Charles Dickens.

Life and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit online

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own mind what expression it wore, and were desirous to draw from
it as good a clue to his real meaning as it was possible to obtain
in the dark, was about to answer, when tlie sound of the mail
guard's horn came cheerily upon their ears, putting an immediate
end to the conference ; greatly as it seemed to the satisfaction of


the younger man, who jumped \\\) briskly, and gave his hand to
his companion.

" Both hands, Tom. I shall write to you from London, mind ! ''

"Yes," said Pinch. "Yes. Do, please. Goodbye. Good
bye. I can hardly believe you're going. It seems now but
yesterday that you came. Good bye ! my dear old fellow ! "

John AVestlock returned his parting words with no less hearti-
ness of manner, and sprang up to his seat upon the roof. Off
went the mail at a canter down the dark road : the lamps gleaming
brightly, and the horn awakening all the echoes, far and wide.

" Go your ways," said Pinch, apostrophising the coach : " I can
hardly persuade myself but you're alive, and are some great
monster who visits this place at certain intervals, to bear my
friends away into the w^orld. You're more exulting and rampant
than usual to-night, I think : and you may well crow over your
prize ; for he is a fine lad, an ingenuous lad, and has but one fault
that I know of: he don't mean it, but he is most cruelly mijust to
Pecksniff ! "



Mention has been already made more than once, of a certain
Dragon wdio swung and creaked comijlainingly before the village
ale-house door. A faded, and an ancient dragon he was ; and
many a wintry storm of rain, snow, sleet, and hail, had changed
his colour from a gaudy blue to a faint lack-lustre shade of gray.
But there he hung ; rearing, in a state of monstrous imbecility, on
his hind legs ; waxing, with every month that i^assed, so much
more dim and shapeless, that as you gazed at him on one side of
the sign -board it seemed as if he must be gradually melting
through it, and coming out upon the other.

He was a courteous and considerate dragon too ; or had been
in his distincter days ; for in the midst of his rampant feebleness,
he kept one of his fore paws near his nose, as though he would
say, "Don't mind me — it's only my fun;" while he held out the
other, iu polite and hos])itable entreaty. Indeed it must be
conceded to the whole brood of dragons of modern times, that they
have made a great advance in civilization and refinement. Tliey
no longer demand a beautiful vii'giu for breakfast every morning,
with as much regularity as any tame single gentleman expects his


hot loU, but rest coiiteut with the society of idle bachelors and
roving married men : and they are now remarkable rather for
lidding aloof from the softer sex and discouraging their visits
(especially on Saturday nights), than for rudely insisting on their
comi)any without any reference to their inclinations, as they are
known to have done in days of yore.

Nor is this tribute to the reclaimed animals in question, so wide
a digression into the realms of Natural History, as it may, at first
sight, appear to be : for the present business of these pages is Avith
the dragon who had his retreat in Mr. Pecksniff's neighbourhood,
and that courteous animal being already on the carpet, there is
nothing in the way of its immediate transaction.

For many years, then, he had swung and creaked, and flapped
himself about, before the two windows of the best bedroom in that
house of entertainment to which he lent his name : but never in
all his swinging, creaking, and flapping, had there been such a stir
within its dingy precincts, as on the evening next after that upon
which the incidents, detailed in the last chapter, occurred ; when
there was such a hurrying up and down stairs of feet, such a
glancing of lights, such a Avhispering of voices, such a smoking and
sputtering of wood newly lighted in a damp chimney, such an
airing of linen, such a scorching smell of hot warming-pans, such a
domestic bustle and to-do, in short, as never dragon, griflin, unicorn,
or other animal of that species presided over, since they first began
to interest themselves in household aff"airs.

An old gentleman and a young lady, travelling, unattended, in a
rusty old chariot with ]jost-horses ; coming nobody knew whence, and
going nobody knew wiiitlier ; had turned out of the high road, and
driven unexpectedly to the Blue Dragon : and here was the old
gentleman, who had taken this step by reason of his sudden illness
in the carriage, suff"ering the most horrible cramps and spasms,
yet protesting and vowing in the very midst of his pain, that he
wouldn't have a doctor sent for, and wouldn't take any remedies
but those which the young lady administered from a small
medicine-chest, and wouldn't, in a word, do anything but terrify
the landlady out of her five wits, and obstinately refuse compliance
with every suggestion that was made to him.

Of all the five hundred proposals for his relief which the good
woman poured out in less than half-an-hour, he Avould entertain
but one. That was, that he should go to bed. And it was in the
preparation of his bed, and the arrangement of his chamber, that
all the stir Avas made in the room behind the Dragon.

He was, beyond all question, very ill, and suffered exceedingly :
not the less, perhaps, because he was a strong and vigorous old


man, with a will of iron, and a voice of brass. But neither the
apprehensions which he plainly entertained, at times, for his
life, nor the great pain he underwent, influenced his resolution in
the least degree. He would have no person sent for. The worse
he grew, the more rigid and inflexible he became in this deter-
mination. If they sent for any person to attend him, man, woman,
or child, he would leave the house directly (so he told them), though
he quitted it on foot, and died upon the threshold of the door.

Now there being no medical practitioner actually resident in the
village, but a poor apothecary who was also a grocer and general
dealer, the landlady had upon her own responsibility sent for him,
in the very first burst and outset of the disaster. Of course it
followed, as a necessary result of his being wanted, that he Avas not
at home. He had gone some miles away, and was not expected
home until late at night; so the landlady, being by this time
pretty well beside herself, despatched the same messenger in all
haste for Mr. Pecksniff, as a learned man who could bear a deal
of responsibility, and a moral man who could administer a word of
comfort to a troubled mind. That her guest had need of some
efficient services under the latter head was obvious enough from
the restless expressions, importing, however, rather a worldly than
a spiritual anxiety, to which he gave frequent utterance.

From this last-mentioned secret errand, the messenger returned
with no better news than from the first ; Mr. Pecksniti" was not at
home. However, they got the jxitient into bed, without him ; and
in the course of two hours, he gradually became so far better that
there were much longer intervals than at first between his terms
of suffering. By degrees, he ceased to suffer at all : though his
exhaustion was occasionally so great, that it suggested hardly less
alarm than his actual endurance had done.

It was in one of his intervals of repose, when, looking round
with great caution, and reaching uneasily out of his nest of pillows,
he endeavoured, with a strange air of secrecy and distrust, to make
use of the writing-materials which he had ordered to be placed on
a table beside him, that the young lady and the mistress of the
Blue Dragon, found themselves sitting side by side before the fire
in the sick chamber.

The mistress of the Blue Dragon was in outward appearance
just what a landlady should be : broad, buxom, comfortable, and
good-looking, with a face of clear red and white, which, by its
jovial aspect, at once bore testimony to her hearty participation in
the good things of the larder and the cellar, and to their thriving
and healthful infiuences. She was a widow, but years ago had
passed through her state of weeds, and burst into flower again ;


and iu full bloom she had continued ever since ; and in full bloom
she was now ; -with roses on her ample skirts, and roses on her
boddice, roses in her cap, roses in her cheeks, — ay, and roses, worth
the gathering too, on her lips, for that matter. Slie had still a
bright black eye, and jet black hair ; was comely, dimpled, plump,
and tight as a gooseberry ; and though she was not exactly what
the world calls young, you may make an affidavit, on trust, before
any mayor or magistrate in Christendom, that there are a great
many young ladies in tlie world (blessings on them, one and all ! )
whom you Avouldn't like half as well, or admire half as much, as
the beaming hostess of the Blue Dragon.

As this fair matron sat beside the fire, she glanced occasionally,
with all the pride of ownership, about the room ; wdiich Avas a
lai-ge apartment, such as one may see in country jilaces, with a low-
roof and a sunken flooring, all down-hill from the door, and a
descent of two steps on the inside so exquisitely unexpected, that
strangers, despite the most elaborate cautioning, usually dived in
head-first, as into a iduuging-bath. It was none of your frivolous
and preposterously bright bedrooms, where nobody can close an
eye with any kind of propriety or decent regard to the association
of ideas ; but it Avas a good, dull, leaden, drowsy place, where
every article of furniture reminded you that you came there to sleep,
and that you were expected to go to sleep. There was no
wakeful reflection of the fire there, as in your modern chambers,
which upon the darkest nights have a watchful consciousness of
French polish ; the old Spanish mahogany winked at it now and
then, as a dozing cat or dog might, nothing more. The very size
and sha])e, and hopeless inimoveability, of the bedstead, and ward-
robe, and iu a minor degree of even the chairs and tables, provoked
sleep ; they were plainly apoplectic and disposed to snore. There
were no staring portraits to remonstrate with you for being lazy ;
no round-eyed liirds upon the curtains, disgustingly wide awake,
and insufferably prying. The thick neutral hangings, and the
dark blinds, and the heavy heap of bed-clothes, were all designed
to hold in sleep, and act as non-conductors to the day and getting
up. Even the old stufted fox upon tlie top of tlie wardrobe was
devoid of any spark of vigilance, for his glass eye had fallen out,
and he slumbered as he stood.

The wandering attention of the mistress of the Blue Dragon
roved to these things but twice or thrice, and then for but an
instant at a time. It soon deserted tluni, and even the distant
bed with its strange burden, for the young creature immediately
before her, who, with her downcast eyes intently fixed upon the
fire, sat wrapped in silent meditation.


She was very young ; api^areiitly not more seventeen ;
timid and shrinking in her manner, and yet witli a greater sliare
of self-possession and control over her emotions than usually belongs
to a far more advanced period of female life. This she had
abundantly shown, but now, in her tending of the sick gentleman.
She was short in stature ; and her figure was slight, as became
her years ; but all the charms of youth and maidenhood set it ofi",
and clustered on her gentle brow. Her face was very jJale, in
part no doubt from recent agitation. Her dark brown hair,
disordered from the same cause, had fallen negligently from its
bonds, and hung upon her neck : for which instance of its wayward-
ness, no male observer would have had the heart to blame it.

Her attire was that of a lady, but extremely plain ; and in her
manner, even when she sat as still as she did then, there was an
indefinable something which appeared to be in kindred with her
scrupulously unpretending dress. She had sat, at first looking
anxiously towards the bed ; but seeing that the patient remained
quiet, and was busy with his writing, she had softly moved her
chair into its present place : partly, as it seemed, from an
instinctive consciousness that he desired to avoid observation ; and
partly that she might, unseen by him, give some vent to the
natural feelings she had hitherto suppressed.

Of all this, and much more, the rosy landlady of the Blue Dragon
took as accurate note and observation as only woman can take of
woman. And at length she said, in a voice too low, she knew, to
reach the bed :

"You have seen the gentleman in this way before. Miss? Is
he used to these attacks ? "

" I have seen him very ill before, but not so ill as he has been

"What a Providence ! " said the landlady of the Dragon, "that
you had the jn-escriptions and the medicines with you. Miss ! "

" They are intended for such an emergency. We never travel
without them."

"Oh!" thought the hostess, "then we are in the habit of
travelling, and of travelling together."

She was so conscious of expressing this in her face, that
meeting the young lady's eyes immediately afterwards, and being a
very honest hostess, she was rather confused.

" The gentleman — your grandpapa " — she resumed, after a short
pause, "being so bent on having no assistance, must terrify you
very much. Miss?"

" I have been very much alarmed to-night. He — he is not my


"Father, I should liave .said,' returned the liostess, sensible of
having made an awkward mistake.

"Nor my father," said the young lady. "Nor," she added,
slightly smiling with a quick perception of what the landlady was
going to add, " Nor my uncle. We are not related."

" Oh dear me ! " retiu-ned the landlady, still more embarrassed
tlian before: "how could I be so very much mistaken; knowing,
as anybody in their proper senses might, that when a gentleman is
ill, he looks so much older than he really is ! That I should have
called you ' Miss,' too, Ma'am ! " But when she had proceeded thus
far, she glanced involuntarily at the third finger of the young
lady's left hand, and faltered again : for there was no ring
upon it.

"When I told you we were not related," said the other mildly,
but not without confusion on her owni part, " I meant not in any
way. Not even by marriage. Did you call me, Martin 1 "

"Call you?" cried the old man, looking quickly up, and
hurriedly drawing Ijeneath the coverlet, the paper on which he had
been writing. " No."

She had moved a pace or two towards the bed, but stopped
immediately, and went no farther.

" No," he repeated, with a petulant emphasis. " Why do you
ask me 1 If I had called you, what need for such a question 1 "

"It was the creaking of the sign outside. Sir, I dare say,"
observed the landlady : a suggestion by the way (as she felt a
moment after she had made it), not at all complimentary to the
voice of the old gentleman.

"No matter what. Ma'am," he rejoined: "it wasn't I. Why
how you stand there, jMary, as if I had the plague ! But they're
all afraid of me," he added, leaning helplessly backward on his
pillow, "even she! There is a curse upon me. What else have
I to look for ! "

"Oh dear, no. Oh no, I'm sure," said the good-tempered land-
lady, rising, and going towards him. "Be of better cheer. Sir.
These are only sick fancies."

"What are only sick fancies?" he retorted. "What do you
know about fancies? Who told t/ou about fancies? The old
story ! Fancies ! "

" Only see again there, how you take one up ! " said tiie
mistress of the Blue Dragon, with unimpaired good humour.
" Dear heart alive, there is no harm in the word. Sir, if it is an
old one. Folks in good health have their fancies too, and strange
ones, every day."

Harmless as this speech appeared to be, it acted on the



traveller's distrust, like oil on fire. He raised his head »ip in tlie
bed, and, fixing on her two dark eyes wliose brightness was
exaggerated by the paleness of his hollow cheeks, as they in turn,
togetlier with liis straggling locks of long gray liair, were rendered
whiter by tlie tiglit black velvet skull-cap whicli lie wore, he searclied
her fiice intently.

"Ah ! you begin too soon," he said, in so low a voice that he
seemed to be thinking it, rather than addressing her. " But you lose
no time. You do your errand, and you earn your fee. Now, who
may be your client ? "

The landlady looked in great astonishment at her whom he
called Mary, and finding no rejoinder in tlie drooping face, looked
back again at him. At first she had recoiled involuntarily,
supposing him disordered iu his mind ; but the slow composure of
his manner, and the settled purpose announced in his strong
features, and gathering, most of all, about his puckered mouth,
forbade the supposition.

" Come," he said, " tell me who is it 1 Being here, it is not
very hard for me to guess, you may suppose."

"Martin," interposed the young lady, 1-aying her hand upon
his arm ; " reflect how short a time we have been in this house,
and that even your name is unknown here."

" Unless," he said, " you — " He was evidently tempted to
express a suspicion of her having broken his confidence in favour
of the landlady, but either remembering her tender nursing, or
being moved in some sort, by her face, he checked himself, and
changing his uneasy posture in the bed, was silent.

" There ! " said j\Irs. Lupin : for in tliat name the Blue Dragon
was licensed to furnish entertainment, both to man and beast.
" Now, you will be well again, Sir. You forgot, for the moment,
that there were none but friends here."

" Oh ! " cried the old man moaning impatiently, as he tossed
one restless arm upon the coverlet, "why do you talk to me of
friends ! Can you or anybody teach me to know who are my
friends, and who my enemies 1 "

"At least," urged Mrs. Lupin, gently, "this young lady is
your friend, I am sure."

" She has no temptation to be otherwise," cried the old man,
like one whose hope and confidence were utterly exhausted. " I
suppose she is. Heaven knows. There : let me try to sleep.
Leave the candle Avhere it is."

As they retired from the bed, he drew forth the writing which
had occupied him so long, and holding it in tlie flame of the taper
burnt it to ashes. That done, he extinguished the light, and


turning his face away witli a heavy sigh, drew the coverlet about
his liead, and lay quite still.

This destruction of tlie paper, both as being strangely incon-
sistent with the lal)our ho had devoted to it and as involving
considerable danger of fire to the Dragon, occasioned Mrs. Lupin
not a little consternation. But the young lady evincing no
surprise, curiosity, or alarm, whispered her, with many thanks for
her solicitude and company, that slie would remain tliere some time
longer ; and that she begged her not to share her watch, as she was
well used to being alone, and would pass the time in reading.

IVIrs. Lupin had her full share and dividend of that large
capital of curiosity which is inherited by her sex, and at another
time it niiglit have been difficult so to impress this hint upon her as
to induce her to take it. But now, in sheer wonder and amazement
at these mysteries, she withdrew at once, and repairing straight-
way to her own little parlour below-stairs, sat down in her easy-
chair with unnatm-al composure. At this very crisis, a step was heard
in the entry, and Mr. Pecksniff, looking sweetly over tlie half-door
of the bar, and into the vista of snug privacy beyond, murnuu'ed :

"Good evening, Mrs. Lupin!"

" Oh dear me, Sir ! " she cried, advancing to receive him, " I
aip so very glad you have come."

"And /am very glad I have come," said Mr. Pecksniff, "if I
can be of service. I am very glad I have come. What is the
matter, Mrs. Lupin 1 "

" A gentleman taken ill upon the road, has been so very bad
np-stairs. Sir," said the tearful hostess.

"A gentleman taken ill upon the road, has been so very bad
up-stairs, has he?" repeated Mr. Pecksniff. "Well, well ! "

Now there was nothing that one may call decidedly original in
this remark, nor can it be exactly said to have contained any wise
precept theretofore unknown to mankind, or to have opened any
hidden source of consolation : but Mr. Pecksniff's manner was so
bland, and he nodded his head so soothingly, and sliowed in every-
thing such an affable sense of his own excellence, that anybody
would have been, as Mrs. Lupin was, comforted by the mere voice
and presence of such a man; and, though he had merely said "a
verb must agree with its nominative case in number and person,
my good friend," or "eight times eight are sixty-four, my worthy
soul," must have felt deeply grateful to him for his humanity and

"And how," asked Mr. Pecksniff, drawing off his gloves and
warming his hands before the fire, as benevolently as if they were
somebody else's, not his : " and how is he now 1 "


"He is better, ami (juite tran(|nil,"' answered I\[rs. Lupin.

" He is better, and (luite tranciuil," .said I\Ir. rec-ksniti; " Very
well ! ve -ry well ! "

Here again, though the statement was Mrs. Lupin's and not
Mr. Pecksnitl"s, Mr. Pecksniff made it his own and consoled her
with it. It was not mucii when Mis. Lupin said it, but it was
a whole book when Mr. Pccksnitfsaid it. "/ observe," he seemed
to say, " and, through me, morality in general remarks, that he is
better and quite tranquil."

"There must be weighty matters on his mind thougli," said
the hostess, shaking her head, " for he talks. Sir, in the strangest
way you ever heard. He is far from easy in his thoughts, and
wants some proper advice from those whose goodness makes it
■worth his having."

" Then," said Mr. Pecksniff, " he is the sort of customer for
me." But though he said this in the plainest language, he didn't
speak a word. He only shook his head : disparagingly of him-
self too.

"I am afraid. Sir," continued the landlady, first looking round
to assure herself that there was nobody within hearing, and then
looking down upon the floor. " I am veiy much afraid. Sir, that
his conscience is troubled by his not being related — or — or even
married to — a very young lady — "

" Mrs. Lupin ! " said Mr. Pecksniff", holding up his hand with
something in his manner as nearly ajjproaching to severity, as any
expression of his, mild being that he was, could ever do. " Person !
young person 1 "

" A very young person," said Mrs. Lupin, courtesying and blush-
ing : " I beg your pardon. Sir, but I have been so hurried to-night
that I don't know what I say : who is with him now."

"Who is with him now," ruminated Mr. Pecksniff, warming
his back (as he had warmed his hands) as if it were a widow's
back, or an orphan's back, or an enemy's back, or a back that any
less excellent man would have suffered to be cold : " Oh dear me,
dear me ! "

"At the same time I am bound to say, and I do say with all
my heart," observed the hostess, earnestly, " that her looks and
manner almost disarm suspicion."

"Your suspicion, Mrs. Lupin," said Mr. Pecksniff" gravely, "is
very natural."

Touching wnich remark, let it he written down to their confusion,
that tlie enemies of this worthy man unblu.<hingly maintained that
he always said of wliat was very bad, that it was very natural ;
and that he unconsciously betrayed his own nature in doing so.


" Your suspicion, Mrs. Lupin," he repeated, " is very natural,
and I liave no doubt correct. I will wait upon these travellers."

With that he took ott' his great-coat, and having run his fingers
through his hair, thrust one hand gently in the bosom of his waist-
coat and meekly signed to her to lead the way.

" Shall I knock ? " asked Mrs. Lupin, when they reached the
chamber door.

"N:," said Mr. Pecksniff, " enter if you please."

They vent in on tiptoe : or rather the hostess took that pre-
caution, for Mr. Pecksniti" always walked softly. The old gentle-
man was still asleep, and his young companion still sat reading by
the fire.

"I am afraid," said Mr. Pecksniff', pausing at the door, and
giving his head a melancholy roll, " I am afraid that this looks
artful. I am afraid, Mrs. Lupin, do you know, that this looks

Online LibraryCharles DickensLife and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit → online text (page 5 of 80)