Charles Dickens.

Life and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit online

. (page 28 of 80)
Online LibraryCharles DickensLife and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit → online text (page 28 of 80)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

arp snap, as if they said blood too, and were quite of his

This done, tliey both looked at ]\Iartin, pausing for a reply.

" Upon niy life," said Martin, who had by this time (piite
;overed his usual coolness, " I can't give you any satisfactory
brmation about it ; for the truth is that I — "

" Stop ! " cried the colonel, glancing sternly at his war corre-
Dndent, and giving his head one shake after every sentence,
rhat you never heard of Jefterson Brick, Sir. That you never
id Jefferson Brirk, Sir. That you never saw the Rowdy Journal,
'. That you never knew. Sir, of its mighty influence upon the
binets of Europe. — Yes ? "

"That's what I was about to observe, certainly," said I\Iartin.

''Keep cool, Jefferson," said the colonel gravely. "Don't bust!

you Europeans ! Arter that, let's have a glass of wine ! " So
{\\\g, he got dow^i from the table, and produced, from a basket
tside the door, a bottle of champagne, and three glasses.

" Mr. Jefferson Brick, Sir," said the colonel, filling Martin's
iss and his own, and pushing the bottle to that gentleman,
vill give us a sentiment."

" Well, Sir ! " cried the war correspondent, " since you have
iicluded to call upon me, I will respond. I will give you, Sir,
le Rowdy Journal and its brethren ; the well of Truth, whose
iters are black from being composed of printers' ink, but are
ite clear enough for my country to behold the shadow of her
jstiny reflected in."

" Hear, hear ! " cried the colonel, with great complacency,
riiere are flowery components. Sir, in the language of my friend f

"Very nuich so, indeed," said Martin.

"There is to-day's Rowdy, Sir," observed the colonel, handing
m a paper. "You'll find Jefferson Brick at his usual jjost in
e van of human civilization and moral purity."

The colonel was by this time seated on the table again. INIr.
ick also took up a position on that same piece of furniture :
d they fell to drinking pretty hard. Tliey often looked at
artin as he read the paper, and then at each other ; and when

laid it down, which was not until they had finished a second
ttle, the colonel asked him wdiat he thought of it.

" Why, it's horribly personal," said IMartin.

The colonel seemed much flattered l>y this remark : and said he
iped it was.

"AVe are independent here. Sir," said IMr. Jefferson Brick.
We do as we like."

" If I may judge from tliis specimen," returned Martin, "there



must be a few thousands here, rather tlie reverse of independent,
who do as tliey don't like."'

"Well! They yield to the mighty mind of the Popular In-
structor, Sir," said the colonel. "They rile up, sometimes; l>ut
in general we liave a hold upon our citizens both in public and in
private life, which is as much one of the ennobling institutions of
our happy country as — "

"As nigger slavery itself," suggested Mr. Brick.

" En — tirely so," remarked the colonel.

" Pray," said Martin, after some hesitation, " may I venture to
ask, with reference to a case I observe in this paper of yours,
whether the Popular Instructor often deals in — I am at a loss to
express it without giving you offence — in forgery 1 In forged
letters, for instance," he pursued, for the colonel was perfectly
calm and quite at his ease, "solemnly purporting to have been
written at recent periods by living men '] "

"Well, Sir ! " replied the colonel. "It does, now and then."

" And the popular instructed — what do they do 1 " asked Martin.

" Buy 'em : " said the colonel.

Mr. Jefferson Brick expectorated and laughed ; the former
copiously, the latter approvingly.

" Buy 'em by hundreds of thousands," resumed the colonel.
"We are a smart people here, and can appreciate smartness."

" Is smartness American for forgery ? " asked Martin.

" Well ! " said the colonel, " I expect it's American for a good
many things that you call by other names. But you can't help
yourselves in Europe. We can."

"And do, sometimes," thought Martiji. "You help yourselves
with very little ceremony, too ! "

"At all events, whatever name we choose to employ," said the
colonel, stooping down to roll the third empty bottle into a corner
after the other two, "I suppose the art of forgery was not invented
here, Sir ? "

"I suppose not," replied Martin.

" Xor any other kind of smartness, I reckon ? "

" Invented ! No, I presume not."

" Well ! " said the colonel ; " then we got it all from the old
country, and the old country's to blame for it, and not tlie new 'un.
There's an end of t/uit. 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 down stairs after the war correspondent, who pre-
ceded him witli great majesty. The colonel following, they left
the Rowdy Journal Office and walked fortli into the streets :


Martin feeling doubtful whether he ought to kick the colonel for
having presumed to speak to him, or whether it came witliin the
bounds of possibility that he and his establishment could be among
the boasted usages of tliat regenerated land.

It was clear that Colonel Diver, in the security 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 ; and his
thousands of readers could as rationally charge their delight in
filth upon him, as a glutton can shift upon his cook the responsi-
bility 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 labours 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 Broadway, 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 pine-apple, 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,

Tlie 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 tlie
top windows to see who it was. Pending her journey down stairs,
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 nuijnr in-doors*?" inc^uired the colonel, as he entered.

" Is it the master, Sir 1 " returned the girl, with a hesitation
which seemed to imply that 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 British Empire,
colonel ! " said Jefterson Brick. " Master ! "

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

" I sliould hope it was never heard in our country. Sir : that's
all," said Jefl^erson Brick : "excejjt when it is used by S(mie de-
graded Help, as new to the blessings of our form of government,
as this Help is. There are no masters here."


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

j\Ir. Jefferson Brick followed in the liowdy Journal's footsteps
without returning any answer. Martin 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 ceiling, a mean carpet, a dreary waste of dining-table reaching

Ifrom end to end, and a bewildering collection of cane-bottomed

;chairs. In the further' region of this bancjueting-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 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 light hand of the stove, and the spittoon on

the left, and then working his way back again in the same order.

A muTo lad in a soiled white jacket was busily engaged in placing

II 'Aii' table two long rows of knives and forks, relieved at intervals

i\ ,jugs of water ; and as he travelled down one side of this festive

manl, he straightened with his dirty hands the dirtier cloth, which

>\as all askew, and had not been removed since breakfast. The

itnins])here of this room was rendered intensely hot and stifling

)>■ the stove ; but being further flavoured by a sickly gush of soup

iMiii the kitchen, and by such remote suggestions of tobacco as

iiiiricd within the brazen receptacles already mentioned, it became,

:ii a .stranger's senses, almost in.supportable.

The gentleman in the rocking-chair having liis back towards
Imhi, and being much engaged in his intellectual pastime, was
'! aware of their approach until the colonel walking uj) to the
: 'M, contributed liis mite towards the support of the left-hand
] lilt nun, just as the major — for it was the major — bore down upon
t. Major Pawkins then reserved his fire, and looking upward,
■till, with a peculiar air of quiet weariness, like a man who had
"cu up all night — an air which Martin liad already observed
Mjth in the colonel and Mr. Jefterson Brick —
" Well, colonel ! "

'■ Here is a gentleman from England, majcjr," the colonel
I plied, "who has concluded to locate himself here if the amount
i 'I'liipensation suits him."

■■ I am glad to see you, Sir," observed the major, shaking liands


■with Martin, and not moving a muscle of his face. " You are
pretty briglit, I hope 1 "

" Xever better," said Martin.

"You are never likel)' to be," returned tlie major. "You will
see the sun shine here."

" 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 dispute on that point. When he had thus settled
the cpiestion, 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 manner ; 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 jmtting all the goods he
had (and more) into his Aviudow ; and that went a great way
with his constituency of admirers. It went a great way, perhaps,
with Mr. Jefferson Brick, who took occasion to whisper iu
Martin's ear :

" One of the most remai-kable men in our country, Sir ! "'

It must not be supposed, however, that the perpetual 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

support. He was a great politician ; and the one article of his

1 creed, in reference to all public obligations involving the good

\ faith and integrity of his country, was, "run a moist pen slick

I through everything, and start fresh." Tliis made him a patriot.

pin 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 families),

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 cock-tail, than any private gentleman


of his acquaintance. Tliis made him an orator and a man of the
people. In a word, the major was a rising character, and a
poi)uhxr character, and was in a fair way to be sent by the poi)idar
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 imblic affairs ;
and as fraudulent 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 Major Pawkins rather
" loafed " hi.s 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

" I am sorry to hear that," returned Martin. " It's not likely
to last, I hope 1 "

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 horn' of the day or night, that it is the most thriving and
prosperous of all countries on the habitable globe.

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

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

"We are an elastic country," said the Rowdy 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 neiglibouring bar-
room, which, as he observed, was " only in the next block." He
ithen referred Martin to IMrs. Pawkins for all particulars connected
with the rate of board and lodging, and informed 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 Avanted
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 witliout
'more ado, and left them to follow if they thought jtroper.

When the major rose from his rocldng-chair before the stove
jand so disturbed the hot air and balmy whiff of soup which fanned


their brows, the odour 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 beliind him to the bar-room, he
could not help thinking that the great square major, in his listless-
uess and languor, looked very much like a stale weed liimsclf, such
as might be hoed out of the public garden with great advantage to
the decent growth of tliat preserve, and tossed on some congenial

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 w^alking back very leisurely ; Martin arm-in-arm
with Mr. Jefferson Brick, and the major and the colonel side-by-
side before them ; when, as 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 colonel and the
major darted off, dashed up the steps and in at the street-door
(which stood ajar) like lunatics ; while Mr. Jefferson Brick, detach-
ing 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 fjxltered on the pavement, three
more gentlemen, w^ith 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
api)eared, 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 him-
self, sa."

" A seat ! " cried Martin.

" For a diiniar, sa."

INIartin stared at him for a moment, and burst into a hearty


lauyh ; to wliicli tlic negro, out of his natural good humour and
ilesire to jileasc, so lieartily responded, that his teetli shone like a
gleam of light. " You're the pleasantest fellow I have seen yet,"
said INIartin, clapping him on the back, "and give me a better
appetite than bitters." "

With tlr hrsgntmrentibe walked into the dining-room and slipped

into a chair next' the coloiieT," whieh that g efrtfeTnan-(4:Tj-this-ti«ie
uearly-riftrnTgri' his dinn?i'^'~1md:'tl'mTe'd'dovMi, iir-ieserre for him,
jatitk-tts^mckrTigainst the table. ■

It was a numerous company — eighteen or twenty, perhajis. Of
these some five or six were ladies, who sat Avedged together in a
little phalanx by themselves. 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 fomine were expected 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 perhaps 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 desperation down a human
throat. The oysters, stewed and pickled, leaped from their
capacious reservoirs, and slid by scores into tlie 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. Dyopcptic individuals bolted
tfeeir food in wedges ; feeding, not themselves, but broods of night-
mares, who were continually standing at livery within them. Sjjare
men, with lanlc and rigid cheeks, came out unsatisfied from tlie
destruction of heavy dishes, and dared witli watchful eyes ui)on
tb o paatiy. What Mrs. PawkinsMfelt each day at dinner-time is
hidden from all human knowledge. But she had one comfort. It
was very soon over.

When the colonel had finished his dinner, which event took
plaee-while Martin, who had sent his plate for some turkey, was
¥«»tH»g to begin, he asked Jiii* wha't "he tlunight of the boarders,
Hfhe-were from 'all paitstrf the Union, -and whetlier" lie woidd
like to know any particulars concerning them.

"Pray," 3a-i4-4Iartin, "who is that sickly little girl opposite,
with the tight round eyes ? I don't see anybody here, wlio 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. Jefferson Brick, Sir."


"No, no,"^«a«i9iiJaHin, "I mean the little girl, like a doll —
directly opposite."

" Well, Sir ! " cried the colonel. '' 'That is Mrs. Jett'erson

-Martin glanced at- the colonel's face, but he was quite-seia^je.

" Bless my soul ! I suppose there will be a young Brick then,
one of these days 1 " -said -Martin.

" There are two young Bricks already, Sir," returned the colonel.

-^L^o [ t>o',s; The matron looked so uncomiiionLy like- tt -tjhtld -herself, that

l\ o .> Martin could not help saying'as mneh". "Yes, Sir," retuFned tb«t

;' V colonel, "but some institutions develop human uatur : others

retard it."

"Jefferson Brick," he observed after a short silence, in com-
mendation of his correspondent, "is one of the most remarkable
men in our country, Sir ! "

This had passed almost in a whisper, for the distinguished
AVfi-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 though t"it prudent to eschew tfee- wend. — " that very
short gentleman yonder, with tlie red nose?"

"That is Pro — fessor MuUit, Sir," i=eplied Jefferson.

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

" Of education. Sir," said Jefferson Brick.

" A sort of schoolmaster, possibly ? " Martin ventured to

" He is a man of fine moral elements, Sir, and not commonly
endowed," said the war correspcmdent. "He felt it necessary, at
the last election for President, 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." ?'/•, . ;> , .. . , j. . - :

Pursuing his inquiries, Martin found that ^there were no fewer
than four majors present, two colonels, one general, and a captain,
so that he could not help thinking how strongly officered the
American 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 title : for those who had not attained to military honours were
either doctors, professors, or reverends. Three very hard and


disagreeable gentlenicu were on missions from neighbouring States ;
one on monetary att'airs, 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 held strong sentiments
touching 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, Avere the only members of the party who did not appear
to be among the most remarkable people in the country.

Several of the gentlemen got up, one by one, and walked oft'
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 1 " asked Martin, in the ear of Mr.
Jefferson Brick.

" To their bed-rooms. Sir."

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

Online LibraryCharles DickensLife and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit → online text (page 28 of 80)