Charles Dickens.

Dicken's works (Volume 27) online

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


blame for it, and not the new 'un. There's an end
of that. Now, if Mr. Jefferson Brick and you will
be so good as clear, I'll come out last, and lock the
door."

Rightly interpreting this as the signal for their
departure, Martin walked downstairs after the war
correspondent, who preceded him with great majesty.
The colonel following, they left the Eowdy Journal
Office, and walked forth into the streets : Martin
feeling doubtful whether he ought to kick the
colonel for having presumed to speak to him, or
whether it came within the bounds of possibility
that he and his establishment could be among the
boasted usages of that regenerated land.

It was clear that Colonel Diver, in the securitj'" of
his strong position, and in his perfect understanding
of the public sentiment, cared very little what
Martin or anybody else thought about him. His
high-spiced wares were made to sell, and they sold ;
VOL. I.-26.



402 MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT.

and his thousands of readers could as rationally
charge their delight in filth upon him, as a glutton
can shift upon his cook the responsibility of his
beastly excess. Nothing would have delighted the
colonel more than to be told that no such man as he
could walk in high success the streets of any other
country in the world : for that would only have been
a logical assurance to him of the correct adaptation
of his labors to the prevailing taste, and of his
being strictly and peculiarly a national feature of
America.

They walked a mile or more along a handsome
street which the colonel said was called Broad-
way, and which Mr. Jefferson Brick said " whipped
the universe." Turning, at length, into one of
the numerous streets which branched from this
main thoroughfare, they stopped before a rather
mean-looking house with jalousie blinds to every
window; a flight of steps before the green street-
door; a shining white ornament on the rails on
either side like a petrified pineapple, polished; a
little oblong plate of the same material over the
knocker, whereon the name of <'Pawkins" was
engraved; and four accidental pigs looking down
the area.

The colonel knocked at this house with the air of
a man who lived there; and an Irish girl popped
her head out of one of the top windows to see who
it was. Pending her journey downstairs, the pigs
were joined by two or three friends from the next
street, in company with whom they lay down
sociably in the gutter.

" Is the major in-doors ? " inquired the colonel, as
he entered.



MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 403

" Is it the master, sir ? " returned the girl, with a
hesitation which seemed to imply tliat they were
rather flush of majors in that establishment.

" The master ! " said Colonel Diver, stopping
short and looking round at his war correspondent.

" Oh ! The depressing institutions of that Brit-
ish empire, colonel ! " said Jefferson Brick. " Mas-
ter ! "

" What's the matter with the word ? " asked
Martin.

" I should hope it was never heard in our coun-
try, sir : that's all," said Jefferson Brick : " except
when it is used by some degraded Help, as new to
the blessings of our form of government, as this
Help is. There are no masters here."

" All ' owners,' are they ? " said Martin.

Mr. Jefferson Brick followed in the Rowdy Jour-
nal's footsteps without returning any answer. Mar-
tin took the same course, thinking, as he went, that
perhaps the free and independent citizens, who, in
their moral elevation, owned the colonel for their
master, might render better homage to the goddess
Liberty, in nightly dreams upon the oven of a
Russian Serf.

The colonel led the way into a room at the back
of the house upon the ground-floor, light, and of fair
dimensions, but exquisitely uncomfortable : having
nothing in it but the four cold white walls and ceil-
ing, a mean carpet, a dreary waste of dining-table
reaching from end to end, and a bewildering collec-
tion of cane-bottoraed chairs. In the further region
of this banqueting-hall was a stove, garnished on
either side with a great brass spittoon, and shaped
in itself like three little iron barrels set up on end



404 IMAKTIN CHUZZLEWIT.

in a fender, and joined together on the principle of
the Siamese Twins. Before it, swinging himself in
a rocking-chair, lounged a large gentleman with his
hat on, who amused himself by spitting alternately
into the spittoon on the right hand of the stove, and
the spittoon on the left, and then working his way
back again in the same order. A negro lad in a
soiled white jacket was busily engaged in placing
on the table two long rows of knives and forks,
relieved at intervals by jugs of water: and as he
travelled down one side of this festive board, he
straightened with his dirty hands the dirtier cloth,
which was all askew, and had not been removed
since breakfast. The atmosphere of this room was
rendered intensely hot and stifling by the stove ;
but being further flavored by a sickly gush of soup
from the kitchen, and by such remote suggestions
of tobacco as lingered within the brazen receptacles
already mentioned, it became, to a stranger's senses,
almost insupportable.

The gentleman in the rocking-chair having his
back towards them, and being much engaged in his
intellectual pastime, was not aware of their ap-
proach until the colonel walking up to the stove,
contributed his mite towards the support of the
left-hand spittoon, just as the major — for it was
the major — bore down upon it. Major Pawkins
then reserved his fire, and looking upwards, said,
with a peculiar air of quiet weariness, like a man
who had been up all night — an air which Martin
had already observed both in the colonel and Mr.
Jefferson Brick —

« Well, colonel ! "

"Here is a gentleman from England, major," the



MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 405

colonel replied, " who has concluded to locate him-
self here if the amount of compensation suits him."

" I am glad to see you, sir," observed the major,
shaking hands with Martin, and not moving a
muscle of his face. "You are pretty bright, I
hope ? "

" Never better," said Martin.

" You are never likely to be," returned the major.
"You will see the sun shine hereP

" I think I remember to have seen it shine at
home sometimes," said Martin, smiling.

"I think not," replied the major. He said so
with a stoical indifference certainly, but still in a
tone of firmness which admitted of no further dis-
pute on that point. When he had thus settled the
question, he put his hat a little on one side for the
greater convenience of scratching his head, and
saluted Mr. Jefferson Brick with a lazy nod.

Major Pawkins (a gentleman of Pennsylvanian
origin) was distinguished by a very large skull, and
a great mass of yellow forehead; in deference to
which commodities, it was currently held in bar-
rooms and other such places of resort, that the
major was a man of huge sagacity. He was further
to be known by a heavy eye and a dull slow man-
ner ; and for being a man of that kind who —
mentally speaking — requires a deal of room to
turn himself in. But, in trading on his stock of
wisdom, he invariably proceeded on the principle
of putting all the goods he had (and more) into his
window ; and that went a great way with his con-
stituency of admirers. It went a great way, per-
haps, with Mr. Jefferson Brick, who took occasion
to whisper in Martin's ear, —



406 MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT.

" One of the most remarkable men in our country,
sir ! "

It must not be supposed, however, that the per-
petual exhibition in the market-place of all his
stock in trade for sale or hire was the major's sole
claim to a very large share of sympathy and sup-
port. He was a great politician ; and the one article
of his creed, in reference to all public obligations
involving the good faith and integrity of his coun-
try, was, " run a moist pen slick through everything,
and start fresh." This made him a patriot. In
commercial affairs he was a bold speculator. In
plainer words, he had a most distinguished genius
for swindling, and could start a bank, or negotiate
a loan, or form a land-jobbing company (entailing
ruin, pestilence, and death, on hundreds of fami-
lies), with any gifted creature in the Union. This
made him an admirable man of business. He could
hang about a bar-room discussing the affairs of the
nation, for twelve hours together ; and in that time
could hold forth with more intolerable dulness, chew
more tobacco, smoke more tobacco, drink more rum-
toddy, mint-julep, gin-sling, and cocktail, than any
private gentleman of his acquaintance. This made
him an orator and a man of the people. In a word,
the major was a rising character, and a popular
character, and was in a fair way to be sent by the
popular party to the State House of New York, if
not in the end to Washington itself. But as a man's
private prosperity does not always keep pace with
his patriotic devotion to public affairs ; and as fraud-
ulent transactions have their downs as well as ups ;
the major was occasionally under a cloud. Hence,
just now, Mrs. Pawkins kept a boarding-house, and



MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 407

Major Pawkins rather " loafed " his time away than
otherwise.

"You have come to visit our country, sir, at a
season of great commercial depression," said the
major.

" At an alarming crisis," said the colonel.

" At a period of unprecedented stagnation," said
Mr. Jefferson Brick.

" I am sorry to hear that," returned Martin. "It's
not likely to last, I hope ? "

Martin knew nothing about America, or he would
have known perfectly well that if its individual
citizens, to a man, are to be believed, it always is
depressed, and always is stagnated, and always is at
an alarming crisis, and never was otherwise ; though
as a body they are ready to make oath upon the
Evangelists at any hour of the day or night, that it
is the, most thriving and prosperous of all countries
on the habitable globe.

" It is not likely to last, I hope ? " said Martin.

" Well ! " returned the major, " I expect we shall
get along somehow, and come right in the end."

" We are an elastic country," said the Eowdy
Journal.

" We are a young lion," said Mr. Jefferson Brick.

"We have revivifying and vigorous principles
within ourselves," observed the major. " Shall we
drink a bitter afore dinner, colonel ? "

The colonel assenting to this proposal with great
alacrity. Major Pawkins proposed an adjournment
to a neighboring bar-room, which, as he observed,
was "only in the next block," He then referred
Martin to Mrs. Pawkins for all particulars con-
nected with the rate of board and lodging, and in-



408 MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT.

formed him that he would have the pleasure of
seeing that lady at dinner, which would soon be
ready, as the dinner hour was two o'clock, and it
only wanted a quarter now. This reminded him
that if the bitter were to be taken at all, there was
no time to lose ; so he walked off without more ado,
and left them to follow if they thought proper.

When the major rose from his rocking-chair be-
fore the stove, and so disturbed the hot air and
balmy whiff of soup which fanned their brows, the
odor of stale tobacco became so decidedly prevalent,
as to leave no doubt of its proceeding mainly from
that gentleman's attire. Indeed, as Martin walked
behind him to the bar-room, he could not help
thinking that the great square major, in his list-
lessness and languor, looked very much like a stale
weed himself : such as might be hoed out of the
public garden, with great advantage to the decent
growth of that preserve, and tossed on some con-
genial dunghill.

They encountered more weeds in the bar-room,
some of whom (being thirsty souls as well as dirty)
were pretty stale in one sense and pretty fresh in
another. Among them was a gentleman who, as
Martin gathered from the conversation that took
place over the bitter, started that afternoon for the
Far West on a six months' business tour ; and who,
as his outfit and equipment for this journey, had
just such another shiny hat and just such another
little pale valise, as had composed the luggage of the
gentleman who came from England in the Screw.

They were walking back very leisurely; Martin
arm in arm with Mr. Jefferson Brick, and the major
and the colonel side by side before them ; when, as



MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 409

they came within a house or two of the major's
residence, they heard a bell ringing violently. The
instant this sound struck upon their ears, the colo-
nel and the major darted off, dashed up the steps
and in at the street-door (which stood ajar) like
lunatics ; while Mr, Jefferson Brick, detaching his
arm from Martin's, made a precipitate dive in the
same direction, and vanished also.

" Good Heaven ! " thought Martin, " the premises
are on fire ! it was an alarm-bell ! "

But there was no smoke to be seen, nor any flame,
nor was there any smell of fire. As Martin faltered
on the pavement, three more gentlemen, with horror
and agitation depicted in their faces, came plunging
wildly round the street corner ; jostled each other
on the steps; struggled for an instant; and rushed
into the house, in a confused heap of arms and legs.
Unable to bear it any longer, Martin followed.
Even in his rapid progress, he was run down, thrust
aside, and passed, by two more gentlemen, stark
mad, as it appeared, with fierce excitement.

" Where is it ? " cried Martin breathlessly, to a
negro whom he encountered in the passage.

" In a eatin room sa. 'Kernel sa, him kep a seat
'side himself sa."

" A seat ! " cried Martin.

" For a dinnar sa."

Martin stared at him for a moment, and burst
into a hearty laugh ; to which the negro, out of his
natural good-humor and desire to please, so heartily
responded, that his teeth shone like a gleam of
light. " You're the pleasantest fellow I have seen
yet," said Martin, clapping him on the back, " and
give me a better appetite than bitters."



410 MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT.

With this sentiment he walked into the dining-
room and slipped into a chair next the colonel,
which that gentleman (by this time nearly through
his dinner) had turned down, in reserve for him,
with its back against the table.

It was a numerous company — eighteen or twenty,
perhaps. Of these some five or six were ladies, who
sat wedged together, in a little phalanx by them-
selves. All the knives and forks were working
away at a rate that was quite alarming; very few
words were spoken ; and everybody seemed to eat
his utmost in self-defence, as if a famine were ex-
pected to set in before breakfast-time to-morrow
morning, and it had become high time to assert the
first law of nature. The poultry, which may per-
haps be considered to have formed the staple of the
entertainment — for there was a turkey at the top,
a pair of ducks at the bottom, and two fowls in the
middle — disappeared as rapidly as if every bird
had had the use of its wings, and had flown in des-
peration down a human throat. The oysters, stewed
and pickled, leaped from their capacious reservoirs,
and slid by scores into the mouths of the assembly.
The sharpest pickles vanished, whole cucumbers at
once, like sugar-plums, and no man winked his eye.
Great heaps of indigestible matter melted away
as ice before the sun. It was a solemn and an
awful thing to see. Dyspeptic individuals bolted
their food in wedges ; feeding, not themselves, but
broods of nightmares, who were continually stand-
ing at livery within them. Spare men, with lank
and rigid cheeks, came out unsatisfied from the de-
struction of heavy dishes, and glared with watchful
eyes upon the pastry. What Mrs. Pawkins felt each



Mj^PvTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 411

day at dinner-time is hidden from all human knowl-
edge. But she had one comfort. It was very soon
over.

When the colonel had finished his dinner, which
event took place while Martin, who had sent his
plate for some turkey, was waiting to begin, he
asked him what he thought of the boarders, who
were from all parts of the Union, and whether he
would like to know any particulars concerning them.

"Pray," said Martin, "who is that sickly little
girl opposite, with the tight round eyes ? I don't
see anybody here, who looks like her mother, or
who seems to have charge of her."

" Do you mean the matron in blue, sir ? " asked
the colonel, with emphasis. "That is Mrs. Jeffer-
son Brick, sir."

"No, no," said Martin, "I mean the little girl,
like a doll — directly opposite."

" Well, sir ! " cried the colonel. " That is Mrs.
Jefferson Brick."

Martin glanced at the colonel's face, but he was
quite serious.

" Bless my soul ! I suppose there will be a young
Brick then, one of these days ? " said Martin.

"There are two young Bricks already, sir," re-
turned the colonel.

The matron looked so uncommonly like a child
herself, that Martin could not help saying as much.
"Yes, sir," returned the colonel, "but some institu-
tions develop human natur : others re — tard it."

"Jefferson Brick," he observed after a short
silence, in commendation of his correspondent, "is
one of the most remarkable men in our country,
sir ! "



412 MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT.

This had passed almost in a whisper, for the dis-
tinguished gentleman alluded to sat on Martin's
other hand.

"Pray, Mr. Brick," said Martin, turning to him,
and asking a question more for conversation's sake
than from any feeling of interest in its subject,
" who is that : " he was going to say " young," but
thought it prudent to eschew the word : " that very
short gentleman yonder, with the red nose ? "

"That is Pro — fessor Mullit, sir," replied Jef-
ferson.

"May I ask what he is Professor of?" asked
Martin.

" Of education, sir," said Jefferson Brick.

"A sort of schoolmaster, possibly ? " Martin ven-
tured to observe.

"He is a man of fine moral elements, sir, and not
commonly endowed," said the war correspondent.
" He felt it necessary, at the last election for Presi-
dent, to repudiate and denounce his father, who
voted on the wrong interest. He has since written
some powerful pamphlets, under the signature of
'Suturb,' or Brutus reversed. He is one of the
most remarkable men in our country, sir."

"There seem to be plenty of 'em," thought
Martin, "at any rate."

Pursuing his inquiries, Martin found that there
were no fewer than four majors present, two colo-
nels, one general, and a captain, so that he could
not help thinking how strongly officered the Ameri-
can militia must be; and wondering very much
whether the officers commanded each other; or if
they did not, where on earth the privates came
from. There seemed to be no man there without a



MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 413

title : for those who had not attained to military
honors were either doctors, professors, or reverends.
Three very hard and disagreeable gentlemen were
on missions from neighboring States ; one on mone-
tary aifairs, one on political, one on sectarian.
Among the ladies, there were Mrs. Pawkins, who
was very straight, bony, and silent ; and a wiry-
faced old damsel, who had strong sentiments touch-
ing the rights of women, and had diffused the same
in lectures ; but the rest were strangely devoid of
individual traits of character, insomuch that any
one of them might have changed minds with the
other, and nobody would have found it out. These,
by the way, were the only members of the party
who did not appear to be among the most remarka-
ble people in the country.

Several of the gentlemen got up, one by one,
and walked off as they swallowed their last morsel ;
pausing generally by the stove for a minute or so
to refresh themselves at the brass spittoons. A
few sedentary characters, however, remained at table
full a quarter of an hour, and did not rise until the
ladies rose, when all stood up.

" Where are they going ? " asked Martin, in the
ear of Mr. Jefferson Brick.

" To their bedrooms, sir."

" Is there no dessert, or other interval of conver-
sation ? " asked Martin, who was disposed to enjoy
himself after his long voyage.

" We are a busy people here, sir, and have no time
for that," was the reply.

So the ladies passed out in single file ; Mr. Jeffer-
son Brick and such other married gentlemen as were
left, acknowledging the departure of their other



414 MAETIN CHUZZLEWIT.

halves by a nod; and there was an end of them.
Martin thought this an uncomfortable custom, but
he kept his opinion to himself for the present,
being anxious to hear, and inform himself by,
the conversation of the busy gentlemen, who now
lounged about the stove, as if a great weight had
been taken off their minds by the withdrawal of
the other sex ; and who made a plentiful use of the
spittoons and their toothpicks.

It was rather barren of interest, to say the truth ;
and the greater part of it may be summed up in
one word — dollars. All their cares, hopes, joys,
affections, virtues, and associations, seemed to be
melted down into dollars. Whatever the chance
contributions that fell into the slow caldron of
their talk, they made the gruel thick and slab with
dollars. Men were weighed by their dollars, meas-
ures gauged by their dollars ; life was auctioneered,
appraised, put up, and knocked down for its dollars.
The next respectable thing to dollars was any ven-
ture having their attainment for its end. The more
of that worthless ballast, honor and fair-dealing,
which any man cast overboard from the ship of his
Good Name and Good Intent, the more ample
stowage-room he had for dollars. Make commerce
one huge lie and mighty theft. Deface the banner
of the nation for an idle rag ; pollute it star by
star; and cut out stripe by stripe as from the arm
of a degraded soldier. Do anything for dollars !
What is a flag to them?

One who rides at all hazards of limb and life in
the chase of a fox will prefer to ride recklessly at
most times. So it was with these gentlemen. He
was the greatest patriot, in their eyes, who brawled



MABTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 415

the loudest, and who cared the least for decency.
He was their champion, who in the brutal fury of
his own pursuit, could cast no stigma upon them,
for the hot knavery of theirs. Thus, Martin learned
in the five minutes' straggling talk about the stove,
that to carry pistols into legislative assemblies, and
swords in sticks, and other such peaceful toys ; to
seize opponents by the throat, as dogs or rats might
do ; to bluster, bully, and overbear by personal assail-
ment : were glowing deeds. Not thrusts and stabs
at Freedom, striking far deeper into her House of
Life than any sultan's scimitar could reach ; but
rare incense on her altars, having a grateful scent
in patriotic nostrils, and curling upward to the
seventh heaven of Fame.

Once or twice, when there was a pause, Martin
asked such questions as naturally occurred to him,
being a stranger, about the national poets, the thea-
tre, literature, and the arts. But the information
which these gentlemen were in a condition to give
him on such topics did not extend beyond the effu-
sions of such master-spirits of the time as Colonel
Diver, Mr. Jefferson Brick, and others ; renowned,
as it appeared, for excellence in the achievement
of a peculiar style of broadside-essay called "a
screamer."

'" We are a busy people, sir," said one of the cap-
tains, who was from the West, " and have no time
for reading mere notions. We don't mind 'em if
they come to us in newspapers along with almighty
strong stuff of another sort, but darn your books."

Here the general, who appeared to grow quite
faint at the bare thought of reading anything which
was neither mercantile nor political, and was not in



416 MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT.

a newspaper, inquired "if any gentleman would
drink some ? " Most of the company, considering
this a very choice and seasonable idea, lounged out,
one by one, to the bar-room in the next block.
Thence they probably went to their stores and
counting-houses ; thence to the bar-room again, to
talk once more of dollars, and enlarge their minds
with the perusal and discussion of screamers ; and
thence each man to snore in the bosom of his own
family.

" Which would seem," said Martin, pursuing the
current of his own thoughts, " to be the principal
recreation they enjoy in common." With that, he
fell a-musing again on dollars, demagogues, and
bar-rooms; debating within himself whether busy
people of this class were really as busy as they
claimed to be, or only had an inaptitude for social
and domestic pleasure.

It was a difficult question to solve ; and the mere
fact of its being strongly presented to his mind by


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 27

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