Charles Dickens.

Life and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit online

. (page 38 of 80)
Online LibraryCharles DickensLife and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit → online text (page 38 of 80)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

enough to resume the conversation. But Mrs. Hominy was a
traveller. Mrs. Hominy was a writer of reviews and analytical
disquisitions. Mrs. Hominy had had her letters from abroad,
beginning "My ever dearest blank," and signed "The Mother of
the Modern Gracchi " (meaning the married Miss Hominy), regu-
larly printed in a public journal, with all the indignation in
capitals, and all the sarcasm in italics. Mrs. Hominy had
looked on foreign countries with the eye of a perfect republican
hot from the model oven ; and Mrs. Hominy could talk (or write)
about them by the hour together. So Mrs. Hominy at last came
down on Martin heavily, and as he was fast asleep, she had it all
her own way and bruised him to her heart's content.

It is no great matter what Mrs. Hominy said, save that she
had learnt it from the cant of a class, and a large class, of her
fellow-countrymen, who, in their every word, avow themselves to
be as senseless to the high principles on which America sprang,
a nation, into life, as any Orson in her legislative halls. Who are
no more capable of feeling, or of caring if they did feel, that by
reducing their own country to the ebb of honest men's contempt,
they put in hazard the rights of nations yet unborn, and very pro-
gress of the human race, than are the swine who wallow in their
streets. Who think that crying out to other nations, old in their
iniquity, "We are no worse than you !" (No worse !) is high de-
fence and 'vantage-ground enough for that Republic, but yesterday
let loose upon her noble course, and but to-day so maimed and
lame, so full of sores and ulcers, foul to the eye and almost hope-
less to the sense, that her best friends turn from the loathsome
creature with disgust. Who, having by their ancestors declared
and won their Independence, because they would not bend the
knee to certain Public vices and corruptions and would not abrogate
the truth, run riot in the Bad, and turn their backs upon the Good ;
and lying down contented with the wretched boast that other
Temples also are of glass, and stones which batter theirs may be
flung back ; show themselves, in that alone, as immeasurably
behind the import of the trust they hold, and as unworthy to pos-
sess it, as if the sordid hucksterings of all their little governments
— each one a kingdom in its small depravity — were brought into
a heap for evidence against them.


]Martin by degrees became so fur awake, that he had a sense of
I terrible oppression on his mind ; an imperfect dream that he had
nurdered a particidar friend, and coid(ln't get rid of the body.
^Vlicn liis eyes opened it was staring liim full in the face. There
,vas the horrible Hominy, talking deep truths in a melodious
;nuffle, and pouring forth her mental endowments to such an extent
;hat the IMajor's bitterest enemy, hearing her, would have forgiven
lim from the bottom of his heart. Martin might have done
something desperate if the gong had not sounded for supper ; but
sound it did most opportunely ; and having stationed Mrs. Hominy
it the upper end of the table, he took refuge at the lower end
limself ; whence, after a hasty meal, he stole away, while the lady
ivas yet busied with dried beef and a whole saucer-full of pickled

It would be difficult to give an adequate idea of Mrs. Hominy's
■reshness next day, or of the avidity with which she went headlong
nto moral philosophy at breakfast. Some little additional degree
)f asperity, perhaps, was visible in her features, but not more than
;he pickles would have naturally produced. All that day, she
dung to Martin. She sat beside him while he received his friends
—for there was another Reception, yet more numerous than the
brmer — propounded theories, and answered imaginary objections :
so that Martin really began to think he must be dreaming, and
speaking for two ; quoted interminable passages from certain
!ssays on government, written by herself; used the Major's pocket-
landkerchief as if the snuffle were a temporary malady, of which
she was determined to rid herself by some means or other; and,
a short, was such a remarkable companion, that Martin quite
settled it between himself and his conscience, that in any new
settlement it would be absolutely necessary to have such a person
knocked on tlu; head for the general peace of society.

In the meantime Alark w^as busy, from early in the morning
.mtil Late at niglit, in getting on board the steamboat such pro-
s^isions, tools, and other necessaries, as they had been forewarnetl
it would be wise to take. The purchase of these things, and the
settlement of their bill at the National, reduced their finances to
50 low an ebb, that if the captain had delayed his departure any
longer, they would have been in almost as bad a plight as the
unfortunate poorer emigrants, wdio (seduced on board by solemn
advertisement) had been living on the lower deck a whole week,
and exhausting their miserable stock of provisions before the voyage
[•omraenced. There they were, all huddled together, with the
engine and the fires. Farmers who had never seen a plough ;
woudinen who had never used an axe ; builders who couldn't make


a box ; cast out of their own laud, with not a hand to aid them ;
newly come into an unknown world, children in helplessness, but
men in wants — with younger children at their backs, to live or
die as it might happen !

The morning came, and they would start at noon. Noon came,
and they would start at night. But nothing is eternal in this
world : not even the procrastination of an American skipper : and
at night all was ready.

Dispirited and weary to the last degree, but a greater lion than
ever (he had done nothing all the afternoon but answer letters
from strangers : half of them about nothing : half about borrowing
money : and all requiring an instantaneous reply), Martin walked
down to the wharf, through a concourse of people, with Mrs.
Hominy upon his arm ; and went on board. But Mark was bent
on solving the riddle of this lionship, if he could ; and so, not
without the risk of being left behind, ran back to the hotel.

Captain Kedgick was sitting in the colonnade, with a julep
on his knee, and a cigar in his mouth. He caught Mark's eye,
and said :

" Why, what the 'Tarnal brings you here '? "

" I'll tell you plainly what it is, Captain," said Mark. " I want
to ask you a question."

" A man may ask a question, so he may," returned Kedgick
strongly implying that another man might not answer a question,
so he mightn't.

" What have they been making so much of him for, now 1 " said
Mark, slyly. " Come ! "

" Our people like ex-citement," answered Kedgick, sucking hia

" But how has he excited 'em ? " asked Mark.

The captain looked at him as if he were half inclined i
unburden his mind of a capital joke.

"You air a going T' he said.

" Going ! " cried Mark. " Ain't every moment precious ? "

" Our people like ex-citement," said the Captain, whispering]
" He ain't like emigrants in gin'ral ; and he ex-cited 'em along ol
this ; " he winked and burst into a smothered laugh ; " along
this. Scadder is a smart man, and — and — nobody as goes to Eder
ever comes back a-live ! "

The wharf was close at hand, and at that instant Mark coule
hear them shouting out his name — could even hear Martin calling
to him to make haste, or they would be separated. It was to«
late to mend the matter, or put any face upon it but the best. H
gave the Captain a parting benediction, and ran off like a race-hor-se



" Mark ! Mark ! " cried Martin.

" Here am I, Sir ! " shouted IMark, suddenlj' replying from the
ige of the quay, aud leaping at a bound on board. " Never was
alf so jolly, Sir. All right ! Haul in ! Go a-head ! "

The sparks from the wood fire streamed upward from the two
limneys, as if the vessel were a great firework just lighted ; aud
ley roared away upon the dark water.



There happened to be on board the steamboat several gentle-
len passengers, of the same stamp as Martin's New York friend
Ir. Bevau ; and in their society he was cheerful aud happy. They
jleased him as well as they could from the intellectual entaugle-
leuts of Mrs. Hominy ; and exhibited, in all they said and did,
) much good sense and high feeling, that he could not like them
)0 well. "If this were a republic of Intellect and Worth," he
lid, " instead of vapouring and jobbing, they would not want the
ivers to keep it in motion."

" Having good tools, aud using bad ones," returned Mr. Tapley,
would look as if they was rather a poor sort of carpenters. Sir,
wouldn't it 1 "

Martin nodded. " As if their work were infinitely above their
owers and purpose, Mark; and they botched it in consequence."

"The best on it is," said Mark, "that when they do happen to
lake a decent stroke ; such as better workmen, with no such
pportunities, make every day of their lives and think nothing of;
hey begin to sing out so surprising loud. Take notice of my
r'ords. Sir. If ever the defaulting part of this here country pays
;s debts — along of finding that not paying 'em won't do in a
ommercial point of view, you see, and is inconvenient in its
onsequences — they'll take such a shine out of it, and make such
Tagging speeches, that a man might suppose no borrowed money
ad ever been paid afore, since the world was first begun. That's
he way they gammon each other. Sir. Bless you, / know 'em.
^ake notice of my words, now ! "

"You seem to be growing profoundly sagacious ! " cried Martin,


" "Whether that is," tliought Mark, " because I'm a day's
journey nearer Eden, and am brightening up, afore I die, I can't
say. P'raps by the time I get there, I shall have growed into
a propliet."

He gave no utterance to these sentiments ; but the excessive
joviality they inspired within him, and the merriment they brought
upon liis shining face, were quite enough for Martin. Although
he might sometimes profess to make light of his partner's inex-
haustible cheerfulness, and might sometimes, as in the case of
Zephaniah Scadder, find him too jocose a commentator, he was
always sensible of the effect of his example in rousing him to
hopefulness and courage. Whether he were in the humour to
profit by it, mattered not a jot. It was contagious, and he could
not choose but be affected.

At first they parted with some of their passengers once or twice
a day, and took in others to replace them. But by degrees, the^
towns upon their route became more thinly scattered ; and for
many hours together they would see no other habitations than the-
huts of the wood-cutters, where the vessel stopped for fuel. Sky,
wood, and water, all the livelong day ; and heat that blistered
everything it touched.

On they toiled through great solitudes, where the trees upon
the banks grew thick and close ; and floated in the stream ; and
held up shrivelled arms from out the river's depths ; and slid
down from the margin of the land : half growing, half decaying,
in the miry water. On through the weary day and melancholv
night : beneath the burning sun, and in the mist and vapoui
of the evening : on, until return appeared impossible, and restora-
tion to their home a miserable dream.

They had now but iew people on board, and these few were as
flat, as dull, and stagnant, as the vegetation that oppressed theii
eyes. No sound of cheerfulness or hope was heard ; no pleasant
talk beguiled the tardy time ; no little group made common causi
against the dull depression of the scene. But that, at certaii
periods, they swallowed food together from a common trough, i!
might have been old Charon's boat, conveying melancholy shade!
to judgment.

At length they drew near New Thermopyhe ; where, that sara!
evening, Mrs. Hominy would disembark. A gleam of comfori
sunk into Martin's bosom when she told him this. Mark needeij
none ; but he was not dis])leased. '

It was almost night when they came alongside the landiucj
})lace — ^a steep bank with an hotel, like a barn, on the top of itj
a wooden store or two ; and a few scattered sheds. i



" You sleep here to-uight, aud go ou in the luurning, I suppose,
la'aui 1" said Martin.

" Where should I go ou to 1 " cried the uiother of the modern

" To New Thermopyke."

" My ! ain't I there 1 " said Mrs. Houiiuy.

Martin looked for it all round the darkening panorama ; but
s couldn't see it, and was obliged to say so.

'' Why, that's it ! " cried Mrs. Hominy, pointing to the sheds
ist mentioned.

" Tkitt ! " exclaimed Martin.

" Ah ! that ; aud work it which way you will, it whips Eden,"
lid Mrs. Hominy, nodding her head with great expression.

The married Miss Hominy, who had come on board with her
usband, gave to this statement her most unqualified support, as
A that gentleman also. Martin gratefully declined their invita-
on to regale himself at their bouse during the half hour of the
issel's stay ; aud having escorted Mrs. Hominy aud the red
Dcket- handkerchief (which was still on active service) safely
;ross the gangway, returned in a thoughtful mood to watch
le emigrants as they removed their goods ashore.

Mark, as he stood beside him, glanced in his face from time to
me ; anxious to discover what effect this dialogue had had upon
im, and not unwilling that his hopes should be dashed before
ley reached their destination, so that the blow he feared, might
J broken in its fall. But saving that he sometimes looked up
.lickly at the poor erections ou the hill, he gave him no clue to
hat was passing in his mind, until they were again upon their


"Mark," he said then, "are there really none but ourselves
1 board this boat who are bound for Eden % "

"None at all, Sir. Most of 'em, as you know, have stojiped
lort ; and the few that are left are going further on. What
lattcrs tliat ! More room there for us, >Sir."

" Oh, to be sure ! " said Martin. "• But I was thinking " —
id there he paused.

" Yes, Sir," observed Mark.

" How odd it was that the people should have arranged to
■y their fortune at a wretched hole like that, for instance, when
lere is sueh a much better, and such a very different kind of
lace, near at liand, as one may say."

He spoke in a tone so very different from his usual confidence,
ud with such an obvious dread of Mark's reply, that the good-
iiturod fellow was full of jjity.


"Why, you kuow, Sir,'' said Mark, as gently as he could by
any means insinuate the observation, " we must guard against
being too sanguine. There's no occasion for it, either, because
we're determined to make the best of everything, after we kuow
the worst of it. Ain't we. Sir ? "

Martin looked at him, but answered not a word.

" Even Eden, you know, ain't all built," said Mark.

" In the name of Heaven, man," cried Martin angrily, •• don't
talk of Eden in the same breath with that place. Are you mad 1
There — God forgive me! — -don't think har.shly of me for my
temper ! "

After that, he turned away, and walked to and fro upon the
deck full two hours. Nor did he speak again, except to say
"Good-night,"' until next day; nor even then upon this subject,
but on other topics quite foreign to the purpose.

As they proceeded further on their track, and came more and
more towards their journey's end, the monotonous desolation of
the scene increased to that degree, that for any redeeming feature
it presented to their eyes, they might have entered, in the body,
on the grim domains of Giant Despair. A fiat moras.s, bestrewn
with fallen timber ; a marsh on which the good growth of the
earth seemed to have been wrecked and cast away, that from,
its decomposing ashes vile and ugly things might rise ; where the
very trees took the aspect of huge weeds, begotten of the slime ^
from which they sprang, by the hot sun that burnt them up;
where fatal maladies, seeking whom they might infect, came forth,
at night, in misty shapes, and creeping out upon the waterJ
hunted them like spectres until day ; where even the blessed sun!
shining down on festering elements of corruption and disease^
became a horror ; this was the realm of Hope through which
they moved.

At last they stopped. At Eden too. The waters of the -
Deluge might have left it but a week before : so choked with
slime and matted growth was the hideous swamp which bon
that name.

There being no depth of water close in shore, they landed fron
the vessel's boat, with all their goods beside them. There wen
a few log-houses visible among the dark trees ; the best, a cow
shed or a rude stable ; but for the wharves, the market-place, tb
public buildings —

" Here comes an Edener," said Mark. '• He'll get us help t
carry these things up. Keep a good heart. Sir. Hallo there ! "

The man advanced toward them through the thickening glocyr
very slowly : leaning on a stick. As he drew nearer, they observe'


;liat he Ava.s pale and worn, and that his anxious eyes were deeply
sunken in his head. His dress of homespun blue hung about him
,n rags ; his feet and head were bare. He sat down on a stump
lalf-way, and beckoned theni to come to him. When they com-
:)lied, he put his hand upon his side as if in pain, and while he
■etched his breath stared at them, wondering.

'' Strangers ! " he exclaimed, as soon as he could speak.

" The A'ery same," said Mark. " How are you, Sir 1"

"I've had the fever very bad," he answered faintly. "I
laven't stood upright these many weeks. Those are your notions
[ see," pointing to their property.

"Yes, Sir," said Mark, " they are. You couldn't recommend
IS some one as would lend a hand to help carry 'em up to the —
;o the town, could you, Sir ? "

" My eldest sou would do it if he could," replied the man :
' but to-day he has his chill upon him, and is lying wrapped up
n the blankets. My youngest died last week."

"I'm sorry for it, governor, with all my heart," said Mark,
ihaking him by the hand. " Don't mind us. Come along with
ue, and I'll give you au arm back. The goods is safe enough,
5ir,'' — to Martin, — "there ain't many people about, to make
iway with 'em. What a comfort that is ! "

" No," cried the man. " You must look for such folk here,"
knocking his stick upon the ground, "or yonder iu the bush,
;owards the north. We've buried most of 'em. The rest have
joiie away. Tliem that we have here, don't come out at night."

" The night air ain't quite wholesome, I suppose ? " said Mark.

" It'.s deadly poison," was the settler's answer.

Mark showed no more uneasiness than if it had been commended
to him as ambrosia ; but he gave the man his arm, and as tliey
went along explained to him the nature of their purchase, and
inquired where it lay. Close to his own log-house, he said : so
3lose that lie had used their dwelling as a store-house for some
:orn : they must excuse it that night, but he would endeavour
to get it taken out upon the morrow. He then gave tliem to
understand, as an additional scrap of local chit-chat, that he
had buried the last proprietor with his own hands ; a piece of
information which Mark also received without the least abatement
of his equanimity.

In a word, he conducted them to a miserable cabin, rudely con-
structed of the trunks of trees; the door of which had either fallen
ilown or been carried away long ago ; and which was consequently
i^en to the wild landscape and the dark night. Saving for the
little store he had mentioned, it was perfectly bare of all furniture ;


but they had left a chest upon the landing-place, and he gave
them a rude torch in lieu of candle. This latter acquisition Mark
planted in the hearth, and then declaring that the mansion "looked
quite comfortable," hurried Martin oft' again to help bring up the
chest. And all the way to the landing-place and back, Mark
talked incessantly : as if he would infuse into his partner's breast
some faint belief that they had arrived under the most auspicious
and cheerful of all imaginable circumstances.

But many a man who would have stood within a home dis-
mantled, strong in his passion and design of vengeance, has had
the firmness of his nature conquered by the razing of an air-built
castle. When the log-hut received them for the second time,
Martin lay down upon the ground, and wept aloud.

" Lord love you, Sir ! " cried Mr. Tapley, in great terror ;
" don't do that ! Don't do that, Sir ! Anything but that ! It
never helped man, woman, or child, over the lowest fence yet, Sii',
and it never will. Besides its being of no use to you, it's worse
than of no use to me, for the least sound of it will knock me flat
down. I can't stand up agin it. Sir. Anything but that ! "

There is no doubt he spoke the truth, for the extraordinary
alarm with which he looked at Martiu as he paused upon his
knees before the chest, in the act of unlocking it, to say these
words, sufticiently confirmed him.

" I ask your forgiveness a thousand times, my dear fellow," said !
Martin. " I couldn't have helped it, if death had been the penalty." '

" Ask my forgiveness ! " said Mark, with his accustomed cheer-
fulness ; as he jiroceeded to unjiack the chest. " The head partner
a asking forgiveness of Co., eh ? There must be something wrong
in the firm when that happens. I must have the books inspected,
and the accounts gone over immediate. Here we are. Everything|
in its proper place. Here's the salt pork. Here's the biscuit.
Here's the whiskey — uncommon good it smells too. Here's thei
tin jjot. This tin pot's a small fortun' in itself! Here's the'
blankets. Here's the axe. Who says we ain't got a first-rate fit,
out? I feel as if I was a cadet gone out to Indy, and my uoblel||
father was chairman of the Board of Directors. Now, when I've; i
got some water from the stream afore the door and mixed the grog," J
cried Mark, running out to suit the action to the word, " there's' *
a supper ready, comprising every delicacy of the season. Here we
are, Sir, all complete. For what we are going to receive, et cetrer.
Lord bless you, Sir, it's very like a gipsy party 1 "

It was impossible not to take lieart, in the company of sucl:
a man as this. Martin sat upon the ground beside the box ; took
out his knife ; and ate and drank sturdily.


" Now you see,'" said Mark, when tlicy liad made a hearty meal ;
' with your knife and mine, I sticks this bhmket riglit afore the
loor, or where, in a state of high civilisation, the door Avould be.
\.nd very neat it looks. Then I stops the aperture below, by
)utting the chest agin it. And very neat that looks. Then there's
■our blanket, Sir. Then here's mine. And what's to hinder our
)assing a good night 1 "

For all his light-hearted speaking, it was long before he slei)t
limself. He wrapped his blanket round him, put the axe ready
his hand, and lay across the threshold of the door : too anxious
tnd too watchful to close his eyes. The novelty of their dreary
ituation, the dread of some rapacious animal or human enemy,
he terrible uncertainty of their means of subsistence, the apprehen-
ion of death, the immense distance and the hosts of obstacles
)etween themselves and England, were fruitful sources of disquiet
u the deep silence of the night. Though Martin would have had
lira think otherwise, Mark felt that he was waking also, and a
)rey to the same reflections. This was almost worse than all, for
f he began to brood over their miseries instead of trying to make
lead against them, there could be little doubt that such a state of
nind would powerfully assist the influence of the pestilent climate.
S'ever had the light of day been half so welcome to his eyes, as
vhen awaking from a fitful doze, Mark saw it shining through the
)lanket in the doorway.

He stole out gently, for his companion wan sleeping now ; and
laving refreshed himself by washing in the river, where it flowed
)efore tlie door, took a rough survey of the settlement. There
vere not above a score of cabins in the whole ; half of these
ippeared untenanted ; all were rotten and decayed. The most
ottering, abject, and forlorn among them, was called, with great
)ropriety, the Bank, and National Credit Oflice. It had some
eeble props about it, but was settling deei) down in the mud,
)ast all recovery.

Here and there, an eftbrt liad been made to clear the land ; and

Online LibraryCharles DickensLife and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit → online text (page 38 of 80)