Page images



It was mid-day, and high-water in the English port for which the Screw was bound, when, borne in gallantly upon the fulness of the tide, she let go her anchor in the river.

Bright as the scene was, fresh, and full of motion -airy, free, and sparkling, it was nothing to the life and exultation in the breasts of the two travellers, at sight of the old churches, roofs, and darkened chimney stacks of Home. The distant roar, that swelled up hoarsely from the busy streets, was music in their ears; the lines of people gazing from the wharves, were friends held dear; the canopy of smoke that overhung the town, was brighter and more beautiful to them than if the richest silks of Persia had been waving in the air. And though the water, going on its glistening track, turned ever and again aside, to dance and sparkle round great ships, and heave them up; and leaped from off the blades of oars, a shower of diving diamonds, and wantoned with the idle boats, and swiftly passed, in many a sportive chase, through obdurate old iron rings, set deep into the stonework of the quays; not even it was half so buoyant and so restless as their fluttering hearts when yearning to set foot, once more, on native ground.

* From Martin Chuzzlewit. By kind permission of Messrs. Chapman & Hall.

A year had passed since those same spires and roofs had faded from their eyes. It seemed to them a dozen years. Some trifling changes, here and there, they called to mind; and wondered that they were so few and slight.' In health and fortune, prospect and resource, they came back poorer men than they had gone away. But it was home. And though home is a name, a word, it is a strong one ; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit answered to, in strongest conjuration.

Being set ashore, with very little money in their pockets, and no definite plan of operation in their heads, they sought out a cheap tavern, where they regaled upon a sinoking steak, and certain flowing mugs of beer, as only men just landed from the sea can revel in the generous dainties of the earth. When they had feasted, as two grateful-tempered giants might have done, they stirred the fire, drew back the glowing curtain from the window, and making each a sofa for himself, by union of the great unwieldy chairs, gazed blissfully into the street.

Even the street was made a fairy street, by being half hidden in an atınosphere of steak, and strong, stout, stand-up English beer. For on the windowglass hung such a mist that Mr. Tapley was obliged to rise and wipe it with his handkerchief before the passengers appeared like common mortals; and even then a spiral little cloud went curling up from their two glasses of hot grog, which nearly hid them from each other.

It was one of those unaccountable little rooms which are never seen anywhere but in a tavern. It had more corners in it than the brain of an obstinate man; was full of mad closets, into which nothing could be put that was not specially invented and made for that purpose; had mysterious shelvings and bulk-heads, and indications of staircases in the ceiling; and was elaborately provided with a bell that rang in the room itself, about two feet from the handle, and had no connexion whatever with any other part of the establishment. It was a little below the pavement, and abutted close upon it; so that passengers grated against the windowpanes with their buttons, and scraped it with their baskets; and fearful boys suddenly coming between a thoughtful guest and the light, derided him, or put out their tongues as if he were a physician; or made white knobs on the ends of their noses by flattening the same against the glass, and vanished awfully, like spectres.

Martin and Mark sat looking at the people as they passed, debating, every now and then, what their first step should be.

“We want to see Miss Mary, of course," said Mark.

“Of course," said Martin.. "But I don't know where she is. Not having had the heart to write in our distress—you yourself thought silence most advisable-and consequently never having heard from her since we left New York the first time, I don't know where she is, my good fellow."

"My opinion is, sir," returned Mark, “that what we've got to do, is to travel straight to the Dragon. There's no need for you to go there, where you're known, unless you like. You may stop ten mile short of it. I'll go on ; Mrs. Lupin will tell me all the news.

Mr. Pinch will give me every information that we want; and right glad Mr. Pinch will be to do it. My proposal is : To set off walking this afternoon. To stop when we are tired. To get a lift when we can. To walk when we can't. To do it at once, and do it cheap.”

“ Unless we do it cheap, we shall have some difficulty in doing it at all,” said Martin, pulling out the bank, and telling it over in his hand.

“The greater reason for losing no time, sir," replied Mark. “Whereas, when you've seen the young lady, and know what state of mind the old gentleman's in, and all about it; then you'll know what to do next."

“No doubt," said Martin. “You are quite right."

They were raising their glasses to their lips, when their hands stopped midway, and their gaze was arrested by a figure, which slowly, very slowly, and reflectively, passed the window at that moment.

Mr. Pecksniff. Placid, calm, but proud. Honestly proud. Dressed with peculiar care, smiling with even more than usual blandness, pondering on the beauties of his art with a mild abstraction from all sordid thoughts, and gently travelling across the disc, as if he were a figure in a magic lantern.

As Mr. Pecksniff passed, a person coming in the opposite direction stopped to look after him with great interest and respect: almost with veneration : and the landlord bouncing out of the house, as if he had seen him too, joined this person, and spoke to him, and shook his head gravely, and looked after Mr. Pecksniff likewise.

Martin and Mark sat staring at each other, as if they could not believe it; but there stood the landlord, and the other man still. In spite of the indignation with which this glimpse of Mr. Pecksniff had inspired him, Martin could not help laughing heartily. Neither could Mark,

“We must inquire into this !" said Martin. Ask the landlord in, Mark.”

Mr. Tapley retired for that purpose, and immediately returned with their large-headed host in safe convoy.

“Pray, landlord !” said Martin, “who is that gentleman who passed just now, and whom you were looking after ?”

The landlord poked the fire as if, in his desire to make the most of his answer, he had become indifferent even to the price of coals; and putting his hands in his pockets, said, after inflating himself to give still further effect to his reply:

“That, gentlemen, is the great Mr. Pecksniff! The celebrated architect, gentlemen !"

He looked from one to the other while he said it, as if he were ready to assist the first man might be overcome by the intelligence.

"The great Mr. Pecksniff, the celebrated archi


« PreviousContinue »