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The Pickwick Papers 18







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The Pickwick Papers

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and blew it to and fro every instant. There was a low cinder fire in a rusty, unfixed grate; and an old three-cornered stained table, with some medicine bottles, a broken glass, and a few other domestic articles, was drawn out before it. A little child was sleeping on a temporary bed which had been made for it on the floor, and the woman sat on a chair by its side. There were a couple of shelves, with a few plates and cups and saucers; and a pair of stage shoes and a couple of foils hung beneath them. With the exception of little heaps of rags and bundles which had been carelessly thrown into the corners of the room, these were the only things in the apartment. I had had time to note these little particulars, and to mark the heavy breathing and feverish startings of the sick man, before he was aware of my presence. In the restless attempts to procure some easy resting-place for his head, he tossed his hand out of the bed, and it fell on mine. He started up, and stared eagerly in my face. "Mr. Hutley, John," said his wife; "Mr. Hutley, that you sent for to-night, you know." "Ah!" said the invalid, passing his hand across his forehead; "Hutley--Hutley--let me see." He seemed endeavouring to collect his thoughts for a few seconds, and then grasping me tightly by the wrist said, "Dont leave me--dont leave me, old fellow. Shell murder me; I know she will." "Has he been long so?" said I, addressing his weeping wife. "Since yesterday night," she replied. "John, John, dont you know me?" "Dont let her come near me," said the man, with a shudder, as she stooped over him. "Drive her away; I cant bear her near me." He stared wildly at her, with a look of deadly apprehension, and then whispered in my ear, "I beat her, Jem; I beat her yesterday, and many times before. I have starved her and the boy too; and now I am weak and helpless, Jem, shell murder me for it; I know she will. If youd seen her cry, as I have, youd know it too. Keep her off." He relaxed his grasp, and sank back exhausted on the pillow. I knew but too well what all this meant. If I could have entertained any doubt of it, for an instant, one glance at the womans pale face and wasted form would have sufficiently explained the real state of the case. "You had better stand aside," said I to the poor creature. "You can do him no good. Perhaps he will be calmer, if he does not see you." She retired out of the mans sight. He opened his eyes after a few seconds, and looked anxiously round. "Is she gone?" he eagerly inquired. "Yes--yes," said I; "she shall not hurt you." "Ill tell you what, Jem," said the man, in a low voice, "she does hurt me. Theres something in her eyes wakes such a dreadful fear in my heart, that it drives me mad. All last night, her large, staring eyes and pale face were close to mine; wherever I turned, they turned; and whenever I started up from my sleep, she was at the bedside looking at me." He drew me closer to him, as he said in a deep alarmed whisper, "Jem, she must be an evil spirit--a devil! Hush! I know she is. If she had been a woman she would have died long ago. No woman could have borne what she has." I sickened at the thought of the long course of cruelty and neglect which must have occurred to produce such an impression on such a man. I could say nothing in reply; for who could offer hope, or consolation, to the abject being before me? I sat there for upwards of two hours, during which time he tossed about, murmuring exclamations of pain or impatience, restlessly throwing his arms here and there, and turning constantly from side to side. At length he fell into that state of partial unconsciousness, in which the mind wanders uneasily from scene to scene, and from place to place, without the control of reason, but still without being able to divest itself of an indescribable sense of present suffering. Finding from his incoherent wanderings that this was the case, and knowing that in all

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