Charles Dickens.

Life and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit online

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"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. Jetierson Brick
and such other married gentlemen as were left, acknowledging the
departure of their other 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 Avas rather barren of interest, to say the truth ; and the

greater part of it may be summed up in one word — dollars. All

• thyr cares, hopes, joys, afiections, virtues, and associations, seemed

1 to be melted down into dollars. Whatever the chance contributions

I that fell into the slow cauldron of their talk, they made the gruel

1 thick and slab with dollars. Men were weighed by their dollar.s,

measures gauged by their dollars ; life was auctioneered, appraised,

I put up, and knocked down for its dollars. The next respectable

: thing to dollars was any venture having their attaimnent for its

end. The more of that worthless ballast, honour 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 miglity 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
I anything for dollars ! What is a flag to thnn /V
' — One who rides at all hazards of limb and'Tne 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 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 jDeaceful toys ; to seize opponents
by the throat, as dogs or rats might do ; to bluster, bully, and
overbear by personal assailment; were glowing deeds. Not thrusts
and stabs at Freedom, striking far deeper into her House of Life
than any sultan's scimetar 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, ^ien there was a pause, Martin asked such

questions as naturafl^ occurred to him, being a stranger, about the

national poets, the theatre, literature, and the arts. But tlie

information which these gentlemen were in a condition to give

him on such topics, did not extend beyond the efi'usions of such

master-spirits of the time, as Colonel Diver, Mr. Jefferson Brick,

and others ; renowned, as it appeared, for excellence in the ac hjeve-

, ment of a peculiar style of broadside-essay called "a screamer.'' |

'T "We are a busy people, Sir," said one of the captains, wlrCwis

j 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

^nighty strong stuff of another sort, but darn your books."

Here the general, who appeared to quite grow faint at the
Ijare thought of reading anything which Avas neither mercantile
nor political, and was not in a newspaper, inquired "if any gentle-
man 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. Tlience 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 iuniself wliotlier busy jicoplc of tliis oliiss
were really as busy as they claimed to be, or only had an inai)titu(le
for social and domestic pleasure.

It was a ditticult question to solve ; and the mere fact of its
being strongly presented to his mind by all that he had seen and
heard, was not encouraging. He sat down at the deserted board,
and becoming more and more despondent, as he thought of all the
uncertainties and difficulties of his precarious situation, sighed

Now, there had been at the dinner-table a middle-aged man
with a dark eye and a sunburnt face, who had attracted Martin's
attention by having something very engaging and honest in the
expression of his features; but of whom he could learn nothing
from either of his neighbours, who seemed to consider him quite
beneath their notice. He had taken no part in the conversation
round the stove, nor had he gone forth with the rest ; and now,
when he heard Martin sigh for the third or fourth time, he inter-
posed with some casual remark, as if he desired, without obtruding
himself upon a stranger's notice, to engage him in cheerful
conversation if he could. His motive was so obvious, and yet so
delicately expressed, that Martin felt really grateful to him, and
showed him so, in the manner of his reply.

" I will not ask you," said this gentleman with a smile, as he
rose and moved towards him, "how you like my country, for I
can quite anticipate your real feeling on that point. But, as I
am an American, and consequently bound to begin with a question,
I'll ask you how do you like the colonel 1 "

"You are so very frank," returned Martin, "that I have no
hesitation in saying I don't like him at all. Though I must add
that I am beholden to him for his civility in bringing me here —
and arranging for my stay, on pretty reasonable terms, by the way,"
he added : remembering that the colonel had whispered him to
that effect, before going out.

"Not much beholden," said the stranger drily. " The colonel
occasionally boards packet-slnps, I have heard, to glean the latest
information for his journal ; and he occasionally brings strangers
to board here, I believe, with a view to the little percentage
which attaches to those good offices ; and which the hostess deducts
from his weekly bill. I don't offend you, I hopel" he added,
seeing that Martin reddened.

"My dear Sir," returned Martin, as they shook hands, "how is
that possible ! to tell you the truth, I — am — "

"Yes?" said the gentleman, sitting down beside him.

" I am rather at a loss, since I must speak i)lainly," said Martin,


getting the better of his hesitation, " to know how this colonel
escapes being beaten."

" Well ! He has been beaten once or twice," remarked the
gentleman quietly. " He is one of a class of men, in whom our
own Franklin, so long ago as ten years before the close of the last
century, foresaw our danger and disgrace. Perhaps you don't
know that Franklin, in very severe terms, published his opinion
that those who were slandered by such fellows as this colonel,
having no sufficient remedy in the administration of this country's
laws or in the decent and right-minded feeling of its people, were
justified in retorting on such jDublic nuisances by means of a
stout cudgeU"

" I was not aware of that," said Martin, " but I am very glad
to know it, and I think it worthy of his memory ; especially " —
here he hesitated again.

"Go on," said the other, smiling as if he knew what stuck in
Martin's throat.

"Especially," pursued Martin, "as I can already understand
that it may have required great courage even in his time to write
freely on any question which was not a party one in this very free

" Some courage, no doubt," returned his new friend. " Do you
think it would require any to do so, now 1 "

" Indeed I think it would ; and not a Jiitle," said Martin.

"You are right. So very right, thatll believe no satirist could
breathe this air. If another Juvenal or 'Swift could rise up among
us to-morrow, he would be hunted down. If you have any know-
ledge of our literature, and can give me the name of any man,
American born and bred, who has anatomised our follies as a
people, and not as this or that party ; and has escaped the foulest
and most brutal slander, the most inveterate hatred and intolerant
pursuit ; it -will be a strange name in my ears, believe me. In
some cases I could name to you, where a native writer has ventured
on the most harmless and good-humoured illustrations of our vices
or defects, it has been found necessary to announce, that in a second
edition the passage has been expunged, or altered, or explained
away, or patched into praise!^

"And how has this been "bl'ought about?" asked Martin, in dismay.

"Think of what you have seen and heard to-day, beginning
with the colonel," said his friend, "and ask yourself. How they
came about is another question. Heaven forbid that they should
be samples of the intelligence and virtue of America, but they
' come uppermost ; and in great numbers too ; and too often repre-
sent it. Will you walk 1 "



Tlicrc was a cordial candour in his manner, and an cn^ija.i^in;;-
confidence that it would not be abused ; a manly bearing on his
own part, and a simple reliance on the manly taitli of a stranger ;
which Martin had never seen before. He linked his arm readily
in that of the American gentleman, and they walked out together.
It was perhaps to men like this, his new companion, that a
traveller of honoured name, who trod those shores now nearly
forty years ago, and woke upon that soil, as many have done since,
to blots and stains upon its high pretensions, which in the bright-
ness of his distant dreams were lost to view ; appealed in these
words —

Oh but for such, Cokinibia's days were done ;

Rank without ripeness, quickened without sun,

Crude at the surface, rotten at the core,

Her fruits would fall before her spring were o'er !



It was characteristic of Martin, that all this while he had
either forgotten Mark Tapley as completely as if there had been
no such person in existence, or, if for a moment the figure of that
gentleman rose before his mental vision, had dismissed it as some-
thing by no means of a pressing nature, which might be attended
to by-and-by, and could w^ait his perfect leisure. But, being now
in the streets again, it occurred to him as just coming witliin the
bare limits of possibility that Mr. Tapley nnght, in course of time,
grow tired of waiting on the threshold of the Rowdy Journal
Office ; so he intimated to his new friend, that if they could con-
veniently walk in that direction, he would be glad to get this
piece of business off his mind.

"And speaking of business," said Martin, "may I ask, in order
that I may not be behind-hand witli ([uestions eitiicr, whether
your occupation holds you to this city, or, like myself, you are a
visitor here 1 "

"A visitor," replied his friend. "I was 'raised' in the State
of Massachusetts, and reside tiiere still. JNIy home is in a (piict


couiitiy town. I am not often in these bnsy places ; and my
inclination to visit them does not increase with our better ac(|uaint-
ance, I assure you."

"You have been abroad?" asked Martin.

" Oh yes."

" And, like most peojjle who travel, have become more than
ever attached to your home and native country," said JMartin,
eyeing him curiously.

" To my home — yes," rejoined his friend. " To my native
country as my home — yes, also."

"You imply some reservation," said Martin.

"Well," returned his new friend, "if you ask me whether I
came back here with a greater relish for my country's faults ; with
a greater fondness for those who claim (at the rate of so many
dollars a day) to be her friends ; with a cooler indiiference to the
growth of principles among us in respect of public matters and of
private dealings between man and man, the advocacy of which,
beyond the foul atmosphere of a criminal trial, would disgrace
your own Old Bailey lawyers; why, then I answer i:)lainly. No."

" Oh ! " said Martin ; in so exactly the same key as his friend's
No, that it sounded like an echo.

" If you ask me," his companion pursued, " whether I came
back here better satisfied with a state of things which broadly
divides society into two classes — whereof one, the great mass,
asserts a spurious independence, most miserably dependent for its
mean existence on the disregard of humanizing conventionalities
of manner and social custom, so that the coarser a man is, the
more distinctly it shall appeal to his taste ; while the other, dis-
gusted with the low standard thus set up and made adaptable to
everything, takes refuge among the graces and refinements it can
bring to bear on private life, and leaves the public w^eal to such
fortune as may betide it in the press and uproar of a general
scramble — then again I answ^er, No."

-^ And again Martin said "Oh ! " in the same odd way as before,
being anxious and disconcerted ; not so much, to say the truth,
on public grounds, as with reference to the fliding prospects of
domestic architecture.

" In a word," resumed the other, " I do not find and cannot
believe, and tlierefore will not allow that we are a model of
wisdom, and an example to the world, and the perfection of human
reason ; and a great deal more to the same purpose, which you
may hear any hour in the day ; simply because we began our
political life with two inestimable advantages."

" What were they ? " asked Martin.


" One, that our history commenced at so late a period as to
escape the ages of bloodshed and cruelty through which otlier
nations have passed ; and so had all tlie light of tlieir probation,
and none of its darkness. The other, that we have a vast territory,
and not — as yet — too many people on it. These focts consideretl,
wc have done little enough, I think.'"'

" Education 1 " suggested Martin, faintly.

"Pretty well on tliat head," said the other, shrugging his
shoulders, "still no mighty matter to boast of; for old countries,
and despotic countries too, have done as much, if not more, and
made less noise about it. We shine out brightly in comparison
with England, certainly ; but hers is a very extreme case. You
complimented me on my frankness, you know," he added, laughing.

" Oh ! I am not at all astonished at your speaking thus openly
when my country is in question," returned Martin. " It is your
plain-speaking in reference to your own that surprises me."

" You will not find it a scarce quality here, I assure you, saving
among the Colonel Divers, and Jefferson Bricks, and ]\Iajor
Pawkinses — though the best of us are something like the man in
Goldsmith's comedy, who wouldn't suffer anybody but himself to
abuse his master. Come!" he added, "let us talk of something
else. You have come here on some design of improving your
fortune, I dare say; and I should grieve to put you out of heart.
I am some years older than you, besides; and may, on a few
trivial points, advise you, perhaps."

There was not the least curiosity or impertinence in the manner
of this offer, which was open-hearted, unaffected, and good-natured.
As it was next to impossible that he should not have his confi-
dence awakened by a deportment so prepossessing and kind, Martin
plainly stated what had brought him into those parts, and even
made the very difficult avowal that he was poor. He did not say
how poor, it must be admitted, rather throwing oft' the declaration
with an air which might have implied that he had money enough
for six months, instead of as many weeks ; but poor he said he
wa.s, and grateful he said he would be, for any counsel that his
friend would give him.

It would not have been very difficult for any one to see ; but
it was particidarly easy for Martin, whose perceptions were sharp-
ened by his circumstances, to discern ; that the stranger's face
grew infinitely longer as the domestic-architecture project was
developed. Nor, although he made a great ett'ort to be as en-
couraging as possible, could he prevent his head from sliaking
once involuntarily, as if it said in the vulgar tongue, upon its own
account, " Xo go ! " But he spoke in a cheerful tone, and said,


that although there was no such opeuing as Martin wished in that
city, he would make it matter of immediate consideration and
enquiry where one was most likely to exist : and then he made
Martin acquainted with his name, which was Bevan ; and with
his profession, which was physic, though he seldom or never
practised ; and with other cuTumstances connected with himself
and family, which fully occupied the time, until they reached the
Rowdy Journal Office.

Mr. Tapley appeared to be taking his ease on the landing of
the first floor ; for sounds as of some gentleman established in
that region, whistling '' Rule Britannia '" with all his might and
main, greeted their ears before they reached the house. On
ascending to the spot from whence this music proceeded, they
found him recumbent in the midst of a fortification of luggage,
apparently performing his national anthem for the gratification of
a grey-haired black man, who sat on one of the outworks (a port-
manteau), staring intently at Mark, while Mark, with his head
reclining on his hand, returned the compliment in a thoughtful
manner, and whistled all the time. He seemed to have recently
dined, for his knife, a case-bottle, and certain broken meats in a
handkerchief, lay near at hand. He had employed a portion of
his leisure in the decoration of the Rowdy Journal door, whereon
his own initials now appeared in letters nearly half a foot long,
together with the day of the mouth in smaller tyjie : the whole
surrounded by an ornamental border, and looking very fresh and

" I was a'most afraid you was lost. Sir ! " cried Mark, rising,
and stopping the time at that point where Britons generally are
supposed to declare (when it is whistledj that they never, never,
never —

" Nothing gone wi-ong, I hope, Sir ? "

'' Xo, Mark. "Where's your friend ? "

" The mad woman, Sir ? " said Mr. Tapley. " Oh 1 she's all
right. Sir."

" Did she find her husband ? "

"Yes, sir. Least ways she's found his remains,'" said Mark,
correcting himself.

" The man's not dead, I hope ? "

"Not altogether dead. Sir,'" returned Mark; "but he's had
more fevers and agues than is quite recoucileable with being alive.
"When she didn't see him a waiting for lier. I tliought she'd have
died herself, I did I "

" Was he not here, then ? '"

''He wasn't here. There was a feeble old shadow come a

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creeping down at last, as mucli like his substance when she know'd
hiui, as your sliadow when it's drawn out to its verj' finest and
longest by the sun, is like you. But it was his remains, there's
no doubt about that. She took on with joy, poor thing, as much
as if it had been all of him ! "

" Had he bought land ? " asked Mr. Bevan.

"Ah ! He"d bought land," said Mark, shaking his head, "and
paid for it too. Every sort of nateral advantage was connected
with it, the agents said ; and there certainly was one^ quite un-
limited. No end to the water ! "

"It's a thing he couldn't have done without, I suppose,"
observed Martin, peevishly.

" Certainly not, Sir. There it was, any way ; always turned
on, and no water-rate. Independent of three or four slimy old
rivers close by, it varied on the farm from four to six foot deep
in the dry season. He couldn't say how deep it was in the rainy
time, for he never had anything long enough to sound it with."

" Is this true 1 " asked Martin of his companion.

" Extremely probable," he answered. " Some Mississippi or
]\Iissouri lot, I dare say."

"However," pursued Mark, "he came from I-don't-know-where-
and-all, down to New York here to meet his wife and children ;
and they started off again in a steamboat this blessed afternoon,
as happy to be along with each other, as if they was going to
Heaven. I should think they was, pretty straight, if I may judge
from tlie poor man's looks."

"And may I ask," said Martin, glancing, but not with any
displeasure, from Mark to the negro, " who this gentleman is ?
Anotlier friend of yours I "

"Why, Sir," returned Mark, taking him aside, and speaking
confidentially in his ear, " he's a man of colour, Sir."

"Do you take me for a blind man," asked Martin, somewhat
impatiently, " that you think it necessary to tell me that, when
his face is the blackest that ever was seen ? "

" No, no ; when I say a man of colour," returned Mark, " I
mean that he's been one of them as there's picters of in the shops.
A man and a brother, you know, Sir," said Mr. Tapley, favouring
his master with a significant indication of the figure so often
represented in tracts and cheap prints.

" A slave ! " cried Martin, in a whisper.

" Ah ! " said Mark in the same tone. " Nothing else. A
slave. Why, when that there man was young — don't look at
him, while I'm a telling it — he was .shot in the leg ; gashed in the
arm ; scored in his live limbs, like pork ; beaten out of shape ;


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had his neck galled with an iron collar, ai
his wrists and ankles. The marks are on h
I was having luy dinner just now, he sti
took away my appetite."'

"Is M/s true?" asked Martin ot' his friend, who stood liesiile

" I have no reason to doubt it,'' he answered, looking down,
and shaking his head. " It very often is."

"Bless j'ou," said Mark, "I know it is, from hearing his whole
story. That master died ; so did his second master from having
his head cut open with a hatchet by another slave, who, when
he'd done it, went and drowned himself: then he got a better
one : in years and years he saved up a little money, and bought
his freedom, which he got pretty cheap at last, on account of his
strength being nearly gone, and he being ill. Then he come here.
And now he's a saving up to treat himself afore he dies to one
small purchase — it's nothing to speak of; only his own daughter;
that's all!" cried Mr. Tajiley, becoming excited. "Liberty for
ever ! Hurrah ! "

" Hush ! " cried Martin, clapping his hand upon his mouth :
" and don't be an idiot. What is he doing here 1 "

" Waiting to take our luggage ofi' upon a truck," said Mark.
" He'd have come for it by-and-by, but I engaged him for a very
reasonable charge — out of my own pocket — to sit along with me
and make me jolly ; and I am jolly ; and if I was rich enough to
contract with him to wait upon me once a day, to be looked at,
I'd never be anything else."

The fact may cause a solemn impeachment of Mark's veracity,
but it must be admitted nevertheless, that there was that in hi.s
face and manner at the moment, which militated strongly against
this emphatic declaration of his state of mind.

" Lord love you, Sir," he added, " they're so fond of Liberty
in this part of the globe, that they buy her and sell her and carry
fier to market with 'em. They've such a passion for Liberty, that
they can't help taking liberties with her. That's what it's owing

" Very well," said Martin, wishing to change the theme.
"Having come to that conclusion, ]\Iark, perhaps you'll attend to
me. The place to which the luggage is to go, is printed on this
card. Mrs. Pawkins's Boarding House."

"IV'L-s. Pawkins's boarding-house," repeated Mark. "Now,

"Is that his name'?" asked Martin.

" That's his name, Sir," rejoined Mark. And the negro grinning


asseut from under a leathern portmanteau, than which his own
face was many shades deeper, hobbled down stairs with his portion
of their worldly goods : Mark Tapley having already gone before

Online LibraryCharles DickensLife and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit → online text (page 29 of 80)