What! Mark, my boy!' apostrophizing the premises, 'have I come upon you at last, old buck!'
This was touching Mrs Lupin on a tender point. She turned to trim the candle on the chimney-piece, and said, with her back towards the traveller:
'Nobody should be made more welcome at the Dragon, master, than any one who brought me news of Mark. But it's many and many a long day and month since he left here and England. And whether he's alive or dead, poor fellow, Heaven above us only knows!'
She shook her head, and her voice trembled; her hand must have done so too, for the light required a deal of trimming.
'Where did he go, ma'am?' asked the traveller, in a gentler voice.
'He went,' said Mrs Lupin, with increased distress, 'to America. He was always tender-hearted and kind, and perhaps at this moment may be lying in prison under sentence of death, for taking pity on some miserable black, and helping the poor runaway creetur to escape. How could he ever go to America! Why didn't he go to some of those countries where the savages eat each other fairly, and give an equal chance to every one!'
Quite subdued by this time, Mrs Lupin sobbed, and was retiring to a chair to give her grief free vent, when the traveller caught her in his arms, and she uttered a glad cry of recognition.
'Yes, I will!' cried Mark, 'another--one more--twenty more! You didn't know me in that hat and coat? I thought you would have known me anywheres! Ten more!'
'So I should have known you, if I could have seen you; but I couldn't, and you spoke so gruff. I didn't think you could speak gruff to me, Mark, at first coming back.'
'Fifteen more!' said Mr Tapley. 'How handsome and how young you look! Six more! The last half-dozen warn't a fair one, and must be done over again. Lord bless you, what a treat it is to see you! One more! Well, I never was so jolly. Just a few more, on account of there not being any credit in it!'
When Mr Tapley stopped in these calculations in simple addition, he did it, not because he was at all tired of the exercise, but because he was out of breath. The pause reminded him of other duties.
'Mr Martin Chuzzlewit's outside,' he said. 'I left him under the cartshed, while I came on to see if there was anybody here. We want to keep quiet to-night, till we know the news from you, and what it's best for us to do.'
'There's not a soul in the house, except the kitchen company,' returned the hostess. 'If they were to know you had come back, Mark, they'd have a bonfire in the street, late as it is.'
'But they mustn't know it to-night, my precious soul,' said Mark; 'so have the house shut, and the kitchen fire made up; and when it's all ready, put a light in the winder, and we'll come in. One more! I long to hear about old friends. You'll tell me all about 'em, won't you; Mr Pinch, and the butcher's dog down the street, and the terrier over the way, and the wheelwright's, and every one of 'em. When I first caught sight of the church to-night, I thought the steeple would have choked me, I did. One more! Won't you? Not a very little one to finish off with?'
'You have had plenty, I am sure,' said the hostess. 'Go along with your foreign manners!'
'That ain't foreign, bless you!' cried Mark. 'Native as oysters, that is! One more, because it's native! As a mark of respect for the land we live in! This don't count as between you and me, you understand,' said Mr Tapley. 'I ain't a-kissing you now, you'll observe. I have been among the patriots; I'm a-kissin' my country.'
It would have been very unreasonable to complain of the exhibition of his patriotism with which he followed up this explanation, that it was at all lukewarm or indifferent. When he had given full expression to his nationality, he hurried off to Martin; while Mrs Lupin, in a state of great agitation and excitement, prepared for their reception.
The company soon came tumbling out; insisting to each other that the Dragon clock was half an hour too fast, and that the thunder must have affected it.