Charles Dickens.

Life and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit online

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234 LIFE AXD ADVENTURES OY

I wouldn't have it happeu uuder more favourable auspices, if I
could : for then I should be less inclined to go, and less impressed
with the necessity."

" Yes, yes. I feel that too. When do you go 1 "

" To-uight. We leave for Liverpool to-night. A vessel sails
from that port, as I hear, in three days. In a month, or less, we
shall be there. Why, what's a mouth ! How many months have
flown by since our last parting ! "

" Long to look back upon," said Mary, echoing his cheerful
tone, "but nothing in their course !"

" Nothing at all ! " cried Martin. " I shall have change of
scene and change of place ; change of people, change of manners,
change of cares and hopes ! Time will wear wings indeed ! I
can bear anything, so that I have swift action, Mary."

Was he thinking solely of her care for him, when he took so
little heed of her share in the separation ; of her quiet monotonous
endurance, and her slow anxiety from day to day? Was there
nothing jarring and discordant even in his tone of courage, with
this one note "self" for ever audible, however high the strain?
Not in her ears. It had been better otherwise, perhaps, but so it
was. She heard the same bold spirit which had flung away as
dross all gain and profit for her sake, making light of peril and
privation that she might be calm and happy ; and she heard no
more. That heart where self has found no place and raised no
throne, is slow to recognise its ugly presence when it looks upon it.
As one possessed of an evil spirit was held in old time to be alone
conscious of the lurking demon in the breasts of other men, so
kindred vices know each other in their hiding-places every day,
when Virtue is incredulous and bhnd.

" The quarter's gone ! " cried Mr. Tapley, in a voice of
admonition.

" I shall be ready to return immediately," she said. '' One
thing, dear Martin, I am bound to tell you. You entreated me a
few minutes since only to answer what you asked me in reference
to one theme, but you should and must know — otherwise I could
not be at ease — that since that separation of which I was the
unhappy occasion, he has never once uttered your name ; has
never coupled it, or any faint allusion to it, with passion or
reproach ; and has never abated in his kindness to me."

" I thank him for that last act," said Martin, " and for nothing
else. Though on consideration I may thank him for his other
forbearance also, inasmuch as I neither expect nor desire that he
will mention my name again. He may once, perhaps — to couple
it with reproach — in his will. Let him, if he please ! By the



MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. '235

time it readies lue, he will be iu his grave : a satire on his own
auger, God help Iriui ! "'

"Martin ! If you would but sometimes, iu some quiet hour ;
beside the winter fire ; iu the summer air ; when you hear
gentle music, or thiuk of Death, or Home, or Childhood ; if you
would at such a season resolve to think, but once a month, or even
once a year, of him, or any oue who ever wronged you, you would
forgive him in your heart, I know ! "

"If I believed that to be true, Mary," he replied, "I would
resolve at no such time to bear him in my mind : wishing to spare
myself the shame of such a weakness. I was not born to be the
toy aud puppet of any man, far less his ; to whose pleasure and
caprice, iu return for any good he did me, my whole youth was
sacrificed. It became between us two a fair exchange — a barter —
and no more : and there is uo such balance against me that I ueed
throw in a mawkish forgiveness to poise the scale. He has for-
Ijidden all mention of me to you, I know," he added hastily.
" Come ! Has he not "I "

"That was long ago," she returned; "immediately after your
parting ; before you had left the house. He has never done so
since."

"He has never done so since, because he has seen no occasion,"
said Martin ; " but that is of little consequence, one way or other.
Let all allusion to him between you and me be interdicted from
this time forth. And therefore, love — " he drew her quickly to him,
for the time of parting had now come — " in the first letter that
you write to me through the Post-office, addressed to New York ; and
in all the others that you send through Pinch ; remember he has no
existence, but has become to us as one who is dead. Now, God
bless you ! This is a strange place for such a meeting aud such a
])arting ; but our next meeting shall be in a better, and our next
and last parting in a worse."

" One other question, Martin, I must ask. Have you provided
money for this journey 1 "

" Have 1 1 " cried Martin ; it might have been iu his pride ; it
might have been in his desire to set her mind at ease : " Have I
jirovided money ? Why, there's a question for an emigrant's wife !
How could I move on land or sea without it, love ? "

" I mean, enough."

" Enough ! IMore than euough. Twenty times more than
enough. A pocketful. Mark and I, for all essential ends, are
quite as rich as if we had the purse of Fortunatus in our baggage."

" The half-hour's a going ! " cried ]\Ir. Tapley.

" Good-bye a hundred times I " cried ]\Iary, in a trembling voice.



236 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF

But how cold the comfort in Good-bye ! ]\I:irk Tapley knew it
perfectly. Perhaps lie knew it from his reading, perhaps from his
experience, perhaps from intuition. It is impossible to say ; but
however he knew it, his knowledge instinctively suggested to him the
wisest course of proceeding that any man could have adopted under
the circumstances. He was taken with a violent fit of sneezing,
and was obliged to turn his head another way. In doing which,
he, in a manner, fenced and screened the lovers into a corner by
themselves.

There was a short pause, but Mark had an undefined sensation
that it was a satisfactory one in its way. Then Mary, with her
veil lowered, passed him with a quick step, and beckoned him to
follow. She stopped once more before they lost that corner;
looked back ; and waved her hand to Martin. He made a start
towards them at the moment as if he had some other farewell
words to say ; but she only hurried ofi" the faster, and Mr. Tapley
followed as in duty bound.

When he rejoined Martin again in his own chamber, he found
that gentleman seated moodily before the dusty grate, with his two
feet on the fender, his two elbows ou his knees, and his chin
supported, in a not very ornamental manner, on the palms of his
hands.

"Well, Mark?"

" Well, Sir," said Mark, taking a long breath, " I see the young
lady safe home, and I feel pretty comfortable after it. She sent a
lot of kind words, Sir, and this," handing him a ring, "for a
parting keepsake."

"Diamonds ! " said Martin, kissing it — let us do him justice, it

was for her sake ; not for theirs — and putting it on his little

finger. " Splendid diamonds. My grandfather is a singular

character, Mark. He must have given her this, now."

•^ Mark Tapley knew as well that she had bought it, to the end

that that unconscious speaker might carry some article of sterling

value with him in his necessity ; as he knew that it was day, and

not night. Though he had no more acquaintance of his own

knowledge with the history of the glittering trinket on Martin's

I outspread finger, than Martin himself liad, he was as certain that in

I its purcliase she had expended her whole stock of hoarded money, as

i if he had seen it paid down coin by coin. Her lover's strange

: obtuseness in relation to this little incident, promptly suggested to

j Mark's mind its real cause and root ; and from that moment he

I had a clear and perfect insight into the one absorbing jiriuciple of

Martin's character.

"She is worthy of the sacrifices I have made," said Martin,



MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 237

folding his arms, and looking at the ashes in the stove, as if in
resumption of some former thoughts. " Well worthy of them.
No riches" — here he stroked his chin, and mused — "could have
compensated for the loss of such a nature. Not to mention that
in gaining her aifection, I have followed the bent of my own
wishes, and baulked the selfish schemes of others who had no right
to form them. She is quite worthy — more than worthy — of the
sacrifices I have made. Yes, she is. No doubt of it."

These ruminations miglit or might not have reached ]\Iark
Tapley ; for though they w^re by no means addressed to him, yet
they were softly uttered. In any case, he stood there, watching
Martin, with an indescribable and most involved expression on his
visage, until that young man roused himself and looked towards
him ; when he turned away as being suddenly intent on certain
preparations for the journey, and, without giving vent to any
articulate sound, smiled with surpassing ghastliness, and seemed by
a twist of his features and a motion of his lips, to release himself
of this word :

"Jollv!"



CHAPTER XV.

THE BURDEN WHEREOF IS HAIL, COLUMBIA !

A DARK and dreary night ; people nestling in their beds or
circling late about the fire ; Want, colder tlian Cliarity, shivering
at the street corners ; church-towers humming with the taint
vibration of their own tongues, but newly resting from the ghostly
preachment ' One ! ' The earth covered with a sable pall as for
the burial of yesterday ; the clumps of dark trees, its giant plumes
of funeral feathers, waving sadly to and fro : all huslied, all
noiseless, and in deep repose, save the swift clouds that skim across
the moon, and the cautious wind, as, creeping after them upon the
ground, it stops to listen, and goes rustling on, and stops again,
and follows, like a savage on the trail.

Whitlier go the clouds and wind, so eagerly? If like guilty
spirits they repair to some dread conference with powers like them-
selves, in what wild region do the elements hold council, or where
unbend in terrible disport ?

Here ! Free from that cramped prison called the earth, and
out upon the waste of waters. Here, roaring, raging, shrieking,
howling, all night long. Hither come the sounding voices from the
caverns on the coast of that small island, sleeping a thousaml miles
away so quietly in the midst of angry waves ; and hither, to meet



238 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF

them, rush the blasts from unknown desert places of the -world.
Here, in the fury of their unchecked liberty, they storm and buffet
with each other, until the sea, lashed into i:)assion like their own,
leaps up in ravings mightier than theirs, and the whole scene is
wliirling madness.

On, on, on, over the countless miles of angry space roll the long
heaving billows. Mountains and caves are here, and yet are not ;
for what is now the one, is now the other ; then all is but a
boiling heap of nishing water. Pm'suit, and flight, and mad return
of wave on wave, and savage struggle, ending in a spouting-up of
foam that whitens the black night ; incessant change of place, and
form, and hue ; constancy in nothing, but eternal strife ; on, on,
on, they roll, and darker grows the night, and louder howls the
winds, and more clamorous and fierce become the million voices in
the sea, when the wild cry goes forth upon the storm " A ship ! "

Onward she comes, in gallant combat with the elements, her
tall masts trembling, and her timbers starting on the strain ;
onward she comes, now high upon the curling billows, now low
down in the hollows of the sea, as hiding for the moment from its
fury ; and every storm-voice in the air and water, cries more loudly
yet, " A ship ! "

Still she comes striving on : and at her boldness and the
spreading cry, the angry waves rise up above each other's hoary
heads to look ; and round about the vessel, far as the mariners on
her decks can pierce into the gloom, they press upon her, forcing
each other down, and starting up, and rushing forward from afar,
in dreadful curiosity. High over her they break ; and round her
surge and roar ; and giving place to others, moaningly depart, and
dash themselves to fragments in their baflled anger : still she
conies onward bravely. And though the eager multitude crowd
thick and fast upon her all the night, and dawn of day discovers
the untiring train yet bearing down upon the ship in an eternity
of troubled water, onward she comes, with dim lights burning in
her hull, and people there, asleep : as if no deadly element were
peering in at every seam and chink, and no drowned seaman's
grave, with but a plank to cover it, were yaw^niug in the unfathom-
able depths below.

Among these sleeping voyagers were Martin and Mark Tapley,
wlio, rocked into a heavy drowsiness liy the unaccustomed motion,
were as insensible to the foul air in which they lay, as to the uproar
without. It was broad day, when the latter awoke with a dim idea
that he was dreaming of having gone to sleep in a four-post bedstead
which had turned bottom upwards in the course of the night. There
was more reason in this too, than in the roasting of eggs; for the first



MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 239

objects Mr. Tapley recognised wlieii he opened his eyes were his
own heels — looking down at him, as he afterwards observed, from
a nearly perpendicular elevation.

" Well ! '' said Mark, getting himself into a sitting posture,
after various ineffectual struggles with the rolling of the ship.
"This is the first time as I ever stood on my head all night."

"You shouldn't go to sleep upon the ground with your head to
leeward, then," growled a man in one of the berths.

" With my head to where ? " asked Mark.

The man repeated his previous sentiment.

"No, I won't another time," said Mark, "when I know where-
abouts on the map that country is. In the meanwhile I can give
you a better piece of advice. Don't you nor any other friend of
mine never go to sleep with his head in a ship, any more."'

The man gave a grunt of discontented acquiescence, turned over
in his berth, and drew his blanket over his head.

" — For," said Mr. Tapley, pursuing the theme by way of
soliloquy, in a low tone of voice; "the sea is as nonsensical a
thing as anything going. It never knows what to do with itself.
It hasn't got no employment for its mind, and is always in a state
of vacancy. Like them Polar bears in the wild-beast-shows as is
constantly a nodding their heads from side to side, it never can be
quiet. Which is entirely owing to its uncommon stupidity."

"Is that you, Mark?" asked a faint voice from another berth,

" It's as much of me as is left. Sir, after a fortnight of this
work," Mr. Tapley replied. "What with leading the life of a fly
ever since I've been aboard — for I've been perpetually holding-on
to something or other, in a upside-down position — what with that,
Sir, and putting a very little into myself, and taking a good deal
out in various ways, there an't too much of me to swear by. How
do yoH find yourself this morning, Sir?"

"Very miserable," said Martin, with a peevish groan. " Ugh I
This is wretched, indeed ! "

" Creditable," muttered Mark, pressing one hand upon his
aching head, and looking round him with a rueful grin. " That's
the great comfort. It is creditable to keep up one's spirits here.
Virtue's its own reward. So's jollity."

Mark was so far right, that unquestionably any man who
retained his cheerfulness among the steerage accommodations of
that noble and fast sailing line-of-packet ship, "The Screw," was
solely indebted to his own resources, and shipped his good humour,
like his provisions, without any contribution or assistance from the
owners. A dark, low, stifling cabin, surrounded by berths all
filled to overflowing with men, women, and cliildren, in various



240 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF

stages of sickness anrl misery, is not the liveliest place of assenilily
at any time ; but when it is so crowded (as the steerage cabin of
" The Screw " was, every passage out), that mattresses and beds
are heaped upon the floor, to the extinction of everything like
comfort, cleanliness, and decency, it is liable to operate not only
as a pretty strong barrier against amiability of temper, but as a
positive eucourager of selfish and rough humours. Mark felt this,
as he sat looking about him ; and his spirits rose proportionately.

There were English people, Irish people, Welsh people, and

Scotcli people there ; all with their little store of coarse food and

shabby clothes ; and nearly all, with their families of children.

There were children of all ages ; from the baby at the breast, to

\ the slattern-girl who was as much a grown woman as her mother.

j Every kind of domestic suff'ering that is bred in poverty, illness,

/ banishment, sorrow, and long ti'avel in bad weather, was crammed

into the little space ; aiirl yet was there infinitely less of complaint

and querulousiiess, and infinitely more of mutual assistance and

general kindness to be found in that unwholesome ark, than in

many brilliant ball-rooms.

Mark looked about him wistfully, and his face brightened as
he looked. Here an old grandmother was crooning over a sick
child, and rocking it to and fro, in arms hardly more wasted than
its own young limbs ; here a poor woman with an infant in her
lap, mended another little creature's clothes, and quieted another
who was creeping up about her from their scanty bed upon the
floor. Here were old men awkwardly engaged in little household
oflices, wherein they would have been ridiculous but for their good-
will and kind purpose ; and here were swarthy fellows — giants in
their way — doing such little acts of tenderness for those about
them, as might have belonged to gentlest -hearted dwarfs. The
very idiot in the corner who sat mowing there, all day, had his
faculty of imitation roused by what he saw about him ; and
snapped his fingers, to amuse a crying child.

,"Now, then," said Mark, nodding to a woman wlio was dress-
ing her three children at no great distance from him^and the
grin upon his face had by this time spread from ear to ear —
" Hand over one of them young uns according to custom."

" I ^vish you'd get breakfast, Mark, instead of worrying with
people who don't belong to you," observed Martin, petulantly.

" All right," said Mark. " Ske'W do that. It's a fair division of
labour, Sir. I wash her boys, and she makes our tea. I never
could make tea, but any one can wash a boy."

The woman, who was delicate and ill, felt and understood his
kindness, as well she might, for she had been covered every night



MARTIN CnUZZLEWIT. 241

with his great-coat, while lie had had f(n' his own l)cd the bare
Iwards aud a rug. But Martin, who .seldom got up or looked
about him, was quite incensed by the folly of this speeoli, and
expressed his dissatisfaction, by an impatient groan.

"So it is, certainly," said Mark, brushing the child's hair as
coolly as if he had been born aud bred a barber.

"What are you talking about, now?" asked Martin.

"Whatj'ou said," replied Mark; "or what you meant, when
you gave that there dismal vent to your feelings. T quite go
along with it, Sir. It is very hard upon her."

"What is?"

"Making the voyage by herself along with these young impedi-
ments here, and going such a way at such a time of year to join
her husband. If you don't want to be driven mad with yellow
soap in your eye, young man," said Mr. Tapley to the second
urchin, who was by this time under his hands at the basin, " you'd
better shut it."

"Where does she join her husband"?" asked Martin, yawning.

"Why, I'm very much afraid," said Mr. Tapley, in a low voice,
" that she don't know. I hope she mayn't miss him. But she
sent her last letter by hand, and it don't seem to have been very
clearly understood between 'em without it, and if she don't see
him a waving his pocket-hankerchief on the shore, like a pictur
out of a song-book, ray opinion is, she'll break her heart."

"Why, how, in Folly's name, does the woman come to be on
board ship on such a wild-goose venture ! " cried Martin.

Mr. Tapley glanced at him for a moment as he lay prostrate in
his l)erth, and then said, very quic^tly :

"Ah! How^, indeed ! I can't tliink ! He's been away from
her for two year : she's been very poor and lonely in her
own country ; and has always been a looking forward to meeting
him. It's very strange she should be here. Quite amazing !
A little mad, perhaps ! There can't be no other way of accounting
for it.'y

MfUtin was too far gone in the lassitude of sea-sickness to make
any reply to these words, or even to attend to them as they were
spoken. And the subject of their discourse returning at this crisis
with some hot ten, effectually put a stop to any resumi)tion of the
theme by Mr. Tapley ; who, when the meal was over and he had
adjusted Martin's bed, went up on deck to wash the breakfast
service, which consisted of two half-pint tin mugs, and a shaving-
pot of the same metal.

It is due to Mark Tapley to state, that he suffered at least a.s
much from sea-sickness as any man, woman, or child, im board ;



242 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF

and that he had a peculiar faculty of knocking himself about on
the smallest provocation, and losing his legs at every lurch of the
ship. But resolved, in his usual phrase, to "come out strong"
under disadvantageous circumstances, he was the life and soul of
the steerage, and made no more of stopping in the middle of a
facetious conversation to go away and be excessively ill by himself,
and afterwards come back in the very best and gayest of tempers
to resume it, than if such a course of proceeding had been the
commonest in the world.

It cannot be said that as his illness wore off, his cheerfulness
and good nature increased, because they would hardly admit of
augmentation ; but his usefulness among the weaker members of
the party was much enlarged ; and at all times and seasons there
he was exerting it. If a gleam of sun shone out of the dark
sky, down Mark tumbled into the cabin, and presently up he came
again with a woman in his arms, or half-a-dozen children, or a man,
or a bed, or a saucepan, or a basket, or something animate or
inanimate, that he thought would be the better for the air. If an
hour or two of fine weather in the middle of the day, tempted those
who seldom or never came on deck at other times, to crawl into the
long-boat, or lie down upon the spare spars, and try to eat, there
in the centre of the group was Mr. Tapley, handing about salt beef
and biscuit, or dispensing tastes of grog, or cutting up the children's
provisions with his pocket-knife, for their greater ease and comfort,
or reading aloud from a venerable newspaper, or singing some roar-
ing old song to a select party, or writing the beginnings of letters
to their friends at home for people who couldn't write, or cracking
jokes with the crew, or nearly getting blown over the side, or
emerging, half-drowned, from a shower of spray, or lending a hand
somewhere or other : but always doing something for the general
entertainment. At night, when the cooking-fire was lighted on
the deck, and the driving sparks that flew among the rigging, and
the cloud of sails, seemed to menace the ship with certain
annihilation by fire, in case the elements of air and water failed
to compass her destruction ; there again was Mr. Tapley, with his
coat off and his shirt-sleeves turned up to his elbows, doing all
kinds of culinary offices ; compounding the strangest dishes ;
recognised by every one as an established authority ; and helping ;
all parties to achieve something, which, left to themselves, they
never could have done, and never would have dreamed of. Ini
short, there never was a more popular character than Mark Tapleyj
became on board that noble and f;xst-sailing line-of-packet ship, the
Screw; and he attained at last to such a pitch of universal!
admiration, that he began to have grave doubts within himselfij



^lARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. 213

whother a man might reasonably claim any credit for being jolly
under such exciting circumstances.

"' If this was going to last," said IMr. Tapley, " there'd be no
great difference as I can perceive, between the Screw and the
Dragon. I never am to get any credit, I think. I begin to be
afraid that the Fates is determined to make the world easy to
me."

"Well, Mark," said Martin, near whose berth he had ruminated
to this effect. " When will this be over ? "

" Another week, they say. Sir," returned Mark, '' will most
likely bring us into port. The ship's going along at present, as
sensible as a ship can. Sir ; though I don't mean to say as that's
any very high praise."

" I don't think it is, indeed," groaned Martin.

"You'd feel all the better for it. Sir, if you was to turn out,"



Online LibraryCharles DickensLife and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit → online text (page 26 of 80)