Charles Dickens.

Life and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit online

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wore, metaphorically speaking, a robe of state. It was swept
garnished for the reception of a visitor. That visitor was Be
Prig : Mrs. Prig, of Bartlemy's ; or as some said Barklemy's,
some said Bardlemy's : for l)y all these endearing and fan
appellations, had the hospital of Saint Bartholomew becoi
household word among the sisterhood which Betsey Prig ador;

Mrs. Gamp's apartment was not a spacious one, but,
contented mind a closet is a palace ; and the first-floor froi
Mr. Sweedlepipe's may have been, in the imagination of i
Gamp, a stately ]iile. If it were not exactly that, to ret
intellects, it at least comprised as much accommodation as i
person, not sanguine to insanity, could have looked for in a :)
of its dimensions. For only keep the bedstead always in |>i
mind; and you were safe. That was the grand secret. Re:'
bering the bedstead, you might even stoop to look under the t
round table for anything you had dropped, without hurting n
self much against the chest of drawers, or qualifying as a p:'-'
of Saint Bartholomew, by falling into the fire.

Visitors were much assisted in their cautious eff'orts to prr"
an unflagging recollection of this piece of furniture, by its zt
which was great. It was not a turn-up bedstead, nor yet a F k
bedstead, nor yet a four-post bedstead, but what is poctiH
called a tent: the sacking whereof, was low and bulgy, insti"
that Mrs. Gamp's box would not go under it, but stoppei i"


■, ill a iiiauuer whidi Avliile it did violcneo to tlie roa.soii, like-
l' fiidangered tlie legs, of a stranger. The frame too, wiiii-h
lid have supported tlie canopy and hangings if there had been
, -was ornamented with divers pippins carved in timber, which
the slightest provocation, and frequently on none at all, came
ibling down ; harassing the peaceful truest with inexplicable

rhe bed itself was decorated with a patchwoik quilt of great
iquity ; and at the upper end, upon the side nearest to the door,
g a scanty curtain of blue check, which prevented the Zephyrs
t were abroad in Kingsgate Street from visiting Mrs. Gamp's
il too roughly. Some rusty gowns and other articles of that
r's wardrobe depended from the jiosts ; and these had so adapted
nsclves by long usage to her figure, that more than one
atient husband coming in ijrecipitately, at about the time of
light, had been for an instant stricken dumb by the supposed
every that Mrs. Gamp had hanged herself. One gentleman,
ling on the usual hasty errand, had said indeed, that they
:ed like guardian angels "watching of her in her sleep." But
[, a.s Mrs. Gamp said, "was his first ;" and he never rej)eated
sentiment, though he often repeated his visit.
rhe chairs in Mrs. Gamp's apartment were extremely large and
id-backed, which was more than a sufficient reason for their
ig but two in number. They were both elbow-chairs, of ancient
logany ; and were chiefly valuable for tlie slippery nature of
r seats, which had been originally horsehair, but were now
?red with a siiiny substance of a bluish tint, from wiiicli the
tor licgan to slide away with a dismayed countenance, immedi-
y after sitting down. What Mrs. Gamp wanted in chairs she
le up in bandboxes; of which she had a great collection,
nted to the reception of various miscellaneous valuables, which
e not, however, as well protected as the good woman, by a
isant fiction, seemed to think: for, tliough every bandbnx had
ircfully closed lid, not one among them had a bottom ; f.wing
which, the jiroperty within was merely, as it were,
nguishcd. The chest of drawers having been originally made
itand upon the top of another chest, had a dwarfisli, elfin look,
le; but in regard of its security it had a great advantage over
bandboxes, for as all the handles had been long ago j.ulled otf,
.iis very difiicult to get at its contents. This indeed wxs only
he done by one of two devices; either by tilting the wliolc
icture forward until all the drawers fell out together, or by
ning them singly with knive-s, like oysters.
Mrs. Gamp stored all her househoM matters in a little cupboard


by the fire-place ; begiimiug below tlie surfece (as in nature) w
the coals, and mouiitiug gradually upwards to the spirits, whi
from motives of delicacy, she kept in a tea-pot. The chimu
piece was ornamented with a small almanack, marked here i
there in Mrs. Gamp's own hand, with a memorandum of the d
at which some lady was expected to fall due. It was a
embellished with three profiles : one, in colours, of Mrs. Ga
herself in early life ; one, in bronze, of a lady in feathers, suppoi
to be Mrs. Harris, as she appeared when dressed for a ball ; i
one, in black, of Mr. Gamp, deceased. The last was a full leug
in order that the likeness might be rendered more obvious i
forcible, by the introduction of the wooden leg.

A pair of bellows, a pair of pattens, a toasting-fork, a ket
a pap-boat, a spoon for the administration of medicine to
refractory ; and lastly, Mrs. Gamp's umbrella, which as someth
of great price and rarity was displayed with particular ostentati'
completed the decorations of the chimney-piece and adjacent w
Towards these objects, Mrs. Gamp raised her eyes in satisfaci
when she had arranged the tea-board, and had concluded her arrai
meuts for the reception of Betsey Prig, even unto the setting f
of two pounds of Newcastle salmon, intensely pickled.

"There ! Now drat you, Betsey, don't be long ! " said Mrs. Ga
apostrophising her absent friend. " For I can't abear to wai
do assure you. To wotever place I goes, I sticks to this
mortar, ' I'm easy pleased ; it is but little as I wants ; but I u
have that little of the best, and to tlie miiiit when the c 1
strikes, else we do not part as I could wish, but bearin' m;
in our arts.' "

Her own preparations were of the best, for they compreliei i
a delicate new loaf, a i^late of fresh butter, a basin of fine v,l
sugar, and other arrangements on the same scale. Even the f i
with which she now refreshed herself, was so choice in quay
that she took a second pinch.

" There's the little bell a ringing now," said Mrs. Gamp, hiy
lag to the stair-head and looking over. " Betsey Prig, my — ']
it's that there disapintin' Sweedlepipes, I do believe."

yl" Yes, it's me," said the barber, in a faint voice, "I'vc'is
come in." ;

" You're always a comin' in, I think," muttered Mrs. Gaii t<
herself, " except wen you're a-going out. I ha'n't no patience tl
that man ! "

" Mrs. Gamp ! " said the barber. " I say ! Mrs. Gamp !"

"AVell!" cried Mrs. Gamp, imi)atieutly, as she descendecli<
stairs. "What is it? Is the Thames a-fire, and cooking its «'i


]\Ii-. Swcedlepipes 1 AVhy wot's the nuin gone ami been
iu' of to hiuiself? He's as white as chalk ! "
ihe added the hatter chxuse of iuquiry, when she got (Knvii
s, and found him seated iu the shaving- chair, pale and

You recollect," said Poll. "You recollect young — ■"
Not young Wilkins ! " cried Mrs. Gamp. " Don't say young
kins, wotever you do. If young Wilkius's wife is took — "
It isn't anybody's wife," exclaimed the little barber. " Bailey,
ig Bailey ! "

Why, wot do you mean to say that chit's been a-doin'
' retorted Mrs. Gamp, sharply. " Stutf and nonsense, Mr.
edlepipes ! "

He hasn't been a-doiug anything ! " exclaimed poor Poll, quite
erate. " What do you catch me up so short for, when you
ue put out, to that extent, that I can hardly sjjeak ? He'll
r do anything again. He's done for. He's killed. The first
I ever see that boy," said Poll, "I charged him too uuich for
1-poll. I asked him three-halfpence for a penny one, because
IS afraid he'd beat me down. But he didn't. And now he's
1 ; and if you was to crowd all the steam-engines and electric
s that ever was, into this shop, and set 'em every one to
k their hardest, they couldn't square the account, though it's
a ha'penny ! "

ilr. Sweedlepipe turned aside to the towel, and wiped his eyes
I it.

'And what a clever boy he was ! " he said. " What a surpris-
young chap he was ! How he talked ! and what a deal he
v'd ! Shaved in this very chair he was ; only for fun ; it was
lis fun ; he was full of it. Ah ! to think that he'll never be
ed iu earnest ! The birds might every one have died, and
ome," cried the little barber, looking round him at the cages,
again applying to the towel, "sooner than Fil liave heard this

■ How did you ever come to hear it 1 " said Mrs. (jamp. " Wlm
you ? "

■ I went out," returned the little barber, " into the City, to
t a sporting Gent upon the Stock Exchange, that wanted a

slow pigeons to practise at ; aud when I'd done with liim, I
t to get a little drop of beer, and there I heard everybody
Iking about it. It's in the papers."
'You arc in a nice state of confugion, Mr. Sweedlepiijcs, you

"said Mrs. Gamp, shaking her head; "and my opinion is,
lalf-a-dudgeon fresh young lively leeclies on your temples,


wouldn't be too much to clear your mind, -whicli so I tell yoi
Wot were they a-talkin' on, and wot was in the papers 1 "

" All about it ! " cried the barber. " What else do you suppose
Him and his master were upset on a journey, and he was carrie
to Salisbury, and was breathing liis last when the account cam
away. He never spoke afterwards. Not a single word. That
the worst of it to me ; but that an't all. His master can't I
found. The other manager of their office in the City : Crimpli
David Crimple : has gone off with the money, and is advertise
for, with a reward, upon the walls. Mr. Montague, poor youii
Bailey's master (what a boy he was !) is advertised for, too. Soni
say he's slipped off", to join his friend abroad ; some say he mayii
have got away yet ; and they're looking for him high and lo\
Their office is a smash ; a swindle altogether. But what's a Li:
Insurance Office to a Life ! And what a Life Young Bailey's was'

" He was born into a wale," said Mrs. Gamp, with jjhilosopbie
coolness ; " and he lived in a wale ; and he must take the cons
quences of sech a sitiwation. But don't you hear uothink of M
Chuzzlewit in all this 1 "

" No," said Poll, " nothing to speak of. His name wasi
printed as one of the board, though some people say it was jii
giiing to be. Some believe he was took in, and some believe '.
was one of the takers-in ; but however that may be, they cai
prove nothing against him. This morning he went up of his o\
accord afore the Lord Mayor or some of them City big-wigs, ai
complained that he'd been swindled, and that these two 2)erso
had gone off and cheated him, and tluxt he had just found out tl)
Montague's name wasn't even Montague, but something el:
And they do say that he looked like Death, owing to his loss:
But, Lord forgive me," cried the barber, coming back again to t,
subject of his individual grief, "what's his looks to me! J,
might have died and welcome, fifty times, and not been sucb:
loss as Bailey ! " ;

At this juncture the little bell rang, and the deep voice of M'
Prig struck into the conversation. ;

" Oh ! You're a-talkin' about it, arc you ! " observed tl'
lady. "Well, I hope you've got it over, for I au't interested'
it myself." '

"My precious Betsey," said Mrs. Gami?, "how late you are.;

The worthy Mrs. Prig replied, with some asperity, "thaJf
perwerse i^eople went off dead, when they was least expectedit
warn't no fault of her'n." And further, " that it was qi/
aggrawation enough to be made late when one was dropping r
one's tea. without hearing on it ag:ain."


Irs. Gaiiiji, doriving from this exliilntiun of rci)artcc some duo
lie state of Mrs. Prig's feelings, instantly conducted her up
s : deeming that the sight of jiickled salmon might work a
ning change.

lut Betsey Prig expected pickled salmon. It was obvious that
lid ; for her first words, after glancing at the table, were :
I kuow'd she wouldn't have a coucumber ! "
Irs. Gamp changed colour, and sat down upon the l)odstead.
Lord bless you, Betsey Prig, your words is true. T (piite
>t it ! "

Irs. Prig, looking steadfastly at her friend, put her liand in
pocket, and, with an air of surly triumph, drew forth either
oldest of lettuces or youngest of cabbages, but at any rate,
?en vegetable of an expansive nature, and of such magnificent
ortions that she was obliged to shut it up like an umbrella
•e slie could pull it out. She also produced a handful of
;ard and cress, a trifle of the herb called dandelion, three
hes of radishes, an onion rather larger than an average turnip,
3 substantial slices of beetroot, and a short prong or antler of
y ; the whole of this garden-stutt' liaving been publicly ex-
ed but a short time before as a twopenny salad, and purchased
Irs. Prig, on condition that the vendor could get it all into
pocket. Which had been happily accomplished, in High
)orn : to the breathless interest of a hackney-coach stand,
she laid so little stress on this surprising forethought, that
lid not even smile, but returning her pocket into its accus-
d sjjhere, merely recommended that these productions of
re should be sliced up, for immediate consumption, in plenty

And don't go a dropping none of your snuft' in it," said Mrs.
"In gruel, barley-water, apple-tea, mutton -broth, and
it don't signifv. It stimilates a patient. But I don't relish
Wiiy, Betsey Prig : ' ciied j\Irs. Gamp, ''how cdn you talk

Wut, an't your patients, wotever their diseases is, always a
'■\n' their wery heads oH', along of your snutf ! " said Mrs.

And wot if they are ! " said Mrs. Gamp.
Nothing if tliev are," said Mr.s. Prig. '' But don't deny it,

Who deiiiges of it ?" Mrs. Gamp inquired.
Ir.s. Prig returned no answer.
^Vhu deiiiges of it, Betsey?" Mrs. (Jamp iiiijuiied again.


I Then Mrs. Gamp, by reversing the question, imparted a deep

and more awful character of solemnity to the same. '^Betse

who deniges of it 1 "

' It was the nearest possible approach to a very decided diff(

■ ence of opinion between these ladies ; but Mrs. Prig's iinpatien

for the meal being greater at the moment than her impatience

contradiction, she replied, for the present, " Nobody, if you don

1 Sairah," and prepared herself for tea. For a quarrel can be tab

I up at any time, but a limited quantity of salmon cannot.

1 Her toilet was simple. She had merely to "chuck" h

I bonnet and shawl upon the bed ; give her hair two pulls, o;

upon the right side and one upon the left, as if she were ringii

j a couple of bells ; and all was done. The tea was already mac

Mrs. Gamp was not long over the salad, and they w^ere soon

' the heiglit of their repast.

The temper of both parties was improved, for the time beiu
by the enjoyments of the table. When the meal came to a t(
miuation (which it was pretty long in doing), and Mrs. Gar
having cleared away, produced the tea-pot from the tup-she
simultaneously with a couple of wine-glasses, they were qii

"Betsey," said Mrs. Gamp, filling her own glass, and passi
the tea-pot, " I will now propoge a toast. My frequent pardii
Betsey Prig ! "

" Which, altering the name to Sairah Gamp ; I drink," s;
Mrs. Prig, " Avitli love and tenderness."

From this moment, symptoms of inflammation began to It
in the nose of each lady ; and perhaps, notwithstanding
appearances to the contrary, in the temper also.

"Now, Sairah," said Mrs. Prig, "joining business with jJeasii
wot is this case in which you wants me ? "

Mrs. Gamp betraying in her face some intention of return
an evasive answer, Betsey added :
"/&■ it Mrs. Harris?"

" No, Betsey Prig, it an't," was Mrs. Gamp's reply.
" Well ! " said Mrs. Prig, with a short laugh. " I'm glad
that, at any rate."

"Why should you be glad of that, Betsey?" Mrs. Gi\ '
retorted, warndy. " She is unbeknown to you except by hear-
why should you be glad ? If you have anythink to say contr;
to the character of Mrs. Harris, which well I knows behind
back, afore her face, or anywheres, is not to be impeaged, i;'
with it, Betsey. I have know'd that sweetest and best of womtj
said Mrs, Gamp, shaking her head, and shedding tears, "ff



since afore her First, wbicli Mr. Harris who was dreadful tin
went and stopped his ears in a empty dog-kennel, and never to
liis hands away or come out once till he was showed the bal
wen bein' took with fits, the doctor collared him and laid him
his back upon tlie airy stones, and she was told to ease her mit
his owls was organs. And I have know'd her, Betsey Prig, wlr
he has hurt her feelin' art by sayin' of his Ninth that it wa.s >
too many, if not two, while that dear innocent was cooin' in
face, which thrive it did though bandy, but I have never kuo\
as you had occagion to be glad, Betsey, on accounts of ]\Irs. Hai
not requiring you. Recpiire she never will, depend upon it,
her constant words in sickness is, and will be, ' Send for Sairey !

During this touching address, Mrs. Prig adroitly feigning to
the victim of that absence of mind which has its origin in exc
sive attention to one topic, helped herself from the tea-pot with'
appearing to observe it. Mrs. Gamp observed it, however, :
came to a premature close in consequence.

"Well it an't her, it seems," said Mrs. Prig, coldly: "wh'
it, then ? "

"You have heerd me mention, Betsey," Mrs. Gamp repli
after glancing in an expressive and marked manner at the tea-]
"a person as I took care on at the time as you and me ^
imrdners off and on, ii that tlicre fever at the BulH"

"Old Snuffey," Mrs. Prig observed.

Sarah Gamp looked at her with an eye of fire, for she sa^^ >
this mistake of Mrs. Prig, another wilful and malignant stal'
that same weakness or custom of liers, an ungenerous allusioi
which, on the part of Betsey, ha I first disturbed their harm
that evening. And she saw it still more clearly, when, iwlii
but firmly correcting that lady by the distinct enunciation of ,'
word "Ohuftey," Mrs. Prig received the correction with a diabol I

The best among us have their failings, and it must be conce 1
of Mrs. Prig, that if there were a blemish in the goodness of i
disposition, it was a habit she had of not bestowing all its sbji
and acid properties upon her patients (as a thoroughly ami; «
woman would have done), but of keeping a considerable reniaii 't
for the service of her friends. Higlily pickled salmon, and letti •*
chopped up in vinegar, may, as viands possessing some acidit'l
their own, have encouraged and increased this tailing in J'-
Prig ; and every application to the tea-pot, certainly did ; f( t
was often remarked of her by her friends, that she was most i-
tradictory when most elevated. It is certain tliat her counten; '«
became about this time derisive and defiant, and that she sat ^ 1


arms folded, and oue eye shut up : h\ a soinewiiat oHensive,

use obtrusively intelligent, manner.

Irs.' Gamp observing this, felt it the more necessary that Jlrs.

should know her place, and be made sensible of her exact
on in society, as well as of her obligations to herself. She
?fore assumed an air of greater patronage and importance, as
n-ent on to answer Mrs. Prig a little more in detail.
Mr. Chutley, Betsey," said Mrs. Gamp, "is weak in his mind,
ige me if I makes remark, that he may neither be so weak as
le thinks, nor people may not think he is so weak as they
mds, and what I knows, I knows ; and what you don't, you
t J so do not ask me, Betsey. But Mr. Chuftey's friends has
3 propojals for his bein' took care on, and has said to me,
3. Gamp, ?/'/// you undertake it 1 We couldn't think,' they

'of trustin him to nobody but you, for, Saiiey, you are gold
as passed through the furnage. Will you undertake it, at

own price, day and night, and by your own selfT 'No,' I

'I will not. Do not reckon on it. There is,' I says, 'but
creetur in the world as I would undertake on sech terms, and
lame is Harris. But,' I says, ' I am acquainted with a friend,
56 name is Betsey Prig, that I can recommend, and will assist

Betsey,' I says, 'is always to be trusted, under me, and
be guided as I could desire.' "

lere !Mrs. Prig, ^\ithout any abatement of her oftensive
ncr, again counterfeited abstraction of mind, and stretched
tier hand to tlie tea-pot. It was rao-re than Mrs. Gamp could
. She stopped the hand of Mrs. Prig with her own, and said,

great feeling :

' No, Betsey ! Drink fair, wotever you do ! "
Irs. Prig, thus baffled, threw her.-^elf back in her chair, and
ng tlie same eye more emphatically, and folding lier arms
ter, suffered her head to roll slowly from side to side, while
surveyed lier friend with a contemptuous smile.
Irs. Gamp resumed :
Mrs. HaiTis, Betsey- "
' Bother I\Irs. Harris ! " said Betsey Prig.
Irs. Gamp looked at her with amazement, incredulity, and
jnation ; when j\Ir.s. Prig, shutting her eye still do.ser, and
ng her arms still tighter, uttered these memorable and tre-
[lous words :

'' I don't believe there's no sich a person ! "
iftor the utterance of which expressions, she leaned forward,
snapped her fingers once, twice, thrice ; each time nearer t<»
face of Mr.s. Gamp; and tlien rose to put on lir-r bonnet, aw


one who felt that there was now a gulf between them, whi'
nothing coukl ever bridge across.

Tlie shock of this blow was so violent and sudden, that Mi
G-amp sat staring at nothing with uplifted eyes, and her moii
open as if she were gasping for breath, until Betsey Prig had g
on her bonnet and her shawl, and was gathering the latter abo
her throat. Then Mrs. Gamp rose — morally and physically ro
• — and denounced her.

" What ! " said Mrs. Gamp, " you bage creetur, have I know
Mrs. Harris five and thirty year, to be told at last that there ai
no sech a person livin' ! Have I stood her friend in all h
troubles, great and small, for it to come at last to sech a end
this, which her own sweet picter hanging up afore you all i
time, to shame your Bragian words ! But well you mayn't belie
there's no sech a creetur, for she wouldn't demean herself to loi
at you, and often has she said, when I have made mention of yo
name, which, to my sinful sorrow, I have done, 'AVhat, Sair
Gamp ! debage yourself to her / ' Go along with you ! "

"I'm a goin', ma'am, ain't II" said Mrs. Prig, stopping as s
said it.

"You had better, ma'am," said Mrs. Gamp.

" Do you know who you're talking to, ma'am ^ " inquired 1

" Aperiently," said Mrs. Gamp, surveying her with scorn fn
head to foot, " to Betsey Prig. Aperiently so. I know her. '
one better. Go along wath you, do ! "

" And ^oic was a going to take me under you ! " cried M
Prig, surveying Mrs. Gamp from head to foot in her turn. ")
was, was you ! Oh, how kind ! Why, deuce take your ini]i
ence," said Mrs. Prig, with a rapid change from banter to feroci
" what do you mean 1 ''

" Go along with you ! " said Mrs. Gamp. " I blush for you.

"You had better blush a little for yourself, while you '
about it ! " said Mrs. Prig. " You and your Chulfeys ! Wli
the poor old creetur isn't mad enough, isn't he ? Aha ! "

" He'd very soon be mad enough, if you had anythink to '
with him," said Mrs. Gamp.

"And that's what I was wanted for, is if?" cried Mrs. Pi,
triumphantly. " Yes. But you'll find yourself deceived. I W'
go near him. We shall see how you get on without me. I w<
have nothink to do with him."

"You never spoke a ti'uer word than that !" said Mrs. Gni
" Go along wdth you ! "

She was prevented from witnessing the actual retirement i


. Prig from the room, notwithstanding the great desire slie
expressed to behold it, by tliat lady, in her angry withdrawal,
ing into contaet with the bedstead, and bringing down the
■iously-mentioned pippins ; three or four of which came rattling
the head of Mrs. Gamp so smartly, tliat when she recovered
1 this wooden shower-bath, Mrs. Prig was gone.
she had the satisfaction, however, of hearing the deep voice of
sey, proclaiming her injuries and her determination to have
ling to do with Mr. Chuflfey, down the stairs, and along the
;age, and even out in Kingsgate Street. Likewise, of seeing
er own apartment, in the place of Mrs. Prig, Mr. Sweedlepipe
two gentlemen,

'Why, bless my life!" exclaimed the little barber, "what's
ss ? The noise you ladies have been making, Mrs. Gamp !
y, these two gentlemen have been standing on the stairs,
>ide the door, nearly all the time, trying to make you hear,

Online LibraryCharles DickensLife and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit → online text (page 72 of 80)