HomeCharles DickensThe Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit

The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Charles Dickens

′What a Providence!′ said the landlady of the Dragon, ′that you had the prescriptions and the medicines with you, miss!′

′They are intended for such an emergency. We never travel without them.′

′Oh!′ thought the hostess, ′then we are in the habit of travelling, and of travelling together.′

She was so conscious of expressing this in her face, that meeting the young lady′s eyes immediately afterwards, and being a very honest hostess, she was rather confused.

′The gentleman—your grandpapa′—she resumed, after a short pause, ′being so bent on having no assistance, must terrify you very much, miss?′

′I have been very much alarmed to-night. He—he is not my grandfather.′

′Father, I should have said,′ returned the hostess, sensible of having made an awkward mistake.

′Nor my father′ said the young lady. ′Nor,′ she added, slightly smiling with a quick perception of what the landlady was going to add, ′Nor my uncle. We are not related.′

′Oh dear me!′ returned the landlady, still more embarrassed than before; ′how could I be so very much mistaken; knowing, as anybody in their proper senses might that when a gentleman is ill, he looks so much older than he really is? That I should have called you "Miss," too, ma′am!′ But when she had proceeded thus far, she glanced involuntarily at the third finger of the young lady′s left hand, and faltered again; for there was no ring upon it.

′When I told you we were not related,′ said the other mildly, but not without confusion on her own part, ′I meant not in any way. Not even by marriage. Did you call me, Martin?′

′Call you?′ cried the old man, looking quickly up, and hurriedly drawing beneath the coverlet the paper on which he had been writing. ′No.′

She had moved a pace or two towards the bed, but stopped immediately, and went no farther.

′No,′ he repeated, with a petulant emphasis. ′Why do you ask me? If I had called you, what need for such a question?′

′It was the creaking of the sign outside, sir, I dare say,′ observed the landlady; a suggestion by the way (as she felt a moment after she had made it), not at all complimentary to the voice of the old gentleman.

′No matter what, ma′am,′ he rejoined: ′it wasn′t I. Why how you stand there, Mary, as if I had the plague! But they′re all afraid of me,′ he added, leaning helplessly backward on his pillow; ′even she! There is a curse upon me. What else have I to look for?′

′Oh dear, no. Oh no, I′m sure,′ said the good-tempered landlady, rising, and going towards him. ′Be of better cheer, sir. These are only sick fancies.′

′What are only sick fancies?′ he retorted. ′What do you know about fancies? Who told you about fancies? The old story! Fancies!′

′Only see again there, how you take one up!′ said the mistress of the Blue Dragon, with unimpaired good humour. ′Dear heart alive, there is no harm in the word, sir, if it is an old one. Folks in good health have their fancies, too, and strange ones, every day.′

Harmless as this speech appeared to be, it acted on the traveller′s distrust, like oil on fire. He raised his head up in the bed, and, fixing on her two dark eyes whose brightness was exaggerated by the paleness of his hollow cheeks, as they in turn, together with his straggling locks of long grey hair, were rendered whiter by the tight black velvet skullcap which he wore, he searched her face intently.

Next page →

← 20 page The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit 22 page →
Pages:  21  22  23  24  25  26  27  28  29  30  31  32  33  34  35  36  37  38  39  40 
Overall 556 pages

© e-libr.com