While I was in his employment I became acquainted with Jonas Chuzzlewit. He is the principal in this deed.'
'What do you mean?' demanded Martin, sternly. 'Do you know he is the son of the old man of whom you have spoken?'
'I do,' he answered.
He remained silent for some moments, when he resumed at the point where he had left off.
'I have reason to know it; for I have often heard him wish his old father dead, and complain of his being wearisome to him, and a drag upon him. He was in the habit of doing so, at a place of meeting we had--three or four of us--at night. There was no good in the place you may suppose, when you hear that he was the chief of the party. I wish I had died myself, and never seen it!'
He stopped again; and again resumed as before.
'We met to drink and game; not for large sums, but for sums that were large to us. He generally won. Whether or no, he lent money at interest to those who lost; and in this way, though I think we all secretly hated him, he came to be the master of us. To propitiate him we made a jest of his father; it began with his debtors; I was one; and we used to toast a quicker journey to the old man, and a swift inheritance to the young one.'
He paused again.
'One night he came there in a very bad humour. He had been greatly tried, he said, by the old man that day. He and I were alone together; and he angrily told me, that the old man was in his second childhood; that he was weak, imbecile, and drivelling; as unbearable to himself as he was to other people; and that it would be a charity to put him out of the way. He swore that he had often thought of mixing something with the stuff he took for his cough, which should help him to die easily. People were sometimes smothered who were bitten by mad dogs, he said; and why not help these lingering old men out of their troubles too? He looked full at me as he said so, and I looked full at him; but it went no farther that night.'
He stopped once more, and was silent for so long an interval that John Westlock said 'Go on.' Martin had never removed his eyes from his face, but was so absorbed in horror and astonishment that he could not speak.
'It may have been a week after that, or it may have been less or more--the matter was in my mind all the time, but I cannot recollect the time, as I should any other period--when he spoke to me again. We were alone then, too; being there before the usual hour of assembling. There was no appointment between us; but I think I went there to meet him, and I know he came there to meet me. He was there first. He was reading a newspaper when I went in, and nodded to me without looking up, or leaving off reading. I sat down opposite and close to him. He said, immediately, that he wanted me to get him some of two sorts of drugs. One that was instantaneous in its effect; of which he wanted very little. One that was slow and not suspicious in appearance; of which he wanted more. While he was speaking to me he still read the newspaper. He said "Drugs," and never used any other word. Neither did I.'
'This all agrees with what I have heard before,' observed John Westlock.
'I asked him what he wanted the drugs for? He said for no harm; to physic cats; what did it matter to me? I was going out to a distant colony (I had recently got the appointment, which, as Mr Westlock knows, I have since lost by my sickness, and which was my only hope of salvation from ruin), and what did it matter to me? He could get them without my aid at half a hundred places, but not so easily as he could get them of me. This was true. He might not want them at all, he said, and he had no present idea of using them; but he wished to have them by him. All this time he still read the newspaper. We talked about the price. He was to forgive me a small debt--I was quite in his power--and to pay me five pounds; and there the matter dropped, through others coming in. But, next night, under exactly similar circumstances, I gave him the drugs, on his saying I was a fool to think that he should ever use them for any harm; and he gave me the money.