'And quite a family it is to make tea for,' said Mrs Gamp; 'and wot a happiness to do it! My good young 'ooman'--to the servant-girl-- 'p'raps somebody would like to try a new-laid egg or two, not biled too hard. Likeways, a few rounds o' buttered toast, first cuttin' off the crust, in consequence of tender teeth, and not too many of 'em; which Gamp himself, Mrs Chuzzlewit, at one blow, being in liquor, struck out four, two single, and two double, as was took by Mrs Harris for a keepsake, and is carried in her pocket at this present hour, along with two cramp-bones, a bit o' ginger, and a grater like a blessed infant's shoe, in tin, with a little heel to put the nutmeg in; as many times I've seen and said, and used for candle when required, within the month.'
As the privileges of the side-table--besides including the small prerogatives of sitting next the toast, and taking two cups of tea to other people's one, and always taking them at a crisis, that is to say, before putting fresh water into the tea-pot, and after it had been standing for some time--also comprehended a full view of the company, and an opportunity of addressing them as from a rostrum, Mrs Gamp discharged the functions entrusted to her with extreme good-humour and affability. Sometimes resting her saucer on the palm of her outspread hand, and supporting her elbow on the table, she stopped between her sips of tea to favour the circle with a smile, a wink, a roll of the head, or some other mark of notice; and at those periods her countenance was lighted up with a degree of intelligence and vivacity, which it was almost impossible to separate from the benignant influence of distilled waters.
But for Mrs Gamp, it would have been a curiously silent party. Miss Pecksniff only spoke to her Augustus, and to him in whispers. Augustus spoke to nobody, but sighed for every one, and occasionally gave himself such a sounding slap upon the forehead as would make Mrs Todgers, who was rather nervous, start in her chair with an involuntary exclamation. Mrs Todgers was occupied in knitting, and seldom spoke. Poor Merry held the hand of cheerful little Ruth between her own, and listening with evident pleasure to all she said, but rarely speaking herself, sometimes smiled, and sometimes kissed her on the cheek, and sometimes turned aside to hide the tears that trembled in her eyes. Tom felt this change in her so much, and was so glad to see how tenderly Ruth dealt with her, and how she knew and answered to it, that he had not the heart to make any movement towards their departure, although he had long since given utterance to all he came to say.
The old clerk, subsiding into his usual state, remained profoundly silent, while the rest of the little assembly were thus occupied, intent upon the dreams, whatever they might be, which hardly seemed to stir the surface of his sluggish thoughts. The bent of these dull fancies combining probably with the silent feasting that was going on about him, and some struggling recollection of the last approach to revelry he had witnessed, suggested a strange question to his mind. He looked round upon a sudden, and said:
'Who's lying dead upstairs?'
'No one,' said Merry, turning to him. 'What is the matter? We are all here.'
'All here!' cried the old man. 'All here! Where is he then--my old master, Mr Chuzzlewit, who had the only son? Where is he?'
'Hush! Hush!' said Merry, speaking kindly to him. 'That happened long ago. Don't you recollect?'
'Recollect!' rejoined the old man, with a cry of grief. 'As if I could forget! As if I ever could forget!'
He put his hand up to his face for a moment; and then repeated turning round exactly as before:
'Who's lying dead upstairs?'
'No one!' said Merry.
At first he gazed angrily upon her, as upon a stranger who endeavoured to deceive him; but peering into her face, and seeing that it was indeed she, he shook his head in sorrowful compassion.
'You think not. But they don't tell you. No, no, poor thing! They don't tell you.