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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMartin Chuzzlewit - Chapter EIGHTEEN
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Martin Chuzzlewit - Chapter EIGHTEEN Post by :MediaCow Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dickens Date :January 2011 Read :2423

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Martin Chuzzlewit - Chapter EIGHTEEN

DOES BUSINESS WITH THE HOUSE OF ANTHONY CHUZZLEWIT AND
SON, FROM WHICH ONE OF THE PARTNERS RETIRES UNEXPECTEDLY.


Change begets change. Nothing propagates so fast. If a man

habituated to a narrow circle of cares and pleasures, out of which

he seldom travels, step beyond it, though for never so brief a

space, his departure from the monotonous scene on which he has been

an actor of importance, would seem to be the signal for instant

confusion. As if, in the gap he had left, the wedge of change were

driven to the head, rending what was a solid mass to fragments,

things cemented and held together by the usages of years, burst

asunder in as many weeks. The mine which Time has slowly dug

beneath familiar objects is sprung in an instant; and what was rock

before, becomes but sand and dust.

 

Most men, at one time or other, have proved this in some degree. The

extent to which the natural laws of change asserted their supremacy

in that limited sphere of action which Martin had deserted, shall be

faithfully set down in these pages.

 

'What a cold spring it is!' whimpered old Anthony, drawing near the

evening fire, 'It was a warmer season, sure, when I was young!'

 

'You needn't go scorching your clothes into holes, whether it was or

not,' observed the amiable Jonas, raising his eyes from yesterday's

newspaper, 'Broadcloth ain't so cheap as that comes to.'

 

'A good lad!' cried the father, breathing on his cold hands, and

feebly chafing them against each other. 'A prudent lad! He never

delivered himself up to the vanities of dress. No, no!'

 

'I don't know but I would, though, mind you, if I could do it for

nothing,' said his son, as he resumed the paper.

 

'Ah!' chuckled the old man. 'IF, indeed!--But it's very cold.'

 

'Let the fire be!' cried Mr Jonas, stopping his honoured parent's

hand in the use of the poker. 'Do you mean to come to want in your

old age, that you take to wasting now?'

 

'There's not time for that, Jonas,' said the old man.

 

'Not time for what?' bawled his heir.

 

'For me to come to want. I wish there was!'

 

'You always were as selfish an old blade as need be,' said Jonas in

a voice too low for him to hear, and looking at him with an angry

frown. 'You act up to your character. You wouldn't mind coming to

want, wouldn't you! I dare say you wouldn't. And your own flesh and

blood might come to want too, might they, for anything you cared?

Oh you precious old flint!'

 

After this dutiful address he took his tea-cup in his hand--for that

meal was in progress, and the father and son and Chuffey were

partakers of it. Then, looking steadfastly at his father, and

stopping now and then to carry a spoonful of tea to his lips, he

proceeded in the same tone, thus:

 

'Want, indeed! You're a nice old man to be talking of want at this

time of day. Beginning to talk of want, are you? Well, I declare!

There isn't time? No, I should hope not. But you'd live to be a

couple of hundred if you could; and after all be discontented. I

know you!'

 

The old man sighed, and still sat cowering before the fire. Mr

Jonas shook his Britannia-metal teaspoon at him, and taking a

loftier position, went on to argue the point on high moral grounds.

 

'If you're in such a state of mind as that,' he grumbled, but in the

same subdued key, 'why don't you make over your property? Buy an

annuity cheap, and make your life interesting to yourself and

everybody else that watches the speculation. But no, that wouldn't

suit YOU. That would be natural conduct to your own son, and you

like to be unnatural, and to keep him out of his rights. Why, I

should be ashamed of myself if I was you, and glad to hide my head

in the what you may call it.'

 

Possibly this general phrase supplied the place of grave, or tomb,

or sepulchre, or cemetery, or mausoleum, or other such word which

the filial tenderness of Mr Jonas made him delicate of pronouncing.

He pursued the theme no further; for Chuffey, somehow discovering,

from his old corner by the fireside, that Anthony was in the

attitude of a listener, and that Jonas appeared to be speaking,

suddenly cried out, like one inspired:

 

'He is your own son, Mr Chuzzlewit. Your own son, sir!'

 

Old Chuffey little suspected what depth of application these words

had, or that, in the bitter satire which they bore, they might have

sunk into the old man's very soul, could he have known what words

here hanging on his own son's lips, or what was passing in his

thoughts. But the voice diverted the current of Anthony's

reflections, and roused him.

 

'Yes, yes, Chuffey, Jonas is a chip of the old block. It is a very

old block, now, Chuffey,' said the old man, with a strange look of

discomposure.

 

'Precious old,' assented Jonas

 

'No, no, no,' said Chuffey. 'No, Mr Chuzzlewit. Not old at all,

sir.'

 

'Oh! He's worse than ever, you know!' cried Jonas, quite disgusted.

'Upon my soul, father, he's getting too bad. Hold your tongue, will

you?'

 

'He says you're wrong!' cried Anthony to the old clerk.

 

'Tut, tut!' was Chuffey's answer. 'I know better. I say HE'S

wrong. I say HE'S wrong. He's a boy. That's what he is. So are

you, Mr Chuzzlewit--a kind of boy. Ha! ha! ha! You're quite a boy

to many I have known; you're a boy to me; you're a boy to hundreds

of us. Don't mind him!'

 

With which extraordinary speech--for in the case of Chuffey this was

a burst of eloquence without a parallel--the poor old shadow drew

through his palsied arm his master's hand, and held it there, with

his own folded upon it, as if he would defend him.

 

'I grow deafer every day, Chuff,' said Anthony, with as much

softness of manner, or, to describe it more correctly, with as

little hardness as he was capable of expressing.

 

'No, no,' cried Chuffey. 'No, you don't. What if you did? I've

been deaf this twenty year.'

 

'I grow blinder, too,' said the old man, shaking his head.

 

'That's a good sign!' cried Chuffey. 'Ha! ha! The best sign in the

world! You saw too well before.'

 

He patted Anthony upon the hand as one might comfort a child, and

drawing the old man's arm still further through his own, shook his

trembling fingers towards the spot where Jonas sat, as though he

would wave him off. But, Anthony remaining quite still and silent,

he relaxed his hold by slow degrees and lapsed into his usual niche

in the corner; merely putting forth his hand at intervals and

touching his old employer gently on the coat, as with the design of

assuring himself that he was yet beside him.

 

Mr Jonas was so very much amazed by these proceedings that he could

do nothing but stare at the two old men, until Chuffey had fallen

into his usual state, and Anthony had sunk into a doze; when he gave

some vent to his emotions by going close up to the former personage,

and making as though he would, in vulgar parlance, 'punch his head.'

 

'They've been carrying on this game,' thought Jonas in a brown

study, 'for the last two or three weeks. I never saw my father take

so much notice of him as he has in that time. What! You're legacy

hunting, are you, Mister Chuff? Eh?'

 

But Chuffey was as little conscious of the thought as of the bodily

advance of Mr Jonas's clenched fist, which hovered fondly about his

ear. When he had scowled at him to his heart's content, Jonas took

the candle from the table, and walking into the glass office,

produced a bunch of keys from his pocket. With one of these he

opened a secret drawer in the desk; peeping stealthily out, as he

did so, to be certain that the two old men were still before the

fire.

 

'All as right as ever,' said Jonas, propping the lid of the desk

open with his forehead, and unfolding a paper. 'Here's the will,

Mister Chuff. Thirty pound a year for your maintenance, old boy,

and all the rest to his only son, Jonas. You needn't trouble

yourself to be too affectionate. You won't get anything by it.

What's that?'

 

It WAS startling, certainly. A face on the other side of the glass

partition looking curiously in; and not at him but at the paper in

his hand. For the eyes were attentively cast down upon the writing,

and were swiftly raised when he cried out. Then they met his own,

and were as the eyes of Mr Pecksniff.

 

Suffering the lid of the desk to fall with a loud noise, but not

forgetting even then to lock it, Jonas, pale and breathless, gazed

upon this phantom. It moved, opened the door, and walked in.

 

'What's the matter?' cried Jonas, falling back. 'Who is it? Where

do you come from? What do you want?'

 

'Matter!' cried the voice of Mr Pecksniff, as Pecksniff in the flesh

smiled amiably upon him. 'The matter, Mr Jonas!'

 

'What are you prying and peering about here for?' said Jonas,

angrily. 'What do you mean by coming up to town in this way, and

taking one unawares? It's precious odd a man can't read the--the

newspaper--in his own office without being startled out of his wits

by people coming in without notice. Why didn't you knock at the

door?'

 

'So I did, Mr Jonas,' answered Pecksniff, 'but no one heard me. I

was curious,' he added in his gentle way as he laid his hand upon

the young man's shoulder, 'to find out what part of the newspaper

interested you so much; but the glass was too dim and dirty.'

 

Jonas glanced in haste at the partition. Well. It wasn't very

clean. So far he spoke the truth.

 

'Was it poetry now?' said Mr Pecksniff, shaking the forefinger of

his right hand with an air of cheerful banter. 'Or was it politics?

Or was it the price of stock? The main chance, Mr Jonas, the main

chance, I suspect.'

 

'You ain't far from the truth,' answered Jonas, recovering himself

and snuffing the candle; 'but how the deuce do you come to be in

London again? Ecod! it's enough to make a man stare, to see a

fellow looking at him all of a sudden, who he thought was sixty or

seventy mile away.'

 

'So it is,' said Mr Pecksniff. 'No doubt of it, my dear Mr Jonas.

For while the human mind is constituted as it is--'

 

'Oh, bother the human mind,' interrupted Jonas with impatience 'what

have you come up for?'

 

'A little matter of business,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'which has arisen

quite unexpectedly.'

 

'Oh!' cried Jonas, 'is that all? Well. Here's father in the next

room. Hallo father, here's Pecksniff! He gets more addle-pated

every day he lives, I do believe,' muttered Jonas, shaking his

honoured parent roundly. 'Don't I tell you Pecksniff's here,

stupid-head?'

 

The combined effects of the shaking and this loving remonstrance

soon awoke the old man, who gave Mr Pecksniff a chuckling welcome

which was attributable in part to his being glad to see that

gentleman, and in part to his unfading delight in the recollection

of having called him a hypocrite. As Mr Pecksniff had not yet taken

tea (indeed he had, but an hour before, arrived in London) the

remains of the late collation, with a rasher of bacon, were served

up for his entertainment; and as Mr Jonas had a business appointment

in the next street, he stepped out to keep it; promising to return

before Mr Pecksniff could finish his repast.

 

'And now, my good sir,' said Mr Pecksniff to Anthony; 'now that we

are alone, pray tell me what I can do for you. I say alone, because

I believe that our dear friend Mr Chuffey is, metaphysically

speaking, a--shall I say a dummy?' asked Mr Pecksniff with his

sweetest smile, and his head very much on one side.

 

'He neither hears us,' replied Anthony, 'nor sees us.'

 

'Why, then,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'I will be bold to say, with the

utmost sympathy for his afflictions, and the greatest admiration of

those excellent qualities which do equal honour to his head and to

his heart, that he is what is playfully termed a dummy. You were

going to observe, my dear sir--?'

 

'I was not going to make any observation that I know of,' replied

the old man.

 

'I was,' said Mr Pecksniff, mildly.

 

'Oh! YOU were? What was it?'

 

'That I never,' said Mr Pecksniff, previously rising to see that the

door was shut, and arranging his chair when he came back, so that it

could not be opened in the least without his immediately becoming

aware of the circumstance; 'that I never in my life was so

astonished as by the receipt of your letter yesterday. That you

should do me the honour to wish to take counsel with me on any

matter, amazed me; but that you should desire to do so, to the

exclusion even of Mr Jonas, showed an amount of confidence in one to

whom you had done a verbal injury--merely a verbal injury, you were

anxious to repair--which gratified, which moved, which overcame me.'

 

He was always a glib speaker, but he delivered this short address

very glibly; having been at some pains to compose it outside the

coach.

 

Although he paused for a reply, and truly said that he was there at

Anthony's request, the old man sat gazing at him in profound silence

and with a perfectly blank face. Nor did he seem to have the least

desire or impulse to pursue the conversation, though Mr Pecksniff

looked towards the door, and pulled out his watch, and gave him many

other hints that their time was short, and Jonas, if he kept his

word, would soon return. But the strangest incident in all this

strange behaviour was, that of a sudden, in a moment, so swiftly

that it was impossible to trace how, or to observe any process of

change, his features fell into their old expression, and he cried,

striking his hand passionately upon the table as if no interval at

all had taken place:

 

'Will you hold your tongue, sir, and let me speak?'

 

Mr Pecksniff deferred to him with a submissive bow; and said within

himself, 'I knew his hand was changed, and that his writing

staggered. I said so yesterday. Ahem! Dear me!'

 

'Jonas is sweet upon your daughter, Pecksniff,' said the old man, in

his usual tone.

 

'We spoke of that, if you remember, sir, at Mrs Todgers's,' replied

the courteous architect.

 

'You needn't speak so loud,' retorted Anthony. 'I'm not so deaf as

that.'

 

Mr Pecksniff had certainly raised his voice pretty high; not so much

because he thought Anthony was deaf, as because he felt convinced

that his perceptive faculties were waxing dim; but this quick

resentment of his considerate behaviour greatly disconcerted him,

and, not knowing what tack to shape his course upon, he made another

inclination of the head, yet more submissive that the last.

 

'I have said,' repeated the old man, 'that Jonas is sweet upon your

daughter.'

 

'A charming girl, sir,' murmured Mr Pecksniff, seeing that he waited

for an answer. 'A dear girl, Mr Chuzzlewit, though I say it, who

should not.'

 

'You know better,' cried the old man, advancing his weazen face at

least a yard, and starting forward in his chair to do it. 'You

lie! What, you WILL be a hypocrite, will you?'

 

'My good sir,' Mr Pecksniff began.

 

'Don't call me a good sir,' retorted Anthony, 'and don't claim to be

one yourself. If your daughter was what you would have me believe,

she wouldn't do for Jonas. Being what she is, I think she will. He

might be deceived in a wife. She might run riot, contract debts,

and waste his substance. Now when I am dead--'

 

His face altered so horribly as he said the word, that Mr Pecksniff

really was fain to look another way.

 

'--It will be worse for me to know of such doings, than if I was

alive; for to be tormented for getting that together, which even

while I suffer for its acquisition, is flung into the very kennels of

the streets, would be insupportable torture. No,' said the old man,

hoarsely, 'let that be saved at least; let there be something

gained, and kept fast hold of, when so much is lost.'

 

'My dear Mr Chuzzlewit,' said Pecksniff, 'these are unwholesome

fancies; quite unnecessary, sir, quite uncalled for, I am sure. The

truth is, my dear sir, that you are not well!'

 

'Not dying though!' cried Anthony, with something like the snarl of

a wild animal. 'Not yet! There are years of life in me. Why, look

at him,' pointing to his feeble clerk. 'Death has no right to leave

him standing, and to mow me down!'

 

Mr Pecksniff was so much afraid of the old man, and so completely

taken aback by the state in which he found him, that he had not even

presence of mind enough to call up a scrap of morality from the

great storehouse within his own breast. Therefore he stammered out

that no doubt it was, in fairness and decency, Mr Chuffey's turn to

expire; and that from all he had heard of Mr Chuffey, and the little

he had the pleasure of knowing of that gentleman, personally, he

felt convinced in his own mind that he would see the propriety of

expiring with as little delay as possible.

 

'Come here!' said the old man, beckoning him to draw nearer. 'Jonas

will be my heir, Jonas will be rich, and a great catch for you. You

know that. Jonas is sweet upon your daughter.'

 

'I know that too,' thought Mr Pecksniff, 'for you have said it often

enough.'

 

'He might get more money than with her,' said the old man, 'but she

will help him to take care of what they have. She is not too young

or heedless, and comes of a good hard griping stock. But don't you

play too fine a game. She only holds him by a thread; and if you

draw it too tight (I know his temper) it'll snap. Bind him when

he's in the mood, Pecksniff; bind him. You're too deep. In your

way of leading him on, you'll leave him miles behind. Bah, you man

of oil, have I no eyes to see how you have angled with him from the

first?'

 

'Now I wonder,' thought Mr Pecksniff, looking at him with a wistful

face, 'whether this is all he has to say?'

 

Old Anthony rubbed his hands and muttered to himself; complained

again that he was cold; drew his chair before the fire; and, sitting

with his back to Mr Pecksniff, and his chin sunk down upon his

breast, was, in another minute, quite regardless or forgetful of his

presence.

 

Uncouth and unsatisfactory as this short interview had been, it had

furnished Mr Pecksniff with a hint which, supposing nothing further

were imparted to him, repaid the journey up and home again. For the

good gentleman had never (for want of an opportunity) dived into the

depths of Mr Jonas's nature; and any recipe for catching such a son-

in-law (much more one written on a leaf out of his own father's

book) was worth the having. In order that he might lose no chance

of improving so fair an opportunity by allowing Anthony to fall

asleep before he had finished all he had to say, Mr Pecksniff, in

the disposal of the refreshments on the table, a work to which he

now applied himself in earnest, resorted to many ingenious

contrivances for attracting his attention; such as coughing,

sneezing, clattering the teacups, sharpening the knives, dropping

the loaf, and so forth. But all in vain, for Mr Jonas returned, and

Anthony had said no more.

 

'What! My father asleep again?' he cried, as he hung up his hat, and

cast a look at him. 'Ah! and snoring. Only hear!'

 

'He snores very deep,' said Mr Pecksniff.

 

'Snores deep?' repeated Jonas. 'Yes; let him alone for that. He'll

snore for six, at any time.'

 

'Do you know, Mr Jonas,' said Pecksniff, 'that I think your father

is--don't let me alarm you--breaking?'

 

'Oh, is he though?' replied Jonas, with a shake of the head which

expressed the closeness of his dutiful observation. 'Ecod, you

don't know how tough he is. He ain't upon the move yet.'

 

'It struck me that he was changed, both in his appearance and

manner,' said Mr Pecksniff.

 

'That's all you know about it,' returned Jonas, seating himself with

a melancholy air. 'He never was better than he is now. How are

they all at home? How's Charity?'

 

'Blooming, Mr Jonas, blooming.'

 

'And the other one; how's she?'

 

'Volatile trifler!' said Mr Pecksniff, fondly musing. 'She is well,

she is well. Roving from parlour to bedroom, Mr Jonas, like a bee,

skimming from post to pillar, like the butterfly; dipping her young

beak into our currant wine, like the humming-bird! Ah! were she a

little less giddy than she is; and had she but the sterling

qualities of Cherry, my young friend!'

 

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

 

'Well, well!' said Mr Pecksniff, with great feeling; 'let me not be

hard upon my child. Beside her sister Cherry she appears so. A

strange noise that, Mr Jonas!'

 

'Something wrong in the clock, I suppose,' said Jonas, glancing

towards it. 'So the other one ain't your favourite, ain't she?'

 

The fond father was about to reply, and had already summoned into

his face a look of most intense sensibility, when the sound he had

already noticed was repeated.

 

'Upon my word, Mr Jonas, that is a very extraordinary clock,' said

Pecksniff.

 

It would have been, if it had made the noise which startled them;

but another kind of time-piece was fast running down, and from that

the sound proceeded. A scream from Chuffey, rendered a hundred

times more loud and formidable by his silent habits, made the house

ring from roof to cellar; and, looking round, they saw Anthony

Chuzzlewit extended on the floor, with the old clerk upon his knees

beside him.

 

He had fallen from his chair in a fit, and lay there, battling for

each gasp of breath, with every shrivelled vein and sinew starting

in its place, as if it were bent on bearing witness to his age, and

sternly pleading with Nature against his recovery. It was frightful

to see how the principle of life, shut up within his withered frame,

fought like a strong devil, mad to be released, and rent its ancient

prison-house. A young man in the fullness of his vigour, struggling

with so much strength of desperation, would have been a dismal

sight; but an old, old, shrunken body, endowed with preternatural

might, and giving the lie in every motion of its every limb and

joint to its enfeebled aspect, was a hideous spectacle indeed.

 

They raised him up, and fetched a surgeon with all haste, who bled

the patient and applied some remedies; but the fits held him so long

that it was past midnight when they got him--quiet now, but quite

unconscious and exhausted--into bed.

 

'Don't go,' said Jonas, putting his ashy lips to Mr Pecksniff's ear

and whispered across the bed. 'It was a mercy you were present when

he was taken ill. Some one might have said it was my doing.'

 

'YOUR doing!' cried Mr Pecksniff.

 

'I don't know but they might,' he replied, wiping the moisture from

his white face. 'People say such things. How does he look now?'

 

Mr Pecksniff shook his head.

 

'I used to joke, you know,' said. Jonas: 'but I--I never wished him

dead. Do you think he's very bad?'

 

'The doctor said he was. You heard,' was Mr Pecksniff's answer.

 

'Ah! but he might say that to charge us more, in case of his getting

well' said Jonas. 'You mustn't go away, Pecksniff. Now it's come

to this, I wouldn't be without a witness for a thousand pound.'

 

Chuffey said not a word, and heard not a word. He had sat himself

down in a chair at the bedside, and there he remained, motionless;

except that he sometimes bent his head over the pillow, and seemed

to listen. He never changed in this. Though once in the dreary

night Mr Pecksniff, having dozed, awoke with a confused impression

that he had heard him praying, and strangely mingling figures--not

of speech, but arithmetic--with his broken prayers.

 

Jonas sat there, too, all night; not where his father could have

seen him, had his consciousness returned, but hiding, as it were,

behind him, and only reading how he looked, in Mr Pecksniff's eyes.

HE, the coarse upstart, who had ruled the house so long--that

craven cur, who was afraid to move, and shook so, that his very

shadow fluttered on the wall!

 

It was broad, bright, stirring day when, leaving the old clerk to

watch him, they went down to breakfast. People hurried up and down

the street; windows and doors were opened; thieves and beggars took

their usual posts; workmen bestirred themselves; tradesmen set forth

their shops; bailiffs and constables were on the watch; all kinds of

human creatures strove, in their several ways, as hard to live, as

the one sick old man who combated for every grain of sand in his

fast-emptying glass, as eagerly as if it were an empire.

 

'If anything happens Pecksniff,' said Jonas, 'you must promise me to

stop here till it's all over. You shall see that I do what's

right.'

 

'I know that you will do what's right, Mr Jonas,' said Pecksniff.

 

'Yes, yes, but I won't be doubted. No one shall have it in his

power to say a syllable against me,' he returned. 'I know how

people will talk. Just as if he wasn't old, or I had the secret of

keeping him alive!'

 

Mr Pecksniff promised that he would remain, if circumstances should

render it, in his esteemed friend's opinion, desirable; they were

finishing their meal in silence, when suddenly an apparition stood

before them, so ghastly to the view that Jonas shrieked aloud, and

both recoiled in horror.

 

Old Anthony, dressed in his usual clothes, was in the room--beside

the table. He leaned upon the shoulder of his solitary friend; and

on his livid face, and on his horny hands, and in his glassy eyes,

and traced by an eternal finger in the very drops of sweat upon his

brow, was one word--Death.

 

He spoke to them--in something of his own voice too, but sharpened

and made hollow, like a dead man's face. What he would have said,

God knows. He seemed to utter words, but they were such as man had

never heard. And this was the most fearful circumstance of all, to

see him standing there, gabbling in an unearthly tongue.

 

'He's better now,' said Chuffey. 'Better now. Let him sit in his

old chair, and he'll be well again. I told him not to mind. I said

so, yesterday.'

 

They put him in his easy-chair, and wheeled it near the window;

then, swinging open the door, exposed him to the free current of

morning air. But not all the air that is, nor all the winds that

ever blew 'twixt Heaven and Earth, could have brought new life to

him.

 

Plunge him to the throat in golden pieces now, and his heavy fingers

shall not close on one!

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Martin Chuzzlewit - Chapter SEVENTEEN Martin Chuzzlewit - Chapter SEVENTEEN

Martin Chuzzlewit - Chapter SEVENTEEN
MARTIN ENLARGES HIS CIRCLE OF AQUAINTANCE; INCREASES HIS STOCK OFWISDOM; AND HAS AN EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY OF COMPARING HIS OWNEXPERIENCES WITH THOSE OF LUMMY NED OF THE LIGHT SALISBURY, ASRELATED BY HIS FRIEND MR WILLIAM SIMMONS.It was characteristic of Martin, that all this while he had eitherforgotten Mark Tapley as completely as if there had been no suchperson in existence, or, if for a moment the figure of thatgentleman rose before his mental vision, had dismissed it assomething by no means of a pressing nature, which might be attendedto by-and-bye, and could wait his perfect leisure. But, being nowin the streets
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