Who are these, and why are they merry-making here, if there is no one dead? Foul play! Go see who it is!'
She made a sign to them not to speak to him, which indeed they had little inclination to do; and remained silent herself. So did he for a short time; but then he repeated the same question with an eagerness that had a peculiar terror in it.
'There's some one dead,' he said, 'or dying; and I want to knows who it is. Go see, go see! Where's Jonas?'
'In the country,' she replied.
The old man gazed at her as if he doubted what she said, or had not heard her; and, rising from his chair, walked across the room and upstairs, whispering as he went, 'Foul play!' They heard his footsteps overhead, going up into that corner of the room in which the bed stood (it was there old Anthony had died); and then they heard him coming down again immediately. His fancy was not so strong or wild that it pictured to him anything in the deserted bedchamber which was not there; for he returned much calmer, and appeared to have satisfied himself.
'They don't tell you,' he said to Merry in his quavering voice, as he sat down again, and patted her upon the head. 'They don't tell me either; but I'll watch, I'll watch. They shall not hurt you; don't be frightened. When you have sat up watching, I have sat up watching too. Aye, aye, I have!' he piped out, clenching his weak, shrivelled hand. 'Many a night I have been ready!'
He said this with such trembling gaps and pauses in his want of breath, and said it in his jealous secrecy so closely in her ear, that little or nothing of it was understood by the visitors. But they had heard and seen enough of the old man to be disquieted, and to have left their seats and gathered about him; thereby affording Mrs Gamp, whose professional coolness was not so easily disturbed, an eligible opportunity for concentrating the whole resources of her powerful mind and appetite upon the toast and butter, tea and eggs. She had brought them to bear upon those viands with such vigour that her face was in the highest state of inflammation, when she now (there being nothing left to eat or drink) saw fit to interpose.
'Why, highty tighty, sir!' cried Mrs Gamp, 'is these your manners? You want a pitcher of cold water throw'd over you to bring you round; that's my belief, and if you was under Betsey Prig you'd have it, too, I do assure you, Mr Chuffey. Spanish Flies is the only thing to draw this nonsense out of you; and if anybody wanted to do you a kindness, they'd clap a blister of 'em on your head, and put a mustard poultige on your back. 'Who's dead, indeed! It wouldn't be no grievous loss if some one was, I think!'
'He's quiet now, Mrs Gamp,' said Merry. 'Don't disturb him.'
'Oh, bother the old wictim, Mrs Chuzzlewit,' replied that zealous lady, 'I ain't no patience with him. You give him his own way too much by half. A worritin' wexagious creetur!'
No doubt with the view of carrying out the precepts she enforced, and 'bothering the old wictim' in practice as well as in theory, Mrs Gamp took him by the collar of his coat, and gave him some dozen or two of hearty shakes backward and forward in his chair; that exercise being considered by the disciples of the Prig school of nursing (who are very numerous among professional ladies) as exceedingly conducive to repose, and highly beneficial to the performance of the nervous functions. Its effect in this instance was to render the patient so giddy and addle-headed, that he could say nothing more; which Mrs Gamp regarded as the triumph of her art.
'There!' she said, loosening the old man's cravat, in consequence of his being rather black in the face, after this scientific treatment. 'Now, I hope, you're easy in your mind. If you should turn at all faint we can soon rewive you, sir, I promige you. Bite a person's thumbs, or turn their fingers the wrong way,' said Mrs Gamp, smiling with the consciousness of at once imparting pleasure and instruction to her auditors, 'and they comes to, wonderful, Lord bless you!'
As this excellent woman had been formerly entrusted with the care of Mr Chuffey on a previous occasion, neither Mrs Jonas nor anybody else had the resolution to interfere directly with her mode of treatment; though all present (Tom Pinch and his sister especially) appeared to be disposed to differ from her views.