'Norris is a very good fellow in his way,' observed Mr Bevan.
'Is he?' said Martin drily.
'Oh yes! there are a hundred good points about him. If you or anybody else addressed him as another order of being, and sued to him IN FORMA PAUPERIS, he would be all kindness and consideration.'
'I needn't have travelled three thousand miles from home to find such a character as THAT,' said Martin. Neither he nor his friend said anything more on the way back; each appearing to find sufficient occupation in his own thoughts.
The tea, or the supper, or whatever else they called the evening meal, was over when they reached the Major's; but the cloth, ornamented with a few additional smears and stains, was still upon the table. At one end of the board Mrs Jefferson Brick and two other ladies were drinking tea; out of the ordinary course, evidently, for they were bonneted and shawled, and seemed to have just come home. By the light of three flaring candles of different lengths, in as many candlesticks of different patterns, the room showed to almost as little advantage as in broad day.
These ladies were all three talking together in a very loud tone when Martin and his friend entered; but seeing those gentlemen, they stopped directly, and became excessively genteel, not to say frosty. As they went on to exchange some few remarks in whispers, the very water in the teapot might have fallen twenty degrees in temperature beneath their chilling coldness.
'Have you been to meeting, Mrs Brick?' asked Martin's friend, with something of a roguish twinkle in his eye.
'To lecture, sir.'
'I beg your pardon. I forgot. You don't go to meeting, I think?'
Here the lady on the right of Mrs Brick gave a pious cough as much as to say 'I do!'--as, indeed, she did nearly every night in the week.
'A good discourse, ma'am?' asked Mr Bevan, addressing this lady.
The lady raised her eyes in a pious manner, and answered 'Yes.' She had been much comforted by some good, strong, peppery doctrine, which satisfactorily disposed of all her friends and acquaintances, and quite settled their business. Her bonnet, too, had far outshone every bonnet in the congregation; so she was tranquil on all accounts.
'What course of lectures are you attending now, ma'am?' said Martin's friend, turning again to Mrs Brick.
'The Philosophy of the Soul, on Wednesdays.'
'The Philosophy of Crime.'
'The Philosophy of Vegetables.'
'You have forgotten Thursdays; the Philosophy of Government, my dear,' observed the third lady.
'No,' said Mrs Brick. 'That's Tuesdays.'
'So it is!' cried the lady. 'The Philosophy of Matter on Thursdays, of course.'
'You see, Mr Chuzzlewit, our ladies are fully employed,' said Bevan.
'Indeed you have reason to say so,' answered Martin. 'Between these very grave pursuits abroad, and family duties at home, their time must be pretty well engrossed.'
Martin stopped here, for he saw that the ladies regarded him with no very great favour, though what he had done to deserve the disdainful expression which appeared in their faces he was at a loss to divine. But on their going upstairs to their bedrooms--which they very soon did--Mr Bevan informed him that domestic drudgery was far beneath the exalted range of these Philosophers, and that the chances were a hundred to one that not one of the three could perform the easiest woman's work for herself, or make the simplest article of dress for any of her children.
'Though whether they might not be better employed with such blunt instruments as knitting-needles than with these edge-tools,' he said, 'is another question; but I can answer for one thing--they don't often cut themselves. Devotions and lectures are our balls and concerts. They go to these places of resort, as an escape from monotony; look at each other's clothes; and come home again.'
'When you say "home," do you mean a house like this?'
'Very often. But I see you are tired to death, and will wish you good night.