Charles Dickens.

Dicken's works (Volume 27) online

. (page 4 of 28)
Online LibraryCharles DickensDicken's works (Volume 27) → online text (page 4 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


appearance just what a landlady should be : broad,
buxom, comfortable, and good-looking, with a face
of clear red and white, which, by its jovial aspect,
at once bore testimony to her hearty participation
in the good things of the larder and cellar, and
to their thriving and healthful influences. She
was a widow, but years ago had passed through her
state of weeds, and burst into flower again ; and
in full bloom she had continued ever since ; and in
full bloom she was now ; with roses on her ample
skirts, and roses on her bodice, roses in her cap,
roses in her cheeks, — ay, and roses, worth the
gathering, too, on her lips, for that matter. She
had still a bright black eye and jet-black hair ; was
comely, dimpled, plump, and tight as a gooseberry ;
and though she was not exactly what the world
calls young, you may make an affidavit, on trust,
before any mayor or magistrate in Christendom,
that there are a great many young ladies in the
world (blessings on them, one and all !) whom you
wouldn't like half as well, or admire half as much,
as the beaming hostess of the Blue Dragon.

As this fair matron sat beside the fire, she glanced
occasionally, with all the pride of ownership, about
the room ; which was a large apartment, such as



MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 43

one may see in country places, with a low roof and
a sunken flooring, all down-hill from the door, and
a descent of two steps on the inside, so exquisitely
unexpected, that strangers, despite the most elabo-
rate cautioning, usually dived in head first, as into
a plunging-bath. It was none of your frivolous
and preposterously bright bedrooms, where nobody
can close an eye with any kind of propriety or
decent regard to the association of ideas ; but it
was a good, dull, leaden, drowsy place, where every
article of furniture reminded you that you came
there to sleep, and that you w^ere expected to go to
sleep. There was no wakeful reflection of the fire
there, as in your modern chambers, which upon the
darkest nights have a watchful consciousness of
French polish ; the old Spanish mahogany winked
at it now and then, as a dozing cat or dog might,
nothing more. The very size and shape, and hope-
less immovability, of the bedstead, and wardrobe,
and in a minor degree of even the chairs and tables,
provoked sleep ; they were plainly apoplectic and
disposed to snore. There were no staring portraits
to remonstrate with you for being lazy ; no round-
eyed birds upon the curtains, disgustingly wide
awake, and insufferably prying. The thick neutral
hangings, and the dark blinds, and the heavy heap
of bedclothes, were all designed to hold in sleep,
and act as non-conductors to the day and getting
up. Even the old stuffed fox upon the top of the
wardrobe was devoid of any spark of vigilance, for
his glass eye had fallen out, and he slumbered as he
stood.

The wandering attention of the mistress of the
Blue Dragon roved to these things but twice or



44 MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT.

thrice, and then for but an instant at a time. It
soon deserted them, and even the distant bed with its
strange burden, for the young creature immediately
before her, who, with her downcast eyes intently fixed
upon the fire, sat wrapped in silent meditation.

She was very young ; apparently not more than
seventeen ; timid and shrinking in her manner, and
yet with a greater share of self-possession and con-
trol over her emotions than usually belongs to a far
more advanced period of female life. This she
had abundantly shown, but now, in her tending of
the sick gentleman. She was short in stature ; and
her figure was slight, as became her years ; but all
the charms of youth and maidenhood set it off, and
clustered on her gentle brow. Her face was very
pale, in part, no doubt, from recent agitation. Her
dark brown hair, disordered from the same cause,
had fallen negligently from its bonds, and hung
upon her neck : for which instance of its wayward-
ness, no male observer would have had the heart to
blame it.

Her attire was that of a lady, but extremely
plain ; and in her manner, even when she sat as
still as she did then, there was an indefinable
something which appeared to be in kindred with
her scrupulously unpretending dress. She had sat
at first looking anxiously towards the bed ; but see-
ing that the patient remained quiet, and was busy
with his writing, she had softly moved her chair
into its present place : partly, as it seemed, from an
instinctive consciousness that he desired to avoid
observation ; and partly that she might, unseen by
him, give some vent to the natural feelings she had
hitherto suppressed.



MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 45

Of all this, and much more, the rosy landlady of
the Blue Dragon took as accurate note and observa-
tion as only woman can take of woman. And at
length she said, in a voice too low, she knew, to
reach the bed, —

" You have seen the gentleman in this way before,
miss ? Is he used to these attacks ? "

" I have seen him very ill before, but not so ill as
he has been to-night."

" What a Providence ! " said the landlady of the
Dragon, "that you had the prescriptions and the
medicines with you, miss ! "

" They are intended for such an emergency. We
never travel without them."

" Oh ! " thought the hostess, " then we are in the
habit of travelling, and of travelling together."

She was so conscious of expressing this in her
face, that meeting the young lady's eyes imme-
diately afterwards, and being a very honest hostess,
she was rather confused.

" The gentleman — your grandpapa," she resumed,
after a short pause, "being so bent on having no
assistance, must terrify you very much, miss ? "

" I have been very much alarmed to-night. He —
he is not my grandfather."

" Father, I should have said," returned the hostess,
sensible of having made an awkward mistake.

"Nor my father," said the young lady. "Nor,"
she added, slightly smiling with a quick perception
of what the landlady was going to add, "nor my
uncle. We are not related."

" Oh, dear me ! " returned the landlady, still more
embarrassed than before : " how could I be so very
much mistaken: knowing, as anybody in their



46 MAKTIN CHUZZLEWIT.

proper senses might, that when a gentleman is ill,
he looks so much older than he really is ! That I
should have called you ' Miss,' too, ma'am ! " But
when she had proceeded thus far, she glanced invol-
uutarily at the third finger of the young lady's left
hand, and faltered again : for there was no ring
upon it.

"When I told you we were not related," said the
other mildly, but not without confusion on her own
part, " I meant not in any way. Not even by mar-
riage. Did you call me, Martin ? "

" Call you ? " cried the old man, looking quickly
up, and hurriedly drawing beneath the coverlet the
paper on which he had been writing. " No."

She had moved a pace or two towards the bed,
but stopped immediately, and went no farther.

"No," he repeated, with a petulant emphasis.
" Why do you ask me ? If I had called you, what
need for such a question ? "

"It was the creaking of the sign outside, sir, I
dare say," observed the landlady : a suggestion, by
the way (as she felt a moment after she had made
it), not at all complimentary to the voice of the
old gentleman.

"No matter what, ma'am," he rejoined: "it
wasn't I. Why, how you stand there, Mary, as if I
had the plague ! But they're all afraid of me," he
added, leaning helplessly backward on his pillow,
"even she ! There is a curse upon me. What else
have I to look for ? "

"Oh, dear, no. Oh, no, I'm sure," said the good-
tempered landlady, rising, and going towards him.
" Be of better cheer, sir. These are only sick
fancies."



MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 47

"What are only sick fancies?" he retorted.
" What do you know about fancies ? Who told you
about fancies ? The old story ! Fancies ! "

" Only see again there, how you take one up ! "
said the mistress of the Blue Dragon, with unim-
paired good-humor. " Dear heart alive, there is no
harm in the word, sir, if it is an old one. Folks in
good health have their fancies too, and strange ones,
every day."

Harmless as this speech appeared to be, it acted
on the traveller's distrust like oil on fire. He raised
his head up in the bed, and, fixing on her two dark
eyes whose brightness was exaggerated by the pale-
ness of his hollow cheeks, as they in turn, together
with his straggling locks of long gray hair, were
rendered whiter by the tight black velvet skull-cap
which he wore, he searched her face intently.

" Ah ! you begin too soon," he said, in so low a
voice that he seemed to be thinking it, rather than
addressing her. "But you lose no time. You do
your errand, and you earn your fee. Now, who
may be your client ? "

The landlady looked in great astonishment at her
whom he called Mary, and finding no rejoinder in
the drooping face, looked back again at him. At
first she had recoiled involuntarily, supposing him
disordered in his mind; but the slow composure
of his manner, and the settled purpose announced
in his strong features, and gathering, most of all,
about his puckered mouth, forbade the supposition.

" Come," he said, " tell me who is it ? Being
here, it is not very hard for me to guess, you may
suppose."

" Martin," interposed the young lady, laying her



48 MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT.

hand upon his arm ; " reflect bow short a time we
have been in this house, and that even your name
is unknown here."

"Unless," he said, "you — " He was evidently
tempted to express a suspicion of her having broken
his confidence in favor of the landlady, but either
remembering her tender nursing, or being moved in
some sort by her face, he checked himself, and
changing his uneasy posture in the bed, was
silent.

"There ! " said Mrs. Lupin : for in that name the
Blue Dragon was licensed to furnish entertainment,
both to man and beast. "Now, you will be well
again, sir. You forgot, for the moment, that there
were none but friends here."

" Oh ! " cried the old man, moaning impatiently,
as he tossed one restless arm upon the coverlet,
"why do you talk to me of friends ? Can you or
anybody teach me to know who are my friends, and
who my enemies ?"

"At least," urged Mrs. Lupin gently, "this young
lady is your friend, I'm sure."

"She has no temptation to be otherwise," cried
the old man, like one whose hope and confidence
were utterly exhausted. " I suppose she is. Heaven
knows. There : let me try to sleep. Leave the
candle where it is."

As they retired from the bed, he drew forth the
writing which had occupied him so long, and, hold-
ing it in the flame of the taper, burned it to ashes.
That done, he extinguished the light, and turning
his face away with a heavy sigh, drew the coverlet
about his head, and lay quite still.

This destruction of the paper, both as being



MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 49

strangely inconsistent with the labor he had devoted
to it and as involving considerable danger of fire to
the Dragon, occasioned Mrs. Lupin not a little con-
sternation. But the young lady evincing no sur-
prise, curiosity, or alarm, whispered her, with many
thanks for her solicitude and company, that she
would remain there some time longer ; and that she
begged her not to share her watch, as she was well
used to being alone, and would pass the time in
reading.

Mrs. Lupin had her full share and dividend of
that large capital of curiosity which is inherited by
her sex, and at another time it might have been
difficult so to impress this hint upon her as to
induce her to take it. But now, in sheer wonder
and amazement at these mysteries, she withdrew at
once, and repairing straightway to her own little
parlor below-stairs, sat down in her easy-chair with
unnatural composure. At this very crisis, a step
was heard in the entry, and Mr. Pecksniff, looking
sweetly over the half-door of the bar, and into the
vista of snug privacy beyond, murmured, —

*' Good-evening, Mrs. Lupin."

" Oh, dear me, sir ! " she cried, advancing to
receive him, " I am so very glad you have come."

*'And / am very glad I have come," said Mr.
Pecksniff, " if I can be of service. I am very glad
I have come. What is the matter, Mrs. Lupin ? "

" A gentleman taken ill upon the road has been
so very bad upstairs, sir," said the tearful hostess.

" A gentleman taken ill upon the road has been
so very bad upstairs, has he ? " repeated Mr. Peck-
sniff. " Well, well ! "

Now there was nothing that one may call decid-

VOL. I.-4.



50 MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT.

edly original in this remark, nor can it be exactly-
said to have contained any wise precept theretofore
unknown to mankind, or to have opened any hidden
source of consolation : but Mr. Pecksniff's manner
was so bland, and he nodded his head so soothingly,
and showed in everything such an affable sense of
his own excellence, that anybody would have been,
as Mrs. Lupin was, comforted by the mere voice
and presence of such a man ; and though he had
merely said " a verb must agree with its nominative
case in number and person, my good friend," or
" eight times eight are sixty-four, my worthy soul,"
must have felt deeply grateful to him for his
humanity and wisdom.

"And how," asked Mr. Pecksniff, drawing oft" his
gloves and warming his hands before the fire, as
benevolently as if they were somebody else's, not
his : " and how is he now ? "

" He is better, and quite tranquil," answered Mrs.
Lupin.

" He is better, and quite tranquil," said Mr.
Pecksniff. " Very well ! ve-ry well ! "

Here again, though the statement was Mrs.
Lupin's and not Mr. Pecksniff's, Mr. Pecksniff
made it his own and consoled her with it. It was
not much when Mrs. Lupin said it, but it was a
whole book when Mr. Pecksniff said it. "/ ob-
serve," he seemed to say, " and, through me, morality
in general remarks, that he is better and quite
tranquil."

"There must be weighty matters on his mind,
though," said the hostess, shaking her head, " for
he talks, sir, in the strangest way you ever heard.
He is far from easy in his thoughts, and wants



MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 51

some proper advice from those whose goodness
makes it worth his having."

"Then," said Mr, Pecksniff, "he is the sort of
customer for me." But though he said this in the
plainest language, he didn't speak a word. He
only shook his head : disparagingly of himself too.

" I am afraid, sir," continued the landlady, first
looking round to assure herself that there was
nobody within hearing, and then looking down
upon the floor — "I am very much afraid, sir, that
his conscience is troubled by his not being related
— or — or even married to — a very young lady — "

"Mrs. Lupin!" said Mr. Pecksniff, holding up
his hand with something in his manner as nearly
approaching to severity as any expression of his,
mild being that he was, could ever do. " Person !
young person ! "

"A very young person," said Mrs. Lupin, court-
esying and blushing : " I beg your pardon, sir, but
I have been so hurried to-night, that I don't know
what I say — who is with him now."

" Who is with him now," ruminated Mr. Pecksniff,
warming his back (as he had warmed his hands) as
if it were a widow's back, or an orphan's back, or
an enemy's back, or a back that any less excellent
man would have suffered to be cold. " Oh, dear me,
dear me ! "

"At the same time I am bound to say, and I do
say with all my heart," observed the hostess
earnestly, " that her looks and manner almost dis-
arm suspicion."

"Your suspicion, Mrs. Lupin," said Mr. Peck-
sniff gravely, " is very natural."

Touching which remark, let it be written down



52 MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT.

to their confusion, that the enemies of this worthy
man unblushingly maintained that he always said
of what was very bad, that it was very natural :
and that he unconsciously betrayed his own nature
in doing so.

"Your suspicion, Mrs. Lupin," he repeated, "is
very natural, and I have no doubt correct. I will
wait upon these travellers."

With that he took off his great-coat, and having
run his fingers through his hair, thrust one hand
gently in the bosom of his waistcoat and meekly
signed to her to lead the way.

" Shall I knock ? " asked Mrs. Lupin, when they
reached the chamber door.

" No," said Mr. Pecksniff, " enter if you please."

They went in on tiptoe: or rather the hostess
took that precaution, for Mr. Pecksniff always
walked softly. The old gentleman was still asleep,
and his young companion still sat reading by the
fire.

"I am afraid," said Mr. Pecksniff, pausing at the
door, and giving his head a melancholy roll, "I am
afraid that this looks artful. I am afraid, Mrs.
Lupin, do you know, that this looks very artful ! "

As he finished this whisper, he advanced, before
the hostess ; and at the same time the young lady,
hearing footsteps, rose. Mr. Pecksniff glanced at
the volume she held, and whispered Mrs. Lupin
again : if possible, with increased despondency.

" Yes, ma'am," he said, " it is a good book. I
was fearful of that beforehand. I am apprehensive
that this is a very deep thing indeed ! "

" What gentleman is this?" inquired the object
of his virtuous doubts.



MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 53

" Hush ! don't trouble yourself, ma'am," said Mr.
Pecksniff, as the landlady was about to answer.
"This young" — in spite of himself he hesitated
when 'person' rose to his lips, and substituted
another word: ''this young stranger, Mrs. Lupin,
will excuse me for replying briefly, that I reside in
this village ; it may be in an influential manner,
however undeserved; and that I have been sum-
moned here by you. I am here, as I am everywhere,
I hope, in sympathy for the sick and sorry."

With these impressive words, Mr. Pecksniff passed
over to the bedside, where, after patting the counter-
pane once or twice in a very solemn manner, as if
by that means he gained a clear insight into the
patient's disorder, he took his seat in a large arm-
chair, and in an attitude of some thoughtfulness and
much comfort, waited for his waking. Whatever
objection the young lady urged to Mrs. Lupin went
no further, for nothing more was said to Mr. Peck-
sniff, and Mr. Pecksniff said nothing more to any-
body else.

Full half an hour elapsed before the old man
stirred, but at length he turned himself in bed, and,
though not yet awake, gave tokens that his sleep
was drawing to an end. By little and little he
removed the bedclothes from about his head, and
turned still more towards the side where Mr. Peck-
sniff sat. In course of time his eyes opened ; and
he lay for a few moments as people newly roused
sometimes will, gazing indolently at his visitor,
without any distinct consciousness of his presence.

There was nothing remarkable in these proceed-
ings, except the influence they worked on Mr. Peck-
sniff, which could hardly have been surpassed by



54 MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT.

the most marvellous of natural phenomena. Gradu-
ally his hands became tightly clasped upon the
elbows of the chair, his eyes dilated with surprise,
his mouth opened, his hair stood more erect upon
his forehead than its custom was, until, at length,
when the old man rose in bed, and stared at him
with scarcely less emotion than he showed himself,
the Pecksniff doubts were all resolved, and he
exclaimed aloud, —

" You are Martin Chuzzlewit ! "

His consternation of surprise was so genuine,
that the old man, with all the disposition that he
clearly entertained to believe it assumed, was con-
vinced of its reality.

" I ayn Martin Chuzzlewit," he said bitterly :
"and Martin Chuzzlewit wishes you had been
hanged, before you had come here to disturb him
in his sleep. Why, I dreamed of this fellow ! " he
said, lying down again, and turning away his face,
"before I knew that he was near me ! "

" My good cousin — " said Mr. Pecksniff.

" There ! His very first words ! " cried the old
man, shaking his gray head to and fro upon the
pillow, and throwing up his hands. " In his very
first words he asserts his relationship ! I knew he
would : they all do it ! Near or distant, blood or
water, it's all one. Ugh! What a calendar of
deceit, and lying, and false-witnessing, the sound
of any word of kindred opens before me ! "

"Pray do not be hasty, Mr. Chuzzlewit," said
Pecksniff, in a tone that was at once in the sub-
limest degree compassionate and dispassionate;
for he had by this time recovered from his sur-
prise, and was in full possession of his virtuous



MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 55

self. "You will regret being hasty, I know you
will."

" You know ! " said Martin contemptuously.

"Yes," retorted Mr. Pecksniff. "Ay, ay, Mr.
Chuzzlewit : and don't imagine that I mean to court
or flatter you : for nothing is further from my
intention. Neither, sir, need you entertain the
least misgiving that I shall repeat that obnoxious
word which has given you so much offence already.
Why should I ? What do I expect or want from
you ? There is nothing in your possession that /
know of, Mr. Chuzzlewit, which is much to be cov-
eted for the happiness it brings you."

" That's true enough," muttered the old man.

" Apart from that consideration," said Mr. Peck-
sniff, watchful of the elfect he made, " it must be
plain to you (I am sure) by this time, that if I had
wished to insinuate myself into your good opinion,
I should have been, of all things, careful not to
address you as a relative ; knowing your humor, and
being quite certain beforehand that I could not have
had a worse letter of recommendation."

Martin made not any verbal answer ; but he as
clearly implied, though only by a motion of his
legs beneath the bedclothes, that there was reason
in this, and that he could not dispute it, as if he
had said as much in good set terms.

" No," said Mr. Pecksniff, keeping his hand in his
waistcoat as though he were ready, on the shortest
notice, to produce his heart for Martin Chuzzlewit's
inspection, " I came here to offer my services to a
stranger. I make no offer of them to you, because
I know you would distrust me if I did. But lying
on that bed, sir, I regard you as a stranger, and I



56 MAETIN CHUZZLEWIT.

have just that amount of interest in you, which I
hope I should feel in any stranger, circumstanced
as you are. Beyond that, I am quite as indifferent
to you, Mr. Chuzzlewit, as you are to me."

Having said which, Mr. Pecksniff threw himself
back in the easy-chair : so radiant with ingenuous
honesty, that Mrs. Lupin almost wondered not to
see a stained-glass Glory, such as the Saint wore in
the church, shining about his head.

A long pause succeeded. The old man, with in-
creased restlessness, changed his posture several
times. Mrs. Lupin and the young lady gazed in
silence at the counterpane. Mr. Pecksniff toyed
abstractedly with his eyeglass, and kept his eyes
shut, that he might ruminate the better.

" Eh ? " he said at last : opening them suddenly,
and looking towards the bed. " I beg your pardon.
I thought you spoke. Mrs. Lupin," he continued,
slowly rising, " I am not aware that I can be of any
service to you here. The gentleman is better, and
you are as good a nurse as he can have. Eh ? "

This last note of interrogation bore reference to
another change of posture on the old man's part,
which brought his face towards Mr. Pecksniff for
the first time since he had turned away from him.

"If you desire to speak to me before I go, sir,"
continued that gentleman, after another pause, "you
may command my leisure ; but I must stipulate, in
justice to myself, that you do so as to a stranger :
strictly as to a stranger."

Now if Mr. Pecksniff knew, from anything Martin
Chuzzlewit had expressed in gestures, that he wanted
to speak to him, he could only have found it out on
some such principle as prevails in melodramas, and



MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 57

in virtue of which the elderly farmer with the comic
son always knows what the dumb girl means when
she takes refuge in his garden, and relates her per-
sonal memoirs in incomprehensible pantomime. But
without stopping to make any inquiry on this point,
Martin Chuzzlewit signed to his young companion
to withdraw, which she immediately did, along with
the landlady : leaving him and Mr. Pecksniff alone
together. For some time they looked at each other
in silence ; or rather the old man looked at Mr.
Pecksniff, and Mr. Pecksniff, again closing his eyes
on all outward objects, took an inward survey of
his own breast. That it amply repaid him for his
trouble, and afforded a delicious and enchanting
prospect, was clear from the expression of his face.

"You wish me to speak to you as to a total



Online LibraryCharles DickensDicken's works (Volume 27) → online text (page 4 of 28)