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Life And Adventures Of Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens

Part 18 out of 20

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He cast a fearful glance all round. But there was nothing there.

He went in, locked the door, drew the key through and through the
dust and damp in the fire-place to sully it again, and hung it up as
of old. He took off his disguise, tied it up in a bundle ready for
carrying away and sinking in the river before night, and locked it
up in a cupboard. These precautions taken, he undressed and went to
bed.

The raging thirst, the fire that burnt within him as he lay beneath
the clothes, the augmented horror of the room when they shut it out
from his view; the agony of listening, in which he paid enforced
regard to every sound, and thought the most unlikely one the prelude
to that knocking which should bring the news; the starts with which
he left his couch, and looking in the glass, imagined that his deed
was broadly written in his face, and lying down and burying himself
once more beneath the blankets, heard his own heart beating Murder,
Murder, Murder, in the bed; what words can paint tremendous truths
like these!

The morning advanced. There were footsteps in the house. He heard
the blinds drawn up, and shutters opened; and now and then a
stealthy tread outside his own door. He tried to call out, more
than once, but his mouth was dry as if it had been filled with sand.
At last he sat up in his bed, and cried:

'Who's there?'

It was his wife.

He asked her what it was o'clock? Nine.

'Did--did no one knock at my door yesterday?' he faltered.
'Something disturbed me; but unless you had knocked the door down,
you would have got no notice from me.'

'No one,' she replied. That was well. He had waited, almost
breathless, for her answer. It was a relief to him, if anything
could be.

'Mr Nadgett wanted to see you,' she said, 'but I told him you were
tired, and had requested not to be disturbed. He said it was of
little consequence, and went away. As I was opening my window to
let in the cool air, I saw him passing through the street this
morning, very early; but he hasn't been again.'

Passing through the street that morning? Very early! Jonas trembled
at the thought of having had a narrow chance of seeing him himself;
even him, who had no object but to avoid people, and sneak on
unobserved, and keep his own secrets; and who saw nothing.

He called to her to get his breakfast ready, and prepared to go
upstairs; attiring himself in the clothes he had taken off when he
came into that room, which had been, ever since, outside the door.
In his secret dread of meeting the household for the first time,
after what he had done, he lingered at the door on slight pretexts
that they might see him without looking in his face; and left it
ajar while he dressed; and called out to have the windows opened,
and the pavement watered, that they might become accustomed to his
voice. Even when he had put off the time, by one means or other, so
that he had seen or spoken to them all, he could not muster courage
for a long while to go in among them, but stood at his own door
listening to the murmur of their distant conversation.

He could not stop there for ever, and so joined them. His last
glance at the glass had seen a tell-tale face, but that might have
been because of his anxious looking in it. He dared not look at
them to see if they observed him, but he thought them very silent.

And whatsoever guard he kept upon himself, he could not help
listening, and showing that he listened. Whether he attended to
their talk, or tried to think of other things, or talked himself, or
held his peace, or resolutely counted the dull tickings of a hoarse
clock at his back, he always lapsed, as if a spell were on him, into
eager listening. For he knew it must come. And his present
punishment, and torture and distraction, were, to listen for its
coming.

Hush!

CHAPTER FORTY-EIGHT

BEARS TIDINGS OF MARTIN AND OF MARK, AS WELL AS OF A THIRD PERSON
NOT QUITE UNKNOWN TO THE READER. EXHIBITS FILIAL PIETY IN AN UGLY
ASPECT; AND CASTS A DOUBTFUL RAY OF LIGHT UPON A VERY DARK PLACE

Tom Pinch and Ruth were sitting at their early breakfast, with the
window open, and a row of the freshest little plants ranged before
it on the inside by Ruth's own hands; and Ruth had fastened a sprig
of geranium in Tom's button-hole, to make him very smart and summer-
like for the day (it was obliged to be fastened in, or that dear old
Tom was certain to lose it); and people were crying flowers up and
down the street; and a blundering bee, who had got himself in
between the two sashes of the window, was bruising his head against
the glass, endeavouring to force himself out into the fine morning,
and considering himself enchanted because he couldn't do it; and the
morning was as fine a morning as ever was seen; and the fragrant air
was kissing Ruth and rustling about Tom, as if it said, 'how are
you, my dears; I came all this way on purpose to salute you;' and it
was one of those glad times when we form, or ought to form, the wish
that every one on earth were able to be happy, and catching glimpses
of the summer of the heart, to feel the beauty of the summer of the
year.

It was even a pleasanter breakfast than usual; and it was always a
pleasant one. For little Ruth had now two pupils to attend, each
three times a week; and each two hours at a time; and besides this,
she had painted some screens and card-racks, and, unknown to Tom
(was there ever anything so delightful!), had walked into a certain
shop which dealt in such articles, after often peeping through the
window; and had taken courage to ask the Mistress of that shop
whether she would buy them. And the mistress had not only bought
them, but had ordered more, and that very morning Ruth had made
confession of these facts to Tom, and had handed him the money in a
little purse she had worked expressly for the purpose. They had
been in a flutter about this, and perhaps had shed a happy tear or
two for anything the history knows to the contrary; but it was all
over now; and a brighter face than Tom's, or a brighter face than
Ruth's, the bright sun had not looked on since he went to bed last
night.

'My dear girl,' said Tom, coming so abruptly on the subject, that he
interrupted himself in the act of cutting a slice of bread, and left
the knife sticking in the loaf, 'what a queer fellow our landlord
is! I don't believe he has been home once since he got me into that
unsatisfactory scrape. I begin to think he will never come home
again. What a mysterious life that man does lead, to be sure!'

'Very strange. Is it not, Tom?'

'Really,' said Tom, 'I hope it is only strange. I hope there may be
nothing wrong in it. Sometimes I begin to be doubtful of that. I
must have an explanation with him,' said Tom, shaking his head as if
this were a most tremendous threat, 'when I can catch him!'

A short double knock at the door put Tom's menacing looks to flight,
and awakened an expression of surprise instead.

'Heyday!' said Tom. 'An early hour for visitors! It must be John, I
suppose.'

'I--I--don't think it was his knock, Tom,' observed his little
sister.

'No?' said Tom. 'It surely can't be my employer suddenly
arrived in town; directed here by Mr Fips; and come for the key of
the office. It's somebody inquiring for me, I declare! Come in, if
you please!'

But when the person came in, Tom Pinch, instead of saying, 'Did you
wish to speak with me, sir?' or, 'My name is Pinch, sir; what is
your business, may I ask?' or addressing him in any such distant
terms; cried out, 'Good gracious Heaven!' and seized him by both
hands, with the liveliest manifestations of astonishment and
pleasure.

The visitor was not less moved than Tom himself, and they shook
hands a great many times, without another word being spoken on
either side. Tom was the first to find his voice.

'Mark Tapley, too!' said Tom, running towards the door, and shaking
hands with somebody else. 'My dear Mark, come in. How are you,
Mark? He don't look a day older than he used to do at the Dragon.
How ARE you, Mark?'

'Uncommonly jolly, sir, thank'ee,' returned Mr Tapley, all smiles
and bows. 'I hope I see you well, sir.'

'Good gracious me!' cried Tom, patting him tenderly on the back.
'How delightful it is to hear his old voice again! My dear Martin,
sit down. My sister, Martin. Mr Chuzzlewit, my love. Mark Tapley
from the Dragon, my dear. Good gracious me, what a surprise this
is! Sit down. Lord, bless me!'

Tom was in such a state of excitement that he couldn't keep himself
still for a moment, but was constantly running between Mark and
Martin, shaking hands with them alternately, and presenting them
over and over again to his sister.

'I remember the day we parted, Martin, as well as if it were
yesterday,' said Tom. 'What a day it was! and what a passion you
were in! And don't you remember my overtaking you in the road that
morning, Mark, when I was going to Salisbury in the gig to fetch him,
and you were looking out for a situation? And don't you recollect
the dinner we had at Salisbury, Martin, with John Westlock, eh! Good
gracious me! Ruth, my dear, Mr Chuzzlewit. Mark Tapley, my love,
from the Dragon. More cups and saucers, if you please. Bless my
soul, how glad I am to see you both!'

And then Tom (as John Westlock had done on his arrival) ran off to
the loaf to cut some bread and butter for them; and before he had
spread a single slice, remembered something else, and came running
back again to tell it; and then he shook hands with them again; and
then he introduced his sister again; and then he did everything he
had done already all over again; and nothing Tom could do, and
nothing Tom could say, was half sufficient to express his joy at
their safe return.

Mr Tapley was the first to resume his composure. In a very short
space of time he was discovered to have somehow installed himself in
office as waiter, or attendant upon the party; a fact which was
first suggested to them by his temporary absence in the kitchen, and
speedy return with a kettle of boiling water, from which he
replenished the tea-pot with a self-possession that was quite his
own.

'Sit down, and take your breakfast, Mark,' said Tom. 'Make him sit
down and take his breakfast, Martin.'

'Oh! I gave him up, long ago, as incorrigible,' Martin replied. 'He
takes his own way, Tom. You would excuse him, Miss Pinch, if you
knew his value.'

'She knows it, bless you!' said Tom. 'I have told her all about
Mark Tapley. Have I not, Ruth?'

'Yes, Tom.'

'Not all,' returned Martin, in a low voice. 'The best of Mark
Tapley is only known to one man, Tom; and but for Mark he would
hardly be alive to tell it!'

'Mark!' said Tom Pinch energetically; 'if you don't sit down this
minute, I'll swear at you!'

'Well, sir,' returned Mr Tapley, 'sooner than you should do that,
I'll com-ply. It's a considerable invasion of a man's jollity to be
made so partickler welcome, but a Werb is a word as signifies to be,
to do, or to suffer (which is all the grammar, and enough too, as
ever I wos taught); and if there's a Werb alive, I'm it. For I'm
always a-bein', sometimes a-doin', and continually a-sufferin'.'

'Not jolly yet?' asked Tom, with a smile.

'Why, I was rather so, over the water, sir,' returned Mr Tapley;
'and not entirely without credit. But Human Natur' is in a
conspiracy again' me; I can't get on. I shall have to leave it in
my will, sir, to be wrote upon my tomb: "He was a man as might have
come out strong if he could have got a chance. But it was denied
him."'

Mr Tapley took this occasion of looking about him with a grin, and
subsequently attacking the breakfast, with an appetite not at all
expressive of blighted hopes, or insurmountable despondency.

In the meanwhile, Martin drew his chair a little nearer to Tom and
his sister, and related to them what had passed at Mr Pecksniff's
house; adding in few words a general summary of the distresses and
disappointments he had undergone since he left England.

'For your faithful stewardship in the trust I left with you, Tom,'
he said, 'and for all your goodness and disinterestedness, I can
never thank you enough. When I add Mary's thanks to mine--'

Ah, Tom! The blood retreated from his cheeks, and came rushing back,
so violently, that it was pain to feel it; ease though, ease,
compared with the aching of his wounded heart.

'When I add Mary's thanks to mine,' said Martin, 'I have made the
only poor acknowledgment it is in our power to offer; but if you
knew how much we feel, Tom, you would set some store by it, I am
sure.'

And if they had known how much Tom felt--but that no human creature
ever knew--they would have set some store by him. Indeed they
would.

Tom changed the topic of discourse. He was sorry he could not
pursue it, as it gave Martin pleasure; but he was unable, at that
moment. No drop of envy or bitterness was in his soul; but he could
not master the firm utterance of her name.

He inquired what Martin's projects were.

'No longer to make your fortune, Tom,' said Martin, 'but to try to
live. I tried that once in London, Tom; and failed. If you will
give me the benefit of your advice and friendly counsel, I may
succeed better under your guidance. I will do anything Tom,
anything, to gain a livelihood by my own exertions. My hopes do not
soar above that, now.'

High-hearted, noble Tom! Sorry to find the pride of his old
companion humbled, and to hear him speaking in this altered strain
at once, at once, he drove from his breast the inability to contend
with its deep emotions, and spoke out bravely.

'Your hopes do not soar above that!' cried Tom. 'Yes they do. How
can you talk so! They soar up to the time when you will be happy
with her, Martin. They soar up to the time when you will be able to
claim her, Martin. They soar up to the time when you will not be
able to believe that you were ever cast down in spirit, or poor in
pocket, Martin. Advice, and friendly counsel! Why, of course. But
you shall have better advice and counsel (though you cannot have
more friendly) than mine. You shall consult John Westlock. We'll
go there immediately. It is yet so early that I shall have time to
take you to his chambers before I go to business; they are in my
way; and I can leave you there, to talk over your affairs with him.
So come along. Come along. I am a man of occupation now, you
know,' said Tom, with his pleasantest smile; 'and have no time to
lose. Your hopes don't soar higher than that? I dare say they
don't. I know you, pretty well. They'll be soaring out of sight
soon, Martin, and leaving all the rest of us leagues behind.'

'Aye! But I may be a little changed,' said Martin, 'since you knew
me pretty well, Tom.'

'What nonsense!' exclaimed Tom. 'Why should you be changed? You
talk as if you were an old man. I never heard such a fellow! Come
to John Westlock's, come. Come along, Mark Tapley. It's Mark's
doing, I have no doubt; and it serves you right for having such a
grumbler for your companion.'

'There's no credit to be got through being jolly with YOU, Mr Pinch,
anyways,' said Mark, with his face all wrinkled up with grins. 'A
parish doctor might be jolly with you. There's nothing short of
goin' to the U-nited States for a second trip, as would make it at
all creditable to be jolly, arter seein' you again!'

Tom laughed, and taking leave of his sister, hurried Mark and Martin
out into the street, and away to John Westlock's by the nearest
road; for his hour of business was very near at hand, and he prided
himself on always being exact to his time.

John Westlock was at home, but, strange to say, was rather
embarrassed to see them; and when Tom was about to go into the room
where he was breakfasting, said he had a stranger there. It
appeared to be a mysterious stranger, for John shut that door as he
said it, and led them into the next room.

He was very much delighted, though, to see Mark Tapley; and received
Martin with his own frank courtesy. But Martin felt that he did not
inspire John Westlock with any unusual interest; and twice or thrice
observed that he looked at Tom Pinch doubtfully; not to say
compassionately. He thought, and blushed to think, that he knew the
cause of this.

'I apprehend you are engaged,' said Martin, when Tom had announced
the purport of their visit. 'If you will allow me to come again at
your own time, I shall be glad to do so.'

'I AM engaged,' replied John, with some reluctance; 'but the matter
on which I am engaged is one, to say the truth, more immediately
demanding your knowledge than mine.'

'Indeed!' cried Martin.

'It relates to a member of your family, and is of a serious nature.
If you will have the kindness to remain here, it will be a
satisfaction to me to have it privately communicated to you, in
order that you may judge of its importance for yourself.'

'And in the meantime,' said Tom, 'I must really take myself off,
without any further ceremony.'

'Is your business so very particular,' asked Martin, 'that you
cannot remain with us for half an hour? I wish you could. What IS
your business, Tom?'

It was Tom's turn to be embarrassed now; but he plainly said, after
a little hesitation:

'Why, I am not at liberty to say what it is, Martin; though I hope
soon to be in a condition to do so, and am aware of no other reason
to prevent my doing so now, than the request of my employer. It's
an awkward position to be placed in,' said Tom, with an uneasy sense
of seeming to doubt his friend, 'as I feel every day; but I really
cannot help it, can I, John?'

John Westlock replied in the negative; and Martin, expressing
himself perfectly satisfied, begged them not to say another word;
though he could not help wondering very much what curious office Tom
held, and why he was so secret, and embarrassed, and unlike himself,
in reference to it. Nor could he help reverting to it, in his own
mind, several times after Tom went away, which he did as soon as
this conversation was ended, taking Mr Tapley with him, who, as he
laughingly said, might accompany him as far as Fleet Street without
injury.

'And what do you mean to do, Mark?' asked Tom, as they walked on
together.

'Mean to do, sir?' returned Mr Tapley.

'Aye. What course of life do you mean to pursue?'

'Well, sir,' said Mr Tapley. 'The fact is, that I have been
a-thinking rather of the matrimonial line, sir.'

'You don't say so, Mark!' cried Tom.

'Yes, sir. I've been a-turnin' of it over.'

'And who is the lady, Mark?'

'The which, sir?' said Mr Tapley.

'The lady. Come! You know what I said,' replied Tom, laughing, 'as
well as I do!'

Mr Tapley suppressed his own inclination to laugh; and with one of
his most whimsically-twisted looks, replied:

'You couldn't guess, I suppose, Mr Pinch?'

'How is it possible?' said Tom. 'I don't know any of your flames,
Mark. Except Mrs Lupin, indeed.'

'Well, sir!' retorted Mr Tapley. 'And supposing it was her!'

Tom stopping in the street to look at him, Mr Tapley for a moment
presented to his view an utterly stolid and expressionless face; a
perfect dead wall of countenance. But opening window after window
in it with astonishing rapidity, and lighting them all up as for a
general illumination, he repeated:

'Supposin', for the sake of argument, as it was her, sir!'

'Why I thought such a connection wouldn't suit you, Mark, on any
terms!' cried Tom.

'Well, sir! I used to think so myself, once,' said Mark. 'But I
ain't so clear about it now. A dear, sweet creetur, sir!'

'A dear, sweet creature? To be sure she is,' cried Tom. 'But she
always was a dear, sweet creature, was she not?'

'WAS she not!' assented Mr Tapley.

'Then why on earth didn't you marry her at first, Mark, instead of
wandering abroad, and losing all this time, and leaving her alone by
herself, liable to be courted by other people?'

'Why, sir,' retorted Mr Tapley, in a spirit of unbounded confidence,
'I'll tell you how it come about. You know me, Mr Pinch, sir; there
ain't a gentleman alive as knows me better. You're acquainted with
my constitution, and you're acquainted with my weakness. My
constitution is, to be jolly; and my weakness is, to wish to find a
credit in it. Wery good, sir. In this state of mind, I gets a
notion in my head that she looks on me with a eye of--with what you
may call a favourable sort of a eye in fact,' said Mr Tapley, with
modest hesitation.

'No doubt,' replied Tom. 'We knew that perfectly well when we spoke
on this subject long ago; before you left the Dragon.'

Mr Tapley nodded assent. 'Well, sir! But bein' at that time full of
hopeful wisions, I arrives at the conclusion that no credit is to be
got out of such a way of life as that, where everything agreeable
would be ready to one's hand. Lookin' on the bright side of human
life in short, one of my hopeful wisions is, that there's a deal of
misery awaitin' for me; in the midst of which I may come out
tolerable strong, and be jolly under circumstances as reflects some
credit. I goes into the world, sir, wery boyant, and I tries this.
I goes aboard ship first, and wery soon discovers (by the ease with
which I'm jolly, mind you) as there's no credit to be got THERE. I
might have took warning by this, and gave it up; but I didn't. I
gets to the U-nited States; and then I DO begin, I won't deny it, to
feel some little credit in sustaining my spirits. What follows?
Jest as I'm a-beginning to come out, and am a-treadin' on the werge,
my master deceives me.'

'Deceives you!' cried Tom.

'Swindles me,' retorted Mr Tapley with a beaming face. 'Turns his
back on everything as made his service a creditable one, and leaves
me high and dry, without a leg to stand upon. In which state I
returns home. Wery good. Then all my hopeful wisions bein'
crushed; and findin' that there ain't no credit for me nowhere; I
abandons myself to despair, and says, "Let me do that as has the
least credit in it of all; marry a dear, sweet creetur, as is wery
fond of me; me bein', at the same time, wery fond of her; lead a
happy life, and struggle no more again' the blight which settles on
my prospects."'

'If your philosophy, Mark,' said Tom, who laughed heartily at this
speech, 'be the oddest I ever heard of, it is not the least wise.
Mrs Lupin has said "yes," of course?'

'Why, no, sir,' replied Mr Tapley; 'she hasn't gone so far as that
yet. Which I attribute principally to my not havin' asked her. But
we was wery agreeable together--comfortable, I may say--the night I
come home. It's all right, sir.'

'Well!' said Tom, stopping at the Temple Gate. 'I wish you joy,
Mark, with all my heart. I shall see you again to-day, I dare say.
Good-bye for the present.'

'Good-bye, sir! Good-bye, Mr Pinch!' he added by way of soliloquy,
as he stood looking after him. 'Although you ARE a damper to a
honourable ambition. You little think it, but you was the first to
dash my hopes. Pecksniff would have built me up for life, but your
sweet temper pulled me down. Good-bye, Mr Pinch!'

While these confidences were interchanged between Tom Pinch and
Mark, Martin and John Westlock were very differently engaged. They
were no sooner left alone together than Martin said, with an effort
he could not disguise:

'Mr Westlock, we have met only once before, but you have known Tom a
long while, and that seems to render you familiar to me. I cannot
talk freely with you on any subject unless I relieve my mind of what
oppresses it just now. I see with pain that you so far mistrust me
that you think me likely to impose on Tom's regardlessness of
himself, or on his kind nature, or some of his good qualities.'

'I had no intention,' replied John, 'of conveying any such
impression to you, and am exceedingly sorry to have done so.'

'But you entertain it?' said Martin.

'You ask me so pointedly and directly,' returned the other, 'that I
cannot deny the having accustomed myself to regard you as one who,
not in wantonness but in mere thoughtlessness of character, did not
sufficiently consider his nature and did not quite treat it as it
deserves to be treated. It is much easier to slight than to
appreciate Tom Pinch.'

This was not said warmly, but was energetically spoken too; for
there was no subject in the world (but one) on which the speaker
felt so strongly.

'I grew into the knowledge of Tom,' he pursued, 'as I grew towards
manhood; and I have learned to love him as something, infinitely
better than myself. I did not think that you understood him when we
met before. I did not think that you greatly cared to understand
him. The instances of this which I observed in you were, like my
opportunities for observation, very trivial--and were very harmless,
I dare say. But they were not agreeable to me, and they forced
themselves upon me; for I was not upon the watch for them, believe
me. You will say,' added John, with a smile, as he subsided into
more of his accustomed manner, 'that I am not by any means agreeable
to you. I can only assure you, in reply, that I would not have
originated this topic on any account.'

'I originated it,' said Martin; 'and so far from having any
complaint to make against you, highly esteem the friendship you
entertain for Tom, and the very many proofs you have given him of
it. Why should I endeavour to conceal from you'--he coloured deeply
though--'that I neither understood him nor cared to understand him
when I was his companion; and that I am very truly sorry for it
now!'

It was so sincerely said, at once so modestly and manfully, that
John offered him his hand as if he had not done so before; and
Martin giving his in the same open spirit, all constraint between
the young men vanished.

'Now pray,' said John, 'when I tire your patience very much in what
I am going to say, recollect that it has an end to it, and that the
end is the point of the story.'

With this preface, he related all the circumstances connected with
his having presided over the illness and slow recovery of the
patient at the Bull; and tacked on to the skirts of that narrative
Tom's own account of the business on the wharf. Martin was not a
little puzzled when he came to an end, for the two stories seemed to
have no connection with each other, and to leave him, as the phrase
is, all abroad.

'If you will excuse me for one moment,' said John, rising, 'I will
beg you almost immediately to come into the next room.'

Upon that, he left Martin to himself, in a state of considerable
astonishment; and soon came back again to fulfil his promise.
Accompanying him into the next room, Martin found there a third
person; no doubt the stranger of whom his host had spoken when Tom
Pinch introduced him.

He was a young man; with deep black hair and eyes. He was gaunt and
pale; and evidently had not long recovered from a severe illness.
He stood as Martin entered, but sat again at John's desire. His
eyes were cast downward; and but for one glance at them both, half
in humiliation and half in entreaty, he kept them so, and sat quite
still and silent.

'This person's name is Lewsome,' said John Westlock, 'whom I have
mentioned to you as having been seized with an illness at the inn
near here, and undergone so much. He has had a very hard time of
it, ever since he began to recover; but, as you see, he is now doing
well.'

As he did not move or speak, and John Westlock made a pause, Martin,
not knowing what to say, said that he was glad to hear it.

'The short statement that I wish you to hear from his own lips, Mr
Chuzzlewit,' John pursued--looking attentively at him, and not at
Martin--'he made to me for the first time yesterday, and repeated to
me this morning, without the least variation of any essential
particular. I have already told you that he informed me before he
was removed from the Inn, that he had a secret to disclose to me
which lay heavy on his mind. But, fluctuating between sickness and
health and between his desire to relieve himself of it, and his
dread of involving himself by revealing it, he has, until yesterday,
avoided the disclosure. I never pressed him for it (having no idea
of its weight or import, or of my right to do so), until within a
few days past; when, understanding from him, on his own voluntary
avowal, in a letter from the country, that it related to a person
whose name was Jonas Chuzzlewit; and thinking that it might throw
some light on that little mystery which made Tom anxious now and
then; I urged the point upon him, and heard his statement, as you
will now, from his own lips. It is due to him to say, that in the
apprehension of death, he committed it to writing sometime since,
and folded it in a sealed paper, addressed to me; which he could not
resolve, however, to place of his own act in my hands. He has the
paper in his breast, I believe, at this moment.'

The young man touched it hastily; in corroboration of the fact.

'It will be well to leave that in our charge, perhaps,' said John.
'But do not mind it now.'

As he said this, he held up his hand to bespeak Martin's attention.
It was already fixed upon the man before him, who, after a short
silence said, in a low, weak, hollow voice:

'What relation was Mr Anthony Chuzzlewit, who--'

'--Who died--to me?' said Martin. 'He was my grandfather's brother.'

'I fear he was made away with. Murdered!'

'My God!' said Martin. 'By whom?'

The young man, Lewsome, looked up in his face, and casting down his
eyes again, replied:

'I fear, by me.'

'By you?' cried Martin.

'Not by my act, but I fear by my means.'

'Speak out!' said Martin, 'and speak the truth.'

'I fear this IS the truth.'

Martin was about to interrupt him again, but John Westlock saying
softly, 'Let him tell his story in his own way,' Lewsome went on
thus:

'I have been bred a surgeon, and for the last few years have served
a general practitioner in the City, as his assistant. While I was
in his employment I became acquainted with Jonas Chuzzlewit. He is
the principal in this deed.'

'What do you mean?' demanded Martin, sternly. 'Do you know he is
the son of the old man of whom you have spoken?'

'I do,' he answered.

He remained silent for some moments, when he resumed at the point
where he had left off.

'I have reason to know it; for I have often heard him wish his old
father dead, and complain of his being wearisome to him, and a drag
upon him. He was in the habit of doing so, at a place of meeting we
had--three or four of us--at night. There was no good in the place
you may suppose, when you hear that he was the chief of the party.
I wish I had died myself, and never seen it!'

He stopped again; and again resumed as before.

'We met to drink and game; not for large sums, but for sums that
were large to us. He generally won. Whether or no, he lent money
at interest to those who lost; and in this way, though I think we
all secretly hated him, he came to be the master of us. To
propitiate him we made a jest of his father; it began with his
debtors; I was one; and we used to toast a quicker journey to the
old man, and a swift inheritance to the young one.'

He paused again.

'One night he came there in a very bad humour. He had been greatly
tried, he said, by the old man that day. He and I were alone
together; and he angrily told me, that the old man was in his second
childhood; that he was weak, imbecile, and drivelling; as unbearable
to himself as he was to other people; and that it would be a charity
to put him out of the way. He swore that he had often thought of
mixing something with the stuff he took for his cough, which should
help him to die easily. People were sometimes smothered who were
bitten by mad dogs, he said; and why not help these lingering old
men out of their troubles too? He looked full at me as he said so,
and I looked full at him; but it went no farther that night.'

He stopped once more, and was silent for so long an interval that
John Westlock said 'Go on.' Martin had never removed his eyes from
his face, but was so absorbed in horror and astonishment that he
could not speak.

'It may have been a week after that, or it may have been less or
more--the matter was in my mind all the time, but I cannot recollect
the time, as I should any other period--when he spoke to me again.
We were alone then, too; being there before the usual hour of
assembling. There was no appointment between us; but I think I went
there to meet him, and I know he came there to meet me. He was
there first. He was reading a newspaper when I went in, and nodded
to me without looking up, or leaving off reading. I sat down
opposite and close to him. He said, immediately, that he wanted me
to get him some of two sorts of drugs. One that was instantaneous
in its effect; of which he wanted very little. One that was slow
and not suspicious in appearance; of which he wanted more. While he
was speaking to me he still read the newspaper. He said "Drugs,"
and never used any other word. Neither did I.'

'This all agrees with what I have heard before,' observed John
Westlock.

'I asked him what he wanted the drugs for? He said for no harm; to
physic cats; what did it matter to me? I was going out to a distant
colony (I had recently got the appointment, which, as Mr Westlock
knows, I have since lost by my sickness, and which was my only hope
of salvation from ruin), and what did it matter to me? He could get
them without my aid at half a hundred places, but not so easily as
he could get them of me. This was true. He might not want them at
all, he said, and he had no present idea of using them; but he
wished to have them by him. All this time he still read the
newspaper. We talked about the price. He was to forgive me a small
debt--I was quite in his power--and to pay me five pounds; and there
the matter dropped, through others coming in. But, next night,
under exactly similar circumstances, I gave him the drugs, on his
saying I was a fool to think that he should ever use them for any
harm; and he gave me the money. We have never met since. I only
know that the poor old father died soon afterwards, just as he would
have died from this cause; and that I have undergone, and suffer
now, intolerable misery. Nothing' he added, stretching out his
hands, 'can paint my misery! It is well deserved, but nothing can
paint it.'

With that he hung his head, and said no more, wasted and wretched,
he was not a creature upon whom to heap reproaches that were
unavailing.

'Let him remain at hand,' said Martin, turning from him; 'but out of
sight, in Heaven's name!'

'He will remain here,' John whispered. 'Come with me!' Softly
turning the key upon him as they went out, he conducted Martin into
the adjoining room, in which they had been before.

Martin was so amazed, so shocked, and confounded by what he had
heard that it was some time before he could reduce it to any order
in his mind, or could sufficiently comprehend the bearing of one
part upon another, to take in all the details at one view. When he,
at length, had the whole narrative clearly before him, John Westlock
went on to point out the great probability of the guilt of Jonas
being known to other people, who traded in it for their own benefit,
and who were, by such means, able to exert that control over him
which Tom Pinch had accidentally witnessed, and unconsciously
assisted. This appeared so plain, that they agreed upon it without
difficulty; but instead of deriving the least assistance from this
source, they found that it embarrassed them the more.

They knew nothing of the real parties who possessed this power. The
only person before them was Tom's landlord. They had no right to
question Tom's landlord, even if they could find him, which,
according to Tom's account, it would not be easy to do. And
granting that they did question him, and he answered (which was
taking a good deal for granted), he had only to say, with reference
to the adventure on the wharf, that he had been sent from such and
such a place to summon Jonas back on urgent business, and there was
an end of it.

Besides, there was the great difficulty and responsibility of moving
at all in the matter. Lewsome's story might be false; in his
wretched state it might be greatly heightened by a diseased brain;
or admitting it to be entirely true, the old man might have died a
natural death. Mr Pecksniff had been there at the time; as Tom
immediately remembered, when he came back in the afternoon, and
shared their counsels; and there had been no secrecy about it.
Martin's grandfather was of right the person to decide upon the
course that should be taken; but to get at his views would be
impossible, for Mr Pecksniff's views were certain to be his.
And the nature of Mr Pecksniff's views in reference to his own
son-in-law might be easily reckoned upon.

Apart from these considerations, Martin could not endure the thought
of seeming to grasp at this unnatural charge against his relative,
and using it as a stepping-stone to his grandfather's favour. But
that he would seem to do so, if he presented himself before his
grandfather in Mr Pecksniff's house again, for the purpose of
declaring it; and that Mr Pecksniff, of all men, would represent his
conduct in that despicable light, he perfectly well knew. On the
other hand to be in possession of such a statement, and take no
measures of further inquiry in reference to it, was tantamount to
being a partner in the guilt it professed to disclose.

In a word, they were wholly unable to discover any outlet from this
maze of difficulty, which did not lie through some perplexed and
entangled thicket. And although Mr Tapley was promptly taken into
their confidence; and the fertile imagination of that gentleman
suggested many bold expedients, which, to do him justice, he was
quite ready to carry into instant operation on his own personal
responsibility; still 'bating the general zeal of Mr Tapley's
nature, nothing was made particularly clearer by these offers of
service.

It was in this position of affairs that Tom's account of the strange
behaviour of the decayed clerk, on the night of the tea-party,
became of great moment, and finally convinced them that to arrive at
a more accurate knowledge of the workings of that old man's mind and
memory, would be to take a most important stride in their pursuit of
the truth. So, having first satisfied themselves that no
communication had ever taken place between Lewsome and Mr Chuffey
(which would have accounted at once for any suspicions the latter
might entertain), they unanimously resolved that the old clerk was
the man they wanted.

But, like the unanimous resolution of a public meeting, which will
oftentimes declare that this or that grievance is not to be borne a
moment longer, which is nevertheless borne for a century or two
afterwards, without any modification, they only reached in this the
conclusion that they were all of one mind. For it was one thing to
want Mr Chuffey, and another thing to get at him; and to do that
without alarming him, or without alarming Jonas, or without being
discomfited by the difficulty of striking, in an instrument so out
of tune and so unused, the note they sought, was an end as far from
their reach as ever.

The question then became, who of those about the old clerk had had
most influence with him that night? Tom said his young mistress
clearly. But Tom and all of them shrunk from the thought of
entrapping her, and making her the innocent means of bringing
retribution on her cruel husband. Was there nobody else? Why yes.
In a very different way, Tom said, he was influenced by Mrs Gamp,
the nurse; who had once had the control of him, as he understood,
for some time.

They caught at this immediately. Here was a new way out, developed
in a quarter until then overlooked. John Westlock knew Mrs Gamp; he
had given her employment; he was acquainted with her place of
residence: for that good lady had obligingly furnished him, at
parting, with a pack of her professional cards for general
distribution. It was decided that Mrs Gamp should be approached
with caution, but approached without delay; and that the depths of
that discreet matron's knowledge of Mr Chuffey, and means of
bringing them, or one of them, into communication with him, should
be carefully sounded.

On this service, Martin and John Westlock determined to proceed that
night; waiting on Mrs Gamp first, at her lodgings; and taking their
chance of finding her in the repose of private life, or of having to
seek her out, elsewhere, in the exercise of her professional duties.
Tom returned home, that he might lose no opportunity of having an
interview with Nadgett, by being absent in the event of his
reappearance. And Mr Tapley remained (by his own particular desire)
for the time being in Furnival's Inn, to look after Lewsome; who
might safely have been left to himself, however, for any thought he
seemed to entertain of giving them the slip.

Before they parted on their several errands, they caused him to read
aloud, in the presence of them all, the paper which he had about
him, and the declaration he had attached to it, which was to the
effect that he had written it voluntarily, in the fear of death and
in the torture of his mind. And when he had done so, they all
signed it, and taking it from him, of his free will, locked it in a
place of safety.

Martin also wrote, by John's advice, a letter to the trustees of the
famous Grammar School, boldly claiming the successful design as his,
and charging Mr Pecksniff with the fraud he had committed. In this
proceeding also, John was hotly interested; observing, with his usual
irreverance, that Mr Pecksniff had been a successful rascal all his
life through, and that it would be a lasting source of happiness to
him (John) if he could help to do him justice in the smallest
particular.

A busy day! But Martin had no lodgings yet; so when these matters
were disposed of, he excused himself from dining with John Westlock
and was fain to wander out alone, and look for some. He succeeded,
after great trouble, in engaging two garrets for himself and Mark,
situated in a court in the Strand, not far from Temple Bar. Their
luggage, which was waiting for them at a coach-office, he conveyed
to this new place of refuge; and it was with a glow of satisfaction,
which as a selfish man he never could have known and never had,
that, thinking how much pains and trouble he had saved Mark, and how
pleased and astonished Mark would be, he afterwards walked up and
down, in the Temple, eating a meat-pie for his dinner.

CHAPTER FORTY-NINE

IN WHICH MRS HARRIS ASSISTED BY A TEAPOT, IS THE CAUSE OF A
DIVISION BETWEEN FRIENDS

Mrs Gamp's apartment in Kingsgate Street, High Holborn, wore,
metaphorically speaking, a robe of state. It was swept and
garnished for the reception of a visitor. That visitor was Betsey
Prig; Mrs Prig, of Bartlemy's; or as some said Barklemy's, or as
some said Bardlemy's; for by all these endearing and familiar
appellations, had the hospital of Saint Bartholomew become a
household word among the sisterhood which Betsey Prig adorned.

Mrs Gamp's apartment was not a spacious one, but, to a contented
mind, a closet is a palace; and the first-floor front at Mr
Sweedlepipe's may have been, in the imagination of Mrs Gamp, a
stately pile. If it were not exactly that, to restless intellects,
it at least comprised as much accommodation as any person, not
sanguine to insanity, could have looked for in a room of its
dimensions. For only keep the bedstead always in your mind; and you
were safe. That was the grand secret. Remembering the bedstead,
you might even stoop to look under the little round table for
anything you had dropped, without hurting yourself much against the
chest of drawers, or qualifying as a patient of Saint Bartholomew,
by falling into the fire.

Visitors were much assisted in their cautious efforts to preserve an
unflagging recollection of this piece of furniture, by its size;
which was great. It was not a turn-up bedstead, nor yet a French
bedstead, nor yet a four-post bedstead, but what is poetically called
a tent; the sacking whereof was low and bulgy, insomuch that Mrs
Gamp's box would not go under it, but stopped half-way, in a manner
which, while it did violence to the reason, likewise endangered the
legs of a stranger. The frame too, which would have supported the
canopy and hangings if there had been any, was ornamented with
divers pippins carved in timber, which on the slightest provocation,
and frequently on none at all, came tumbling down; harassing the
peaceful guest with inexplicable terrors.

The bed itself was decorated with a patchwork quilt of great
antiquity; and at the upper end, upon the side nearest to the door,
hung a scanty curtain of blue check, which prevented the Zephyrs
that were abroad in Kingsgate Street, from visiting Mrs Gamp's head
too roughly. Some rusty gowns and other articles of that lady's
wardrobe depended from the posts; and these had so adapted
themselves by long usage to her figure, that more than one impatient
husband coming in precipitately, at about the time of twilight, had
been for an instant stricken dumb by the supposed discovery that Mrs
Gamp had hanged herself. One gentleman, coming on the usual hasty
errand, had said indeed, that they looked like guardian angels
'watching of her in her sleep.' But that, as Mrs Gamp said, 'was
his first;' and he never repeated the sentiment, though he often
repeated his visit.

The chairs in Mrs Gamp's apartment were extremely large and broad-
backed, which was more than a sufficient reason for there being but
two in number. They were both elbow-chairs, of ancient mahogany;
and were chiefly valuable for the slippery nature of their seats,
which had been originally horsehair, but were now covered with a
shiny substance of a bluish tint, from which the visitor began to
slide away with a dismayed countenance, immediately after sitting
down. What Mrs Gamp wanted in chairs she made up in bandboxes; of
which she had a great collection, devoted to the reception of
various miscellaneous valuables, which were not, however, as well
protected as the good woman, by a pleasant fiction, seemed to think;
for, though every bandbox had a carefully closed lid, not one among
them had a bottom; owing to which cause the property within was
merely, as it were, extinguished. The chest of drawers having been
originally made to stand upon the top of another chest, had a
dwarfish, elfin look, alone; but in regard of its security it had a
great advantage over the bandboxes, for as all the handles had been
long ago pulled off, it was very difficult to get at its contents.
This indeed was only to be done by one or two devices; either by
tilting the whole structure forward until all the drawers fell out
together, or by opening them singly with knives, like oysters.

Mrs Gamp stored all her household matters in a little cupboard by
the fire-place; beginning below the surface (as in nature) with the
coals, and mounting gradually upwards to the spirits, which, from
motives of delicacy, she kept in a teapot. The chimney-piece was
ornamented with a small almanack, marked here and there in Mrs
Gamp's own hand with a memorandum of the date at which some lady was
expected to fall due. It was also embellished with three profiles:
one, in colours, of Mrs Gamp herself in early life; one, in bronze,
of a lady in feathers, supposed to be Mrs Harris, as she appeared
when dressed for a ball; and one, in black, of Mr Gamp, deceased.
The last was a full length, in order that the likeness might be
rendered more obvious and forcible by the introduction of the wooden
leg.

A pair of bellows, a pair of pattens, a toasting-fork, a kettle, a
pap-boat, a spoon for the administration of medicine to the
refractory, and lastly, Mrs Gamp's umbrella, which as something of
great price and rarity, was displayed with particular ostentation,
completed the decorations of the chimney-piece and adjacent wall.
Towards these objects Mrs Gamp raised her eyes in satisfaction when
she had arranged the tea-board, and had concluded her arrangements
for the reception of Betsey Prig, even unto the setting forth of two
pounds of Newcastle salmon, intensely pickled.

'There! Now drat you, Betsey, don't be long!' said Mrs Gamp,
apostrophizing her absent friend. 'For I can't abear to wait, I do
assure you. To wotever place I goes, I sticks to this one mortar,
"I'm easy pleased; it is but little as I wants; but I must have that
little of the best, and to the minute when the clock strikes, else
we do not part as I could wish, but bearin' malice in our arts."'

Her own preparations were of the best, for they comprehended a
delicate new loaf, a plate of fresh butter, a basin of fine white
sugar, and other arrangements on the same scale. Even the snuff
with which she now refreshed herself, was so choice in quality that
she took a second pinch.

'There's the little bell a-ringing now,' said Mrs Gamp, hurrying to
the stair-head and looking over. 'Betsey Prig, my--why it's that
there disapintin' Sweedlepipes, I do believe.'

'Yes, it's me,' said the barber in a faint voice; 'I've just come
in.'

'You're always a-comin' in, I think,' muttered Mrs Gamp to herself,
'except wen you're a-goin' out. I ha'n't no patience with that
man!'

'Mrs Gamp,' said the barber. 'I say! Mrs Gamp!'

'Well,' cried Mrs Gamp, impatiently, as she descended the stairs.
'What is it? Is the Thames a-fire, and cooking its own fish, Mr
Sweedlepipes? Why wot's the man gone and been a-doin' of to
himself? He's as white as chalk!'

She added the latter clause of inquiry, when she got downstairs, and
found him seated in the shaving-chair, pale and disconsolate.

'You recollect,' said Poll. 'You recollect young--'

'Not young Wilkins!' cried Mrs Gamp. 'Don't say young Wilkins,
wotever you do. If young Wilkins's wife is took--'

'It isn't anybody's wife,' exclaimed the little barber. 'Bailey,
young Bailey!'

'Why, wot do you mean to say that chit's been a-doin' of?' retorted
Mrs Gamp, sharply. 'Stuff and nonsense, Mrs Sweedlepipes!'

'He hasn't been a-doing anything!' exclaimed poor Poll, quite
desperate. 'What do you catch me up so short for, when you see me
put out to that extent that I can hardly speak? He'll never do
anything again. He's done for. He's killed. The first time I ever
see that boy,' said Poll, 'I charged him too much for a red-poll. I
asked him three-halfpence for a penny one, because I was afraid he'd
beat me down. But he didn't. And now he's dead; and if you was to
crowd all the steam-engines and electric fluids that ever was, into
this shop, and set 'em every one to work their hardest, they
couldn't square the account, though it's only a ha'penny!'

Mr Sweedlepipe turned aside to the towel, and wiped his eyes with
it.

'And what a clever boy he was!' he said. 'What a surprising young
chap he was! How he talked! and what a deal he know'd! Shaved in
this very chair he was; only for fun; it was all his fun; he was
full of it. Ah! to think that he'll never be shaved in earnest! The
birds might every one have died, and welcome,' cried the little
barber, looking round him at the cages, and again applying to the
towel, 'sooner than I'd have heard this news!'

'How did you ever come to hear it?' said Mrs Gamp. 'who told you?'

'I went out,' returned the little barber, 'into the City, to meet a
sporting gent upon the Stock Exchange, that wanted a few slow
pigeons to practice at; and when I'd done with him, I went to get a
little drop of beer, and there I heard everybody a-talking about it.
It's in the papers.'

'You are in a nice state of confugion, Mr Sweedlepipes, you are!'
said Mrs Gamp, shaking her head; 'and my opinion is, as half-
a-dudgeon fresh young lively leeches on your temples, wouldn't be too
much to clear your mind, which so I tell you. Wot were they a-
talkin' on, and wot was in the papers?'

'All about it!' cried the barber. 'What else do you suppose? Him
and his master were upset on a journey, and he was carried to
Salisbury, and was breathing his last when the account came away.
He never spoke afterwards. Not a single word. That's the worst of
it to me; but that ain't all. His master can't be found. The other
manager of their office in the city, Crimple, David Crimple, has
gone off with the money, and is advertised for, with a reward, upon
the walls. Mr Montague, poor young Bailey's master (what a boy he
was!) is advertised for, too. Some say he's slipped off, to join
his friend abroad; some say he mayn't have got away yet; and they're
looking for him high and low. Their office is a smash; a swindle
altogether. But what's a Life Assurance office to a Life! And what
a Life Young Bailey's was!'

'He was born into a wale,' said Mrs Gamp, with philosophical
coolness. 'and he lived in a wale; and he must take the
consequences of sech a sitiwation. But don't you hear nothink of Mr
Chuzzlewit in all this?'

'No,' said Poll, 'nothing to speak of. His name wasn't printed as
one of the board, though some people say it was just going to be.
Some believe he was took in, and some believe he was one of the
takers-in; but however that may be, they can't prove nothing against
him. This morning he went up of his own accord afore the Lord Mayor
or some of them City big-wigs, and complained that he'd been
swindled, and that these two persons had gone off and cheated him,
and that he had just found out that Montague's name wasn't even
Montague, but something else. And they do say that he looked like
Death, owing to his losses. But, Lord forgive me,' cried the
barber, coming back again to the subject of his individual grief,
'what's his looks to me! He might have died and welcome, fifty
times, and not been such a loss as Bailey!'

At this juncture the little bell rang, and the deep voice of Mrs
Prig struck into the conversation.

'Oh! You're a-talkin' about it, are you!' observed that lady.
'Well, I hope you've got it over, for I ain't interested in it
myself.'

'My precious Betsey,' said Mrs Gamp, 'how late you are!'

The worthy Mrs Prig replied, with some asperity, 'that if perwerse
people went off dead, when they was least expected, it warn't no
fault of her'n.' And further, 'that it was quite aggrawation enough
to be made late when one was dropping for one's tea, without hearing
on it again.'

Mrs Gamp, deriving from this exhibition of repartee some clue to the
state of Mrs Prig's feelings, instantly conducted her upstairs;
deeming that the sight of pickled salmon might work a softening
change.

But Betsey Prig expected pickled salmon. It was obvious that she
did; for her first words, after glancing at the table, were:

'I know'd she wouldn't have a cowcumber!'

Mrs Gamp changed colour, and sat down upon the bedstead.

'Lord bless you, Betsey Prig, your words is true. I quite forgot
it!'

Mrs Prig, looking steadfastly at her friend, put her hand in her
pocket, and with an air of surly triumph drew forth either the
oldest of lettuces or youngest of cabbages, but at any rate, a green
vegetable of an expansive nature, and of such magnificent
proportions that she was obliged to shut it up like an umbrella
before she could pull it out. She also produced a handful of
mustard and cress, a trifle of the herb called dandelion, three
bunches of radishes, an onion rather larger than an average turnip,
three substantial slices of beetroot, and a short prong or antler of
celery; the whole of this garden-stuff having been publicly
exhibited, but a short time before, as a twopenny salad, and
purchased by Mrs Prig on condition that the vendor could get it all
into her pocket. Which had been happily accomplished, in High
Holborn, to the breathless interest of a hackney-coach stand. And
she laid so little stress on this surprising forethought, that she
did not even smile, but returning her pocket into its accustomed
sphere, merely recommended that these productions of nature should
be sliced up, for immediate consumption, in plenty of vinegar.

'And don't go a-droppin' none of your snuff in it,' said Mrs Prig.
'In gruel, barley-water, apple-tea, mutton-broth, and that, it don't
signify. It stimulates a patient. But I don't relish it myself.'

'Why, Betsey Prig!' cried Mrs Gamp, 'how CAN you talk so!'

'Why, ain't your patients, wotever their diseases is, always
asneezin' their wery heads off, along of your snuff?' said Mrs Prig.

'And wot if they are!' said Mrs Gamp

'Nothing if they are,' said Mrs Prig. 'But don't deny it, Sairah.'

'Who deniges of it?' Mrs Gamp inquired.

Mrs Prig returned no answer.

'WHO deniges of it, Betsey?' Mrs Gamp inquired again. Then Mrs
Gamp, by reversing the question, imparted a deeper and more awful
character of solemnity to the same. 'Betsey, who deniges of it?'

It was the nearest possible approach to a very decided difference of
opinion between these ladies; but Mrs Prig's impatience for the meal
being greater at the moment than her impatience of contradiction,
she replied, for the present, 'Nobody, if you don't, Sairah,' and
prepared herself for tea. For a quarrel can be taken up at any
time, but a limited quantity of salmon cannot.

Her toilet was simple. She had merely to 'chuck' her bonnet and
shawl upon the bed; give her hair two pulls, one upon the right side
and one upon the left, as if she were ringing a couple of bells; and
all was done. The tea was already made, Mrs Gamp was not long over
the salad, and they were soon at the height of their repast.

The temper of both parties was improved, for the time being, by the
enjoyments of the table. When the meal came to a termination (which
it was pretty long in doing), and Mrs Gamp having cleared away,
produced the teapot from the top shelf, simultaneously with a couple
of wine-glasses, they were quite amiable.

'Betsey,' said Mrs Gamp, filling her own glass and passing the
teapot, 'I will now propoge a toast. My frequent pardner, Betsey
Prig!'

'Which, altering the name to Sairah Gamp; I drink,' said Mrs Prig,
'with love and tenderness.'

From this moment symptoms of inflammation began to lurk in the nose
of each lady; and perhaps, notwithstanding all appearances to the
contrary, in the temper also.

'Now, Sairah,' said Mrs Prig, 'joining business with pleasure, wot
is this case in which you wants me?'

Mrs Gamp betraying in her face some intention of returning an
evasive answer, Betsey added:

'IS it Mrs Harris?'

'No, Betsey Prig, it ain't,' was Mrs Gamp's reply.

'Well!' said Mrs Prig, with a short laugh. 'I'm glad of that, at
any rate.'

'Why should you be glad of that, Betsey?' Mrs Gamp retorted, warmly.
'She is unbeknown to you except by hearsay, why should you be glad?
If you have anythink to say contrairy to the character of Mrs
Harris, which well I knows behind her back, afore her face, or
anywheres, is not to be impeaged, out with it, Betsey. I have
know'd that sweetest and best of women,' said Mrs Gamp, shaking her
head, and shedding tears, 'ever since afore her First, which Mr
Harris who was dreadful timid went and stopped his ears in a empty
dog-kennel, and never took his hands away or come out once till he
was showed the baby, wen bein' took with fits, the doctor collared
him and laid him on his back upon the airy stones, and she was told
to ease her mind, his owls was organs. And I have know'd her,
Betsey Prig, when he has hurt her feelin' art by sayin' of his Ninth
that it was one too many, if not two, while that dear innocent was
cooin' in his face, which thrive it did though bandy, but I have
never know'd as you had occagion to be glad, Betsey, on accounts of
Mrs Harris not requiring you. Require she never will, depend upon
it, for her constant words in sickness is, and will be, "Send for
Sairey?"'

During this touching address, Mrs Prig adroitly feigning to be the
victim of that absence of mind which has its origin in excessive
attention to one topic, helped herself from the teapot without
appearing to observe it. Mrs Gamp observed it, however, and came to
a premature close in consequence.

'Well, it ain't her, it seems,' said Mrs Prig, coldly; 'who is it
then?'

'You have heerd me mention, Betsey,' Mrs Gamp replied, after
glancing in an expressive and marked manner at the tea-pot, 'a
person as I took care on at the time as you and me was pardners off
and on, in that there fever at the Bull?'

'Old Snuffey,' Mrs Prig observed.

Sarah Gamp looked at her with an eye of fire, for she saw in this
mistake of Mrs Prig, another willful and malignant stab at that same
weakness or custom of hers, an ungenerous allusion to which, on the
part of Betsey, had first disturbed their harmony that evening. And
she saw it still more clearly, when, politely but firmly correcting
that lady by the distinct enunciation of the word 'Chuffey,' Mrs
Prig received the correction with a diabolical laugh.

The best among us have their failings, and it must be conceded of
Mrs Prig, that if there were a blemish in the goodness of her
disposition, it was a habit she had of not bestowing all its sharp
and acid properties upon her patients (as a thoroughly amiable woman
would have done), but of keeping a considerable remainder for the
service of her friends. Highly pickled salmon, and lettuces chopped
up in vinegar, may, as viands possessing some acidity of their own,
have encouraged and increased this failing in Mrs Prig; and every
application to the teapot certainly did; for it was often remarked
of her by her friends, that she was most contradictory when most
elevated. It is certain that her countenance became about this time
derisive and defiant, and that she sat with her arms folded, and one
eye shut up, in a somewhat offensive, because obstrusively
intelligent, manner.

Mrs Gamp observing this, felt it the more necessary that Mrs Prig
should know her place, and be made sensible of her exact station in
society, as well as of her obligations to herself. She therefore
assumed an air of greater patronage and importance, as she went on
to answer Mrs Prig a little more in detail.

'Mr Chuffey, Betsey,' said Mrs Gamp, 'is weak in his mind. Excuge
me if I makes remark, that he may neither be so weak as people
thinks, nor people may not think he is so weak as they pretends, and
what I knows, I knows; and what you don't, you don't; so do not ask
me, Betsey. But Mr Chuffey's friends has made propojals for his
bein' took care on, and has said to me, "Mrs Gamp, WILL you
undertake it? We couldn't think," they says, "of trusting him to
nobody but you, for, Sairey, you are gold as has passed the furnage.
Will you undertake it, at your own price, day and night, and by your
own self?" "No," I says, "I will not. Do not reckon on it. There
is," I says, but one creetur in the world as I would undertake on
sech terms, and her name is Harris. But," I says, "I am acquainted
with a friend, whose name is Betsey Prig, that I can recommend, and
will assist me. Betsey," I says, "is always to be trusted under
me, and will be guided as I could desire."'

Here Mrs Prig, without any abatement of her offensive manner again
counterfeited abstraction of mind, and stretched out her hand to the
teapot. It was more than Mrs Gamp could bear. She stopped the hand
of Mrs Prig with her own, and said, with great feeling:

'No, Betsey! Drink fair, wotever you do!'

Mrs Prig, thus baffled, threw herself back in her chair, and closing
the same eye more emphatically, and folding her arms tighter,
suffered her head to roll slowly from side to side, while she
surveyed her friend with a contemptuous smile.

Mrs Gamp resumed:

'Mrs Harris, Betsey--'

'Bother Mrs Harris!' said Betsey Prig.

Mrs Gamp looked at her with amazement, incredulity, and indignation;
when Mrs Prig, shutting her eye still closer, and folding her arms
still tighter, uttered these memorable and tremendous words:

'I don't believe there's no sich a person!'

After the utterance of which expressions, she leaned forward, and
snapped her fingers once, twice, thrice; each time nearer to the
face of Mrs Gamp, and then rose to put on her bonnet, as one who
felt that there was now a gulf between them, which nothing could
ever bridge across.

The shock of this blow was so violent and sudden, that Mrs Gamp sat
staring at nothing with uplifted eyes, and her mouth open as if she
were gasping for breath, until Betsey Prig had put on her bonnet and
her shawl, and was gathering the latter about her throat. Then Mrs
Gamp rose--morally and physically rose--and denounced her.

'What!' said Mrs Gamp, 'you bage creetur, have I know'd Mrs Harris
five and thirty year, to be told at last that there ain't no sech a
person livin'! Have I stood her friend in all her troubles, great
and small, for it to come at last to sech a end as this, which her
own sweet picter hanging up afore you all the time, to shame your
Bragian words! But well you mayn't believe there's no sech a
creetur, for she wouldn't demean herself to look at you, and often
has she said, when I have made mention of your name, which, to my
sinful sorrow, I have done, "What, Sairey Gamp! debage yourself to
HER!" Go along with you!'

'I'm a-goin', ma'am, ain't I?' said Mrs Prig, stopping as she said
it.

'You had better, ma'am,' said Mrs Gamp.

'Do you know who you're talking to, ma'am?' inquired her visitor.

'Aperiently,' said Mrs Gamp, surveying her with scorn from head to
foot, 'to Betsey Prig. Aperiently so. I know her. No one better.
Go along with you!'

'And YOU was a-goin' to take me under you!' cried Mrs Prig,
surveying Mrs Gamp from head to foot in her turn. 'YOU was, was
you? Oh, how kind! Why, deuce take your imperence,' said Mrs Prig,
with a rapid change from banter to ferocity, 'what do you mean?'

'Go along with you!' said Mrs Gamp. 'I blush for you.'

'You had better blush a little for yourself, while you ARE about
it!' said Mrs Prig. 'You and your Chuffeys! What, the poor old
creetur isn't mad enough, isn't he? Aha!'

'He'd very soon be mad enough, if you had anything to do with him,'
said Mrs Gamp.

'And that's what I was wanted for, is it?' cried Mrs Prig,
triumphantly. 'Yes. But you'll find yourself deceived. I won't go
near him. We shall see how you get on without me. I won't have
nothink to do with him.'

'You never spoke a truer word than that!' said Mrs Gamp. 'Go along
with you!'

She was prevented from witnessing the actual retirement of Mrs Prig
from the room, notwithstanding the great desire she had expressed to
behold it, by that lady, in her angry withdrawal, coming into
contact with the bedstead, and bringing down the previously
mentioned pippins; three or four of which came rattling on the head
of Mrs Gamp so smartly, that when she recovered from this wooden
shower-bath, Mrs Prig was gone.

She had the satisfaction, however, of hearing the deep voice of
Betsey, proclaiming her injuries and her determination to have
nothing to do with Mr Chuffey, down the stairs, and along the
passage, and even out in Kingsgate Street. Likewise of seeing in
her own apartment, in the place of Mrs Prig, Mr Sweedlepipe and two
gentlemen.

'Why, bless my life!' exclaimed the little barber, 'what's amiss?
The noise you ladies have been making, Mrs Gamp! Why, these two
gentlemen have been standing on the stairs, outside the door, nearly
all the time, trying to make you hear, while you were pelting away,
hammer and tongs! It'll be the death of the little bullfinch in the
shop, that draws his own water. In his fright, he's been a-
straining himself all to bits, drawing more water than he could
drink in a twelvemonth. He must have thought it was Fire!'

Mrs Gamp had in the meanwhile sunk into her chair, from whence,
turning up her overflowing eyes, and clasping her hands, she
delivered the following lamentation:

'Oh, Mr Sweedlepipes, which Mr Westlock also, if my eyes do not
deceive, and a friend not havin' the pleasure of bein' beknown, wot
I have took from Betsey Prig this blessed night, no mortial creetur
knows! If she had abuged me, bein' in liquor, which I thought I
smelt her wen she come, but could not so believe, not bein' used
myself'--Mrs Gamp, by the way, was pretty far gone, and the
fragrance of the teapot was strong in the room--'I could have bore
it with a thankful art. But the words she spoke of Mrs Harris,
lambs could not forgive. No, Betsey!' said Mrs Gamp, in a violent
burst of feeling, 'nor worms forget!'

The little barber scratched his head, and shook it, and looked at
the teapot, and gradually got out of the room. John Westlock,
taking a chair, sat down on one side of Mrs Gamp. Martin, taking
the foot of the bed, supported her on the other.

'You wonder what we want, I daresay,' observed John. 'I'll tell
you presently, when you have recovered. It's not pressing, for a
few minutes or so. How do you find yourself? Better?'

Mrs Gamp shed more tears, shook her head and feebly pronounced Mrs
Harris's name.

'Have a little--' John was at a loss what to call it.

'Tea,' suggested Martin.

'It ain't tea,' said Mrs Gamp.

'Physic of some sort, I suppose,' cried John. 'Have a little.'

Mrs Gamp was prevailed upon to take a glassful. 'On condition,' she
passionately observed, 'as Betsey never has another stroke of work
from me.'

'Certainly not,' said John. 'She shall never help to nurse ME.'

'To think,' said Mrs Gamp, 'as she should ever have helped to nuss
that friend of yourn, and been so near of hearing things that--Ah!'

John looked at Martin.

'Yes,' he said. 'That was a narrow escape, Mrs Gamp.'

'Narrer, in-deed!' she returned. 'It was only my having the night,
and hearin' of him in his wanderins; and her the day, that saved it.
Wot would she have said and done, if she had know'd what I know;
that perfeejus wretch! Yet, oh good gracious me!' cried Mrs Gamp,
trampling on the floor, in the absence of Mrs Prig, 'that I should
hear from that same woman's lips what I have heerd her speak of Mrs
Harris!'

'Never mind,' said John. 'You know it is not true.'

'Isn't true!' cried Mrs Gamp. 'True! Don't I know as that dear
woman is expecting of me at this minnit, Mr Westlock, and is a-
lookin' out of window down the street, with little Tommy Harris in
her arms, as calls me his own Gammy, and truly calls, for bless the
mottled little legs of that there precious child (like Canterbury
Brawn his own dear father says, which so they are) his own I have
been, ever since I found him, Mr Westlock, with his small red
worsted shoe a-gurglin' in his throat, where he had put it in his
play, a chick, wile they was leavin' of him on the floor a-lookin'
for it through the ouse and him a-choakin' sweetly in the parlour!
Oh, Betsey Prig, what wickedness you've showed this night, but never
shall you darken Sairey's doors agen, you twining serpiant!'

'You were always so kind to her, too!' said John, consolingly.

'That's the cutting part. That's where it hurts me, Mr Westlock,'
Mrs Gamp replied; holding out her glass unconsciously, while Martin
filled it.

'Chosen to help you with Mr Lewsome!' said John. 'Chosen to help
you with Mr Chuffey!'

'Chose once, but chose no more,' cried Mrs Gamp. 'No pardnership
with Betsey Prig agen, sir!'

'No, no,' said John. 'That would never do.'

'I don't know as it ever would have done, sir,' Mrs Gamp replied,
with a solemnity peculiar to a certain stage of intoxication. 'Now
that the marks,' by which Mrs Gamp is supposed to have meant mask,
'is off that creetur's face, I do not think it ever would have done.
There are reagions in families for keeping things a secret, Mr
Westlock, and havin' only them about you as you knows you can repoge
in. Who could repoge in Betsey Prig, arter her words of Mrs Harris,
setting in that chair afore my eyes!'

'Quite true,' said John; 'quite. I hope you have time to find
another assistant, Mrs Gamp?'

Between her indignation and the teapot, her powers of comprehending
what was said to her began to fail. She looked at John with tearful
eyes, and murmuring the well-remembered name which Mrs Prig had
challenged--as if it were a talisman against all earthly sorrows--
seemed to wander in her mind.

'I hope,' repeated John, 'that you have time to find another
assistant?'

'Which short it is, indeed,' cried Mrs Gamp, turning up her languid
eyes, and clasping Mr Westlock's wrist with matronly affection.
'To-morrow evenin', sir, I waits upon his friends. Mr Chuzzlewit
apinted it from nine to ten.'

'From nine to ten,' said John, with a significant glance at Martin.
'and then Mr Chuffey retires into safe keeping, does he?'

'He needs to be kep safe, I do assure you,' Mrs Gamp replied with a
mysterious air. 'Other people besides me has had a happy
deliverance from Betsey Prig. I little know'd that woman. She'd
have let it out!'

'Let HIM out, you mean,' said John.

'Do I!' retorted Mrs Gamp. 'Oh!'

The severely ironical character of this reply was strengthened by a
very slow nod, and a still slower drawing down of the corners of Mrs
Gamp's mouth. She added with extreme stateliness of manner after
indulging in a short doze:

'But I am a-keepin' of you gentlemen, and time is precious.'

Mingling with that delusion of the teapot which inspired her with
the belief that they wanted her to go somewhere immediately, a shrewd
avoidance of any further reference to the topics into which she had
lately strayed, Mrs Gamp rose; and putting away the teapot in its
accustomed place, and locking the cupboard with much gravity
proceeded to attire herself for a professional visit.

This preparation was easily made, as it required nothing more than
the snuffy black bonnet, the snuffy black shawl, the pattens and the
indispensable umbrella, without which neither a lying-in nor a
laying-out could by any possibility be attempted. When Mrs Gamp had
invested herself with these appendages she returned to her chair,
and sitting down again, declared herself quite ready.

'It's a 'appiness to know as one can benefit the poor sweet creetur,'
she observed, 'I'm sure. It isn't all as can. The torters Betsey
Prig inflicts is frightful!'

Closing her eyes as she made this remark, in the acuteness of her
commiseration for Betsey's patients, she forgot to open them again
until she dropped a patten. Her nap was also broken at intervals
like the fabled slumbers of Friar Bacon, by the dropping of the
other patten, and of the umbrella. But when she had got rid of
those incumbrances, her sleep was peaceful.

The two young men looked at each other, ludicrously enough; and
Martin, stifling his disposition to laugh, whispered in John
Westlock's ear,

'What shall we do now?'

'Stay here,' he replied.

Mrs Gamp was heard to murmur 'Mrs Harris' in her sleep.

'Rely upon it,' whispered John, looking cautiously towards her,
'that you shall question this old clerk, though you go as Mrs Harris
herself. We know quite enough to carry her our own way now, at all
events; thanks to this quarrel, which confirms the old saying that
when rogues fall out, honest people get what they want. Let Jonas
Chuzzlewit look to himself; and let her sleep as long as she likes.
We shall gain our end in good time.'

CHAPTER FIFTY

SURPRISES TOM PINCH VERY MUCH, AND SHOWS HOW CERTAIN CONFIDENCES
PASSED BETWEEN HIM AND HIS SISTER

It was the next evening; and Tom and his sister were sitting
together before tea, talking, in their usual quiet way, about a
great many things, but not at all about Lewsome's story or anything
connected with it; for John Westlock--really John, for so young a
man, was one of the most considerate fellows in the world--had
particularly advised Tom not to mention it to his sister just yet,
in case it should disquiet her. 'And I wouldn't, Tom,' he said,
with a little hesitation, 'I wouldn't have a shadow on her happy
face, or an uneasy thought in her gentle heart, for all the wealth
and honours of the universe!' Really John was uncommonly kind;
extraordinarily kind. If he had been her father, Tom said, he could
not have taken a greater interest in her.

But although Tom and his sister were extremely conversational, they
were less lively, and less cheerful, than usual. Tom had no idea
that this originated with Ruth, but took it for granted that he was
rather dull himself. In truth he was; for the lightest cloud upon
the Heaven of her quiet mind, cast its shadow upon Tom.

And there was a cloud on little Ruth that evening. Yes, indeed.
When Tom was looking in another direction, her bright eyes, stealing
on towards his face, would sparkle still more brightly than their
custom was, and then grow dim. When Tom was silent, looking out
upon the summer weather, she would sometimes make a hasty movement,
as if she were about to throw herself upon his neck; then check the
impulse, and when he looked round, show a laughing face, and speak
to him very merrily; when she had anything to give Tom, or had any
excuse for coming near him, she would flutter about him, and lay her
bashful hand upon his shoulder, and not be willing to withdraw it;
and would show by all such means that there was something on her
heart which in her great love she longed to say to him, but had not
the courage to utter.

So they were sitting, she with her work before her, but not working,
and Tom with his book beside him, but not reading, when Martin
knocked at the door. Anticipating who it was, Tom went to open it;
and he and Martin came back into the room together. Tom looked
surprised, for in answer to his cordial greeting Martin had hardly
spoken a word.

Ruth also saw that there was something strange in the manner of
their visitor, and raised her eyes inquiringly to Tom's face, as if
she were seeking an explanation there. Tom shook his head, and made
the same mute appeal to Martin.

Martin did not sit down but walked up to the window, and stood there
looking out. He turned round after a few moments to speak, but
hastily averted his head again, without doing so.

'What has happened, Martin?' Tom anxiously inquired. 'My dear
fellow, what bad news do you bring?'

'Oh, Tom!' replied Martin, in a tone of deep reproach. 'To hear you
feign that interest in anything that happens to me, hurts me even
more than your ungenerous dealing.'

'My ungenerous dealing! Martin! My--' Tom could say no more.

'How could you, Tom, how could you suffer me to thank you so
fervently and sincerely for your friendship; and not tell me, like a
man, that you had deserted me! Was it true, Tom! Was it honest! Was
it worthy of what you used to be--of what I am sure you used to be--
to tempt me, when you had turned against me, into pouring out my
heart! Oh, Tom!'

His tone was one of such strong injury and yet of so much grief for
the loss of a friend he had trusted in--it expressed such high past
love for Tom, and so much sorrow and compassion for his supposed
unworthiness--that Tom, for a moment, put his hand before his face,
and had no more power of justifying himself, than if he had been a
monster of deceit and falsehood.

'I protest, as I must die,' said Martin, 'that I grieve over the
loss of what I thought you; and have no anger in the recollection of
my own injuries. It is only at such a time, and after such a
discovery, that we know the full measure of our old regard for the
subject of it. I swear, little as I showed it--little as I know I
showed it--that when I had the least consideration for you, Tom, I
loved you like a brother.'

Tom was composed by this time, and might have been the Spirit of
Truth, in a homely dress--it very often wears a homely dress, thank
God!--when he replied to him.

'Martin,' he said, 'I don't know what is in your mind, or who has
abused it, or by what extraordinary means. But the means are false.
There is no truth whatever in the impression under which you labour.
It is a delusion from first to last; and I warn you that you will
deeply regret the wrong you do me. I can honestly say that I have
been true to you, and to myself. You will be very sorry for this.
Indeed, you will be very sorry for it, Martin.'

'I AM sorry,' returned Martin, shaking his head. 'I think I never
knew what it was to be sorry in my heart, until now.'

'At least,' said Tom, 'if I had always been what you charge me with
being now, and had never had a place in your regard, but had always
been despised by you, and had always deserved it, you should tell me
in what you have found me to be treacherous; and on what grounds you
proceed. I do not intreat you, therefore, to give me that
satisfaction as a favour, Martin, but I ask it of you as a right.'

'My own eyes are my witnesses,' returned Martin. 'Am I to believe
them?'

'No,' said Tom, calmly. 'Not if they accuse me.'

'Your own words. Your own manner,' pursued Martin. 'Am I to
believe THEM?'

'No,' replied Tom, calmly. 'Not if they accuse me. But they never
have accused me. Whoever has perverted them to such a purpose, has
wronged me almost as cruelly'--his calmness rather failed him here--
'as you have done.'

'I came here,' said Martin; 'and I appeal to your good sister to
hear me--'

'Not to her,' interrupted Tom. 'Pray, do not appeal to her. She
will never believe you.'

He drew her arm through his own, as he said it.

'I believe it, Tom!'

'No, no,' cried Tom, 'of course not. I said so. Why, tut, tut,
tut. What a silly little thing you are!'

'I never meant,' said Martin, hastily, 'to appeal to you against
your brother. Do not think me so unmanly and unkind. I merely
appealed to you to hear my declaration, that I came here for no
purpose of reproach--I have not one reproach to vent--but in deep
regret. You could not know in what bitterness of regret, unless you
knew how often I have thought of Tom; how long in almost hopeless
circumstances, I have looked forward to the better estimation of his
friendship; and how steadfastly I have believed and trusted in him.'

'Tut, tut,' said Tom, stopping her as she was about to speak. 'He
is mistaken. He is deceived. Why should you mind? He is sure to
be set right at last.'

'Heaven bless the day that sets me right!' cried Martin, 'if it
could ever come!'

'Amen!' said Tom. 'And it will!'

Martin paused, and then said in a still milder voice:

'You have chosen for yourself, Tom, and will be relieved by our
parting. It is not an angry one. There is no anger on my side--'

'There is none on mine,' said Tom.

'--It is merely what you have brought about, and worked to bring
about. I say again, you have chosen for yourself. You have made
the choice that might have been expected in most people situated as
you are, but which I did not expect in you. For that, perhaps, I
should blame my own judgment more than you. There is wealth and
favour worth having, on one side; and there is the worthless
friendship of an abandoned, struggling fellow, on the other. You
were free to make your election, and you made it; and the choice was
not difficult. But those who have not the courage to resist such
temptations, should have the courage to avow what they have yielded
to them; and I DO blame you for this, Tom: that you received me with
a show of warmth, encouraged me to be frank and plain-spoken,
tempted me to confide in you, and professed that you were able to be
mine; when you had sold yourself to others. I do not believe,' said
Martin, with emotion--'hear me say it from my heart--I CANNOT
believe, Tom, now that I am standing face to face with you, that it
would have been in your nature to do me any serious harm, even
though I had not discovered, by chance, in whose employment you
were. But I should have encumbered you; I should have led you into
more double-dealing; I should have hazarded your retaining the
favour for which you have paid so high a price, bartering away your
former self; and it is best for both of us that I have found out
what you so much desired to keep secret.'

'Be just,' said Tom; who, had not removed his mild gaze from
Martin's face since the commencement of this last address; 'be just
even in your injustice, Martin. You forget. You have not yet told
me what your accusation is!'

'Why should I?' returned Martin, waving his hand, and moving towards
the door. 'You could not know it the better for my dwelling on it,
and though it would be really none the worse, it might seem to me to
be. No, Tom. Bygones shall be bygones between us. I can take
leave of you at this moment, and in this place--in which you are so
amiable and so good--as heartily, if not as cheerfully, as ever I
have done since we first met. All good go with you, Tom!--I--'

'You leave me so? You can leave me so, can you?' said Tom.

'I--you--you have chosen for yourself, Tom! I--I hope it was a rash
choice,' Martin faltered. 'I think it was. I am sure it was! Good-
bye!'

And he was gone.

Tom led his little sister to her chair, and sat down in his own. He
took his book, and read, or seemed to read. Presently he said
aloud, turning a leaf as he spoke: 'He will be very sorry for this.'
And a tear stole down his face, and dropped upon the page.

Ruth nestled down beside him on her knees, and clasped her arms
about his neck.

'No, Tom! No, no! Be comforted! Dear Tom!'

'I am quite--comforted,' said Tom. 'It will be set right.'

'Such a cruel, bad return!' cried Ruth.

'No, no,' said Tom. 'He believes it. I cannot imagine why. But it
will be set right.'

More closely yet, she nestled down about him; and wept as if her
heart would break.

'Don't. Don't,' said Tom. 'Why do you hide your face, my dear!'

Then in a burst of tears, it all broke out at last.

'Oh Tom, dear Tom, I know your secret heart. I have found it out;
you couldn't hide the truth from me. Why didn't you tell me? I am
sure I could have made you happier, if you had! You love her, Tom,
so dearly!'

Tom made a motion with his hand as if he would have put his sister
hurriedly away; but it clasped upon hers, and all his little history
was written in the action. All its pathetic eloquence was in the
silent touch.

'In spite of that,' said Ruth, 'you have been so faithful and so
good, dear; in spite of that, you have been so true and self-
denying, and have struggled with yourself; in spite of that, you
have been so gentle, and so kind, and even-tempered, that I have
never seen you give a hasty look, or heard you say one irritable
word. In spite of all, you have been so cruelly mistaken. Oh Tom,
dear Tom, will THIS be set right too! Will it, Tom? Will you always
have this sorrow in your breast; you who deserve to be so happy; or
is there any hope?'

And still she hid her face from Tom, and clasped him round the neck,
and wept for him, and poured out all her woman's heart and soul in
the relief and pain of this disclosure.

It was not very long before she and Tom were sitting side by side,
and she was looking with an earnest quietness in Tom's face. Then
Tom spoke to her thus, cheerily, though gravely:

'I am very glad, my dear, that this has passed between us. Not
because it assures me of your tender affection (for I was well
assured of that before), but because it relieves my mind of a great
weight.'

Tom's eyes glistened when he spoke of her affection; and he kissed
her on the cheek.

'My dear girl,' said Tom; 'with whatever feeling I regard her'--they
seemed to avoid the name by mutual consent--'I have long ago--I am
sure I may say from the very first--looked upon it as a dream. As
something that might possibly have happened under very different
circumstances, but which can never be. Now, tell me. What would
you have set right?'

She gave Tom such a significant little look, that he was obliged to
take it for an answer whether he would or no; and to go on.

'By her own choice and free consent, my love, she is betrothed to
Martin; and was, long before either of them knew of my existence.
You would have her betrothed to me?'

'Yes,' she said directly.

'Yes,' rejoined Tom, 'but that might be setting it wrong, instead of
right. Do you think,' said Tom, with a grave smile, 'that even if
she had never seen him, it is very likely she would have fallen in
love with Me?'

'Why not, dear Tom?'

Tom shook his head, and smiled again.

'You think of me, Ruth,' said Tom, 'and it is very natural that you
should, as if I were a character in a book; and you make it a sort
of poetical justice that I should, by some impossible means or
other, come, at last, to marry the person I love. But there is a
much higher justice than poetical justice, my dear, and it does not
order events upon the same principle. Accordingly, people who read
about heroes in books, and choose to make heroes of themselves out
of books, consider it a very fine thing to be discontented and
gloomy, and misanthropical, and perhaps a little blasphemous,
because they cannot have everything ordered for their individual
accommodation. Would you like me to become one of that sort of
people?'

'No, Tom. But still I know,' she added timidly, 'that this is a
sorrow to you in your own better way.'

Tom thought of disputing the position. But it would have been mere
folly, and he gave it up.

'My dear,' said Tom, 'I will repay your affection with the Truth and
all the Truth. It is a sorrow to me. I have proved it to be so
sometimes, though I have always striven against it. But somebody
who is precious to you may die, and you may dream that you are in
heaven with the departed spirit, and you may find it a sorrow to
wake to the life on earth, which is no harder to be borne than when
you fell asleep. It is sorrowful to me to contemplate my dream
which I always knew was a dream, even when it first presented
itself; but the realities about me are not to blame. They are the
same as they were. My sister, my sweet companion, who makes this
place so dear, is she less devoted to me, Ruth, than she would have
been, if this vision had never troubled me? My old friend John, who
might so easily have treated me with coldness and neglect, is he
less cordial to me? The world about me, is there less good in that?
Are my words to be harsh and my looks to be sour, and is my heart to
grow cold, because there has fallen in my way a good and beautiful
creature, who but for the selfish regret that I cannot call her my
own, would, like all other good and beautiful creatures, make me
happier and better! No, my dear sister. No,' said Tom stoutly.
'Remembering all my means of happiness, I hardly dare to call this
lurking something a sorrow; but whatever name it may justly bear, I
thank Heaven that it renders me more sensible of affection and
attachment, and softens me in fifty ways. Not less happy. Not less
happy, Ruth!'

She could not speak to him, but she loved him, as he well deserved.
Even as he deserved, she loved him.

'She will open Martin's eyes,' said Tom, with a glow of pride, 'and
that (which is indeed wrong) will be set right. Nothing will
persuade her, I know, that I have betrayed him. It will be set
right through her, and he will be very sorry for it. Our secret,
Ruth, is our own, and lives and dies with us. I don't believe I
ever could have told it you,' said Tom, with a smile, 'but how glad
I am to think you have found it out!'

They had never taken such a pleasant walk as they took that night.
Tom told her all so freely and so simply, and was so desirous to
return her tenderness with his fullest confidence, that they
prolonged it far beyond their usual hour, and sat up late when they
came home. And when they parted for the night there was such a
tranquil, beautiful expression in Tom's face, that she could not
bear to shut it out, but going back on tiptoe to his chamber-door,
looked in and stood there till he saw her, and then embracing him
again, withdrew. And in her prayers and in her sleep--good times to
be remembered with such fervour, Tom!--his name was uppermost.

When he was left alone, Tom pondered very much on this discovery of
hers, and greatly wondered what had led her to it. 'Because,'
thought Tom, 'I have been so very careful. It was foolish and
unnecessary in me, as I clearly see now, when I am so relieved by
her knowing it; but I have been so very careful to conceal it from
her. Of course I knew that she was intelligent and quick, and for
that reason was more upon my guard; but I was not in the least
prepared for this. I am sure her discovery has been sudden too.
Dear me!' said Tom. 'It's a most singular instance of penetration!'

Tom could not get it out of his head. There it was, when his head
was on his pillow.

'How she trembled when she began to tell me she knew it!' thought
Tom, recalling all the little incidents and circumstances; 'and how
her face flushed! But that was natural! Oh, quite natural! That
needs no accounting for.'

Tom little thought how natural it was. Tom little knew that there
was that in Ruth's own heart, but newly set there, which had helped
her to the reading of his mystery. Ah, Tom! He didn't understand
the whispers of the Temple Fountain, though he passed it every day.

Who so lively and cheerful as busy Ruth next morning! Her early tap
at Tom's door, and her light foot outside, would have been music to
him though she had not spoken. But she said it was the brightest
morning ever seen; and so it was; and if it had been otherwise, she
would have made it so to Tom.

She was ready with his neat breakfast when he went downstairs, and
had her bonnet ready for the early walk, and was so full of news,
that Tom was lost in wonder. She might have been up all night,
collecting it for his entertainment. There was Mr Nadgett not come
home yet, and there was bread down a penny a loaf, and there was
twice as much strength in this tea as in the last, and the milk-
woman's husband had come out of the hospital cured, and the curly-
headed child over the way had been lost all yesterday, and she was
going to make all sorts of preserves in a desperate hurry, and there
happened to be a saucepan in the house which was the very saucepan
for the purpose; and she knew all about the last book Tom had
brought home, all through, though it was a teaser to read; and she
had so much to tell him that she had finished breakfast first. Then
she had her little bonnet on, and the tea and sugar locked up, and
the keys in her reticule, and the flower, as usual, in Tom's coat,
and was in all respects quite ready to accompany him, before Tom
knew she had begun to prepare. And in short, as Tom said, with a
confidence in his own assertion which amounted to a defiance of the
public in general, there never was such a little woman.

She made Tom talkative. It was impossible to resist her. She put
such enticing questions to him; about books, and about dates of
churches, and about organs and about the Temple, and about all kinds
of things. Indeed, she lightened the way (and Tom's heart with it)
to that degree, that the Temple looked quite blank and solitary when
he parted from her at the gate.

'No Mr Fips's friend to-day, I suppose,' thought Tom, as he ascended
the stairs.

Not yet, at any rate, for the door was closed as usual, and Tom
opened it with his key. He had got the books into perfect order
now, and had mended the torn leaves, and had pasted up the broken
backs, and substituted neat labels for the worn-out letterings. It
looked a different place, it was so orderly and neat. Tom felt some
pride in comtemplating the change he had wrought, though there was
no one to approve or disapprove of it.

He was at present occupied in making a fair copy of his draught of
the catalogue; on which, as there was no hurry, he was painfully
concentrating all the ingenious and laborious neatness he had ever
expended on map or plan in Mr Pecksniff's workroom. It was a very
marvel of a catalogue; for Tom sometimes thought he was really
getting his money too easily, and he had determined within himself
that this document should take a little of his superfluous leisure

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