'I know all about it, you see!'
'My good creature,' returned Martin, 'you are exactly the person who ought to know all about it. I am delighted to think you DO know about that! But what changes do you hint at? Has any death occurred?'
'No, no!' said the hostess. 'Not as bad as that. But I declare now that I will not be drawn into saying another word till you have had your supper. If you ask me fifty questions in the meantime, I won't answer one.'
She was so positive, that there was nothing for it but to get the supper over as quickly as possible; and as they had been walking a great many miles, and had fasted since the middle of the day, they did no great violence to their own inclinations in falling on it tooth and nail. It took rather longer to get through than might have been expected; for, half-a-dozen times, when they thought they had finished, Mrs Lupin exposed the fallacy of that impression triumphantly. But at last, in the course of time and nature, they gave in. Then, sitting with their slippered feet stretched out upon the kitchen hearth (which was wonderfully comforting, for the night had grown by this time raw and chilly), and looking with involuntary admiration at their dimpled, buxom, blooming hostess, as the firelight sparkled in her eyes and glimmered in her raven hair, they composed themselves to listen to her news.
Many were the exclamations of surprise which interrupted her, when she told them of the separation between Mr Pecksniff and his daughters, and between the same good gentleman and Mr Pinch. But these were nothing to the indignant demonstrations of Martin, when she related, as the common talk of the neighbourhood, what entire possession he had obtained over the mind and person of old Mr Chuzzlewit, and what high honour he designed for Mary. On receipt of this intelligence, Martin's slippers flew off in a twinkling, and he began pulling on his wet boots with that indefinite intention of going somewhere instantly, and doing something to somebody, which is the first safety-valve of a hot temper.
'He!' said Martin, 'smooth-tongued villain that he is! He! Give me that other boot, Mark?'
'Where was you a-thinking of going to, sir?' inquired Mr Tapley drying the sole at the fire, and looking coolly at it as he spoke, as if it were a slice of toast.
'Where!' repeated Martin. 'You don't suppose I am going to remain here, do you?'
The imperturbable Mark confessed that he did.
You do!' retorted Martin angrily. 'I am much obliged to you. What do you take me for?'
'I take you for what you are, sir,' said Mark; 'and, consequently, am quite sure that whatever you do will be right and sensible. The boot, sir.'
Martin darted an impatient look at him, without taking it, and walked rapidly up and down the kitchen several times, with one boot and a stocking on. But, mindful of his Eden resolution, he had already gained many victories over himself when Mark was in the case, and he resolved to conquer now. So he came back to the book-jack, laid his hand on Mark's shoulder to steady himself, pulled the boot off, picked up his slippers, put them on, and sat down again. He could not help thrusting his hands to the very bottom of his pockets, and muttering at intervals, 'Pecksniff too! That fellow! Upon my soul! In-deed! What next?' and so forth; nor could he help occasionally shaking his fist at the chimney, with a very threatening countenance; but this did not last long; and he heard Mrs Lupin out, if not with composure, at all events in silence.
'As to Mr Pecksniff himself,' observed the hostess in conclusion, spreading out the skirts of her gown with both hands, and nodding her head a great many times as she did so, 'I don't know what to say. Somebody must have poisoned his mind, or influenced him in some extraordinary way. I cannot believe that such a noble-spoken gentleman would go and do wrong of his own accord!'
A noble-spoken gentleman! How many people are there in the world, who, for no better reason, uphold their Pecksniffs to the last and abandon virtuous men, when Pecksniffs breathe upon them!
'As to Mr Pinch,' pursued the landlady, 'if ever there was a dear, good, pleasant, worthy soul alive, Pinch, and no other, is his name. But how do we know that old Mr Chuzzlewit himself was not the cause of difference arising between him and Mr Pecksniff? No one but themselves can tell; for Mr Pinch has a proud spirit, though he has such a quiet way; and when he left us, and was so sorry to go, he scorned to make his story good, even to me.'
'Poor old Tom!' said Martin, in a tone that sounded like remorse.