'Quite the buzz of insects,' said Mr Mould, closing his eyes in a perfect luxury. 'It puts one in mind of the sound of animated nature in the agricultural districts. It's exactly like the woodpecker tapping.'
'The woodpecker tapping the hollow ELM tree,' observed Mrs Mould, adapting the words of the popular melody to the description of wood commonly used in the trade.
'Ha, ha!' laughed Mr Mould. 'Not at all bad, my dear. We shall be glad to hear from you again, Mrs M. Hollow elm tree, eh! Ha, ha! Very good indeed. I've seen worse than that in the Sunday papers, my love.'
Mrs Mould, thus encouraged, took a little more of the punch, and handed it to her daughters, who dutifully followed the example of their mother.
'Hollow ELM tree, eh?' said Mr Mould, making a slight motion with his legs in his enjoyment of the joke. 'It's beech in the song. Elm, eh? Yes, to be sure. Ha, ha, ha! Upon my soul, that's one of the best things I know?' He was so excessively tickled by the jest that he couldn't forget it, but repeated twenty times, 'Elm, eh? Yes, to be sure. Elm, of course. Ha, ha, ha! Upon my life, you know, that ought to be sent to somebody who could make use of it. It's one of the smartest things that ever was said. Hollow ELM tree, eh? of course. Very hollow. Ha, ha, ha!'
Here a knock was heard at the room door.
'That's Tacker, I know,' said Mrs Mould, 'by the wheezing he makes. Who that hears him now, would suppose he'd ever had wind enough to carry the feathers on his head! Come in, Tacker.'
'Beg your pardon, ma'am,' said Tacker, looking in a little way. 'I thought our Governor was here.'
'Well! so he is,' cried Mould.
'Oh! I didn't see you, I'm sure,' said Tacker, looking in a little farther. 'You wouldn't be inclined to take a walking one of two, with the plain wood and a tin plate, I suppose?'
'Certainly not,' replied Mr Mould, 'much too common. Nothing to say to it.'
'I told 'em it was precious low,' observed Mr Tacker.
'Tell 'em to go somewhere else. We don't do that style of business here,' said Mr Mould. 'Like their impudence to propose it. Who is it?'
'Why,' returned Tacker, pausing, 'that's where it is, you see. It's the beadle's son-in-law.'
'The beadle's son-in-law, eh?' said Mould. 'Well! I'll do it if the beadle follows in his cocked hat; not else. We carry it off that way, by looking official, but it'll be low enough, then. His cocked hat, mind!'
'I'll take care, sir,' rejoined Tacker. 'Oh! Mrs Gamp's below, and wants to speak to you.'
'Tell Mrs Gamp to come upstairs,' said Mould. 'Now Mrs Gamp, what's YOUR news?'
The lady in question was by this time in the doorway, curtseying to Mrs Mould. At the same moment a peculiar fragrance was borne upon the breeze, as if a passing fairy had hiccoughed, and had previously been to a wine-vaults.
Mrs Gamp made no response to Mr Mould, but curtseyed to Mrs Mould again, and held up her hands and eyes, as in a devout thanksgiving that she looked so well. She was neatly, but not gaudily attired, in the weeds she had worn when Mr Pecksniff had the pleasure of making her acquaintance; and was perhaps the turning of a scale more snuffy.
'There are some happy creeturs,' Mrs Gamp observed, 'as time runs back'ards with, and you are one, Mrs Mould; not that he need do nothing except use you in his most owldacious way for years to come, I'm sure; for young you are and will be. I says to Mrs Harris,' Mrs Gamp continued, 'only t'other day; the last Monday evening fortnight as ever dawned upon this Piljian's Projiss of a mortal wale; I says to Mrs Harris when she says to me, "Years and our trials, Mrs Gamp, sets marks upon us all."--"Say not the words, Mrs Harris, if you and me is to be continual friends, for sech is not the case. Mrs Mould," I says, making so free, I will confess, as use the name,' (she curtseyed here), '"is one of them that goes agen the obserwation straight; and never, Mrs Harris, whilst I've a drop of breath to draw, will I set by, and not stand up, don't think it."-- "I ast your pardon, ma'am," says Mrs Harris, "and I humbly grant your grace; for if ever a woman lived as would see her feller creeturs into fits to serve her friends, well do I know that woman's name is Sairey Gamp."'
At this point she was fain to stop for breath; and advantage may be taken of the circumstance, to state that a fearful mystery surrounded this lady of the name of Harris, whom no one in the circle of Mrs Gamp's acquaintance had ever seen; neither did any human being know her place of residence, though Mrs Gamp appeared on her own showing to be in constant communication with her.