Charles Dickens.

Life and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit online

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"He might get more money than with her," said the old man,
" but she will help him to take care of what they have. She is
not too young or heedless, and comes of a good hard griping stock.
But don't you play too fine a game. She only holds him by a
thread ; and if you draw it too tight (I know his temper) it'll
snap. Bind him when he's in the mood, Pecksniff; bind him.
You're too deep. In your way of leading him on, you'll leave him
miles behind. Bah, you man of oil, have I no eyes to see how
you have angled with him from the first 1 "

"Xow I wonder," thought Mr. Pecksniff, looking at him with
a wistful face, "whether this is all he has to say ! "

Old Anthony ruljbed his hands and muttered to himself; com-
plained again that he was cold ; drew his chair before tlie fire ;
and, sitting with his back to Mr. Pecksniff", and his chin sunk
down upon his breast, was, in another minute, quite regardless or
forgetful of his presence.

Uncouth and unsatisfactory as this short interview had been, it
had furnished Mr. Pecksniff" with a hint which, supposing nothing
further were imparted to him, repaid the journey uj), and home
;igain. For the good gentleman liad never (for want of an oppor-
tunity) dived into tlie depths of Mr. Jonas's nature; and any
riiipe for catching such a son-in-law (much more, one written on
a leaf out of his own father's book) was worth the having. In
[. j order that he might lose no chance of improving so fair an oppor-
' tunity by allowing Anthony to fall asleep before he had finished
all he had to say, Mr. Pecksniff, in the disposal of the refresii-
ments on the table — a work to which he now applied himself in
earnest — resorted to manv in'aniious contrivances for attracting


his attention, such as coughing, sneezing, clattering the tea-cui)S,
sharpening the knives, dropi^ing the loaf, and so forth. But all in
vain, for Mr. Jonas returned, and Anthony had said no more.

" What ! My father asleep again 1 " he cried, as he hung up
his hat, and cast a look at him. " Ah ! and snoring. Only
hear ! "

" He snores very deep," said Mr. Pecksniff.

"Snores deep?" repeated Jonas. "Yes; let him alone for
that. He'll snore for six, at any time."

"Do you know, Mr. Jonas," said Pecksniff, "that I think your
father is — don't let me alarm you — breaking 1"

"Oh, is he though?" replied Jonas, with a shake of the head
which expressed the closeness of his dutiful observation. " Ecod,
you don't know how tough he is. He ain't upon the move yet."

" It struck me that he was changed, both in his appearance and
manner," said Mr. Pecksniff.

" That's all you know about it," returned Jonas, seating himself
with a melancholy air. " He never was better than he is now.
How are they all at home 1 How's Charity 1 "

" Blooming, Mr. Jonas, blooming."

" And the other one — how's she ? "

" Volatile trifler ! " said Mr. Pecksniff, fondly musing. " She
is well — she is well. Roving from parlour to bed-room, Mr. Jonas,
like the bee ; skimming from post to pillar, like the butterfly ;
dipping her young beak into our currant wine, like the humming-
bird ! Ah ! were she a little less giddy than she is ; and had she
but the sterling qualities of Cherry, my young friend ! "

"Is she so very giddy, then?" asked Jonas.

"Well, well!" said Mr. Pecksniff", with great feeling; "let
me not be hard upon my child. Beside her sister Cherry she
appears so. A strange noise that, Mr. Jonas ! "

" Something wrong in the clock, I suppose," said Jonas, glanc-
ing towards it. " So the other one ain't your favourite, ain't
she ? "

The fond father was about to reply, and had already summoned
into his face a look of intensest sensibility, when the sound he had,
already noticed was repeated.

" Upon my word, Mr. Jonas, that is a very extraordinary clock,"
said Pecksniff".

It would have been, if it had made the noise which startled
them : but another kind of time-piece was fast running down, and'
from that the sound proceeded. A scream from Chuffey, rendered
a hundred times more loud and formidable by his silent habits,
made the house ring from roof to cellar ; and, looking round, they





saw Anthony Cbuzzlewit extended ou the floor, with the okl clerk
upon his knees beside him.

He had fallen from his chair in a fit, and lay there, battling
for each gasp of breath, with every shrivelled vein and sinew
starting in its place, as it were bent on bearing witness to his
age, and sternly pleading with Nature against his recovery. It
was frightful to see how the principle of life, shut up witliin his
withered frame, fought like a strong devil, mad to be released, and
rent its ancient prison-house. A young man in the fulness of his
vigour, struggling with so much strength of desperation, would
have been a dismal sight ; but an old, old, shrunken body, en-
dowed with preternatural might, and giving the lie in every
motion of its every limb and joint to its enfeebled aspect, was a
hideous spectacle indeed.

They raised him up, and fetched a surgeon with all haste, who
bled the patient and applied some remedies ; but the fits held him
so long, that it was past midnight when they got him — quiet
now, but quite imconscious and exhausted — into bed.

" Don't go," said Jonas, putting his ashy Vips, to Mr. Pecksnift"'s
ear, and whispering across the bed. " It was a mercy you were
present when he was taken ill. Some one might have said it was
my doing."

" Your doing ! " cried Mr. Pecksnitf.

" I don't know but they might," he rei^lied, wiping the moisture
from his white face. " People say such things. How does he
look now 1 "

Mr. Pecksniff" shook his head.

"I used to joke, you know," said Jonas: "but I — I never
wished him dead. Do you think he's very bad?"

" The doctor said he was. You heard," was Mr. Pecksnitt"s

"Ah ! but he might say that to charge us more, in case of his
getting well," said Jonas. " You mustn't go away, Pecksnitt". Now
it's come to this, I wouldn't be without a witness for a thousand

Chuff'ey said not a word, and lieard not a word. He had sat
himself down in a chair at tlie bedside, and there he remained,
motionless ; except that he sometimes bent his head over the
pillow, and seemed to listen. He never changed in this. Though
once in the dreary night Mr. Pecksniff, having dozed, awoke with
a confused impression that he had heard him praying, and strangely
mingling figures — not of speech, but arithmetic — with his broken

Jonas sat there, too, all niglit : not where his father could


have sei'U liiiii, had his consciousness returncil, l)ut iiidin^ir, as it
■were, behind liiui, and only reading how he looked in Mr. Peck-
snift''s eyes, lle^ tlie coarse upstart, who liad ruled the house so
long — that craven cur, who was afraid to move, and shook so that
his very shadow fluttered on the wall !

It was broad, bright, stirring day when, leaving the old clerk
to watch him, they went down to breakfast. Peoi^le hurried up
and down the street ; windows and doors were opened ; thieves
and beggars took their usual posts; workmen bestirred them-
selves ; tradesmen set forth their shops ; bailifts and constables
were on the watch ; all kinds of human creatures strove, in their
several ways, as hard to live, as the one sick old man who com-
bated for every grain of sand in his fast-emptying glass, as eagerly
as if it were an empire.

"If anything happens, Pecksnitf," said Jonas, "you must
promise me to stop here till it's all over. You shall see that I
do what's right."

"I know that you will do what's right, Mr. Jonas," said Peck-

" Yes, yes, but I won't be doubted. No one shall have it in
his power to say a syllable against me," he returned. " I know
how people will talk. — Just as if he wasn't old, or I had the
secret of keeping him alive ! "

Mr. Pecksnitf promised that he would remain, if circumstances
should render it in his esteemed friend's opinion desirable ; and
they were finishing their meal in silence, when suddenly an appari-
tion stood before them, so ghastly to the view, that Jonas shrieked
aloud, and both recoiled in horror.

Old Anthony, dressed in his usual clothes, was in the room —
beside the table. He leaned upon the shoulder of his solitary
friend ; and on his livid face, and on his horny hands, and in his
glassy eyes, and traced by an eternal finger in the very drops of
sweat upon his brow, was one word — Death.

He spoke to them — iu something of his own voice too, l)ut
sharpened and made hollow, like a dead man's face. What lie
would have said, God knows. He seemed to utter woi'ds, but
they were such as man had never heard. And this was the most
fearful circumstance of all, to see liiui standing there, gabbling in
an unearthly tongue.

"He's better now," said ('liuffey. "Better now. Let Inni
sit in his old chair, and he'll be well again. I tolil him imt to
mind. I said so, yesterday."

They put hiin in his easy-chair, and wheeled it near the window ;
then, setting open the door, exposed him to tlie free current of


inorniug air. But not all the air that is, uor all the winds that
ever blew "twixt Heaven and Earth, could have brought new life
to him.

Plunge him to the throat in golden pieces now, and liis heavy
fingers should not close on one.



Mr. Pecksniff was in a hackney cabriolet, for Jonas Chuzzlewit
had said " Spare no expense." Mankind is evil in its thoughts
and in its base constructions, and Jonas was resolved it should not
have an inch to stretch into an ell against him. It never should
be cliarged upon his father's son that he had grudged the money
for his father's funeral. Hence, until the obsequies should be
concluded, Jonas had taken for his motto "Spend, and spare not I"

Mr. Pecksniff had been to the undertaker, and was now upon
his way to another officer in the train of mourning — a female
functionary, a nurse, and watcher, and performer of nameless
offices about the persons of the dead — whom he had recommended.
Her name, as Mr. Pecksniff gathered from a scrap of writing in
his hand, Avas Gamp ; her residence in Kingsgate Street, High
Holborn. So Mr. Pecksniff, in a hackney cab, was rattling over
Holborn stones, in quest of Mrs. Gamp.

This lady lodged at a bird-fancier's ; next door but one to the
celebrated mutton-pie shop, and directly opposite to the original
cat's-meat warehouse ; the renown of which establishments was
duly heralded on tlieir respective fronts. It was a little house,
and this was the more convenient ; for Mrs. Gamp being, in her
highest walk of art, a monthly um-se, or, as her sign-board boldly
had it, "Midwife," and lodging in the first-floor front, was easily
assailable at night by pebbles, walking-sticks, and fragments of
tobacco-pipe : all much more efficacious than the street-door
knocker, which was so constructed as to wake the street with ease,
and even spread alarms of fire in Holborn, without making the
smallest impression on the premises to which it was addressed.

It chanced on this particular occasion that Mrs. Gamp had
been up all the previous night, in attendance upon a ceremony to
which the usage of gossips has given that name wliich expresses,



ill two syllables, the curse pronounced on Adam. It chanced that
Mrs. Gamp had not been regularly engaged, but had been called
in at a crisis, in consequence of her great repute, to assist another
professional lady with her advice ; and thus it happened that, all
points of interest in the case being over, Mrs. Gamp had come
home again to the bird-foncier's, and gone to bed. So when Mr.
Pecksniff drove up in the hackney cab, Mrs. Gamp's curtains were
drawn close, and Mrs. Gamp was fost asleep behind them.

If the bird-fancier had been at home, as he ought to have beeu,
there would have been no great harm in this ; but he was out,
and his shop was closed. The shutters were down certainly ; and
in every pane of glass there was at least one tiny bird in a tiny
bird-cage, twittering and hopping his little ballet of despair, and
knocking his head against the roof ; w'hile one unhappy goldfinch
wdio lived outside a red villa with his name on the door, drew the
water for his own drinking, and mutely appealed to some good
man to drop a farthing's worth of poison in it. Still, the door
was shut. Mr. Pecksniff tried the latch, and shook it, causing a
cracked bell inside to ring most mournfully ; but no one came.
The bird-fancier was an easy shaver also, and a fashionable hair-
dresser also ; and perhaps he had been sent for, express, from the
court end of the towni, to trim a lord, or cut and curl a lady ; but
however that might be, there, upon his own ground, he was not ;
nor was there any more distinct trace of him to assist the imagina-
tion of an inquirer, than a professional print or emblem of his
calling (much favoured in the trade), representing a hair-dresser
of easy manners curling a lady of distinguished fashion, in the
presence of a patent upright grand piano.

Noting these circumstances, Mr. Pecksniff', in tlie innocence of
his heart, applied himself to the knocker ; but at the very first
double knock, every window in the street became alive with female
heads ; and before he could repeat the performance, whole troops
of married ladies (some about to trouble ]\Irs. Gamp themselves,
very shortly) came flocking round the steps ; all crying out with
one accord, and with uncommon interest, " Knock at the winder.
Sir, knock at the winder. Lord bless you, don't lose no more
tinie than you can help — knock at the winder ! "

Acting upon this suggestion, and borrowing the driver's whip
for the purpose, Mr. Pecksniff" soon made a commotion among the
first-floor flower-pots, and roused Mrs. Gamp, whose voice — to the
great satisfaction of the matrons — was heard to say, " I'm

" He's as pale as a muffin," said one lady, in allusion to Mr.



" So he ought to be, if he's the feelings of ;i man," observed

A third \m\y (with her arms folded) said she wished he had
chosen any other time for fetching Mrs. Gamp, but it always
happened so with her.

It gave Mr. Pecksniff much uneasiness to find from these
remarks that he was supposed to have come to Mrs. Gamp upon
an errand touching — not the close of life, but the other end. Mrs.
Gamp herself was under the same impression, for tlirowing open
the window, she cried behind the curtains, as she hastily attired
herself :

" Is it Mrs. Perkins 1 "

"Xo!" returned Mr. Pecksniff, sharply, "nothing of the

"What, Mr. "Whilks ! " cried Mrs. Gamp. "Don't say it's
yon, Mr. Whilks, and that poor creetur JNIrs. Whilks witli not
even a pincushion ready. Don't say it's you, Mr. Whilks ! "

"It isn't Mr. Whilks," said Pecksniff. "I don't know the
man. Nothing of the kind. A gentleman is dead ; and some
person being wanted iu the house, you have been recommended l)y
'Sir. Mould, the undertaker."

As she was by this time in a condition to appear, IMrs. Gamp,
who had a face for all occasions, looked out of window with her
mourning countenance, and said she Avould be down directly.
But the matrons took it very ill, that Mr. Pecksniff's mission
was of so unimportant a kind ; and the lady with her arms folded
rated him in good round terms, signifying that she would be glad
to know what he meant by terrifying delicate females " w^itli his
corpses ; " and giving it as her opinion that he was quite ugly
enough to know better. The other ladies were not at all behind-
hand in expressing similar sentiments ; and the children, of whom
some scores had now collected, hooted and defied Mr. Pecksniff
quite savagely. So when Mrs. Gamp aj)pearcd, the unoffending
gentleman was glad to hustle her with very little ceremony into
the cabriolet, and drive off overwhelmed with popular execration.

Mrs. Gamp had a large bundle with her, a pair of pattens, and
a species of gig umbrella ; the latter article in colour like a faded
leaf, except where a circular patch of a lively blue had l)ceii
dexterously let in at the top. She was much flurried by the
haste she had made, and laboured under the most erroneous views
of cabriolets, which she appeared to confound with niail-cDaches or
stage-waggons, inasmuch as she was constantly endeavouring for
the first half mile to force her luggage throngh the little front
window, and clamouring to tlie driver to "put it in the boot."


When she was disabused of this idea, her whole being resolved
itself into an absorbing anxiety about her i^attens, witli which she
played innumerable games at quoits, on Mr. Pecksnitf's legs. It
was not until they were close upon the house of mourning that
she had enougli composure to observe :

"And so the gentleman's dead. Sir! Ah! The more's the
pity " — she didn't even know his name. " But it's what we must
all come to. It's as certain as being born, except that we can't
make our calculations as exact. Ah ! Poor dear ! "

She was a fat old woman, this Mrs. Gamp, with a husky voice
and a moist eye, which she had a remarkable power of turning up,
and only showing the white of. Having very little neck, it cost
her some trouble to look over herself, if one may say so, at those
to whom she talked. She wore a very rusty black gown, rather
the worse for snuff, and a shawl and bonnet to correspond. In
these dilapidated articles of dress she had, on principle, arrayed
herself, time out of mind, on such occasions as the present ; for
this at once expressed a decent amount of veneration for the
deceased, and invited the next of kin to present her with a fresher
suit of weeds : an appeal so frequently successful, that the very
fetch and ghost of Mrs. Gamp, bonnet and all, might be seen
hanging up, any hour in the day, in at least a dozen of the second-
hand clothes shops about Holborn. The fiice of Mrs. Gamp — the
nose in particular — was somewhat red and swollen, and it was
difficult to enjoy her society without becoming conscious of a
smell of spirits. Like most persons who have attained to great
eminence in their i^rofession, she took to hers very kindly ;
insomuch, that setting aside her natural predilections as a woman,
she went to a lying-in or a laying-out with equal zest and relish.

" Ah ! " repeated Mrs. Gamp ; for it was always a safe
sentiment in cases of mourning. " Ah dear ! When Gamp was
summoned to his long home, and I see him a lying in Guy's
Hospital with a penny-piece on each eye, and his wooden leg
under his left arm, I thought I should have fointed away. But
I bore up."

If certain whispers current in the Kingsgate Street circles had
any truth in them, she had indeed borne up surprisingly ; and
had exerted such uncommon fortitude, as to dispose of Mr.
Gamp's remains for the benefit of science. But it should be
added, in ftiirness, that this had happened twenty years ago ; and
that Mr. and Mrs. Gamp had long been separated, on the ground
of incompatibility of temper in their drink.

"You have become indifterent since then, I suppose?" said
Mr. Pecksniff. " Use is second nature, Mrs. Gamp."


"You may well say second nater, Sir,'' returned that lady.
"One's first ways is to find sich things a trial to the feelings;
and so is one's lasting custom. If it wasn't for the nerve a little
sip of liquor gives me (I never was able to do more than taste it),
I never could go through with what I sometimes have to do.
'Mrs. Harris,' I says, at the very last case as ever I acted in,
which it was but a young person; 'Mrs. Harris,' I says, 'leave
the bottle on the chimley-piece, and don't ask me to take none,
but let me put my lips to it when I am so dispoged, and then I
will do what I'm engaged to do, according to the best of my
ability.' ' Mrs. Gamp,' she says, in answer, ' if ever there was a
sober creetur to be got at eighteen pence a day for working people,
and three and six for gentlefolks — night watching,' " said Mrs.
Gamp, with emphasis, " ' being a extra charge — you are that
inwalable person.' 'Mrs. Harris,' I says to her, 'don't name the
charge, for if I could aftbrd to lay all my feller creeturs out for
nothink, I would gladly do it ; sich is the love I bear 'em. But
what I always says to them as has the management of matters,
Mrs. Harris'" — here she kept her eye on Mr. Pecksniff" — "'be
they gents or be they ladies — is, don't ask me whether I won't
take none, or whether I will, but leave the bottle on the chimley-
piece, and let me put my lips to it when I am so dispoged.'"

The conclusion of this affecting narrative brought them to the
house. In the passage they encountered Mr. Mould the under-
taker : a little elderly gentleman, bald, and in a suit of black ;
with a note-book in his hand, a massive gold watch-chain dangling
from his fob, and a face in which a cpieer attempt at melancholy
was at odds with a smirk of satisfaction ; so that he looked as a
man might who, in the very act of smacking his lips over choice
old wine, tried to make believe it was physic.

"Well, Mrs. Gamp, and how are 7j<m, Mrs. Gamp?" .said this
gentleman, in a voice as soft as his step.

" Pretty well, I thank you. Sir," dropping a curtsey.

" You'll be very particular here, ]\[rs. Gamp. This is not a
common case, Mrs. Gamp. Let everything be very nice and
comfortable, Mrs. Gamp, if you please," said the undertaker,
shaking his head with a solemn air.

" It shall be. Sir," she replied, curtseying again. " Yon knows
me of old, Sir, I hope."

"I hope so, too, Mrs. Gamp," said the midertakor : "and I
think so, also." Mrs. Gamp curtseyed again. " This is one of
the most impressive cases. Sir," he continued, addressing Mr.
Pecksniff", "that I have seen in the whole course of my pro-
fessional experience."


" Indeed, Mr. Mould ! " cried tliat gentleman.

" Such affectionate regret, Sir, I never saw. There is no
limitation — there is positively no limitation," — opening his eyes
wide, and standing on tiptoe, "in point of expense. I have
orders. Sir, to put on my whole establishment of mutes ; and
mutes come very dear, Mr. Pecksniff; not to mention their
drink. To provide silver-jjlated handles of the very best descrip-
tion, ornamented with angels' heads from the most expensive dies.
To be perfectly profuse in feathers. In short, Sir, to turn out
something absolutely gorgeous."

" My friend Mr. Jonas is an excellent man," said Mr. Pecksniff.

" I have seen a good deal of what is filial in my time. Sir,"
retorted Mould, " and of what is unfilial too. It is our lot. We
come into the knowledge of those secrets. But anything so filial
as this ; anything so honourable to human nature ; so calculated
to reconcile all of us to the world we live in ; never yet came
under my observation. It only proves. Sir, what was so forcibly
observed by the lamented theatrical poet buried — at Stratford —
that there is good in everything."

"It is very pleasant to hear you say so, Mr. Mould," observed

" You are very kind. Sir. And what a man Mr. Chuzzlewit
was, Sir ! Ah ! what a man he was. You may talk of your
Lord Mayors," said Mould, waving his hand at the public in
general, " your Sheriffs, your Common Councilmen, your
trumpery ; but show me a man in this city who is worthy to
walk in tlie shoes of the departed Mr. Chuzzlewit. No, no,"
cried Mould, with bitter sarcasm. " Hang 'em up, hang 'em up ;
sole 'em and heel 'em, and have 'em ready for his son against he's
old enough to wear 'em ; but don't try 'em on yourselves, for they
won't fit you. We knew him," said Movdd, in the same biting
vein, as he pocketed his note-book ; " we knew him, and are not
to be caught with chaff". Mr. Pecksniff, Sir, good morning."

Mr. Pecksniff" returned the compliment ; and Mould, sensible
of having distinguished himself, was going away with a brisk smile,
when he fortunately remembered the occasion. Quickly becoming
depressed again, he sighed ; looked into the crown of his hat, as if
for comfort ; put it on without finding any ; and slowly departed.

Mrs. Gamp and Mr. Pecksniff then ascended the staircase ;
and the former, having been shown to the chamber in which all

Online LibraryCharles DickensLife and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit → online text (page 32 of 80)