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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMartin Chuzzlewit - Chapter FORTY-TWO
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Martin Chuzzlewit - Chapter FORTY-TWO Post by :Chris_J Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dickens Date :January 2011 Read :1642

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Martin Chuzzlewit - Chapter FORTY-TWO

CONTINUATION OF THE ENTERPRISE OF MR JONAS AND HIS FRIEND

 

The doctor's prognostication in reference to the weather was

speedily verified. Although the weather was not a patient of his,

and no third party had required him to give an opinion on the case,

the quick fulfilment of his prophecy may be taken as an instance of

his professional tact; for, unless the threatening aspect of the

night had been perfectly plain and unmistakable, Mr Jobling would

never have compromised his reputation by delivering any sentiments

on the subject. He used this principle in Medicine with too much

success to be unmindful of it in his commonest transactions.

 

It was one of those hot, silent nights, when people sit at windows

listening for the thunder which they know will shortly break; when

they recall dismal tales of hurricanes and earthquakes; and of

lonely travellers on open plains, and lonely ships at sea, struck by

lightning. Lightning flashed and quivered on the black horizon even

now; and hollow murmurings were in the wind, as though it had been

blowing where the thunder rolled, and still was charged with its

exhausted echoes. But the storm, though gathering swiftly, had not

yet come up; and the prevailing stillness was the more solemn, from

the dull intelligence that seemed to hover in the air, of noise and

conflict afar off.

 

It was very dark; but in the murky sky there were masses of cloud

which shone with a lurid light, like monstrous heaps of copper that

had been heated in a furnace, and were growing cold. These had been

advancing steadily and slowly, but they were now motionless, or

nearly so. As the carriage clattered round the corners of the

streets, it passed at every one a knot of persons who had come

there--many from their houses close at hand, without hats--to look

up at that quarter of the sky. And now a very few large drops of

rain began to fall, and thunder rumbled in the distance.

 

Jonas sat in a corner of the carriage with his bottle resting on his

knee, and gripped as tightly in his hand as if he would have ground

its neck to powder if he could. Instinctively attracted by the

night, he had laid aside the pack of cards upon the cushion; and

with the same involuntary impulse, so intelligible to both of them

as not to occasion a remark on either side, his companion had

extinguished the lamp. The front glasses were down; and they sat

looking silently out upon the gloomy scene before them.

 

They were clear of London, or as clear of it as travellers can be

whose way lies on the Western Road, within a stage of that enormous

city. Occasionally they encountered a foot-passenger, hurrying to

the nearest place of shelter; or some unwieldy cart proceeding

onward at a heavy trot, with the same end in view. Little clusters

of such vehicles were gathered round the stable-yard or baiting-

place of every wayside tavern; while their drivers watched the

weather from the doors and open windows, or made merry within.

Everywhere the people were disposed to bear each other company

rather than sit alone; so that groups of watchful faces seemed to be

looking out upon the night AND THEM, from almost every house they

passed.

 

It may appear strange that this should have disturbed Jonas, or

rendered him uneasy; but it did. After muttering to himself, and

often changing his position, he drew up the blind on his side of the

carriage, and turned his shoulder sulkily towards it. But he

neither looked at his companion, nor broke the silence which

prevailed between them, and which had fallen so suddenly upon

himself, by addressing a word to him.

 

The thunder rolled, the lightning flashed; the rain poured down like

Heaven's wrath. Surrounded at one moment by intolerable light, and

at the next by pitchy darkness, they still pressed forward on their

journey. Even when they arrived at the end of the stage, and might

have tarried, they did not; but ordered horses out immediately. Nor

had this any reference to some five minutes' lull, which at that

time seemed to promise a cessation of the storm. They held their

course as if they were impelled and driven by its fury. Although

they had not exchanged a dozen words, and might have tarried very

well, they seemed to feel, by joint consent, that onward they must

go.

 

Louder and louder the deep thunder rolled, as through the myriad

halls of some vast temple in the sky; fiercer and brighter became

the lightning, more and more heavily the rain poured down. The

horses (they were travelling now with a single pair) plunged and

started from the rills of quivering fire that seemed to wind along

the ground before them; but there these two men sat, and forward

they went as if they were led on by an invisible attraction.

 

The eye, partaking of the quickness of the flashing light, saw in

its every gleam a multitude of objects which it could not see at

steady noon in fifty times that period. Bells in steeples, with the

rope and wheel that moved them; ragged nests of birds in cornices

and nooks; faces full of consternation in the tilted waggons that

came tearing past; their frightened teams ringing out a warning

which the thunder drowned; harrows and ploughs left out in fields;

miles upon miles of hedge-divided country, with the distant fringe

of trees as obvious as the scarecrow in the bean-field close at hand;

in a trembling, vivid, flickering instant, everything was clear and

plain; then came a flush of red into the yellow light; a change to

blue; a brightness so intense that there was nothing else but light;

and then the deepest and profoundest darkness.

 

The lightning being very crooked and very dazzling may have

presented or assisted a curious optical illusion, which suddenly

rose before the startled eyes of Montague in the carriage, and as

rapidly disappeared. He thought he saw Jonas with his hand lifted,

and the bottle clenched in it like a hammer, making as if he would

aim a blow at his head. At the same time he observed (or so

believed) an expression in his face--a combination of the unnatural

excitement he had shown all day, with a wild hatred and fear--which

might have rendered a wolf a less terrible companion.

 

He uttered an involuntary exclamation, and called to the driver, who

brought his horses to a stop with all speed.

 

It could hardly have been as he supposed, for although he had not

taken his eyes off his companion, and had not seen him move, he sat

reclining in his corner as before.

 

'What's the matter?' said Jonas. 'Is that your general way of

waking out of your sleep?'

 

'I could swear,' returned the other, 'that I have not closed my

eyes!'

 

'When you have sworn it,' said Jonas, composedly, 'we had better go

on again, if you have only stopped for that.'

 

He uncorked the bottle with the help of his teeth; and putting it to

his lips, took a long draught.

 

'I wish we had never started on this journey. This is not,' said

Montague, recoiling instinctively, and speaking in a voice that

betrayed his agitation; 'this is not a night to travel in.'

 

'Ecod! you're right there,' returned Jonas, 'and we shouldn't be out

in it but for you. If you hadn't kept me waiting all day, we might

have been at Salisbury by this time; snug abed and fast asleep.

What are we stopping for?'

 

His companion put his head out of window for a moment, and drawing

it in again, observed (as if that were his cause of anxiety), that

the boy was drenched to the skin.

 

'Serve him right,' said Jonas. 'I'm glad of it. What the devil are

we stopping for? Are you going to spread him out to dry?'

 

'I have half a mind to take him inside,' observed the other with

some hesitation.

 

'Oh! thankee!' said Jonas. 'We don't want any damp boys here;

especially a young imp like him. Let him be where he is. He ain't

afraid of a little thunder and lightning, I dare say; whoever else

is. Go on, driver. We had better have HIM inside perhaps,' he

muttered with a laugh; 'and the horses!'

 

'Don't go too fast,' cried Montague to the postillion; 'and take

care how you go. You were nearly in the ditch when I called to

you.'

 

This was not true; and Jonas bluntly said so, as they moved forward

again. Montague took little or no heed of what he said, but

repeated that it was not a night for travelling, and showed himself,

both then and afterwards, unusually anxious.

 

From this time Jonas recovered his former spirits, if such a term

may be employed to express the state in which he had left the city.

He had his bottle often at his mouth; roared out snatches of songs,

without the least regard to time or tune or voice, or anything but

loud discordance; and urged his silent friend to be merry with him.

 

'You're the best company in the world, my good fellow,' said

Montague with an effort, 'and in general irresistible; but to-night

--do you hear it?'

 

'Ecod! I hear and see it too,' cried Jonas, shading his eyes, for

the moment, from the lightning which was flashing, not in any one

direction, but all around them. 'What of that? It don't change

you, nor me, nor our affairs. Chorus, chorus,

 

 

It may lighten and storm,

Till it hunt the red worm

From the grass where the gibbet is driven;

But it can't hurt the dead,

And it won't save the head

That is doom'd to be rifled and riven.

 

 

That must be a precious old song,' he added with an oath, as he

stopped short in a kind of wonder at himself. 'I haven't heard it

since I was a boy, and how it comes into my head now, unless the

lightning put it there, I don't know. "Can't hurt the dead"! No,

no. "And won't save the head"! No, no. No! Ha, ha, ha!'

 

His mirth was of such a savage and extraordinary character, and was,

in an inexplicable way, at once so suited to the night, and yet such

a coarse intrusion on its terrors, that his fellow-traveller, always

a coward, shrunk from him in positive fear. Instead of Jonas being

his tool and instrument, their places seemed to be reversed. But

there was reason for this too, Montague thought; since the sense of

his debasement might naturally inspire such a man with the wish to

assert a noisy independence, and in that licence to forget his real

condition. Being quick enough, in reference to such subjects of

contemplation, he was not long in taking this argument into account

and giving it its full weight. But still, he felt a vague sense of

alarm, and was depressed and uneasy.

 

He was certain he had not been asleep; but his eyes might have

deceived him; for, looking at Jonas now in any interval of darkness,

he could represent his figure to himself in any attitude his state

of mind suggested. On the other hand, he knew full well that Jonas

had no reason to love him; and even taking the piece of pantomime

which had so impressed his mind to be a real gesture, and not the

working of his fancy, the most that could be said of it was, that it

was quite in keeping with the rest of his diabolical fun, and had

the same impotent expression of truth in it. 'If he could kill me

with a wish,' thought the swindler, 'I should not live long.'

 

He resolved that when he should have had his use of Jonas, he would

restrain him with an iron curb; in the meantime, that he could not

do better than leave him to take his own way, and preserve his own

peculiar description of good-humour, after his own uncommon manner.

It was no great sacrifice to bear with him; 'for when all is got

that can be got,' thought Montague, 'I shall decamp across the

water, and have the laugh on my side--and the gains.'

 

Such were his reflections from hour to hour; his state of mind being

one in which the same thoughts constantly present themselves over

and over again in wearisome repetition; while Jonas, who appeared to

have dismissed reflection altogether, entertained himself as before.

They agreed that they would go to Salisbury, and would cross to Mr

Pecksniff's in the morning; and at the prospect of deluding that

worthy gentleman, the spirits of his amiable son-in-law became more

boisterous than ever.

 

As the night wore on, the thunder died away, but still rolled

gloomily and mournfully in the distance. The lightning too, though

now comparatively harmless, was yet bright and frequent. The rain

was quite as violent as it had ever been.

 

It was their ill-fortune, at about the time of dawn and in the last

stage of their journey, to have a restive pair of horses. These

animals had been greatly terrified in their stable by the tempest;

and coming out into the dreary interval between night and morning,

when the glare of the lightning was yet unsubdued by day, and the

various objects in their view were presented in indistinct and

exaggerated shapes which they would not have worn by night, they

gradually became less and less capable of control; until, taking a

sudden fright at something by the roadside, they dashed off wildly

down a steep hill, flung the driver from his saddle, drew the

carriage to the brink of a ditch, stumbled headlong down, and threw

it crashing over.

 

The travellers had opened the carriage door, and had either jumped

or fallen out. Jonas was the first to stagger to his feet. He felt

sick and weak, and very giddy, and reeling to a five-barred gate,

stood holding by it; looking drowsily about as the whole landscape

swam before his eyes. But, by degrees, he grew more conscious, and

presently observed that Montague was lying senseless in the road,

within a few feet of the horses.

 

In an instant, as if his own faint body were suddenly animated by a

demon, he ran to the horses' heads; and pulling at their bridles

with all his force, set them struggling and plunging with such mad

violence as brought their hoofs at every effort nearer to the skull

of the prostrate man; and must have led in half a minute to his

brains being dashed out on the highway.

 

As he did this, he fought and contended with them like a man

possessed, making them wilder by his cries.

 

'Whoop!' cried Jonas. 'Whoop! again! another! A little more, a

little more! Up, ye devils! Hillo!'

 

As he heard the driver, who had risen and was hurrying up, crying to

him to desist, his violence increased.

 

'Hiilo! Hillo!' cried Jonas.

 

'For God's sake!' cried the driver. 'The gentleman--in the road--

he'll be killed!'

 

The same shouts and the same struggles were his only answer. But

the man darting in at the peril of his own life, saved Montague's,

by dragging him through the mire and water out of the reach of

present harm. That done, he ran to Jonas; and with the aid of his

knife they very shortly disengaged the horses from the broken

chariot, and got them, cut and bleeding, on their legs again. The

postillion and Jonas had now leisure to look at each other, which

they had not had yet.

 

'Presence of mind, presence of mind!' cried Jonas, throwing up his

hands wildly. 'What would you have done without me?'

 

'The other gentleman would have done badly without ME,' returned the

man, shaking his head. 'You should have moved him first. I gave

him up for dead.'

 

'Presence of mind, you croaker, presence of mind' cried Jonas with a

harsh loud laugh. 'Was he struck, do you think?'

 

They both turned to look at him. Jonas muttered something to

himself, when he saw him sitting up beneath the hedge, looking

vacantly around.

 

'What's the matter?' asked Montague. 'Is anybody hurt?'

 

'Ecod!' said Jonas, 'it don't seem so. There are no bones broken,

after all.'

 

They raised him, and he tried to walk. He was a good deal shaken,

and trembled very much. But with the exception of a few cuts and

bruises this was all the damage he had sustained.

 

'Cuts and bruises, eh?' said Jonas. 'We've all got them. Only cuts

and bruises, eh?'

 

'I wouldn't have given sixpence for the gentleman's head in half-a-

dozen seconds more, for all he's only cut and bruised,' observed the

post-boy. 'If ever you're in an accident of this sort again, sir;

which I hope you won't be; never you pull at the bridle of a horse

that's down, when there's a man's head in the way. That can't be

done twice without there being a dead man in the case; it would have

ended in that, this time, as sure as ever you were born, if I hadn't

come up just when I did.'

 

Jonas replied by advising him with a curse to hold his tongue, and

to go somewhere, whither he was not very likely to go of his own

accord. But Montague, who had listened eagerly to every word,

himself diverted the subject, by exclaiming: 'Where's the boy?'

 

'Ecod! I forgot that monkey,' said Jonas. 'What's become of him?' A

very brief search settled that question. The unfortunate Mr Bailey

had been thrown sheer over the hedge or the five-barred gate; and

was lying in the neighbouring field, to all appearance dead.

 

'When I said to-night, that I wished I had never started on this

journey,' cried his master, 'I knew it was an ill-fated one. Look

at this boy!'

 

'Is that all?' growled Jonas. 'If you call THAT a sign of it--'

 

'Why, what should I call a sign of it?' asked Montague, hurriedly.

'What do you mean?'

 

'I mean,' said Jonas, stooping down over the body, 'that I never

heard you were his father, or had any particular reason to care much

about him. Halloa. Hold up there!'

 

But the boy was past holding up, or being held up, or giving any

other sign of life than a faint and fitful beating of the heart.

After some discussion the driver mounted the horse which had been

least injured, and took the lad in his arms as well as he could;

while Montague and Jonas, leading the other horse, and carrying a

trunk between them, walked by his side towards Salisbury.

 

'You'd get there in a few minutes, and be able to send assistance to

meet us, if you went forward, post-boy,' said Jonas. 'Trot on!'

 

'No, no,' cried Montague; 'we'll keep together.'

 

'Why, what a chicken you are! You are not afraid of being robbed;

are you?' said Jonas.

 

'I am not afraid of anything,' replied the other, whose looks and

manner were in flat contradiction to his words. 'But we'll keep

together.'

 

'You were mighty anxious about the boy, a minute ago,' said Jonas.

'I suppose you know that he may die in the meantime?'

 

'Aye, aye. I know. But we'll keep together.'

 

As it was clear that he was not to be moved from this determination,

Jonas made no other rejoinder than such as his face expressed; and

they proceeded in company. They had three or four good miles to

travel; and the way was not made easier by the state of the road,

the burden by which they were embarrassed, or their own stiff and

sore condition. After a sufficiently long and painful walk, they

arrived at the Inn; and having knocked the people up (it being yet

very early in the morning), sent out messengers to see to the

carriage and its contents, and roused a surgeon from his bed to tend

the chief sufferer. All the service he could render, he rendered

promptly and skillfully. But he gave it as his opinion that the boy

was labouring under a severe concussion of the brain, and that Mr

Bailey's mortal course was run.

 

If Montague's strong interest in the announcement could have been

considered as unselfish in any degree, it might have been a

redeeming trait in a character that had no such lineaments to spare.

But it was not difficult to see that, for some unexpressed reason

best appreciated by himself, he attached a strange value to the

company and presence of this mere child. When, after receiving some

assistance from the surgeon himself, he retired to the bedroom

prepared for him, and it was broad day, his mind was still dwelling

on this theme,

 

'I would rather have lost,' he said, 'a thousand pounds than lost

the boy just now. But I'll return home alone. I am resolved upon

that. Chuzzlewit shall go forward first, and I will follow in my

own time. I'll have no more of this,' he added, wiping his damp

forehead. 'Twenty-four hours of this would turn my hair grey!'

 

After examining his chamber, and looking under the bed, and in the

cupboards, and even behind the curtains, with unusual caution

(although it was, as has been said, broad day), he double-locked the

door by which he had entered, and retired to rest. There was

another door in the room, but it was locked on the outer side; and

with what place it communicated, he knew not.

 

His fears or evil conscience reproduced this door in all his dreams.

He dreamed that a dreadful secret was connected with it; a secret

which he knew, and yet did not know, for although he was heavily

responsible for it, and a party to it, he was harassed even in his

vision by a distracting uncertainty in reference to its import.

Incoherently entwined with this dream was another, which represented

it as the hiding-place of an enemy, a shadow, a phantom; and made it

the business of his life to keep the terrible creature closed up,

and prevent it from forcing its way in upon him. With this view

Nadgett, and he, and a strange man with a bloody smear upon his head

(who told him that he had been his playfellow, and told him, too,

the real name of an old schoolmate, forgotten until then), worked

with iron plates and nails to make the door secure; but though they

worked never so hard, it was all in vain, for the nails broke, or

changed to soft twigs, or what was worse, to worms, between their

fingers; the wood of the door splintered and crumbled, so that even

nails would not remain in it; and the iron plates curled up like hot

paper. All this time the creature on the other side--whether it was

in the shape of man, or beast, he neither knew nor sought to know--

was gaining on them. But his greatest terror was when the man with

the bloody smear upon his head demanded of him if he knew this

creatures name, and said that he would whisper it. At this the

dreamer fell upon his knees, his whole blood thrilling with

inexplicable fear, and held his ears. But looking at the speaker's

lips, he saw that they formed the utterance of the letter 'J'; and

crying out aloud that the secret was discovered, and they were all

lost, he awoke.

 

Awoke to find Jonas standing at his bedside watching him. And that

very door wide open.

 

As their eyes met, Jonas retreated a few paces, and Montague sprang

out of bed.

 

'Heyday!' said Jonas. 'You're all alive this morning.'

 

'Alive!' the other stammered, as he pulled the bell-rope violently.

'What are you doing here?'

 

'It's your room to be sure,' said Jonas; 'but I'm almost inclined to

ask you what YOU are doing here? My room is on the other side of

that door. No one told me last night not to open it. I thought it

led into a passage, and was coming out to order breakfast. There's

--there's no bell in my room.'

 

Montague had in the meantime admitted the man with his hot water and

boots, who hearing this, said, yes, there was; and passed into the

adjoining room to point it out, at the head of the bed.

 

'I couldn't find it, then,' said Jonas; 'it's all the same. Shall I

order breakfast?'

 

Montague answered in the affirmative. When Jonas had retired,

whistling, through his own room, he opened the door of

communication, to take out the key and fasten it on the inner side.

But it was taken out already.

 

He dragged a table against the door, and sat down to collect

himself, as if his dreams still had some influence upon his mind.

 

'An evil journey,' he repeated several times. 'An evil journey.

But I'll travel home alone. I'll have no more of this.'

 

His presentiment, or superstition, that it was an evil journey, did

not at all deter him from doing the evil for which the journey was

undertaken. With this in view, he dressed himself more carefully

than usual to make a favourable impression on Mr Pecksniff; and,

reassured by his own appearance, the beauty of the morning, and the

flashing of the wet boughs outside his window in the merry sunshine,

was soon sufficiently inspirited to swear a few round oaths, and hum

the fag-end of a song.

 

But he still muttered to himself at intervals, for all that: 'I'll

travel home alone!'

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