'I suppose you don't like that, neither!' she observed, stopping to look at him.
It was just possible that he didn't for the brush was a specimen of the hardest kind of instrument producible by modern art; and his very eyelids were red with the friction. Mrs Prig was gratified to observe the correctness of her supposition, and said triumphantly 'she know'd as much.'
When his hair was smoothed down comfortably into his eyes, Mrs Prig and Mrs Gamp put on his neckerchief; adjusting his shirt collar with great nicety, so that the starched points should also invade those organs, and afflict them with an artificial ophthalmia. His waistcoat and coat were next arranged; and as every button was wrenched into a wrong button-hole, and the order of his boots was reversed, he presented on the whole rather a melancholy appearance.
'I don't think it's right,' said the poor weak invalid. 'I feel as if I was in somebody else's clothes. I'm all on one side; and you've made one of my legs shorter than the other. There's a bottle in my pocket too. What do you make me sit upon a bottle for?'
'Deuce take the man!' cried Mrs Gamp, drawing it forth. 'If he ain't been and got my night-bottle here. I made a little cupboard of his coat when it hung behind the door, and quite forgot it, Betsey. You'll find a ingun or two, and a little tea and sugar in his t'other pocket, my dear, if you'll just be good enough to take 'em out.'
Betsey produced the property in question, together with some other articles of general chandlery; and Mrs Gamp transferred them to her own pocket, which was a species of nankeen pannier. Refreshment then arrived in the form of chops and strong ale for the ladies, and a basin of beef-tea for the patient; which refection was barely at an end when John Westlock appeared.
'Up and dressed!' cried John, sitting down beside him. 'That's brave. How do you feel?'
'Much better. But very weak.'
'No wonder. You have had a hard bout of it. But country air, and change of scene,' said John, 'will make another man of you! Why, Mrs Gamp,' he added, laughing, as he kindly arranged the sick man's garments, 'you have odd notions of a gentleman's dress!'
'Mr Lewsome an't a easy gent to get into his clothes, sir,' Mrs Gamp replied with dignity; 'as me and Betsey Prig can certify afore the Lord Mayor and Uncommon Counsellors, if needful!'
John at that moment was standing close in front of the sick man, in the act of releasing him from the torture of the collars before mentioned, when he said in a whisper:
'Mr Westlock! I don't wish to be overheard. I have something very particular and strange to say to you; something that has been a dreadful weight on my mind, through this long illness.'
Quick in all his motions, John was turning round to desire the women to leave the room; when the sick man held him by the sleeve.
'Not now. I've not the strength. I've not the courage. May I tell it when I have? May I write it, if I find that easier and better?'
'May you!' cried John. 'Why, Lewsome, what is this!'
'Don't ask me what it is. It's unnatural and cruel. Frightful to think of. Frightful to tell. Frightful to know. Frightful to have helped in. Let me kiss your hand for all your goodness to me. Be kinder still, and don't ask me what it is!'
At first, John gazed at him in great surprise; but remembering how very much reduced he was, and how recently his brain had been on fire with fever, believed that he was labouring under some imaginary horror or despondent fancy. For farther information on this point, he took an opportunity of drawing Mrs Gamp aside, while Betsey Prig was wrapping him in cloaks and shawls, and asked her whether he was quite collected in his mind.
'Oh bless you, no!' said Mrs Gamp. 'He hates his nusses to this hour. They always does it, sir. It's a certain sign. If you could have heerd the poor dear soul a-findin fault with me and Betsey Prig, not half an hour ago, you would have wondered how it is we don't get fretted to the tomb.'
This almost confirmed John in his suspicion; so, not taking what had passed into any serious account, he resumed his former cheerful manner, and assisted by Mrs Gamp and Betsey Prig, conducted Lewsome downstairs to the coach; just then upon the point of starting. Poll Sweedlepipe was at the door with his arms tight folded and his eyes wide open, and looked on with absorbing interest, while the sick man was slowly moved into the vehicle.