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IN WHICH MRS HARRIS ASSISTED BY A TEAPOT, IS THE CAUSE OF A DIVISION
Mrs Gamp's apartment in Kingsgate Street, High Holborn, wore,
metaphorically speaking, a robe of state. It was swept and garnished for
the reception of a visitor. That visitor was Betsey Prig; Mrs Prig, of
Bartlemy's; or as some said Barklemy's, or as some said Bardlemy's; for
by all these endearing and familiar appellations, had the hospital of
Saint Bartholomew become a household word among the sisterhood which
Betsey Prig adorned.
Mrs Gamp's apartment was not a spacious one, but, to a contented mind,
a closet is a palace; and the first-floor front at Mr Sweedlepipe's may
have been, in the imagination of Mrs Gamp, a stately pile. If it were
not exactly that, to restless intellects, it at least comprised as much
accommodation as any person, not sanguine to insanity, could have looked
for in a room of its dimensions. For only keep the bedstead always in
your mind; and you were safe. That was the grand secret. Remembering the
bedstead, you might even stoop to look under the little round table
for anything you had dropped, without hurting yourself much against the
chest of drawers, or qualifying as a patient of Saint Bartholomew, by
falling into the fire.
Visitors were much assisted in their cautious efforts to preserve an
unflagging recollection of this piece of furniture, by its size; which
was great. It was not a turn-up bedstead, nor yet a French bedstead,
nor yet a four-post bedstead, but what is poetically called a tent; the
sacking whereof was low and bulgy, insomuch that Mrs Gamp's box would
not go under it, but stopped half-way, in a manner which, while it did
violence to the reason, likewise endangered the legs of a stranger. The
frame too, which would have supported the canopy and hangings if there
had been any, was ornamented with divers pippins carved in timber,
which on the slightest provocation, and frequently on none at all, came
tumbling down; harassing the peaceful guest with inexplicable terrors.
The bed itself was decorated with a patchwork quilt of great antiquity;
and at the upper end, upon the side nearest to the door, hung a scanty
curtain of blue check, which prevented the Zephyrs that were abroad in
Kingsgate Street, from visiting Mrs Gamp's head too roughly. Some rusty
gowns and other articles of that lady's wardrobe depended from the
posts; and these had so adapted themselves by long usage to her figure,
that more than one impatient husband coming in precipitately, at about
the time of twilight, had been for an instant stricken dumb by the
supposed discovery that Mrs Gamp had hanged herself. One gentleman,
coming on the usual hasty errand, had said indeed, that they looked like
guardian angels 'watching of her in her sleep.' But that, as Mrs Gamp
said, 'was his first;' and he never repeated the sentiment, though he
often repeated his visit.
The chairs in Mrs Gamp's apartment were extremely large and
broad-backed, which was more than a sufficient reason for there being
but two in number. They were both elbow-chairs, of ancient mahogany; and
were chiefly valuable for the slippery nature of their seats, which had
been originally horsehair, but were now covered with a shiny substance
of a bluish tint, from which the visitor began to slide away with a
dismayed countenance, immediately after sitting down. What Mrs Gamp
wanted in chairs she made up in bandboxes; of which she had a great
collection, devoted to the reception of various miscellaneous valuables,
which were not, however, as well protected as the good woman, by a
pleasant fiction, seemed to think; for, though every bandbox had a
carefully closed lid, not one among them had a bottom; owing to which
cause the property within was merely, as it were, extinguished. The
chest of drawers having been originally made to stand upon the top of
another chest, had a dwarfish, elfin look, alone; but in regard of its
security it had a great advantage over the bandboxes, for as all the
handles had been long ago pulled off, it was very difficult to get at
its contents. This indeed was only to be done by one or two devices;
either by tilting the whole structure forward until all the drawers fell
out together, or by opening them singly with knives, like oysters.
Mrs Gamp stored all her household matters in a little cupboard by the
fire-place; beginning below the surface (as in nature) with the coals,
and mounting gradually upwards to the spirits, which, from motives of
delicacy, she kept in a teapot. The chimney-piece was ornamented with
a small almanack, marked here and there in Mrs Gamp's own hand with a
memorandum of the date at which some lady was expected to fall due. It
was also embellished with three profiles: one, in colours, of Mrs Gamp
herself in early life; one, in bronze, of a lady in feathers, supposed
to be Mrs Harris, as she appeared when dressed for a ball; and one, in
black, of Mr Gamp, deceased. The last was a full length, in order
that the likeness might be rendered more obvious and forcible by the
introduction of the wooden leg.
A pair of bellows, a pair of pattens, a toasting-fork, a kettle, a
pap-boat, a spoon for the administration of medicine to the refractory,
and lastly, Mrs Gamp's umbrella, which as something of great price
and rarity, was displayed with particular ostentation, completed the
decorations of the chimney-piece and adjacent wall. Towards these
objects Mrs Gamp raised her eyes in satisfaction when she had arranged
the tea-board, and had concluded her arrangements for the reception
of Betsey Prig, even unto the setting forth of two pounds of Newcastle
salmon, intensely pickled.
'There! Now drat you, Betsey, don't be long!' said Mrs Gamp,
apostrophizing her absent friend. 'For I can't abear to wait, I do
assure you. To wotever place I goes, I sticks to this one mortar, "I'm
easy pleased; it is but little as I wants; but I must have that little
of the best, and to the minute when the clock strikes, else we do not
part as I could wish, but bearin' malice in our arts."'
Her own preparations were of the best, for they comprehended a delicate
new loaf, a plate of fresh butter, a basin of fine white sugar, and
other arrangements on the same scale. Even the snuff with which she
now refreshed herself, was so choice in quality that she took a second
'There's the little bell a-ringing now,' said Mrs Gamp, hurrying to
the stair-head and looking over. 'Betsey Prig, my--why it's that there
disapintin' Sweedlepipes, I do believe.'
'Yes, it's me,' said the barber in a faint voice; 'I've just come in.'
'You're always a-comin' in, I think,' muttered Mrs Gamp to herself,
'except wen you're a-goin' out. I ha'n't no patience with that man!'
'Mrs Gamp,' said the barber. 'I say! Mrs Gamp!'
'Well,' cried Mrs Gamp, impatiently, as she descended the stairs. 'What
is it? Is the Thames a-fire, and cooking its own fish, Mr Sweedlepipes?
Why wot's the man gone and been a-doin' of to himself? He's as white as
She added the latter clause of inquiry, when she got downstairs, and
found him seated in the shaving-chair, pale and disconsolate.
'You recollect,' said Poll. 'You recollect young--'
'Not young Wilkins!' cried Mrs Gamp. 'Don't say young Wilkins, wotever
you do. If young Wilkins's wife is took--'
'It isn't anybody's wife,' exclaimed the little barber. 'Bailey, young
'Why, wot do you mean to say that chit's been a-doin' of?' retorted Mrs
Gamp, sharply. 'Stuff and nonsense, Mrs Sweedlepipes!'
'He hasn't been a-doing anything!' exclaimed poor Poll, quite desperate.
'What do you catch me up so short for, when you see me put out to that
extent that I can hardly speak? He'll never do anything again. He's done
for. He's killed. The first time I ever see that boy,' said Poll, 'I
charged him too much for a red-poll. I asked him three-halfpence for a
penny one, because I was afraid he'd beat me down. But he didn't.
And now he's dead; and if you was to crowd all the steam-engines and
electric fluids that ever was, into this shop, and set 'em every one to
work their hardest, they couldn't square the account, though it's only a
Mr Sweedlepipe turned aside to the towel, and wiped his eyes with it.
'And what a clever boy he was!' he said. 'What a surprising young chap
he was! How he talked! and what a deal he know'd! Shaved in this very
chair he was; only for fun; it was all his fun; he was full of it. Ah!
to think that he'll never be shaved in earnest! The birds might every
one have died, and welcome,' cried the little barber, looking round him
at the cages, and again applying to the towel, 'sooner than I'd have
heard this news!'
'How did you ever come to hear it?' said Mrs Gamp, 'who told you?'
'I went out,' returned the little barber, 'into the City, to meet a
sporting gent upon the Stock Exchange, that wanted a few slow pigeons to
practice at; and when I'd done with him, I went to get a little drop
of beer, and there I heard everybody a-talking about it. It's in the
'You are in a nice state of confugion, Mr Sweedlepipes, you are!' said
Mrs Gamp, shaking her head; 'and my opinion is, as half-a-dudgeon fresh
young lively leeches on your temples, wouldn't be too much to clear your
mind, which so I tell you. Wot were they a-talkin' on, and wot was in
'All about it!' cried the barber. 'What else do you suppose? Him and his
master were upset on a journey, and he was carried to Salisbury, and
was breathing his last when the account came away. He never spoke
afterwards. Not a single word. That's the worst of it to me; but that
ain't all. His master can't be found. The other manager of their office
in the city, Crimple, David Crimple, has gone off with the money, and is
advertised for, with a reward, upon the walls. Mr Montague, poor young
Bailey's master (what a boy he was!) is advertised for, too. Some say
he's slipped off, to join his friend abroad; some say he mayn't have got
away yet; and they're looking for him high and low. Their office is a
smash; a swindle altogether. But what's a Life Assurance office to a
Life! And what a Life Young Bailey's was!'
'He was born into a wale,' said Mrs Gamp, with philosophical coolness.
'and he lived in a wale; and he must take the consequences of sech a
sitiwation. But don't you hear nothink of Mr Chuzzlewit in all this?'
'No,' said Poll, 'nothing to speak of. His name wasn't printed as one of
the board, though some people say it was just going to be. Some believe
he was took in, and some believe he was one of the takers-in; but
however that may be, they can't prove nothing against him. This morning
he went up of his own accord afore the Lord Mayor or some of them City
big-wigs, and complained that he'd been swindled, and that these two
persons had gone off and cheated him, and that he had just found out
that Montague's name wasn't even Montague, but something else. And they
do say that he looked like Death, owing to his losses. But, Lord
forgive me,' cried the barber, coming back again to the subject of
his individual grief, 'what's his looks to me! He might have died and
welcome, fifty times, and not been such a loss as Bailey!'
At this juncture the little bell rang, and the deep voice of Mrs Prig
struck into the conversation.
'Oh! You're a-talkin' about it, are you!' observed that lady. 'Well, I
hope you've got it over, for I ain't interested in it myself.'
'My precious Betsey,' said Mrs Gamp, 'how late you are!'
The worthy Mrs Prig replied, with some asperity, 'that if perwerse
people went off dead, when they was least expected, it warn't no fault
of her'n.' And further, 'that it was quite aggrawation enough to be made
late when one was dropping for one's tea, without hearing on it again.'
Mrs Gamp, deriving from this exhibition of repartee some clue to the
state of Mrs Prig's feelings, instantly conducted her upstairs; deeming
that the sight of pickled salmon might work a softening change.
But Betsey Prig expected pickled salmon. It was obvious that she did;
for her first words, after glancing at the table, were:
'I know'd she wouldn't have a cowcumber!'
Mrs Gamp changed colour, and sat down upon the bedstead.
'Lord bless you, Betsey Prig, your words is true. I quite forgot it!'
Mrs Prig, looking steadfastly at her friend, put her hand in her
pocket, and with an air of surly triumph drew forth either the oldest of
lettuces or youngest of cabbages, but at any rate, a green vegetable of
an expansive nature, and of such magnificent proportions that she was
obliged to shut it up like an umbrella before she could pull it out.
She also produced a handful of mustard and cress, a trifle of the herb
called dandelion, three bunches of radishes, an onion rather larger than
an average turnip, three substantial slices of beetroot, and a short
prong or antler of celery; the whole of this garden-stuff having been
publicly exhibited, but a short time before, as a twopenny salad, and
purchased by Mrs Prig on condition that the vendor could get it all into
her pocket. Which had been happily accomplished, in High Holborn, to
the breathless interest of a hackney-coach stand. And she laid so little
stress on this surprising forethought, that she did not even smile, but
returning her pocket into its accustomed sphere, merely recommended
that these productions of nature should be sliced up, for immediate
consumption, in plenty of vinegar.
'And don't go a-droppin' none of your snuff in it,' said Mrs Prig.
'In gruel, barley-water, apple-tea, mutton-broth, and that, it don't
signify. It stimulates a patient. But I don't relish it myself.'
'Why, Betsey Prig!' cried Mrs Gamp, 'how CAN you talk so!'
'Why, ain't your patients, wotever their diseases is, always asneezin'
their wery heads off, along of your snuff?' said Mrs Prig.
'And wot if they are!' said Mrs Gamp
'Nothing if they are,' said Mrs Prig. 'But don't deny it, Sairah.'
'Who deniges of it?' Mrs Gamp inquired.
Mrs Prig returned no answer.
'WHO deniges of it, Betsey?' Mrs Gamp inquired again. Then Mrs Gamp, by
reversing the question, imparted a deeper and more awful character of
solemnity to the same. 'Betsey, who deniges of it?'
It was the nearest possible approach to a very decided difference of
opinion between these ladies; but Mrs Prig's impatience for the meal
being greater at the moment than her impatience of contradiction, she
replied, for the present, 'Nobody, if you don't, Sairah,' and prepared
herself for tea. For a quarrel can be taken up at any time, but a
limited quantity of salmon cannot.
Her toilet was simple. She had merely to 'chuck' her bonnet and shawl
upon the bed; give her hair two pulls, one upon the right side and one
upon the left, as if she were ringing a couple of bells; and all was
done. The tea was already made, Mrs Gamp was not long over the salad,
and they were soon at the height of their repast.
The temper of both parties was improved, for the time being, by the
enjoyments of the table. When the meal came to a termination (which it
was pretty long in doing), and Mrs Gamp having cleared away, produced
the teapot from the top shelf, simultaneously with a couple of
wine-glasses, they were quite amiable.
'Betsey,' said Mrs Gamp, filling her own glass and passing the teapot,
'I will now propoge a toast. My frequent pardner, Betsey Prig!'
'Which, altering the name to Sairah Gamp; I drink,' said Mrs Prig, 'with
love and tenderness.'
From this moment symptoms of inflammation began to lurk in the nose of
each lady; and perhaps, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary,
in the temper also.
'Now, Sairah,' said Mrs Prig, 'joining business with pleasure, wot is
this case in which you wants me?'
Mrs Gamp betraying in her face some intention of returning an evasive
answer, Betsey added:
'IS it Mrs Harris?'
'No, Betsey Prig, it ain't,' was Mrs Gamp's reply.
'Well!' said Mrs Prig, with a short laugh. 'I'm glad of that, at any
'Why should you be glad of that, Betsey?' Mrs Gamp retorted, warmly.
'She is unbeknown to you except by hearsay, why should you be glad? If
you have anythink to say contrairy to the character of Mrs Harris, which
well I knows behind her back, afore her face, or anywheres, is not to be
impeaged, out with it, Betsey. I have know'd that sweetest and best of
women,' said Mrs Gamp, shaking her head, and shedding tears, 'ever since
afore her First, which Mr Harris who was dreadful timid went and stopped
his ears in a empty dog-kennel, and never took his hands away or come
out once till he was showed the baby, wen bein' took with fits, the
doctor collared him and laid him on his back upon the airy stones, and
she was told to ease her mind, his owls was organs. And I have know'd
her, Betsey Prig, when he has hurt her feelin' art by sayin' of his
Ninth that it was one too many, if not two, while that dear innocent was
cooin' in his face, which thrive it did though bandy, but I have never
know'd as you had occagion to be glad, Betsey, on accounts of Mrs Harris
not requiring you. Require she never will, depend upon it, for her
constant words in sickness is, and will be, "Send for Sairey?"'
During this touching address, Mrs Prig adroitly feigning to be the
victim of that absence of mind which has its origin in excessive
attention to one topic, helped herself from the teapot without appearing
to observe it. Mrs Gamp observed it, however, and came to a premature
close in consequence.
'Well, it ain't her, it seems,' said Mrs Prig, coldly; 'who is it then?'
'You have heerd me mention, Betsey,' Mrs Gamp replied, after glancing in
an expressive and marked manner at the tea-pot, 'a person as I took
care on at the time as you and me was pardners off and on, in that there
fever at the Bull?'
'Old Snuffey,' Mrs Prig observed.
Sarah Gamp looked at her with an eye of fire, for she saw in this
mistake of Mrs Prig, another willful and malignant stab at that same
weakness or custom of hers, an ungenerous allusion to which, on the part
of Betsey, had first disturbed their harmony that evening. And she saw
it still more clearly, when, politely but firmly correcting that lady
by the distinct enunciation of the word 'Chuffey,' Mrs Prig received the
correction with a diabolical laugh.
The best among us have their failings, and it must be conceded of Mrs
Prig, that if there were a blemish in the goodness of her disposition,
it was a habit she had of not bestowing all its sharp and acid
properties upon her patients (as a thoroughly amiable woman would have
done), but of keeping a considerable remainder for the service of her
friends. Highly pickled salmon, and lettuces chopped up in vinegar,
may, as viands possessing some acidity of their own, have encouraged and
increased this failing in Mrs Prig; and every application to the teapot
certainly did; for it was often remarked of her by her friends, that
she was most contradictory when most elevated. It is certain that her
countenance became about this time derisive and defiant, and that she
sat with her arms folded, and one eye shut up, in a somewhat offensive,
because obstrusively intelligent, manner.
Mrs Gamp observing this, felt it the more necessary that Mrs Prig should
know her place, and be made sensible of her exact station in society, as
well as of her obligations to herself. She therefore assumed an air of
greater patronage and importance, as she went on to answer Mrs Prig a
little more in detail.
'Mr Chuffey, Betsey,' said Mrs Gamp, 'is weak in his mind. Excuge me
if I makes remark, that he may neither be so weak as people thinks, nor
people may not think he is so weak as they pretends, and what I knows,
I knows; and what you don't, you don't; so do not ask me, Betsey. But Mr
Chuffey's friends has made propojals for his bein' took care on, and has
said to me, "Mrs Gamp, WILL you undertake it? We couldn't think," they
says, "of trusting him to nobody but you, for, Sairey, you are gold as
has passed the furnage. Will you undertake it, at your own price, day
and night, and by your own self?" "No," I says, "I will not. Do not
reckon on it. There is," I says, "but one creetur in the world as I would
undertake on sech terms, and her name is Harris. But," I says, "I
am acquainted with a friend, whose name is Betsey Prig, that I can
recommend, and will assist me. Betsey," I says, "is always to be trusted
under me, and will be guided as I could desire."'
Here Mrs Prig, without any abatement of her offensive manner again
counterfeited abstraction of mind, and stretched out her hand to the
teapot. It was more than Mrs Gamp could bear. She stopped the hand of
Mrs Prig with her own, and said, with great feeling:
'No, Betsey! Drink fair, wotever you do!'
Mrs Prig, thus baffled, threw herself back in her chair, and closing the
same eye more emphatically, and folding her arms tighter, suffered her
head to roll slowly from side to side, while she surveyed her friend
with a contemptuous smile.
Mrs Gamp resumed:
'Mrs Harris, Betsey--'
'Bother Mrs Harris!' said Betsey Prig.
Mrs Gamp looked at her with amazement, incredulity, and indignation;
when Mrs Prig, shutting her eye still closer, and folding her arms still
tighter, uttered these memorable and tremendous words:
'I don't believe there's no sich a person!'
After the utterance of which expressions, she leaned forward, and
snapped her fingers once, twice, thrice; each time nearer to the face of
Mrs Gamp, and then rose to put on her bonnet, as one who felt that there
was now a gulf between them, which nothing could ever bridge across.
The shock of this blow was so violent and sudden, that Mrs Gamp sat
staring at nothing with uplifted eyes, and her mouth open as if she
were gasping for breath, until Betsey Prig had put on her bonnet and
her shawl, and was gathering the latter about her throat. Then Mrs Gamp
rose--morally and physically rose--and denounced her.
'What!' said Mrs Gamp, 'you bage creetur, have I know'd Mrs Harris five
and thirty year, to be told at last that there ain't no sech a person
livin'! Have I stood her friend in all her troubles, great and small,
for it to come at last to sech a end as this, which her own sweet picter
hanging up afore you all the time, to shame your Bragian words! But well
you mayn't believe there's no sech a creetur, for she wouldn't demean
herself to look at you, and often has she said, when I have made mention
of your name, which, to my sinful sorrow, I have done, "What, Sairey
Gamp! debage yourself to HER!" Go along with you!'
'I'm a-goin', ma'am, ain't I?' said Mrs Prig, stopping as she said it.
'You had better, ma'am,' said Mrs Gamp.
'Do you know who you're talking to, ma'am?' inquired her visitor.
'Aperiently,' said Mrs Gamp, surveying her with scorn from head to foot,
'to Betsey Prig. Aperiently so. I know her. No one better. Go along with
'And YOU was a-goin' to take me under you!' cried Mrs Prig, surveying
Mrs Gamp from head to foot in her turn. 'YOU was, was you? Oh, how kind!
Why, deuce take your imperence,' said Mrs Prig, with a rapid change from
banter to ferocity, 'what do you mean?'
'Go along with you!' said Mrs Gamp. 'I blush for you.'
'You had better blush a little for yourself, while you ARE about it!'
said Mrs Prig. 'You and your Chuffeys! What, the poor old creetur isn't
mad enough, isn't he? Aha!'
'He'd very soon be mad enough, if you had anything to do with him,' said
'And that's what I was wanted for, is it?' cried Mrs Prig, triumphantly.
'Yes. But you'll find yourself deceived. I won't go near him. We shall
see how you get on without me. I won't have nothink to do with him.'
'You never spoke a truer word than that!' said Mrs Gamp. 'Go along with
She was prevented from witnessing the actual retirement of Mrs Prig from
the room, notwithstanding the great desire she had expressed to behold
it, by that lady, in her angry withdrawal, coming into contact with the
bedstead, and bringing down the previously mentioned pippins; three or
four of which came rattling on the head of Mrs Gamp so smartly, that
when she recovered from this wooden shower-bath, Mrs Prig was gone.
She had the satisfaction, however, of hearing the deep voice of Betsey,
proclaiming her injuries and her determination to have nothing to do
with Mr Chuffey, down the stairs, and along the passage, and even out in
Kingsgate Street. Likewise of seeing in her own apartment, in the place
of Mrs Prig, Mr Sweedlepipe and two gentlemen.
'Why, bless my life!' exclaimed the little barber, 'what's amiss? The
noise you ladies have been making, Mrs Gamp! Why, these two gentlemen
have been standing on the stairs, outside the door, nearly all the time,
trying to make you hear, while you were pelting away, hammer and tongs!
It'll be the death of the little bullfinch in the shop, that draws his
own water. In his fright, he's been a-straining himself all to bits,
drawing more water than he could drink in a twelvemonth. He must have
thought it was Fire!'
Mrs Gamp had in the meanwhile sunk into her chair, from whence, turning
up her overflowing eyes, and clasping her hands, she delivered the
'Oh, Mr Sweedlepipes, which Mr Westlock also, if my eyes do not deceive,
and a friend not havin' the pleasure of bein' beknown, wot I have took
from Betsey Prig this blessed night, no mortial creetur knows! If she
had abuged me, bein' in liquor, which I thought I smelt her wen she
come, but could not so believe, not bein' used myself'--Mrs Gamp, by the
way, was pretty far gone, and the fragrance of the teapot was strong in
the room--'I could have bore it with a thankful art. But the words she
spoke of Mrs Harris, lambs could not forgive. No, Betsey!' said Mrs
Gamp, in a violent burst of feeling, 'nor worms forget!'
The little barber scratched his head, and shook it, and looked at the
teapot, and gradually got out of the room. John Westlock, taking a
chair, sat down on one side of Mrs Gamp. Martin, taking the foot of the
bed, supported her on the other.
'You wonder what we want, I daresay,' observed John. 'I'll tell you
presently, when you have recovered. It's not pressing, for a few minutes
or so. How do you find yourself? Better?'
Mrs Gamp shed more tears, shook her head and feebly pronounced Mrs
'Have a little--' John was at a loss what to call it.
'Tea,' suggested Martin.
'It ain't tea,' said Mrs Gamp.
'Physic of some sort, I suppose,' cried John. 'Have a little.'
Mrs Gamp was prevailed upon to take a glassful. 'On condition,' she
passionately observed, 'as Betsey never has another stroke of work from
'Certainly not,' said John. 'She shall never help to nurse ME.'
'To think,' said Mrs Gamp, 'as she should ever have helped to nuss that
friend of yourn, and been so near of hearing things that--Ah!'
John looked at Martin.
'Yes,' he said. 'That was a narrow escape, Mrs Gamp.'
'Narrer, in-deed!' she returned. 'It was only my having the night, and
hearin' of him in his wanderins; and her the day, that saved it. Wot
would she have said and done, if she had know'd what I know; that
perfeejus wretch! Yet, oh good gracious me!' cried Mrs Gamp, trampling
on the floor, in the absence of Mrs Prig, 'that I should hear from that
same woman's lips what I have heerd her speak of Mrs Harris!'
'Never mind,' said John. 'You know it is not true.'
'Isn't true!' cried Mrs Gamp. 'True! Don't I know as that dear woman
is expecting of me at this minnit, Mr Westlock, and is a-lookin' out of
window down the street, with little Tommy Harris in her arms, as calls
me his own Gammy, and truly calls, for bless the mottled little legs
of that there precious child (like Canterbury Brawn his own dear father
says, which so they are) his own I have been, ever since I found him,
Mr Westlock, with his small red worsted shoe a-gurglin' in his throat,
where he had put it in his play, a chick, wile they was leavin' of
him on the floor a-lookin' for it through the ouse and him a-choakin'
sweetly in the parlour! Oh, Betsey Prig, what wickedness you've showed
this night, but never shall you darken Sairey's doors agen, you twining
'You were always so kind to her, too!' said John, consolingly.
'That's the cutting part. That's where it hurts me, Mr Westlock,' Mrs
Gamp replied; holding out her glass unconsciously, while Martin filled
'Chosen to help you with Mr Lewsome!' said John. 'Chosen to help you
with Mr Chuffey!'
'Chose once, but chose no more,' cried Mrs Gamp. 'No pardnership with
Betsey Prig agen, sir!'
'No, no,' said John. 'That would never do.'
'I don't know as it ever would have done, sir,' Mrs Gamp replied, with
a solemnity peculiar to a certain stage of intoxication. 'Now that the
marks,' by which Mrs Gamp is supposed to have meant mask, 'is off
that creetur's face, I do not think it ever would have done. There
are reagions in families for keeping things a secret, Mr Westlock, and
havin' only them about you as you knows you can repoge in. Who could
repoge in Betsey Prig, arter her words of Mrs Harris, setting in that
chair afore my eyes!'
'Quite true,' said John; 'quite. I hope you have time to find another
assistant, Mrs Gamp?'
Between her indignation and the teapot, her powers of comprehending what
was said to her began to fail. She looked at John with tearful eyes, and
murmuring the well-remembered name which Mrs Prig had challenged--as if
it were a talisman against all earthly sorrows--seemed to wander in her
'I hope,' repeated John, 'that you have time to find another assistant?'
'Which short it is, indeed,' cried Mrs Gamp, turning up her languid
eyes, and clasping Mr Westlock's wrist with matronly affection.
'To-morrow evenin', sir, I waits upon his friends. Mr Chuzzlewit apinted
it from nine to ten.'
'From nine to ten,' said John, with a significant glance at Martin. 'and
then Mr Chuffey retires into safe keeping, does he?'
'He needs to be kep safe, I do assure you,' Mrs Gamp replied with a
mysterious air. 'Other people besides me has had a happy deliverance
from Betsey Prig. I little know'd that woman. She'd have let it out!'
'Let HIM out, you mean,' said John.
'Do I!' retorted Mrs Gamp. 'Oh!'
The severely ironical character of this reply was strengthened by a very
slow nod, and a still slower drawing down of the corners of Mrs Gamp's
mouth. She added with extreme stateliness of manner after indulging in a
'But I am a-keepin' of you gentlemen, and time is precious.'
Mingling with that delusion of the teapot which inspired her with
the belief that they wanted her to go somewhere immediately, a shrewd
avoidance of any further reference to the topics into which she had
lately strayed, Mrs Gamp rose; and putting away the teapot in its
accustomed place, and locking the cupboard with much gravity proceeded
to attire herself for a professional visit.
This preparation was easily made, as it required nothing more than
the snuffy black bonnet, the snuffy black shawl, the pattens and
the indispensable umbrella, without which neither a lying-in nor a
laying-out could by any possibility be attempted. When Mrs Gamp had
invested herself with these appendages she returned to her chair, and
sitting down again, declared herself quite ready.
'It's a 'appiness to know as one can benefit the poor sweet creetur,'
she observed, 'I'm sure. It isn't all as can. The torters Betsey Prig
inflicts is frightful!'
Closing her eyes as she made this remark, in the acuteness of her
commiseration for Betsey's patients, she forgot to open them again until
she dropped a patten. Her nap was also broken at intervals like the
fabled slumbers of Friar Bacon, by the dropping of the other patten,
and of the umbrella. But when she had got rid of those incumbrances, her
sleep was peaceful.
The two young men looked at each other, ludicrously enough; and Martin,
stifling his disposition to laugh, whispered in John Westlock's ear,
'What shall we do now?'
'Stay here,' he replied.
Mrs Gamp was heard to murmur 'Mrs Harris' in her sleep.
'Rely upon it,' whispered John, looking cautiously towards her, 'that
you shall question this old clerk, though you go as Mrs Harris herself.
We know quite enough to carry her our own way now, at all events; thanks
to this quarrel, which confirms the old saying that when rogues fall
out, honest people get what they want. Let Jonas Chuzzlewit look to
himself; and let her sleep as long as she likes. We shall gain our end
in good time.'