'That any man, my dear sir, could possibly be the happier for not knowing you,' he returned, 'you will excuse my doubting. But that Mr Anthony, in the evening of his life, was happier in the affection of his excellent son--a pattern, my dear sir, a pattern to all sons --and in the care of a distant relation who, however lowly in his means of serving him, had no bounds to his inclination; I can inform you.'
'How's this?' said the old man. 'You are not a legatee?'
'You don't,' said Mr Pecksniff, with a melancholy pressure of his hand, 'quite understand my nature yet, I find. No, sir, I am not a legatee. I am proud to say I am not a legatee. I am proud to say that neither of my children is a legatee. And yet, sir, I was with him at his own request. HE understood me somewhat better, sir. He wrote and said, "I am sick. I am sinking. Come to me!" I went to him. I sat beside his bed, sir, and I stood beside his grave. Yes, at the risk of offending even you, I did it, sir. Though the avowal should lead to our instant separation, and to the severing of those tender ties between us which have recently been formed, I make it. But I am not a legatee,' said Mr Pecksniff, smiling dispassionately; 'and I never expected to be a legatee. I knew better!'
'His son a pattern!' cried old Martin. 'How can you tell me that? My brother had in his wealth the usual doom of wealth, and root of misery. He carried his corrupting influence with him, go where he would; and shed it round him, even on his hearth. It made of his own child a greedy expectant, who measured every day and hour the lessening distance between his father and the grave, and cursed his tardy progress on that dismal road.'
'No!' cried Mr Pecksniff, boldly. 'Not at all, sir!'
'But I saw that shadow in his house,' said Martin Chuzzlewit, 'the last time we met, and warned him of its presence. I know it when I see it, do I not? I, who have lived within it all these years!'
'I deny it,' Mr Pecksniff answered, warmly. 'I deny it altogether. That bereaved young man is now in this house, sir, seeking in change of scene the peace of mind he has lost. Shall I be backward in doing justice to that young man, when even undertakers and coffin-makers have been moved by the conduct he has exhibited; when even mutes have spoken in his praise, and the medical man hasn't known what to do with himself in the excitement of his feelings! There is a person of the name of Gamp, sir--Mrs Gamp--ask her. She saw Mr Jonas in a trying time. Ask HER, sir. She is respectable, but not sentimental, and will state the fact. A line addressed to Mrs Gamp, at the BirdShop, Kingsgate Street, High Holborn, London, will meet with every attention, I have no doubt. Let her be examined, my good sir. Strike, but hear! Leap, Mr Chuzzlewit, but look! Forgive me, my dear sir,' said Mr Pecksniff, taking both his hands, 'if I am warm; but I am honest, and must state the truth.'
In proof of the character he gave himself, Mr Pecksniff suffered tears of honesty to ooze out of his eyes.
The old man gazed at him for a moment with a look of wonder, repeating to himself, 'Here now! In this house!' But he mastered his surprise, and said, after a pause:
'Let me see him.'
'In a friendly spirit, I hope?' said Mr Pecksniff. 'Forgive me, sir but he is in the receipt of my humble hospitality.'
'I said,' replied the old man, 'let me see him. If I were disposed to regard him in any other than a friendly spirit, I should have said keep us apart.'
'Certainly, my dear sir. So you would. You are frankness itself, I know. I will break this happiness to him,' said Mr Pecksniff, as he left the room, 'if you will excuse me for a minute--gently.'
He paved the way to the disclosure so very gently, that a quarter of an hour elapsed before he returned with Mr Jonas. In the meantime the young ladies had made their appearance, and the table had been set out for the refreshment of the travellers.
Now, however well Mr Pecksniff, in his morality, had taught Jonas the lesson of dutiful behaviour to his uncle, and however perfectly Jonas, in the cunning of his nature, had learnt it, that young man's bearing, when presented to his father's brother, was anything but manly or engaging.