The truth, which nothing would keep down; which blood would not smother, and earth would not hide; the truth, whose terrible inspiration seemed to change dotards into strong men; and on whose avenging wings, one whom he had supposed to be at the extremest corner of the earth came swooping down upon him.
He tried to deny it, but his tongue would not move. He conceived some desperate thought of rushing away, and tearing through the streets; but his limbs would as little answer to his will as his stark, stiff staring face. All this time the voice went slowly on, denouncing him. It was as if every drop of blood in the wood had found a voice to jeer him with.
When it ceased, another voice took up the tale, but strangely; for the old clerk, who had watched, and listened to the whole, and had wrung his hands from time to time, as if he knew its truth and could confirm it, broke in with these words:
'No, no, no! you're wrong; you're wrong--all wrong together! Have patience, for the truth is only known to me!'
'How can that be,' said his old master's brother, 'after what you have heard? Besides, you said just now, above-stairs, when I told you of the accusation against him, that you knew he was his father's murderer.'
'Aye, yes! and so he was!' cried Chuffey, wildly. 'But not as you suppose--not as you suppose. Stay! Give me a moment's time. I have it all here--all here! It was foul, foul, cruel, bad; but not as you suppose. Stay, stay!'
He put his hands up to his head, as if it throbbed or pained him. After looking about him in a wandering and vacant manner for some moments, his eyes rested upon Jonas, when they kindled up with sudden recollection and intelligence.
'Yes!' cried old Chuffey, 'yes! That's how it was. It's all upon me now. He--he got up from his bed before he died, to be sure, to say that he forgave him; and he came down with me into this room; and when he saw him--his only son, the son he loved--his speech forsook him; he had no speech for what he knew--and no one understood him except me. But I did--I did!'
Old Martin regarded him in amazement; so did his companions. Mrs Gamp, who had said nothing yet; but had kept two-thirds of herself behind the door, ready for escape, and one-third in the room, ready for siding with the strongest party; came a little further in and remarked, with a sob, that Mr Chuffey was 'the sweetest old creetur goin'.'
'He bought the stuff,' said Chuffey, stretching out his arm towards Jonas while an unwonted fire shone in his eye, and lightened up his face; 'he bought the stuff, no doubt, as you have heard, and brought it home. He mixed the stuff--look at him!--with some sweetmeat in a jar, exactly as the medicine for his father's cough was mixed, and put it in a drawer; in that drawer yonder in the desk; he knows which drawer I mean! He kept it there locked up. But his courage failed him or his heart was touched--my God! I hope it was his heart! He was his only son!--and he did not put it in the usual place, where my old master would have taken it twenty times a day.'
The trembling figure of the old man shook with the strong emotions that possessed him. But, with the same light in his eye, and with his arm outstretched, and with his grey hair stirring on his head, he seemed to grow in size, and was like a man inspired. Jonas shrunk from looking at him, and cowered down into the chair by which he had held. It seemed as if this tremendous Truth could make the dumb speak.
'I know it every word now!' cried Chuffey. 'Every word! He put it in that drawer, as I have said. He went so often there, and was so secret, that his father took notice of it; and when he was out, had it opened. We were there together, and we found the mixture--Mr Chuzzlewit and I. He took it into his possession, and made light of it at the time; but in the night he came to my bedside, weeping, and told me that his own son had it in his mind to poison him. "Oh, Chuff," he said, "oh, dear old Chuff! a voice came into my room to-night, and told me that this crime began with me.