There were conflicting rumours on the subject; but the prevalent opinion was that she was a phantom of Mrs Gamp's brain--as Messrs. Doe and Roe are fictions of the law--created for the express purpose of holding visionary dialogues with her on all manner of subjects, and invariably winding up with a compliment to the excellence of her nature.
'And likeways what a pleasure,' said Mrs Gamp, turning with a tearful smile towards the daughters, 'to see them two young ladies as I know'd afore a tooth in their pretty heads was cut, and have many a day seen--ah, the sweet creeturs!--playing at berryins down in the shop, and follerin' the order-book to its long home in the iron safe! But that's all past and over, Mr Mould;' as she thus got in a carefully regulated routine to that gentleman, she shook her head waggishly; 'That's all past and over now, sir, an't it?'
'Changes, Mrs Gamp, changes!' returned the undertaker.
'More changes too, to come, afore we've done with changes, sir,' said Mrs Gamp, nodding yet more waggishly than before. 'Young ladies with such faces thinks of something else besides berryins, don't they, sir?'
'I am sure I don't know, Mrs Gamp,' said Mould, with a chuckle--'Not bad in Mrs Gamp, my dear?'
'Oh yes, you do know, sir!' said Mrs Gamp, 'and so does Mrs Mould, your 'ansome pardner too, sir; and so do I, although the blessing of a daughter was deniged me; which, if we had had one, Gamp would certainly have drunk its little shoes right off its feet, as with our precious boy he did, and arterward send the child a errand to sell his wooden leg for any money it would fetch as matches in the rough, and bring it home in liquor; which was truly done beyond his years, for ev'ry individgle penny that child lost at toss or buy for kidney ones; and come home arterwards quite bold, to break the news, and offering to drown himself if sech would be a satisfaction to his parents.--Oh yes, you do know, sir,' said Mrs Gamp, wiping her eye with her shawl, and resuming the thread of her discourse. 'There's something besides births and berryins in the newspapers, an't there, Mr Mould?'
Mr Mould winked at Mrs Mould, whom he had by this time taken on his knee, and said: 'No doubt. A good deal more, Mrs Gamp. Upon my life, Mrs Gamp is very far from bad, my dear!'
'There's marryings, an't there, sir?' said Mrs Gamp, while both the daughters blushed and tittered. 'Bless their precious hearts, and well they knows it! Well you know'd it too, and well did Mrs Mould, when you was at their time of life! But my opinion is, you're all of one age now. For as to you and Mrs Mould, sir, ever having grandchildren--'
'Oh! Fie, fie! Nonsense, Mrs Gamp,' replied the undertaker. 'Devilish smart, though. Ca-pi-tal!'--this was in a whisper. 'My dear'--aloud again--'Mrs Gamp can drink a glass of rum, I dare say. Sit down, Mrs Gamp, sit down.'
Mrs Gamp took the chair that was nearest the door, and casting up her eyes towards the ceiling, feigned to be wholly insensible to the fact of a glass of rum being in preparation, until it was placed in her hand by one of the young ladies, when she exhibited the greatest surprise.
'A thing,' she said, 'as hardly ever, Mrs Mould, occurs with me unless it is when I am indispoged, and find my half a pint of porter settling heavy on the chest. Mrs Harris often and often says to me, "Sairey Gamp," she says, "you raly do amaze me!" "Mrs Harris," I says to her, "why so? Give it a name, I beg." "Telling the truth then, ma'am," says Mrs Harris, "and shaming him as shall be nameless betwixt you and me, never did I think till I know'd you, as any woman could sick-nurse and monthly likeways, on the little that you takes to drink." "Mrs Harris," I says to her, "none on us knows what we can do till we tries; and wunst, when me and Gamp kept 'ouse, I thought so too. But now," I says, "my half a pint of porter fully satisfies; perwisin', Mrs Harris, that it is brought reg'lar, and draw'd mild. Whether I sicks or monthlies, ma'am, I hope I does my duty, but I am but a poor woman, and I earns my living hard; therefore I DO require it, which I makes confession, to be brought reg'lar and draw'd mild."'
The precise connection between these observations and the glass of rum, did not appear; for Mrs Gamp proposing as a toast 'The best of lucks to all!' took off the dram in quite a scientific manner, without any further remarks.