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The Pickwick Papers

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CHAPTER XVI. TOO FULL OF ADVENTURE TO BE BRIEFLY DESCRIBED

There is no month in the whole year in which nature wears a more beautiful appearance than in the month of August. Spring has many beauties, and May is a fresh and blooming month, but the charms of this time of year are enhanced by their contrast with the winter season. August has no such advantage. It comes when we remember nothing but clear skies, green fields, and sweet-smelling flowers—when the recollection of snow, and ice, and bleak winds, has faded from our minds as completely as they have disappeared from the earth—and yet what a pleasant time it is! Orchards and cornfields ring with the hum of labour; trees bend beneath the thick clusters of rich fruit which bow their branches to the ground; and the corn, piled in graceful sheaves, or waving in every light breath that sweeps above it, as if it wooed the sickle, tinges the landscape with a golden hue. A mellow softness appears to hang over the whole earth; the influence of the season seems to extend itself to the very wagon, whose slow motion across the well-reaped field is perceptible only to the eye, but strikes with no harsh sound upon the ear.

As the coach rolls swiftly past the fields and orchards which skirt the road, groups of women and children, piling the fruit in sieves, or gathering the scattered ears of corn, pause for an instant from their labour, and shading the sun-burned face with a still browner hand, gaze upon the passengers with curious eyes, while some stout urchin, too small to work, but too mischievous to be left at home, scrambles over the side of the basket in which he has been deposited for security, and kicks and screams with delight. The reaper stops in his work, and stands with folded arms, looking at the vehicle as it whirls past; and the rough cart-horses bestow a sleepy glance upon the smart coach team, which says as plainly as a horse’s glance can, ‘It’s all very fine to look at, but slow going, over a heavy field, is better than warm work like that, upon a dusty road, after all.’ You cast a look behind you, as you turn a corner of the road. The women and children have resumed their labour; the reaper once more stoops to his work; the cart-horses have moved on; and all are again in motion.

The influence of a scene like this, was not lost upon the well-regulated mind of Mr. Pickwick. Intent upon the resolution he had formed, of exposing the real character of the nefarious Jingle, in any quarter in which he might be pursuing his fraudulent designs, he sat at first taciturn and contemplative, brooding over the means by which his purpose could be best attained. By degrees his attention grew more and more attracted by the objects around him; and at last he derived as much enjoyment from the ride, as if it had been undertaken for the pleasantest reason in the world.

‘Delightful prospect, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘Beats the chimbley-pots, Sir,’ replied Mr. Weller, touching his hat.

‘I suppose you have hardly seen anything but chimney-pots and bricks and mortar all your life, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick, smiling.

‘I worn’t always a boots, sir,’ said Mr. Weller, with a shake of the head. ‘I wos a vaginer’s boy, once.’

‘When was that?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.

‘When I wos first pitched neck and crop into the world, to play at leap-frog with its troubles,’ replied Sam. ‘I wos a carrier’s boy at startin’; then a vaginer’s, then a helper, then a boots. Now I’m a gen’l’m’n’s servant. I shall be a gen’l’m’n myself one of these days, perhaps, with a pipe in my mouth, and a summer-house in the back-garden. Who knows? I shouldn’t be surprised for one.’

‘You are quite a philosopher, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘It runs in the family, I b’lieve, sir,’ replied Mr. Weller. ‘My father’s wery much in that line now. If my mother-in-law blows him up, he whistles. She flies in a passion, and breaks his pipe; he steps out, and gets another. Then she screams wery loud, and falls into ‘sterics; and he smokes wery comfortably till she comes to agin. That’s philosophy, Sir, ain’t it?’

‘A very good substitute for it, at all events,’ replied Mr. Pickwick, laughing. ‘It must have been of great service to you, in the course of your rambling life, Sam.’

‘Service, sir,’ exclaimed Sam. ‘You may say that. Arter I run away from the carrier, and afore I took up with the vaginer, I had unfurnished lodgin’s for a fortnight.’

‘Unfurnished lodgings?’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘Yes—the dry arches of Waterloo Bridge. Fine sleeping-place—vithin ten minutes’ walk of all the public offices—only if there is any objection to it, it is that the sitivation’s rayther too airy. I see some queer sights there.’

Ah, I suppose you did,’ said Mr. Pickwick, with an air of considerable interest.

‘Sights, sir,’ resumed Mr. Weller, ‘as ‘ud penetrate your benevolent heart, and come out on the other side. You don’t see the reg’lar wagrants there; trust ‘em, they knows better than that. Young beggars, male and female, as hasn’t made a rise in their profession, takes up their quarters there sometimes; but it’s generally the worn-out, starving, houseless creeturs as roll themselves in the dark corners o’ them lonesome places—poor creeturs as ain’t up to the twopenny rope.’

‘And pray, Sam, what is the twopenny rope?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.

‘The twopenny rope, sir,’ replied Mr. Weller, ‘is just a cheap lodgin’ house, where the beds is twopence a night.’

‘What do they call a bed a rope for?’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘Bless your innocence, sir, that ain’t it,’ replied Sam. ‘Ven the lady and gen’l’m’n as keeps the hot-el first begun business, they used to make the beds on the floor; but this wouldn’t do at no price, ‘cos instead o’ taking a moderate twopenn’orth o’ sleep, the lodgers used to lie there half the day. So now they has two ropes, ‘bout six foot apart, and three from the floor, which goes right down the room; and the beds are made of slips of coarse sacking, stretched across ‘em.’

‘Well,’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘Well,’ said Mr. Weller, ‘the adwantage o’ the plan’s hobvious. At six o’clock every mornin’ they let’s go the ropes at one end, and down falls the lodgers. Consequence is, that being thoroughly waked, they get up wery quietly, and walk away!’

‘Beg your pardon, sir,’ said Sam, suddenly breaking off in his loquacious discourse. ‘Is this Bury St. Edmunds?’

‘It is,’ replied Mr. Pickwick.

The coach rattled through the well-paved streets of a handsome little town, of thriving and cleanly appearance, and stopped before a large inn situated in a wide open street, nearly facing the old abbey.

‘And this,’ said Mr. Pickwick, looking up. ‘Is the Angel! We alight here, Sam. But some caution is necessary. Order a private room, and do not mention my name. You understand.’

‘Right as a trivet, sir,’ replied Mr. Weller, with a wink of intelligence; and having dragged Mr. Pickwick’s portmanteau from the hind boot, into which it had been hastily thrown when they joined the coach at Eatanswill, Mr. Weller disappeared on his errand. A private room was speedily engaged; and into it Mr. Pickwick was ushered without delay.

‘Now, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick, ‘the first thing to be done is to—’

Order dinner, Sir,’ interposed Mr. Weller. ‘It’s wery late, sir.’

‘Ah, so it is,’ said Mr. Pickwick, looking at his watch. ‘You are right, Sam.’

‘And if I might adwise, Sir,’ added Mr. Weller, ‘I’d just have a good night’s rest arterwards, and not begin inquiring arter this here deep ‘un till the mornin’. There’s nothin’ so refreshen’ as sleep, sir, as the servant girl said afore she drank the egg-cupful of laudanum.’

‘I think you are right, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘But I must first ascertain that he is in the house, and not likely to go away.’

‘Leave that to me, Sir,’ said Sam. ‘Let me order you a snug little dinner, and make my inquiries below while it’s a-getting ready; I could worm ev’ry secret out O’ the boots’s heart, in five minutes, Sir.’

Do so,’ said Mr. Pickwick; and Mr. Weller at once retired.

In half an hour, Mr. Pickwick was seated at a very satisfactory dinner; and in three-quarters Mr. Weller returned with the intelligence that Mr. Charles Fitz-Marshall had ordered his private room to be retained for him, until further notice. He was going to spend the evening at some private house in the neighbourhood, had ordered the boots to sit up until his return, and had taken his servant with him.

‘Now, sir,’ argued Mr. Weller, when he had concluded his report, ‘if I can get a talk with this here servant in the mornin’, he’ll tell me all his master’s concerns.’

‘How do you know that?’ interposed Mr. Pickwick.

‘Bless your heart, sir, servants always do,’ replied Mr. Weller.

‘Oh, ah, I forgot that,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘Well.’

‘Then you can arrange what’s best to be done, sir, and we can act accordingly.’

As it appeared that this was the best arrangement that could be made, it was finally agreed upon. Mr. Weller, by his master’s permission, retired to spend the evening in his own way; and was shortly afterwards elected, by the unanimous voice of the assembled company, into the taproom chair, in which honourable post he acquitted himself so much to the satisfaction of the gentlemen-frequenters, that their roars of laughter and approbation penetrated to Mr. Pickwick’s bedroom, and shortened the term of his natural rest by at least three hours.

Early on the ensuing morning, Mr. Weller was dispelling all the feverish remains of the previous evening’s conviviality, through the instrumentality of a halfpenny shower-bath (having induced a young gentleman attached to the stable department, by the offer of that coin, to pump over his head and face, until he was perfectly restored), when he was attracted by the appearance of a young fellow in mulberry-coloured livery, who was sitting on a bench in the yard, reading what appeared to be a hymn-book, with an air of deep abstraction, but who occasionally stole a glance at the individual under the pump, as if he took some interest in his proceedings, nevertheless.

‘You’re a rum ‘un to look at, you are!’ thought Mr. Weller, the first time his eyes encountered the glance of the stranger in the mulberry suit, who had a large, sallow, ugly face, very sunken eyes, and a gigantic head, from which depended a quantity of lank black hair. ‘You’re a rum ‘un!’ thought Mr. Weller; and thinking this, he went on washing himself, and thought no more about him.

Still the man kept glancing from his hymn-book to Sam, and from Sam to his hymn-book, as if he wanted to open a conversation. So at last, Sam, by way of giving him an opportunity, said with a familiar nod—

‘How are you, governor?’

‘I am happy to say, I am pretty well, Sir,’ said the man, speaking with great deliberation, and closing the book. ‘I hope you are the same, Sir?’

‘Why, if I felt less like a walking brandy-bottle I shouldn’t be quite so staggery this mornin’,’ replied Sam. ‘Are you stoppin’ in this house, old ‘un?’

The mulberry man replied in the affirmative.

‘How was it you worn’t one of us, last night?’ inquired Sam, scrubbing his face with the towel. ‘You seem one of the jolly sort—looks as conwivial as a live trout in a lime basket,’ added Mr. Weller, in an undertone.

‘I was out last night with my master,’ replied the stranger.

‘What’s his name?’ inquired Mr. Weller, colouring up very red with sudden excitement, and the friction of the towel combined.

‘Fitz-Marshall,’ said the mulberry man.

‘Give us your hand,’ said Mr. Weller, advancing; ‘I should like to know you. I like your appearance, old fellow.’

‘Well, that is very strange,’ said the mulberry man, with great simplicity of manner. ‘I like yours so much, that I wanted to speak to you, from the very first moment I saw you under the pump.’

Did you though?’

‘Upon my word. Now, isn’t that curious?’

‘Wery sing’ler,’ said Sam, inwardly congratulating himself upon the softness of the stranger. ‘What’s your name, my patriarch?’

‘Job.’

‘And a wery good name it is; only one I know that ain’t got a nickname to it. What’s the other name?’

‘Trotter,’ said the stranger. ‘What is yours?’

Sam bore in mind his master’s caution, and replied—

‘My name’s Walker; my master’s name’s Wilkins. Will you take a drop o’ somethin’ this mornin’, Mr. Trotter?’

Mr. Trotter acquiesced in this agreeable proposal; and having deposited his book in his coat pocket, accompanied Mr. Weller to the tap, where they were soon occupied in discussing an exhilarating compound, formed by mixing together, in a pewter vessel, certain quantities of British Hollands and the fragrant essence of the clove.

‘And what sort of a place have you got?’ inquired Sam, as he filled his companion’s glass, for the second time.

‘Bad,’ said Job, smacking his lips, ‘very bad.’

‘You don’t mean that?’ said Sam.

‘I do, indeed. Worse than that, my master’s going to be married.’

‘No.’

‘Yes; and worse than that, too, he’s going to run away with an immense rich heiress, from boarding-school.’

‘What a dragon!’ said Sam, refilling his companion’s glass. ‘It’s some boarding-school in this town, I suppose, ain’t it?’ Now, although this question was put in the most careless tone imaginable, Mr. Job Trotter plainly showed by gestures that he perceived his new friend’s anxiety to draw forth an answer to it. He emptied his glass, looked mysteriously at his companion, winked both of his small eyes, one after the other, and finally made a motion with his arm, as if he were working an imaginary pump-handle; thereby intimating that he (Mr. Trotter) considered himself as undergoing the process of being pumped by Mr. Samuel Weller.

‘No, no,’ said Mr. Trotter, in conclusion, ‘that’s not to be told to everybody. That is a secret—a great secret, Mr. Walker.’ As the mulberry man said this, he turned his glass upside down, by way of reminding his companion that he had nothing left wherewith to slake his thirst. Sam observed the hint; and feeling the delicate manner in which it was conveyed, ordered the pewter vessel to be refilled, whereat the small eyes of the mulberry man glistened.

‘And so it’s a secret?’ said Sam.

‘I should rather suspect it was,’ said the mulberry man, sipping his liquor, with a complacent face.

‘I suppose your mas’r’s wery rich?’ said Sam.

Mr. Trotter smiled, and holding his glass in his left hand, gave four distinct slaps on the pockets of his mulberry indescribables with his right, as if to intimate that his master might have done the same without alarming anybody much by the chinking of coin.

‘Ah,’ said Sam, ‘that’s the game, is it?’

The mulberry man nodded significantly.

‘Well, and don’t you think, old feller,’ remonstrated Mr. Weller, ‘that if you let your master take in this here young lady, you’re a precious rascal?’

‘I know that,’ said Job Trotter, turning upon his companion a countenance of deep contrition, and groaning slightly, ‘I know that, and that’s what it is that preys upon my mind. But what am I to do?’

‘Do!’ said Sam; ‘di-wulge to the missis, and give up your master.’

‘Who’d believe me?’ replied Job Trotter. ‘The young lady’s considered the very picture of innocence and discretion. She’d deny it, and so would my master. Who’d believe me? I should lose my place, and get indicted for a conspiracy, or some such thing; that’s all I should take by my motion.’

‘There’s somethin’ in that,’ said Sam, ruminating; ‘there’s somethin’ in that.’

‘If I knew any respectable gentleman who would take the matter up,’ continued Mr. Trotter. ‘I might have some hope of preventing the elopement; but there’s the same difficulty, Mr. Walker, just the same. I know no gentleman in this strange place; and ten to one if I did, whether he would believe my story.’

‘Come this way,’ said Sam, suddenly jumping up, and grasping the mulberry man by the arm. ‘My mas’r’s the man you want, I see.’ And after a slight resistance on the part of Job Trotter, Sam led his newly-found friend to the apartment of Mr. Pickwick, to whom he presented him, together with a brief summary of the dialogue we have just repeated.

‘I am very sorry to betray my master, sir,’ said Job Trotter, applying to his eyes a pink checked pocket-handkerchief about six inches square.

‘The feeling does you a great deal of honour,’ replied Mr. Pickwick; ‘but it is your duty, nevertheless.’

‘I know it is my duty, Sir,’ replied Job, with great emotion. ‘We should all try to discharge our duty, Sir, and I humbly endeavour to discharge mine, Sir; but it is a hard trial to betray a master, Sir, whose clothes you wear, and whose bread you eat, even though he is a scoundrel, Sir.’

‘You are a very good fellow,’ said Mr. Pickwick, much affected; ‘an honest fellow.’

‘Come, come,’ interposed Sam, who had witnessed Mr. Trotter’s tears with considerable impatience, ‘blow this ‘ere water-cart bis’ness. It won’t do no good, this won’t.’

‘Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick reproachfully. ‘I am sorry to find that you have so little respect for this young man’s feelings.’

‘His feelin’s is all wery well, Sir,’ replied Mr. Weller; ‘and as they’re so wery fine, and it’s a pity he should lose ‘em, I think he’d better keep ‘em in his own buzzum, than let ‘em ewaporate in hot water, ‘specially as they do no good. Tears never yet wound up a clock, or worked a steam ingin’. The next time you go out to a smoking party, young fellow, fill your pipe with that ‘ere reflection; and for the present just put that bit of pink gingham into your pocket. ‘Tain’t so handsome that you need keep waving it about, as if you was a tight-rope dancer.’

‘My man is in the right,’ said Mr. Pickwick, accosting Job, ‘although his mode of expressing his opinion is somewhat homely, and occasionally incomprehensible.’

‘He is, sir, very right,’ said Mr. Trotter, ‘and I will give way no longer.’

Very well,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘Now, where is this boarding-school?’

‘It is a large, old, red brick house, just outside the town, Sir,’ replied Job Trotter.

‘And when,’ said Mr. Pickwick—‘when is this villainous design to be carried into execution—when is this elopement to take place?’

‘To-night, Sir,’ replied Job.

‘To-night!’ exclaimed Mr. Pickwick.

‘This very night, sir,’ replied Job Trotter. ‘That is what alarms me so much.’

‘Instant measures must be taken,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘I will see the lady who keeps the establishment immediately.’

‘I beg your pardon, Sir,’ said Job, ‘but that course of proceeding will never do.’

‘Why not?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.

‘My master, sir, is a very artful man.’

‘I know he is,’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘And he has so wound himself round the old lady’s heart, Sir,’ resumed Job, ‘that she would believe nothing to his prejudice, if you went down on your bare knees, and swore it; especially as you have no proof but the word of a servant, who, for anything she knows (and my master would be sure to say so), was discharged for some fault, and does this in revenge.’

‘What had better be done, then?’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘Nothing but taking him in the very act of eloping, will convince the old lady, sir,’ replied Job.

‘All them old cats will run their heads agin milestones,’ observed Mr. Weller, in a parenthesis.

‘But this taking him in the very act of elopement, would be a very difficult thing to accomplish, I fear,’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘I don’t know, sir,’ said Mr. Trotter, after a few moments’ reflection. ‘I think it might be very easily done.’

‘How?’ was Mr. Pickwick’s inquiry.

‘Why,’ replied Mr. Trotter, ‘my master and I, being in the confidence of the two servants, will be secreted in the kitchen at ten o’clock. When the family have retired to rest, we shall come out of the kitchen, and the young lady out of her bedroom. A post-chaise will be waiting, and away we go.’

‘Well?’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘Well, sir, I have been thinking that if you were in waiting in the garden behind, alone—’

‘Alone,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘Why alone?’

‘I thought it very natural,’ replied Job, ‘that the old lady wouldn’t like such an unpleasant discovery to be made before more persons than can possibly be helped. The young lady, too, sir—consider her feelings.’

‘You are very right,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘The consideration evinces your delicacy of feeling. Go on; you are very right.’

‘Well, sir, I have been thinking that if you were waiting in the back garden alone, and I was to let you in, at the door which opens into it, from the end of the passage, at exactly half-past eleven o’clock, you would be just in the very moment of time to assist me in frustrating the designs of this bad man, by whom I have been unfortunately ensnared.’ Here Mr. Trotter sighed deeply.

‘Don’t distress yourself on that account,’ said Mr. Pickwick; ‘if he had one grain of the delicacy of feeling which distinguishes you, humble as your station is, I should have some hopes of him.’

Job Trotter bowed low; and in spite of Mr. Weller’s previous remonstrance, the tears again rose to his eyes.

‘I never see such a feller,’ said Sam, ‘Blessed if I don’t think he’s got a main in his head as is always turned on.’

‘Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick, with great severity, ‘hold your tongue.’

‘Wery well, sir,’ replied Mr. Weller.

‘I don’t like this plan,’ said Mr. Pickwick, after deep meditation. ‘Why cannot I communicate with the young lady’s friends?’

‘Because they live one hundred miles from here, sir,’ responded Job Trotter.

‘That’s a clincher,’ said Mr. Weller, aside.

‘Then this garden,’ resumed Mr. Pickwick. ‘How am I to get into it?’

‘The wall is very low, sir, and your servant will give you a leg up.’

My servant will give me a leg up,’ repeated Mr. Pickwick mechanically. ‘You will be sure to be near this door that you speak of?’

‘You cannot mistake it, Sir; it’s the only one that opens into the garden. Tap at it when you hear the clock strike, and I will open it instantly.’

‘I don’t like the plan,’ said Mr. Pickwick; ‘but as I see no other, and as the happiness of this young lady’s whole life is at stake, I adopt it. I shall be sure to be there.’

Thus, for the second time, did Mr. Pickwick’s innate good-feeling involve him in an enterprise from which he would most willingly have stood aloof.

‘What is the name of the house?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.

‘Westgate House, Sir. You turn a little to the right when you get to the end of the town; it stands by itself, some little distance off the high road, with the name on a brass plate on the gate.’

‘I know it,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘I observed it once before, when I was in this town. You may depend upon me.’

Mr. Trotter made another bow, and turned to depart, when Mr. Pickwick thrust a guinea into his hand.

‘You’re a fine fellow,’ said Mr. Pickwick, ‘and I admire your goodness of heart. No thanks. Remember—eleven o’clock.’

‘There is no fear of my forgetting it, sir,’ replied Job Trotter. With these words he left the room, followed by Sam.

‘I say,’ said the latter, ‘not a bad notion that ‘ere crying. I’d cry like a rain-water spout in a shower on such good terms. How do you do it?’

‘It comes from the heart, Mr. Walker,’ replied Job solemnly. ‘Good-morning, sir.’

‘You’re a soft customer, you are; we’ve got it all out o’ you, anyhow,’ thought Mr. Weller, as Job walked away.

We cannot state the precise nature of the thoughts which passed through Mr. Trotter’s mind, because we don’t know what they were.

The day wore on, evening came, and at a little before ten o’clock Sam Weller reported that Mr. Jingle and Job had gone out together, that their luggage was packed up, and that they had ordered a chaise. The plot was evidently in execution, as Mr. Trotter had foretold.

Half-past ten o’clock arrived, and it was time for Mr. Pickwick to issue forth on his delicate errand. Resisting Sam’s tender of his greatcoat, in order that he might have no encumbrance in scaling the wall, he set forth, followed by his attendant.

There was a bright moon, but it was behind the clouds. It was a fine dry night, but it was most uncommonly dark. Paths, hedges, fields, houses, and trees, were enveloped in one deep shade. The atmosphere was hot and sultry, the summer lightning quivered faintly on the verge of the horizon, and was the only sight that varied the dull gloom in which everything was wrapped—sound there was none, except the distant barking of some restless house-dog.

They found the house, read the brass plate, walked round the wall, and stopped at that portion of it which divided them from the bottom of the garden.

‘You will return to the inn, Sam, when you have assisted me over,’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘Wery well, Sir.’

‘And you will sit up, till I return.’

‘Cert’nly, Sir.’

‘Take hold of my leg; and, when I say “Over,” raise me gently.’

‘All right, sir.’

Having settled these preliminaries, Mr. Pickwick grasped the top of the wall, and gave the word ‘Over,’ which was literally obeyed. Whether his body partook in some degree of the elasticity of his mind, or whether Mr. Weller’s notions of a gentle push were of a somewhat rougher description than Mr. Pickwick’s, the immediate effect of his assistance was to jerk that immortal gentleman completely over the wall on to the bed beneath, where, after crushing three gooseberry-bushes and a rose-tree, he finally alighted at full length.

‘You ha’n’t hurt yourself, I hope, Sir?’ said Sam, in a loud whisper, as soon as he had recovered from the surprise consequent upon the mysterious disappearance of his master.

‘I have not hurt myself, Sam, certainly,’ replied Mr. Pickwick, from the other side of the wall, ‘but I rather think that you have hurt me.’

‘I hope not, Sir,’ said Sam.

‘Never mind,’ said Mr. Pickwick, rising, ‘it’s nothing but a few scratches. Go away, or we shall be overheard.’

‘Good-bye, Sir.’

‘Good-bye.’

With stealthy steps Sam Weller departed, leaving Mr. Pickwick alone in the garden.

Lights occasionally appeared in the different windows of the house, or glanced from the staircases, as if the inmates were retiring to rest. Not caring to go too near the door, until the appointed time, Mr. Pickwick crouched into an angle of the wall, and awaited its arrival.

It was a situation which might well have depressed the spirits of many a man. Mr. Pickwick, however, felt neither depression nor misgiving. He knew that his purpose was in the main a good one, and he placed implicit reliance on the high-minded Job. It was dull, certainly; not to say dreary; but a contemplative man can always employ himself in meditation. Mr. Pickwick had meditated himself into a doze, when he was roused by the chimes of the neighbouring church ringing out the hour—half-past eleven.

‘That’s the time,’ thought Mr. Pickwick, getting cautiously on his feet. He looked up at the house. The lights had disappeared, and the shutters were closed—all in bed, no doubt. He walked on tiptoe to the door, and gave a gentle tap. Two or three minutes passing without any reply, he gave another tap rather louder, and then another rather louder than that.

At length the sound of feet was audible upon the stairs, and then the light of a candle shone through the keyhole of the door. There was a good deal of unchaining and unbolting, and the door was slowly opened.

Now the door opened outwards; and as the door opened wider and wider, Mr. Pickwick receded behind it, more and more. What was his astonishment when he just peeped out, by way of caution, to see that the person who had opened it was—not Job Trotter, but a servant-girl with a candle in her hand! Mr. Pickwick drew in his head again, with the swiftness displayed by that admirable melodramatic performer, Punch, when he lies in wait for the flat-headed comedian with the tin box of music.

‘It must have been the cat, Sarah,’ said the girl, addressing herself to some one in the house. ‘Puss, puss, puss,—tit, tit, tit.’

But no animal being decoyed by these blandishments, the girl slowly closed the door, and re-fastened it; leaving Mr. Pickwick drawn up straight against the wall.

‘This is very curious,’ thought Mr. Pickwick. ‘They are sitting up beyond their usual hour, I suppose. Extremely unfortunate, that they should have chosen this night, of all others, for such a purpose—exceedingly.’ And with these thoughts, Mr. Pickwick cautiously retired to the angle of the wall in which he had been before ensconced; waiting until such time as he might deem it safe to repeat the signal.

He had not been here five minutes, when a vivid flash of lightning was followed by a loud peal of thunder that crashed and rolled away in the distance with a terrific noise—then came another flash of lightning, brighter than the other, and a second peal of thunder louder than the first; and then down came the rain, with a force and fury that swept everything before it.

Mr. Pickwick was perfectly aware that a tree is a very dangerous neighbour in a thunderstorm. He had a tree on his right, a tree on his left, a third before him, and a fourth behind. If he remained where he was, he might fall the victim of an accident; if he showed himself in the centre of the garden, he might be consigned to a constable. Once or twice he tried to scale the wall, but having no other legs this time, than those with which Nature had furnished him, the only effect of his struggles was to inflict a variety of very unpleasant gratings on his knees and shins, and to throw him into a state of the most profuse perspiration.

‘What a dreadful situation,’ said Mr. Pickwick, pausing to wipe his brow after this exercise. He looked up at the house—all was dark. They must be gone to bed now. He would try the signal again.

He walked on tiptoe across the moist gravel, and tapped at the door. He held his breath, and listened at the key-hole. No reply: very odd. Another knock. He listened again. There was a low whispering inside, and then a voice cried—

‘Who’s there?’

‘That’s not Job,’ thought Mr. Pickwick, hastily drawing himself straight up against the wall again. ‘It’s a woman.’

He had scarcely had time to form this conclusion, when a window above stairs was thrown up, and three or four female voices repeated the query—‘Who’s there?’

Mr. Pickwick dared not move hand or foot. It was clear that the whole establishment was roused. He made up his mind to remain where he was, until the alarm had subsided; and then by a supernatural effort, to get over the wall, or perish in the attempt.

Like all Mr. Pickwick’s determinations, this was the best that could be made under the circumstances; but, unfortunately, it was founded upon the assumption that they would not venture to open the door again. What was his discomfiture, when he heard the chain and bolts withdrawn, and saw the door slowly opening, wider and wider! He retreated into the corner, step by step; but do what he would, the interposition of his own person, prevented its being opened to its utmost width.

‘Who’s there?’ screamed a numerous chorus of treble voices from the staircase inside, consisting of the spinster lady of the establishment, three teachers, five female servants, and thirty boarders, all half-dressed and in a forest of curl-papers.

Of course Mr. Pickwick didn’t say who was there: and then the burden of the chorus changed into—‘Lor! I am so frightened.’

‘Cook,’ said the lady abbess, who took care to be on the top stair, the very last of the group—‘cook, why don’t you go a little way into the garden?’

Please, ma’am, I don’t like,’ responded the cook.

‘Lor, what a stupid thing that cook is!’ said the thirty boarders.

‘Cook,’ said the lady abbess, with great dignity; ‘don’t answer me, if you please. I insist upon your looking into the garden immediately.’

Here the cook began to cry, and the housemaid said it was ‘a shame!’ for which partisanship she received a month’s warning on the spot.

‘Do you hear, cook?’ said the lady abbess, stamping her foot impatiently.

‘Don’t you hear your missis, cook?’ said the three teachers.

‘What an impudent thing that cook is!’ said the thirty boarders.

The unfortunate cook, thus strongly urged, advanced a step or two, and holding her candle just where it prevented her from seeing at all, declared there was nothing there, and it must have been the wind. The door was just going to be closed in consequence, when an inquisitive boarder, who had been peeping between the hinges, set up a fearful screaming, which called back the cook and housemaid, and all the more adventurous, in no time.

‘What is the matter with Miss Smithers?’ said the lady abbess, as the aforesaid Miss Smithers proceeded to go into hysterics of four young lady power.

‘Lor, Miss Smithers, dear,’ said the other nine-and-twenty boarders.

‘Oh, the man—the man—behind the door!’ screamed Miss Smithers.

The lady abbess no sooner heard this appalling cry, than she retreated to her own bedroom, double-locked the door, and fainted away comfortably. The boarders, and the teachers, and the servants, fell back upon the stairs, and upon each other; and never was such a screaming, and fainting, and struggling beheld. In the midst of the tumult, Mr. Pickwick emerged from his concealment, and presented himself amongst them.

‘Ladies—dear ladies,’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘Oh. he says we’re dear,’ cried the oldest and ugliest teacher. ‘Oh, the wretch!’

‘Ladies,’ roared Mr. Pickwick, rendered desperate by the danger of his situation. ‘Hear me. I am no robber. I want the lady of the house.’

‘Oh, what a ferocious monster!’ screamed another teacher. ‘He wants Miss Tomkins.’

Here there was a general scream.

‘Ring the alarm bell, somebody!’ cried a dozen voices.

‘Don’t—don’t,’ shouted Mr. Pickwick. ‘Look at me. Do I look like a robber! My dear ladies—you may bind me hand and leg, or lock me up in a closet, if you like. Only hear what I have got to say—only hear me.’

‘How did you come in our garden?’ faltered the housemaid.

‘Call the lady of the house, and I’ll tell her everything,’ said Mr. Pickwick, exerting his lungs to the utmost pitch. ‘Call her—only be quiet, and call her, and you shall hear everything.’

It might have been Mr. Pickwick’s appearance, or it might have been his manner, or it might have been the temptation—irresistible to a female mind—of hearing something at present enveloped in mystery, that reduced the more reasonable portion of the establishment (some four individuals) to a state of comparative quiet. By them it was proposed, as a test of Mr. Pickwick’s sincerity, that he should immediately submit to personal restraint; and that gentleman having consented to hold a conference with Miss Tomkins, from the interior of a closet in which the day boarders hung their bonnets and sandwich-bags, he at once stepped into it, of his own accord, and was securely locked in. This revived the others; and Miss Tomkins having been brought to, and brought down, the conference began.

‘What did you do in my garden, man?’ said Miss Tomkins, in a faint voice.

‘I came to warn you that one of your young ladies was going to elope to-night,’ replied Mr. Pickwick, from the interior of the closet.

‘Elope!’ exclaimed Miss Tomkins, the three teachers, the thirty boarders, and the five servants. ‘Who with?’

Your friend, Mr. Charles Fitz-Marshall.’

‘My friend! I don’t know any such person.’

‘Well, Mr. Jingle, then.’

‘I never heard the name in my life.’

‘Then, I have been deceived, and deluded,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘I have been the victim of a conspiracy—a foul and base conspiracy. Send to the Angel, my dear ma’am, if you don’t believe me. Send to the Angel for Mr. Pickwick’s manservant, I implore you, ma’am.’

‘He must be respectable—he keeps a manservant,’ said Miss Tomkins to the writing and ciphering governess.

‘It’s my opinion, Miss Tomkins,’ said the writing and ciphering governess, ‘that his manservant keeps him, I think he’s a madman, Miss Tomkins, and the other’s his keeper.’

‘I think you are very right, Miss Gwynn,’ responded Miss Tomkins. ‘Let two of the servants repair to the Angel, and let the others remain here, to protect us.’

So two of the servants were despatched to the Angel in search of Mr. Samuel Weller; and the remaining three stopped behind to protect Miss Tomkins, and the three teachers, and the thirty boarders. And Mr. Pickwick sat down in the closet, beneath a grove of sandwich-bags, and awaited the return of the messengers, with all the philosophy and fortitude he could summon to his aid.

An hour and a half elapsed before they came back, and when they did come, Mr. Pickwick recognised, in addition to the voice of Mr. Samuel Weller, two other voices, the tones of which struck familiarly on his ear; but whose they were, he could not for the life of him call to mind.

A very brief conversation ensued. The door was unlocked. Mr. Pickwick stepped out of the closet, and found himself in the presence of the whole establishment of Westgate House, Mr Samuel Weller, and—old Wardle, and his destined son-in-law, Mr. Trundle!

‘My dear friend,’ said Mr. Pickwick, running forward and grasping Wardle’s hand, ‘my dear friend, pray, for Heaven’s sake, explain to this lady the unfortunate and dreadful situation in which I am placed. You must have heard it from my servant; say, at all events, my dear fellow, that I am neither a robber nor a madman.’

‘I have said so, my dear friend. I have said so already,’ replied Mr. Wardle, shaking the right hand of his friend, while Mr. Trundle shook the left.

‘And whoever says, or has said, he is,’ interposed Mr. Weller, stepping forward, ‘says that which is not the truth, but so far from it, on the contrary, quite the rewerse. And if there’s any number o’ men on these here premises as has said so, I shall be wery happy to give ‘em all a wery convincing proof o’ their being mistaken, in this here wery room, if these wery respectable ladies ‘ll have the goodness to retire, and order ‘em up, one at a time.’ Having delivered this defiance with great volubility, Mr. Weller struck his open palm emphatically with his clenched fist, and winked pleasantly on Miss Tomkins, the intensity of whose horror at his supposing it within the bounds of possibility that there could be any men on the premises of Westgate House Establishment for Young Ladies, it is impossible to describe.

Mr. Pickwick’s explanation having already been partially made, was soon concluded. But neither in the course of his walk home with his friends, nor afterwards when seated before a blazing fire at the supper he so much needed, could a single observation be drawn from him. He seemed bewildered and amazed. Once, and only once, he turned round to Mr. Wardle, and said—

‘How did you come here?’

‘Trundle and I came down here, for some good shooting on the first,’ replied Wardle. ‘We arrived to-night, and were astonished to hear from your servant that you were here too. But I am glad you are,’ said the old fellow, slapping him on the back—‘I am glad you are. We shall have a jovial party on the first, and we’ll give Winkle another chance—eh, old boy?’

Mr. Pickwick made no reply, he did not even ask after his friends at Dingley Dell, and shortly afterwards retired for the night, desiring Sam to fetch his candle when he rung.

The bell did ring in due course, and Mr. Weller presented himself.

‘Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick, looking out from under the bed-clothes.

‘Sir,’ said Mr. Weller.

Mr. Pickwick paused, and Mr. Weller snuffed the candle.

‘Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick again, as if with a desperate effort.

‘Sir,’ said Mr. Weller, once more.

‘Where is that Trotter?’

‘Job, sir?’

‘Yes.

‘Gone, sir.’

‘With his master, I suppose?’

‘Friend or master, or whatever he is, he’s gone with him,’ replied Mr. Weller. ‘There’s a pair on ‘em, sir.’

‘Jingle suspected my design, and set that fellow on you, with this story, I suppose?’ said Mr. Pickwick, half choking.

‘Just that, sir,’ replied Mr. Weller.

‘It was all false, of course?’

‘All, sir,’ replied Mr. Weller. ‘Reg’lar do, sir; artful dodge.’

‘I don’t think he’ll escape us quite so easily the next time, Sam!’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘I don’t think he will, Sir.’

‘Whenever I meet that Jingle again, wherever it is,’ said Mr. Pickwick, raising himself in bed, and indenting his pillow with a tremendous blow, ‘I’ll inflict personal chastisement on him, in addition to the exposure he so richly merits. I will, or my name is not Pickwick.’

‘And venever I catches hold o’ that there melan-cholly chap with the black hair,’ said Sam, ‘if I don’t bring some real water into his eyes, for once in a way, my name ain’t Weller. Good-night, Sir!’






CHAPTER XVII. SHOWING THAT AN ATTACK OF RHEUMATISM, IN SOME CASES, ACTS AS A QUICKENER TO INVENTIVE GENIUS

The constitution of Mr. Pickwick, though able to sustain a very considerable amount of exertion and fatigue, was not proof against such a combination of attacks as he had undergone on the memorable night, recorded in the last chapter. The process of being washed in the night air, and rough-dried in a closet, is as dangerous as it is peculiar. Mr. Pickwick was laid up with an attack of rheumatism.

But although the bodily powers of the great man were thus impaired, his mental energies retained their pristine vigour. His spirits were elastic; his good-humour was restored. Even the vexation consequent upon his recent adventure had vanished from his mind; and he could join in the hearty laughter, which any allusion to it excited in Mr. Wardle, without anger and without embarrassment. Nay, more. During the two days Mr. Pickwick was confined to bed, Sam was his constant attendant. On the first, he endeavoured to amuse his master by anecdote and conversation; on the second, Mr. Pickwick demanded his writing-desk, and pen and ink, and was deeply engaged during the whole day. On the third, being able to sit up in his bedchamber, he despatched his valet with a message to Mr. Wardle and Mr. Trundle, intimating that if they would take their wine there, that evening, they would greatly oblige him. The invitation was most willingly accepted; and when they were seated over their wine, Mr. Pickwick, with sundry blushes, produced the following little tale, as having been ‘edited’ by himself, during his recent indisposition, from his notes of Mr. Weller’s unsophisticated recital.

  THE PARISH CLERK
  A TALE OF TRUE LOVE

‘Once upon a time, in a very small country town, at a considerable distance from London, there lived a little man named Nathaniel Pipkin, who was the parish clerk of the little town, and lived in a little house in the little High Street, within ten minutes’ walk from the little church; and who was to be found every day, from nine till four, teaching a little learning to the little boys. Nathaniel Pipkin was a harmless, inoffensive, good-natured being, with a turned-up nose, and rather turned-in legs, a cast in his eye, and a halt in his gait; and he divided his time between the church and his school, verily believing that there existed not, on the face of the earth, so clever a man as the curate, so imposing an apartment as the vestry-room, or so well-ordered a seminary as his own. Once, and only once, in his life, Nathaniel Pipkin had seen a bishop—a real bishop, with his arms in lawn sleeves, and his head in a wig. He had seen him walk, and heard him talk, at a confirmation, on which momentous occasion Nathaniel Pipkin was so overcome with reverence and awe, when the aforesaid bishop laid his hand on his head, that he fainted right clean away, and was borne out of church in the arms of the beadle.

‘This was a great event, a tremendous era, in Nathaniel Pipkin’s life, and it was the only one that had ever occurred to ruffle the smooth current of his quiet existence, when happening one fine afternoon, in a fit of mental abstraction, to raise his eyes from the slate on which he was devising some tremendous problem in compound addition for an offending urchin to solve, they suddenly rested on the blooming countenance of Maria Lobbs, the only daughter of old Lobbs, the great saddler over the way. Now, the eyes of Mr. Pipkin had rested on the pretty face of Maria Lobbs many a time and oft before, at church and elsewhere; but the eyes of Maria Lobbs had never looked so bright, the cheeks of Maria Lobbs had never looked so ruddy, as upon this particular occasion. No wonder then, that Nathaniel Pipkin was unable to take his eyes from the countenance of Miss Lobbs; no wonder that Miss Lobbs, finding herself stared at by a young man, withdrew her head from the window out of which she had been peeping, and shut the casement and pulled down the blind; no wonder that Nathaniel Pipkin, immediately thereafter, fell upon the young urchin who had previously offended, and cuffed and knocked him about to his heart’s content. All this was very natural, and there’s nothing at all to wonder at about it.

‘It is matter of wonder, though, that anyone of Mr. Nathaniel Pipkin’s retiring disposition, nervous temperament, and most particularly diminutive income, should from this day forth, have dared to aspire to the hand and heart of the only daughter of the fiery old Lobbs—of old Lobbs, the great saddler, who could have bought up the whole village at one stroke of his pen, and never felt the outlay—old Lobbs, who was well known to have heaps of money, invested in the bank at the nearest market town—who was reported to have countless and inexhaustible treasures hoarded up in the little iron safe with the big keyhole, over the chimney-piece in the back parlour—and who, it was well known, on festive occasions garnished his board with a real silver teapot, cream-ewer, and sugar-basin, which he was wont, in the pride of his heart, to boast should be his daughter’s property when she found a man to her mind. I repeat it, to be matter of profound astonishment and intense wonder, that Nathaniel Pipkin should have had the temerity to cast his eyes in this direction. But love is blind; and Nathaniel had a cast in his eye; and perhaps these two circumstances, taken together, prevented his seeing the matter in its proper light.

‘Now, if old Lobbs had entertained the most remote or distant idea of the state of the affections of Nathaniel Pipkin, he would just have razed the school-room to the ground, or exterminated its master from the surface of the earth, or committed some other outrage and atrocity of an equally ferocious and violent description; for he was a terrible old fellow, was Lobbs, when his pride was injured, or his blood was up. Swear! Such trains of oaths would come rolling and pealing over the way, sometimes, when he was denouncing the idleness of the bony apprentice with the thin legs, that Nathaniel Pipkin would shake in his shoes with horror, and the hair of the pupils’ heads would stand on end with fright.

‘Well! Day after day, when school was over, and the pupils gone, did Nathaniel Pipkin sit himself down at the front window, and, while he feigned to be reading a book, throw sidelong glances over the way in search of the bright eyes of Maria Lobbs; and he hadn’t sat there many days, before the bright eyes appeared at an upper window, apparently deeply engaged in reading too. This was delightful, and gladdening to the heart of Nathaniel Pipkin. It was something to sit there for hours together, and look upon that pretty face when the eyes were cast down; but when Maria Lobbs began to raise her eyes from her book, and dart their rays in the direction of Nathaniel Pipkin, his delight and admiration were perfectly boundless. At last, one day when he knew old Lobbs was out, Nathaniel Pipkin had the temerity to kiss his hand to Maria Lobbs; and Maria Lobbs, instead of shutting the window, and pulling down the blind, kissed hers to him, and smiled. Upon which Nathaniel Pipkin determined, that, come what might, he would develop the state of his feelings, without further delay.

‘A prettier foot, a gayer heart, a more dimpled face, or a smarter form, never bounded so lightly over the earth they graced, as did those of Maria Lobbs, the old saddler’s daughter. There was a roguish twinkle in her sparkling eyes, that would have made its way to far less susceptible bosoms than that of Nathaniel Pipkin; and there was such a joyous sound in her merry laugh, that the sternest misanthrope must have smiled to hear it. Even old Lobbs himself, in the very height of his ferocity, couldn’t resist the coaxing of his pretty daughter; and when she, and her cousin Kate—an arch, impudent-looking, bewitching little person—made a dead set upon the old man together, as, to say the truth, they very often did, he could have refused them nothing, even had they asked for a portion of the countless and inexhaustible treasures, which were hidden from the light, in the iron safe.

‘Nathaniel Pipkin’s heart beat high within him, when he saw this enticing little couple some hundred yards before him one summer’s evening, in the very field in which he had many a time strolled about till night-time, and pondered on the beauty of Maria Lobbs. But though he had often thought then, how briskly he would walk up to Maria Lobbs and tell her of his passion if he could only meet her, he felt, now that she was unexpectedly before him, all the blood in his body mounting to his face, manifestly to the great detriment of his legs, which, deprived of their usual portion, trembled beneath him. When they stopped to gather a hedge flower, or listen to a bird, Nathaniel Pipkin stopped too, and pretended to be absorbed in meditation, as indeed he really was; for he was thinking what on earth he should ever do, when they turned back, as they inevitably must in time, and meet him face to face. But though he was afraid to make up to them, he couldn’t bear to lose sight of them; so when they walked faster he walked faster, when they lingered he lingered, and when they stopped he stopped; and so they might have gone on, until the darkness prevented them, if Kate had not looked slyly back, and encouragingly beckoned Nathaniel to advance. There was something in Kate’s manner that was not to be resisted, and so Nathaniel Pipkin complied with the invitation; and after a great deal of blushing on his part, and immoderate laughter on that of the wicked little cousin, Nathaniel Pipkin went down on his knees on the dewy grass, and declared his resolution to remain there for ever, unless he were permitted to rise the accepted lover of Maria Lobbs. Upon this, the merry laughter of Miss Lobbs rang through the calm evening air—without seeming to disturb it, though; it had such a pleasant sound—and the wicked little cousin laughed more immoderately than before, and Nathaniel Pipkin blushed deeper than ever. At length, Maria Lobbs being more strenuously urged by the love-worn little man, turned away her head, and whispered her cousin to say, or at all events Kate did say, that she felt much honoured by Mr. Pipkin’s addresses; that her hand and heart were at her father’s disposal; but that nobody could be insensible to Mr. Pipkin’s merits. As all this was said with much gravity, and as Nathaniel Pipkin walked home with Maria Lobbs, and struggled for a kiss at parting, he went to bed a happy man, and dreamed all night long, of softening old Lobbs, opening the strong box, and marrying Maria.

The next day, Nathaniel Pipkin saw old Lobbs go out upon his old gray pony, and after a great many signs at the window from the wicked little cousin, the object and meaning of which he could by no means understand, the bony apprentice with the thin legs came over to say that his master wasn’t coming home all night, and that the ladies expected Mr. Pipkin to tea, at six o’clock precisely. How the lessons were got through that day, neither Nathaniel Pipkin nor his pupils knew any more than you do; but they were got through somehow, and, after the boys had gone, Nathaniel Pipkin took till full six o’clock to dress himself to his satisfaction. Not that it took long to select the garments he should wear, inasmuch as he had no choice about the matter; but the putting of them on to the best advantage, and the touching of them up previously, was a task of no inconsiderable difficulty or importance.

‘There was a very snug little party, consisting of Maria Lobbs and her cousin Kate, and three or four romping, good-humoured, rosy-cheeked girls. Nathaniel Pipkin had ocular demonstration of the fact, that the rumours of old Lobbs’s treasures were not exaggerated. There were the real solid silver teapot, cream-ewer, and sugar-basin, on the table, and real silver spoons to stir the tea with, and real china cups to drink it out of, and plates of the same, to hold the cakes and toast in. The only eye-sore in the whole place was another cousin of Maria Lobbs’s, and a brother of Kate, whom Maria Lobbs called “Henry,” and who seemed to keep Maria Lobbs all to himself, up in one corner of the table. It’s a delightful thing to see affection in families, but it may be carried rather too far, and Nathaniel Pipkin could not help thinking that Maria Lobbs must be very particularly fond of her relations, if she paid as much attention to all of them as to this individual cousin. After tea, too, when the wicked little cousin proposed a game at blind man’s buff, it somehow or other happened that Nathaniel Pipkin was nearly always blind, and whenever he laid his hand upon the male cousin, he was sure to find that Maria Lobbs was not far off. And though the wicked little cousin and the other girls pinched him, and pulled his hair, and pushed chairs in his way, and all sorts of things, Maria Lobbs never seemed to come near him at all; and once—once—Nathaniel Pipkin could have sworn he heard the sound of a kiss, followed by a faint remonstrance from Maria Lobbs, and a half-suppressed laugh from her female friends. All this was odd—very odd—and there is no saying what Nathaniel Pipkin might or might not have done, in consequence, if his thoughts had not been suddenly directed into a new channel.

‘The circumstance which directed his thoughts into a new channel was a loud knocking at the street door, and the person who made this loud knocking at the street door was no other than old Lobbs himself, who had unexpectedly returned, and was hammering away, like a coffin-maker; for he wanted his supper. The alarming intelligence was no sooner communicated by the bony apprentice with the thin legs, than the girls tripped upstairs to Maria Lobbs’s bedroom, and the male cousin and Nathaniel Pipkin were thrust into a couple of closets in the sitting-room, for want of any better places of concealment; and when Maria Lobbs and the wicked little cousin had stowed them away, and put the room to rights, they opened the street door to old Lobbs, who had never left off knocking since he first began.

‘Now it did unfortunately happen that old Lobbs being very hungry was monstrous cross. Nathaniel Pipkin could hear him growling away like an old mastiff with a sore throat; and whenever the unfortunate apprentice with the thin legs came into the room, so surely did old Lobbs commence swearing at him in a most Saracenic and ferocious manner, though apparently with no other end or object than that of easing his bosom by the discharge of a few superfluous oaths. At length some supper, which had been warming up, was placed on the table, and then old Lobbs fell to, in regular style; and having made clear work of it in no time, kissed his daughter, and demanded his pipe.

‘Nature had placed Nathaniel Pipkin’s knees in very close juxtaposition, but when he heard old Lobbs demand his pipe, they knocked together, as if they were going to reduce each other to powder; for, depending from a couple of hooks, in the very closet in which he stood, was a large, brown-stemmed, silver-bowled pipe, which pipe he himself had seen in the mouth of old Lobbs, regularly every afternoon and evening, for the last five years. The two girls went downstairs for the pipe, and upstairs for the pipe, and everywhere but where they knew the pipe was, and old Lobbs stormed away meanwhile, in the most wonderful manner. At last he thought of the closet, and walked up to it. It was of no use a little man like Nathaniel Pipkin pulling the door inwards, when a great strong fellow like old Lobbs was pulling it outwards. Old Lobbs gave it one tug, and open it flew, disclosing Nathaniel Pipkin standing bolt upright inside, and shaking with apprehension from head to foot. Bless us! what an appalling look old Lobbs gave him, as he dragged him out by the collar, and held him at arm’s length.

‘“Why, what the devil do you want here?” said old Lobbs, in a fearful voice.

‘Nathaniel Pipkin could make no reply, so old Lobbs shook him backwards and forwards, for two or three minutes, by way of arranging his ideas for him.

‘“What do you want here?” roared Lobbs; “I suppose you have come after my daughter, now!”

‘Old Lobbs merely said this as a sneer: for he did not believe that mortal presumption could have carried Nathaniel Pipkin so far. What was his indignation, when that poor man replied—

‘“Yes, I did, Mr. Lobbs, I did come after your daughter. I love her, Mr. Lobbs.”

‘“Why, you snivelling, wry-faced, puny villain,” gasped old Lobbs, paralysed by the atrocious confession; “what do you mean by that? Say this to my face! Damme, I’ll throttle you!”

‘It is by no means improbable that old Lobbs would have carried his threat into execution, in the excess of his rage, if his arm had not been stayed by a very unexpected apparition: to wit, the male cousin, who, stepping out of his closet, and walking up to old Lobbs, said—

‘“I cannot allow this harmless person, Sir, who has been asked here, in some girlish frolic, to take upon himself, in a very noble manner, the fault (if fault it is) which I am guilty of, and am ready to avow. I love your daughter, sir; and I came here for the purpose of meeting her.”

‘Old Lobbs opened his eyes very wide at this, but not wider than Nathaniel Pipkin.

‘“You did?” said Lobbs, at last finding breath to speak.

‘“I did.”

‘“And I forbade you this house, long ago.”

‘“You did, or I should not have been here, clandestinely, to-night.”

‘I am sorry to record it of old Lobbs, but I think he would have struck the cousin, if his pretty daughter, with her bright eyes swimming in tears, had not clung to his arm.

‘“Don’t stop him, Maria,” said the young man; “if he has the will to strike me, let him. I would not hurt a hair of his gray head, for the riches of the world.”

‘The old man cast down his eyes at this reproof, and they met those of his daughter. I have hinted once or twice before, that they were very bright eyes, and, though they were tearful now, their influence was by no means lessened. Old Lobbs turned his head away, as if to avoid being persuaded by them, when, as fortune would have it, he encountered the face of the wicked little cousin, who, half afraid for her brother, and half laughing at Nathaniel Pipkin, presented as bewitching an expression of countenance, with a touch of slyness in it, too, as any man, old or young, need look upon. She drew her arm coaxingly through the old man’s, and whispered something in his ear; and do what he would, old Lobbs couldn’t help breaking out into a smile, while a tear stole down his cheek at the same time.

‘Five minutes after this, the girls were brought down from the bedroom with a great deal of giggling and modesty; and while the young people were making themselves perfectly happy, old Lobbs got down the pipe, and smoked it; and it was a remarkable circumstance about that particular pipe of tobacco, that it was the most soothing and delightful one he ever smoked.

‘Nathaniel Pipkin thought it best to keep his own counsel, and by so doing gradually rose into high favour with old Lobbs, who taught him to smoke in time; and they used to sit out in the garden on the fine evenings, for many years afterwards, smoking and drinking in great state. He soon recovered the effects of his attachment, for we find his name in the parish register, as a witness to the marriage of Maria Lobbs to her cousin; and it also appears, by reference to other documents, that on the night of the wedding he was incarcerated in the village cage, for having, in a state of extreme intoxication, committed sundry excesses in the streets, in all of which he was aided and abetted by the bony apprentice with the thin legs.’






CHAPTER XVIII. BRIEFLY ILLUSTRATIVE OF TWO POINTS; FIRST, THE POWER OF HYSTERICS, AND, SECONDLY, THE FORCE OF CIRCUMSTANCES

For two days after the dejeune at Mrs. Hunter’s, the Pickwickians remained at Eatanswill, anxiously awaiting the arrival of some intelligence from their revered leader. Mr. Tupman and Mr. Snodgrass were once again left to their own means of amusement; for Mr. Winkle, in compliance with a most pressing invitation, continued to reside at Mr. Pott’s house, and to devote his time to the companionship of his amiable lady. Nor was the occasional society of Mr. Pott himself wanting to complete their felicity. Deeply immersed in the intensity of his speculations for the public weal and the destruction of the Independent, it was not the habit of that great man to descend from his mental pinnacle to the humble level of ordinary minds. On this occasion, however, and as if expressly in compliment to any follower of Mr. Pickwick’s, he unbent, relaxed, stepped down from his pedestal, and walked upon the ground, benignly adapting his remarks to the comprehension of the herd, and seeming in outward form, if not in spirit, to be one of them.

Such having been the demeanour of this celebrated public character towards Mr. Winkle, it will be readily imagined that considerable surprise was depicted on the countenance of the latter gentleman, when, as he was sitting alone in the breakfast-room, the door was hastily thrown open, and as hastily closed, on the entrance of Mr. Pott, who, stalking majestically towards him, and thrusting aside his proffered hand, ground his teeth, as if to put a sharper edge on what he was about to utter, and exclaimed, in a saw-like voice—

‘Serpent!’

‘Sir!’ exclaimed Mr. Winkle, starting from his chair.

‘Serpent, Sir,’ repeated Mr. Pott, raising his voice, and then suddenly depressing it: ‘I said, serpent, sir—make the most of it.’

When you have parted with a man at two o’clock in the morning, on terms of the utmost good-fellowship, and he meets you again, at half-past nine, and greets you as a serpent, it is not unreasonable to conclude that something of an unpleasant nature has occurred meanwhile. So Mr. Winkle thought. He returned Mr. Pott’s gaze of stone, and in compliance with that gentleman’s request, proceeded to make the most he could of the ‘serpent.’ The most, however, was nothing at all; so, after a profound silence of some minutes’ duration, he said,—

‘Serpent, Sir! Serpent, Mr. Pott! What can you mean, Sir?—this is pleasantry.’

‘Pleasantry, sir!’ exclaimed Pott, with a motion of the hand, indicative of a strong desire to hurl the Britannia metal teapot at the head of the visitor. ‘Pleasantry, sir!—But—no, I will be calm; I will be calm, Sir;’ in proof of his calmness, Mr. Pott flung himself into a chair, and foamed at the mouth.

‘My dear sir,’ interposed Mr. Winkle.

‘DEAR Sir!’ replied Pott. ‘How dare you address me, as dear Sir, Sir? How dare you look me in the face and do it, sir?’

‘Well, Sir, if you come to that,’ responded Mr. Winkle, ‘how dare you look me in the face, and call me a serpent, sir?’

‘Because you are one,’ replied Mr. Pott.

‘Prove it, Sir,’ said Mr. Winkle warmly. ‘Prove it.’

A malignant scowl passed over the profound face of the editor, as he drew from his pocket the Independent of that morning; and laying his finger on a particular paragraph, threw the journal across the table to Mr. Winkle.

That gentleman took it up, and read as follows:—

‘Our obscure and filthy contemporary, in some disgusting observations on the recent election for this borough, has presumed to violate the hallowed sanctity of private life, and to refer in a manner not to be misunderstood, to the personal affairs of our late candidate—aye, and notwithstanding his base defeat, we will add, our future member, Mr. Fizkin. What does our dastardly contemporary mean? What would the ruffian say, if we, setting at naught, like him, the decencies of social intercourse, were to raise the curtain which happily conceals His private life from general ridicule, not to say from general execration? What, if we were even to point out, and comment on, facts and circumstances, which are publicly notorious, and beheld by every one but our mole-eyed contemporary—what if we were to print the following effusion, which we received while we were writing the commencement of this article, from a talented fellow-townsman and correspondent?

     ‘“LINES TO A BRASS POT

   ‘“Oh Pott! if you’d known
   How false she’d have grown,
   When you heard the marriage bells tinkle;
   You’d have done then, I vow,
   What you cannot help now,

‘What,’ said Mr. Pott solemnly—‘what rhymes to “tinkle,” villain?’

‘What rhymes to tinkle?’ said Mrs. Pott, whose entrance at the moment forestalled the reply. ‘What rhymes to tinkle? Why, Winkle, I should conceive.’ Saying this, Mrs. Pott smiled sweetly on the disturbed Pickwickian, and extended her hand towards him. The agitated young man would have accepted it, in his confusion, had not Pott indignantly interposed.

‘Back, ma’am—back!’ said the editor. ‘Take his hand before my very face!’

‘Mr. P.!’ said his astonished lady.

‘Wretched woman, look here,’ exclaimed the husband. ‘Look here, ma’am—“Lines to a Brass Pot.” “Brass Pot”; that’s me, ma’am. “False she’d have grown”; that’s you, ma’am—you.’ With this ebullition of rage, which was not unaccompanied with something like a tremble, at the expression of his wife’s face, Mr. Pott dashed the current number of the Eatanswill Independent at her feet.

‘Upon my word, Sir,’ said the astonished Mrs. Pott, stooping to pick up the paper. ‘Upon my word, Sir!’

Mr. Pott winced beneath the contemptuous gaze of his wife. He had made a desperate struggle to screw up his courage, but it was fast coming unscrewed again.

There appears nothing very tremendous in this little sentence, ‘Upon my word, sir,’ when it comes to be read; but the tone of voice in which it was delivered, and the look that accompanied it, both seeming to bear reference to some revenge to be thereafter visited upon the head of Pott, produced their effect upon him. The most unskilful observer could have detected in his troubled countenance, a readiness to resign his Wellington boots to any efficient substitute who would have consented to stand in them at that moment.

Mrs. Pott read the paragraph, uttered a loud shriek, and threw herself at full length on the hearth-rug, screaming, and tapping it with the heels of her shoes, in a manner which could leave no doubt of the propriety of her feelings on the occasion.

‘My dear,’ said the terrified Pott, ‘I didn’t say I believed it;—I—’ but the unfortunate man’s voice was drowned in the screaming of his partner.

‘Mrs. Pott, let me entreat you, my dear ma’am, to compose yourself,’ said Mr. Winkle; but the shrieks and tappings were louder, and more frequent than ever.

‘My dear,’ said Mr. Pott, ‘I’m very sorry. If you won’t consider your own health, consider me, my dear. We shall have a crowd round the house.’ But the more strenuously Mr. Pott entreated, the more vehemently the screams poured forth.

Very fortunately, however, attached to Mrs. Pott’s person was a bodyguard of one, a young lady whose ostensible employment was to preside over her toilet, but who rendered herself useful in a variety of ways, and in none more so than in the particular department of constantly aiding and abetting her mistress in every wish and inclination opposed to the desires of the unhappy Pott. The screams reached this young lady’s ears in due course, and brought her into the room with a speed which threatened to derange, materially, the very exquisite arrangement of her cap and ringlets.

‘Oh, my dear, dear mistress!’ exclaimed the bodyguard, kneeling frantically by the side of the prostrate Mrs. Pott. ‘Oh, my dear mistress, what is the matter?’

‘Your master—your brutal master,’ murmured the patient.

Pott was evidently giving way.

‘It’s a shame,’ said the bodyguard reproachfully. ‘I know he’ll be the death on you, ma’am. Poor dear thing!’

He gave way more. The opposite party followed up the attack.

‘Oh, don’t leave me—don’t leave me, Goodwin,’ murmured Mrs. Pott, clutching at the wrist of the said Goodwin with an hysteric jerk. ‘You’re the only person that’s kind to me, Goodwin.’

At this affecting appeal, Goodwin got up a little domestic tragedy of her own, and shed tears copiously.

‘Never, ma’am—never,’ said Goodwin. ‘Oh, sir, you should be careful—you should indeed; you don’t know what harm you may do missis; you’ll be sorry for it one day, I know—I’ve always said so.’

The unlucky Pott looked timidly on, but said nothing.

‘Goodwin,’ said Mrs. Pott, in a soft voice.

‘Ma’am,’ said Goodwin.

‘If you only knew how I have loved that man—’

Don’t distress yourself by recollecting it, ma’am,’ said the bodyguard.

Pott looked very frightened. It was time to finish him.

‘And now,’ sobbed Mrs. Pott, ‘now, after all, to be treated in this way; to be reproached and insulted in the presence of a third party, and that party almost a stranger. But I will not submit to it! Goodwin,’ continued Mrs. Pott, raising herself in the arms of her attendant, ‘my brother, the lieutenant, shall interfere. I’ll be separated, Goodwin!’

‘It would certainly serve him right, ma’am,’ said Goodwin.

Whatever thoughts the threat of a separation might have awakened in Mr. Pott’s mind, he forbore to give utterance to them, and contented himself by saying, with great humility:—

‘My dear, will you hear me?’

A fresh train of sobs was the only reply, as Mrs. Pott grew more hysterical, requested to be informed why she was ever born, and required sundry other pieces of information of a similar description.

‘My dear,’ remonstrated Mr. Pott, ‘do not give way to these sensitive feelings. I never believed that the paragraph had any foundation, my dear—impossible. I was only angry, my dear—I may say outrageous—with the Independent people for daring to insert it; that’s all.’ Mr. Pott cast an imploring look at the innocent cause of the mischief, as if to entreat him to say nothing about the serpent.

‘And what steps, sir, do you mean to take to obtain redress?’ inquired Mr. Winkle, gaining courage as he saw Pott losing it.

‘Oh, Goodwin,’ observed Mrs. Pott, ‘does he mean to horsewhip the editor of the Independent—does he, Goodwin?’

‘Hush, hush, ma’am; pray keep yourself quiet,’ replied the bodyguard. ‘I dare say he will, if you wish it, ma’am.’

‘Certainly,’ said Pott, as his wife evinced decided symptoms of going off again. ‘Of course I shall.’

‘When, Goodwin—when?’ said Mrs. Pott, still undecided about the going off.

‘Immediately, of course,’ said Mr. Pott; ‘before the day is out.’

‘Oh, Goodwin,’ resumed Mrs. Pott, ‘it’s the only way of meeting the slander, and setting me right with the world.’

‘Certainly, ma’am,’ replied Goodwin. ‘No man as is a man, ma’am, could refuse to do it.’

So, as the hysterics were still hovering about, Mr. Pott said once more that he would do it; but Mrs. Pott was so overcome at the bare idea of having ever been suspected, that she was half a dozen times on the very verge of a relapse, and most unquestionably would have gone off, had it not been for the indefatigable efforts of the assiduous Goodwin, and repeated entreaties for pardon from the conquered Pott; and finally, when that unhappy individual had been frightened and snubbed down to his proper level, Mrs. Pott recovered, and they went to breakfast.

‘You will not allow this base newspaper slander to shorten your stay here, Mr. Winkle?’ said Mrs. Pott, smiling through the traces of her tears.

‘I hope not,’ said Mr. Pott, actuated, as he spoke, by a wish that his visitor would choke himself with the morsel of dry toast which he was raising to his lips at the moment, and so terminate his stay effectually.

‘I hope not.’

‘You are very good,’ said Mr. Winkle; ‘but a letter has been received from Mr. Pickwick—so I learn by a note from Mr. Tupman, which was brought up to my bedroom door, this morning—in which he requests us to join him at Bury to-day; and we are to leave by the coach at noon.’

‘But you will come back?’ said Mrs. Pott.

‘Oh, certainly,’ replied Mr. Winkle.

‘You are quite sure?’ said Mrs. Pott, stealing a tender look at her visitor.

‘Quite,’ responded Mr. Winkle.

The breakfast passed off in silence, for each of the party was brooding over his, or her, own personal grievances. Mrs. Pott was regretting the loss of a beau; Mr. Pott his rash pledge to horsewhip the Independent; Mr. Winkle his having innocently placed himself in so awkward a situation. Noon approached, and after many adieux and promises to return, he tore himself away.

‘If he ever comes back, I’ll poison him,’ thought Mr. Pott, as he turned into the little back office where he prepared his thunderbolts.

‘If I ever do come back, and mix myself up with these people again,’ thought Mr. Winkle, as he wended his way to the Peacock, ‘I shall deserve to be horsewhipped myself—that’s all.’

His friends were ready, the coach was nearly so, and in half an hour they were proceeding on their journey, along the road over which Mr. Pickwick and Sam had so recently travelled, and of which, as we have already said something, we do not feel called upon to extract Mr. Snodgrass’s poetical and beautiful description.

Mr. Weller was standing at the door of the Angel, ready to receive them, and by that gentleman they were ushered to the apartment of Mr. Pickwick, where, to the no small surprise of Mr. Winkle and Mr. Snodgrass, and the no small embarrassment of Mr. Tupman, they found old Wardle and Trundle.

‘How are you?’ said the old man, grasping Mr. Tupman’s hand. ‘Don’t hang back, or look sentimental about it; it can’t be helped, old fellow. For her sake, I wish you’d had her; for your own, I’m very glad you have not. A young fellow like you will do better one of these days, eh?’ With this conclusion, Wardle slapped Mr. Tupman on the back, and laughed heartily.

‘Well, and how are you, my fine fellows?’ said the old gentleman, shaking hands with Mr. Winkle and Mr. Snodgrass at the same time. ‘I have just been telling Pickwick that we must have you all down at Christmas. We’re going to have a wedding—a real wedding this time.’

‘A wedding!’ exclaimed Mr. Snodgrass, turning very pale.

‘Yes, a wedding. But don’t be frightened,’ said the good-humoured old man; ‘it’s only Trundle there, and Bella.’

‘Oh, is that all?’ said Mr. Snodgrass, relieved from a painful doubt which had fallen heavily on his breast. ‘Give you joy, Sir. How is Joe?’

‘Very well,’ replied the old gentleman. ‘Sleepy as ever.’

‘And your mother, and the clergyman, and all of ‘em?’

‘Quite well.’

‘Where,’ said Mr. Tupman, with an effort—‘where is—she, Sir?’ and he turned away his head, and covered his eyes with his hand.

‘She!’ said the old gentleman, with a knowing shake of the head. ‘Do you mean my single relative—eh?’

Mr. Tupman, by a nod, intimated that his question applied to the disappointed Rachael.

‘Oh, she’s gone away,’ said the old gentleman. ‘She’s living at a relation’s, far enough off. She couldn’t bear to see the girls, so I let her go. But come! Here’s the dinner. You must be hungry after your ride. I am, without any ride at all; so let us fall to.’

Ample justice was done to the meal; and when they were seated round the table, after it had been disposed of, Mr. Pickwick, to the intense horror and indignation of his followers, related the adventure he had undergone, and the success which had attended the base artifices of the diabolical Jingle.

‘And the attack of rheumatism which I caught in that garden,’ said Mr. Pickwick, in conclusion, ‘renders me lame at this moment.’

‘I, too, have had something of an adventure,’ said Mr. Winkle, with a smile; and, at the request of Mr. Pickwick, he detailed the malicious libel of the Eatanswill Independent, and the consequent excitement of their friend, the editor.

Mr. Pickwick’s brow darkened during the recital. His friends observed it, and, when Mr. Winkle had concluded, maintained a profound silence. Mr. Pickwick struck the table emphatically with his clenched fist, and spoke as follows:—

‘Is it not a wonderful circumstance,’ said Mr. Pickwick, ‘that we seem destined to enter no man’s house without involving him in some degree of trouble? Does it not, I ask, bespeak the indiscretion, or, worse than that, the blackness of heart—that I should say so!—of my followers, that, beneath whatever roof they locate, they disturb the peace of mind and happiness of some confiding female? Is it not, I say—’

Mr. Pickwick would in all probability have gone on for some time, had not the entrance of Sam, with a letter, caused him to break off in his eloquent discourse. He passed his handkerchief across his forehead, took off his spectacles, wiped them, and put them on again; and his voice had recovered its wonted softness of tone when he said—

‘What have you there, Sam?’

‘Called at the post-office just now, and found this here letter, as has laid there for two days,’ replied Mr. Weller. ‘It’s sealed vith a vafer, and directed in round hand.’

‘I don’t know this hand,’ said Mr. Pickwick, opening the letter. ‘Mercy on us! what’s this? It must be a jest; it—it—can’t be true.’

‘What’s the matter?’ was the general inquiry.

‘Nobody dead, is there?’ said Wardle, alarmed at the horror in Mr. Pickwick’s countenance.

Mr. Pickwick made no reply, but, pushing the letter across the table, and desiring Mr. Tupman to read it aloud, fell back in his chair with a look of vacant astonishment quite alarming to behold.

Mr. Tupman, with a trembling voice, read the letter, of which the following is a copy:—

Freeman’s Court, Cornhill, August 28th, 1827.

Bardell against Pickwick.

Sir,

Having been instructed by Mrs. Martha Bardell to commence an action against you for a breach of promise of marriage, for which the plaintiff lays her damages at fifteen hundred pounds, we beg to inform you that a writ has been issued against you in this suit in the Court of Common Pleas; and request to know, by return of post, the name of your attorney in London, who will accept service thereof.

We are, Sir, Your obedient servants, Dodson & Fogg.

Mr. Samuel Pickwick.

There was something so impressive in the mute astonishment with which each man regarded his neighbour, and every man regarded Mr. Pickwick, that all seemed afraid to speak. The silence was at length broken by Mr. Tupman.

‘Dodson and Fogg,’ he repeated mechanically.

‘Bardell and Pickwick,’ said Mr. Snodgrass, musing.

‘Peace of mind and happiness of confiding females,’ murmured Mr. Winkle, with an air of abstraction.

‘It’s a conspiracy,’ said Mr. Pickwick, at length recovering the power of speech; ‘a base conspiracy between these two grasping attorneys, Dodson and Fogg. Mrs. Bardell would never do it;—she hasn’t the heart to do it;—she hasn’t the case to do it. Ridiculous—ridiculous.’

Of her heart,’ said Wardle, with a smile, ‘you should certainly be the best judge. I don’t wish to discourage you, but I should certainly say that, of her case, Dodson and Fogg are far better judges than any of us can be.’

‘It’s a vile attempt to extort money,’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘I hope it is,’ said Wardle, with a short, dry cough.

‘Who ever heard me address her in any way but that in which a lodger would address his landlady?’ continued Mr. Pickwick, with great vehemence. ‘Who ever saw me with her? Not even my friends here—’

‘Except on one occasion,’ said Mr. Tupman.

Mr. Pickwick changed colour.

‘Ah,’ said Mr. Wardle. ‘Well, that’s important. There was nothing suspicious then, I suppose?’

Mr. Tupman glanced timidly at his leader. ‘Why,’ said he, ‘there was nothing suspicious; but—I don’t know how it happened, mind—she certainly was reclining in his arms.’

‘Gracious powers!’ ejaculated Mr. Pickwick, as the recollection of the scene in question struck forcibly upon him; ‘what a dreadful instance of the force of circumstances! So she was—so she was.’

‘And our friend was soothing her anguish,’ said Mr. Winkle, rather maliciously.

‘So I was,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘I don’t deny it. So I was.’

‘Hollo!’ said Wardle; ‘for a case in which there’s nothing suspicious, this looks rather queer—eh, Pickwick? Ah, sly dog—sly dog!’ and he laughed till the glasses on the sideboard rang again.

‘What a dreadful conjunction of appearances!’ exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, resting his chin upon his hands. ‘Winkle—Tupman—I beg your pardon for the observations I made just now. We are all the victims of circumstances, and I the greatest.’ With this apology Mr. Pickwick buried his head in his hands, and ruminated; while Wardle measured out a regular circle of nods and winks, addressed to the other members of the company.

‘I’ll have it explained, though,’ said Mr. Pickwick, raising his head and hammering the table. ‘I’ll see this Dodson and Fogg! I’ll go to London to-morrow.’

‘Not to-morrow,’ said Wardle; ‘you’re too lame.’

‘Well, then, next day.’

‘Next day is the first of September, and you’re pledged to ride out with us, as far as Sir Geoffrey Manning’s grounds at all events, and to meet us at lunch, if you don’t take the field.’

‘Well, then, the day after,’ said Mr. Pickwick; ‘Thursday.—Sam!’

‘Sir,’ replied Mr. Weller.

‘Take two places outside to London, on Thursday morning, for yourself and me.’

‘Wery well, Sir.’

Mr. Weller left the room, and departed slowly on his errand, with his hands in his pocket and his eyes fixed on the ground.

‘Rum feller, the hemperor,’ said Mr. Weller, as he walked slowly up the street. ‘Think o’ his makin’ up to that ‘ere Mrs. Bardell—vith a little boy, too! Always the vay vith these here old ‘uns howsoever, as is such steady goers to look at. I didn’t think he’d ha’ done it, though—I didn’t think he’d ha’ done it!’ Moralising in this strain, Mr. Samuel Weller bent his steps towards the booking-office.






CHAPTER XIX. A PLEASANT DAY WITH AN UNPLEASANT TERMINATION

The birds, who, happily for their own peace of mind and personal comfort, were in blissful ignorance of the preparations which had been making to astonish them, on the first of September, hailed it, no doubt, as one of the pleasantest mornings they had seen that season. Many a young partridge who strutted complacently among the stubble, with all the finicking coxcombry of youth, and many an older one who watched his levity out of his little round eye, with the contemptuous air of a bird of wisdom and experience, alike unconscious of their approaching doom, basked in the fresh morning air with lively and blithesome feelings, and a few hours afterwards were laid low upon the earth. But we grow affecting: let us proceed.

In plain commonplace matter-of-fact, then, it was a fine morning—so fine that you would scarcely have believed that the few months of an English summer had yet flown by. Hedges, fields, and trees, hill and moorland, presented to the eye their ever-varying shades of deep rich green; scarce a leaf had fallen, scarce a sprinkle of yellow mingled with the hues of summer, warned you that autumn had begun. The sky was cloudless; the sun shone out bright and warm; the songs of birds, the hum of myriads of summer insects, filled the air; and the cottage gardens, crowded with flowers of every rich and beautiful tint, sparkled, in the heavy dew, like beds of glittering jewels. Everything bore the stamp of summer, and none of its beautiful colour had yet faded from the die.

Such was the morning, when an open carriage, in which were three Pickwickians (Mr. Snodgrass having preferred to remain at home), Mr. Wardle, and Mr. Trundle, with Sam Weller on the box beside the driver, pulled up by a gate at the roadside, before which stood a tall, raw-boned gamekeeper, and a half-booted, leather-legginged boy, each bearing a bag of capacious dimensions, and accompanied by a brace of pointers.

‘I say,’ whispered Mr. Winkle to Wardle, as the man let down the steps, ‘they don’t suppose we’re going to kill game enough to fill those bags, do they?’

‘Fill them!’ exclaimed old Wardle. ‘Bless you, yes! You shall fill one, and I the other; and when we’ve done with them, the pockets of our shooting-jackets will hold as much more.’

Mr. Winkle dismounted without saying anything in reply to this observation; but he thought within himself, that if the party remained in the open air, till he had filled one of the bags, they stood a considerable chance of catching colds in their heads.

‘Hi, Juno, lass-hi, old girl; down, Daph, down,’ said Wardle, caressing the dogs. ‘Sir Geoffrey still in Scotland, of course, Martin?’

The tall gamekeeper replied in the affirmative, and looked with some surprise from Mr. Winkle, who was holding his gun as if he wished his coat pocket to save him the trouble of pulling the trigger, to Mr. Tupman, who was holding his as if he was afraid of it—as there is no earthly reason to doubt he really was.

‘My friends are not much in the way of this sort of thing yet, Martin,’ said Wardle, noticing the look. ‘Live and learn, you know. They’ll be good shots one of these days. I beg my friend Winkle’s pardon, though; he has had some practice.’

Mr. Winkle smiled feebly over his blue neckerchief in acknowledgment of the compliment, and got himself so mysteriously entangled with his gun, in his modest confusion, that if the piece had been loaded, he must inevitably have shot himself dead upon the spot.

‘You mustn’t handle your piece in that ‘ere way, when you come to have the charge in it, Sir,’ said the tall gamekeeper gruffly; ‘or I’m damned if you won’t make cold meat of some on us.’

Mr. Winkle, thus admonished, abruptly altered his position, and in so doing, contrived to bring the barrel into pretty smart contact with Mr. Weller’s head.

‘Hollo!’ said Sam, picking up his hat, which had been knocked off, and rubbing his temple. ‘Hollo, sir! if you comes it this vay, you’ll fill one o’ them bags, and something to spare, at one fire.’

Here the leather-legginged boy laughed very heartily, and then tried to look as if it was somebody else, whereat Mr. Winkle frowned majestically.

‘Where did you tell the boy to meet us with the snack, Martin?’ inquired Wardle.

‘Side of One-tree Hill, at twelve o’clock, Sir.’

‘That’s not Sir Geoffrey’s land, is it?’

‘No, Sir; but it’s close by it. It’s Captain Boldwig’s land; but there’ll be nobody to interrupt us, and there’s a fine bit of turf there.’

‘Very well,’ said old Wardle. ‘Now the sooner we’re off the better. Will you join us at twelve, then, Pickwick?’

Mr. Pickwick was particularly desirous to view the sport, the more especially as he was rather anxious in respect of Mr. Winkle’s life and limbs. On so inviting a morning, too, it was very tantalising to turn back, and leave his friends to enjoy themselves. It was, therefore, with a very rueful air that he replied—

‘Why, I suppose I must.’

‘Ain’t the gentleman a shot, Sir?’ inquired the long gamekeeper.

‘No,’ replied Wardle; ‘and he’s lame besides.’

‘I should very much like to go,’ said Mr. Pickwick—‘very much.’

There was a short pause of commiseration.

‘There’s a barrow t’other side the hedge,’ said the boy. ‘If the gentleman’s servant would wheel along the paths, he could keep nigh us, and we could lift it over the stiles, and that.’

‘The wery thing,’ said Mr. Weller, who was a party interested, inasmuch as he ardently longed to see the sport. ‘The wery thing. Well said, Smallcheek; I’ll have it out in a minute.’

But here a difficulty arose. The long gamekeeper resolutely protested against the introduction into a shooting party, of a gentleman in a barrow, as a gross violation of all established rules and precedents.

It was a great objection, but not an insurmountable one. The gamekeeper having been coaxed and feed, and having, moreover, eased his mind by ‘punching’ the head of the inventive youth who had first suggested the use of the machine, Mr. Pickwick was placed in it, and off the party set; Wardle and the long gamekeeper leading the way, and Mr. Pickwick in the barrow, propelled by Sam, bringing up the rear.

‘Stop, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick, when they had got half across the first field.

‘What’s the matter now?’ said Wardle.

‘I won’t suffer this barrow to be moved another step,’ said Mr. Pickwick, resolutely, ‘unless Winkle carries that gun of his in a different manner.’

‘How am I to carry it?’ said the wretched Winkle.

‘Carry it with the muzzle to the ground,’ replied Mr. Pickwick.

‘It’s so unsportsmanlike,’ reasoned Winkle.

‘I don’t care whether it’s unsportsmanlike or not,’ replied Mr. Pickwick; ‘I am not going to be shot in a wheel-barrow, for the sake of appearances, to please anybody.’

‘I know the gentleman’ll put that ‘ere charge into somebody afore he’s done,’ growled the long man.

‘Well, well—I don’t mind,’ said poor Winkle, turning his gun-stock uppermost—‘there.’

‘Anythin’ for a quiet life,’ said Mr. Weller; and on they went again.

‘Stop!’ said Mr. Pickwick, after they had gone a few yards farther.

‘What now?’ said Wardle.

‘That gun of Tupman’s is not safe: I know it isn’t,’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘Eh? What! not safe?’ said Mr. Tupman, in a tone of great alarm.

‘Not as you are carrying it,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘I am very sorry to make any further objection, but I cannot consent to go on, unless you carry it as Winkle does his.’

‘I think you had better, sir,’ said the long gamekeeper, ‘or you’re quite as likely to lodge the charge in yourself as in anything else.’

Mr. Tupman, with the most obliging haste, placed his piece in the position required, and the party moved on again; the two amateurs marching with reversed arms, like a couple of privates at a royal funeral.

The dogs suddenly came to a dead stop, and the party advancing stealthily a single pace, stopped too.

‘What’s the matter with the dogs’ legs?’ whispered Mr. Winkle. ‘How queer they’re standing.’

‘Hush, can’t you?’ replied Wardle softly. ‘Don’t you see, they’re making a point?’

‘Making a point!’ said Mr. Winkle, staring about him, as if he expected to discover some particular beauty in the landscape, which the sagacious animals were calling special attention to. ‘Making a point! What are they pointing at?’

‘Keep your eyes open,’ said Wardle, not heeding the question in the excitement of the moment. ‘Now then.’

There was a sharp whirring noise, that made Mr. Winkle start back as if he had been shot himself. Bang, bang, went a couple of guns—the smoke swept quickly away over the field, and curled into the air.

‘Where are they!’ said Mr. Winkle, in a state of the highest excitement, turning round and round in all directions. ‘Where are they? Tell me when to fire. Where are they—where are they?’

‘Where are they!’ said Wardle, taking up a brace of birds which the dogs had deposited at his feet. ‘Why, here they are.’

‘No, no; I mean the others,’ said the bewildered Winkle.

‘Far enough off, by this time,’ replied Wardle, coolly reloading his gun.

‘We shall very likely be up with another covey in five minutes,’ said the long gamekeeper. ‘If the gentleman begins to fire now, perhaps he’ll just get the shot out of the barrel by the time they rise.’

‘Ha! ha! ha!’ roared Mr. Weller.

‘Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick, compassionating his follower’s confusion and embarrassment.

‘Sir.’

‘Don’t laugh.’

‘Certainly not, Sir.’ So, by way of indemnification, Mr. Weller contorted his features from behind the wheel-barrow, for the exclusive amusement of the boy with the leggings, who thereupon burst into a boisterous laugh, and was summarily cuffed by the long gamekeeper, who wanted a pretext for turning round, to hide his own merriment.

‘Bravo, old fellow!’ said Wardle to Mr. Tupman; ‘you fired that time, at all events.’

‘Oh, yes,’ replied Mr. Tupman, with conscious pride. ‘I let it off.’

‘Well done. You’ll hit something next time, if you look sharp. Very easy, ain’t it?’

‘Yes, it’s very easy,’ said Mr. Tupman. ‘How it hurts one’s shoulder, though. It nearly knocked me backwards. I had no idea these small firearms kicked so.’

‘Ah,’ said the old gentleman, smiling, ‘you’ll get used to it in time. Now then—all ready—all right with the barrow there?’

‘All right, Sir,’ replied Mr. Weller.

‘Come along, then.’

‘Hold hard, Sir,’ said Sam, raising the barrow.

‘Aye, aye,’ replied Mr. Pickwick; and on they went, as briskly as need be.

‘Keep that barrow back now,’ cried Wardle, when it had been hoisted over a stile into another field, and Mr. Pickwick had been deposited in it once more.

‘All right, sir,’ replied Mr. Weller, pausing.

‘Now, Winkle,’ said the old gentleman, ‘follow me softly, and don’t be too late this time.’

‘Never fear,’ said Mr. Winkle. ‘Are they pointing?’

‘No, no; not now. Quietly now, quietly.’ On they crept, and very quietly they would have advanced, if Mr. Winkle, in the performance of some very intricate evolutions with his gun, had not accidentally fired, at the most critical moment, over the boy’s head, exactly in the very spot where the tall man’s brain would have been, had he been there instead.

‘Why, what on earth did you do that for?’ said old Wardle, as the birds flew unharmed away.

‘I never saw such a gun in my life,’ replied poor Mr. Winkle, looking at the lock, as if that would do any good. ‘It goes off of its own accord. It will do it.’

‘Will do it!’ echoed Wardle, with something of irritation in his manner. ‘I wish it would kill something of its own accord.’

‘It’ll do that afore long, Sir,’ observed the tall man, in a low, prophetic voice.

‘What do you mean by that observation, Sir?’ inquired Mr. Winkle, angrily.

‘Never mind, Sir, never mind,’ replied the long gamekeeper; ‘I’ve no family myself, sir; and this here boy’s mother will get something handsome from Sir Geoffrey, if he’s killed on his land. Load again, Sir, load again.’

‘Take away his gun,’ cried Mr. Pickwick from the barrow, horror-stricken at the long man’s dark insinuations. ‘Take away his gun, do you hear, somebody?’

Nobody, however, volunteered to obey the command; and Mr. Winkle, after darting a rebellious glance at Mr. Pickwick, reloaded his gun, and proceeded onwards with the rest.

We are bound, on the authority of Mr. Pickwick, to state, that Mr. Tupman’s mode of proceeding evinced far more of prudence and deliberation, than that adopted by Mr. Winkle. Still, this by no means detracts from the great authority of the latter gentleman, on all matters connected with the field; because, as Mr. Pickwick beautifully observes, it has somehow or other happened, from time immemorial, that many of the best and ablest philosophers, who have been perfect lights of science in matters of theory, have been wholly unable to reduce them to practice.

Mr. Tupman’s process, like many of our most sublime discoveries, was extremely simple. With the quickness and penetration of a man of genius, he had at once observed that the two great points to be attained were—first, to discharge his piece without injury to himself, and, secondly, to do so, without danger to the bystanders—obviously, the best thing to do, after surmounting the difficulty of firing at all, was to shut his eyes firmly, and fire into the air.

On one occasion, after performing this feat, Mr. Tupman, on opening his eyes, beheld a plump partridge in the act of falling, wounded, to the ground. He was on the point of congratulating Mr. Wardle on his invariable success, when that gentleman advanced towards him, and grasped him warmly by the hand.

‘Tupman,’ said the old gentleman, ‘you singled out that particular bird?’

‘No,’ said Mr. Tupman—‘no.’

‘You did,’ said Wardle. ‘I saw you do it—I observed you pick him out—I noticed you, as you raised your piece to take aim; and I will say this, that the best shot in existence could not have done it more beautifully. You are an older hand at this than I thought you, Tupman; you have been out before.’

It was in vain for Mr. Tupman to protest, with a smile of self-denial, that he never had. The very smile was taken as evidence to the contrary; and from that time forth his reputation was established. It is not the only reputation that has been acquired as easily, nor are such fortunate circumstances confined to partridge-shooting.

Meanwhile, Mr. Winkle flashed, and blazed, and smoked away, without producing any material results worthy of being noted down; sometimes expending his charge in mid-air, and at others sending it skimming along so near the surface of the ground as to place the lives of the two dogs on a rather uncertain and precarious tenure. As a display of fancy-shooting, it was extremely varied and curious; as an exhibition of firing with any precise object, it was, upon the whole, perhaps a failure. It is an established axiom, that ‘every bullet has its billet.’ If it apply in an equal degree to shot, those of Mr. Winkle were unfortunate foundlings, deprived of their natural rights, cast loose upon the world, and billeted nowhere.

‘Well,’ said Wardle, walking up to the side of the barrow, and wiping the streams of perspiration from his jolly red face; ‘smoking day, isn’t it?’

‘It is, indeed,’ replied Mr. Pickwick. The sun is tremendously hot, even to me. I don’t know how you must feel it.’

‘Why,’ said the old gentleman, ‘pretty hot. It’s past twelve, though. You see that green hill there?’

‘Certainly.’

‘That’s the place where we are to lunch; and, by Jove, there’s the boy with the basket, punctual as clockwork!’

‘So he is,’ said Mr. Pickwick, brightening up. ‘Good boy, that. I’ll give him a shilling, presently. Now, then, Sam, wheel away.’

‘Hold on, sir,’ said Mr. Weller, invigorated with the prospect of refreshments. ‘Out of the vay, young leathers. If you walley my precious life don’t upset me, as the gen’l’m’n said to the driver when they was a-carryin’ him to Tyburn.’ And quickening his pace to a sharp run, Mr. Weller wheeled his master nimbly to the green hill, shot him dexterously out by the very side of the basket, and proceeded to unpack it with the utmost despatch.

‘Weal pie,’ said Mr. Weller, soliloquising, as he arranged the eatables on the grass. ‘Wery good thing is weal pie, when you know the lady as made it, and is quite sure it ain’t kittens; and arter all though, where’s the odds, when they’re so like weal that the wery piemen themselves don’t know the difference?’

‘Don’t they, Sam?’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘Not they, sir,’ replied Mr. Weller, touching his hat. ‘I lodged in the same house vith a pieman once, sir, and a wery nice man he was—reg’lar clever chap, too—make pies out o’ anything, he could. “What a number o’ cats you keep, Mr. Brooks,” says I, when I’d got intimate with him. “Ah,” says he, “I do—a good many,” says he, “You must be wery fond o’ cats,” says I. “Other people is,” says he, a-winkin’ at me; “they ain’t in season till the winter though,” says he. “Not in season!” says I. “No,” says he, “fruits is in, cats is out.” “Why, what do you mean?” says I. “Mean!” says he. “That I’ll never be a party to the combination o’ the butchers, to keep up the price o’ meat,” says he. “Mr. Weller,” says he, a-squeezing my hand wery hard, and vispering in my ear—“don’t mention this here agin—but it’s the seasonin’ as does it. They’re all made o’ them noble animals,” says he, a-pointin’ to a wery nice little tabby kitten, “and I seasons ‘em for beefsteak, weal or kidney, ‘cording to the demand. And more than that,” says he, “I can make a weal a beef-steak, or a beef-steak a kidney, or any one on ‘em a mutton, at a minute’s notice, just as the market changes, and appetites wary!”’

‘He must have been a very ingenious young man, that, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick, with a slight shudder.

‘Just was, sir,’ replied Mr. Weller, continuing his occupation of emptying the basket, ‘and the pies was beautiful. Tongue—, well that’s a wery good thing when it ain’t a woman’s. Bread—knuckle o’ ham, reg’lar picter—cold beef in slices, wery good. What’s in them stone jars, young touch-and-go?’

‘Beer in this one,’ replied the boy, taking from his shoulder a couple of large stone bottles, fastened together by a leathern strap—‘cold punch in t’other.’

‘And a wery good notion of a lunch it is, take it altogether,’ said Mr. Weller, surveying his arrangement of the repast with great satisfaction. ‘Now, gen’l’m’n, “fall on,” as the English said to the French when they fixed bagginets.’

It needed no second invitation to induce the party to yield full justice to the meal; and as little pressing did it require to induce Mr. Weller, the long gamekeeper, and the two boys, to station themselves on the grass, at a little distance, and do good execution upon a decent proportion of the viands. An old oak afforded a pleasant shelter to the group, and a rich prospect of arable and meadow land, intersected with luxuriant hedges, and richly ornamented with wood, lay spread out before them.

‘This is delightful—thoroughly delightful!’ said Mr. Pickwick; the skin of whose expressive countenance was rapidly peeling off, with exposure to the sun.

‘So it is—so it is, old fellow,’ replied Wardle. ‘Come; a glass of punch!’

‘With great pleasure,’ said Mr. Pickwick; the satisfaction of whose countenance, after drinking it, bore testimony to the sincerity of the reply.

‘Good,’ said Mr. Pickwick, smacking his lips. ‘Very good. I’ll take another. Cool; very cool. Come, gentlemen,’ continued Mr. Pickwick, still retaining his hold upon the jar, ‘a toast. Our friends at Dingley Dell.’

The toast was drunk with loud acclamations.

‘I’ll tell you what I shall do, to get up my shooting again,’ said Mr. Winkle, who was eating bread and ham with a pocket-knife. ‘I’ll put a stuffed partridge on the top of a post, and practise at it, beginning at a short distance, and lengthening it by degrees. I understand it’s capital practice.’

‘I know a gen’l’man, Sir,’ said Mr. Weller, ‘as did that, and begun at two yards; but he never tried it on agin; for he blowed the bird right clean away at the first fire, and nobody ever seed a feather on him arterwards.’

‘Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘Sir,’ replied Mr. Weller.

‘Have the goodness to reserve your anecdotes till they are called for.’

‘Cert’nly, sir.’

Here Mr. Weller winked the eye which was not concealed by the beer-can he was raising to his lips, with such exquisite facetiousness, that the two boys went into spontaneous convulsions, and even the long man condescended to smile.

‘Well, that certainly is most capital cold punch,’ said Mr. Pickwick, looking earnestly at the stone bottle; ‘and the day is extremely warm, and—Tupman, my dear friend, a glass of punch?’

‘With the greatest delight,’ replied Mr. Tupman; and having drank that glass, Mr. Pickwick took another, just to see whether there was any orange peel in the punch, because orange peel always disagreed with him; and finding that there was not, Mr. Pickwick took another glass to the health of their absent friend, and then felt himself imperatively called upon to propose another in honour of the punch-compounder, unknown.

This constant succession of glasses produced considerable effect upon Mr. Pickwick; his countenance beamed with the most sunny smiles, laughter played around his lips, and good-humoured merriment twinkled in his eye. Yielding by degrees to the influence of the exciting liquid, rendered more so by the heat, Mr. Pickwick expressed a strong desire to recollect a song which he had heard in his infancy, and the attempt proving abortive, sought to stimulate his memory with more glasses of punch, which appeared to have quite a contrary effect; for, from forgetting the words of the song, he began to forget how to articulate any words at all; and finally, after rising to his legs to address the company in an eloquent speech, he fell into the barrow, and fast asleep, simultaneously.

The basket having been repacked, and it being found perfectly impossible to awaken Mr. Pickwick from his torpor, some discussion took place whether it would be better for Mr. Weller to wheel his master back again, or to leave him where he was, until they should all be ready to return. The latter course was at length decided on; and as the further expedition was not to exceed an hour’s duration, and as Mr. Weller begged very hard to be one of the party, it was determined to leave Mr. Pickwick asleep in the barrow, and to call for him on their return. So away they went, leaving Mr. Pickwick snoring most comfortably in the shade.

That Mr. Pickwick would have continued to snore in the shade until his friends came back, or, in default thereof, until the shades of evening had fallen on the landscape, there appears no reasonable cause to doubt; always supposing that he had been suffered to remain there in peace. But he was not suffered to remain there in peace. And this was what prevented him.

Captain Boldwig was a little fierce man in a stiff black neckerchief and blue surtout, who, when he did condescend to walk about his property, did it in company with a thick rattan stick with a brass ferrule, and a gardener and sub-gardener with meek faces, to whom (the gardeners, not the stick) Captain Boldwig gave his orders with all due grandeur and ferocity; for Captain Boldwig’s wife’s sister had married a marquis, and the captain’s house was a villa, and his land ‘grounds,’ and it was all very high, and mighty, and great.

Mr. Pickwick had not been asleep half an hour when little Captain Boldwig, followed by the two gardeners, came striding along as fast as his size and importance would let him; and when he came near the oak tree, Captain Boldwig paused and drew a long breath, and looked at the prospect as if he thought the prospect ought to be highly gratified at having him to take notice of it; and then he struck the ground emphatically with his stick, and summoned the head-gardener.

‘Hunt,’ said Captain Boldwig.

‘Yes, Sir,’ said the gardener.

‘Roll this place to-morrow morning—do you hear, Hunt?’

‘Yes, Sir.’

‘And take care that you keep this place in good order—do you hear, Hunt?’

‘Yes, Sir.’

‘And remind me to have a board done about trespassers, and spring guns, and all that sort of thing, to keep the common people out. Do you hear, Hunt; do you hear?’

‘I’ll not forget it, Sir.’

‘I beg your pardon, Sir,’ said the other man, advancing, with his hand to his hat.

‘Well, Wilkins, what’s the matter with you?’ said Captain Boldwig.

‘I beg your pardon, sir—but I think there have been trespassers here to-day.’

‘Ha!’ said the captain, scowling around him.

‘Yes, sir—they have been dining here, I think, sir.’

‘Why, damn their audacity, so they have,’ said Captain Boldwig, as the crumbs and fragments that were strewn upon the grass met his eye. ‘They have actually been devouring their food here. I wish I had the vagabonds here!’ said the captain, clenching the thick stick.

‘I wish I had the vagabonds here,’ said the captain wrathfully.

‘Beg your pardon, sir,’ said Wilkins, ‘but—’

‘But what? Eh?’ roared the captain; and following the timid glance of Wilkins, his eyes encountered the wheel-barrow and Mr. Pickwick.

‘Who are you, you rascal?’ said the captain, administering several pokes to Mr. Pickwick’s body with the thick stick. ‘What’s your name?’

‘Cold punch,’ murmured Mr. Pickwick, as he sank to sleep again.

‘What?’ demanded Captain Boldwig.

No reply.

‘What did he say his name was?’ asked the captain.

‘Punch, I think, sir,’ replied Wilkins.

‘That’s his impudence—that’s his confounded impudence,’ said Captain Boldwig. ‘He’s only feigning to be asleep now,’ said the captain, in a high passion. ‘He’s drunk; he’s a drunken plebeian. Wheel him away, Wilkins, wheel him away directly.’

Where shall I wheel him to, sir?’ inquired Wilkins, with great timidity.

‘Wheel him to the devil,’ replied Captain Boldwig.

‘Very well, sir,’ said Wilkins.

‘Stay,’ said the captain.

Wilkins stopped accordingly.

‘Wheel him,’ said the captain—‘wheel him to the pound; and let us see whether he calls himself Punch when he comes to himself. He shall not bully me—he shall not bully me. Wheel him away.’

Away Mr. Pickwick was wheeled in compliance with this imperious mandate; and the great Captain Boldwig, swelling with indignation, proceeded on his walk.

Inexpressible was the astonishment of the little party when they returned, to find that Mr. Pickwick had disappeared, and taken the wheel-barrow with him. It was the most mysterious and unaccountable thing that was ever heard of. For a lame man to have got upon his legs without any previous notice, and walked off, would have been most extraordinary; but when it came to his wheeling a heavy barrow before him, by way of amusement, it grew positively miraculous. They searched every nook and corner round, together and separately; they shouted, whistled, laughed, called—and all with the same result. Mr. Pickwick was not to be found. After some hours of fruitless search, they arrived at the unwelcome conclusion that they must go home without him.

Meanwhile Mr. Pickwick had been wheeled to the Pound, and safely deposited therein, fast asleep in the wheel-barrow, to the immeasurable delight and satisfaction not only of all the boys in the village, but three-fourths of the whole population, who had gathered round, in expectation of his waking. If their most intense gratification had been awakened by seeing him wheeled in, how many hundredfold was their joy increased when, after a few indistinct cries of ‘Sam!’ he sat up in the barrow, and gazed with indescribable astonishment on the faces before him.

A general shout was of course the signal of his having woke up; and his involuntary inquiry of ‘What’s the matter?’ occasioned another, louder than the first, if possible.

‘Here’s a game!’ roared the populace.

‘Where am I?’ exclaimed Mr. Pickwick.

‘In the pound,’ replied the mob.

‘How came I here? What was I doing? Where was I brought from?’

Boldwig! Captain Boldwig!’ was the only reply.

‘Let me out,’ cried Mr. Pickwick. ‘Where’s my servant? Where are my friends?’

‘You ain’t got no friends. Hurrah!’ Then there came a turnip, then a potato, and then an egg; with a few other little tokens of the playful disposition of the many-headed.

How long this scene might have lasted, or how much Mr. Pickwick might have suffered, no one can tell, had not a carriage, which was driving swiftly by, suddenly pulled up, from whence there descended old Wardle and Sam Weller, the former of whom, in far less time than it takes to write it, if not to read it, had made his way to Mr. Pickwick’s side, and placed him in the vehicle, just as the latter had concluded the third and last round of a single combat with the town-beadle.

‘Run to the justice’s!’ cried a dozen voices.

‘Ah, run avay,’ said Mr. Weller, jumping up on the box. ‘Give my compliments—Mr. Veller’s compliments—to the justice, and tell him I’ve spiled his beadle, and that, if he’ll swear in a new ‘un, I’ll come back again to-morrow and spile him. Drive on, old feller.’

‘I’ll give directions for the commencement of an action for false imprisonment against this Captain Boldwig, directly I get to London,’ said Mr. Pickwick, as soon as the carriage turned out of the town.

‘We were trespassing, it seems,’ said Wardle.

‘I don’t care,’ said Mr. Pickwick, ‘I’ll bring the action.’

‘No, you won’t,’ said Wardle.

‘I will, by—’ But as there was a humorous expression in Wardle’s face, Mr. Pickwick checked himself, and said, ‘Why not?’

‘Because,’ said old Wardle, half-bursting with laughter, ‘because they might turn on some of us, and say we had taken too much cold punch.’

Do what he would, a smile would come into Mr. Pickwick’s face; the smile extended into a laugh; the laugh into a roar; the roar became general. So, to keep up their good-humour, they stopped at the first roadside tavern they came to, and ordered a glass of brandy-and-water all round, with a magnum of extra strength for Mr. Samuel Weller.






CHAPTER XX. SHOWING HOW DODSON AND FOGG WERE MEN OF BUSINESS, AND THEIR CLERKS MEN OF PLEASURE; AND HOW AN AFFECTING INTERVIEW TOOK PLACE BETWEEN MR. WELLER AND HIS LONG-LOST PARENT; SHOWING ALSO WHAT CHOICE SPIRITS ASSEMBLED AT THE MAGPIE AND STUMP, AND WHAT A CAPITAL CHAPTER THE NEXT ONE WILL BE

In the ground-floor front of a dingy house, at the very farthest end of Freeman’s Court, Cornhill, sat the four clerks of Messrs. Dodson & Fogg, two of his Majesty’s attorneys of the courts of King’s Bench and Common Pleas at Westminster, and solicitors of the High Court of Chancery—the aforesaid clerks catching as favourable glimpses of heaven’s light and heaven’s sun, in the course of their daily labours, as a man might hope to do, were he placed at the bottom of a reasonably deep well; and without the opportunity of perceiving the stars in the day-time, which the latter secluded situation affords.

The clerks’ office of Messrs. Dodson & Fogg was a dark, mouldy, earthy-smelling room, with a high wainscotted partition to screen the clerks from the vulgar gaze, a couple of old wooden chairs, a very loud-ticking clock, an almanac, an umbrella-stand, a row of hat-pegs, and a few shelves, on which were deposited several ticketed bundles of dirty papers, some old deal boxes with paper labels, and sundry decayed stone ink bottles of various shapes and sizes. There was a glass door leading into the passage which formed the entrance to the court, and on the outer side of this glass door, Mr. Pickwick, closely followed by Sam Weller, presented himself on the Friday morning succeeding the occurrence of which a faithful narration is given in the last chapter.

‘Come in, can’t you!’ cried a voice from behind the partition, in reply to Mr. Pickwick’s gentle tap at the door. And Mr. Pickwick and Sam entered accordingly.

‘Mr. Dodson or Mr. Fogg at home, sir?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick, gently, advancing, hat in hand, towards the partition.

‘Mr. Dodson ain’t at home, and Mr. Fogg’s particularly engaged,’ replied the voice; and at the same time the head to which the voice belonged, with a pen behind its ear, looked over the partition, and at Mr. Pickwick.

It was a ragged head, the sandy hair of which, scrupulously parted on one side, and flattened down with pomatum, was twisted into little semi-circular tails round a flat face ornamented with a pair of small eyes, and garnished with a very dirty shirt collar, and a rusty black stock.

‘Mr. Dodson ain’t at home, and Mr. Fogg’s particularly engaged,’ said the man to whom the head belonged.

‘When will Mr. Dodson be back, sir?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.

‘Can’t say.’

‘Will it be long before Mr. Fogg is disengaged, Sir?’

‘Don’t know.’

Here the man proceeded to mend his pen with great deliberation, while another clerk, who was mixing a Seidlitz powder, under cover of the lid of his desk, laughed approvingly.

‘I think I’ll wait,’ said Mr. Pickwick. There was no reply; so Mr. Pickwick sat down unbidden, and listened to the loud ticking of the clock and the murmured conversation of the clerks.

‘That was a game, wasn’t it?’ said one of the gentlemen, in a brown coat and brass buttons, inky drabs, and bluchers, at the conclusion of some inaudible relation of his previous evening’s adventures.

‘Devilish good—devilish good,’ said the Seidlitz-powder man.

‘Tom Cummins was in the chair,’ said the man with the brown coat. ‘It was half-past four when I got to Somers Town, and then I was so uncommon lushy, that I couldn’t find the place where the latch-key went in, and was obliged to knock up the old ‘ooman. I say, I wonder what old Fogg ‘ud say, if he knew it. I should get the sack, I s’pose—eh?’

At this humorous notion, all the clerks laughed in concert.

‘There was such a game with Fogg here, this mornin’,’ said the man in the brown coat, ‘while Jack was upstairs sorting the papers, and you two were gone to the stamp-office. Fogg was down here, opening the letters when that chap as we issued the writ against at Camberwell, you know, came in—what’s his name again?’

‘Ramsey,’ said the clerk who had spoken to Mr. Pickwick.

‘Ah, Ramsey—a precious seedy-looking customer. “Well, sir,” says old Fogg, looking at him very fierce—you know his way—“well, Sir, have you come to settle?” “Yes, I have, sir,” said Ramsey, putting his hand in his pocket, and bringing out the money, “the debt’s two pound ten, and the costs three pound five, and here it is, Sir;” and he sighed like bricks, as he lugged out the money, done up in a bit of blotting-paper. Old Fogg looked first at the money, and then at him, and then he coughed in his rum way, so that I knew something was coming. “You don’t know there’s a declaration filed, which increases the costs materially, I suppose,” said Fogg. “You don’t say that, sir,” said Ramsey, starting back; “the time was only out last night, Sir.” “I do say it, though,” said Fogg, “my clerk’s just gone to file it. Hasn’t Mr. Jackson gone to file that declaration in Bullman and Ramsey, Mr. Wicks?” Of course I said yes, and then Fogg coughed again, and looked at Ramsey. “My God!” said Ramsey; “and here have I nearly driven myself mad, scraping this money together, and all to no purpose.” “None at all,” said Fogg coolly; “so you had better go back and scrape some more together, and bring it here in time.” “I can’t get it, by God!” said Ramsey, striking the desk with his fist. “Don’t bully me, sir,” said Fogg, getting into a passion on purpose. “I am not bullying you, sir,” said Ramsey. “You are,” said Fogg; “get out, sir; get out of this office, Sir, and come back, Sir, when you know how to behave yourself.” Well, Ramsey tried to speak, but Fogg wouldn’t let him, so he put the money in his pocket, and sneaked out. The door was scarcely shut, when old Fogg turned round to me, with a sweet smile on his face, and drew the declaration out of his coat pocket. “Here, Wicks,” says Fogg, “take a cab, and go down to the Temple as quick as you can, and file that. The costs are quite safe, for he’s a steady man with a large family, at a salary of five-and-twenty shillings a week, and if he gives us a warrant of attorney, as he must in the end, I know his employers will see it paid; so we may as well get all we can get out of him, Mr. Wicks; it’s a Christian act to do it, Mr. Wicks, for with his large family and small income, he’ll be all the better for a good lesson against getting into debt—won’t he, Mr. Wicks, won’t he?”—and he smiled so good-naturedly as he went away, that it was delightful to see him. He is a capital man of business,’ said Wicks, in a tone of the deepest admiration, ‘capital, isn’t he?’

The other three cordially subscribed to this opinion, and the anecdote afforded the most unlimited satisfaction.

‘Nice men these here, Sir,’ whispered Mr. Weller to his master; ‘wery nice notion of fun they has, Sir.’

Mr. Pickwick nodded assent, and coughed to attract the attention of the young gentlemen behind the partition, who, having now relaxed their minds by a little conversation among themselves, condescended to take some notice of the stranger.

‘I wonder whether Fogg’s disengaged now?’ said Jackson.

‘I’ll see,’ said Wicks, dismounting leisurely from his stool. ‘What name shall I tell Mr. Fogg?’

‘Pickwick,’ replied the illustrious subject of these memoirs.

Mr. Jackson departed upstairs on his errand, and immediately returned with a message that Mr. Fogg would see Mr. Pickwick in five minutes; and having delivered it, returned again to his desk.

‘What did he say his name was?’ whispered Wicks.

‘Pickwick,’ replied Jackson; ‘it’s the defendant in Bardell and Pickwick.’

A sudden scraping of feet, mingled with the sound of suppressed laughter, was heard from behind the partition.

‘They’re a-twiggin’ of you, Sir,’ whispered Mr. Weller.

‘Twigging of me, Sam!’ replied Mr. Pickwick; ‘what do you mean by twigging me?’

Mr. Weller replied by pointing with his thumb over his shoulder, and Mr. Pickwick, on looking up, became sensible of the pleasing fact, that all the four clerks, with countenances expressive of the utmost amusement, and with their heads thrust over the wooden screen, were minutely inspecting the figure and general appearance of the supposed trifler with female hearts, and disturber of female happiness. On his looking up, the row of heads suddenly disappeared, and the sound of pens travelling at a furious rate over paper, immediately succeeded.

A sudden ring at the bell which hung in the office, summoned Mr. Jackson to the apartment of Fogg, from whence he came back to say that he (Fogg) was ready to see Mr. Pickwick if he would step upstairs.

Upstairs Mr. Pickwick did step accordingly, leaving Sam Weller below. The room door of the one-pair back, bore inscribed in legible characters the imposing words, ‘Mr. Fogg’; and, having tapped thereat, and been desired to come in, Jackson ushered Mr. Pickwick into the presence.

‘Is Mr. Dodson in?’ inquired Mr. Fogg.

‘Just come in, Sir,’ replied Jackson.

‘Ask him to step here.’

‘Yes, sir.’ Exit Jackson.

‘Take a seat, sir,’ said Fogg; ‘there is the paper, sir; my partner will be here directly, and we can converse about this matter, sir.’

Mr. Pickwick took a seat and the paper, but, instead of reading the latter, peeped over the top of it, and took a survey of the man of business, who was an elderly, pimply-faced, vegetable-diet sort of man, in a black coat, dark mixture trousers, and small black gaiters; a kind of being who seemed to be an essential part of the desk at which he was writing, and to have as much thought or feeling.

After a few minutes’ silence, Mr. Dodson, a plump, portly, stern-looking man, with a loud voice, appeared; and the conversation commenced.

‘This is Mr. Pickwick,’ said Fogg.

‘Ah! You are the defendant, Sir, in Bardell and Pickwick?’ said Dodson.

‘I am, sir,’ replied Mr. Pickwick.

‘Well, sir,’ said Dodson, ‘and what do you propose?’

‘Ah!’ said Fogg, thrusting his hands into his trousers’ pockets, and throwing himself back in his chair, ‘what do you propose, Mr Pickwick?’

‘Hush, Fogg,’ said Dodson, ‘let me hear what Mr. Pickwick has to say.’

‘I came, gentlemen,’ said Mr. Pickwick, gazing placidly on the two partners, ‘I came here, gentlemen, to express the surprise with which I received your letter of the other day, and to inquire what grounds of action you can have against me.’

‘Grounds of—’ Fogg had ejaculated this much, when he was stopped by Dodson.

‘Mr. Fogg,’ said Dodson, ‘I am going to speak.’

I beg your pardon, Mr. Dodson,’ said Fogg.

‘For the grounds of action, sir,’ continued Dodson, with moral elevation in his air, ‘you will consult your own conscience and your own feelings. We, Sir, we, are guided entirely by the statement of our client. That statement, Sir, may be true, or it may be false; it may be credible, or it may be incredible; but, if it be true, and if it be credible, I do not hesitate to say, Sir, that our grounds of action, Sir, are strong, and not to be shaken. You may be an unfortunate man, Sir, or you may be a designing one; but if I were called upon, as a juryman upon my oath, Sir, to express an opinion of your conduct, Sir, I do not hesitate to assert that I should have but one opinion about it.’ Here Dodson drew himself up, with an air of offended virtue, and looked at Fogg, who thrust his hands farther in his pockets, and nodding his head sagely, said, in a tone of the fullest concurrence, ‘Most certainly.’

‘Well, Sir,’ said Mr. Pickwick, with considerable pain depicted in his countenance, ‘you will permit me to assure you that I am a most unfortunate man, so far as this case is concerned.’

‘I hope you are, Sir,’ replied Dodson; ‘I trust you may be, Sir. If you are really innocent of what is laid to your charge, you are more unfortunate than I had believed any man could possibly be. What do you say, Mr. Fogg?’

‘I say precisely what you say,’ replied Fogg, with a smile of incredulity.

‘The writ, Sir, which commences the action,’ continued Dodson, ‘was issued regularly. Mr. Fogg, where is the Praecipe book?’

‘Here it is,’ said Fogg, handing over a square book, with a parchment cover.

‘Here is the entry,’ resumed Dodson. ‘“Middlesex, Capias MARTHA BARDELL, WIDOW, v. SAMUEL PICKWICK. Damages £1500. Dodson & Fogg for the plaintiff, Aug. 28, 1827.” All regular, Sir; perfectly.’ Dodson coughed and looked at Fogg, who said ‘Perfectly,’ also. And then they both looked at Mr. Pickwick.

‘I am to understand, then,’ said Mr. Pickwick, ‘that it really is your intention to proceed with this action?’

‘Understand, sir!—that you certainly may,’ replied Dodson, with something as near a smile as his importance would allow.

‘And that the damages are actually laid at fifteen hundred pounds?’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘To which understanding you may add my assurance, that if we could have prevailed upon our client, they would have been laid at treble the amount, sir,’ replied Dodson.

‘I believe Mrs. Bardell specially said, however,’ observed Fogg, glancing at Dodson, ‘that she would not compromise for a farthing less.’

‘Unquestionably,’ replied Dodson sternly. For the action was only just begun; and it wouldn’t have done to let Mr. Pickwick compromise it then, even if he had been so disposed.

‘As you offer no terms, sir,’ said Dodson, displaying a slip of parchment in his right hand, and affectionately pressing a paper copy of it, on Mr. Pickwick with his left, ‘I had better serve you with a copy of this writ, sir. Here is the original, sir.’

‘Very well, gentlemen, very well,’ said Mr. Pickwick, rising in person and wrath at the same time; ‘you shall hear from my solicitor, gentlemen.’

‘We shall be very happy to do so,’ said Fogg, rubbing his hands.

‘Very,’ said Dodson, opening the door.

‘And before I go, gentlemen,’ said the excited Mr. Pickwick, turning round on the landing, ‘permit me to say, that of all the disgraceful and rascally proceedings—’

‘Stay, sir, stay,’ interposed Dodson, with great politeness. ‘Mr. Jackson! Mr. Wicks!’

‘Sir,’ said the two clerks, appearing at the bottom of the stairs.

‘I merely want you to hear what this gentleman says,’ replied Dodson. ‘Pray, go on, sir—disgraceful and rascally proceedings, I think you said?’

‘I did,’ said Mr. Pickwick, thoroughly roused. ‘I said, Sir, that of all the disgraceful and rascally proceedings that ever were attempted, this is the most so. I repeat it, sir.’

‘You hear that, Mr. Wicks,’ said Dodson.

‘You won’t forget these expressions, Mr. Jackson?’ said Fogg.

‘Perhaps you would like to call us swindlers, sir,’ said Dodson. ‘Pray do, Sir, if you feel disposed; now pray do, Sir.’

‘I do,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘You are swindlers.’

‘Very good,’ said Dodson. ‘You can hear down there, I hope, Mr. Wicks?’

‘Oh, yes, Sir,’ said Wicks.

‘You had better come up a step or two higher, if you can’t,’ added Mr. Fogg. ‘Go on, Sir; do go on. You had better call us thieves, Sir; or perhaps You would like to assault one of us. Pray do it, Sir, if you would; we will not make the smallest resistance. Pray do it, Sir.’

As Fogg put himself very temptingly within the reach of Mr. Pickwick’s clenched fist, there is little doubt that that gentleman would have complied with his earnest entreaty, but for the interposition of Sam, who, hearing the dispute, emerged from the office, mounted the stairs, and seized his master by the arm.

‘You just come away,’ said Mr. Weller. ‘Battledore and shuttlecock’s a wery good game, vhen you ain’t the shuttlecock and two lawyers the battledores, in which case it gets too excitin’ to be pleasant. Come avay, Sir. If you want to ease your mind by blowing up somebody, come out into the court and blow up me; but it’s rayther too expensive work to be carried on here.’

And without the slightest ceremony, Mr. Weller hauled his master down the stairs, and down the court, and having safely deposited him in Cornhill, fell behind, prepared to follow whithersoever he should lead.

Mr. Pickwick walked on abstractedly, crossed opposite the Mansion House, and bent his steps up Cheapside. Sam began to wonder where they were going, when his master turned round, and said—

‘Sam, I will go immediately to Mr. Perker’s.’

‘That’s just exactly the wery place vere you ought to have gone last night, Sir,’ replied Mr. Weller.

‘I think it is, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘I know it is,’ said Mr. Weller.

‘Well, well, Sam,’ replied Mr. Pickwick, ‘we will go there at once; but first, as I have been rather ruffled, I should like a glass of brandy-and-water warm, Sam. Where can I have it, Sam?’

Mr. Weller’s knowledge of London was extensive and peculiar. He replied, without the slightest consideration—

‘Second court on the right hand side—last house but vun on the same side the vay—take the box as stands in the first fireplace, ‘cos there ain’t no leg in the middle o’ the table, which all the others has, and it’s wery inconvenient.’

Mr. Pickwick observed his valet’s directions implicitly, and bidding Sam follow him, entered the tavern he had pointed out, where the hot brandy-and-water was speedily placed before him; while Mr. Weller, seated at a respectful distance, though at the same table with his master, was accommodated with a pint of porter.

The room was one of a very homely description, and was apparently under the especial patronage of stage-coachmen; for several gentleman, who had all the appearance of belonging to that learned profession, were drinking and smoking in the different boxes. Among the number was one stout, red-faced, elderly man, in particular, seated in an opposite box, who attracted Mr. Pickwick’s attention. The stout man was smoking with great vehemence, but between every half-dozen puffs, he took his pipe from his mouth, and looked first at Mr. Weller and then at Mr. Pickwick. Then, he would bury in a quart pot, as much of his countenance as the dimensions of the quart pot admitted of its receiving, and take another look at Sam and Mr. Pickwick. Then he would take another half-dozen puffs with an air of profound meditation and look at them again. At last the stout man, putting up his legs on the seat, and leaning his back against the wall, began to puff at his pipe without leaving off at all, and to stare through the smoke at the new-comers, as if he had made up his mind to see the most he could of them.

At first the evolutions of the stout man had escaped Mr. Weller’s observation, but by degrees, as he saw Mr. Pickwick’s eyes every now and then turning towards him, he began to gaze in the same direction, at the same time shading his eyes with his hand, as if he partially recognised the object before him, and wished to make quite sure of its identity. His doubts were speedily dispelled, however; for the stout man having blown a thick cloud from his pipe, a hoarse voice, like some strange effort of ventriloquism, emerged from beneath the capacious shawls which muffled his throat and chest, and slowly uttered these sounds—‘Wy, Sammy!’

‘Who’s that, Sam?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.

‘Why, I wouldn’t ha’ believed it, Sir,’ replied Mr. Weller, with astonished eyes. ‘It’s the old ‘un.’

‘Old one,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘What old one?’

‘My father, sir,’ replied Mr. Weller. ‘How are you, my ancient?’ And with this beautiful ebullition of filial affection, Mr. Weller made room on the seat beside him, for the stout man, who advanced pipe in mouth and pot in hand, to greet him.

‘Wy, Sammy,’ said the father, ‘I ha’n’t seen you, for two year and better.’

‘Nor more you have, old codger,’ replied the son. ‘How’s mother-in-law?’

‘Wy, I’ll tell you what, Sammy,’ said Mr. Weller, senior, with much solemnity in his manner; ‘there never was a nicer woman as a widder, than that ‘ere second wentur o’ mine—a sweet creetur she was, Sammy; all I can say on her now, is, that as she was such an uncommon pleasant widder, it’s a great pity she ever changed her condition. She don’t act as a vife, Sammy.’

Don’t she, though?’ inquired Mr. Weller, junior.

The elder Mr. Weller shook his head, as he replied with a sigh, ‘I’ve done it once too often, Sammy; I’ve done it once too often. Take example by your father, my boy, and be wery careful o’ widders all your life, ‘specially if they’ve kept a public-house, Sammy.’ Having delivered this parental advice with great pathos, Mr. Weller, senior, refilled his pipe from a tin box he carried in his pocket; and, lighting his fresh pipe from the ashes of the old One, commenced smoking at a great rate.

‘Beg your pardon, sir,’ he said, renewing the subject, and addressing Mr. Pickwick, after a considerable pause, ‘nothin’ personal, I hope, sir; I hope you ha’n’t got a widder, sir.’

‘Not I,’ replied Mr. Pickwick, laughing; and while Mr. Pickwick laughed, Sam Weller informed his parent in a whisper, of the relation in which he stood towards that gentleman.

‘Beg your pardon, sir,’ said Mr. Weller, senior, taking off his hat, ‘I hope you’ve no fault to find with Sammy, Sir?’

‘None whatever,’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘Wery glad to hear it, sir,’ replied the old man; ‘I took a good deal o’ pains with his eddication, sir; let him run in the streets when he was wery young, and shift for hisself. It’s the only way to make a boy sharp, sir.’

‘Rather a dangerous process, I should imagine,’ said Mr. Pickwick, with a smile.

‘And not a wery sure one, neither,’ added Mr. Weller; ‘I got reg’larly done the other day.’

‘No!’ said his father.

‘I did,’ said the son; and he proceeded to relate, in as few words as possible, how he had fallen a ready dupe to the stratagems of Job Trotter.

Mr. Weller, senior, listened to the tale with the most profound attention, and, at its termination, said—

‘Worn’t one o’ these chaps slim and tall, with long hair, and the gift o’ the gab wery gallopin’?’

Mr. Pickwick did not quite understand the last item of description, but, comprehending the first, said ‘Yes,’ at a venture.

‘T’ other’s a black-haired chap in mulberry livery, with a wery large head?’

‘Yes, yes, he is,’ said Mr. Pickwick and Sam, with great earnestness.

‘Then I know where they are, and that’s all about it,’ said Mr. Weller; ‘they’re at Ipswich, safe enough, them two.’

‘No!’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘Fact,’ said Mr. Weller, ‘and I’ll tell you how I know it. I work an Ipswich coach now and then for a friend o’ mine. I worked down the wery day arter the night as you caught the rheumatic, and at the Black Boy at Chelmsford—the wery place they’d come to—I took ‘em up, right through to Ipswich, where the man-servant—him in the mulberries—told me they was a-goin’ to put up for a long time.’

‘I’ll follow him,’ said Mr. Pickwick; ‘we may as well see Ipswich as any other place. I’ll follow him.’

‘You’re quite certain it was them, governor?’ inquired Mr. Weller, junior.

‘Quite, Sammy, quite,’ replied his father, ‘for their appearance is wery sing’ler; besides that ‘ere, I wondered to see the gen’l’m’n so formiliar with his servant; and, more than that, as they sat in the front, right behind the box, I heerd ‘em laughing and saying how they’d done old Fireworks.’

‘Old who?’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘Old Fireworks, Sir; by which, I’ve no doubt, they meant you, Sir.’

There is nothing positively vile or atrocious in the appellation of ‘old Fireworks,’ but still it is by no means a respectful or flattering designation. The recollection of all the wrongs he had sustained at Jingle’s hands, had crowded on Mr. Pickwick’s mind, the moment Mr. Weller began to speak; it wanted but a feather to turn the scale, and ‘old Fireworks’ did it.

‘I’ll follow him,’ said Mr. Pickwick, with an emphatic blow on the table.

‘I shall work down to Ipswich the day arter to-morrow, Sir,’ said Mr. Weller the elder, ‘from the Bull in Whitechapel; and if you really mean to go, you’d better go with me.’

‘So we had,’ said Mr. Pickwick; ‘very true; I can write to Bury, and tell them to meet me at Ipswich. We will go with you. But don’t hurry away, Mr. Weller; won’t you take anything?’

‘You’re wery good, Sir,’ replied Mr. W., stopping short;—‘perhaps a small glass of brandy to drink your health, and success to Sammy, Sir, wouldn’t be amiss.’

‘Certainly not,’ replied Mr. Pickwick.

‘A glass of brandy here!’ The brandy was brought; and Mr. Weller, after pulling his hair to Mr. Pickwick, and nodding to Sam, jerked it down his capacious throat as if it had been a small thimbleful.

‘Well done, father,’ said Sam, ‘take care, old fellow, or you’ll have a touch of your old complaint, the gout.’

‘I’ve found a sov’rin’ cure for that, Sammy,’ said Mr. Weller, setting down the glass.

‘A sovereign cure for the gout,’ said Mr. Pickwick, hastily producing his note-book—‘what is it?’

‘The gout, Sir,’ replied Mr. Weller, ‘the gout is a complaint as arises from too much ease and comfort. If ever you’re attacked with the gout, sir, jist you marry a widder as has got a good loud woice, with a decent notion of usin’ it, and you’ll never have the gout agin. It’s a capital prescription, sir. I takes it reg’lar, and I can warrant it to drive away any illness as is caused by too much jollity.’ Having imparted this valuable secret, Mr. Weller drained his glass once more, produced a laboured wink, sighed deeply, and slowly retired.

‘Well, what do you think of what your father says, Sam?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick, with a smile.

‘Think, Sir!’ replied Mr. Weller; ‘why, I think he’s the wictim o’ connubiality, as Blue Beard’s domestic chaplain said, vith a tear of pity, ven he buried him.’

There was no replying to this very apposite conclusion, and, therefore, Mr. Pickwick, after settling the reckoning, resumed his walk to Gray’s Inn. By the time he reached its secluded groves, however, eight o’clock had struck, and the unbroken stream of gentlemen in muddy high-lows, soiled white hats, and rusty apparel, who were pouring towards the different avenues of egress, warned him that the majority of the offices had closed for that day.

After climbing two pairs of steep and dirty stairs, he found his anticipations were realised. Mr. Perker’s ‘outer door’ was closed; and the dead silence which followed Mr. Weller’s repeated kicks thereat, announced that the officials had retired from business for the night.

‘This is pleasant, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick; ‘I shouldn’t lose an hour in seeing him; I shall not be able to get one wink of sleep to-night, I know, unless I have the satisfaction of reflecting that I have confided this matter to a professional man.’

‘Here’s an old ‘ooman comin’ upstairs, sir,’ replied Mr. Weller; ‘p’raps she knows where we can find somebody. Hollo, old lady, vere’s Mr. Perker’s people?’

‘Mr. Perker’s people,’ said a thin, miserable-looking old woman, stopping to recover breath after the ascent of the staircase—‘Mr. Perker’s people’s gone, and I’m a-goin’ to do the office out.’

Are you Mr. Perker’s servant?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.

‘I am Mr. Perker’s laundress,’ replied the woman.

‘Ah,’ said Mr. Pickwick, half aside to Sam, ‘it’s a curious circumstance, Sam, that they call the old women in these inns, laundresses. I wonder what’s that for?’

‘’Cos they has a mortal awersion to washing anythin’, I suppose, Sir,’ replied Mr. Weller.

‘I shouldn’t wonder,’ said Mr. Pickwick, looking at the old woman, whose appearance, as well as the condition of the office, which she had by this time opened, indicated a rooted antipathy to the application of soap and water; ‘do you know where I can find Mr. Perker, my good woman?’

‘No, I don’t,’ replied the old woman gruffly; ‘he’s out o’ town now.’

‘That’s unfortunate,’ said Mr. Pickwick; ‘where’s his clerk? Do you know?’

‘Yes, I know where he is, but he won’t thank me for telling you,’ replied the laundress.

‘I have very particular business with him,’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘Won’t it do in the morning?’ said the woman.

‘Not so well,’ replied Mr. Pickwick.

‘Well,’ said the old woman, ‘if it was anything very particular, I was to say where he was, so I suppose there’s no harm in telling. If you just go to the Magpie and Stump, and ask at the bar for Mr. Lowten, they’ll show you in to him, and he’s Mr. Perker’s clerk.’

With this direction, and having been furthermore informed that the hostelry in question was situated in a court, happy in the double advantage of being in the vicinity of Clare Market, and closely approximating to the back of New Inn, Mr. Pickwick and Sam descended the rickety staircase in safety, and issued forth in quest of the Magpie and Stump.

This favoured tavern, sacred to the evening orgies of Mr. Lowten and his companions, was what ordinary people would designate a public-house. That the landlord was a man of money-making turn was sufficiently testified by the fact of a small bulkhead beneath the tap-room window, in size and shape not unlike a sedan-chair, being underlet to a mender of shoes: and that he was a being of a philanthropic mind was evident from the protection he afforded to a pieman, who vended his delicacies without fear of interruption, on the very door-step. In the lower windows, which were decorated with curtains of a saffron hue, dangled two or three printed cards, bearing reference to Devonshire cider and Dantzic spruce, while a large blackboard, announcing in white letters to an enlightened public, that there were 500,000 barrels of double stout in the cellars of the establishment, left the mind in a state of not unpleasing doubt and uncertainty as to the precise direction in the bowels of the earth, in which this mighty cavern might be supposed to extend. When we add that the weather-beaten signboard bore the half-obliterated semblance of a magpie intently eyeing a crooked streak of brown paint, which the neighbours had been taught from infancy to consider as the ‘stump,’ we have said all that need be said of the exterior of the edifice.

On Mr. Pickwick’s presenting himself at the bar, an elderly female emerged from behind the screen therein, and presented herself before him.

‘Is Mr. Lowten here, ma’am?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.

‘Yes, he is, Sir,’ replied the landlady. ‘Here, Charley, show the gentleman in to Mr. Lowten.’

‘The gen’l’m’n can’t go in just now,’ said a shambling pot-boy, with a red head, ‘cos’ Mr. Lowten’s a-singin’ a comic song, and he’ll put him out. He’ll be done directly, Sir.’

The red-headed pot-boy had scarcely finished speaking, when a most unanimous hammering of tables, and jingling of glasses, announced that the song had that instant terminated; and Mr. Pickwick, after desiring Sam to solace himself in the tap, suffered himself to be conducted into the presence of Mr. Lowten.

At the announcement of ‘A gentleman to speak to you, Sir,’ a puffy-faced young man, who filled the chair at the head of the table, looked with some surprise in the direction from whence the voice proceeded; and the surprise seemed to be by no means diminished, when his eyes rested on an individual whom he had never seen before.

‘I beg your pardon, Sir,’ said Mr. Pickwick, ‘and I am very sorry to disturb the other gentlemen, too, but I come on very particular business; and if you will suffer me to detain you at this end of the room for five minutes, I shall be very much obliged to you.’

The puffy-faced young man rose, and drawing a chair close to Mr. Pickwick in an obscure corner of the room, listened attentively to his tale of woe.

‘Ah,’ he said, when Mr. Pickwick had concluded, ‘Dodson and Fogg—sharp practice theirs—capital men of business, Dodson and Fogg, sir.’

Mr. Pickwick admitted the sharp practice of Dodson and Fogg, and Lowten resumed.

‘Perker ain’t in town, and he won’t be, neither, before the end of next week; but if you want the action defended, and will leave the copy with me, I can do all that’s needful till he comes back.’

‘That’s exactly what I came here for,’ said Mr. Pickwick, handing over the document. ‘If anything particular occurs, you can write to me at the post-office, Ipswich.’

‘That’s all right,’ replied Mr. Perker’s clerk; and then seeing Mr. Pickwick’s eye wandering curiously towards the table, he added, ‘will you join us, for half an hour or so? We are capital company here to-night. There’s Samkin and Green’s managing-clerk, and Smithers and Price’s chancery, and Pimkin and Thomas’s out o’ doors—sings a capital song, he does—and Jack Bamber, and ever so many more. You’re come out of the country, I suppose. Would you like to join us?’

Mr. Pickwick could not resist so tempting an opportunity of studying human nature. He suffered himself to be led to the table, where, after having been introduced to the company in due form, he was accommodated with a seat near the chairman and called for a glass of his favourite beverage.

A profound silence, quite contrary to Mr. Pickwick’s expectation, succeeded.

‘You don’t find this sort of thing disagreeable, I hope, sir?’ said his right hand neighbour, a gentleman in a checked shirt and Mosaic studs, with a cigar in his mouth.

‘Not in the least,’ replied Mr. Pickwick; ‘I like it very much, although I am no smoker myself.’

‘I should be very sorry to say I wasn’t,’ interposed another gentleman on the opposite side of the table. ‘It’s board and lodgings to me, is smoke.’

Mr. Pickwick glanced at the speaker, and thought that if it were washing too, it would be all the better.

Here there was another pause. Mr. Pickwick was a stranger, and his coming had evidently cast a damp upon the party.

‘Mr. Grundy’s going to oblige the company with a song,’ said the chairman.

‘No, he ain’t,’ said Mr. Grundy.

‘Why not?’ said the chairman.

‘Because he can’t,’ said Mr. Grundy.

‘You had better say he won’t,’ replied the chairman.

‘Well, then, he won’t,’ retorted Mr. Grundy. Mr. Grundy’s positive refusal to gratify the company occasioned another silence.

‘Won’t anybody enliven us?’ said the chairman, despondingly.

‘Why don’t you enliven us yourself, Mr. Chairman?’ said a young man with a whisker, a squint, and an open shirt collar (dirty), from the bottom of the table.

‘Hear! hear!’ said the smoking gentleman, in the Mosaic jewellery.

‘Because I only know one song, and I have sung it already, and it’s a fine of “glasses round” to sing the same song twice in a night,’ replied the chairman.

This was an unanswerable reply, and silence prevailed again.

‘I have been to-night, gentlemen,’ said Mr. Pickwick, hoping to start a subject which all the company could take a part in discussing, ‘I have been to-night, in a place which you all know very well, doubtless, but which I have not been in for some years, and know very little of; I mean Gray’s Inn, gentlemen. Curious little nooks in a great place, like London, these old inns are.’

‘By Jove!’ said the chairman, whispering across the table to Mr. Pickwick, ‘you have hit upon something that one of us, at least, would talk upon for ever. You’ll draw old Jack Bamber out; he was never heard to talk about anything else but the inns, and he has lived alone in them till he’s half crazy.’

The individual to whom Lowten alluded, was a little, yellow, high-shouldered man, whose countenance, from his habit of stooping forward when silent, Mr. Pickwick had not observed before. He wondered, though, when the old man raised his shrivelled face, and bent his gray eye upon him, with a keen inquiring look, that such remarkable features could have escaped his attention for a moment. There was a fixed grim smile perpetually on his countenance; he leaned his chin on a long, skinny hand, with nails of extraordinary length; and as he inclined his head to one side, and looked keenly out from beneath his ragged gray eyebrows, there was a strange, wild slyness in his leer, quite repulsive to behold.

This was the figure that now started forward, and burst into an animated torrent of words. As this chapter has been a long one, however, and as the old man was a remarkable personage, it will be more respectful to him, and more convenient to us, to let him speak for himself in a fresh one.