Charles Dickens.

Dicken's works (Volume 27) online

. (page 18 of 28)
Online LibraryCharles DickensDicken's works (Volume 27) → online text (page 18 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Wouldn't I be gracious neither, not if I wos him ! "

The remark was rendered somewhat obscure in
itself, by reason (as the reader may have observed)
of a redundancy of negatives ; but accompanied by
action expressive of a faithful couple walking arm
in arm towards a parochial church, mutually
exchanging looks of love, it clearly signified this
youth's conviction that the caller's purpose was of
an amorous tendency. Miss Charity affected to
reprove so great a liberty ; but she could not help
smiling. He was a strange boy, to be sure. There
was always some ground of probability and likeli-
hood mingled with his absurd behavior. That was
the best of it !

"But I don't know any gentleman, Bailey," said
Miss Pecksniff. " I think you must have made a
mistake."

Mr. Bailey smiled at the extreme kindness of
such a supposition ; and regarded the young ladies
with unimpaired affability.

"My dear Merry," said Charity, "who ca7i it be ?
Isn't it odd ? I have a great mind not to go to
him really. So very strange, you know ! "

The younger sister plainly considered that this



MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 261

appeal had its origin in the pride of being called
upon and asked for ; and that it was intended as an
assertion of superiority, and a retaliation upon her
for having captured the commercial gentlemen.
Therefore, she replied, with great affection and
politeness, that it was, no doubt, very strange
indeed ; and that she was totally at a loss to con-
ceive what the ridiculous person unknown could
mean by it.

" Quite impossible to divine ! " said Charity, with
some sharpness, " though still, at the same time,
you needn't be angry, my dear."

"Thank you," retorted Merry, singing at her
needle. '' I am quite aware of that, my love."

" I am afraid your head is turned, you silly thing,"
said Cherry.

" Do you know, my dear," said Merry, with
engaging candor, " that I have been afraid of that,
myself, all along ! So much incense and nonsense,
and all the rest of it, is enough to turn a stronger
head than mine. What a relief it must be to you,
my dear, to be so very comfortable in that respect,
and not to be worried by those odious men ! How
do you do it, Cherry ? "

This artless inquiry might have led to turbulent
results, but for the strong emotions of delight
evinced by Bailey junior, whose relish in the turn
the conversation had lately taken was so acute, that
it impelled and forced him to the instantaneous per-
formance of a dancing step, extremely difficult in
its nature, and only to be achieved in a moment of
ecstasy, which is commonly called The Frog's
Hornpipe. A manifestation so lively brought to
their immediate recollection the great virtuous pre-



262 MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT.

cept, " Keep up appearances, whatever you do," in
which they had been educated. They forbore at
once, and jointly signified to Mr. Bailey that if he
should presume to practise that figure any more in
their presence, they would instantly acquaint Mrs.
Todgers with the fact, and would demand his condign
punishment at the hands of that lady. The young
gentleman having expressed the bitterness of his
contrition by affecting to wipe away scalding tears
with his apron, and afterwards affecting to wring a
vast amount of water from that garment, held the
door open while Miss Charity passed out ; and so
that damsel went in state upstairs to receive her
mysterious adorer.

By some strange concurrence of favorable circum-
stances he had found out the drawing-room, and was
sitting there alone.

" Ah, cousin ! " he said. " Here I am, you see.
You thought I was lost, I'll be bound. Well ! how
do you find yourself by this time ? "

Miss Charity replied that she was quite well ;
and gave Mr. Jonas Chuzzlewit her hand.

" That's right," said Mr. Jonas, " and you've got
over the fatigues of the journey, have you ? I say
— how's the other one ? "

"My sister is very well, I believe," returned the
young lady. " I have not heard her complain of
any indisposition, sir. Perhaps you would like to
see her, and ask her yourself ? "

" No, no, cousin ! " said Mr. Jonas, sitting down
beside her on the window-seat. " Don't be in a
hurry. There's no occasion for that, you know.
What a cruel girl you are ! "

" It's impossible for you to know," said Cherry,
" whether I am or not."



MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 263

" Well, perhaps it is," said Mr. Jonas. " I say
— did you think I was lost ? You haven't told me
that."

" I didn't think at all about it," answered Cherry.

" Didn't you, though ? " said Jonas, pondering
upon this strange reply. " Did the other one ? "

" I am sure it's impossible for me to say what my
sister may or may not have thought on such a sub-
ject," cried Cherry. *' She never said anything to
me about it one way or other."

" Didn't she laugh about it ? " inquired Jonas.

" No. She didn't even laugh about it," answered
Charity.

" She's a terrible one to laugh, ain't she ? " said
Jonas, lowering his voice.

" She is very lively," said Cherry.

" Liveliness is a pleasant thing — when it don't
lead to spending money. Ain't it ? " asked Mr.
Jonas.

''Very much so, indeed," said Cherry, with a
demureness of manner that gave a very disinter-
ested character to her assent.

"Such liveliness as yours I mean, you know,"
observed Mr. Jonas, as he nudged her with his
elbow. " I should have come to see you before, but
I didn't know where you was. How quick you
hurried off that morning ! "

"I was amenable to my papa's directions," said
Miss Charity.

" I wish he had given me his direction," returned
her cousin, " and then I should have found you out
before. Why, I shouldn't have found you even
now, if I hadn't met him in the street this morn-
ing. What a sleek, sly chap he is ! Just like a
tom-cat, ain't he ? "



264 MAKTIN CHUZZLEWIT.

" I must trouble you to have the goodness to
speak more respectfully of my papa, Mr. Jonas,"
said Charity. " I can't allow such a tone as that,
even in jest."

" Ecod, you may say what you like of my father,
then, and so I give you leave," said Jonas. " I
think it's liquid aggravation that circulates through
his veins, and not regular blood. How old should
you think my father was, cousin ? "

" Old, no doubt," replied Miss Charity ; '' but a
line old gentleman."

" A fine old gentleman ! " repeated Jonas, giving
the crown of his hat an angry knock. " Ah ! It's
time he was thinking of being drawn out a little
finer too. Why, he's eighty ! "

" Is he indeed ? " said the young lady.

" And ecod," cried Jonas, " now he's gone so far
without giving in, I don't see much to prevent his
being ninety ; no, nor even a hundred. Why, a
man with any feeling ought to be ashamed of being
eighty — let alone more. Where's his religion, I
should like to know, when he goes flying in the face
of the Bible like that ? Threescore and ten's the
mark ; and no man with a conscience, and a proper
sense of what's expected of him, has any business
to live longer."

Is any one surprised at Mr. Jonas making such a
reference to such a book for such a purpose ? Does
any one doubt the old saw, that the Devil (being a
layman) quotes Scripture for his own ends ? If he
will take the trouble to look about him, he may
find a greater number of confirmations of the fact,
in the occurrences of any single day, than the
steam-gun can discharge balls in a minute.



MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 265

" But there's enough of my father," said Jonas ;
" it's of no use to go putting one's self out of the
way by talking about him. I called to ask you to
come and take a walk, cousin, and see some of the
sights ; and to come to our house afterwards, and
have a bit of something. Pecksniff will most likely
look in in the evening, he says, and bring you home.
See, here's his writing ; I made him put it down
this morning, when he told me he shouldn't be back
before I came here ; in case you wouldn't believe
me. There's nothing like proof, is there ? Ha,
ha ! I say — you'll bring the other one, you know ! "

Miss Charity cast her eyes upon her father's auto-
graph, which merely said — " Go, my children, with
your cousin. Let there be union among us when it
is possible ; " and after enough of hesitation to
impart a proper value to her consent, withdrew, to
prepare her sister and herself for the excursion.
She soon returned, accompanied by Miss Mercy,
who was by no means pleased to leave the brilliant
triumphs of Todgers's for the society of Mr. Jonas
and his respected father.

" Aha ! " cried Jonas. " There you are, are you ? "

" Yes, fright," said Mercy, " here I am ; and I
would much rather be anywhere else, I assure you."

" You don't mean that," cried Mr. Jonas. *' You
can't, you know. It isn't possible."

"You can have what opinion you like, fright,"
retorted Mercy. " I am content to keep mine ; and
mine is that you are a very unpleasant, odious, dis-
agreeable person." Here she laughed heartily, and
seemed to enjoy herself very much.

" Oh, you're a sharp gal ! " said Mr. Jonas.
" She's a regular teaser, ain't she, cousin ? "



266 MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT.

Miss Charity replied in effect, that she was un-
able to say what the habits and propensities of a
regular teaser might be, and that even if she pos-
sessed such information it would ill become her to
admit the existence of any creature with such an
unceremonious name in her family ; far less in the
person of a beloved sister, " whatever," added Cherry,
with an angry glance, " whatever her real nature
may be."

" Well, my dear ! " said Merry, " the only obser-
vation I have to make is, that if we don't go out at
once, I shall certainly take my bonnet off again,
and stay at home."

This threat had the desired effect of preventing
any further altercation, for Mr. Jonas immediately
proposed an adjournment, and the same being car-
ried unanimously, they departed from the house
straightway. On the doorstep, Mr. Jonas gave an
arm to each cousin ; which act of gallantry being
observed by Bailey junior, from the garret window,
was by him saluted with a loud and violent fit of
coughing, to which paroxysm he was still the victim
when they turned the corner.

Mr. Jonas inquired in the first instance if they
were good walkers, and being answered " Yes,"
submitted their pedestrian powers to a pretty severe
test ; for he showed them as many sights, in the
way of bridges, churches, streets, outsides of thea-
tres, and other free spectacles, in that one forenoon,
as most people see in a twelvemonth. It was ob-
servable in this gentleman that he had an insur-
mountable distaste to the inside of buildings ; and
that he was perfectly acquainted with the merits
of all shows, in respect of which there was any



MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 267

charge for admission, which it seemed were every-
one detestable, and of the very lowest grade of
merit. He was so thoroughly possessed with this
opinion, that when Miss Charity happened to men-
tion the circumstance of their having been twice or
thrice to the theatre with Mr. Jinkins and party, he
inquired, as a matter of course, " where the orders
came from ? " and being told Mr. Jinkins and party
paid, was beyond description entertained, observing
that " they must be nice flats, certainly ; " and
often in the course of the walk, bursting out again
into a perfect convulsion of laughter at the surpris-
ing silliness of those gentlemen, and (doubtless) at
his own superior wisdom.

When they had been out for some hours and were
thoroughly fatigued, it being by that time twilight,
Mr. Jonas intimated that he would show them one
of the best pieces of fun with which he was ac-
quainted. This joke was of a practical kind, and
its humor lay in taking a hackney coach to the
extreme limits of possibility for a shilling. Hap-
pily it brought them to the place where Mr. Jonas
dwelt, or the young ladies might have rather missed
the point and cream of the jest.

The old established firm of Anthony Chuzzlewit
and Son, Manchester Warehousemen, and so forth,
had its place of business in a very narrow street
somewhere behind the Post Office; where every
house was in the brightest summer morning very
gloomy ; and where light porters watered the pave-
ment, each before his own employer's premises, in
fantastic patterns in the dog-days ; and where spruce
gentlemen with their hands in the pockets of sym-
metrical trousers, were always to be seen in warm



268 MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT.

weather, contemplating their undeniable boots in
dusty warehouse doorways, which appeared to be
the hardest work they did, except now and then
carrying pens behind their ears. A dim, dirty,
smoky, tumble-down, rotten old house it was, as
anybody would desire to see : but there the firm of
Anthony Chuzzlewit and Son transacted all their
business and their pleasure too, such as it was : for
neither the young man nor the old had any other
residence, or any care or thought beyond its narrow
limits.

Business, as may be readily supposed, was the
main thing in this establishment ; insomuch indeed
that it shouldered comfort out of doors, and jostled
the domestic arrangements at every turn. Thus in
the miserable bedrooms there were files of moth-
eaten letters hanging up against the walls ; and
linen rollers, and fragments of old patterns, and
odds and ends of spoiled goods, strewn upon the
ground ; while the meagre bedsteads, washing-stands,
and scraps of carpet, were huddled away into cor-
ners as objects of secondary consideration, not to be
thought of but as disagreeable necessities, furnish-
ing no profit, and intruding on the one affair of life.
The single sitting-room was on the same principle,
a chaos of boxes and old papers, and had more count-
ing-house stools in it than chairs : not to mention a
great monster of a desk straddling over the middle
of the floor, and an iron safe sunk into the wall
above the fireplace. The solitary little table for the
purposes of refection and social enjoyment bore as
fair a proportion to the desk and other business fur-
niture, as the graces and harmless relaxations of life
had ever done, in the persons of the old man and his



MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 269

son, to their pursuit of wealth. It was meanly laid
out, now, for dinner ; and iu a chair before the fire
sat Anthony himself, who rose to greet his son and
his fair cousins as they entered.

An ancient proverb warns us that we should not
expect to find old heads upon young shoulders ; to
which it may be added that we seldom meet with
that unnatural combination, but we feel a strong
desire to knock them off ; merely from an inherent
love of seeing things in their right places. It is not
improbable that many men, in no wise choleric by
nature, felt this impulse rising up within them, when
they first made the acquaintance of Mr. Jonas ; but
if they had known him more intimately in his own
house, and had sat with him at his own board, it
would assuredly have been paramount to all other
considerations.

" Well, ghost ! " said Mr. Jonas, dutifully address-
ing his parent by that title. " Is dinner nearly
ready ? "

'' I should think it was," rejoined the old man.

" What's the good of that ? " rejoined the son.
"/ should think it was. I want to know."

" Ah ! I don't know for certain," said Anthony.

" You don't know for certain," rejoined his son in
a lower tone. " No. You don't know anything for
certain, you don't. Give me your candle here. I
want it for the gals."

Anthony handed him a battered old office candle-
stick, with which Mr. Jonas preceded the young
ladies to the nearest bedroom, where he left them to
take off their shawls and bonnets ; and returning,
occupied himself in opening a bottle of wine, sharp-
ening the carving-knife, and muttering compliments



270 MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT.

to his father, until they and the dinner appeared
together. The repast consisted of a hot leg of
mutton with greens and potatoes ; and the dishes
having been set upon the table by a slipshod old
woman, they were left to enjoy it after their own
manner.

" Bachelor's Hall, you know, cousin," said Mr.
Jonas to Charity. "I say — the other one will be
having a laugh at this when she gets home, won't
she? Here; you sit on the right side of me, and
I'll have her upon the left. Other one, will you
come here ? "

" You're such a fright," replied Mercy, " that I
know I shall have no appetite if I sit so near you;
but I suppose I must."

" Ain't she lively ? " whispered Mr, Jonas to the
elder sister, with his favorite elbow emphasis.

" Oh, I really don't know ! " replied Miss Peck-
sniff tartly. " I am tired of being asked such ridic-
ulous questions."

" What's that precious old father of mine about
now ? " said Mr. Jonas, seeing that his parent was
travelling up and down the room, instead of taking
his seat at table. " What are you looking for ? "

" I've lost my glasses, Jonas," said old Anthony.

" Sit down without your glasses, can't you ? " re-
turned his sou. " You don't eat or drink out of 'em,
I think ; and where's that sleepy -headed old Chuffey
got to ? Now, stupid. Oh ! you know your name,
do you ? "

It would seem that he didn't, for he didn't come
until the father called. As he spoke, the door of a
small glass office, which was partitioned off from the
rest of the room, was slowly opened, and a little



MARTIK CHUZZLEWIT. 271

blear-eyed, weazen-faced, ancient man came creeping
out. He was of a remote fasliion, and dusty, like
the rest of the furniture ; he was dressed in a de-
cayed suit of black ; with breeches garnished at the
knees with rusty wisps of ribbon, the very paupers
of shoe-strings ; on the lower portion of his spindle
legs were dingy worsted stockings of the same color.
He looked as if he had been put away and forgotten
half a century before, and somebody had just found
him in a lumber closet.

Such as he was, he came slowly creeping on
towards the table, until at last he crept into the
vacant chair, from which, as his dim faculties be-
came conscious of the presence of strangers, and
those strangers ladies, he rose again, apparently in-
tending to make a bow. But he sat down once
more, without having made it, and breathing on his
shrivelled hands to warm them, remained with his
poor blue nose immovable above his plate, looking
at notliing, with eyes that saw nothing, and a face
that meant nothing. Take him in that state, and
he was an embodiment of nothing. Nothing else.

" Our clerk," said Mr. Jonas, as host and master
of the ceremonies. " Old Chuffey."

" Is he deaf ? " inquired one of the young ladies.

" No, I don't know that he is. He ain't deaf, is
he, father ? "

" I never heard him say he was," replied the old
man.

" Blind ? " inquired the young ladies.

" N — no. I never understood that he was at all
blind," said Jonas carelessly. " You don't consider
him so, do you, father ? "

'• Certainly not/' replied Anthony.



272 MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT.

" What is he, then ? "

" Why, I'll tell you what he is," said Mr. Jonas,
apart to the young ladies, " he's precious old, for one
thing ; and I ain't best pleased with him for that,
for I think my father must have caught it of him.
He's a strange old chap, for another," he added in a
louder voice, " and don't understand any one hardly,
but ?iim ! " He pointed to his honored parent with
the carving-fork, in order that they might know
whom he meant.

" How very strange ! " cried the sisters.

" Why, you see," said Mr. Jonas, " he's been ad-
dling his old brains with figures and book-keeping
all his life ; and twenty years ago or so he went and
took a fever. All the time he was out of his head
(which was three weeks) he never left off casting
up ; and he got to so many million at last that I
don't believe he's ever been quite right since. We
don't do much business now, though, and he ain't a
bad clerk."

" A very good one," said Anthony.

" Well ! He ain't a dear one at all events," ob-
served Jonas; "and he earns his salt, which is
enough for our lookout. I was telling you that he
hardly understands any one except my father ; he
always understands him, though, and wakes up
quite wonderful. He's been used to his ways so
long, you see ! Why, I've seen him play whist,
with my father for a partner, and a good rubber
too; when he had no more notion what sort of
people he was playing against than you have."

" Has he no appetite ? " asked Merry.

" Oh, yes," said Jonas, plying his own knife and
fork very fast. " He eats — when he's helped.



MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 273

But he don't care whether he waits a minute or an
hour, as long as father's here ; so when I'm at all
sharp set, as I am to-day, I come to him after I've
taken the edge off my own hunger, you know.
Now, Chuffey, stupid, are you ready ? "

Chuffey remained immovable.

"Always a perverse old file, he was," said Mr.
Jonas, coolly helping himself to another slice.
"Ask him, father."

" Are you ready for your dinner, Chuffey ? "
asked the old man.

" Yes, yes," said Chuffey, lighting up into a sen-
tient human creature at the first sound of the
voice, so that it was at once a curious and quite a
moving sight to see him. " Yes, yes. Quite ready,
Mr. Chuzzlewit. Quite ready, sir. All ready, all
ready, all ready." With that he stopped, smilingly,
and listened for some further address ; but being
spoken to no more, the light forsook his face by
little and little, until he was nothing again.

"He'll be very disagreeable, mind," said Jonas,
addressing his cousins as he handed the old man's
portion to his father. " He always chokes himself
when it ain't broth. Look at him, now ! Did you
ever see a horse with such a wall-eyed expression
as he's got ? If it hadn't been for the joke of it, I
wouldn't have let him come in to-day ; but I thought
he'd amuse you."

The poor old subject of this humane speech was,
happily for himself, as unconscious of its purport,
as of most other remarks that were made in his
presence. But the mutton being tough and his
gums weak, he quickly verified the statement rela-
tive to his choking propensities, and underwent so

VOL. I.-18.



274 MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT.

much in his attempts to dine, that Mr. Jonas was
infinitely amused; protesting that he had seldom
seen him better company in all his life, and that
he was enough to make a man split his sides with
laughing. Indeed, he went so far as to assure the
sisters, that in this point of view he considered
Chuffey superior to his own father : which, as he
significantly added, was saying a great deal.

It was strange enough that Anthony Chuzzlewit,
himself so old a man, should take a pleasure in
these gibings of his estimable son, at the expense of
the poor shadow at their table. But he did, un-
questionably : though not so much — to do him
justice — with reference to their ancient clerk, as
in exultation at the sharpness of Jonas. For the
same reason, that young man's coarse allusions, even
to himself, filled him with a stealthy glee : causing
him to rub his hands and chuckle covertly, as if h^
said in his sleeve, " / taught him. I trained him.
This is the heir of my bringing-up. Sly, cunning,
and covetous, he'll not squander my money. I
worked for this ; I hoped for this ; it has been the
great end and aim of my life."

What a noble end and aim it was to contemplate
in the attainment, truly ! But there be some who
manufacture idols after the fashion of themselves,
and fail to worship them when they are made ;
charging their deformity on outraged nature. An-
thony was better than these at any rate.

Chuffey boggled over his plate so long, that Mr.
Jonas, losing patience, took it from him at last with
his own hands, and requested his father to signify
to that venerable person that he had better "peg
away at his bread : " which Anthony did.



MAKTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 275

"Ay, ay !" cried the old man, brightening up as
before, when this was communicated to him in the
same voice ; " quite right, quite right. He's your
own son, Mr. Chuzzlewit ! Bless him for a sharp
lad ! Bless him, bless him ! "

Mr. Jonas considered this so particularly childish,
perhaps with some reason — that he only laughed
the more, and told his cousins that he was afraid
one of these fine days Chuffey would be the death of
him. The cloth was then removed, and the bottle
of wine set upon the table, from which Mr. Jonas
filled the young ladies' glasses, calling on them not
to spare it, as they might be certain there was
plenty more where that came from. But, he added
with some haste after this sally, that it was only
his joke, and they wouldn't suppose him to be in


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

Online LibraryCharles DickensDicken's works (Volume 27) → online text (page 18 of 28)