The old man received Mary no less tenderly than he had received Tom Pinch's sister. A look of friendly recognition passed between himself and Mrs Lupin, which implied the existence of a perfect understanding between them. It engendered no astonishment in Mr Tapley; for, as he afterwards observed, he had retired from the business, and sold off the stock.
Not the least curious feature in this assemblage was, that everybody present was so much surprised and embarrassed by the sight of everybody else, that nobody ventured to speak. Mr Chuzzlewit alone broke silence.
'Set the door open, Mark!' he said; 'and come here.'
The last appointed footstep sounded now upon the stairs. They all knew it. It was Mr Pecksniff's; and Mr Pecksniff was in a hurry too, for he came bounding up with such uncommon expedition that he stumbled twice or thrice.
'Where is my venerable friend?' he cried upon the upper landing; and then with open arms came darting in.
Old Martin merely looked at him; but Mr Pecksniff started back as if he had received the charge from an electric battery.
'My venerable friend is well?' cried Mr Pecksniff.
It seemed to reassure the anxious inquirer. He clasped his hands and, looking upwards with a pious joy, silently expressed his gratitude. He then looked round on the assembled group, and shook his head reproachfully. For such a man severely, quite severely.
'Oh, vermin!' said Mr Pecksniff. 'Oh, bloodsuckers! Is it not enough that you have embittered the existence of an individual wholly unparalleled in the biographical records of amiable persons, but must you now, even now, when he has made his election, and reposed his trust in a Numble, but at least sincere and disinterested relative; must you now, vermin and swarmers (I regret to make use of these strong expressions, my dear sir, but there are times when honest indignation will not be controlled), must you now, vermin and swarmers (for I WILL repeat it), take advantage of his unprotected state, assemble round him from all quarters, as wolves and vultures, and other animals of the feathered tribe assemble round--I will not say round carrion or a carcass, for Mr Chuzzlewit is quite the contrary--but round their prey; their prey; to rifle and despoil; gorging their voracious maws, and staining their offensive beaks, with every description of carnivorous enjoyment!'
As he stopped to fetch his breath, he waved them off, in a solemn manner, with his hand.
'Horde of unnatural plunderers and robbers!' he continued; 'leave him! leave him, I say! Begone! Abscond! You had better be off! Wander over the face of the earth, young sirs, like vagabonds as you are, and do not presume to remain in a spot which is hallowed by the grey hairs of the patriarchal gentleman to whose tottering limbs I have the honour to act as an unworthy, but I hope an unassuming, prop and staff. And you, my tender sir,' said Mr Pecksniff, addressing himself in a tone of gentle remonstrance to the old man, 'how could you ever leave me, though even for this short period! You have absented yourself, I do not doubt, upon some act of kindness to me; bless you for it; but you must not do it; you must not be so venturesome. I should really be angry with you if I could, my friend!'
He advanced with outstretched arms to take the old man's hand. But he had not seen how the hand clasped and clutched the stick within its grasp. As he came smiling on, and got within his reach, old Martin, with his burning indignation crowded into one vehement burst, and flashing out of every line and wrinkle in his face, rose up, and struck him down upon the ground.
With such a well-directed nervous blow, that down he went, as heavily and true as if the charge of a Life-Guardsman had tumbled him out of a saddle. And whether he was stunned by the shock, or only confused by the wonder and novelty of this warm reception, he did not offer to get up again; but lay there, looking about him with a disconcerted meekness in his face so enormously ridiculous, that neither Mark Tapley nor John Westlock could repress a smile, though both were actively interposing to prevent a repetition of the blow; which the old man's gleaming eyes and vigorous attitude seemed to render one of the most probable events in the world.