You were pointed out to me, but I didn't know you in your strange dress. Take it!'
He did so, opened it, and read the writing on the inside. The contents were evidently very brief; not more perhaps than one line; but they struck upon him like a stone from a sling. He reeled back as he read.
His emotion was so different from any Tom had ever seen before that he stopped involuntarily. Momentary as his state of indecision was, the bell ceased while he stood there, and a hoarse voice calling down the steps, inquired if there was any to go ashore?
'Yes,' cried Jonas, 'I--I am coming. Give me time. Where's that woman! Come back; come back here.'
He threw open another door as he spoke, and dragged, rather than led, her forth. She was pale and frightened, and amazed to see her old acquaintance; but had no time to speak, for they were making a great stir above; and Jonas drew her rapidly towards the deck.
'Where are we going? What is the matter?'
'We are going back,' said Jonas. 'I have changed my mind. I can't go. Don't question me, or I shall be the death of you, or some one else. Stop there! Stop! We're for the shore. Do you hear? We're for the shore!'
He turned, even in the madness of his hurry, and scowling darkly back at Tom, shook his clenched hand at him. There are not many human faces capable of the expression with which he accompanied that gesture.
He dragged her up, and Tom followed them. Across the deck, over the side, along the crazy plank, and up the steps, he dragged her fiercely; not bestowing any look on her, but gazing upwards all the while among the faces on the wharf. Suddenly he turned again, and said to Tom with a tremendous oath:
'Where is he?'
Before Tom, in his indignation and amazement, could return an answer to a question he so little understood, a gentleman approached Tom behind, and saluted Jonas Chuzzlewit by name. He has a gentleman of foreign appearance, with a black moustache and whiskers; and addressed him with a polite composure, strangely different from his own distracted and desperate manner.
'Chuzzlewit, my good fellow!' said the gentleman, raising his hat in compliment to Mrs Chuzzlewit, 'I ask your pardon twenty thousand times. I am most unwilling to interfere between you and a domestic trip of this nature (always so very charming and refreshing, I know, although I have not the happiness to be a domestic man myself, which is the great infelicity of my existence); but the beehive, my dear friend, the beehive--will you introduce me?'
'This is Mr Montague,' said Jonas, whom the words appeared to choke.
'The most unhappy and most penitent of men, Mrs Chuzzlewit,' pursued that gentleman, 'for having been the means of spoiling this excursion; but as I tell my friend, the beehive, the beehive. You projected a short little continental trip, my dear friend, of course?'
Jonas maintained a dogged silence.
'May I die,' cried Montague, 'but I am shocked! Upon my soul I am shocked. But that confounded beehive of ours in the city must be paramount to every other consideration, when there is honey to be made; and that is my best excuse. Here is a very singular old female dropping curtseys on my right,' said Montague, breaking off in his discourse, and looking at Mrs Gamp, 'who is not a friend of mine. Does anybody know her?'
'Ah! Well they knows me, bless their precious hearts!' said Mrs Gamp, 'not forgettin' your own merry one, sir, and long may it be so! Wishin' as every one' (she delivered this in the form of a toast or sentiment) 'was as merry, and as handsome-lookin', as a little bird has whispered me a certain gent is, which I will not name for fear I give offence where none is doo! My precious lady,' here she stopped short in her merriment, for she had until now affected to be vastly entertained, 'you're too pale by half!'
'YOU are here too, are you?' muttered Jonas. 'Ecod, there are enough of you.'
'I hope, sir,' returned Mrs Gamp, dropping an indignant curtsey, 'as no bones is broke by me and Mrs Harris a-walkin' down upon a public wharf.