while they greedily perused this letter, as if she were the very last person on earth whom it concerned. But Miss Pecksniff really had fainted away. The bitterness of her mortification; the bitterness of having summoned witnesses, and such witnesses, to behold it; the bitterness of knowing that the strong-minded women and the red-nosed daughters towered triumphant in this hour of their anticipated overthrow; was too much to be borne. Miss Pecksniff had fainted away in earnest.

What sounds are these that fall so grandly on the ear! What darkening room is this!

And that mild figure seated at an organ, who is he! Ah Tom, dear Tom, old friend!

Thy head is prematurely grey, though Time has passed thee and our old association, Tom. But, in those sounds with which it is thy wont to bear the twilight company, the music of thy heart speaks out—the story of thy life relates itself.

Thy life is tranquil, calm, and happy, Tom. In the soft strain which ever and again comes stealing back upon the ear, the memory of thine old love may find a voice perhaps; but it is a pleasant, softened, whispering memory, like that in which we sometimes hold the dead, and does not pain or grieve thee, God be thanked.

Touch the notes lightly, Tom, as lightly as thou wilt, but never will thine hand fall half so lightly on that Instrument as on the head of thine old tyrant brought down very, very low; and never will it make as hollow a response to any touch of thine, as he does always.

For a drunken, begging, squalid, letter-writing man, called Pecksniff, with a shrewish daughter, haunts thee, Tom; and when he makes appeals to thee for cash, reminds thee that he built thy fortunes better than his own; and when he spends it, entertains the alehouse company with tales of thine ingratitude and his munificence towards thee once upon a time; and then he shows his elbows worn in holes, and puts his soleless shoes up on a bench, and begs his auditors look there, while thou art comfortably housed and clothed. All known to thee, and yet all borne with, Tom!

So, with a smile upon thy face, thou passest gently to another measure—to a quicker and more joyful one—and little feet are used to dance about thee at the sound, and bright young eyes to glance up into thine. And there is one slight creature, Tom—her child; not Ruth's—whom thine eyes follow in the romp and dance; who, wondering sometimes to see thee look so thoughtful, runs to climb up on thy knee, and put her cheek to thine; who loves thee, Tom, above the rest, if that can be; and falling sick once, chose thee for her nurse, and never knew impatience, Tom, when thou wert by her side.

Thou glidest, now, into a graver air; an air devoted to old friends and bygone times; and in thy lingering touch upon the keys, and the rich swelling of the mellow harmony, they rise before thee. The spirit of that old man dead, who delighted to anticipate thy wants, and never ceased to honour thee, is there, among the rest; repeating, with a face composed and calm, the words he said to thee upon his bed, and blessing thee!

And coming from a garden, Tom, bestrewn with flowers by children's hands, thy sister, little Ruth, as light of foot and heart as in old days, sits down beside thee. From the Present, and the Past, with which she is so tenderly entwined in all thy thoughts, thy strain soars onward to the Future. As it resounds within thee and without, the noble music, rolling round ye both, shuts out the grosser prospect of an earthly parting, and uplifts ye both to Heaven!

THE END

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21
Home - Random Browse