'Very hard frost to-night, sir,' said the newcomer, courteously acknowledging Mr Pinch's withdrawal of the little table, that he might have place: 'Don't disturb yourself, I beg.'
Though he said this with a vast amount of consideration for Mr Pinch's comfort, he dragged one of the great leather-bottomed chairs to the very centre of the hearth, notwithstanding; and sat down in front of the fire, with a foot on each hob.
'My feet are quite numbed. Ah! Bitter cold to be sure.'
'You have been in the air some considerable time, I dare say?' said Mr Pinch.
'All day. Outside a coach, too.'
'That accounts for his making the room so cool,' thought Mr Pinch. 'Poor fellow! How thoroughly chilled he must be!'
The stranger became thoughtful likewise, and sat for five or ten minutes looking at the fire in silence. At length he rose and divested himself of his shawl and great-coat, which (far different from Mr Pinch's) was a very warm and thick one; but he was not a whit more conversational out of his great-coat than in it, for he sat down again in the same place and attitude, and leaning back in his chair, began to bite his nails. He was young—one-and-twenty, perhaps—and handsome; with a keen dark eye, and a quickness of look and manner which made Tom sensible of a great contrast in his own bearing, and caused him to feel even more shy than usual.
There was a clock in the room, which the stranger often turned to look at. Tom made frequent reference to it also; partly from a nervous sympathy with its taciturn companion; and partly because the new pupil was to inquire for him at half after six, and the hands were getting on towards that hour. Whenever the stranger caught him looking at this clock, a kind of confusion came upon Tom as if he had been found out in something; and it was a perception of his uneasiness which caused the younger man to say, perhaps, with a smile:
'We both appear to be rather particular about the time. The fact is, I have an engagement to meet a gentleman here.'
'So have I,' said Mr Pinch.
'At half-past six,' said the stranger.
'At half-past six,' said Tom in the very same breath; whereupon the other looked at him with some surprise.
'The young gentleman, I expect,' remarked Tom, timidly, 'was to inquire at that time for a person by the name of Pinch.'
'Dear me!' cried the other, jumping up. 'And I have been keeping the fire from you all this while! I had no idea you were Mr Pinch. I am the Mr Martin for whom you were to inquire. Pray excuse me. How do you do? Oh, do draw nearer, pray!'
'Thank you,' said Tom, 'thank you. I am not at all cold, and you are; and we have a cold ride before us. Well, if you wish it, I will. I—I am very glad,' said Tom, smiling with an embarrassed frankness peculiarly his, and which was as plainly a confession of his own imperfections, and an appeal to the kindness of the person he addressed, as if he had drawn one up in simple language and committed it to paper: 'I am very glad indeed that you turn out to be the party I expected. I was thinking, but a minute ago, that I could wish him to be like you.'
'I am very glad to hear it,' returned Martin, shaking hands with him again; 'for I assure you, I was thinking there could be no such luck as Mr Pinch's turning out like you.'
'No, really!' said Tom, with great pleasure. 'Are you serious?'
'Upon my word I am,' replied his new acquaintance. 'You and I will get on excellently well, I know; which it's no small relief to me to feel, for to tell you the truth, I am not at all the sort of fellow who could get on with everybody, and that's the point on which I had the greatest doubts. But they're quite relieved now.—Do me the favour to ring the bell, will you?'
Mr Pinch rose, and complied with great alacrity—the handle hung just over Martin's head, as he warmed himself—and listened with a smiling face to what his friend went on to say. It was:
'If you like punch, you'll allow me to order a glass apiece, as hot as it can be made, that we may usher in our friendship in a becoming manner. To let you into a secret, Mr Pinch, I never was so much in want of something warm and cheering in my life; but I didn't like to run the chance of being found drinking it, without knowing what kind of person you were; for first impressions, you know, often go a long way, and last a long time.'
Mr Pinch assented, and the punch was ordered. In due course it came; hot and strong. After drinking to each other in the steaming mixture, they became quite confidential.
'I'm a sort of relation of Pecksniff's, you know,' said the young man.
'Indeed!' cried Mr Pinch.
'Yes. My grandfather is his cousin, so he's kith and kin to me, somehow, if you can make that out. I can't.'
'Then Martin is your Christian name?' said Mr Pinch, thoughtfully. 'Oh!'
'Of course it is,' returned his friend: 'I wish it was my surname for my own is not a very pretty one, and it takes a long time to sign Chuzzlewit is my name.'
'Dear me!' cried Mr Pinch, with an involuntary start.
'You're not surprised at my having two names, I suppose?' returned the other, setting his glass to his lips. 'Most people have.'
'Oh, no,' said Mr Pinch, 'not at all. Oh dear no! Well!' And then remembering that Mr Pecksniff had privately cautioned him to say nothing in reference to the old gentleman of the same name who had lodged at the Dragon, but to reserve all mention of that person for him, he had no better means of hiding his confusion than by raising his own glass to his mouth. They looked at each other out of their respective tumblers for a few seconds, and then put them down empty.
'I told them in the stable to be ready for us ten minutes ago,' said Mr Pinch, glancing at the clock again. 'Shall we go?'
'If you please,' returned the other.
'Would you like to drive?' said Mr Pinch; his whole face beaming with a consciousness of the splendour of his offer. 'You shall, if you wish.'
'Why, that depends, Mr Pinch,' said Martin, laughing, 'upon what sort of a horse you have. Because if he's a bad one, I would rather keep my hands warm by holding them comfortably in my greatcoat pockets.'
He appeared to think this such a good joke, that Mr Pinch was quite sure it must be a capital one. Accordingly, he laughed too, and was fully persuaded that he enjoyed it very much. Then he settled his bill, and Mr Chuzzlewit paid for the punch; and having wrapped themselves up, to the extent of their respective means, they went out together to the front door, where Mr Pecksniff's property stopped the way.
'I won't drive, thank you, Mr Pinch,' said Martin, getting into the sitter's place. 'By the bye, there's a box of mine. Can we manage to take it?'
'Oh, certainly,' said Tom. 'Put it in, Dick, anywhere!'
It was not precisely of that convenient size which would admit of its being squeezed into any odd corner, but Dick the hostler got it in somehow, and Mr Chuzzlewit helped him. It was all on Mr Pinch's side, and Mr Chuzzlewit said he was very much afraid it would encumber him; to which Tom said, 'Not at all;' though it forced him into such an awkward position, that he had much ado to see anything but his own knees. But it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good; and the wisdom of the saying was verified in this instance; for the cold air came from Mr Pinch's side of the carriage, and by interposing a perfect wall of box and man between it and the new pupil, he shielded that young gentleman effectually; which was a great comfort.
It was a clear evening, with a bright moon. The whole landscape was silvered by its light and by the hoar-frost; and everything looked exquisitely beautiful. At first, the great serenity and peace through which they travelled, disposed them both to silence; but in a very short time the punch within them and the healthful air without, made them loquacious, and they talked incessantly. When they were halfway home, and stopped to give the horse some water, Martin (who was very generous with his money) ordered another glass of punch, which they drank between them, and which had not the effect of making them less conversational than before. Their principal topic of discourse was naturally Mr Pecksniff and his family; of whom, and of the great obligations they had heaped upon him, Tom Pinch, with the tears standing in his eyes, drew such a picture as would have inclined any one of common feeling almost to revere them; and of which Mr Pecksniff had not the slightest foresight or preconceived idea, or he certainly (being very humble) would not have sent Tom Pinch to bring the pupil home.
In this way they went on, and on, and on—in the language of the story-books—until at last the village lights appeared before them, and the church spire cast a long reflection on the graveyard grass; as if it were a dial (alas, the truest in the world!) marking, whatever light shone out of Heaven, the flight of days and weeks and years, by some new shadow on that solemn ground.
'A pretty church!' said Martin, observing that his companion slackened the slack pace of the horse, as they approached.
'Is it not?' cried Tom, with great pride. 'There's the sweetest little organ there you ever heard. I play it for them.'
'Indeed?' said Martin. 'It is hardly worth the trouble, I should think. What do you get for that, now?'
'Nothing,' answered Tom.
'Well,' returned his friend, 'you ARE a very strange fellow!'
To which remark there succeeded a brief silence.
'When I say nothing,' observed Mr Pinch, cheerfully, 'I am wrong, and don't say what I mean, because I get a great deal of pleasure from it, and the means of passing some of the happiest hours I know. It led to something else the other day; but you will not care to hear about that I dare say?'
'Oh yes I shall. What?'
'It led to my seeing,' said Tom, in a lower voice, 'one of the loveliest and most beautiful faces you can possibly picture to yourself.'
'And yet I am able to picture a beautiful one,' said his friend, thoughtfully, 'or should be, if I have any memory.'
'She came' said Tom, laying his hand upon the other's arm, 'for the first time very early in the morning, when it was hardly light; and when I saw her, over my shoulder, standing just within the porch, I turned quite cold, almost believing her to be a spirit. A moment's reflection got the better of that, of course, and fortunately it came to my relief so soon, that I didn't leave off playing.'
'Why? Because she stood there, listening. I had my spectacles on, and saw her through the chinks in the curtains as plainly as I see you; and she was beautiful. After a while she glided off, and I continued to play until she was out of hearing.'
'Why did you do that?'
'Don't you see?' responded Tom. 'Because she might suppose I hadn't seen her; and might return.'
'And did she?'
'Certainly she did. Next morning, and next evening too; but always when there were no people about, and always alone. I rose earlier and sat there later, that when she came, she might find the church door open, and the organ playing, and might not be disappointed. She strolled that way for some days, and always stayed to listen. But she is gone now, and of all unlikely things in this wide world, it is perhaps the most improbable that I shall ever look upon her face again.'
'You don't know anything more about her?'
'And you never followed her when she went away?'
'Why should I distress her by doing that?' said Tom Pinch. 'Is it likely that she wanted my company? She came to hear the organ, not to see me; and would you have had me scare her from a place she seemed to grow quite fond of? Now, Heaven bless her!' cried Tom, 'to have given her but a minute's pleasure every day, I would have gone on playing the organ at those times until I was an old man; quite contented if she sometimes thought of a poor fellow like me, as a part of the music; and more than recompensed if she ever mixed me up with anything she liked as well as she liked that!'
The new pupil was clearly very much amazed by Mr Pinch's weakness, and would probably have told him so, and given him some good advice, but for their opportune arrival at Mr Pecksniff's door; the front door this time, on account of the occasion being one of ceremony and rejoicing. The same man was in waiting for the horse who had been adjured by Mr Pinch in the morning not to yield to his rabid desire to start; and after delivering the animal into his charge, and beseeching Mr Chuzzlewit in a whisper never to reveal a syllable of what he had just told him in the fullness of his heart, Tom led the pupil in, for instant presentation.
Mr Pecksniff had clearly not expected them for hours to come; for he was surrounded by open books, and was glancing from volume to volume, with a black lead-pencil in his mouth, and a pair of compasses in his hand, at a vast number of mathematical diagrams, of such extraordinary shapes that they looked like designs for fireworks. Neither had Miss Charity expected them, for she was busied, with a capacious wicker basket before her, in making impracticable nightcaps for the poor. Neither had Miss Mercy expected them, for she was sitting upon her stool, tying on the—oh good gracious!—the petticoat of a large doll that she was dressing for a neighbour's child—really, quite a grown-up doll, which made it more confusing—and had its little bonnet dangling by the ribbon from one of her fair curls, to which she had fastened it lest it should be lost or sat upon. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to conceive a family so thoroughly taken by surprise as the Pecksniffs were, on this occasion.
Bless my life!' said Mr Pecksniff, looking up, and gradually exchanging his abstracted face for one of joyful recognition. 'Here already! Martin, my dear boy, I am delighted to welcome you to my poor house!'
With this kind greeting, Mr Pecksniff fairly took him to his arms, and patted him several times upon the back with his right hand the while, as if to express that his feelings during the embrace were too much for utterance.
'But here,' he said, recovering, 'are my daughters, Martin; my two only children, whom (if you ever saw them) you have not beheld—ah, these sad family divisions!—since you were infants together. Nay, my dears, why blush at being detected in your everyday pursuits? We had prepared to give you the reception of a visitor, Martin, in our little room of state,' said Mr Pecksniff, smiling, 'but I like this better, I like this better!'
Oh blessed star of Innocence, wherever you may be, how did you glitter in your home of ether, when the two Miss Pecksniffs put forth each her lily hand, and gave the same, with mantling cheeks, to Martin! How did you twinkle, as if fluttering with sympathy, when Mercy, reminded of the bonnet in her hair, hid her fair face and turned her head aside; the while her gentle sister plucked it out, and smote her with a sister's soft reproof, upon her buxom shoulder!
'And how,' said Mr Pecksniff, turning round after the contemplation of these passages, and taking Mr Pinch in a friendly manner by the elbow, 'how has our friend used you, Martin?'
'Very well indeed, sir. We are on the best terms, I assure you.'
'Old Tom Pinch!' said Mr Pecksniff, looking on him with affectionate sadness. 'Ah! It seems but yesterday that Thomas was a boy fresh from a scholastic course. Yet years have passed, I think, since Thomas Pinch and I first walked the world together!'
Mr Pinch could say nothing. He was too much moved. But he pressed his master's hand, and tried to thank him.
'And Thomas Pinch and I,' said Mr Pecksniff, in a deeper voice, 'will walk it yet, in mutual faithfulness and friendship! And if it comes to pass that either of us be run over in any of those busy crossings which divide the streets of life, the other will convey him to the hospital in Hope, and sit beside his bed in Bounty!'
'Well, well, well!' he added in a happier tone, as he shook Mr Pinch's elbow hard. 'No more of this! Martin, my dear friend, that you may be at home within these walls, let me show you how we live, and where. Come!'
With that he took up a lighted candle, and, attended by his young relative, prepared to leave the room. At the door, he stopped.
'You'll bear us company, Tom Pinch?'
Aye, cheerfully, though it had been to death, would Tom have followed him; glad to lay down his life for such a man!
'This,' said Mr Pecksniff, opening the door of an opposite parlour, 'is the little room of state, I mentioned to you. My girls have pride in it, Martin! This,' opening another door, 'is the little chamber in which my works (slight things at best) have been concocted. Portrait of myself by Spiller. Bust by Spoker. The latter is considered a good likeness. I seem to recognize something about the left-hand corner of the nose, myself.'
Martin thought it was very like, but scarcely intellectual enough. Mr Pecksniff observed that the same fault had been found with it before. It was remarkable it should have struck his young relation too. He was glad to see he had an eye for art.
'Various books you observe,' said Mr Pecksniff, waving his hand towards the wall, 'connected with our pursuit. I have scribbled myself, but have not yet published. Be careful how you come upstairs. This,' opening another door, 'is my chamber. I read here when the family suppose I have retired to rest. Sometimes I injure my health rather more than I can quite justify to myself, by doing so; but art is long and time is short. Every facility you see for jotting down crude notions, even here.'
These latter words were explained by his pointing to a small round table on which were a lamp, divers sheets of paper, a piece of India rubber, and a case of instruments; all put ready, in case an architectural idea should come into Mr Pecksniff's head in the night; in which event he would instantly leap out of bed, and fix it for ever.
Mr Pecksniff opened another door on the same floor, and shut it again, all at once, as if it were a Blue Chamber. But before he had well done so, he looked smilingly round, and said, 'Why not?'
Martin couldn't say why not, because he didn't know anything at all about it. So Mr Pecksniff answered himself, by throwing open the door, and saying:
'My daughters' room. A poor first-floor to us, but a bower to them. Very neat. Very airy. Plants you observe; hyacinths; books again; birds.' These birds, by the bye, comprised, in all, one staggering old sparrow without a tail, which had been borrowed expressly from the kitchen. 'Such trifles as girls love are here. Nothing more. Those who seek heartless splendour, would seek here in vain.'
With that he led them to the floor above.
'This,' said Mr Pecksniff, throwing wide the door of the memorable two-pair front; 'is a room where some talent has been developed I believe. This is a room in which an idea for a steeple occurred to me that I may one day give to the world. We work here, my dear Martin. Some architects have been bred in this room; a few, I think, Mr Pinch?'
Tom fully assented; and, what is more, fully believed it.
'You see,' said Mr Pecksniff, passing the candle rapidly from roll to roll of paper, 'some traces of our doings here. Salisbury Cathedral from the north. From the south. From the east. From the west. From the south-east. From the nor'west. A bridge. An almshouse. A jail. A church. A powder-magazine. A wine-cellar. A portico. A summer-house. An ice-house. Plans, elevations, sections, every kind of thing. And this,' he added, having by this time reached another large chamber on the same story, with four little beds in it, 'this is your room, of which Mr Pinch here is the quiet sharer. A southern aspect; a charming prospect; Mr Pinch's little library, you perceive; everything agreeable and appropriate. If there is any additional comfort you would desire to have here at anytime, pray mention it. Even to strangers, far less to you, my dear Martin, there is no restriction on that point.'
It was undoubtedly true, and may be stated in corroboration of Mr Pecksniff, that any pupil had the most liberal permission to mention anything in this way that suggested itself to his fancy. Some young gentlemen had gone on mentioning the very same thing for five years without ever being stopped.
'The domestic assistants,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'sleep above; and that is all.' After which, and listening complacently as he went, to the encomiums passed by his young friend on the arrangements generally, he led the way to the parlour again.
Here a great change had taken place; for festive preparations on a rather extensive scale were already completed, and the two Miss Pecksniffs were awaiting their return with hospitable looks. There were two bottles of currant wine, white and red; a dish of sandwiches (very long and very slim); another of apples; another of captain's biscuits (which are always a moist and jovial sort of viand); a plate of oranges cut up small and gritty; with powdered sugar, and a highly geological home-made cake. The magnitude of these preparations quite took away Tom Pinch's breath; for though the new pupils were usually let down softly, as one may say, particularly in the wine department, which had so many stages of declension, that sometimes a young gentleman was a whole fortnight in getting to the pump; still this was a banquet; a sort of Lord Mayor's feast in private life; a something to think of, and hold on by, afterwards.
To this entertainment, which apart from its own intrinsic merits, had the additional choice quality, that it was in strict keeping with the night, being both light and cool, Mr Pecksniff besought the company to do full justice.
'Martin,' he said, 'will seat himself between you two, my dears, and Mr Pinch will come by me. Let us drink to our new inmate, and may we be happy together! Martin, my dear friend, my love to you! Mr Pinch, if you spare the bottle we shall quarrel.'
And trying (in his regard for the feelings of the rest) to look as if the wine were not acid and didn't make him wink, Mr Pecksniff did honour to his own toast.
'This,' he said, in allusion to the party, not the wine, 'is a mingling that repays one for much disappointment and vexation. Let us be merry.' Here he took a captain's biscuit. 'It is a poor heart that never rejoices; and our hearts are not poor. No!'
With such stimulants to merriment did he beguile the time, and do the honours of the table; while Mr Pinch, perhaps to assure himself that what he saw and heard was holiday reality, and not a charming dream, ate of everything, and in particular disposed of the slim sandwiches to a surprising extent. Nor was he stinted in his draughts of wine; but on the contrary, remembering Mr Pecksniff's speech, attacked the bottle with such vigour, that every time he filled his glass anew, Miss Charity, despite her amiable resolves, could not repress a fixed and stony glare, as if her eyes had rested on a ghost. Mr Pecksniff also became thoughtful at those moments, not to say dejected; but as he knew the vintage, it is very likely he may have been speculating on the probable condition of Mr Pinch upon the morrow, and discussing within himself the best remedies for colic.
Martin and the young ladies were excellent friends already, and compared recollections of their childish days, to their mutual liveliness and entertainment. Miss Mercy laughed immensely at everything that was said; and sometimes, after glancing at the happy face of Mr Pinch, was seized with such fits of mirth as brought her to the very confines of hysterics. But for these bursts of gaiety, her sister, in her better sense, reproved her; observing, in an angry whisper, that it was far from being a theme for jest; and that she had no patience with the creature; though it generally ended in her laughing too—but much more moderately—and saying that indeed it was a little too ridiculous and intolerable to be serious about.
At length it became high time to remember the first clause of that great discovery made by the ancient philosopher, for securing health, riches, and wisdom; the infallibility of which has been for generations verified by the enormous fortunes constantly amassed by chimney-sweepers and other persons who get up early and go to bed betimes. The young ladies accordingly rose, and having taken leave of Mr Chuzzlewit with much sweetness, and of their father with much duty and of Mr Pinch with much condescension, retired to their bower. Mr Pecksniff insisted on accompanying his young friend upstairs for personal superintendence of his comforts; and taking him by the arm, conducted him once more to his bedroom, followed by Mr Pinch, who bore the light.
'Mr Pinch,' said Pecksniff, seating himself with folded arms on one of the spare beds. 'I don't see any snuffers in that candlestick. Will you oblige me by going down, and asking for a pair?'
Mr Pinch, only too happy to be useful, went off directly.
'You will excuse Thomas Pinch's want of polish, Martin,' said Mr Pecksniff, with a smile of patronage and pity, as soon as he had left the room. 'He means well.'
'He is a very good fellow, sir.'
'Oh, yes,' said Mr Pecksniff. 'Yes. Thomas Pinch means well. He is very grateful. I have never regretted having befriended Thomas Pinch.'
'I should think you never would, sir.'
'No,' said Mr Pecksniff. 'No. I hope not. Poor fellow, he is always disposed to do his best; but he is not gifted. You will make him useful to you, Martin, if you please. If Thomas has a fault, it is that he is sometimes a little apt to forget his position. But that is soon checked. Worthy soul! You will find him easy to manage. Good night!'
'Good night, sir.'
By this time Mr Pinch had returned with the snuffers.
'And good night to YOU, Mr Pinch,' said Pecksniff. 'And sound sleep to you both. Bless you! Bless you!'
Invoking this benediction on the heads of his young friends with great fervour, he withdrew to his own room; while they, being tired, soon fell asleep. If Martin dreamed at all, some clue to the matter of his visions may possibly be gathered from the after-pages of this history. Those of Thomas Pinch were all of holidays, church organs, and seraphic Pecksniffs. It was some time before Mr Pecksniff dreamed at all, or even sought his pillow, as he sat for full two hours before the fire in his own chamber, looking at the coals and thinking deeply. But he, too, slept and dreamed at last. Thus in the quiet hours of the night, one house shuts in as many incoherent and incongruous fancies as a madman's head.
COMPRISES, AMONG OTHER IMPORTANT MATTERS, PECKSNIFFIAN AND ARCHITECTURAL, AND EXACT RELATION OF THE PROGRESS MADE BY MR PINCH IN THE CONFIDENCE AND FRIENDSHIP OF THE NEW PUPIL
It was morning; and the beautiful Aurora, of whom so much hath been written, said, and sung, did, with her rosy fingers, nip and tweak Miss Pecksniff's nose. It was the frolicsome custom of the Goddess, in her intercourse with the fair Cherry, so to do; or in more prosaic phrase, the tip of that feature in the sweet girl's countenance was always very red at breakfast-time. For the most part, indeed, it wore, at that season of the day, a scraped and frosty look, as if it had been rasped; while a similar phenomenon developed itself in her humour, which was then observed to be of a sharp and acid quality, as though an extra lemon (figuratively speaking) had been squeezed into the nectar of her disposition, and had rather damaged its flavour.
This additional pungency on the part of the fair young creature led, on ordinary occasions, to such slight consequences as the copious dilution of Mr Pinch's tea, or to his coming off uncommonly short in respect of butter, or to other the like results. But on the morning after the Installation Banquet, she suffered him to wander to and fro among the eatables and drinkables, a perfectly free and unchecked man; so utterly to Mr Pinch's wonder and confusion, that like the wretched captive who recovered his liberty in his old age, he could make but little use of his enlargement, and fell into a strange kind of flutter for want of some kind hand to scrape his bread, and cut him off in the article of sugar with a lump, and pay him those other little attentions to which he was accustomed. There was something almost awful, too, about the self-possession of the new pupil; who 'troubled' Mr Pecksniff for the loaf, and helped himself to a rasher of that gentleman's own particular and private bacon, with all the coolness in life. He even seemed to think that he was doing quite a regular thing, and to expect that Mr Pinch would follow his example, since he took occasion to observe of that young man 'that he didn't get on'; a speech of so tremendous a character, that Tom cast down his eyes involuntarily, and felt as if he himself had committed some horrible deed and heinous breach of Mr Pecksniff's confidence. Indeed, the agony of having such an indiscreet remark addressed to him before the assembled family, was breakfast enough in itself, and would, without any other matter of reflection, have settled Mr Pinch's business and quenched his appetite, for one meal, though he had been never so hungry.
The young ladies, however, and Mr Pecksniff likewise, remained in the very best of spirits in spite of these severe trials, though with something of a mysterious understanding among themselves. When the meal was nearly over, Mr Pecksniff smilingly explained the cause of their common satisfaction.
'It is not often,' he said, 'Martin, that my daughters and I desert our quiet home to pursue the giddy round of pleasures that revolves abroad. But we think of doing so to-day.'
'Indeed, sir!' cried the new pupil.
'Yes,' said Mr Pecksniff, tapping his left hand with a letter which he held in his right. 'I have a summons here to repair to London; on professional business, my dear Martin; strictly on professional business; and I promised my girls, long ago, that whenever that happened again, they should accompany me. We shall go forth to-night by the heavy coach—like the dove of old, my dear Martin—and it will be a week before we again deposit our olive-branches in the passage. When I say olive-branches,' observed Mr Pecksniff, in explanation, 'I mean, our unpretending luggage.'
'I hope the young ladies will enjoy their trip,' said Martin.
'Oh! that I'm sure we shall!' cried Mercy, clapping her hands. 'Good gracious, Cherry, my darling, the idea of London!'
'Ardent child!' said Mr Pecksniff, gazing on her in a dreamy way. 'And yet there is a melancholy sweetness in these youthful hopes! It is pleasant to know that they never can be realised. I remember thinking once myself, in the days of my childhood, that pickled onions grew on trees, and that every elephant was born with an impregnable castle on his back. I have not found the fact to be so; far from it; and yet those visions have comforted me under circumstances of trial. Even when I have had the anguish of discovering that I have nourished in my breast on ostrich, and not a human pupil—even in that hour of agony, they have soothed me.'
At this dread allusion to John Westlock, Mr Pinch precipitately choked in his tea; for he had that very morning received a letter from him, as Mr Pecksniff very well knew.
'You will take care, my dear Martin,' said Mr Pecksniff, resuming his former cheerfulness, 'that the house does not run away in our absence. We leave you in charge of everything. There is no mystery; all is free and open. Unlike the young man in the Eastern tale—who is described as a one-eyed almanac, if I am not mistaken, Mr Pinch?—'
'A one-eyed calender, I think, sir,' faltered Tom.
'They are pretty nearly the same thing, I believe,' said Mr Pecksniff, smiling compassionately; 'or they used to be in my time. Unlike that young man, my dear Martin, you are forbidden to enter no corner of this house; but are requested to make yourself perfectly at home in every part of it. You will be jovial, my dear Martin, and will kill the fatted calf if you please!'
There was not the least objection, doubtless, to the young man's slaughtering and appropriating to his own use any calf, fat or lean, that he might happen to find upon the premises; but as no such animal chanced at that time to be grazing on Mr Pecksniff's estate, this request must be considered rather as a polite compliment that a substantial hospitality. It was the finishing ornament of the conversation; for when he had delivered it, Mr Pecksniff rose and led the way to that hotbed of architectural genius, the two-pair front.
'Let me see,' he said, searching among the papers, 'how you can best employ yourself, Martin, while I am absent. Suppose you were to give me your idea of a monument to a Lord Mayor of London; or a tomb for a sheriff; or your notion of a cow-house to be erected in a nobleman's park. Do you know, now,' said Mr Pecksniff, folding his hands, and looking at his young relation with an air of pensive interest, 'that I should very much like to see your notion of a cow-house?'
But Martin by no means appeared to relish this suggestion.
'A pump,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'is very chaste practice. I have found that a lamp post is calculated to refine the mind and give it a classical tendency. An ornamental turnpike has a remarkable effect upon the imagination. What do you say to beginning with an ornamental turnpike?'
'Whatever Mr Pecksniff pleased,' said Martin, doubtfully.
'Stay,' said that gentleman. 'Come! as you're ambitious, and are a very neat draughtsman, you shall—ha ha!—you shall try your hand on these proposals for a grammar-school; regulating your plan, of course, by the printed particulars. Upon my word, now,' said Mr Pecksniff, merrily, 'I shall be very curious to see what you make of the grammar-school. Who knows but a young man of your taste might hit upon something, impracticable and unlikely in itself, but which I could put into shape? For it really is, my dear Martin, it really is in the finishing touches alone, that great experience and long study in these matters tell. Ha, ha, ha! Now it really will be,' continued Mr Pecksniff, clapping his young friend on the back in his droll humour, 'an amusement to me, to see what you make of the grammar-school.'
Martin readily undertook this task, and Mr Pecksniff forthwith proceeded to entrust him with the materials necessary for its execution; dwelling meanwhile on the magical effect of a few finishing touches from the hand of a master; which, indeed, as some people said (and these were the old enemies again!) was unquestionably very surprising, and almost miraculous; as there were cases on record in which the masterly introduction of an additional back window, or a kitchen door, or half-a-dozen steps, or even a water spout, had made the design of a pupil Mr Pecksniff's own work, and had brought substantial rewards into that gentleman's pocket. But such is the magic of genius, which changes all it handles into gold!
'When your mind requires to be refreshed by change of occupation,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'Thomas Pinch will instruct you in the art of surveying the back garden, or in ascertaining the dead level of the road between this house and the finger-post, or in any other practical and pleasing pursuit. There are a cart-load of loose bricks, and a score or two of old flower-pots, in the back yard. If you could pile them up my dear Martin, into any form which would remind me on my return say of St. Peter's at Rome, or the Mosque of St. Sophia at Constantinople, it would be at once improving to you and agreeable to my feelings. And now,' said Mr Pecksniff, in conclusion, 'to drop, for the present, our professional relations and advert to private matters, I shall be glad to talk with you in my own room, while I pack up my portmanteau.'
Martin attended him; and they remained in secret conference together for an hour or more; leaving Tom Pinch alone. When the young man returned, he was very taciturn and dull, in which state he remained all day; so that Tom, after trying him once or twice with indifferent conversation, felt a delicacy in obtruding himself upon his thoughts, and said no more.
He would not have had leisure to say much, had his new friend been ever so loquacious; for first of all Mr Pecksniff called him down to stand upon the top of his portmanteau and represent ancient statues there, until such time as it would consent to be locked; and then Miss Charity called him to come and cord her trunk; and then Miss Mercy sent for him to come and mend her box; and then he wrote the fullest possible cards for all the luggage; and then he volunteered to carry it all downstairs; and after that to see it safely carried on a couple of barrows to the old finger-post at the end of the lane; and then to mind it till the coach came up. In short, his day's work would have been a pretty heavy one for a porter, but his thorough good-will made nothing of it; and as he sat upon the luggage at last, waiting for the Pecksniffs, escorted by the new pupil, to come down the lane, his heart was light with the hope of having pleased his benefactor.
'I was almost afraid,' said Tom, taking a letter from his pocket and wiping his face, for he was hot with bustling about though it was a cold day, 'that I shouldn't have had time to write it, and that would have been a thousand pities; postage from such a distance being a serious consideration, when one's not rich. She will be glad to see my hand, poor girl, and to hear that Pecksniff is as kind as ever. I would have asked John Westlock to call and see her, and tell her all about me by word of mouth, but I was afraid he might speak against Pecksniff to her, and make her uneasy. Besides, they are particular people where she is, and it might have rendered her situation uncomfortable if she had had a visit from a young man like John. Poor Ruth!'
Tom Pinch seemed a little disposed to be melancholy for half a minute or so, but he found comfort very soon, and pursued his ruminations thus:
'I'm a nice man, I don't think, as John used to say (John was a kind, merry-hearted fellow; I wish he had liked Pecksniff better), to be feeling low, on account of the distance between us, when I ought to be thinking, instead, of my extraordinary good luck in having ever got here. I must have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I am sure, to have ever come across Pecksniff. And here have I fallen again into my usual good luck with the new pupil! Such an affable, generous, free fellow, as he is, I never saw. Why, we were companions directly! and he a relation of Pecksniff's too, and a clever, dashing youth who might cut his way through the world as if it were a cheese! Here he comes while the words are on my lips' said Tom; 'walking down the lane as if the lane belonged to him.'
In truth, the new pupil, not at all disconcerted by the honour of having Miss Mercy Pecksniff on his arm, or by the affectionate adieux of that young lady, approached as Mr Pinch spoke, followed by Miss Charity and Mr Pecksniff. As the coach appeared at the same moment, Tom lost no time in entreating the gentleman last mentioned, to undertake the delivery of his letter.
'Oh!' said Mr Pecksniff, glancing at the superscription. 'For your sister, Thomas. Yes, oh yes, it shall be delivered, Mr Pinch. Make your mind easy upon that score. She shall certainly have it, Mr Pinch.'
He made the promise with so much condescension and patronage, that Tom felt he had asked a great deal (this had not occurred to his mind before), and thanked him earnestly. The Miss Pecksniffs, according to a custom they had, were amused beyond description at the mention of Mr Pinch's sister. Oh the fright! The bare idea of a Miss Pinch! Good heavens!
Tom was greatly pleased to see them so merry, for he took it as a token of their favour, and good-humoured regard. Therefore he laughed too and rubbed his hands and wished them a pleasant journey and safe return, and was quite brisk. Even when the coach had rolled away with the olive-branches in the boot and the family of doves inside, he stood waving his hand and bowing; so much gratified by the unusually courteous demeanour of the young ladies, that he was quite regardless, for the moment, of Martin Chuzzlewit, who stood leaning thoughtfully against the finger-post, and who after disposing of his fair charge had hardly lifted his eyes from the ground.
The perfect silence which ensued upon the bustle and departure of the coach, together with the sharp air of the wintry afternoon, roused them both at the same time. They turned, as by mutual consent, and moved off arm-in-arm.
'How melancholy you are!' said Tom; 'what is the matter?'
'Nothing worth speaking of,' said Martin. 'Very little more than was the matter yesterday, and much more, I hope, than will be the matter to-morrow. I'm out of spirits, Pinch.'
'Well,' cried Tom, 'now do you know I am in capital spirits today, and scarcely ever felt more disposed to be good company. It was a very kind thing in your predecessor, John, to write to me, was it not?'
'Why, yes,' said Martin carelessly; 'I should have thought he would have had enough to do to enjoy himself, without thinking of you, Pinch.'
'Just what I felt to be so very likely,' Tom rejoined; 'but no, he keeps his word, and says, "My dear Pinch, I often think of you," and all sorts of kind and considerate things of that description.'
'He must be a devilish good-natured fellow,' said Martin, somewhat peevishly: 'because he can't mean that, you know.'
'I don't suppose he can, eh?' said Tom, looking wistfully in his companion's face. 'He says so to please me, you think?'
'Why, is it likely,' rejoined Martin, with greater earnestness, 'that a young man newly escaped from this kennel of a place, and fresh to all the delights of being his own master in London, can have much leisure or inclination to think favourably of anything or anybody he has left behind him here? I put it to you, Pinch, is it natural?'
After a short reflection, Mr Pinch replied, in a more subdued tone, that to be sure it was unreasonable to expect any such thing, and that he had no doubt Martin knew best.
'Of course I know best,' Martin observed.
'Yes, I feel that,' said Mr Pinch mildly. 'I said so.' And when he had made this rejoinder, they fell into a blank silence again, which lasted until they reached home; by which time it was dark.
Now, Miss Charity Pecksniff, in consideration of the inconvenience of carrying them with her in the coach, and the impossibility of preserving them by artificial means until the family's return, had set forth, in a couple of plates, the fragments of yesterday's feast. In virtue of which liberal arrangement, they had the happiness to find awaiting them in the parlour two chaotic heaps of the remains of last night's pleasure, consisting of certain filmy bits of oranges, some mummied sandwiches, various disrupted masses of the geological cake, and several entire captain's biscuits. That choice liquor in which to steep these dainties might not be wanting, the remains of the two bottles of currant wine had been poured together and corked with a curl-paper; so that every material was at hand for making quite a heavy night of it.
Martin Chuzzlewit beheld these roystering preparations with infinite contempt, and stirring the fire into a blaze (to the great destruction of Mr Pecksniff's coals), sat moodily down before it, in the most comfortable chair he could find. That he might the better squeeze himself into the small corner that was left for him, Mr Pinch took up his position on Miss Mercy Pecksniff's stool, and setting his glass down upon the hearthrug and putting his plate upon his knees, began to enjoy himself.
If Diogenes coming to life again could have rolled himself, tub and all, into Mr Pecksniff's parlour and could have seen Tom Pinch as he sat on Mercy Pecksniff's stool with his plate and glass before him he could not have faced it out, though in his surliest mood, but must have smiled good-temperedly. The perfect and entire satisfaction of Tom; his surpassing appreciation of the husky sandwiches, which crumbled in his mouth like saw-dust; the unspeakable relish with which he swallowed the thin wine by drops, and smacked his lips, as though it were so rich and generous that to lose an atom of its fruity flavour were a sin; the look with which he paused sometimes, with his glass in his hand, proposing silent toasts to himself; and the anxious shade that came upon his contented face when, after wandering round the room, exulting in its uninvaded snugness, his glance encountered the dull brow of his companion; no cynic in the world, though in his hatred of its men a very griffin, could have withstood these things in Thomas Pinch.
Some men would have slapped him on the back, and pledged him in a bumper of the currant wine, though it had been the sharpest vinegar—aye, and liked its flavour too; some would have seized him by his honest hand, and thanked him for the lesson that his simple nature taught them. Some would have laughed with, and others would have laughed at him; of which last class was Martin Chuzzlewit, who, unable to restrain himself, at last laughed loud and long.
'That's right,' said Tom, nodding approvingly. 'Cheer up! That's capital!'
At which encouragement young Martin laughed again; and said, as soon as he had breath and gravity enough:
'I never saw such a fellow as you are, Pinch.'
'Didn't you though?' said Tom. 'Well, it's very likely you do find me strange, because I have hardly seen anything of the world, and you have seen a good deal I dare say?'
'Pretty well for my time of life,' rejoined Martin, drawing his chair still nearer to the fire, and spreading his feet out on the fender. 'Deuce take it, I must talk openly to somebody. I'll talk openly to you, Pinch.'
'Do!' said Tom. 'I shall take it as being very friendly of you,'
'I'm not in your way, am I?' inquired Martin, glancing down at Mr Pinch, who was by this time looking at the fire over his leg.
'Not at all!' cried Tom.
'You must know then, to make short of a long story,' said Martin, beginning with a kind of effort, as if the revelation were not agreeable to him; 'that I have been bred up from childhood with great expectations, and have always been taught to believe that I should be, one day, very rich. So I should have been, but for certain brief reasons which I am going to tell you, and which have led to my being disinherited.'
'By your father?' inquired Mr Pinch, with open eyes.
'By my grandfather. I have had no parents these many years. Scarcely within my remembrance.'
'Neither have I,' said Tom, touching the young man's hand with his own and timidly withdrawing it again. 'Dear me!'
'Why, as to that, you know, Pinch,' pursued the other, stirring the fire again, and speaking in his rapid, off-hand way; 'it's all very right and proper to be fond of parents when we have them, and to bear them in remembrance after they're dead, if you have ever known anything of them. But as I never did know anything about mine personally, you know, why, I can't be expected to be very sentimental about 'em. And I am not; that's the truth.'
Mr Pinch was just then looking thoughtfully at the bars. But on his companion pausing in this place, he started, and said 'Oh! of course'—and composed himself to listen again.
'In a word,' said Martin, 'I have been bred and reared all my life by this grandfather of whom I have just spoken. Now, he has a great many good points—there is no doubt about that; I'll not disguise the fact from you—but he has two very great faults, which are the staple of his bad side. In the first place, he has the most confirmed obstinacy of character you ever met with in any human creature. In the second, he is most abominably selfish.'
'Is he indeed?' cried Tom.
'In those two respects,' returned the other, 'there never was such a man. I have often heard from those who know, that they have been, time out of mind, the failings of our family; and I believe there's some truth in it. But I can't say of my own knowledge. All I have to do, you know, is to be very thankful that they haven't descended to me, and, to be very careful that I don't contract 'em.'
'To be sure,' said Mr Pinch. 'Very proper.'
'Well, sir,' resumed Martin, stirring the fire once more, and drawing his chair still closer to it, 'his selfishness makes him exacting, you see; and his obstinacy makes him resolute in his exactions. The consequence is that he has always exacted a great deal from me in the way of respect, and submission, and self-denial when his wishes were in question, and so forth. I have borne a great deal from him, because I have been under obligations to him (if one can ever be said to be under obligations to one's own grandfather), and because I have been really attached to him; but we have had a great many quarrels for all that, for I could not accommodate myself to his ways very often—not out of the least reference to myself, you understand, but because—' he stammered here, and was rather at a loss.
Mr Pinch being about the worst man in the world to help anybody out of a difficulty of this sort, said nothing.
'Well! as you understand me,' resumed Martin, quickly, 'I needn't hunt for the precise expression I want. Now I come to the cream of my story, and the occasion of my being here. I am in love, Pinch.'
Mr Pinch looked up into his face with increased interest.
'I say I am in love. I am in love with one of the most beautiful girls the sun ever shone upon. But she is wholly and entirely dependent upon the pleasure of my grandfather; and if he were to know that she favoured my passion, she would lose her home and everything she possesses in the world. There is nothing very selfish in THAT love, I think?'
'Selfish!' cried Tom. 'You have acted nobly. To love her as I am sure you do, and yet in consideration for her state of dependence, not even to disclose—'
'What are you talking about, Pinch?' said Martin pettishly: 'don't make yourself ridiculous, my good fellow! What do you mean by not disclosing?'
'I beg your pardon,' answered Tom. 'I thought you meant that, or I wouldn't have said it.'
'If I didn't tell her I loved her, where would be the use of my being in love?' said Martin: 'unless to keep myself in a perpetual state of worry and vexation?'
'That's true,' Tom answered. 'Well! I can guess what SHE said when you told her,' he added, glancing at Martin's handsome face.
'Why, not exactly, Pinch,' he rejoined, with a slight frown; 'because she has some girlish notions about duty and gratitude, and all the rest of it, which are rather hard to fathom; but in the main you are right. Her heart was mine, I found.'
'Just what I supposed,' said Tom. 'Quite natural!' and, in his great satisfaction, he took a long sip out of his wine-glass.
'Although I had conducted myself from the first with the utmost circumspection,' pursued Martin, 'I had not managed matters so well but that my grandfather, who is full of jealousy and distrust, suspected me of loving her. He said nothing to her, but straightway attacked me in private, and charged me with designing to corrupt the fidelity to himself (there you observe his selfishness), of a young creature whom he had trained and educated to be his only disinterested and faithful companion, when he should have disposed of me in marriage to his heart's content. Upon that, I took fire immediately, and told him that with his good leave I would dispose of myself in marriage, and would rather not be knocked down by him or any other auctioneer to any bidder whomsoever.'
Mr Pinch opened his eyes wider, and looked at the fire harder than he had done yet.
'You may be sure,' said Martin, 'that this nettled him, and that he began to be the very reverse of complimentary to myself. Interview succeeded interview; words engendered words, as they always do; and the upshot of it was, that I was to renounce her, or be renounced by him. Now you must bear in mind, Pinch, that I am not only desperately fond of her (for though she is poor, her beauty and intellect would reflect great credit on anybody, I don't care of what pretensions who might become her husband), but that a chief ingredient in my composition is a most determined—'
'Obstinacy,' suggested Tom in perfect good faith. But the suggestion was not so well received as he had expected; for the young man immediately rejoined, with some irritation,
'What a fellow you are, Pinch!'
'I beg your pardon,' said Tom, 'I thought you wanted a word.'
'I didn't want that word,' he rejoined. 'I told you obstinacy was no part of my character, did I not? I was going to say, if you had given me leave, that a chief ingredient in my composition is a most determined firmness.'
'Oh!' cried Tom, screwing up his mouth, and nodding. 'Yes, yes; I see!'
'And being firm,' pursued Martin, 'of course I was not going to yield to him, or give way by so much as the thousandth part of an inch.'
'No, no,' said Tom.
'On the contrary, the more he urged, the more I was determined to oppose him.'
'To be sure!' said Tom.
'Very well,' rejoined Martin, throwing himself back in his chair, with a careless wave of both hands, as if the subject were quite settled, and nothing more could be said about it—'There is an end of the matter, and here am I!'
Mr Pinch sat staring at the fire for some minutes with a puzzled look, such as he might have assumed if some uncommonly difficult conundrum had been proposed, which he found it impossible to guess. At length he said:
'Pecksniff, of course, you had known before?'
'Only by name. No, I had never seen him, for my grandfather kept not only himself but me, aloof from all his relations. But our separation took place in a town in the adjoining country. From that place I came to Salisbury, and there I saw Pecksniff's advertisement, which I answered, having always had some natural taste, I believe, in the matters to which it referred, and thinking it might suit me. As soon as I found it to be his, I was doubly bent on coming to him if possible, on account of his being—'
'Such an excellent man,' interposed Tom, rubbing his hands: 'so he is. You were quite right.'
'Why, not so much on that account, if the truth must be spoken,' returned Martin, 'as because my grandfather has an inveterate dislike to him, and after the old man's arbitrary treatment of me, I had a natural desire to run as directly counter to all his opinions as I could. Well! As I said before, here I am. My engagement with the young lady I have been telling you about is likely to be a tolerably long one; for neither her prospects nor mine are very bright; and of course I shall not think of marrying until I am well able to do so. It would never do, you know, for me to be plunging myself into poverty and shabbiness and love in one room up three pair of stairs, and all that sort of thing.'
'To say nothing of her,' remarked Tom Pinch, in a low voice.
'Exactly so,' rejoined Martin, rising to warm his back, and leaning against the chimney-piece. 'To say nothing of her. At the same time, of course it's not very hard upon her to be obliged to yield to the necessity of the case; first, because she loves me very much; and secondly, because I have sacrificed a great deal on her account, and might have done much better, you know.'
It was a very long time before Tom said 'Certainly;' so long, that he might have taken a nap in the interval, but he did say it at last.
'Now, there is one odd coincidence connected with this love-story,' said Martin, 'which brings it to an end. You remember what you told me last night as we were coming here, about your pretty visitor in the church?'
'Surely I do,' said Tom, rising from his stool, and seating himself in the chair from which the other had lately risen, that he might see his face. 'Undoubtedly.'
'That was she.'
'I knew what you were going to say,' cried Tom, looking fixedly at him, and speaking very softly. 'You don't tell me so?'
'That was she,' repeated the young man. 'After what I have heard from Pecksniff, I have no doubt that she came and went with my grandfather.—Don't you drink too much of that sour wine, or you'll have a fit of some sort, Pinch, I see.'
'It is not very wholesome, I am afraid,' said Tom, setting down the empty glass he had for some time held. 'So that was she, was it?'
Martin nodded assent; and adding, with a restless impatience, that if he had been a few days earlier he would have seen her; and that now she might be, for anything he knew, hundreds of miles away; threw himself, after a few turns across the room, into a chair, and chafed like a spoilt child.
Tom Pinch's heart was very tender, and he could not bear to see the most indifferent person in distress; still less one who had awakened an interest in him, and who regarded him (either in fact, or as he supposed) with kindness, and in a spirit of lenient construction. Whatever his own thoughts had been a few moments before—and to judge from his face they must have been pretty serious—he dismissed them instantly, and gave his young friend the best counsel and comfort that occurred to him.
'All will be well in time,' said Tom, 'I have no doubt; and some trial and adversity just now will only serve to make you more attached to each other in better days. I have always read that the truth is so, and I have a feeling within me, which tells me how natural and right it is that it should be. That never ran smooth yet,' said Tom, with a smile which, despite the homeliness of his face, was pleasanter to see than many a proud beauty's brightest glance; 'what never ran smooth yet, can hardly be expected to change its character for us; so we must take it as we find it, and fashion it into the very best shape we can, by patience and good-humour. I have no power at all; I needn't tell you that; but I have an excellent will; and if I could ever be of use to you, in any way whatever, how very glad I should be!'
'Thank you,' said Martin, shaking his hand. 'You're a good fellow, upon my word, and speak very kindly. Of course you know,' he added, after a moment's pause, as he drew his chair towards the fire again, 'I should not hesitate to avail myself of your services if you could help me at all; but mercy on us!'—Here he rumpled his hair impatiently with his hand, and looked at Tom as if he took it rather ill that he was not somebody else—'you might as well be a toasting-fork or a frying-pan, Pinch, for any help you can render me.'
'Except in the inclination,' said Tom, gently.
'Oh! to be sure. I meant that, of course. If inclination went for anything, I shouldn't want help. I tell you what you may do, though, if you will, and at the present moment too.'
'What is that?' demanded Tom.
'Read to me.'
'I shall be delighted,' cried Tom, catching up the candle with enthusiasm. 'Excuse my leaving you in the dark a moment, and I'll fetch a book directly. What will you like? Shakespeare?'
'Aye!' replied his friend, yawning and stretching himself. 'He'll do. I am tired with the bustle of to-day, and the novelty of everything about me; and in such a case, there's no greater luxury in the world, I think, than being read to sleep. You won't mind my going to sleep, if I can?'
'Not at all!' cried Tom.
'Then begin as soon as you like. You needn't leave off when you see me getting drowsy (unless you feel tired), for it's pleasant to wake gradually to the sounds again. Did you ever try that?'
'No, I never tried that,' said Tom
'Well! You can, you know, one of these days when we're both in the right humour. Don't mind leaving me in the dark. Look sharp!'
Mr Pinch lost no time in moving away; and in a minute or two returned with one of the precious volumes from the shelf beside his bed. Martin had in the meantime made himself as comfortable as circumstances would permit, by constructing before the fire a temporary sofa of three chairs with Mercy's stool for a pillow, and lying down at full-length upon it.
'Don't be too loud, please,' he said to Pinch.
'No, no,' said Tom.
'You're sure you're not cold'
'Not at all!' cried Tom.
'I am quite ready, then.'
Mr Pinch accordingly, after turning over the leaves of his book with as much care as if they were living and highly cherished creatures, made his own selection, and began to read. Before he had completed fifty lines his friend was snoring.
'Poor fellow!' said Tom, softly, as he stretched out his head to peep at him over the backs of the chairs. 'He is very young to have so much trouble. How trustful and generous in him to bestow all this confidence in me. And that was she, was it?'
But suddenly remembering their compact, he took up the poem at the place where he had left off, and went on reading; always forgetting to snuff the candle, until its wick looked like a mushroom. He gradually became so much interested, that he quite forgot to replenish the fire; and was only reminded of his neglect by Martin Chuzzlewit starting up after the lapse of an hour or so, and crying with a shiver.
'Why, it's nearly out, I declare! No wonder I dreamed of being frozen. Do call for some coals. What a fellow you are, Pinch!'
IN WHICH MR CHEVY SLYME ASSERTS THE INDEPENDENCE OF HIS SPIRIT, AND THE BLUE DRAGON LOSES A LIMB
Martin began to work at the grammar-school next morning, with so much vigour and expedition, that Mr Pinch had new reason to do homage to the natural endowments of that young gentleman, and to acknowledge his infinite superiority to himself. The new pupil received Tom's compliments very graciously; and having by this time conceived a real regard for him, in his own peculiar way, predicted that they would always be the very best of friends, and that neither of them, he was certain (but particularly Tom), would ever have reason to regret the day on which they became acquainted. Mr Pinch was delighted to hear him say this, and felt so much flattered by his kind assurances of friendship and protection, that he was at a loss how to express the pleasure they afforded him. And indeed it may be observed of this friendship, such as it was, that it had within it more likely materials of endurance than many a sworn brotherhood that has been rich in promise; for so long as the one party found a pleasure in patronizing, and the other in being patronised (which was in the very essence of their respective characters), it was of all possible events among the least probable, that the twin demons, Envy and Pride, would ever arise between them. So in very many cases of friendship, or what passes for it, the old axiom is reversed, and like clings to unlike more than to like.
They were both very busy on the afternoon succeeding the family's departure—Martin with the grammar-school, and Tom in balancing certain receipts of rents, and deducting Mr Pecksniff's commission from the same; in which abstruse employment he was much distracted by a habit his new friend had of whistling aloud while he was drawing—when they were not a little startled by the unexpected obtrusion into that sanctuary of genius, of a human head which, although a shaggy and somewhat alarming head in appearance, smiled affably upon them from the doorway, in a manner that was at once waggish, conciliatory, and expressive of approbation.
'I am not industrious myself, gents both,' said the head, 'but I know how to appreciate that quality in others. I wish I may turn grey and ugly, if it isn't in my opinion, next to genius, one of the very charmingest qualities of the human mind. Upon my soul, I am grateful to my friend Pecksniff for helping me to the contemplation of such a delicious picture as you present. You remind me of Whittington, afterwards thrice Lord Mayor of London. I give you my unsullied word of honour, that you very strongly remind me of that historical character. You are a pair of Whittingtons, gents, without the cat; which is a most agreeable and blessed exception to me, for I am not attached to the feline species. My name is Tigg; how do you do?'
Martin looked to Mr Pinch for an explanation; and Tom, who had never in his life set eyes on Mr Tigg before, looked to that gentleman himself.
'Chevy Slyme?' said Mr Tigg, interrogatively, and kissing his left hand in token of friendship. 'You will understand me when I say that I am the accredited agent of Chevy Slyme; that I am the ambassador from the court of Chiv? Ha ha!'
'Heyday!' asked Martin, starting at the mention of a name he knew. 'Pray, what does he want with me?'
'If your name is Pinch'—Mr Tigg began.
'It is not' said Martin, checking himself. 'That is Mr Pinch.'
'If that is Mr Pinch,' cried Tigg, kissing his hand again, and beginning to follow his head into the room, 'he will permit me to say that I greatly esteem and respect his character, which has been most highly commended to me by my friend Pecksniff; and that I deeply appreciate his talent for the organ, notwithstanding that I do not, if I may use the expression, grind myself. If that is Mr Pinch, I will venture to express a hope that I see him well, and that he is suffering no inconvenience from the easterly wind?'
'Thank you,' said Tom. 'I am very well.'
'That is a comfort,' Mr Tigg rejoined. 'Then,' he added, shielding his lips with the palm of his hand, and applying them close to Mr Pinch's ear, 'I have come for the letter.'
'For the letter,' said Tom, aloud. 'What letter?'
'The letter,' whispered Tigg in the same cautious manner as before, 'which my friend Pecksniff addressed to Chevy Slyme, Esquire, and left with you.'
'He didn't leave any letter with me,' said Tom.
'Hush!' cried the other. 'It's all the same thing, though not so delicately done by my friend Pecksniff as I could have wished. The money.'
'The money!' cried Tom quite scared.
'Exactly so,' said Mr Tigg. With which he rapped Tom twice or thrice upon the breast and nodded several times, as though he would say that he saw they understood each other; that it was unnecessary to mention the circumstance before a third person; and that he would take it as a particular favour if Tom would slip the amount into his hand, as quietly as possible.
Mr Pinch, however, was so very much astounded by this (to him) inexplicable deportment, that he at once openly declared there must be some mistake, and that he had been entrusted with no commission whatever having any reference to Mr Tigg or to his friend, either. Mr Tigg received this declaration with a grave request that Mr Pinch would have the goodness to make it again; and on Tom's repeating it in a still more emphatic and unmistakable manner, checked it off, sentence for sentence, by nodding his head solemnly at the end of each. When it had come to a close for the second time, Mr Tigg sat himself down in a chair and addressed the young men as follows:
'Then I tell you what it is, gents both. There is at this present moment in this very place, a perfect constellation of talent and genius, who is involved, through what I cannot but designate as the culpable negligence of my friend Pecksniff, in a situation as tremendous, perhaps, as the social intercourse of the nineteenth century will readily admit of. There is actually at this instant, at the Blue Dragon in this village—an ale-house, observe; a common, paltry, low-minded, clodhopping, pipe-smoking ale-house—an individual, of whom it may be said, in the language of the Poet, that nobody but himself can in any way come up to him; who is detained there for his bill. Ha! ha! For his bill. I repeat it—for his bill. Now,' said Mr Tigg, 'we have heard of Fox's Book of Martyrs, I believe, and we have heard of the Court of Requests, and the Star Chamber; but I fear the contradiction of no man alive or dead, when I assert that my friend Chevy Slyme being held in pawn for a bill, beats any amount of cockfighting with which I am acquainted.'
Martin and Mr Pinch looked, first at each other, and afterwards at Mr Tigg, who with his arms folded on his breast surveyed them, half in despondency and half in bitterness.
'Don't mistake me, gents both,' he said, stretching forth his right hand. 'If it had been for anything but a bill, I could have borne it, and could still have looked upon mankind with some feeling of respect; but when such a man as my friend Slyme is detained for a score—a thing in itself essentially mean; a low performance on a slate, or possibly chalked upon the back of a door—I do feel that there is a screw of such magnitude loose somewhere, that the whole framework of society is shaken, and the very first principles of things can no longer be trusted. In short, gents both,' said Mr Tigg with a passionate flourish of his hands and head, 'when a man like Slyme is detained for such a thing as a bill, I reject the superstitions of ages, and believe nothing. I don't even believe that I DON'T believe, curse me if I do!'
'I am very sorry, I am sure,' said Tom after a pause, 'but Mr Pecksniff said nothing to me about it, and I couldn't act without his instructions. Wouldn't it be better, sir, if you were to go to—to wherever you came from—yourself, and remit the money to your friend?'
'How can that be done, when I am detained also?' said Mr Tigg; 'and when moreover, owing to the astounding, and I must add, guilty negligence of my friend Pecksniff, I have no money for coach-hire?'
Tom thought of reminding the gentleman (who, no doubt, in his agitation had forgotten it) that there was a post-office in the land; and that possibly if he wrote to some friend or agent for a remittance it might not be lost upon the road; or at all events that the chance, however desperate, was worth trusting to. But, as his good-nature presently suggested to him certain reasons for abstaining from this hint, he paused again, and then asked:
'Did you say, sir, that you were detained also?'
'Come here,' said Mr Tigg, rising. 'You have no objection to my opening this window for a moment?'
'Certainly not,' said Tom.
'Very good,' said Mr Tigg, lifting the sash. 'You see a fellow down there in a red neckcloth and no waistcoat?'
'Of course I do,' cried Tom. 'That's Mark Tapley.'
'Mark Tapley is it?' said the gentleman. 'Then Mark Tapley had not only the great politeness to follow me to this house, but is waiting now, to see me home again. And for that attention, sir,' added Mr Tigg, stroking his moustache, 'I can tell you, that Mark Tapley had better in his infancy have been fed to suffocation by Mrs Tapley, than preserved to this time.'
Mr Pinch was not so dismayed by this terrible threat, but that he had voice enough to call to Mark to come in, and upstairs; a summons which he so speedily obeyed, that almost as soon as Tom and Mr Tigg had drawn in their heads and closed the window again, he, the denounced, appeared before them.
'Come here, Mark!' said Mr Pinch. 'Good gracious me! what's the matter between Mrs Lupin and this gentleman?'
'What gentleman, sir?' said Mark. 'I don't see no gentleman here sir, excepting you and the new gentleman,' to whom he made a rough kind of bow—'and there's nothing wrong between Mrs Lupin and either of you, Mr Pinch, I am sure.'
'Nonsense, Mark!' cried Tom. 'You see Mr—'
'Tigg,' interposed that gentleman. 'Wait a bit. I shall crush him soon. All in good time!'
'Oh HIM!' rejoined Mark, with an air of careless defiance. 'Yes, I see HIM. I could see him a little better, if he'd shave himself, and get his hair cut.'
Mr Tigg shook his head with a ferocious look, and smote himself once upon the breast.
'It's no use,' said Mark. 'If you knock ever so much in that quarter, you'll get no answer. I know better. There's nothing there but padding; and a greasy sort it is.'
'Nay, Mark,' urged Mr Pinch, interposing to prevent hostilities, 'tell me what I ask you. You're not out of temper, I hope?'
'Out of temper, sir!' cried Mark, with a grin; 'why no, sir. There's a little credit—not much—in being jolly, when such fellows as him is a-going about like roaring lions; if there is any breed of lions, at least, as is all roar and mane. What is there between him and Mrs Lupin, sir? Why, there's a score between him and Mrs Lupin. And I think Mrs Lupin lets him and his friend off very easy in not charging 'em double prices for being a disgrace to the Dragon. That's my opinion. I wouldn't have any such Peter the Wild Boy as him in my house, sir, not if I was paid race-week prices for it. He's enough to turn the very beer in the casks sour with his looks; he is! So he would, if it had judgment enough.'
'You're not answering my question, you know, Mark,' observed Mr Pinch.
'Well, sir,' said Mark, 'I don't know as there's much to answer further than that. Him and his friend goes and stops at the Moon and Stars till they've run a bill there; and then comes and stops with us and does the same. The running of bills is common enough Mr Pinch; it an't that as we object to; it's the ways of this chap. Nothing's good enough for him; all the women is dying for him he thinks, and is overpaid if he winks at 'em; and all the men was made to be ordered about by him. This not being aggravation enough, he says this morning to me, in his usual captivating way, "We're going to-night, my man." "Are you, sir?" says I. "Perhaps you'd like the bill got ready, sir?" "Oh no, my man," he says; "you needn't mind that. I'll give Pecksniff orders to see to that." In reply to which, the Dragon makes answer, "Thankee, sir, you're very kind to honour us so far, but as we don't know any particular good of you, and you don't travel with luggage, and Mr Pecksniff an't at home (which perhaps you mayn't happen to be aware of, sir), we should prefer something more satisfactory;" and that's where the matter stands. And I ask,' said Mr Tapley, pointing, in conclusion, to Mr Tigg, with his hat, 'any lady or gentleman, possessing ordinary strength of mind, to say whether he's a disagreeable-looking chap or not!'
'Let me inquire,' said Martin, interposing between this candid speech and the delivery of some blighting anathema by Mr Tigg, 'what the amount of this debt may be?'
'In point of money, sir, very little,' answered Mark. 'Only just turned of three pounds. But it an't that; it's the—'
'Yes, yes, you told us so before,' said Martin. 'Pinch, a word with you.'
'What is it?' asked Tom, retiring with him to a corner of the room.
'Why, simply—I am ashamed to say—that this Mr Slyme is a relation of mine, of whom I never heard anything pleasant; and that I don't want him here just now, and think he would be cheaply got rid of, perhaps, for three or four pounds. You haven't enough money to pay this bill, I suppose?'
Tom shook his head to an extent that left no doubt of his entire sincerity.
'That's unfortunate, for I am poor too; and in case you had had it, I'd have borrowed it of you. But if we told this landlady we would see her paid, I suppose that would answer the same purpose?'
'Oh dear, yes!' said Tom. 'She knows me, bless you!'
'Then let us go down at once and tell her so; for the sooner we are rid of their company the better. As you have conducted the conversation with this gentleman hitherto, perhaps you'll tell him what we purpose doing; will you?'
Mr Pinch, complying, at once imparted the intelligence to Mr Tigg, who shook him warmly by the hand in return, assuring him that his faith in anything and everything was again restored. It was not so much, he said, for the temporary relief of this assistance that he prized it, as for its vindication of the high principle that Nature's Nobs felt with Nature's Nobs, and that true greatness of soul sympathized with true greatness of soul, all the world over. It proved to him, he said, that like him they admired genius, even when it was coupled with the alloy occasionally visible in the metal of his friend Slyme; and on behalf of that friend, he thanked them; as warmly and heartily as if the cause were his own. Being cut short in these speeches by a general move towards the stairs, he took possession at the street door of the lapel of Mr Pinch's coat, as a security against further interruption; and entertained that gentleman with some highly improving discourse until they reached the Dragon, whither they were closely followed by Mark and the new pupil.
The rosy hostess scarcely needed Mr Pinch's word as a preliminary to the release of her two visitors, of whom she was glad to be rid on any terms; indeed, their brief detention had originated mainly with Mr Tapley, who entertained a constitutional dislike to gentleman out-at-elbows who flourished on false pretences; and had conceived a particular aversion to Mr Tigg and his friend, as choice specimens of the species. The business in hand thus easily settled, Mr Pinch and Martin would have withdrawn immediately, but for the urgent entreaties of Mr Tigg that they would allow him the honour of presenting them to his friend Slyme, which were so very difficult of resistance that, yielding partly to these persuasions and partly to their own curiosity, they suffered themselves to be ushered into the presence of that distinguished gentleman.
He was brooding over the remains of yesterday's decanter of brandy, and was engaged in the thoughtful occupation of making a chain of rings on the top of the table with the wet foot of his drinking-glass. Wretched and forlorn as he looked, Mr Slyme had once been in his way, the choicest of swaggerers; putting forth his pretensions boldly, as a man of infinite taste and most undoubted promise. The stock-in-trade requisite to set up an amateur in this department of business is very slight, and easily got together; a trick of the nose and a curl of the lip sufficient to compound a tolerable sneer, being ample provision for any exigency. But, in an evil hour, this off-shoot of the Chuzzlewit trunk, being lazy, and ill qualified for any regular pursuit and having dissipated such means as he ever possessed, had formally established himself as a professor of Taste for a livelihood; and finding, too late, that something more than his old amount of qualifications was necessary to sustain him in this calling, had quickly fallen to his present level, where he retained nothing of his old self but his boastfulness and his bile, and seemed to have no existence separate or apart from his friend Tigg. And now so abject and so pitiful was he—at once so maudlin, insolent, beggarly, and proud—that even his friend and parasite, standing erect beside him, swelled into a Man by contrast.
'Chiv,' said Mr Tigg, clapping him on the back, 'my friend Pecksniff not being at home, I have arranged our trifling piece of business with Mr Pinch and friend. Mr Pinch and friend, Mr Chevy Slyme! Chiv, Mr Pinch and friend!'
'These are agreeable circumstances in which to be introduced to strangers,' said Chevy Slyme, turning his bloodshot eyes towards Tom Pinch. 'I am the most miserable man in the world, I believe!'
Tom begged he wouldn't mention it; and finding him in this condition, retired, after an awkward pause, followed by Martin. But Mr Tigg so urgently conjured them, by coughs and signs, to remain in the shadow of the door, that they stopped there.
'I swear,' cried Mr Slyme, giving the table an imbecile blow with his fist, and then feebly leaning his head upon his hand, while some drunken drops oozed from his eyes, 'that I am the wretchedest creature on record. Society is in a conspiracy against me. I'm the most literary man alive. I'm full of scholarship. I'm full of genius; I'm full of information; I'm full of novel views on every subject; yet look at my condition! I'm at this moment obliged to two strangers for a tavern bill!'
Mr Tigg replenished his friend's glass, pressed it into his hand, and nodded an intimation to the visitors that they would see him in a better aspect immediately.
'Obliged to two strangers for a tavern bill, eh!' repeated Mr Slyme, after a sulky application to his glass. 'Very pretty! And crowds of impostors, the while, becoming famous; men who are no more on a level with me than—Tigg, I take you to witness that I am the most persecuted hound on the face of the earth.'
With a whine, not unlike the cry of the animal he named, in its lowest state of humiliation, he raised his glass to his mouth again. He found some encouragement in it; for when he set it down he laughed scornfully. Upon that Mr Tigg gesticulated to the visitors once more, and with great expression, implying that now the time was come when they would see Chiv in his greatness.
'Ha, ha, ha,' laughed Mr Slyme. 'Obliged to two strangers for a tavern bill! Yet I think I've a rich uncle, Tigg, who could buy up the uncles of fifty strangers! Have I, or have I not? I come of a good family, I believe! Do I, or do I not? I'm not a man of common capacity or accomplishments, I think! Am I, or am I not?'
'You are the American aloe of the human race, my dear Chiv,' said Mr Tigg, 'which only blooms once in a hundred years!'
'Ha, ha, ha!' laughed Mr Slyme again. 'Obliged to two strangers for a tavern bill! I obliged to two architect's apprentices. Fellows who measure earth with iron chains, and build houses like bricklayers. Give me the names of those two apprentices. How dare they oblige me!'
Mr Tigg was quite lost in admiration of this noble trait in his friend's character; as he made known to Mr Pinch in a neat little ballet of action, spontaneously invented for the purpose.
'I'll let 'em know, and I'll let all men know,' cried Chevy Slyme, 'that I'm none of the mean, grovelling, tame characters they meet with commonly. I have an independent spirit. I have a heart that swells in my bosom. I have a soul that rises superior to base considerations.'
'Oh Chiv, Chiv,' murmured Mr Tigg, 'you have a nobly independent nature, Chiv!'
'You go and do your duty, sir,' said Mr Slyme, angrily, 'and borrow money for travelling expenses; and whoever you borrow it of, let 'em know that I possess a haughty spirit, and a proud spirit, and have infernally finely-touched chords in my nature, which won't brook patronage. Do you hear? Tell 'em I hate 'em, and that that's the way I preserve my self-respect; and tell 'em that no man ever respected himself more than I do!'
He might have added that he hated two sorts of men; all those who did him favours, and all those who were better off than himself; as in either case their position was an insult to a man of his stupendous merits. But he did not; for with the apt closing words above recited, Mr Slyme; of too haughty a stomach to work, to beg, to borrow, or to steal; yet mean enough to be worked or borrowed, begged or stolen for, by any catspaw that would serve his turn; too insolent to lick the hand that fed him in his need, yet cur enough to bite and tear it in the dark; with these apt closing words Mr Slyme fell forward with his head upon the table, and so declined into a sodden sleep.
'Was there ever,' cried Mr Tigg, joining the young men at the door, and shutting it carefully behind him, 'such an independent spirit as is possessed by that extraordinary creature? Was there ever such a Roman as our friend Chiv? Was there ever a man of such a purely classical turn of thought, and of such a toga-like simplicity of nature? Was there ever a man with such a flow of eloquence? Might he not, gents both, I ask, have sat upon a tripod in the ancient times, and prophesied to a perfectly unlimited extent, if previously supplied with gin-and-water at the public cost?'
Mr Pinch was about to contest this latter position with his usual mildness, when, observing that his companion had already gone downstairs, he prepared to follow him.
'You are not going, Mr Pinch?' said Tigg.
'Thank you,' answered Tom. 'Yes. Don't come down.'
'Do you know that I should like one little word in private with you Mr Pinch?' said Tigg, following him. 'One minute of your company in the skittle-ground would very much relieve my mind. Might I beseech that favour?'
'Oh, certainly,' replied Tom, 'if you really wish it.' So he accompanied Mr Tigg to the retreat in question; on arriving at which place that gentleman took from his hat what seemed to be the fossil remains of an antediluvian pocket-handkerchief, and wiped his eyes therewith.
'You have not beheld me this day,' said Mr Tigg, 'in a favourable light.'
'Don't mention that,' said Tom, 'I beg.'
'But you have NOT,' cried Tigg. 'I must persist in that opinion. If you could have seen me, Mr Pinch, at the head of my regiment on the coast of Africa, charging in the form of a hollow square, with the women and children and the regimental plate-chest in the centre, you would not have known me for the same man. You would have respected me, sir.'
Tom had certain ideas of his own upon the subject of glory; and consequently he was not quite so much excited by this picture as Mr Tigg could have desired.
'But no matter!' said that gentleman. 'The school-boy writing home to his parents and describing the milk-and-water, said "This is indeed weakness." I repeat that assertion in reference to myself at the present moment; and I ask your pardon. Sir, you have seen my friend Slyme?'
'No doubt,' said Mr Pinch.
'Sir, you have been impressed by my friend Slyme?'
'Not very pleasantly, I must say,' answered Tom, after a little hesitation.
'I am grieved but not surprised,' cried Mr Tigg, detaining him with both hands, 'to hear that you have come to that conclusion; for it is my own. But, Mr Pinch, though I am a rough and thoughtless man, I can honour Mind. I honour Mind in following my friend. To you of all men, Mr Pinch, I have a right to make appeal on Mind's behalf, when it has not the art to push its fortune in the world. And so, sir—not for myself, who have no claim upon you, but for my crushed, my sensitive and independent friend, who has—I ask the loan of three half-crowns. I ask you for the loan of three half-crowns, distinctly, and without a blush. I ask it, almost as a right. And when I add that they will be returned by post, this week, I feel that you will blame me for that sordid stipulation.'
Mr Pinch took from his pocket an old-fashioned red-leather purse with a steel clasp, which had probably once belonged to his deceased grandmother. It held one half-sovereign and no more. All Tom's worldly wealth until next quarter-day.
'Stay!' cried Mr Tigg, who had watched this proceeding keenly. 'I was just about to say, that for the convenience of posting you had better make it gold. Thank you. A general direction, I suppose, to Mr Pinch at Mr Pecksniff's—will that find you?'
'That'll find me,' said Tom. 'You had better put Esquire to Mr Pecksniff's name, if you please. Direct to me, you know, at Seth Pecksniff's, Esquire.'
'At Seth Pecksniff's, Esquire,' repeated Mr Tigg, taking an exact note of it with a stump of pencil. 'We said this week, I believe?'
'Yes; or Monday will do,' observed Tom.
'No, no, I beg your pardon. Monday will NOT do,' said Mr Tigg. 'If we stipulated for this week, Saturday is the latest day. Did we stipulate for this week?'
'Since you are so particular about it,' said Tom, 'I think we did.'
Mr Tigg added this condition to his memorandum; read the entry over to himself with a severe frown; and that the transaction might be the more correct and business-like, appended his initials to the whole. That done, he assured Mr Pinch that everything was now perfectly regular; and, after squeezing his hand with great fervour, departed.
Tom entertained enough suspicion that Martin might possibly turn this interview into a jest, to render him desirous to avoid the company of that young gentleman for the present. With this view he took a few turns up and down the skittle-ground, and did not re-enter the house until Mr Tigg and his friend had quitted it, and the new pupil and Mark were watching their departure from one of the windows.
'I was just a-saying, sir, that if one could live by it,' observed Mark, pointing after their late guests, 'that would be the sort of service for me. Waiting on such individuals as them would be better than grave-digging, sir.'
'And staying here would be better than either, Mark,' replied Tom. 'So take my advice, and continue to swim easily in smooth water.'
'It's too late to take it now, sir,' said Mark. 'I have broke it to her, sir. I am off to-morrow morning.'
'Off!' cried Mr Pinch, 'where to?'
'I shall go up to London, sir.'
'What to be?' asked Mr Pinch.
'Well! I don't know yet, sir. Nothing turned up that day I opened my mind to you, as was at all likely to suit me. All them trades I thought of was a deal too jolly; there was no credit at all to be got in any of 'em. I must look for a private service, I suppose, sir. I might be brought out strong, perhaps, in a serious family, Mr Pinch.'
'Perhaps you might come out rather too strong for a serious family's taste, Mark.'
'That's possible, sir. If I could get into a wicked family, I might do myself justice; but the difficulty is to make sure of one's ground, because a young man can't very well advertise that he wants a place, and wages an't so much an object as a wicked sitivation; can he, sir?'
'Why, no,' said Mr Pinch, 'I don't think he can.'
'An envious family,' pursued Mark, with a thoughtful face; 'or a quarrelsome family, or a malicious family, or even a good out-and-out mean family, would open a field of action as I might do something in. The man as would have suited me of all other men was that old gentleman as was took ill here, for he really was a trying customer. Howsever, I must wait and see what turns up, sir; and hope for the worst.'
'You are determined to go then?' said Mr Pinch.
'My box is gone already, sir, by the waggon, and I'm going to walk on to-morrow morning, and get a lift by the day coach when it overtakes me. So I wish you good-bye, Mr Pinch—and you too, sir—and all good luck and happiness!'
They both returned his greeting laughingly, and walked home arm-in-arm. Mr Pinch imparting to his new friend, as they went, such further particulars of Mark Tapley's whimsical restlessness as the reader is already acquainted with.
In the meantime Mark, having a shrewd notion that his mistress was in very low spirits, and that he could not exactly answer for the consequences of any lengthened TETE-A-TETE in the bar, kept himself obstinately out of her way all the afternoon and evening. In this piece of generalship he was very much assisted by the great influx of company into the taproom; for the news of his intention having gone abroad, there was a perfect throng there all the evening, and much drinking of healths and clinking of mugs. At length the house was closed for the night; and there being now no help for it, Mark put the best face he could upon the matter, and walked doggedly to the bar-door.
'If I look at her,' said Mark to himself, 'I'm done. I feel that I'm a-going fast.'
'You have come at last,' said Mrs Lupin.
Aye, Mark said: There he was.
'And you are determined to leave us, Mark?' cried Mrs Lupin.
'Why, yes; I am,' said Mark; keeping his eyes hard upon the floor.
'I thought,' pursued the landlady, with a most engaging hesitation, 'that you had been—fond—of the Dragon?'
'So I am,' said Mark.
'Then,' pursued the hostess—and it really was not an unnatural inquiry—'why do you desert it?'
But as he gave no manner of answer to this question; not even on its being repeated; Mrs Lupin put his money into his hand, and asked him—not unkindly, quite the contrary—what he would take?
It is proverbial that there are certain things which flesh and blood cannot bear. Such a question as this, propounded in such a manner, at such a time, and by such a person, proved (at least, as far as, Mark's flesh and blood were concerned) to be one of them. He looked up in spite of himself directly; and having once looked up, there was no looking down again; for of all the tight, plump, buxom, bright-eyed, dimple-faced landladies that ever shone on earth, there stood before him then, bodily in that bar, the very pink and pineapple.
'Why, I tell you what,' said Mark, throwing off all his constraint in an instant and seizing the hostess round the waist—at which she was not at all alarmed, for she knew what a good young man he was—'if I took what I liked most, I should take you. If I only thought what was best for me, I should take you. If I took what nineteen young fellows in twenty would be glad to take, and would take at any price, I should take you. Yes, I should,' cried Mr Tapley, shaking his head expressively enough, and looking (in a momentary state of forgetfulness) rather hard at the hostess's ripe lips. 'And no man wouldn't wonder if I did!'