'Never better,' said Martin.
'You are never likely to be,' returned the major. 'You will see the sun shine HERE.'
'I think I remember to have seen it shine at home sometimes,' said Martin, smiling.
'I think not,' replied the major. He said so with a stoical indifference certainly, but still in a tone of firmness which admitted of no further dispute on that point. When he had thus settled the question, he put his hat a little on one side for the greater convenience of scratching his head, and saluted Mr Jefferson Brick with a lazy nod.
Major Pawkins (a gentleman of Pennsylvanian origin) was distinguished by a very large skull, and a great mass of yellow forehead; in deference to which commodities it was currently held in bar-rooms and other such places of resort that the major was a man of huge sagacity. He was further to be known by a heavy eye and a dull slow manner; and for being a man of that kind who—mentally speaking—requires a deal of room to turn himself in. But, in trading on his stock of wisdom, he invariably proceeded on the principle of putting all the goods he had (and more) into his window; and that went a great way with his constituency of admirers. It went a great way, perhaps, with Mr Jefferson Brick, who took occasion to whisper in Martin's ear:
'One of the most remarkable men in our country, sir!'
It must not be supposed, however, that the perpetual exhibition in the market-place of all his stock-in-trade for sale or hire, was the major's sole claim to a very large share of sympathy and support. He was a great politician; and the one article of his creed, in reference to all public obligations involving the good faith and integrity of his country, was, 'run a moist pen slick through everything, and start fresh.' This made him a patriot. In commercial affairs he was a bold speculator. In plainer words he had a most distinguished genius for swindling, and could start a bank, or negotiate a loan, or form a land-jobbing company (entailing ruin, pestilence, and death, on hundreds of families), with any gifted creature in the Union. This made him an admirable man of business. He could hang about a bar-room, discussing the affairs of the nation, for twelve hours together; and in that time could hold forth with more intolerable dulness, chew more tobacco, smoke more tobacco, drink more rum-toddy, mint-julep, gin-sling, and cocktail, than any private gentleman of his acquaintance. This made him an orator and a man of the people. In a word, the major was a rising character, and a popular character, and was in a fair way to be sent by the popular party to the State House of New York, if not in the end to Washington itself. But as a man's private prosperity does not always keep pace with his patriotic devotion to public affairs; and as fraudulent transactions have their downs as well as ups, the major was occasionally under a cloud. Hence, just now Mrs Pawkins kept a boarding-house, and Major Pawkins rather 'loafed' his time away than otherwise.
'You have come to visit our country, sir, at a season of great commercial depression,' said the major.
'At an alarming crisis,' said the colonel.
'At a period of unprecedented stagnation,' said Mr Jefferson Brick.
'I am sorry to hear that,' returned Martin. 'It's not likely to last, I hope?'
Martin knew nothing about America, or he would have known perfectly well that if its individual citizens, to a man, are to be believed, it always IS depressed, and always IS stagnated, and always IS at an alarming crisis, and never was otherwise; though as a body they are ready to make oath upon the Evangelists at any hour of the day or night, that it is the most thriving and prosperous of all countries on the habitable globe.
'It's not likely to last, I hope?' said Martin.
'Well!' returned the major, 'I expect we shall get along somehow, and come right in the end.'
'We are an elastic country,' said the Rowdy Journal.
'We are a young lion,' said Mr Jefferson Brick.
'We have revivifying and vigorous principles within ourselves,' observed the major. 'Shall we drink a bitter afore dinner, colonel?'
The colonel assenting to this proposal with great alacrity, Major Pawkins proposed an adjournment to a neighbouring bar-room, which, as he observed, was 'only in the next block.' He then referred Martin to Mrs Pawkins for all particulars connected with the rate of board and lodging, and informed him that he would have the pleasure of seeing that lady at dinner, which would soon be ready, as the dinner hour was two o'clock, and it only wanted a quarter now. This reminded him that if the bitter were to be taken at all, there was no time to lose; so he walked off without more ado, and left them to follow if they thought proper.
When the major rose from his rocking-chair before the stove, and so disturbed the hot air and balmy whiff of soup which fanned their brows, the odour of stale tobacco became so decidedly prevalent as to leave no doubt of its proceeding mainly from that gentleman's attire. Indeed, as Martin walked behind him to the bar-room, he could not help thinking that the great square major, in his listlessness and langour, looked very much like a stale weed himself; such as might be hoed out of the public garden, with great advantage to the decent growth of that preserve, and tossed on some congenial dunghill.
They encountered more weeds in the bar-room, some of whom (being thirsty souls as well as dirty) were pretty stale in one sense, and pretty fresh in another. Among them was a gentleman who, as Martin gathered from the conversation that took place over the bitter, started that afternoon for the Far West on a six months' business tour, and who, as his outfit and equipment for this journey, had just such another shiny hat and just such another little pale valise as had composed the luggage of the gentleman who came from England in the Screw.
They were walking back very leisurely; Martin arm-in-arm with Mr Jefferson Brick, and the major and the colonel side-by-side before them; when, as they came within a house or two of the major's residence, they heard a bell ringing violently. The instant this sound struck upon their ears, the colonel and the major darted off, dashed up the steps and in at the street-door (which stood ajar) like lunatics; while Mr Jefferson Brick, detaching his arm from Martin's, made a precipitate dive in the same direction, and vanished also.
'Good Heaven!' thought Martin. 'The premises are on fire! It was an alarm bell!'
But there was no smoke to be seen, nor any flame, nor was there any smell of fire. As Martin faltered on the pavement, three more gentlemen, with horror and agitation depicted in their faces, came plunging wildly round the street corner; jostled each other on the steps; struggled for an instant; and rushed into the house, a confused heap of arms and legs. Unable to bear it any longer, Martin followed. Even in his rapid progress he was run down, thrust aside, and passed, by two more gentlemen, stark mad, as it appeared, with fierce excitement.
'Where is it?' cried Martin, breathlessly, to a negro whom he encountered in the passage.
'In a eatin room, sa. Kernell, sa, him kep a seat 'side himself, sa.'
'A seat!' cried Martin.
'For a dinnar, sa.'
Martin started at him for a moment, and burst into a hearty laugh; to which the negro, out of his natural good humour and desire to please, so heartily responded, that his teeth shone like a gleam of light. 'You're the pleasantest fellow I have seen yet,' said Martin clapping him on the back, 'and give me a better appetite than bitters.'
With this sentiment he walked into the dining-room and slipped into a chair next the colonel, which that gentleman (by this time nearly through his dinner) had turned down in reserve for him, with its back against the table.
It was a numerous company—eighteen or twenty perhaps. Of these some five or six were ladies, who sat wedged together in a little phalanx by themselves. All the knives and forks were working away at a rate that was quite alarming; very few words were spoken; and everybody seemed to eat his utmost in self-defence, as if a famine were expected to set in before breakfast time to-morrow morning, and it had become high time to assert the first law of nature. The poultry, which may perhaps be considered to have formed the staple of the entertainment—for there was a turkey at the top, a pair of ducks at the bottom, and two fowls in the middle—disappeared as rapidly as if every bird had had the use of its wings, and had flown in desperation down a human throat. The oysters, stewed and pickled, leaped from their capacious reservoirs, and slid by scores into the mouths of the assembly. The sharpest pickles vanished, whole cucumbers at once, like sugar-plums, and no man winked his eye. Great heaps of indigestible matter melted away as ice before the sun. It was a solemn and an awful thing to see. Dyspeptic individuals bolted their food in wedges; feeding, not themselves, but broods of nightmares, who were continually standing at livery within them. Spare men, with lank and rigid cheeks, came out unsatisfied from the destruction of heavy dishes, and glared with watchful eyes upon the pastry. What Mrs Pawkins felt each day at dinner-time is hidden from all human knowledge. But she had one comfort. It was very soon over.
When the colonel had finished his dinner, which event took place while Martin, who had sent his plate for some turkey, was waiting to begin, he asked him what he thought of the boarders, who were from all parts of the Union, and whether he would like to know any particulars concerning them.
'Pray,' said Martin, 'who is that sickly little girl opposite, with the tight round eyes? I don't see anybody here, who looks like her mother, or who seems to have charge of her.'
'Do you mean the matron in blue, sir?' asked the colonel, with emphasis. 'That is Mrs Jefferson Brick, sir.'
'No, no,' said Martin, 'I mean the little girl, like a doll; directly opposite.'
'Well, sir!' cried the colonel. 'THAT is Mrs Jefferson Brick.'
Martin glanced at the colonel's face, but he was quite serious.
'Bless my soul! I suppose there will be a young Brick then, one of these days?' said Martin.
'There are two young Bricks already, sir,' returned the colonel.
The matron looked so uncommonly like a child herself, that Martin could not help saying as much. 'Yes, sir,' returned the colonel, 'but some institutions develop human natur; others re—tard it.'
'Jefferson Brick,' he observed after a short silence, in commendation of his correspondent, 'is one of the most remarkable men in our country, sir!'
This had passed almost in a whisper, for the distinguished gentleman alluded to sat on Martin's other hand.
'Pray, Mr Brick,' said Martin, turning to him, and asking a question more for conversation's sake than from any feeling of interest in its subject, 'who is that;' he was going to say 'young' but thought it prudent to eschew the word—'that very short gentleman yonder, with the red nose?'
'That is Pro—fessor Mullit, sir,' replied Jefferson.
'May I ask what he is professor of?' asked Martin.
'Of education, sir,' said Jefferson Brick.
'A sort of schoolmaster, possibly?' Martin ventured to observe.
'He is a man of fine moral elements, sir, and not commonly endowed,' said the war correspondent. 'He felt it necessary, at the last election for President, to repudiate and denounce his father, who voted on the wrong interest. He has since written some powerful pamphlets, under the signature of "Suturb," or Brutus reversed. He is one of the most remarkable men in our country, sir.'
'There seem to be plenty of 'em,' thought Martin, 'at any rate.'
Pursuing his inquiries Martin found that there were no fewer than four majors present, two colonels, one general, and a captain, so that he could not help thinking how strongly officered the American militia must be; and wondering very much whether the officers commanded each other; or if they did not, where on earth the privates came from. There seemed to be no man there without a title; for those who had not attained to military honours were either doctors, professors, or reverends. Three very hard and disagreeable gentlemen were on missions from neighbouring States; one on monetary affairs, one on political, one on sectarian. Among the ladies, there were Mrs Pawkins, who was very straight, bony, and silent; and a wiry-faced old damsel, who held strong sentiments touching the rights of women, and had diffused the same in lectures; but the rest were strangely devoid of individual traits of character, insomuch that any one of them might have changed minds with the other, and nobody would have found it out. These, by the way, were the only members of the party who did not appear to be among the most remarkable people in the country.
Several of the gentlemen got up, one by one, and walked off as they swallowed their last morsel; pausing generally by the stove for a minute or so to refresh themselves at the brass spittoons. A few sedentary characters, however, remained at table full a quarter of an hour, and did not rise until the ladies rose, when all stood up.
'Where are they going?' asked Martin, in the ear of Mr Jefferson Brick.
'To their bedrooms, sir.'
'Is there no dessert, or other interval of conversation?' asked Martin, who was disposed to enjoy himself after his long voyage.
'We are a busy people here, sir, and have no time for that,' was the reply.
So the ladies passed out in single file; Mr Jefferson Brick and such other married gentlemen as were left, acknowledging the departure of their other halves by a nod; and there was an end of THEM. Martin thought this an uncomfortable custom, but he kept his opinion to himself for the present, being anxious to hear, and inform himself by, the conversation of the busy gentlemen, who now lounged about the stove as if a great weight had been taken off their minds by the withdrawal of the other sex; and who made a plentiful use of the spittoons and their toothpicks.
It was rather barren of interest, to say the truth; and the greater part of it may be summed up in one word. Dollars. All their cares, hopes, joys, affections, virtues, and associations, seemed to be melted down into dollars. Whatever the chance contributions that fell into the slow cauldron of their talk, they made the gruel thick and slab with dollars. Men were weighed by their dollars, measures gauged by their dollars; life was auctioneered, appraised, put up, and knocked down for its dollars. The next respectable thing to dollars was any venture having their attainment for its end. The more of that worthless ballast, honour and fair-dealing, which any man cast overboard from the ship of his Good Name and Good Intent, the more ample stowage-room he had for dollars. Make commerce one huge lie and mighty theft. Deface the banner of the nation for an idle rag; pollute it star by star; and cut out stripe by stripe as from the arm of a degraded soldier. Do anything for dollars! What is a flag to THEM!
One who rides at all hazards of limb and life in the chase of a fox, will prefer to ride recklessly at most times. So it was with these gentlemen. He was the greatest patriot, in their eyes, who brawled the loudest, and who cared the least for decency. He was their champion who, in the brutal fury of his own pursuit, could cast no stigma upon them for the hot knavery of theirs. Thus, Martin learned in the five minutes' straggling talk about the stove, that to carry pistols into legislative assemblies, and swords in sticks, and other such peaceful toys; to seize opponents by the throat, as dogs or rats might do; to bluster, bully, and overbear by personal assailment; were glowing deeds. Not thrusts and stabs at Freedom, striking far deeper into her House of Life than any sultan's scimitar could reach; but rare incense on her altars, having a grateful scent in patriotic nostrils, and curling upward to the seventh heaven of Fame.
Once or twice, when there was a pause, Martin asked such questions as naturally occurred to him, being a stranger, about the national poets, the theatre, literature, and the arts. But the information which these gentlemen were in a condition to give him on such topics, did not extend beyond the effusions of such master-spirits of the time as Colonel Diver, Mr Jefferson Brick, and others; renowned, as it appeared, for excellence in the achievement of a peculiar style of broadside essay called 'a screamer.'
'We are a busy people, sir,' said one of the captains, who was from the West, 'and have no time for reading mere notions. We don't mind 'em if they come to us in newspapers along with almighty strong stuff of another sort, but darn your books.'
Here the general, who appeared to grow quite faint at the bare thought of reading anything which was neither mercantile nor political, and was not in a newspaper, inquired 'if any gentleman would drink some?' Most of the company, considering this a very choice and seasonable idea, lounged out, one by one, to the bar-room in the next block. Thence they probably went to their stores and counting-houses; thence to the bar-room again, to talk once more of dollars, and enlarge their minds with the perusal and discussion of screamers; and thence each man to snore in the bosom of his own family.
'Which would seem,' said Martin, pursuing the current of his own thoughts, 'to be the principal recreation they enjoy in common.' With that, he fell a-musing again on dollars, demagogues, and bar-rooms; debating within himself whether busy people of this class were really as busy as they claimed to be, or only had an inaptitude for social and domestic pleasure.
It was a difficult question to solve; and the mere fact of its being strongly presented to his mind by all that he had seen and heard, was not encouraging. He sat down at the deserted board, and becoming more and more despondent, as he thought of all the uncertainties and difficulties of his precarious situation, sighed heavily.
Now, there had been at the dinner-table a middle-aged man with a dark eye and a sunburnt face, who had attracted Martin's attention by having something very engaging and honest in the expression of his features; but of whom he could learn nothing from either of his neighbours, who seemed to consider him quite beneath their notice. He had taken no part in the conversation round the stove, nor had he gone forth with the rest; and now, when he heard Martin sigh for the third or fourth time, he interposed with some casual remark, as if he desired, without obtruding himself upon a stranger's notice, to engage him in cheerful conversation if he could. His motive was so obvious, and yet so delicately expressed, that Martin felt really grateful to him, and showed him so in the manner of his reply.
'I will not ask you,' said this gentleman with a smile, as he rose and moved towards him, 'how you like my country, for I can quite anticipate your feeling on that point. But, as I am an American, and consequently bound to begin with a question, I'll ask you how you like the colonel?'
'You are so very frank,' returned Martin, 'that I have no hesitation in saying I don't like him at all. Though I must add that I am beholden to him for his civility in bringing me here—and arranging for my stay, on pretty reasonable terms, by the way,' he added, remembering that the colonel had whispered him to that effect, before going out.
'Not much beholden,' said the stranger drily. 'The colonel occasionally boards packet-ships, I have heard, to glean the latest information for his journal; and he occasionally brings strangers to board here, I believe, with a view to the little percentage which attaches to those good offices; and which the hostess deducts from his weekly bill. I don't offend you, I hope?' he added, seeing that Martin reddened.
'My dear sir,' returned Martin, as they shook hands, 'how is that possible! to tell you the truth, I—am—'
'Yes?' said the gentleman, sitting down beside him.
'I am rather at a loss, since I must speak plainly,' said Martin, getting the better of his hesitation, 'to know how this colonel escapes being beaten.'
'Well! He has been beaten once or twice,' remarked the gentleman quietly. 'He is one of a class of men, in whom our own Franklin, so long ago as ten years before the close of the last century, foresaw our danger and disgrace. Perhaps you don't know that Franklin, in very severe terms, published his opinion that those who were slandered by such fellows as this colonel, having no sufficient remedy in the administration of this country's laws or in the decent and right-minded feeling of its people, were justified in retorting on such public nuisances by means of a stout cudgel?'
'I was not aware of that,' said Martin, 'but I am very glad to know it, and I think it worthy of his memory; especially'—here he hesitated again.
'Go on,' said the other, smiling as if he knew what stuck in Martin's throat.
'Especially,' pursued Martin, 'as I can already understand that it may have required great courage, even in his time, to write freely on any question which was not a party one in this very free country.'
'Some courage, no doubt,' returned his new friend. 'Do you think it would require any to do so, now?'
'Indeed I think it would; and not a little,' said Martin.
'You are right. So very right, that I believe no satirist could breathe this air. If another Juvenal or Swift could rise up among us to-morrow, he would be hunted down. If you have any knowledge of our literature, and can give me the name of any man, American born and bred, who has anatomized our follies as a people, and not as this or that party; and who has escaped the foulest and most brutal slander, the most inveterate hatred and intolerant pursuit; it will be a strange name in my ears, believe me. In some cases I could name to you, where a native writer has ventured on the most harmless and good-humoured illustrations of our vices or defects, it has been found necessary to announce, that in a second edition the passage has been expunged, or altered, or explained away, or patched into praise.'
'And how has this been brought about?' asked Martin, in dismay.
'Think of what you have seen and heard to-day, beginning with the colonel,' said his friend, 'and ask yourself. How THEY came about, is another question. Heaven forbid that they should be samples of the intelligence and virtue of America, but they come uppermost, and in great numbers, and too often represent it. Will you walk?'
There was a cordial candour in his manner, and an engaging confidence that it would not be abused; a manly bearing on his own part, and a simple reliance on the manly faith of a stranger; which Martin had never seen before. He linked his arm readily in that of the American gentleman, and they walked out together.
It was perhaps to men like this, his new companion, that a traveller of honoured name, who trod those shores now nearly forty years ago, and woke upon that soil, as many have done since, to blots and stains upon its high pretensions, which in the brightness of his distant dreams were lost to view, appealed in these words—
'Oh, but for such, Columbia's days were done; Rank without ripeness, quickened without sun, Crude at the surface, rotten at the core, Her fruits would fall before her spring were o'er!'
MARTIN ENLARGES HIS CIRCLE OF AQUAINTANCE; INCREASES HIS STOCK OF WISDOM; AND HAS AN EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY OF COMPARING HIS OWN EXPERIENCES WITH THOSE OF LUMMY NED OF THE LIGHT SALISBURY, AS RELATED BY HIS FRIEND MR WILLIAM SIMMONS
It was characteristic of Martin, that all this while he had either forgotten Mark Tapley as completely as if there had been no such person in existence, or, if for a moment the figure of that gentleman rose before his mental vision, had dismissed it as something by no means of a pressing nature, which might be attended to by-and-bye, and could wait his perfect leisure. But, being now in the streets again, it occurred to him as just coming within the bare limits of possibility that Mr Tapley might, in course of time, grow tired of waiting on the threshold of the Rowdy Journal Office, so he intimated to his new friend, that if they could conveniently walk in that direction, he would be glad to get this piece of business off his mind.
'And speaking of business,' said Martin, 'may I ask, in order that I may not be behind-hand with questions either, whether your occupation holds you to this city, or like myself, you are a visitor here?'
'A visitor,' replied his friend. 'I was "raised" in the State of Massachusetts, and reside there still. My home is in a quiet country town. I am not often in these busy places; and my inclination to visit them does not increase with our better acquaintance, I assure you.'
'You have been abroad?' asked Martin.
'And, like most people who travel, have become more than ever attached to your home and native country,' said Martin, eyeing him curiously.
'To my home—yes,' rejoined his friend. 'To my native country AS my home—yes, also.'
'You imply some reservation,' said Martin.
'Well,' returned his new friend, 'if you ask me whether I came back here with a greater relish for my country's faults; with a greater fondness for those who claim (at the rate of so many dollars a day) to be her friends; with a cooler indifference to the growth of principles among us in respect of public matters and of private dealings between man and man, the advocacy of which, beyond the foul atmosphere of a criminal trial, would disgrace your own old Bailey lawyers; why, then I answer plainly, No.'
'Oh!' said Martin; in so exactly the same key as his friend's No, that it sounded like an echo.
'If you ask me,' his companion pursued, 'whether I came back here better satisfied with a state of things which broadly divides society into two classes—whereof one, the great mass, asserts a spurious independence, most miserably dependent for its mean existence on the disregard of humanizing conventionalities of manner and social custom, so that the coarser a man is, the more distinctly it shall appeal to his taste; while the other, disgusted with the low standard thus set up and made adaptable to everything, takes refuge among the graces and refinements it can bring to bear on private life, and leaves the public weal to such fortune as may betide it in the press and uproar of a general scramble—then again I answer, No.'
And again Martin said 'Oh!' in the same odd way as before, being anxious and disconcerted; not so much, to say the truth, on public grounds, as with reference to the fading prospects of domestic architecture.
'In a word,' resumed the other, 'I do not find and cannot believe and therefore will not allow, that we are a model of wisdom, and an example to the world, and the perfection of human reason, and a great deal more to the same purpose, which you may hear any hour in the day; simply because we began our political life with two inestimable advantages.'
'What were they?' asked Martin.
'One, that our history commenced at so late a period as to escape the ages of bloodshed and cruelty through which other nations have passed; and so had all the light of their probation, and none of its darkness. The other, that we have a vast territory, and not—as yet—too many people on it. These facts considered, we have done little enough, I think.'
'Education?' suggested Martin, faintly.
'Pretty well on that head,' said the other, shrugging his shoulders, 'still no mighty matter to boast of; for old countries, and despotic countries too, have done as much, if not more, and made less noise about it. We shine out brightly in comparison with England, certainly; but hers is a very extreme case. You complimented me on my frankness, you know,' he added, laughing.
'Oh! I am not at all astonished at your speaking thus openly when my country is in question,' returned Martin. 'It is your plain-speaking in reference to your own that surprises me.'
'You will not find it a scarce quality here, I assure you, saving among the Colonel Divers, and Jefferson Bricks, and Major Pawkinses; though the best of us are something like the man in Goldsmith's comedy, who wouldn't suffer anybody but himself to abuse his master. Come!' he added. 'Let us talk of something else. You have come here on some design of improving your fortune, I dare say; and I should grieve to put you out of heart. I am some years older than you, besides; and may, on a few trivial points, advise you, perhaps.'
There was not the least curiosity or impertinence in the manner of this offer, which was open-hearted, unaffected, and good-natured. As it was next to impossible that he should not have his confidence awakened by a deportment so prepossessing and kind, Martin plainly stated what had brought him into those parts, and even made the very difficult avowal that he was poor. He did not say how poor, it must be admitted, rather throwing off the declaration with an air which might have implied that he had money enough for six months, instead of as many weeks; but poor he said he was, and grateful he said he would be, for any counsel that his friend would give him.
It would not have been very difficult for any one to see; but it was particularly easy for Martin, whose perceptions were sharpened by his circumstances, to discern; that the stranger's face grew infinitely longer as the domestic-architecture project was developed. Nor, although he made a great effort to be as encouraging as possible, could he prevent his head from shaking once involuntarily, as if it said in the vulgar tongue, upon its own account, 'No go!' But he spoke in a cheerful tone, and said, that although there was no such opening as Martin wished, in that city, he would make it matter of immediate consideration and inquiry where one was most likely to exist; and then he made Martin acquainted with his name, which was Bevan; and with his profession, which was physic, though he seldom or never practiced; and with other circumstances connected with himself and family, which fully occupied the time, until they reached the Rowdy Journal Office.
Mr Tapley appeared to be taking his ease on the landing of the first floor; for sounds as of some gentleman established in that region whistling 'Rule Britannia' with all his might and main, greeted their ears before they reached the house. On ascending to the spot from whence this music proceeded, they found him recumbent in the midst of a fortification of luggage, apparently performing his national anthem for the gratification of a grey-haired black man, who sat on one of the outworks (a portmanteau), staring intently at Mark, while Mark, with his head reclining on his hand, returned the compliment in a thoughtful manner, and whistled all the time. He seemed to have recently dined, for his knife, a casebottle, and certain broken meats in a handkerchief, lay near at hand. He had employed a portion of his leisure in the decoration of the Rowdy Journal door, whereon his own initials now appeared in letters nearly half a foot long, together with the day of the month in smaller type; the whole surrounded by an ornamental border, and looking very fresh and bold.
'I was a'most afraid you was lost, sir!' cried Mark, rising, and stopping the tune at that point where Britons generally are supposed to declare (when it is whistled) that they never, never, never—
'Nothing gone wrong, I hope, sir?'
'No, Mark. Where's your friend?'
'The mad woman, sir?' said Mr Tapley. 'Oh! she's all right, sir.'
'Did she find her husband?'
'Yes, sir. Leastways she's found his remains,' said Mark, correcting himself.
'The man's not dead, I hope?'
'Not altogether dead, sir,' returned Mark; 'but he's had more fevers and agues than is quite reconcilable with being alive. When she didn't see him a-waiting for her, I thought she'd have died herself, I did!'
'Was he not here, then?'
'HE wasn't here. There was a feeble old shadow come a-creeping down at last, as much like his substance when she know'd him, as your shadow when it's drawn out to its very finest and longest by the sun, is like you. But it was his remains, there's no doubt about that. She took on with joy, poor thing, as much as if it had been all of him!'
'Had he bought land?' asked Mr Bevan.
'Ah! He'd bought land,' said Mark, shaking his head, 'and paid for it too. Every sort of nateral advantage was connected with it, the agents said; and there certainly was ONE, quite unlimited. No end to the water!'
'It's a thing he couldn't have done without, I suppose,' observed Martin, peevishly.
'Certainly not, sir. There it was, any way; always turned on, and no water-rate. Independent of three or four slimy old rivers close by, it varied on the farm from four to six foot deep in the dry season. He couldn't say how deep it was in the rainy time, for he never had anything long enough to sound it with.'
'Is this true?' asked Martin of his companion.
'Extremely probable,' he answered. 'Some Mississippi or Missouri lot, I dare say.'
'However,' pursued Mark, 'he came from I-don't-know-where-and-all, down to New York here, to meet his wife and children; and they started off again in a steamboat this blessed afternoon, as happy to be along with each other as if they were going to Heaven. I should think they was, pretty straight, if I may judge from the poor man's looks.'
'And may I ask,' said Martin, glancing, but not with any displeasure, from Mark to the negro, 'who this gentleman is? Another friend of yours?'
'Why sir,' returned Mark, taking him aside, and speaking confidentially in his ear, 'he's a man of colour, sir!'
'Do you take me for a blind man,' asked Martin, somewhat impatiently, 'that you think it necessary to tell me that, when his face is the blackest that ever was seen?'
'No, no; when I say a man of colour,' returned Mark, 'I mean that he's been one of them as there's picters of in the shops. A man and a brother, you know, sir,' said Mr Tapley, favouring his master with a significant indication of the figure so often represented in tracts and cheap prints.
'A slave!' cried Martin, in a whisper.
'Ah!' said Mark in the same tone. 'Nothing else. A slave. Why, when that there man was young—don't look at him while I'm a-telling it—he was shot in the leg; gashed in the arm; scored in his live limbs, like crimped fish; beaten out of shape; had his neck galled with an iron collar, and wore iron rings upon his wrists and ankles. The marks are on him to this day. When I was having my dinner just now, he stripped off his coat, and took away my appetite.'
'Is THIS true?' asked Martin of his friend, who stood beside them.
'I have no reason to doubt it,' he answered, shaking his head 'It very often is.'
'Bless you,' said Mark, 'I know it is, from hearing his whole story. That master died; so did his second master from having his head cut open with a hatchet by another slave, who, when he'd done it, went and drowned himself; then he got a better one; in years and years he saved up a little money, and bought his freedom, which he got pretty cheap at last, on account of his strength being nearly gone, and he being ill. Then he come here. And now he's a-saving up to treat himself, afore he dies, to one small purchase—it's nothing to speak of. Only his own daughter; that's all!' cried Mr Tapley, becoming excited. 'Liberty for ever! Hurrah! Hail, Columbia!'
'Hush!' cried Martin, clapping his hand upon his mouth; 'and don't be an idiot. What is he doing here?'
'Waiting to take our luggage off upon a truck,' said Mark. 'He'd have come for it by-and-bye, but I engaged him for a very reasonable charge (out of my own pocket) to sit along with me and make me jolly; and I am jolly; and if I was rich enough to contract with him to wait upon me once a day, to be looked at, I'd never be anything else.'
The fact may cause a solemn impeachment of Mark's veracity, but it must be admitted nevertheless, that there was that in his face and manner at the moment, which militated strongly against this emphatic declaration of his state of mind.
'Lord love you, sir,' he added, 'they're so fond of Liberty in this part of the globe, that they buy her and sell her and carry her to market with 'em. They've such a passion for Liberty, that they can't help taking liberties with her. That's what it's owing to.'
'Very well,' said Martin, wishing to change the theme. 'Having come to that conclusion, Mark, perhaps you'll attend to me. The place to which the luggage is to go is printed on this card. Mrs Pawkins's Boarding House.'
'Mrs Pawkins's boarding-house,' repeated Mark. 'Now, Cicero.'
'Is that his name?' asked Martin
'That's his name, sir,' rejoined Mark. And the negro grinning assent from under a leathern portmanteau, than which his own face was many shades deeper, hobbled downstairs with his portion of their worldly goods; Mark Tapley having already gone before with his share.
Martin and his friend followed them to the door below, and were about to pursue their walk, when the latter stopped, and asked, with some hesitation, whether that young man was to be trusted?
'Mark! oh certainly! with anything.'
'You don't understand me—I think he had better go with us. He is an honest fellow, and speaks his mind so very plainly.'
'Why, the fact is,' said Martin, smiling, 'that being unaccustomed to a free republic, he is used to do so.'
'I think he had better go with us,' returned the other. 'He may get into some trouble otherwise. This is not a slave State; but I am ashamed to say that a spirit of Tolerance is not so common anywhere in these latitudes as the form. We are not remarkable for behaving very temperately to each other when we differ; but to strangers! no, I really think he had better go with us.'
Martin called to him immediately to be of their party; so Cicero and the truck went one way, and they three went another.
They walked about the city for two or three hours; seeing it from the best points of view, and pausing in the principal streets, and before such public buildings as Mr Bevan pointed out. Night then coming on apace, Martin proposed that they should adjourn to Mrs Pawkins's establishment for coffee; but in this he was overruled by his new acquaintance, who seemed to have set his heart on carrying him, though it were only for an hour, to the house of a friend of his who lived hard by. Feeling (however disinclined he was, being weary) that it would be in bad taste, and not very gracious, to object that he was unintroduced, when this open-hearted gentleman was so ready to be his sponsor, Martin—for once in his life, at all events—sacrificed his own will and pleasure to the wishes of another, and consented with a fair grace. So travelling had done him that much good, already.
Mr Bevan knocked at the door of a very neat house of moderate size, from the parlour windows of which, lights were shining brightly into the now dark street. It was quickly opened by a man with such a thoroughly Irish face, that it seemed as if he ought, as a matter of right and principle, to be in rags, and could have no sort of business to be looking cheerfully at anybody out of a whole suit of clothes.
Commending Mark to the care of this phenomenon—for such he may be said to have been in Martin's eyes—Mr Bevan led the way into the room which had shed its cheerfulness upon the street, to whose occupants he introduced Mr Chuzzlewit as a gentleman from England, whose acquaintance he had recently had the pleasure to make. They gave him welcome in all courtesy and politeness; and in less than five minutes' time he found himself sitting very much at his ease by the fireside, and becoming vastly well acquainted with the whole family.
There were two young ladies—one eighteen; the other twenty—both very slender, but very pretty; their mother, who looked, as Martin thought much older and more faded than she ought to have looked; and their grandmother, a little sharp-eyed, quick old woman, who seemed to have got past that stage, and to have come all right again. Besides these, there were the young ladies' father, and the young ladies' brother; the first engaged in mercantile affairs; the second, a student at college; both, in a certain cordiality of manner, like his own friend, and not unlike him in face. Which was no great wonder, for it soon appeared that he was their near relation. Martin could not help tracing the family pedigree from the two young ladies, because they were foremost in his thoughts; not only from being, as aforesaid, very pretty, but by reason of their wearing miraculously small shoes, and the thinnest possible silk stockings; the which their rocking-chairs developed to a distracting extent.
There is no doubt that it was a monstrous comfortable circumstance to be sitting in a snug, well-furnished room, warmed by a cheerful fire, and full of various pleasant decorations, including four small shoes, and the like amount of silk stockings, and—yes, why not?—the feet and legs therein enshrined. And there is no doubt that Martin was monstrous well-disposed to regard his position in that light, after his recent experience of the Screw, and of Mrs Pawkins's boarding-house. The consequence was that he made himself very agreeable indeed; and by the time the tea and coffee arrived (with sweet preserves, and cunning tea-cakes in its train), was in a highly genial state, and much esteemed by the whole family.
Another delightful circumstance turned up before the first cup of tea was drunk. The whole family had been in England. There was a pleasant thing! But Martin was not quite so glad of this, when he found that they knew all the great dukes, lords, viscounts, marquesses, duchesses, knights, and baronets, quite affectionately, and were beyond everything interested in the least particular concerning them. However, when they asked, after the wearer of this or that coronet, and said, 'Was he quite well?' Martin answered, 'Yes, oh yes. Never better;' and when they said, 'his lordship's mother, the duchess, was she much changed?' Martin said, 'Oh dear no, they would know her anywhere, if they saw her to-morrow;' and so got on pretty well. In like manner when the young ladies questioned him touching the Gold Fish in that Grecian fountain in such and such a nobleman's conservatory, and whether there were as many as there used to be, he gravely reported, after mature consideration, that there must be at least twice as many; and as to the exotics, 'Oh! well! it was of no use talking about THEM; they must be seen to be believed;' which improved state of circumstances reminded the family of the splendour of that brilliant festival (comprehending the whole British Peerage and Court Calendar) to which they were specially invited, and which indeed had been partly given in their honour; and recollections of what Mr Norris the father had said to the marquess, and of what Mrs Norris the mother had said to the marchioness, and of what the marquess and marchioness had both said, when they said that upon their words and honours they wished Mr Norris the father and Mrs Norris the mother, and the Misses Norris the daughters, and Mr Norris Junior, the son, would only take up their permanent residence in England, and give them the pleasure of their everlasting friendship, occupied a very considerable time.
Martin thought it rather stange, and in some sort inconsistent, that during the whole of these narrations, and in the very meridian of their enjoyment thereof, both Mr Norris the father, and Mr Norris Junior, the son (who corresponded, every post, with four members of the English Peerage), enlarged upon the inestimable advantage of having no such arbitrary distinctions in that enlightened land, where there were no noblemen but nature's noblemen, and where all society was based on one broad level of brotherly love and natural equality. Indeed, Mr Norris the father gradually expanding into an oration on this swelling theme, was becoming tedious, when Mr Bevan diverted his thoughts by happening to make some causal inquiry relative to the occupier of the next house; in reply to which, this same Mr Norris the father observed, that 'that person entertained religious opinions of which he couldn't approve; and therefore he hadn't the honour of knowing the gentleman.' Mrs Norris the mother added another reason of her own, the same in effect, but varying in words; to wit, that she believed the people were well enough in their way, but they were not genteel.
Another little trait came out, which impressed itself on Martin forcibly. Mr Bevan told them about Mark and the negro, and then it appeared that all the Norrises were abolitionists. It was a great relief to hear this, and Martin was so much encouraged on finding himself in such company, that he expressed his sympathy with the oppressed and wretched blacks. Now, one of the young ladies—the prettiest and most delicate—was mightily amused at the earnestness with which he spoke; and on his craving leave to ask her why, was quite unable for a time to speak for laughing. As soon however as she could, she told him that the negroes were such a funny people, so excessively ludicrous in their manners and appearance, that it was wholly impossible for those who knew them well, to associate any serious ideas with such a very absurd part of the creation. Mr Norris the father, and Mrs Norris the mother, and Miss Norris the sister, and Mr Norris Junior the brother, and even Mrs Norris Senior the grandmother, were all of this opinion, and laid it down as an absolute matter of fact—as if there were nothing in suffering and slavery, grim enough to cast a solemn air on any human animal; though it were as ridiculous, physically, as the most grotesque of apes, or morally, as the mildest Nimrod among tuft-hunting republicans!
'In short,' said Mr Norris the father, settling the question comfortably, 'there is a natural antipathy between the races.'
'Extending,' said Martin's friend, in a low voice, 'to the cruellest of tortures, and the bargain and sale of unborn generations.'
Mr Norris the son said nothing, but he made a wry face, and dusted his fingers as Hamlet might after getting rid of Yorick's skull; just as though he had that moment touched a negro, and some of the black had come off upon his hands.
In order that their talk might fall again into its former pleasant channel, Martin dropped the subject, with a shrewd suspicion that it would be a dangerous theme to revive under the best of circumstances; and again addressed himself to the young ladies, who were very gorgeously attired in very beautiful colours, and had every article of dress on the same extensive scale as the little shoes and the thin silk stockings. This suggested to him that they were great proficients in the French fashions, which soon turned out to be the case, for though their information appeared to be none of the newest, it was very extensive; and the eldest sister in particular, who was distinguished by a talent for metaphysics, the laws of hydraulic pressure, and the rights of human kind, had a novel way of combining these acquirements and bringing them to bear on any subject from Millinery to the Millennium, both inclusive, which was at once improving and remarkable; so much so, in short, that it was usually observed to reduce foreigners to a state of temporary insanity in five minutes.
Martin felt his reason going; and as a means of saving himself, besought the other sister (seeing a piano in the room) to sing. With this request she willingly complied; and a bravura concert, solely sustained by the Misses Noriss, presently began. They sang in all languages—except their own. German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Swiss; but nothing native; nothing so low as native. For, in this respect, languages are like many other travellers—ordinary and commonplace enough at home, but 'specially genteel abroad.
There is little doubt that in course of time the Misses Norris would have come to Hebrew, if they had not been interrupted by an announcement from the Irishman, who, flinging open the door, cried in a loud voice—
'My!' cried the sisters, desisting suddenly. 'The general come back!'
As they made the exclamation, the general, attired in full uniform for a ball, came darting in with such precipitancy that, hitching his boot in the carpet, and getting his sword between his legs, he came down headlong, and presented a curious little bald place on the crown of his head to the eyes of the astonished company. Nor was this the worst of it; for being rather corpulent and very tight, the general being down, could not get up again, but lay there writing and doing such things with his boots, as there is no other instance of in military history.
Of course there was an immediate rush to his assistance; and the general was promptly raised. But his uniform was so fearfully and wonderfully made, that he came up stiff and without a bend in him like a dead Clown, and had no command whatever of himself until he was put quite flat upon the soles of his feet, when he became animated as by a miracle, and moving edgewise that he might go in a narrower compass and be in less danger of fraying the gold lace on his epaulettes by brushing them against anything, advanced with a smiling visage to salute the lady of the house.
To be sure, it would have been impossible for the family to testify purer delight and joy than at this unlooked-for appearance of General Fladdock! The general was as warmly received as if New York had been in a state of siege and no other general was to be got for love or money. He shook hands with the Norrises three times all round, and then reviewed them from a little distance as a brave commander might, with his ample cloak drawn forward over the right shoulder and thrown back upon the left side to reveal his manly breast.
'And do I then,' cried the general, 'once again behold the choicest spirits of my country!'
'Yes,' said Mr Norris the father. 'Here we are, general.'
Then all the Norrises pressed round the general, inquiring how and where he had been since the date of his letter, and how he had enjoyed himself in foreign parts, and particularly and above all, to what extent he had become acquainted with the great dukes, lords, viscounts, marquesses, duchesses, knights, and baronets, in whom the people of those benighted countries had delight.
'Well, then, don't ask me,' said the general, holding up his hand. 'I was among 'em all the time, and have got public journals in my trunk with my name printed'—he lowered his voice and was very impressive here—'among the fashionable news. But, oh, the conventionalities of that a-mazing Europe!'
'Ah!' cried Mr Norris the father, giving his head a melancholy shake, and looking towards Martin as though he would say, 'I can't deny it, sir. I would if I could.'
'The limited diffusion of a moral sense in that country!' exclaimed the general. 'The absence of a moral dignity in man!'
'Ah!' sighed all the Norrises, quite overwhelmed with despondency.
'I couldn't have realised it,' pursued the general, 'without being located on the spot. Norris, your imagination is the imagination of a strong man, but YOU couldn't have realised it, without being located on the spot!'
'Never,' said Mr Norris.
'The ex-clusiveness, the pride, the form, the ceremony,' exclaimed the general, emphasizing the article more vigorously at every repetition. 'The artificial barriers set up between man and man; the division of the human race into court cards and plain cards, of every denomination—into clubs, diamonds, spades—anything but heart!'
'Ah!' cried the whole family. 'Too true, general!'
'But stay!' cried Mr Norris the father, taking him by the arm. 'Surely you crossed in the Screw, general?'
'Well! so I did,' was the reply.
'Possible!' cried the young ladies. 'Only think!'
The general seemed at a loss to understand why his having come home in the Screw should occasion such a sensation, nor did he seem at all clearer on the subject when Mr Norris, introducing him to Martin, said:
'A fellow-passenger of yours, I think?'
'Of mine?' exclaimed the general; 'No!'
He had never seen Martin, but Martin had seen him, and recognized him, now that they stood face to face, as the gentleman who had stuck his hands in his pockets towards the end of the voyage, and walked the deck with his nostrils dilated.
Everybody looked at Martin. There was no help for it. The truth must out.
'I came over in the same ship as the general,' said Martin, 'but not in the same cabin. It being necessary for me to observe strict economy, I took my passage in the steerage.'
If the general had been carried up bodily to a loaded cannon, and required to let it off that moment, he could not have been in a state of greater consternation than when he heard these words. He, Fladdock—Fladdock in full militia uniform, Fladdock the General, Fladdock, the caressed of foreign noblemen—expected to know a fellow who had come over in the steerage of line-of-packet ship, at the cost of four pound ten! And meeting that fellow in the very sanctuary of New York fashion, and nestling in the bosom of the New York aristocracy! He almost laid his hand upon his sword.
A death-like stillness fell upon the Norisses. If this story should get wind, their country relation had, by his imprudence, for ever disgraced them. They were the bright particular stars of an exalted New York sphere. There were other fashionable spheres above them, and other fashionable spheres below, and none of the stars in any one of these spheres had anything to say to the stars in any other of these spheres. But, through all the spheres it would go forth that the Norrises, deceived by gentlemanly manners and appearances, had, falling from their high estate, 'received' a dollarless and unknown man. O guardian eagle of the pure Republic, had they lived for this!
'You will allow me,' said Martin, after a terrible silence, 'to take my leave. I feel that I am the cause of at least as much embarrassment here, as I have brought upon myself. But I am bound, before I go, to exonerate this gentleman, who, in introducing me to such society, was quite ignorant of my unworthiness, I assure you.'
With that he made his bow to the Norrises, and walked out like a man of snow; very cool externally, but pretty hot within.
'Come, come,' said Mr Norris the father, looking with a pale face on the assembled circle as Martin closed the door, 'the young man has this night beheld a refinement of social manner, and an easy magnificence of social decoration, to which he is a stranger in his own country. Let us hope it may awake a moral sense within him.'
If that peculiarly transatlantic article, a moral sense—for, if native statesmen, orators, and pamphleteers, are to be believed, America quite monopolises the commodity—if that peculiarly transatlantic article be supposed to include a benevolent love of all mankind, certainly Martin's would have borne, just then, a deal of waking. As he strode along the street, with Mark at his heels, his immoral sense was in active operation; prompting him to the utterance of some rather sanguinary remarks, which it was well for his own credit that nobody overheard. He had so far cooled down, however, that he had begun to laugh at the recollection of these incidents, when he heard another step behind him, and turning round encountered his friend Bevan, quite out of breath.
He drew his arm through Martin's, and entreating him to walk slowly, was silent for some minutes. At length he said:
'I hope you exonerate me in another sense?'
'How do you mean?' asked Martin.
'I hope you acquit me of intending or foreseeing the termination of our visit. But I scarcely need ask you that.'
'Scarcely indeed,' said Martin. 'I am the more beholden to you for your kindness, when I find what kind of stuff the good citizens here are made of.'
'I reckon,' his friend returned, 'that they are made of pretty much the same stuff as other folks, if they would but own it, and not set up on false pretences.'
'In good faith, that's true,' said Martin.
'I dare say,' resumed his friend, 'you might have such a scene as that in an English comedy, and not detect any gross improbability or anomaly in the matter of it?'
'Doubtless it is more ridiculous here than anywhere else,' said his companion; 'but our professions are to blame for that. So far as I myself am concerned, I may add that I was perfectly aware from the first that you came over in the steerage, for I had seen the list of passengers, and knew it did not comprise your name.'
'I feel more obliged to you than before,' said Martin.
'Norris is a very good fellow in his way,' observed Mr Bevan.
'Is he?' said Martin drily.
'Oh yes! there are a hundred good points about him. If you or anybody else addressed him as another order of being, and sued to him IN FORMA PAUPERIS, he would be all kindness and consideration.'
'I needn't have travelled three thousand miles from home to find such a character as THAT,' said Martin. Neither he nor his friend said anything more on the way back; each appearing to find sufficient occupation in his own thoughts.
The tea, or the supper, or whatever else they called the evening meal, was over when they reached the Major's; but the cloth, ornamented with a few additional smears and stains, was still upon the table. At one end of the board Mrs Jefferson Brick and two other ladies were drinking tea; out of the ordinary course, evidently, for they were bonneted and shawled, and seemed to have just come home. By the light of three flaring candles of different lengths, in as many candlesticks of different patterns, the room showed to almost as little advantage as in broad day.
These ladies were all three talking together in a very loud tone when Martin and his friend entered; but seeing those gentlemen, they stopped directly, and became excessively genteel, not to say frosty. As they went on to exchange some few remarks in whispers, the very water in the teapot might have fallen twenty degrees in temperature beneath their chilling coldness.
'Have you been to meeting, Mrs Brick?' asked Martin's friend, with something of a roguish twinkle in his eye.
'To lecture, sir.'
'I beg your pardon. I forgot. You don't go to meeting, I think?'
Here the lady on the right of Mrs Brick gave a pious cough as much as to say 'I do!'—as, indeed, she did nearly every night in the week.
'A good discourse, ma'am?' asked Mr Bevan, addressing this lady.
The lady raised her eyes in a pious manner, and answered 'Yes.' She had been much comforted by some good, strong, peppery doctrine, which satisfactorily disposed of all her friends and acquaintances, and quite settled their business. Her bonnet, too, had far outshone every bonnet in the congregation; so she was tranquil on all accounts.
'What course of lectures are you attending now, ma'am?' said Martin's friend, turning again to Mrs Brick.
'The Philosophy of the Soul, on Wednesdays.'
'The Philosophy of Crime.'
'The Philosophy of Vegetables.'
'You have forgotten Thursdays; the Philosophy of Government, my dear,' observed the third lady.
'No,' said Mrs Brick. 'That's Tuesdays.'
'So it is!' cried the lady. 'The Philosophy of Matter on Thursdays, of course.'
'You see, Mr Chuzzlewit, our ladies are fully employed,' said Bevan.
'Indeed you have reason to say so,' answered Martin. 'Between these very grave pursuits abroad, and family duties at home, their time must be pretty well engrossed.'
Martin stopped here, for he saw that the ladies regarded him with no very great favour, though what he had done to deserve the disdainful expression which appeared in their faces he was at a loss to divine. But on their going upstairs to their bedrooms—which they very soon did—Mr Bevan informed him that domestic drudgery was far beneath the exalted range of these Philosophers, and that the chances were a hundred to one that not one of the three could perform the easiest woman's work for herself, or make the simplest article of dress for any of her children.
'Though whether they might not be better employed with such blunt instruments as knitting-needles than with these edge-tools,' he said, 'is another question; but I can answer for one thing—they don't often cut themselves. Devotions and lectures are our balls and concerts. They go to these places of resort, as an escape from monotony; look at each other's clothes; and come home again.'
'When you say "home," do you mean a house like this?'
'Very often. But I see you are tired to death, and will wish you good night. We will discuss your projects in the morning. You cannot but feel already that it is useless staying here, with any hope of advancing them. You will have to go further.'
'And to fare worse?' said Martin, pursuing the old adage.
'Well, I hope not. But sufficient for the day, you know—good night'
They shook hands heartily and separated. As soon as Martin was left alone, the excitement of novelty and change which had sustained him through all the fatigues of the day, departed; and he felt so thoroughly dejected and worn out, that he even lacked the energy to crawl upstairs to bed.
In twelve or fifteen hours, how great a change had fallen on his hopes and sanguine plans! New and strange as he was to the ground on which he stood, and to the air he breathed, he could not—recalling all that he had crowded into that one day—but entertain a strong misgiving that his enterprise was doomed. Rash and ill-considered as it had often looked on shipboard, but had never seemed on shore, it wore a dismal aspect, now, that frightened him. Whatever thoughts he called up to his aid, they came upon him in depressing and discouraging shapes, and gave him no relief. Even the diamonds on his finger sparkled with the brightness of tears, and had no ray of hope in all their brilliant lustre.
He continued to sit in gloomy rumination by the stove, unmindful of the boarders who dropped in one by one from their stores and counting-houses, or the neighbouring bar-rooms, and, after taking long pulls from a great white waterjug upon the sideboard, and lingering with a kind of hideous fascination near the brass spittoons, lounged heavily to bed; until at length Mark Tapley came and shook him by the arm, supposing him asleep.
'Mark!' he cried, starting.
'All right, sir,' said that cheerful follower, snuffing with his fingers the candle he bore. 'It ain't a very large bed, your'n, sir; and a man as wasn't thirsty might drink, afore breakfast, all the water you've got to wash in, and afterwards eat the towel. But you'll sleep without rocking to-night, sir.'
'I feel as if the house were on the sea' said Martin, staggering when he rose; 'and am utterly wretched.'
'I'm as jolly as a sandboy, myself, sir,' said Mark. 'But, Lord, I have reason to be! I ought to have been born here; that's my opinion. Take care how you go'—for they were now ascending the stairs. 'You recollect the gentleman aboard the Screw as had the very small trunk, sir?'
'The valise? Yes.'
'Well, sir, there's been a delivery of clean clothes from the wash to-night, and they're put outside the bedroom doors here. If you take notice as we go up, what a very few shirts there are, and what a many fronts, you'll penetrate the mystery of his packing.'
But Martin was too weary and despondent to take heed of anything, so had no interest in this discovery. Mr Tapley, nothing dashed by his indifference, conducted him to the top of the house, and into the bed-chamber prepared for his reception; which was a very little narrow room, with half a window in it; a bedstead like a chest without a lid; two chairs; a piece of carpet, such as shoes are commonly tried upon at a ready-made establishment in England; a little looking-glass nailed against the wall; and a washing-table, with a jug and ewer, that might have been mistaken for a milk-pot and slop-basin.
'I suppose they polish themselves with a dry cloth in this country,' said Mark. 'They've certainly got a touch of the 'phoby, sir.'
'I wish you would pull off my boots for me,' said Martin, dropping into one of the chairs 'I am quite knocked up—dead beat, Mark.'
'You won't say that to-morrow morning, sir,' returned Mr Tapley; 'nor even to-night, sir, when you've made a trial of this.' With which he produced a very large tumbler, piled up to the brim with little blocks of clear transparent ice, through which one or two thin slices of lemon, and a golden liquid of delicious appearance, appealed from the still depths below, to the loving eye of the spectator.
'What do you call this?' said Martin.
But Mr Tapley made no answer; merely plunging a reed into the mixture—which caused a pleasant commotion among the pieces of ice—and signifying by an expressive gesture that it was to be pumped up through that agency by the enraptured drinker.
Martin took the glass with an astonished look; applied his lips to the reed; and cast up his eyes once in ecstasy. He paused no more until the goblet was drained to the last drop.
'There, sir!' said Mark, taking it from him with a triumphant face; 'if ever you should happen to be dead beat again, when I ain't in the way, all you've got to do is to ask the nearest man to go and fetch a cobbler.'
'To go and fetch a cobbler?' repeated Martin.
'This wonderful invention, sir,' said Mark, tenderly patting the empty glass, 'is called a cobbler. Sherry cobbler when you name it long; cobbler, when you name it short. Now you're equal to having your boots took off, and are, in every particular worth mentioning, another man.'
Having delivered himself of this solemn preface, he brought the bootjack.
'Mind! I am not going to relapse, Mark,' said Martin; 'but, good Heaven, if we should be left in some wild part of this country without goods or money!'
'Well, sir!' replied the imperturbable Tapley; 'from what we've seen already, I don't know whether, under those circumstances, we shouldn't do better in the wild parts than in the tame ones.'
'Oh, Tom Pinch, Tom Pinch!' said Martin, in a thoughtful tone; 'what would I give to be again beside you, and able to hear your voice, though it were even in the old bedroom at Pecksniff's!'
'Oh, Dragon, Dragon!' echoed Mark, cheerfully, 'if there warn't any water between you and me, and nothing faint-hearted-like in going back, I don't know that I mightn't say the same. But here am I, Dragon, in New York, America; and there are you in Wiltshire, Europe; and there's a fortune to make, Dragon, and a beautiful young lady to make it for; and whenever you go to see the Monument, Dragon, you mustn't give in on the doorsteps, or you'll never get up to the top!'
'Wisely said, Mark,' cried Martin. 'We must look forward.'
'In all the story-books as ever I read, sir, the people as looked backward was turned into stones,' replied Mark; 'and my opinion always was, that they brought it on themselves, and it served 'em right. I wish you good night, sir, and pleasant dreams!'
'They must be of home, then,' said Martin, as he lay down in bed.
'So I say, too,' whispered Mark Tapley, when he was out of hearing and in his own room; 'for if there don't come a time afore we're well out of this, when there'll be a little more credit in keeping up one's jollity, I'm a United Statesman!'
Leaving them to blend and mingle in their sleep the shadows of objects afar off, as they take fantastic shapes upon the wall in the dim light of thought without control, be it the part of this slight chronicle—a dream within a dream—as rapidly to change the scene, and cross the ocean to the English shore.
DOES BUSINESS WITH THE HOUSE OF ANTHONY CHUZZLEWIT AND SON, FROM WHICH ONE OF THE PARTNERS RETIRES UNEXPECTEDLY
Change begets change. Nothing propagates so fast. If a man habituated to a narrow circle of cares and pleasures, out of which he seldom travels, step beyond it, though for never so brief a space, his departure from the monotonous scene on which he has been an actor of importance, would seem to be the signal for instant confusion. As if, in the gap he had left, the wedge of change were driven to the head, rending what was a solid mass to fragments, things cemented and held together by the usages of years, burst asunder in as many weeks. The mine which Time has slowly dug beneath familiar objects is sprung in an instant; and what was rock before, becomes but sand and dust.
Most men, at one time or other, have proved this in some degree. The extent to which the natural laws of change asserted their supremacy in that limited sphere of action which Martin had deserted, shall be faithfully set down in these pages.
'What a cold spring it is!' whimpered old Anthony, drawing near the evening fire, 'It was a warmer season, sure, when I was young!'
'You needn't go scorching your clothes into holes, whether it was or not,' observed the amiable Jonas, raising his eyes from yesterday's newspaper, 'Broadcloth ain't so cheap as that comes to.'
'A good lad!' cried the father, breathing on his cold hands, and feebly chafing them against each other. 'A prudent lad! He never delivered himself up to the vanities of dress. No, no!'
'I don't know but I would, though, mind you, if I could do it for nothing,' said his son, as he resumed the paper.
'Ah!' chuckled the old man. 'IF, indeed!—But it's very cold.'
'Let the fire be!' cried Mr Jonas, stopping his honoured parent's hand in the use of the poker. 'Do you mean to come to want in your old age, that you take to wasting now?'
'There's not time for that, Jonas,' said the old man.
'Not time for what?' bawled his heir.
'For me to come to want. I wish there was!'
'You always were as selfish an old blade as need be,' said Jonas in a voice too low for him to hear, and looking at him with an angry frown. 'You act up to your character. You wouldn't mind coming to want, wouldn't you! I dare say you wouldn't. And your own flesh and blood might come to want too, might they, for anything you cared? Oh you precious old flint!'
After this dutiful address he took his tea-cup in his hand—for that meal was in progress, and the father and son and Chuffey were partakers of it. Then, looking steadfastly at his father, and stopping now and then to carry a spoonful of tea to his lips, he proceeded in the same tone, thus:
'Want, indeed! You're a nice old man to be talking of want at this time of day. Beginning to talk of want, are you? Well, I declare! There isn't time? No, I should hope not. But you'd live to be a couple of hundred if you could; and after all be discontented. I know you!'
The old man sighed, and still sat cowering before the fire. Mr Jonas shook his Britannia-metal teaspoon at him, and taking a loftier position, went on to argue the point on high moral grounds.
'If you're in such a state of mind as that,' he grumbled, but in the same subdued key, 'why don't you make over your property? Buy an annuity cheap, and make your life interesting to yourself and everybody else that watches the speculation. But no, that wouldn't suit YOU. That would be natural conduct to your own son, and you like to be unnatural, and to keep him out of his rights. Why, I should be ashamed of myself if I was you, and glad to hide my head in the what you may call it.'
Possibly this general phrase supplied the place of grave, or tomb, or sepulchre, or cemetery, or mausoleum, or other such word which the filial tenderness of Mr Jonas made him delicate of pronouncing. He pursued the theme no further; for Chuffey, somehow discovering, from his old corner by the fireside, that Anthony was in the attitude of a listener, and that Jonas appeared to be speaking, suddenly cried out, like one inspired:
'He is your own son, Mr Chuzzlewit. Your own son, sir!'
Old Chuffey little suspected what depth of application these words had, or that, in the bitter satire which they bore, they might have sunk into the old man's very soul, could he have known what words here hanging on his own son's lips, or what was passing in his thoughts. But the voice diverted the current of Anthony's reflections, and roused him.
'Yes, yes, Chuffey, Jonas is a chip of the old block. It is a very old block, now, Chuffey,' said the old man, with a strange look of discomposure.
'Precious old,' assented Jonas
'No, no, no,' said Chuffey. 'No, Mr Chuzzlewit. Not old at all, sir.'
'Oh! He's worse than ever, you know!' cried Jonas, quite disgusted. 'Upon my soul, father, he's getting too bad. Hold your tongue, will you?'
'He says you're wrong!' cried Anthony to the old clerk.
'Tut, tut!' was Chuffey's answer. 'I know better. I say HE'S wrong. I say HE'S wrong. He's a boy. That's what he is. So are you, Mr Chuzzlewit—a kind of boy. Ha! ha! ha! You're quite a boy to many I have known; you're a boy to me; you're a boy to hundreds of us. Don't mind him!'
With which extraordinary speech—for in the case of Chuffey this was a burst of eloquence without a parallel—the poor old shadow drew through his palsied arm his master's hand, and held it there, with his own folded upon it, as if he would defend him.
'I grow deafer every day, Chuff,' said Anthony, with as much softness of manner, or, to describe it more correctly, with as little hardness as he was capable of expressing.
'No, no,' cried Chuffey. 'No, you don't. What if you did? I've been deaf this twenty year.'
'I grow blinder, too,' said the old man, shaking his head.
'That's a good sign!' cried Chuffey. 'Ha! ha! The best sign in the world! You saw too well before.'
He patted Anthony upon the hand as one might comfort a child, and drawing the old man's arm still further through his own, shook his trembling fingers towards the spot where Jonas sat, as though he would wave him off. But, Anthony remaining quite still and silent, he relaxed his hold by slow degrees and lapsed into his usual niche in the corner; merely putting forth his hand at intervals and touching his old employer gently on the coat, as with the design of assuring himself that he was yet beside him.
Mr Jonas was so very much amazed by these proceedings that he could do nothing but stare at the two old men, until Chuffey had fallen into his usual state, and Anthony had sunk into a doze; when he gave some vent to his emotions by going close up to the former personage, and making as though he would, in vulgar parlance, 'punch his head.'
'They've been carrying on this game,' thought Jonas in a brown study, 'for the last two or three weeks. I never saw my father take so much notice of him as he has in that time. What! You're legacy hunting, are you, Mister Chuff? Eh?'
But Chuffey was as little conscious of the thought as of the bodily advance of Mr Jonas's clenched fist, which hovered fondly about his ear. When he had scowled at him to his heart's content, Jonas took the candle from the table, and walking into the glass office, produced a bunch of keys from his pocket. With one of these he opened a secret drawer in the desk; peeping stealthily out, as he did so, to be certain that the two old men were still before the fire.
'All as right as ever,' said Jonas, propping the lid of the desk open with his forehead, and unfolding a paper. 'Here's the will, Mister Chuff. Thirty pound a year for your maintenance, old boy, and all the rest to his only son, Jonas. You needn't trouble yourself to be too affectionate. You won't get anything by it. What's that?'
It WAS startling, certainly. A face on the other side of the glass partition looking curiously in; and not at him but at the paper in his hand. For the eyes were attentively cast down upon the writing, and were swiftly raised when he cried out. Then they met his own, and were as the eyes of Mr Pecksniff.
Suffering the lid of the desk to fall with a loud noise, but not forgetting even then to lock it, Jonas, pale and breathless, gazed upon this phantom. It moved, opened the door, and walked in.
'What's the matter?' cried Jonas, falling back. 'Who is it? Where do you come from? What do you want?'
'Matter!' cried the voice of Mr Pecksniff, as Pecksniff in the flesh smiled amiably upon him. 'The matter, Mr Jonas!'
'What are you prying and peering about here for?' said Jonas, angrily. 'What do you mean by coming up to town in this way, and taking one unawares? It's precious odd a man can't read the—the newspaper—in his own office without being startled out of his wits by people coming in without notice. Why didn't you knock at the door?'
'So I did, Mr Jonas,' answered Pecksniff, 'but no one heard me. I was curious,' he added in his gentle way as he laid his hand upon the young man's shoulder, 'to find out what part of the newspaper interested you so much; but the glass was too dim and dirty.'
Jonas glanced in haste at the partition. Well. It wasn't very clean. So far he spoke the truth.
'Was it poetry now?' said Mr Pecksniff, shaking the forefinger of his right hand with an air of cheerful banter. 'Or was it politics? Or was it the price of stock? The main chance, Mr Jonas, the main chance, I suspect.'
'You ain't far from the truth,' answered Jonas, recovering himself and snuffing the candle; 'but how the deuce do you come to be in London again? Ecod! it's enough to make a man stare, to see a fellow looking at him all of a sudden, who he thought was sixty or seventy mile away.'
'So it is,' said Mr Pecksniff. 'No doubt of it, my dear Mr Jonas. For while the human mind is constituted as it is—'
'Oh, bother the human mind,' interrupted Jonas with impatience 'what have you come up for?'
'A little matter of business,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'which has arisen quite unexpectedly.'
'Oh!' cried Jonas, 'is that all? Well. Here's father in the next room. Hallo father, here's Pecksniff! He gets more addle-pated every day he lives, I do believe,' muttered Jonas, shaking his honoured parent roundly. 'Don't I tell you Pecksniff's here, stupid-head?'
The combined effects of the shaking and this loving remonstrance soon awoke the old man, who gave Mr Pecksniff a chuckling welcome which was attributable in part to his being glad to see that gentleman, and in part to his unfading delight in the recollection of having called him a hypocrite. As Mr Pecksniff had not yet taken tea (indeed he had, but an hour before, arrived in London) the remains of the late collation, with a rasher of bacon, were served up for his entertainment; and as Mr Jonas had a business appointment in the next street, he stepped out to keep it; promising to return before Mr Pecksniff could finish his repast.
'And now, my good sir,' said Mr Pecksniff to Anthony; 'now that we are alone, pray tell me what I can do for you. I say alone, because I believe that our dear friend Mr Chuffey is, metaphysically speaking, a—shall I say a dummy?' asked Mr Pecksniff with his sweetest smile, and his head very much on one side.
'He neither hears us,' replied Anthony, 'nor sees us.'
'Why, then,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'I will be bold to say, with the utmost sympathy for his afflictions, and the greatest admiration of those excellent qualities which do equal honour to his head and to his heart, that he is what is playfully termed a dummy. You were going to observe, my dear sir—?'
'I was not going to make any observation that I know of,' replied the old man.
'I was,' said Mr Pecksniff, mildly.
'Oh! YOU were? What was it?'
'That I never,' said Mr Pecksniff, previously rising to see that the door was shut, and arranging his chair when he came back, so that it could not be opened in the least without his immediately becoming aware of the circumstance; 'that I never in my life was so astonished as by the receipt of your letter yesterday. That you should do me the honour to wish to take counsel with me on any matter, amazed me; but that you should desire to do so, to the exclusion even of Mr Jonas, showed an amount of confidence in one to whom you had done a verbal injury—merely a verbal injury, you were anxious to repair—which gratified, which moved, which overcame me.'
He was always a glib speaker, but he delivered this short address very glibly; having been at some pains to compose it outside the coach.
Although he paused for a reply, and truly said that he was there at Anthony's request, the old man sat gazing at him in profound silence and with a perfectly blank face. Nor did he seem to have the least desire or impulse to pursue the conversation, though Mr Pecksniff looked towards the door, and pulled out his watch, and gave him many other hints that their time was short, and Jonas, if he kept his word, would soon return. But the strangest incident in all this strange behaviour was, that of a sudden, in a moment, so swiftly that it was impossible to trace how, or to observe any process of change, his features fell into their old expression, and he cried, striking his hand passionately upon the table as if no interval at all had taken place:
'Will you hold your tongue, sir, and let me speak?'
Mr Pecksniff deferred to him with a submissive bow; and said within himself, 'I knew his hand was changed, and that his writing staggered. I said so yesterday. Ahem! Dear me!'
'Jonas is sweet upon your daughter, Pecksniff,' said the old man, in his usual tone.
'We spoke of that, if you remember, sir, at Mrs Todgers's,' replied the courteous architect.
'You needn't speak so loud,' retorted Anthony. 'I'm not so deaf as that.'
Mr Pecksniff had certainly raised his voice pretty high; not so much because he thought Anthony was deaf, as because he felt convinced that his perceptive faculties were waxing dim; but this quick resentment of his considerate behaviour greatly disconcerted him, and, not knowing what tack to shape his course upon, he made another inclination of the head, yet more submissive that the last.
'I have said,' repeated the old man, 'that Jonas is sweet upon your daughter.'
'A charming girl, sir,' murmured Mr Pecksniff, seeing that he waited for an answer. 'A dear girl, Mr Chuzzlewit, though I say it, who should not.'
'You know better,' cried the old man, advancing his weazen face at least a yard, and starting forward in his chair to do it. 'You lie! What, you WILL be a hypocrite, will you?'
'My good sir,' Mr Pecksniff began.
'Don't call me a good sir,' retorted Anthony, 'and don't claim to be one yourself. If your daughter was what you would have me believe, she wouldn't do for Jonas. Being what she is, I think she will. He might be deceived in a wife. She might run riot, contract debts, and waste his substance. Now when I am dead—'
His face altered so horribly as he said the word, that Mr Pecksniff really was fain to look another way.
'—It will be worse for me to know of such doings, than if I was alive; for to be tormented for getting that together, which even while I suffer for its acquisition, is flung into the very kennels of the streets, would be insupportable torture. No,' said the old man, hoarsely, 'let that be saved at least; let there be something gained, and kept fast hold of, when so much is lost.'
'My dear Mr Chuzzlewit,' said Pecksniff, 'these are unwholesome fancies; quite unnecessary, sir, quite uncalled for, I am sure. The truth is, my dear sir, that you are not well!'
'Not dying though!' cried Anthony, with something like the snarl of a wild animal. 'Not yet! There are years of life in me. Why, look at him,' pointing to his feeble clerk. 'Death has no right to leave him standing, and to mow me down!'
Mr Pecksniff was so much afraid of the old man, and so completely taken aback by the state in which he found him, that he had not even presence of mind enough to call up a scrap of morality from the great storehouse within his own breast. Therefore he stammered out that no doubt it was, in fairness and decency, Mr Chuffey's turn to expire; and that from all he had heard of Mr Chuffey, and the little he had the pleasure of knowing of that gentleman, personally, he felt convinced in his own mind that he would see the propriety of expiring with as little delay as possible.
'Come here!' said the old man, beckoning him to draw nearer. 'Jonas will be my heir, Jonas will be rich, and a great catch for you. You know that. Jonas is sweet upon your daughter.'
'I know that too,' thought Mr Pecksniff, 'for you have said it often enough.'
'He might get more money than with her,' said the old man, 'but she will help him to take care of what they have. She is not too young or heedless, and comes of a good hard griping stock. But don't you play too fine a game. She only holds him by a thread; and if you draw it too tight (I know his temper) it'll snap. Bind him when he's in the mood, Pecksniff; bind him. You're too deep. In your way of leading him on, you'll leave him miles behind. Bah, you man of oil, have I no eyes to see how you have angled with him from the first?'
'Now I wonder,' thought Mr Pecksniff, looking at him with a wistful face, 'whether this is all he has to say?'
Old Anthony rubbed his hands and muttered to himself; complained again that he was cold; drew his chair before the fire; and, sitting with his back to Mr Pecksniff, and his chin sunk down upon his breast, was, in another minute, quite regardless or forgetful of his presence.
Uncouth and unsatisfactory as this short interview had been, it had furnished Mr Pecksniff with a hint which, supposing nothing further were imparted to him, repaid the journey up and home again. For the good gentleman had never (for want of an opportunity) dived into the depths of Mr Jonas's nature; and any recipe for catching such a son-in-law (much more one written on a leaf out of his own father's book) was worth the having. In order that he might lose no chance of improving so fair an opportunity by allowing Anthony to fall asleep before he had finished all he had to say, Mr Pecksniff, in the disposal of the refreshments on the table, a work to which he now applied himself in earnest, resorted to many ingenious contrivances for attracting his attention; such as coughing, sneezing, clattering the teacups, sharpening the knives, dropping the loaf, and so forth. But all in vain, for Mr Jonas returned, and Anthony had said no more.
'What! My father asleep again?' he cried, as he hung up his hat, and cast a look at him. 'Ah! and snoring. Only hear!'
'He snores very deep,' said Mr Pecksniff.
'Snores deep?' repeated Jonas. 'Yes; let him alone for that. He'll snore for six, at any time.'
'Do you know, Mr Jonas,' said Pecksniff, 'that I think your father is—don't let me alarm you—breaking?'
'Oh, is he though?' replied Jonas, with a shake of the head which expressed the closeness of his dutiful observation. 'Ecod, you don't know how tough he is. He ain't upon the move yet.'
'It struck me that he was changed, both in his appearance and manner,' said Mr Pecksniff.
'That's all you know about it,' returned Jonas, seating himself with a melancholy air. 'He never was better than he is now. How are they all at home? How's Charity?'
'Blooming, Mr Jonas, blooming.'
'And the other one; how's she?'
'Volatile trifler!' said Mr Pecksniff, fondly musing. 'She is well, she is well. Roving from parlour to bedroom, Mr Jonas, like a bee, skimming from post to pillar, like the butterfly; dipping her young beak into our currant wine, like the humming-bird! Ah! were she a little less giddy than she is; and had she but the sterling qualities of Cherry, my young friend!'
'Is she so very giddy, then?' asked Jonas.
'Well, well!' said Mr Pecksniff, with great feeling; 'let me not be hard upon my child. Beside her sister Cherry she appears so. A strange noise that, Mr Jonas!'
'Something wrong in the clock, I suppose,' said Jonas, glancing towards it. 'So the other one ain't your favourite, ain't she?'
The fond father was about to reply, and had already summoned into his face a look of most intense sensibility, when the sound he had already noticed was repeated.
'Upon my word, Mr Jonas, that is a very extraordinary clock,' said Pecksniff.
It would have been, if it had made the noise which startled them; but another kind of time-piece was fast running down, and from that the sound proceeded. A scream from Chuffey, rendered a hundred times more loud and formidable by his silent habits, made the house ring from roof to cellar; and, looking round, they saw Anthony Chuzzlewit extended on the floor, with the old clerk upon his knees beside him.
He had fallen from his chair in a fit, and lay there, battling for each gasp of breath, with every shrivelled vein and sinew starting in its place, as if it were bent on bearing witness to his age, and sternly pleading with Nature against his recovery. It was frightful to see how the principle of life, shut up within his withered frame, fought like a strong devil, mad to be released, and rent its ancient prison-house. A young man in the fullness of his vigour, struggling with so much strength of desperation, would have been a dismal sight; but an old, old, shrunken body, endowed with preternatural might, and giving the lie in every motion of its every limb and joint to its enfeebled aspect, was a hideous spectacle indeed.
They raised him up, and fetched a surgeon with all haste, who bled the patient and applied some remedies; but the fits held him so long that it was past midnight when they got him—quiet now, but quite unconscious and exhausted—into bed.
'Don't go,' said Jonas, putting his ashy lips to Mr Pecksniff's ear and whispered across the bed. 'It was a mercy you were present when he was taken ill. Some one might have said it was my doing.'