Charles Dickens.

Life and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit online

. (page 34 of 80)
Online LibraryCharles DickensLife and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit → online text (page 34 of 80)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

one ; a prismatically tinged one, if I may be permitted to call it so."

"What do you mean by that?" growled Jonas, looking at him
with increased disfavour.
'^ "Indeed, my dear friend," said Mr. Pecksniff, "you may well
inquire. The heart is not always a royal mint, with patent
machinery, to work its metal into current coin. Sometimes it
throws it out in strange forms, not easily recognised as coin at all.
But it is sterling gold. It has at least that merit. It is sterling

"Is if?" grumbled Jonas, with a doubtful shake of the

"Ay!" said Mr. Pecksniff, warming w4th his subject, "it is.
To be^lain with you, Mr. Jonas, if I could find two such sons-in-
law as you will one day make to some deserving man, capable of
appreciating a nature such as yours, I would — forgetful of myself —
bestow upon my daughters, portions reaching to the very utmost
limit of my means."

This was strong language, and it was earnestly delivered. But
who can wonder that such a man as Mr. Pecksniff, after all he had
seen and heard of Mr. Jonas, should be strong and earnest upon
such a theme ; a theme that touched even the worldly lips of
undertakers with the honey of eloquence !

Mr. Jonas was silent, and looked thoughtfully at the landscape.
For they were seated on the outside of the coach, at the back, and
were travelling down into the country. He accompanied Mr.


Pecksniti" home for a few days' change of air and scene after his
recent trials.

" Well," he said, at last, with captivating bluntness, " suppose
you got one such son-in-law as me, what then 1 "

Mr. Pecksnitf regarded him at first with inexpressible surprise ;
then gradually breaking into a sort of dejected vivacity, said :

" Then well I know whose husband he would be ! "

" Whose 1 " asked Jonas, drily.

" My eldest girl's, Mr. Jonas," replied Pecksnift', with moisten-
ing eyes. "My dear Cherry's: my staff, my scrip, my treasure,
Mr. Jonas. A hard struggle, but it is in the nature of things !
I must one day j^art with her to a husband. I know it, my dear
friend. I am prepared for it."

" Ecod ! you've been prepared for that, a i)retty long time, I
should think," said Jonas.

" Many have sought to bear her from mc," said Mr. Pecksnifi".
" All have failed. ' I never will give my hand, papa,' — those
were her words, 'unless my heart is won.' She has not been quite
60 happy as she used to be, of late. I don't know why."

Again Mr. Jonas looked at the landscape ; then at the
coachman; then at the luggage on the roof; finally, at Mr.

" I suppose you'll have to part witli the other one, some of
these days ? " he observed, as he caught that gentleman's eye.

"Probably," said the parent. "Years will tame down the
wildness of my foolish bird, and then it will be caged. But
Cherry, Mr. Jonas, Cherry — "

" Oh, ah ! " interrupted Jonas. " Years have made her all
right enough. Nobody doubts that. But you haven't answered
what I asked you. Of course, you're not obliged to do it, you
know, if you don't like. You're the best judge."

There was a warning sulkiness in the manner of this speech,
which admonished Mr. Pecksnift" that his dear friend was not to
be trifled with or fenced oft' and tliat he must either return a
straightforward reply to his cfuestion, or plainly give him to under-
stand that he declined to enlighten him upon the subject to which
it referred. Mindful in this dilemma of the caution old Anthony
had given him almost with his latest breath, he resolved to speak
to the point, and so told I\Ir. Jonas- — enlarging upon the communi-
cation as a proof of his great attachment and confidence — that in
the case he had put, to wit, in the event of such a man as he
proposing for his daughter's hand, he would endow her with a
fortune of four thousand pounds.

"I should sadly pincli and cramp myself to do so," was his


fatherly remark ; "but that would be my duty, and my conscience
would reward me. For myself, my conscience is my Ijank. I have
a trifle invested there — a mere trifle, Mr. Jonas — but I prize it as
a store of value, I assure you."

The good man's enemies would have divided upon this questiou
into two parties. One would have asserted without scruple that
if Mr. Pecksnift's conscience were his bank, and he kept a running
account there, he must have overdrawn it beyond all mortal means
of computation. The other would have contended that it was a
mere fictitious form ; a perfectly blank book ; or one in which
entries were only made with a peculiar kind of invisible ink to
become legible at some indefinite time ; and that he never troubled
it at all.

"It would sadly pinch and cramp me, my dear friend,"
repeated Mr. Pecksnifl", " but Providence — perhaps I may be per-
mitted to say a special Providence — has blessed my endeavours,
and I could guarantee to make the sacrifice."

A question of philosophy arises here, whether Mr. Pecksniff" had
or had not good reason to say, that he was specially patronised and
encouraged in his undertakings. All his life long he had been
walking up and down the narrow ways and bye-places, with a hook
in one hand and a crook in the other, scraping all sorts of valuable
odds and ends into his pouch. Now, there being a special Provi-
dence in the fiiU of a sparrow, it follows (so Mr. Pecksniff' might
have reasoned, perhaps), that there must also be a special
Providence in the alighting of the stone, or stick, or other substance
which is aimed at the sparrow. And Mr. Pecksuiff"'s hook, or
crook, having invariably knocked the sparrow on the head and
brought him down, that gentleman may have been led to consider
himself as specially licensed to bag sparrows, and as being
specially seised and possessed of all the birds he had got together.
That many undertakings, national as well as individual — but
especially the former — are held to be specially brought to a glorious
and successful issue, which never could be so regarded on any
other process of reasoning, must be clear to all men. Therefore
the precedents would seem to show that Mr. Pecksniff' had good
argument for what he said, and might be permitted to say it, and
did not say it presumptuously, vainly, or arrogantly, but in a
spirit of high faith and great wisdom meriting all praise.

Mr. Jonas, not being much accustomed to perplex his mind
with theories of this nature, expressed no opinion on the subject.
Nor did he receive his companion's announcement with one
solitary syllable, good, bad, or indiff'erent. He preserved this
taciturnity for a quarter of an hour at least, and during the whole


lit' that time appeared to be steadily engaged in subjecting sonic
L^ivcu amount to the operation of every known rule in figures ;
adding to it, taking from it, multiplying it, reducing it by long and
short division ; working it by the rule-of-three direct and inversed ;
exchange or barter ; i3ractice ; simple interest ; compound interest ;
and other means of arithmetical calculation. The result of these
lal)ours appeared to be satisfactory, for when he did break silence,
ir was as one who had arrived at some speciiic result, and freed
liiniself from a state of distressing uncertainty.

"Come, old Pecksnitf!" — such was his jocose address, as he
slapped that gentleman on the back, at the end of the stage—
" let's have something ! "

" With all my heart," said Mr. Pecksniff

" Let's treat the driver," cried Jonas.

" If yoii_ tMuk^ it w^on't hurt the man, or render him discon-
tented witli_his station — certainly," faltered Mr. Pecksniff.

Jonas only laughed at this, and getting down from the coach-
top with great alacrity, cut a cumbersome kind of caper in the
road. After which, he went into the public-house, and there
ordered spirituous drink to such an extent that Mr. Pecksniff had
some doubts of his perfect sanity, until Jonas set them quite at
rest by saying, when the coach could wait no longer :

" Pve been standing treat for a whole week and more, and
letting you have all the delicacies of the season. You shall ])ay
for this, Pecksniff" It was not a joke either, as Mr. Pecksnitf at
first supposed ; for he went off to the coach without further
ceremony, and left his respected victim to settle the bill.

But Mr. Pecksniff was a man of meek endurance, and Mr. Jonas
was his friend. Moreover, his regard for that gentleman was
founded, as w^ know, on pure esteem, and a knowledge of the
excellence of his character. He came out from the tavern with a
smiling face, and even went so for as to repeat the performance,
on a less expensive scale, at the next aleliouse. There was a
certain wildness in the spirits of Mr. Jonas (not usually a jmit of
his character) which was far from being subdued by these means,
and, for the rest of the journey, he was so very buoyant — it may
be said, boisterous — ^that Mr. Pecksniff had some difficulty in
keeping pace with him.

They were not expected— oh dear, no ! i\Ir. Pecksniff had
proposed in London to give the girls a surprise, and had said he
wouldn't write a word to prepare them on any account, in order
that he and Mr. Jonas might take them unawares, and just sec
what they were doing, when they thought their dear papa was
miles and miles away. As a consequence of this playful device.


there was nobody to meet them at the finger-post, hut that was of
small consequence, for they had come down by the day coach, and
Mr. Pecksniff had only a carpet-bag, while Mr. Jonas had only a
portmanteau. They took the portmanteau between them, put the
bag upon it, and walked off up the lane without delay : Mr.
Pecksniff already going on tiptoe as if, without this precaution, his
fond children, being then at a distance of a couple of miles or so,
would have some filial sense of his approach.

It was a lovely evening, in the spring-time of the year ; and in
the soft stillness of the twilight, all nature was very calm and
beautiful. The day had been fine and warm ; but at the coming
on of night, the air grew cool, and in the mellowing distance,
smoke was rising gently from the cottage chimneys. There were a
thousand pleasant scents diffused around, from young leaves and
fresh buds ; the cuckoo had been singing all day long, and was but
just now hushed ; the smell of earth, newly-upturned — first breath
of hope to the first labourer, after his garden withered — was
fragrant in the evening breeze. It was a time when most men
cherish good resolves, and sorrow for the wasted past : when most
men, looking on tlie shadows as they gather, think of that evening
which must close on all, and that to-morrow which has none

"Precious dull," said Mr. Jonas, looking about. "It's enough
to make a mau go melancholy mad."

" We shall have lights and a fire soon," observed Mr. Pecksniflf.

" We shall need 'em by the time we get there," said Jonas.
" Why the devil don't you talk 1 What are you thinking of? "

" To tell you the truth, Mr. Jonas," said Pecksnift" with great
solemnity, " my mind was running at that moment on our late
dear friend, your departed father." ^

Mr. Jonas immediately let his burden fall, and said, threatening
him with his hand :

"Drop that, Pecksniff!"

Mr. Pecksnift", not exactly knowing whether allusion was made
to the subject or the portmanteau, stared at his friend in unaftected

"Drop it, I say!" cried Jonas, fiercely. "Do you hear?
Drop it — now and for ever. You had better, I give you notice ! "

" It was quite a mistake," urged Mr. Pecksnitt" very mucli dis-
mayed ; " though I admit it was foolish. I might have known it
was a tender string."

" Don't talk to me about tender strings," said Jonas, wiping
his forehead with the cuff" of his coat. " I'm not going to be
crowed over by you, because I don't like dead company."


Mr. Pecksniff had got out the words " Crowed over, I\Ir. Jonas ! "
\\ lu'U that young man, with a dark expression in his countenance,
nir liim short once more :

■'Mind!" he said, "I Avon't have it. I advise you not to
revive the subject, neither to me uor anybody else. You can take a
liint, if you choose, as well as another man. There's enough said
about it. Come along ! "

Taking up his part of the load again, when he had said these
wnrds, he hurried on so fast tliat jMr. Pecksniff", at the other end
(if the portmanteau, found himself dragged forward in a very
inrnnvenient and ungraceful manner, to the great detriment of what
is called by fancy gentlemen "the bark" upon his shins, which
were most unmercifully bumped against the hard leather and the
iicu buckles. In the course of a few minutes, however, Mr. Jonas
relaxed his speed, and suffered his companion to come up with him,
and to bring the portmanteau into a tolerably straight position.

It was pretty clear that he regretted his late outbreak, and
that he mistrusted its effect on Mr. Pecksniff; for as often as that
gentleman glanced towards Mr. Jonas, he found Mr. Jonas glancing
at him, which was a new source of embarrassment. It was but a
short-lived one though, for Mr. Jonas soon began to whistle,
wliereupon Mr. Pecksniff, taking his cue from his friend, began to
hum a tune melodiously.

"Pretty nearly there, ain't we?" said Jonas, when this had
la-sted some time.

" Close, my dear friend," said Mr. Pecksniff.

" What'll they be doing, do you suppose ? " asked Jonas.

"Impossible to say," cried Mr. Pecksniff. "Giddy truants!
They may be away from home, perhaps. I was going to — he !
he ! he ! — I was going to propose," said Mr. Pecksniff, " that we
should enter by the back way, and come upon them like a clap of
thunder, ]\Ir. Jonas."

It might not have been easy to decide in respect of which of

their manifold properties, Jonas, Mr. Pecksniff, the carpet-bag, and

the portmanteau, coidd be likened to a clap of thunder. But Mr.

i Jonas giving his assent to this proposal, they stole round into the

; back yard, and softly advanced towards the kitchen window,

. through wliich the mingled light of fire and candle shone upon the

darkening night.

Truly j\Ir. Pecksniff is blessed in his children — in one of them, at

any rate. The prudent Cherry — staff, and scrip, and treasure of her

rdoting father — there she sits, at a little table white as driven snow,

' before the kitchen fire, making up accounts ! See tlie neat maiden,

! as with pen in hand, and Wlculating look addressed towards the


ceiling, and bunch of keys within a little basket at her side, she
checks the housekeeping expenditure ! From flat-iron, dish-cover,
and warming-pan ; from pot and kettle, face of brass footman, and
black-leaded stove ; bright glances of approbation wink and glow
upon her. The very onions dangling from the beam mantle and
shine like cherubs' cheeks. Something of the influence of those
vegetables sinks into Mr. Pecksniff's nature. He weeps.

It is but for a moment, and he hides it from the observation of
his friend — very carefully — by a somewhat elaborate use of his
pocket-handkerchief, in fact : for he Avould not have liis weakness

"Pleasant," he murmured — "pleasant to a father's feelings!
My dear girl ! Shall we let her know we are here, Mr. Jonas 1 "

" Why, I suppose you don't mean to spend the evening in the
stable or the coach-house," he returned.

'• That, indeed, is not such hospitality as I would show to j/on,
my friend," cried Mr. Pecksniff", pressing his hand. And then he
took a long breatli, and, tapping at the window, shouted with
stentorian blandness :


Cherry dropped her pen and screamed. But innocence is ever
bold — or should be. As they opened the door, the valiant girl
exclaimed in a firm voice, and with a presence of mind which even
in that trying moment did not desert her, " Who are you 1 What
do you want 1 Speak ! Or I will call my Pa."

Mr. Pecksniff held out his arms. She knew him instantly, and
rushed into his fond embrace.

" It was thoughtless of us, Mr. Jonas, it was very thoughtless,"
said Pecksniff, smoothing his daughter's hair. " My darling, do
you see that I am not alone ! "

Not she. She had seen nothing but her father until now. She
saw Mr. Jonas now, though ; and blushed, and hung her head
down, as she gave him welcome.

- But where was Merry 1 Mr. Pecksniff didn't ask the question
in reproach, but in a vein of mildness touched with a gentle sorrow.
She was up stairs, reading on the parlour couch. Ah ! Domestic
details had no charms for //er. " But call her down," said Mr.
Pecksniff', with a placid resignation. "Call her down, my love."

She was called and came, all flushed and tumbled from
reposing on the sofa ; but none tlie worse for that. No, not at all.
Ratlier the better, if anything.

" Oh my goodness me ! " cried the arch girl, turning to her
cousin when she had kissed her father on both cheeks, and in her
frolicsome nature had bestowed a supernumerary salute upon the


ip of his nose, '■^ you here, fright! Well, I'm very thankful that
ou won't trouble me much ! "

" What ! you're as lively as ever, are you ? " said Jonas. " Oh !
fou're a wicked one ! "

"There, go along !" retorted Merry, pushing him away. " I'm
ure I don't know what I shall ever do, if I have to see much of
ou. Go along, for gracious' sake ! "

Mr. Pecksniff striking in here, with a request that JMr. Jonas
'ould immediately walk up stairs, he so far complied with the
oung lady's adjuration as to go at once. But though he had the
lir Cherry on his arm, he could not help looking back at her sister,
nd exchanging some further dialogue of the same bantering
escription, as they all four ascended to the parlour ; where — for
he young ladies happened, by good fortune, to be a little later than
.suul that niglit — the tea-board was at that moment being set

^Ir. Pinch was not at home, so they had it all to themselves,
nd were very snug and talkative, Jonas sitting between the two
isters, and displaying his gallantry in that engaging manner which
ras peculiar to him. It was a hard thing, Mr. Pecksniff said,
rhcn tea was done and cleared away, to leave so pleasant a little
tarty, but having some important papers to examine in his own
partment, he must beg them to excuse him for half an hour.
iVitli this ajiology he withdrew, singing a careless strain as he
rent. He had not been gone five minutes, when Merry, who had
>een sitting in the window, apart from Jonas and her sister, burst
nto a half-smothered laugh, and skipped towards the door.

" Hallo ! " cried Jonas. " Don't go."

" Oh, I dare say ! " rejoined Merry, looking back. " You're
[•ery anxious I should stay, fright, ain't you % "

"Yes, I am," said Jonas. "Upon my word I am. I want
o speak to you." But as she left the room notwithstanding, he
;an out after her, and brought her back, after a short struggle in
the passage which scandalized Miss Cherry very much.
' "Upon my word. Merry," urged that young lady, "I wonder at
ou ! There are bounds even to absurdity, my dear."

"Thank you, my sweet," said Meriy, pursing up her rosy lips.
Much obliged to it for its advice. Oh I do leave me alone, you
lonster, do ! " This entreaty was wrung from her by a new
roceeding on the part of Mr. Jonas, who pulled her down, all
reathless as she was, into a seat beside him on the sofa, having
t the same time Miss Cherry upon the other side.

"Now," said Jonas, clasping the waist of eacli : "I have got
oth arms full, haven't 1 1 "



" One of them will be black and blue to-morrow, if you don't
let me go," cried the playful Merry.

"Ah ! I don't mind your pinching," grinned Jonas, "a bit."

"Pinch him for me. Cherry, pray," said Mercy. "I never
did hate anybody so much as I hate this creature, I declare I "

"No, no, don't say that," urged Jonas, "and don't pinch either,
because I want to be serious. I say — Cousin Charity — "

" Well ! what ? " she answered sharply.

" I want to have some sober talk," said Jonas : " I want to
prevent any mistakes, you know, and to put everything upon a
pleasant understanding. That's desirable and proper, ain't it ? "

Neither of the sisters spoke a word. Mr. Jonas paused and
cleared his throat, which was very dry.

" She'll not believe what I am going to say, will she, cousin '? "
said Jonas, timidly squeezing Miss Charity.

" Really, Mr. Jonas, I don't know, until I hear what it is.
It's quite impossible ! "

"Why, you see," said Jonas, "her way always being to make
game of people, I know she'll laugh, or pretend to — I know that,
beforehand. But you can tell her I'm in earnest, cousin ; can't
you ? You'll confess you know, won't you ? You'll be honourable,
I'm sure," he added persuasively.

No answ^er. His throat seemed to grow hotter and hotter, and
to be more and more difficult to control.

"You see. Cousin Charity," said Jonas, " nobody but you can
tell her what pains I took to get into her company when you were
both at the boarding-house in the City, because nobody's so well
aware of it, you know. Nobody else can tell her how hard I
tried to get to know you better, in order that I miglit get to
know her without seeming to wish it; can they? I always asked
you about hei', and said where had she gone, and when would she
come, and how lively she was, and all that ; didn't I, cousin 1 I
know you'll tell her so, if you haven't told her so already, and —
and — I dare say you have, because I'm sure you're honourable.
ain't you ? "

Still not a word. The right arm of ]\Ir. Jonas — tlie eldei
sister sat upon his right — may have been sensible of some
tumultuous throbbing which was not within itself; but nothing
else apprised him that his words had had the least effect.

" Even if you kept it to yourself, and haven't told her," resumed
Jonas, "it don't much matter, because you'll bear honest witness
now ; won't you ? We've been very good friends from the first 1
haven't we '? And of course we shall be quite friends in future,'
and so I don't mind speaking before you a bit. Cousin Mercy^'


ou've heard what I've been saying. She'll confirm it, every
i^ord ; she must. Will you have me for your liusbaiul 1 Eh 1 "

As he released his hold of Charity, to put this question with
letter efiect, she started uji and hurried away to her own room,
aarkiiig her progress as she went by such a train of passionate
ud incoherent sound, as nothing but a slighted woman in her
,nger could produce.

" Let me go awvay. Let me go after her," said Merry, pushing
liin oti" and giving him — to tell the trutli — more than one sounding
lap upon his outstretched face.

"Not till you say 'Yes.' You haven't told me. "Will you
lave me for your husband I "

" No, I won't. I can't bear the sight of you. I have told
ou so a hundred times. You are a fright. Besides, I always
hought you liked my sister best. We all thought so."

" But that wasn't my fault," said Jonas.

"Yes, it was : you know it was."

. " Any trick is fair in love," said Jonas. " She may have
hought I liked her best, but you didn't."

" I did ! "

" No, you didn't. You never could have thought I liked her
test, when you were by."

"There's no accounting for tastes," said Merry; "at least I
lidn't mean to say that. I don't know what I naean. Let me
;o to her."

"Say 'Yes,' and then I will."

" If I ever brought myself to say so, it should only be, that
' might hate and tease you all my life."

" That's as good," cried Jonas, " as saying it right out. It's
, bargain, cousin. We're a pair, if ever there was one."

This gallant speech was succeeded by a confused noise of kiss-
ng and slapping ; and then the fair, but much dishevelled Merry
)roke away, and followed in the footstejjs of her sister.

Now, whether Mr. Pecksniff" had been listening— which in one
if his character appears impossible : or divined almost l)y iiispira-
ion what the matter was — which, in a man of his sagacity is far
iiore probable : or happened by sheer good fortune to find himself
n exactly the right place, at precisely the right time — which,
mder the special guardianship in which lie lived might very
easonably happen : it is quite certain that at the moment wlien
he sisters came together in their own room, he aj^peared at the
;hamber door. And a marvellous contrast it was — tlioy so heated,
loisy, and vehement; he so calm, so self-possessed, so cool and
'all of peace, that not a hair upon his head was stirred.


Online LibraryCharles DickensLife and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit → online text (page 34 of 80)