The anxiety of his mind, and the numerous meditations which Arabella had awakened, prevented his share of the mortar of punch producing that effect upon him which it would have had under other circumstances. So, after taking a glass of soda-water and brandy at the bar, he turned into the coffee-room, dispirited rather than elevated by the occurrences of the evening. Sitting in front of the fire, with his back towards him, was a tallish gentleman in a greatcoat: the only other occupant of the room. It was rather a cool evening for the season of the year, and the gentleman drew his chair aside to afford the new-comer a sight of the fire. What were Mr. Winkle's feelings when, in doing so, he disclosed to view the face and figure of the vindictive and sanguinary Dowler!
Mr. Winkle's first impulse was to give a violent pull at the nearest bell-handle, but that unfortunately happened to be immediately behind Mr. Dowler's head. He had made one step towards it, before he checked himself. As he did so, Mr. Dowler very hastily drew back.
'Mr. Winkle, Sir. Be calm. Don't strike me. I won't bear it. A blow! Never!' said Mr. Dowler, looking meeker than Mr. Winkle had expected in a gentleman of his ferocity.
'A blow, Sir?' stammered Mr. Winkle.
'A blow, Sir,' replied Dowler. 'Compose your feelings. Sit down. Hear me.'
'Sir,' said Mr. Winkle, trembling from head to foot, 'before I consent to sit down beside, or opposite you, without the presence of a waiter, I must be secured by some further understanding. You used a threat against me last night, Sir, a dreadful threat, Sir.' Here Mr. Winkle turned very pale indeed, and stopped short.
'I did,' said Dowler, with a countenance almost as white as Mr. Winkle's. 'Circumstances were suspicious. They have been explained. I respect your bravery. Your feeling is upright. Conscious innocence. There's my hand. Grasp it.'
'Really, Sir,' said Mr. Winkle, hesitating whether to give his hand or not, and almost fearing that it was demanded in order that he might be taken at an advantage, 'really, Sir, I—'
'I know what you mean,' interposed Dowler. 'You feel aggrieved. Very natural. So should I. I was wrong. I beg your pardon. Be friendly. Forgive me.' With this, Dowler fairly forced his hand upon Mr. Winkle, and shaking it with the utmost vehemence, declared he was a fellow of extreme spirit, and he had a higher opinion of him than ever.
'Now,' said Dowler, 'sit down. Relate it all. How did you find me? When did you follow? Be frank. Tell me.'
'It's quite accidental,' replied Mr. Winkle, greatly perplexed by the curious and unexpected nature of the interview. 'Quite.'
'Glad of it,' said Dowler. 'I woke this morning. I had forgotten my threat. I laughed at the accident. I felt friendly. I said so.'
'To whom?' inquired Mr. Winkle.
'To Mrs. Dowler. "You made a vow," said she. "I did," said I. "It was a rash one," said she. "It was," said I. "I'll apologise. Where is he?"'
'Who?' inquired Mr. Winkle.
'You,' replied Dowler. 'I went downstairs. You were not to be found. Pickwick looked gloomy. Shook his head. Hoped no violence would be committed. I saw it all. You felt yourself insulted. You had gone, for a friend perhaps. Possibly for pistols. "High spirit," said I. "I admire him."'
Mr. Winkle coughed, and beginning to see how the land lay, assumed a look of importance.
'I left a note for you,' resumed Dowler. 'I said I was sorry. So I was. Pressing business called me here. You were not satisfied. You followed. You required a verbal explanation. You were right. It's all over now. My business is finished. I go back to-morrow. Join me.'
As Dowler progressed in his explanation, Mr. Winkle's countenance grew more and more dignified. The mysterious nature of the commencement of their conversation was explained; Mr. Dowler had as great an objection to duelling as himself; in short, this blustering and awful personage was one of the most egregious cowards in existence, and interpreting Mr. Winkle's absence through the medium of his own fears, had taken the same step as himself, and prudently retired until all excitement of feeling should have subsided.
As the real state of the case dawned upon Mr. Winkle's mind, he looked very terrible, and said he was perfectly satisfied; but at the same time, said so with an air that left Mr. Dowler no alternative but to infer that if he had not been, something most horrible and destructive must inevitably have occurred. Mr. Dowler appeared to be impressed with a becoming sense of Mr. Winkle's magnanimity and condescension; and the two belligerents parted for the night, with many protestations of eternal friendship.
About half-past twelve o'clock, when Mr. Winkle had been revelling some twenty minutes in the full luxury of his first sleep, he was suddenly awakened by a loud knocking at his chamber door, which, being repeated with increased vehemence, caused him to start up in bed, and inquire who was there, and what the matter was.
'Please, Sir, here's a young man which says he must see you directly,' responded the voice of the chambermaid.
'A young man!' exclaimed Mr. Winkle.
'No mistake about that 'ere, Sir,' replied another voice through the keyhole; 'and if that wery same interestin' young creetur ain't let in vithout delay, it's wery possible as his legs vill enter afore his countenance.' The young man gave a gentle kick at one of the lower panels of the door, after he had given utterance to this hint, as if to add force and point to the remark.
'Is that you, Sam?' inquired Mr. Winkle, springing out of bed.
'Quite unpossible to identify any gen'l'm'n vith any degree o' mental satisfaction, vithout lookin' at him, Sir,' replied the voice dogmatically.
Mr. Winkle, not much doubting who the young man was, unlocked the door; which he had no sooner done than Mr. Samuel Weller entered with great precipitation, and carefully relocking it on the inside, deliberately put the key in his waistcoat pocket; and, after surveying Mr. Winkle from head to foot, said—
'You're a wery humorous young gen'l'm'n, you air, Sir!'
'What do you mean by this conduct, Sam?' inquired Mr. Winkle indignantly. 'Get out, sir, this instant. What do you mean, Sir?'
'What do I mean,' retorted Sam; 'come, Sir, this is rayther too rich, as the young lady said when she remonstrated with the pastry-cook, arter he'd sold her a pork pie as had got nothin' but fat inside. What do I mean! Well, that ain't a bad 'un, that ain't.'
'Unlock that door, and leave this room immediately, Sir,' said Mr. Winkle.
'I shall leave this here room, sir, just precisely at the wery same moment as you leaves it,' responded Sam, speaking in a forcible manner, and seating himself with perfect gravity. 'If I find it necessary to carry you away, pick-a-back, o' course I shall leave it the least bit o' time possible afore you; but allow me to express a hope as you won't reduce me to extremities; in saying wich, I merely quote wot the nobleman said to the fractious pennywinkle, ven he vouldn't come out of his shell by means of a pin, and he conseqvently began to be afeered that he should be obliged to crack him in the parlour door.' At the end of this address, which was unusually lengthy for him, Mr. Weller planted his hands on his knees, and looked full in Mr. Winkle's face, with an expression of countenance which showed that he had not the remotest intention of being trifled with.
'You're a amiably-disposed young man, Sir, I don't think,' resumed Mr. Weller, in a tone of moral reproof, 'to go inwolving our precious governor in all sorts o' fanteegs, wen he's made up his mind to go through everythink for principle. You're far worse nor Dodson, Sir; and as for Fogg, I consider him a born angel to you!' Mr. Weller having accompanied this last sentiment with an emphatic slap on each knee, folded his arms with a look of great disgust, and threw himself back in his chair, as if awaiting the criminal's defence.
'My good fellow,' said Mr. Winkle, extending his hand—his teeth chattering all the time he spoke, for he had been standing, during the whole of Mr. Weller's lecture, in his night-gear—'my good fellow, I respect your attachment to my excellent friend, and I am very sorry indeed to have added to his causes for disquiet. There, Sam, there!'
'Well,' said Sam, rather sulkily, but giving the proffered hand a respectful shake at the same time—'well, so you ought to be, and I am very glad to find you air; for, if I can help it, I won't have him put upon by nobody, and that's all about it.'
'Certainly not, Sam,' said Mr. Winkle. 'There! Now go to bed, Sam, and we'll talk further about this in the morning.'
'I'm wery sorry,' said Sam, 'but I can't go to bed.'
'Not go to bed!' repeated Mr. Winkle.
'No,' said Sam, shaking his head. 'Can't be done.'
'You don't mean to say you're going back to-night, Sam?' urged Mr. Winkle, greatly surprised.
'Not unless you particklerly wish it,' replied Sam; 'but I mustn't leave this here room. The governor's orders wos peremptory.'
'Nonsense, Sam,' said Mr. Winkle, 'I must stop here two or three days; and more than that, Sam, you must stop here too, to assist me in gaining an interview with a young lady—Miss Allen, Sam; you remember her—whom I must and will see before I leave Bristol.'
But in reply to each of these positions, Sam shook his head with great firmness, and energetically replied, 'It can't be done.'
After a great deal of argument and representation on the part of Mr. Winkle, however, and a full disclosure of what had passed in the interview with Dowler, Sam began to waver; and at length a compromise was effected, of which the following were the main and principal conditions:—
That Sam should retire, and leave Mr. Winkle in the undisturbed possession of his apartment, on the condition that he had permission to lock the door on the outside, and carry off the key; provided always, that in the event of an alarm of fire, or other dangerous contingency, the door should be instantly unlocked. That a letter should be written to Mr. Pickwick early next morning, and forwarded per Dowler, requesting his consent to Sam and Mr. Winkle's remaining at Bristol, for the purpose and with the object already assigned, and begging an answer by the next coach—, if favourable, the aforesaid parties to remain accordingly, and if not, to return to Bath immediately on the receipt thereof. And, lastly, that Mr. Winkle should be understood as distinctly pledging himself not to resort to the window, fireplace, or other surreptitious mode of escape in the meanwhile. These stipulations having been concluded, Sam locked the door and departed.
He had nearly got downstairs, when he stopped, and drew the key from his pocket.
'I quite forgot about the knockin' down,' said Sam, half turning back. 'The governor distinctly said it was to be done. Amazin' stupid o' me, that 'ere! Never mind,' said Sam, brightening up, 'it's easily done to-morrow, anyvays.'
Apparently much consoled by this reflection, Mr. Weller once more deposited the key in his pocket, and descending the remainder of the stairs without any fresh visitations of conscience, was soon, in common with the other inmates of the house, buried in profound repose.
CHAPTER XXXIX. Mr. SAMUEL WELLER, BEING INTRUSTED WITH A MISSION OF LOVE, PROCEEDS TO EXECUTE IT; WITH WHAT SUCCESS WILL HEREINAFTER APPEAR
During the whole of next day, Sam kept Mr. Winkle steadily in sight, fully determined not to take his eyes off him for one instant, until he should receive express instructions from the fountain-head. However disagreeable Sam's very close watch and great vigilance were to Mr. Winkle, he thought it better to bear with them, than, by any act of violent opposition, to hazard being carried away by force, which Mr. Weller more than once strongly hinted was the line of conduct that a strict sense of duty prompted him to pursue. There is little reason to doubt that Sam would very speedily have quieted his scruples, by bearing Mr. Winkle back to Bath, bound hand and foot, had not Mr. Pickwick's prompt attention to the note, which Dowler had undertaken to deliver, forestalled any such proceeding. In short, at eight o'clock in the evening, Mr. Pickwick himself walked into the coffee-room of the Bush Tavern, and told Sam with a smile, to his very great relief, that he had done quite right, and it was unnecessary for him to mount guard any longer.
'I thought it better to come myself,' said Mr. Pickwick, addressing Mr. Winkle, as Sam disencumbered him of his great-coat and travelling-shawl, 'to ascertain, before I gave my consent to Sam's employment in this matter, that you are quite in earnest and serious, with respect to this young lady.'
'Serious, from my heart—from my soul!'returned Mr. Winkle, with great energy.
'Remember,' said Mr. Pickwick, with beaming eyes, 'we met her at our excellent and hospitable friend's, Winkle. It would be an ill return to tamper lightly, and without due consideration, with this young lady's affections. I'll not allow that, sir. I'll not allow it.'
'I have no such intention, indeed,' exclaimed Mr. Winkle warmly. 'I have considered the matter well, for a long time, and I feel that my happiness is bound up in her.'
'That's wot we call tying it up in a small parcel, sir,' interposed Mr. Weller, with an agreeable smile.
Mr. Winkle looked somewhat stern at this interruption, and Mr. Pickwick angrily requested his attendant not to jest with one of the best feelings of our nature; to which Sam replied, 'That he wouldn't, if he was aware on it; but there were so many on 'em, that he hardly know'd which was the best ones wen he heerd 'em mentioned.'
Mr. Winkle then recounted what had passed between himself and Mr. Ben Allen, relative to Arabella; stated that his object was to gain an interview with the young lady, and make a formal disclosure of his passion; and declared his conviction, founded on certain dark hints and mutterings of the aforesaid Ben, that, wherever she was at present immured, it was somewhere near the Downs. And this was his whole stock of knowledge or suspicion on the subject.
With this very slight clue to guide him, it was determined that Mr. Weller should start next morning on an expedition of discovery; it was also arranged that Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Winkle, who were less confident of their powers, should parade the town meanwhile, and accidentally drop in upon Mr. Bob Sawyer in the course of the day, in the hope of seeing or hearing something of the young lady's whereabouts.
Accordingly, next morning, Sam Weller issued forth upon his quest, in no way daunted by the very discouraging prospect before him; and away he walked, up one street and down another—we were going to say, up one hill and down another, only it's all uphill at Clifton—without meeting with anything or anybody that tended to throw the faintest light on the matter in hand. Many were the colloquies into which Sam entered with grooms who were airing horses on roads, and nursemaids who were airing children in lanes; but nothing could Sam elicit from either the first-mentioned or the last, which bore the slightest reference to the object of his artfully-prosecuted inquiries. There were a great many young ladies in a great many houses, the greater part whereof were shrewdly suspected by the male and female domestics to be deeply attached to somebody, or perfectly ready to become so, if opportunity afforded. But as none among these young ladies was Miss Arabella Allen, the information left Sam at exactly the old point of wisdom at which he had stood before.
Sam struggled across the Downs against a good high wind, wondering whether it was always necessary to hold your hat on with both hands in that part of the country, and came to a shady by-place, about which were sprinkled several little villas of quiet and secluded appearance. Outside a stable door at the bottom of a long back lane without a thoroughfare, a groom in undress was idling about, apparently persuading himself that he was doing something with a spade and a wheel-barrow. We may remark, in this place, that we have scarcely ever seen a groom near a stable, in his lazy moments, who has not been, to a greater or less extent, the victim of this singular delusion.
Sam thought he might as well talk to this groom as to any one else, especially as he was very tired with walking, and there was a good large stone just opposite the wheel-barrow; so he strolled down the lane, and, seating himself on the stone, opened a conversation with the ease and freedom for which he was remarkable.
'Mornin', old friend,' said Sam.
'Arternoon, you mean,' replied the groom, casting a surly look at Sam.
'You're wery right, old friend,' said Sam; 'I DO mean arternoon. How are you?'
'Why, I don't find myself much the better for seeing of you,' replied the ill-tempered groom.
'That's wery odd—that is,' said Sam, 'for you look so uncommon cheerful, and seem altogether so lively, that it does vun's heart good to see you.'
The surly groom looked surlier still at this, but not sufficiently so to produce any effect upon Sam, who immediately inquired, with a countenance of great anxiety, whether his master's name was not Walker.
'No, it ain't,' said the groom.
'Nor Brown, I s'pose?' said Sam.
'No, it ain't.'
'No; nor that @ither,' said the groom.
'Vell,' replied Sam, 'then I'm mistaken, and he hasn't got the honour o' my acquaintance, which I thought he had. Don't wait here out o' compliment to me,' said Sam, as the groom wheeled in the barrow, and prepared to shut the gate. 'Ease afore ceremony, old boy; I'll excuse you.'
'I'd knock your head off for half-a-crown,' said the surly groom, bolting one half of the gate.
'Couldn't afford to have it done on those terms,' rejoined Sam. 'It 'ud be worth a life's board wages at least, to you, and 'ud be cheap at that. Make my compliments indoors. Tell 'em not to vait dinner for me, and say they needn't mind puttin' any by, for it'll be cold afore I come in.'
In reply to this, the groom waxing very wroth, muttered a desire to damage somebody's person; but disappeared without carrying it into execution, slamming the door angrily after him, and wholly unheeding Sam's affectionate request, that he would leave him a lock of his hair before he went.
Sam continued to sit on the large stone, meditating upon what was best to be done, and revolving in his mind a plan for knocking at all the doors within five miles of Bristol, taking them at a hundred and fifty or two hundred a day, and endeavouring to find Miss Arabella by that expedient, when accident all of a sudden threw in his way what he might have sat there for a twelvemonth and yet not found without it.
Into the lane where he sat, there opened three or four garden gates, belonging to as many houses, which though detached from each other, were only separated by their gardens. As these were large and long, and well planted with trees, the houses were not only at some distance off, but the greater part of them were nearly concealed from view. Sam was sitting with his eyes fixed upon the dust-heap outside the next gate to that by which the groom had disappeared, profoundly turning over in his mind the difficulties of his present undertaking, when the gate opened, and a female servant came out into the lane to shake some bedside carpets.
Sam was so very busy with his own thoughts, that it is probable he would have taken no more notice of the young woman than just raising his head and remarking that she had a very neat and pretty figure, if his feelings of gallantry had not been most strongly roused by observing that she had no one to help her, and that the carpets seemed too heavy for her single strength. Mr. Weller was a gentleman of great gallantry in his own way, and he no sooner remarked this circumstance than he hastily rose from the large stone, and advanced towards her.
'My dear,' said Sam, sliding up with an air of great respect, 'you'll spile that wery pretty figure out o' all perportion if you shake them carpets by yourself. Let me help you.'
The young lady, who had been coyly affecting not to know that a gentleman was so near, turned round as Sam spoke—no doubt (indeed she said so, afterwards) to decline this offer from a perfect stranger—when instead of speaking, she started back, and uttered a half-suppressed scream. Sam was scarcely less staggered, for in the countenance of the well-shaped female servant, he beheld the very features of his valentine, the pretty housemaid from Mr. Nupkins's.
'Wy, Mary, my dear!' said Sam.
'Lauk, Mr. Weller,' said Mary, 'how you do frighten one!'
Sam made no verbal answer to this complaint, nor can we precisely say what reply he did make. We merely know that after a short pause Mary said, 'Lor, do adun, Mr. Weller!' and that his hat had fallen off a few moments before—from both of which tokens we should be disposed to infer that one kiss, or more, had passed between the parties.
'Why, how did you come here?' said Mary, when the conversation to which this interruption had been offered, was resumed.
'O' course I came to look arter you, my darlin',' replied Mr. Weller; for once permitting his passion to get the better of his veracity.
'And how did you know I was here?' inquired Mary. 'Who could have told you that I took another service at Ipswich, and that they afterwards moved all the way here? Who COULD have told you that, Mr. Weller?'
'Ah, to be sure,' said Sam, with a cunning look, 'that's the pint. Who could ha' told me?'
'It wasn't Mr. Muzzle, was it?' inquired Mary.
'Oh, no.' replied Sam, with a solemn shake of the head, 'it warn't him.'
'It must have been the cook,' said Mary.
'O' course it must,' said Sam.
'Well, I never heard the like of that!' exclaimed Mary.
'No more did I,' said Sam. 'But Mary, my dear'—here Sam's manner grew extremely affectionate—'Mary, my dear, I've got another affair in hand as is wery pressin'. There's one o' my governor's friends—Mr. Winkle, you remember him?'
'Him in the green coat?' said Mary. 'Oh, yes, I remember him.'
'Well,' said Sam, 'he's in a horrid state o' love; reg'larly comfoozled, and done over vith it.'
'Lor!' interposed Mary.
'Yes,' said Sam; 'but that's nothin' if we could find out the young 'ooman;' and here Sam, with many digressions upon the personal beauty of Mary, and the unspeakable tortures he had experienced since he last saw her, gave a faithful account of Mr. Winkle's present predicament.
'Well,' said Mary, 'I never did!'
'O' course not,' said Sam, 'and nobody never did, nor never vill neither; and here am I a-walkin' about like the wandering Jew—a sportin' character you have perhaps heerd on Mary, my dear, as vos alvays doin' a match agin' time, and never vent to sleep—looking arter this here Miss Arabella Allen.'
'Miss who?' said Mary, in great astonishment.
'Miss Arabella Allen,' said Sam.
'Goodness gracious!' said Mary, pointing to the garden door which the sulky groom had locked after him. 'Why, it's that very house; she's been living there these six weeks. Their upper house-maid, which is lady's-maid too, told me all about it over the wash-house palin's before the family was out of bed, one mornin'.'
'Wot, the wery next door to you?' said Sam.
'The very next,' replied Mary.
Mr. Weller was so deeply overcome on receiving this intelligence that he found it absolutely necessary to cling to his fair informant for support; and divers little love passages had passed between them, before he was sufficiently collected to return to the subject.
'Vell,' said Sam at length, 'if this don't beat cock-fightin' nothin' never vill, as the lord mayor said, ven the chief secretary o' state proposed his missis's health arter dinner. That wery next house! Wy, I've got a message to her as I've been a-trying all day to deliver.'
'Ah,' said Mary, 'but you can't deliver it now, because she only walks in the garden in the evening, and then only for a very little time; she never goes out, without the old lady.'
Sam ruminated for a few moments, and finally hit upon the following plan of operations; that he should return just at dusk—the time at which Arabella invariably took her walk—and, being admitted by Mary into the garden of the house to which she belonged, would contrive to scramble up the wall, beneath the overhanging boughs of a large pear-tree, which would effectually screen him from observation; would there deliver his message, and arrange, if possible, an interview on behalf of Mr. Winkle for the ensuing evening at the same hour. Having made this arrangement with great despatch, he assisted Mary in the long-deferred occupation of shaking the carpets.
It is not half as innocent a thing as it looks, that shaking little pieces of carpet—at least, there may be no great harm in the shaking, but the folding is a very insidious process. So long as the shaking lasts, and the two parties are kept the carpet's length apart, it is as innocent an amusement as can well be devised; but when the folding begins, and the distance between them gets gradually lessened from one half its former length to a quarter, and then to an eighth, and then to a sixteenth, and then to a thirty-second, if the carpet be long enough, it becomes dangerous. We do not know, to a nicety, how many pieces of carpet were folded in this instance, but we can venture to state that as many pieces as there were, so many times did Sam kiss the pretty housemaid.
Mr. Weller regaled himself with moderation at the nearest tavern until it was nearly dusk, and then returned to the lane without the thoroughfare. Having been admitted into the garden by Mary, and having received from that lady sundry admonitions concerning the safety of his limbs and neck, Sam mounted into the pear-tree, to wait until Arabella should come into sight.
He waited so long without this anxiously-expected event occurring, that he began to think it was not going to take place at all, when he heard light footsteps upon the gravel, and immediately afterwards beheld Arabella walking pensively down the garden. As soon as she came nearly below the tree, Sam began, by way of gently indicating his presence, to make sundry diabolical noises similar to those which would probably be natural to a person of middle age who had been afflicted with a combination of inflammatory sore throat, croup, and whooping-cough, from his earliest infancy.
Upon this, the young lady cast a hurried glance towards the spot whence the dreadful sounds proceeded; and her previous alarm being not at all diminished when she saw a man among the branches, she would most certainly have decamped, and alarmed the house, had not fear fortunately deprived her of the power of moving, and caused her to sink down on a garden seat, which happened by good luck to be near at hand.
'She's a-goin' off,' soliloquised Sam in great perplexity. 'Wot a thing it is, as these here young creeturs will go a-faintin' avay just ven they oughtn't to. Here, young 'ooman, Miss Sawbones, Mrs. Vinkle, don't!'
Whether it was the magic of Mr. Winkle's name, or the coolness of the open air, or some recollection of Mr. Weller's voice, that revived Arabella, matters not. She raised her head and languidly inquired, 'Who's that, and what do you want?'
'Hush,' said Sam, swinging himself on to the wall, and crouching there in as small a compass as he could reduce himself to, 'only me, miss, only me.'
'Mr. Pickwick's servant!' said Arabella earnestly.
'The wery same, miss,' replied Sam. 'Here's Mr. Vinkle reg'larly sewed up vith desperation, miss.'
'Ah!' said Arabella, drawing nearer the wall.
'Ah, indeed,' said Sam. 'Ve thought ve should ha' been obliged to strait-veskit him last night; he's been a-ravin' all day; and he says if he can't see you afore to-morrow night's over, he vishes he may be somethin' unpleasanted if he don't drownd hisself.'
'Oh, no, no, Mr. Weller!' said Arabella, clasping her hands.
'That's wot he says, miss,' replied Sam coolly. 'He's a man of his word, and it's my opinion he'll do it, miss. He's heerd all about you from the sawbones in barnacles.'
'From my brother!' said Arabella, having some faint recognition of Sam's description.
'I don't rightly know which is your brother, miss,' replied Sam. 'Is it the dirtiest vun o' the two?'
'Yes, yes, Mr. Weller,' returned Arabella, 'go on. Make haste, pray.'
'Well, miss,' said Sam, 'he's heerd all about it from him; and it's the gov'nor's opinion that if you don't see him wery quick, the sawbones as we've been a-speakin' on, 'ull get as much extra lead in his head as'll rayther damage the dewelopment o' the orgins if they ever put it in spirits artervards.'
'Oh, what can I do to prevent these dreadful quarrels!' exclaimed Arabella.
'It's the suspicion of a priory 'tachment as is the cause of it all,' replied Sam. 'You'd better see him, miss.'
'But how?—where?'cried Arabella. 'I dare not leave the house alone. My brother is so unkind, so unreasonable! I know how strange my talking thus to you may appear, Mr. Weller, but I am very, very unhappy—' and here poor Arabella wept so bitterly that Sam grew chivalrous.
'It may seem wery strange talkin' to me about these here affairs, miss,' said Sam, with great vehemence; 'but all I can say is, that I'm not only ready but villin' to do anythin' as'll make matters agreeable; and if chuckin' either o' them sawboneses out o' winder 'ull do it, I'm the man.' As Sam Weller said this, he tucked up his wristbands, at the imminent hazard of falling off the wall in so doing, to intimate his readiness to set to work immediately.
Flattering as these professions of good feeling were, Arabella resolutely declined (most unaccountably, as Sam thought) to avail herself of them. For some time she strenuously refused to grant Mr. Winkle the interview Sam had so pathetically requested; but at length, when the conversation threatened to be interrupted by the unwelcome arrival of a third party, she hurriedly gave him to understand, with many professions of gratitude, that it was barely possible she might be in the garden an hour later, next evening. Sam understood this perfectly well; and Arabella, bestowing upon him one of her sweetest smiles, tripped gracefully away, leaving Mr. Weller in a state of very great admiration of her charms, both personal and mental.
Having descended in safety from the wall, and not forgotten to devote a few moments to his own particular business in the same department, Mr. Weller then made the best of his way back to the Bush, where his prolonged absence had occasioned much speculation and some alarm.
'We must be careful,' said Mr. Pickwick, after listening attentively to Sam's tale, 'not for our sakes, but for that of the young lady. We must be very cautious.'
'WE!' said Mr. Winkle, with marked emphasis.
Mr. Pickwick's momentary look of indignation at the tone of this remark, subsided into his characteristic expression of benevolence, as he replied—
'WE, Sir! I shall accompany you.'
'You!' said Mr. Winkle.
'I,' replied Mr. Pickwick mildly. 'In affording you this interview, the young lady has taken a natural, perhaps, but still a very imprudent step. If I am present at the meeting—a mutual friend, who is old enough to be the father of both parties—the voice of calumny can never be raised against her hereafter.'
Mr. Pickwick's eyes lightened with honest exultation at his own foresight, as he spoke thus. Mr. Winkle was touched by this little trait of his delicate respect for the young PROTEGEE of his friend, and took his hand with a feeling of regard, akin to veneration.
'You SHALL go,' said Mr. Winkle.
'I will,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Sam, have my greatcoat and shawl ready, and order a conveyance to be at the door to-morrow evening, rather earlier than is absolutely necessary, in order that we may be in good time.'
Mr. Weller touched his hat, as an earnest of his obedience, and withdrew to make all needful preparations for the expedition.
The coach was punctual to the time appointed; and Mr. Weller, after duly installing Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Winkle inside, took his seat on the box by the driver. They alighted, as had been agreed on, about a quarter of a mile from the place of rendezvous, and desiring the coachman to await their return, proceeded the remaining distance on foot.
It was at this stage of the undertaking that Mr. Pickwick, with many smiles and various other indications of great self-satisfaction, produced from one of his coat pockets a dark lantern, with which he had specially provided himself for the occasion, and the great mechanical beauty of which he proceeded to explain to Mr. Winkle, as they walked along, to the no small surprise of the few stragglers they met.
'I should have been the better for something of this kind, in my last garden expedition, at night; eh, Sam?' said Mr. Pickwick, looking good-humouredly round at his follower, who was trudging behind.
'Wery nice things, if they're managed properly, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller; 'but wen you don't want to be seen, I think they're more useful arter the candle's gone out, than wen it's alight.'
Mr. Pickwick appeared struck by Sam's remarks, for he put the lantern into his pocket again, and they walked on in silence.
'Down here, Sir,' said Sam. 'Let me lead the way. This is the lane, Sir.'
Down the lane they went, and dark enough it was. Mr. Pickwick brought out the lantern, once or twice, as they groped their way along, and threw a very brilliant little tunnel of light before them, about a foot in diameter. It was very pretty to look at, but seemed to have the effect of rendering surrounding objects rather darker than before.
At length they arrived at the large stone. Here Sam recommended his master and Mr. Winkle to seat themselves, while he reconnoitred, and ascertained whether Mary was yet in waiting.
After an absence of five or ten minutes, Sam returned to say that the gate was opened, and all quiet. Following him with stealthy tread, Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Winkle soon found themselves in the garden. Here everybody said, 'Hush!' a good many times; and that being done, no one seemed to have any very distinct apprehension of what was to be done next.
'Is Miss Allen in the garden yet, Mary?' inquired Mr. Winkle, much agitated.
'I don't know, sir,' replied the pretty housemaid. 'The best thing to be done, sir, will be for Mr. Weller to give you a hoist up into the tree, and perhaps Mr. Pickwick will have the goodness to see that nobody comes up the lane, while I watch at the other end of the garden. Goodness gracious, what's that?'
'That 'ere blessed lantern 'ull be the death on us all,' exclaimed Sam peevishly. 'Take care wot you're a-doin' on, sir; you're a-sendin' a blaze o' light, right into the back parlour winder.'
'Dear me!' said Mr. Pickwick, turning hastily aside, 'I didn't mean to do that.'
'Now, it's in the next house, sir,' remonstrated Sam.
'Bless my heart!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, turning round again.
'Now, it's in the stable, and they'll think the place is afire,' said Sam. 'Shut it up, sir, can't you?'
'It's the most extraordinary lantern I ever met with, in all my life!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, greatly bewildered by the effects he had so unintentionally produced. 'I never saw such a powerful reflector.'
'It'll be vun too powerful for us, if you keep blazin' avay in that manner, sir,' replied Sam, as Mr. Pickwick, after various unsuccessful efforts, managed to close the slide. 'There's the young lady's footsteps. Now, Mr. Winkle, sir, up vith you.'
'Stop, stop!' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I must speak to her first. Help me up, Sam.'
'Gently, Sir,' said Sam, planting his head against the wall, and making a platform of his back. 'Step atop o' that 'ere flower-pot, Sir. Now then, up vith you.'
'I'm afraid I shall hurt you, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Never mind me, Sir,' replied Sam. 'Lend him a hand, Mr. Winkle, sir. Steady, sir, steady! That's the time o' day!'
As Sam spoke, Mr. Pickwick, by exertions almost supernatural in a gentleman of his years and weight, contrived to get upon Sam's back; and Sam gently raising himself up, and Mr. Pickwick holding on fast by the top of the wall, while Mr. Winkle clasped him tight by the legs, they contrived by these means to bring his spectacles just above the level of the coping.
'My dear,' said Mr. Pickwick, looking over the wall, and catching sight of Arabella, on the other side, 'don't be frightened, my dear, it's only me.' 'Oh, pray go away, Mr. Pickwick,' said Arabella. 'Tell them all to go away. I am so dreadfully frightened. Dear, dear Mr. Pickwick, don't stop there. You'll fall down and kill yourself, I know you will.'
'Now, pray don't alarm yourself, my dear,' said Mr. Pickwick soothingly. 'There is not the least cause for fear, I assure you. Stand firm, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, looking down.
'All right, sir,' replied Mr. Weller. 'Don't be longer than you can conweniently help, sir. You're rayther heavy.'
'Only another moment, Sam,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
'I merely wished you to know, my dear, that I should not have allowed my young friend to see you in this clandestine way, if the situation in which you are placed had left him any alternative; and, lest the impropriety of this step should cause you any uneasiness, my love, it may be a satisfaction to you, to know that I am present. That's all, my dear.'
'Indeed, Mr. Pickwick, I am very much obliged to you for your kindness and consideration,' replied Arabella, drying her tears with her handkerchief. She would probably have said much more, had not Mr. Pickwick's head disappeared with great swiftness, in consequence of a false step on Sam's shoulder which brought him suddenly to the ground. He was up again in an instant however; and bidding Mr. Winkle make haste and get the interview over, ran out into the lane to keep watch, with all the courage and ardour of youth. Mr. Winkle himself, inspired by the occasion, was on the wall in a moment, merely pausing to request Sam to be careful of his master.
'I'll take care on him, sir,' replied Sam. 'Leave him to me.'
'Where is he? What's he doing, Sam?' inquired Mr. Winkle.
'Bless his old gaiters,' rejoined Sam, looking out at the garden door. 'He's a-keepin' guard in the lane vith that 'ere dark lantern, like a amiable Guy Fawkes! I never see such a fine creetur in my days. Blessed if I don't think his heart must ha' been born five-and-twenty year arter his body, at least!'
Mr. Winkle stayed not to hear the encomium upon his friend. He had dropped from the wall; thrown himself at Arabella's feet; and by this time was pleading the sincerity of his passion with an eloquence worthy even of Mr. Pickwick himself.
While these things were going on in the open air, an elderly gentleman of scientific attainments was seated in his library, two or three houses off, writing a philosophical treatise, and ever and anon moistening his clay and his labours with a glass of claret from a venerable-looking bottle which stood by his side. In the agonies of composition, the elderly gentleman looked sometimes at the carpet, sometimes at the ceiling, and sometimes at the wall; and when neither carpet, ceiling, nor wall afforded the requisite degree of inspiration, he looked out of the window.
In one of these pauses of invention, the scientific gentleman was gazing abstractedly on the thick darkness outside, when he was very much surprised by observing a most brilliant light glide through the air, at a short distance above the ground, and almost instantaneously vanish. After a short time the phenomenon was repeated, not once or twice, but several times; at last the scientific gentleman, laying down his pen, began to consider to what natural causes these appearances were to be assigned.
They were not meteors; they were too low. They were not glow-worms; they were too high. They were not will-o'-the-wisps; they were not fireflies; they were not fireworks. What could they be? Some extraordinary and wonderful phenomenon of nature, which no philosopher had ever seen before; something which it had been reserved for him alone to discover, and which he should immortalise his name by chronicling for the benefit of posterity. Full of this idea, the scientific gentleman seized his pen again, and committed to paper sundry notes of these unparalleled appearances, with the date, day, hour, minute, and precise second at which they were visible: all of which were to form the data of a voluminous treatise of great research and deep learning, which should astonish all the atmospherical wiseacres that ever drew breath in any part of the civilised globe.
He threw himself back in his easy-chair, wrapped in contemplations of his future greatness. The mysterious light appeared more brilliantly than before, dancing, to all appearance, up and down the lane, crossing from side to side, and moving in an orbit as eccentric as comets themselves.
The scientific gentleman was a bachelor. He had no wife to call in and astonish, so he rang the bell for his servant.
'Pruffle,' said the scientific gentleman, 'there is something very extraordinary in the air to-night? Did you see that?' said the scientific gentleman, pointing out of the window, as the light again became visible.
'Yes, I did, Sir.'
'What do you think of it, Pruffle?'
'Think of it, Sir?'
'Yes. You have been bred up in this country. What should you say was the cause for those lights, now?'
The scientific gentleman smilingly anticipated Pruffle's reply that he could assign no cause for them at all. Pruffle meditated.
'I should say it was thieves, Sir,' said Pruffle at length.
'You're a fool, and may go downstairs,' said the scientific gentleman.
'Thank you, Sir,' said Pruffle. And down he went.
But the scientific gentleman could not rest under the idea of the ingenious treatise he had projected being lost to the world, which must inevitably be the case if the speculation of the ingenious Mr. Pruffle were not stifled in its birth. He put on his hat and walked quickly down the garden, determined to investigate the matter to the very bottom.
Now, shortly before the scientific gentleman walked out into the garden, Mr. Pickwick had run down the lane as fast as he could, to convey a false alarm that somebody was coming that way; occasionally drawing back the slide of the dark lantern to keep himself from the ditch. The alarm was no sooner given, than Mr. Winkle scrambled back over the wall, and Arabella ran into the house; the garden gate was shut, and the three adventurers were making the best of their way down the lane, when they were startled by the scientific gentleman unlocking his garden gate.
'Hold hard,' whispered Sam, who was, of course, the first of the party. 'Show a light for just vun second, Sir.'
Mr. Pickwick did as he was desired, and Sam, seeing a man's head peeping out very cautiously within half a yard of his own, gave it a gentle tap with his clenched fist, which knocked it, with a hollow sound, against the gate. Having performed this feat with great suddenness and dexterity, Mr. Weller caught Mr. Pickwick up on his back, and followed Mr. Winkle down the lane at a pace which, considering the burden he carried, was perfectly astonishing.
'Have you got your vind back agin, Sir,' inquired Sam, when they had reached the end.
'Quite. Quite, now,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
'Then come along, Sir,' said Sam, setting his master on his feet again. 'Come betveen us, sir. Not half a mile to run. Think you're vinnin' a cup, sir. Now for it.'
Thus encouraged, Mr. Pickwick made the very best use of his legs. It may be confidently stated that a pair of black gaiters never got over the ground in better style than did those of Mr. Pickwick on this memorable occasion.
The coach was waiting, the horses were fresh, the roads were good, and the driver was willing. The whole party arrived in safety at the Bush before Mr. Pickwick had recovered his breath.
'in with you at once, sir,' said Sam, as he helped his master out. 'Don't stop a second in the street, arter that 'ere exercise. Beg your pardon, sir,'continued Sam, touching his hat as Mr. Winkle descended, 'hope there warn't a priory 'tachment, sir?'
Mr. Winkle grasped his humble friend by the hand, and whispered in his ear, 'It's all right, Sam; quite right.' Upon which Mr. Weller struck three distinct blows upon his nose in token of intelligence, smiled, winked, and proceeded to put the steps up, with a countenance expressive of lively satisfaction.
As to the scientific gentleman, he demonstrated, in a masterly treatise, that these wonderful lights were the effect of electricity; and clearly proved the same by detailing how a flash of fire danced before his eyes when he put his head out of the gate, and how he received a shock which stunned him for a quarter of an hour afterwards; which demonstration delighted all the scientific associations beyond measure, and caused him to be considered a light of science ever afterwards.
CHAPTER XL. INTRODUCES Mr. PICKWICK TO A NEW AND NOT UNINTERESTING SCENE IN THE GREAT DRAMA OF LIFE
The remainder of the period which Mr. Pickwick had assigned as the duration of the stay at Bath passed over without the occurrence of anything material. Trinity term commenced. On the expiration of its first week, Mr. Pickwick and his friends returned to London; and the former gentleman, attended of course by Sam, straightway repaired to his old quarters at the George and Vulture.
On the third morning after their arrival, just as all the clocks in the city were striking nine individually, and somewhere about nine hundred and ninety-nine collectively, Sam was taking the air in George Yard, when a queer sort of fresh-painted vehicle drove up, out of which there jumped with great agility, throwing the reins to a stout man who sat beside him, a queer sort of gentleman, who seemed made for the vehicle, and the vehicle for him.
The vehicle was not exactly a gig, neither was it a stanhope. It was not what is currently denominated a dog-cart, neither was it a taxed cart, nor a chaise-cart, nor a guillotined cabriolet; and yet it had something of the character of each and every of these machines. It was painted a bright yellow, with the shafts and wheels picked out in black; and the driver sat in the orthodox sporting style, on cushions piled about two feet above the rail. The horse was a bay, a well-looking animal enough; but with something of a flash and dog-fighting air about him, nevertheless, which accorded both with the vehicle and his master.
The master himself was a man of about forty, with black hair, and carefully combed whiskers. He was dressed in a particularly gorgeous manner, with plenty of articles of jewellery about him—all about three sizes larger than those which are usually worn by gentlemen—and a rough greatcoat to crown the whole. Into one pocket of this greatcoat, he thrust his left hand the moment he dismounted, while from the other he drew forth, with his right, a very bright and glaring silk handkerchief, with which he whisked a speck or two of dust from his boots, and then, crumpling it in his hand, swaggered up the court.
It had not escaped Sam's attention that, when this person dismounted, a shabby-looking man in a brown greatcoat shorn of divers buttons, who had been previously slinking about, on the opposite side of the way, crossed over, and remained stationary close by. Having something more than a suspicion of the object of the gentleman's visit, Sam preceded him to the George and Vulture, and, turning sharp round, planted himself in the Centre of the doorway.
'Now, my fine fellow!' said the man in the rough coat, in an imperious tone, attempting at the same time to push his way past.
'Now, Sir, wot's the matter?' replied Sam, returning the push with compound interest.
'Come, none of this, my man; this won't do with me,' said the owner of the rough coat, raising his voice, and turning white. 'Here, Smouch!'
'Well, wot's amiss here?' growled the man in the brown coat, who had been gradually sneaking up the court during this short dialogue.
'Only some insolence of this young man's,' said the principal, giving Sam another push.
'Come, none o' this gammon,' growled Smouch, giving him another, and a harder one.
This last push had the effect which it was intended by the experienced Mr. Smouch to produce; for while Sam, anxious to return the compliment, was grinding that gentleman's body against the door-post, the principal crept past, and made his way to the bar, whither Sam, after bandying a few epithetical remarks with Mr. Smouch, followed at once.
'Good-morning, my dear,' said the principal, addressing the young lady at the bar, with Botany Bay ease, and New South Wales gentility; 'which is Mr. Pickwick's room, my dear?'
'Show him up,' said the barmaid to a waiter, without deigning another look at the exquisite, in reply to his inquiry.
The waiter led the way upstairs as he was desired, and the man in the rough coat followed, with Sam behind him, who, in his progress up the staircase, indulged in sundry gestures indicative of supreme contempt and defiance, to the unspeakable gratification of the servants and other lookers-on. Mr. Smouch, who was troubled with a hoarse cough, remained below, and expectorated in the passage.
Mr. Pickwick was fast asleep in bed, when his early visitor, followed by Sam, entered the room. The noise they made, in so doing, awoke him.
'Shaving-water, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, from within the curtains.
'Shave you directly, Mr. Pickwick,' said the visitor, drawing one of them back from the bed's head. 'I've got an execution against you, at the suit of Bardell.—Here's the warrant.—Common Pleas.—Here's my card. I suppose you'll come over to my house.' Giving Mr. Pickwick a friendly tap on the shoulder, the sheriff's officer (for such he was) threw his card on the counterpane, and pulled a gold toothpick from his waistcoat pocket.
'Namby's the name,' said the sheriff's deputy, as Mr. Pickwick took his spectacles from under the pillow, and put them on, to read the card. 'Namby, Bell Alley, Coleman Street.'
At this point, Sam Weller, who had had his eyes fixed hitherto on Mr. Namby's shining beaver, interfered.
'Are you a Quaker?' said Sam.
'I'll let you know I am, before I've done with you,' replied the indignant officer. 'I'll teach you manners, my fine fellow, one of these fine mornings.'
'Thank'ee,' said Sam. 'I'll do the same to you. Take your hat off.' With this, Mr. Weller, in the most dexterous manner, knocked Mr. Namby's hat to the other side of the room, with such violence, that he had very nearly caused him to swallow the gold toothpick into the bargain.
'Observe this, Mr. Pickwick,' said the disconcerted officer, gasping for breath. 'I've been assaulted in the execution of my dooty by your servant in your chamber. I'm in bodily fear. I call you to witness this.'
'Don't witness nothin', Sir,' interposed Sam. 'Shut your eyes up tight, Sir. I'd pitch him out o' winder, only he couldn't fall far enough, 'cause o' the leads outside.'
'Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, in an angry voice, as his attendant made various demonstrations of hostilities, 'if you say another word, or offer the slightest interference with this person, I discharge you that instant.'
'But, Sir!' said Sam.
'Hold your tongue,' interposed Mr. Pickwick. 'Take that hat up again.'
But this Sam flatly and positively refused to do; and, after he had been severely reprimanded by his master, the officer, being in a hurry, condescended to pick it up himself, venting a great variety of threats against Sam meanwhile, which that gentleman received with perfect composure, merely observing that if Mr. Namby would have the goodness to put his hat on again, he would knock it into the latter end of next week. Mr. Namby, perhaps thinking that such a process might be productive of inconvenience to himself, declined to offer the temptation, and, soon after, called up Smouch. Having informed him that the capture was made, and that he was to wait for the prisoner until he should have finished dressing, Namby then swaggered out, and drove away. Smouch, requesting Mr. Pickwick in a surly manner 'to be as alive as he could, for it was a busy time,' drew up a chair by the door and sat there, until he had finished dressing. Sam was then despatched for a hackney-coach, and in it the triumvirate proceeded to Coleman Street. It was fortunate the distance was short; for Mr. Smouch, besides possessing no very enchanting conversational powers, was rendered a decidedly unpleasant companion in a limited space, by the physical weakness to which we have elsewhere adverted.
The coach having turned into a very narrow and dark street, stopped before a house with iron bars to all the windows; the door-posts of which were graced by the name and title of 'Namby, Officer to the Sheriffs of London'; the inner gate having been opened by a gentleman who might have passed for a neglected twin-brother of Mr. Smouch, and who was endowed with a large key for the purpose, Mr. Pickwick was shown into the 'coffee-room.'
This coffee-room was a front parlour, the principal features of which were fresh sand and stale tobacco smoke. Mr. Pickwick bowed to the three persons who were seated in it when he entered; and having despatched Sam for Perker, withdrew into an obscure corner, and looked thence with some curiosity upon his new companions.
One of these was a mere boy of nineteen or twenty, who, though it was yet barely ten o'clock, was drinking gin-and-water, and smoking a cigar—amusements to which, judging from his inflamed countenance, he had devoted himself pretty constantly for the last year or two of his life. Opposite him, engaged in stirring the fire with the toe of his right boot, was a coarse, vulgar young man of about thirty, with a sallow face and harsh voice; evidently possessed of that knowledge of the world, and captivating freedom of manner, which is to be acquired in public-house parlours, and at low billiard tables. The third tenant of the apartment was a middle-aged man in a very old suit of black, who looked pale and haggard, and paced up and down the room incessantly; stopping, now and then, to look with great anxiety out of the window as if he expected somebody, and then resuming his walk.
'You'd better have the loan of my razor this morning, Mr. Ayresleigh,' said the man who was stirring the fire, tipping the wink to his friend the boy.
'Thank you, no, I shan't want it; I expect I shall be out, in the course of an hour or so,' replied the other in a hurried manner. Then, walking again up to the window, and once more returning disappointed, he sighed deeply, and left the room; upon which the other two burst into a loud laugh.
'Well, I never saw such a game as that,' said the gentleman who had offered the razor, whose name appeared to be Price. 'Never!' Mr. Price confirmed the assertion with an oath, and then laughed again, when of course the boy (who thought his companion one of the most dashing fellows alive) laughed also.
'You'd hardly think, would you now,' said Price, turning towards Mr. Pickwick, 'that that chap's been here a week yesterday, and never once shaved himself yet, because he feels so certain he's going out in half an hour's time, thinks he may as well put it off till he gets home?'
'Poor man!' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Are his chances of getting out of his difficulties really so great?'
'Chances be d—d,' replied Price; 'he hasn't half the ghost of one. I wouldn't give THAT for his chance of walking about the streets this time ten years.' With this, Mr. Price snapped his fingers contemptuously, and rang the bell.
'Give me a sheet of paper, Crookey,' said Mr. Price to the attendant, who in dress and general appearance looked something between a bankrupt glazier, and a drover in a state of insolvency; 'and a glass of brandy-and-water, Crookey, d'ye hear? I'm going to write to my father, and I must have a stimulant, or I shan't be able to pitch it strong enough into the old boy.' At this facetious speech, the young boy, it is almost needless to say, was fairly convulsed.
'That's right,' said Mr. Price. 'Never say die. All fun, ain't it?'
'Prime!' said the young gentleman.
'You've got some spirit about you, you have,' said Price. 'You've seen something of life.'
'I rather think I have!' replied the boy. He had looked at it through the dirty panes of glass in a bar door.
Mr. Pickwick, feeling not a little disgusted with this dialogue, as well as with the air and manner of the two beings by whom it had been carried on, was about to inquire whether he could not be accommodated with a private sitting-room, when two or three strangers of genteel appearance entered, at sight of whom the boy threw his cigar into the fire, and whispering to Mr. Price that they had come to 'make it all right' for him, joined them at a table in the farther end of the room.
It would appear, however, that matters were not going to be made all right quite so speedily as the young gentleman anticipated; for a very long conversation ensued, of which Mr. Pickwick could not avoid hearing certain angry fragments regarding dissolute conduct, and repeated forgiveness. At last, there were very distinct allusions made by the oldest gentleman of the party to one Whitecross Street, at which the young gentleman, notwithstanding his primeness and his spirit, and his knowledge of life into the bargain, reclined his head upon the table, and howled dismally.
Very much satisfied with this sudden bringing down of the youth's valour, and this effectual lowering of his tone, Mr. Pickwick rang the bell, and was shown, at his own request, into a private room furnished with a carpet, table, chairs, sideboard and sofa, and ornamented with a looking-glass, and various old prints. Here he had the advantage of hearing Mrs. Namby's performance on a square piano overhead, while the breakfast was getting ready; when it came, Mr. Perker came too.
'Aha, my dear sir,' said the little man, 'nailed at last, eh? Come, come, I'm not sorry for it either, because now you'll see the absurdity of this conduct. I've noted down the amount of the taxed costs and damages for which the ca-sa was issued, and we had better settle at once and lose no time. Namby is come home by this time, I dare say. What say you, my dear sir? Shall I draw a cheque, or will you?' The little man rubbed his hands with affected cheerfulness as he said this, but glancing at Mr. Pickwick's countenance, could not forbear at the same time casting a desponding look towards Sam Weller.
'Perker,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'let me hear no more of this, I beg. I see no advantage in staying here, so I Shall go to prison to-night.'
'You can't go to Whitecross Street, my dear Sir,' said Perker. 'Impossible! There are sixty beds in a ward; and the bolt's on, sixteen hours out of the four-and-twenty.'
'I would rather go to some other place of confinement if I can,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'If not, I must make the best I can of that.'
'You can go to the Fleet, my dear Sir, if you're determined to go somewhere,' said Perker.
'That'll do,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'I'll go there directly I have finished my breakfast.'
'Stop, stop, my dear Sir; not the least occasion for being in such a violent hurry to get into a place that most other men are as eager to get out of,' said the good-natured little attorney. 'We must have a habeas-corpus. There'll be no judge at chambers till four o'clock this afternoon. You must wait till then.'
'Very good,' said Mr. Pickwick, with unmoved patience. 'Then we will have a chop here, at two. See about it, Sam, and tell them to be punctual.'
Mr. Pickwick remaining firm, despite all the remonstrances and arguments of Perker, the chops appeared and disappeared in due course; he was then put into another hackney coach, and carried off to Chancery Lane, after waiting half an hour or so for Mr. Namby, who had a select dinner-party and could on no account be disturbed before.
There were two judges in attendance at Serjeant's Inn—one King's Bench, and one Common Pleas—and a great deal of business appeared to be transacting before them, if the number of lawyer's clerks who were hurrying in and out with bundles of papers, afforded any test. When they reached the low archway which forms the entrance to the inn, Perker was detained a few moments parlaying with the coachman about the fare and the change; and Mr. Pickwick, stepping to one side to be out of the way of the stream of people that were pouring in and out, looked about him with some curiosity.
The people that attracted his attention most, were three or four men of shabby-genteel appearance, who touched their hats to many of the attorneys who passed, and seemed to have some business there, the nature of which Mr. Pickwick could not divine. They were curious-looking fellows. One was a slim and rather lame man in rusty black, and a white neckerchief; another was a stout, burly person, dressed in the same apparel, with a great reddish-black cloth round his neck; a third was a little weazen, drunken-looking body, with a pimply face. They were loitering about, with their hands behind them, and now and then with an anxious countenance whispered something in the ear of some of the gentlemen with papers, as they hurried by. Mr. Pickwick remembered to have very often observed them lounging under the archway when he had been walking past; and his curiosity was quite excited to know to what branch of the profession these dingy-looking loungers could possibly belong.
He was about to propound the question to Namby, who kept close beside him, sucking a large gold ring on his little finger, when Perker bustled up, and observing that there was no time to lose, led the way into the inn. As Mr. Pickwick followed, the lame man stepped up to him, and civilly touching his hat, held out a written card, which Mr. Pickwick, not wishing to hurt the man's feelings by refusing, courteously accepted and deposited in his waistcoat pocket.
'Now,' said Perker, turning round before he entered one of the offices, to see that his companions were close behind him. 'In here, my dear sir. Hallo, what do you want?'
This last question was addressed to the lame man, who, unobserved by Mr. Pickwick, made one of the party. In reply to it, the lame man touched his hat again, with all imaginable politeness, and motioned towards Mr. Pickwick.
'No, no,' said Perker, with a smile. 'We don't want you, my dear friend, we don't want you.'
'I beg your pardon, sir,' said the lame man. 'The gentleman took my card. I hope you will employ me, sir. The gentleman nodded to me. I'll be judged by the gentleman himself. You nodded to me, sir?'
'Pooh, pooh, nonsense. You didn't nod to anybody, Pickwick? A mistake, a mistake,' said Perker.
'The gentleman handed me his card,' replied Mr. Pickwick, producing it from his waistcoat pocket. 'I accepted it, as the gentleman seemed to wish it—in fact I had some curiosity to look at it when I should be at leisure. I—'
The little attorney burst into a loud laugh, and returning the card to the lame man, informing him it was all a mistake, whispered to Mr. Pickwick as the man turned away in dudgeon, that he was only a bail.
'A what!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick.
'A bail,' replied Perker.
'A bail!' 'Yes, my dear sir—half a dozen of 'em here. Bail you to any amount, and only charge half a crown. Curious trade, isn't it?' said Perker, regaling himself with a pinch of snuff.
'What! Am I to understand that these men earn a livelihood by waiting about here, to perjure themselves before the judges of the land, at the rate of half a crown a crime?' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, quite aghast at the disclosure.
'Why, I don't exactly know about perjury, my dear sir,' replied the little gentleman. 'Harsh word, my dear sir, very harsh word indeed. It's a legal fiction, my dear sir, nothing more.' Saying which, the attorney shrugged his shoulders, smiled, took a second pinch of snuff, and led the way into the office of the judge's clerk.
This was a room of specially dirty appearance, with a very low ceiling and old panelled walls; and so badly lighted, that although it was broad day outside, great tallow candles were burning on the desks. At one end, was a door leading to the judge's private apartment, round which were congregated a crowd of attorneys and managing clerks, who were called in, in the order in which their respective appointments stood upon the file. Every time this door was opened to let a party out, the next party made a violent rush to get in; and, as in addition to the numerous dialogues which passed between the gentlemen who were waiting to see the judge, a variety of personal squabbles ensued between the greater part of those who had seen him, there was as much noise as could well be raised in an apartment of such confined dimensions.
Nor were the conversations of these gentlemen the only sounds that broke upon the ear. Standing on a box behind a wooden bar at another end of the room was a clerk in spectacles who was 'taking the affidavits'; large batches of which were, from time to time, carried into the private room by another clerk for the judge's signature. There were a large number of attorneys' clerks to be sworn, and it being a moral impossibility to swear them all at once, the struggles of these gentlemen to reach the clerk in spectacles, were like those of a crowd to get in at the pit door of a theatre when Gracious Majesty honours it with its presence. Another functionary, from time to time, exercised his lungs in calling over the names of those who had been sworn, for the purpose of restoring to them their affidavits after they had been signed by the judge, which gave rise to a few more scuffles; and all these things going on at the same time, occasioned as much bustle as the most active and excitable person could desire to behold. There were yet another class of persons—those who were waiting to attend summonses their employers had taken out, which it was optional to the attorney on the opposite side to attend or not—and whose business it was, from time to time, to cry out the opposite attorney's name; to make certain that he was not in attendance without their knowledge.
For example. Leaning against the wall, close beside the seat Mr. Pickwick had taken, was an office-lad of fourteen, with a tenor voice; near him a common-law clerk with a bass one.
A clerk hurried in with a bundle of papers, and stared about him.
'Sniggle and Blink,' cried the tenor.
'Porkin and Snob,' growled the bass. 'Stumpy and Deacon,' said the new-comer.
Nobody answered; the next man who came in, was bailed by the whole three; and he in his turn shouted for another firm; and then somebody else roared in a loud voice for another; and so forth.
All this time, the man in the spectacles was hard at work, swearing the clerks; the oath being invariably administered, without any effort at punctuation, and usually in the following terms:—
'Take the book in your right hand this is your name and hand-writing you swear that the contents of this your affidavit are true so help you God a shilling you must get change I haven't got it.'
'Well, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I suppose they are getting the HABEAS-CORPUS ready?'
'Yes,' said Sam, 'and I vish they'd bring out the have-his-carcase. It's wery unpleasant keepin' us vaitin' here. I'd ha' got half a dozen have-his-carcases ready, pack'd up and all, by this time.'
What sort of cumbrous and unmanageable machine, Sam Weller imagined a habeas-corpus to be, does not appear; for Perker, at that moment, walked up and took Mr. Pickwick away.
The usual forms having been gone through, the body of Samuel Pickwick was soon afterwards confided to the custody of the tipstaff, to be by him taken to the warden of the Fleet Prison, and there detained until the amount of the damages and costs in the action of Bardell against Pickwick was fully paid and satisfied.
'And that,' said Mr. Pickwick, laughing, 'will be a very long time. Sam, call another hackney-coach. Perker, my dear friend, good-bye.'
'I shall go with you, and see you safe there,' said Perker.
'Indeed,' replied Mr. Pickwick, 'I would rather go without any other attendant than Sam. As soon as I get settled, I will write and let you know, and I shall expect you immediately. Until then, good-bye.'
As Mr. Pickwick said this, he got into the coach which had by this time arrived, followed by the tipstaff. Sam having stationed himself on the box, it rolled away.
'A most extraordinary man that!' said Perker, as he stopped to pull on his gloves.
'What a bankrupt he'd make, Sir,' observed Mr. Lowten, who was standing near. 'How he would bother the commissioners! He'd set 'em at defiance if they talked of committing him, Sir.'
The attorney did not appear very much delighted with his clerk's professional estimate of Mr. Pickwick's character, for he walked away without deigning any reply.
The hackney-coach jolted along Fleet Street, as hackney-coaches usually do. The horses 'went better', the driver said, when they had anything before them (they must have gone at a most extraordinary pace when there was nothing), and so the vehicle kept behind a cart; when the cart stopped, it stopped; and when the cart went on again, it did the same. Mr. Pickwick sat opposite the tipstaff; and the tipstaff sat with his hat between his knees, whistling a tune, and looking out of the coach window.
Time performs wonders. By the powerful old gentleman's aid, even a hackney-coach gets over half a mile of ground. They stopped at length, and Mr. Pickwick alighted at the gate of the Fleet.
The tipstaff, just looking over his shoulder to see that his charge was following close at his heels, preceded Mr. Pickwick into the prison; turning to the left, after they had entered, they passed through an open door into a lobby, from which a heavy gate, opposite to that by which they had entered, and which was guarded by a stout turnkey with the key in his hand, led at once into the interior of the prison.
Here they stopped, while the tipstaff delivered his papers; and here Mr. Pickwick was apprised that he would remain, until he had undergone the ceremony, known to the initiated as 'sitting for your portrait.'
'Sitting for my portrait?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Having your likeness taken, sir,' replied the stout turnkey. 'We're capital hands at likenesses here. Take 'em in no time, and always exact. Walk in, sir, and make yourself at home.'
Mr. Pickwick complied with the invitation, and sat himself down; when Mr. Weller, who stationed himself at the back of the chair, whispered that the sitting was merely another term for undergoing an inspection by the different turnkeys, in order that they might know prisoners from visitors.
'Well, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'then I wish the artists would come. This is rather a public place.'
'They von't be long, Sir, I des-say,' replied Sam. 'There's a Dutch clock, sir.'
'So I see,' observed Mr. Pickwick.
'And a bird-cage, sir,' says Sam. 'Veels vithin veels, a prison in a prison. Ain't it, Sir?'
As Mr. Weller made this philosophical remark, Mr. Pickwick was aware that his sitting had commenced. The stout turnkey having been relieved from the lock, sat down, and looked at him carelessly, from time to time, while a long thin man who had relieved him, thrust his hands beneath his coat tails, and planting himself opposite, took a good long view of him. A third rather surly-looking gentleman, who had apparently been disturbed at his tea, for he was disposing of the last remnant of a crust and butter when he came in, stationed himself close to Mr. Pickwick; and, resting his hands on his hips, inspected him narrowly; while two others mixed with the group, and studied his features with most intent and thoughtful faces. Mr. Pickwick winced a good deal under the operation, and appeared to sit very uneasily in his chair; but he made no remark to anybody while it was being performed, not even to Sam, who reclined upon the back of the chair, reflecting, partly on the situation of his master, and partly on the great satisfaction it would have afforded him to make a fierce assault upon all the turnkeys there assembled, one after the other, if it were lawful and peaceable so to do.
At length the likeness was completed, and Mr. Pickwick was informed that he might now proceed into the prison.
'Where am I to sleep to-night?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'Why, I don't rightly know about to-night,' replied the stout turnkey. 'You'll be chummed on somebody to-morrow, and then you'll be all snug and comfortable. The first night's generally rather unsettled, but you'll be set all squares to-morrow.'
After some discussion, it was discovered that one of the turnkeys had a bed to let, which Mr. Pickwick could have for that night. He gladly agreed to hire it.
'If you'll come with me, I'll show it you at once,' said the man. 'It ain't a large 'un; but it's an out-and-outer to sleep in. This way, sir.'
They passed through the inner gate, and descended a short flight of steps. The key was turned after them; and Mr. Pickwick found himself, for the first time in his life, within the walls of a debtors' prison.
CHAPTER XLI. WHAT BEFELL Mr. PICKWICK WHEN HE GOT INTO THE FLEET; WHAT PRISONERS HE SAW THERE, AND HOW HE PASSED THE NIGHT
Mr. Tom Roker, the gentleman who had accompanied Mr. Pickwick into the prison, turned sharp round to the right when he got to the bottom of the little flight of steps, and led the way, through an iron gate which stood open, and up another short flight of steps, into a long narrow gallery, dirty and low, paved with stone, and very dimly lighted by a window at each remote end.
'This,' said the gentleman, thrusting his hands into his pockets, and looking carelessly over his shoulder to Mr. Pickwick—'this here is the hall flight.'
'Oh,' replied Mr. Pickwick, looking down a dark and filthy staircase, which appeared to lead to a range of damp and gloomy stone vaults, beneath the ground, 'and those, I suppose, are the little cellars where the prisoners keep their small quantities of coals. Unpleasant places to have to go down to; but very convenient, I dare say.'
'Yes, I shouldn't wonder if they was convenient,' replied the gentleman, 'seeing that a few people live there, pretty snug. That's the Fair, that is.'
'My friend,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'you don't really mean to say that human beings live down in those wretched dungeons?'
'Don't I?' replied Mr. Roker, with indignant astonishment; 'why shouldn't I?'
'Live!—live down there!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick.
'Live down there! Yes, and die down there, too, very often!' replied Mr. Roker; 'and what of that? Who's got to say anything agin it? Live down there! Yes, and a wery good place it is to live in, ain't it?'
As Roker turned somewhat fiercely upon Mr. Pickwick in saying this, and moreover muttered in an excited fashion certain unpleasant invocations concerning his own eyes, limbs, and circulating fluids, the latter gentleman deemed it advisable to pursue the discourse no further. Mr. Roker then proceeded to mount another staircase, as dirty as that which led to the place which has just been the subject of discussion, in which ascent he was closely followed by Mr. Pickwick and Sam.
'There,' said Mr. Roker, pausing for breath when they reached another gallery of the same dimensions as the one below, 'this is the coffee-room flight; the one above's the third, and the one above that's the top; and the room where you're a-going to sleep to-night is the warden's room, and it's this way—come on.' Having said all this in a breath, Mr. Roker mounted another flight of stairs with Mr. Pickwick and Sam Weller following at his heels.
These staircases received light from sundry windows placed at some little distance above the floor, and looking into a gravelled area bounded by a high brick wall, with iron CHEVAUX-DE-FRISE at the top. This area, it appeared from Mr. Roker's statement, was the racket-ground; and it further appeared, on the testimony of the same gentleman, that there was a smaller area in that portion of the prison which was nearest Farringdon Street, denominated and called 'the Painted Ground,' from the fact of its walls having once displayed the semblance of various men-of-war in full sail, and other artistical effects achieved in bygone times by some imprisoned draughtsman in his leisure hours.
Having communicated this piece of information, apparently more for the purpose of discharging his bosom of an important fact, than with any specific view of enlightening Mr. Pickwick, the guide, having at length reached another gallery, led the way into a small passage at the extreme end, opened a door, and disclosed an apartment of an appearance by no means inviting, containing eight or nine iron bedsteads.
'There,' said Mr. Roker, holding the door open, and looking triumphantly round at Mr. Pickwick, 'there's a room!'
Mr. Pickwick's face, however, betokened such a very trifling portion of satisfaction at the appearance of his lodging, that Mr. Roker looked, for a reciprocity of feeling, into the countenance of Samuel Weller, who, until now, had observed a dignified silence. 'There's a room, young man,' observed Mr. Roker.
'I see it,' replied Sam, with a placid nod of the head.
'You wouldn't think to find such a room as this in the Farringdon Hotel, would you?' said Mr. Roker, with a complacent smile.
To this Mr. Weller replied with an easy and unstudied closing of one eye; which might be considered to mean, either that he would have thought it, or that he would not have thought it, or that he had never thought anything at all about it, as the observer's imagination suggested. Having executed this feat, and reopened his eye, Mr. Weller proceeded to inquire which was the individual bedstead that Mr. Roker had so flatteringly described as an out-and-outer to sleep in.
'That's it,' replied Mr. Roker, pointing to a very rusty one in a corner. 'It would make any one go to sleep, that bedstead would, whether they wanted to or not.'
'I should think,' said Sam, eyeing the piece of furniture in question with a look of excessive disgust—'I should think poppies was nothing to it.'
'Nothing at all,' said Mr. Roker.
'And I s'pose,' said Sam, with a sidelong glance at his master, as if to see whether there were any symptoms of his determination being shaken by what passed, 'I s'pose the other gen'l'men as sleeps here ARE gen'l'men.'
'Nothing but it,' said Mr. Roker. 'One of 'em takes his twelve pints of ale a day, and never leaves off smoking even at his meals.'
'He must be a first-rater,' said Sam.
'A1,' replied Mr. Roker.
Nothing daunted, even by this intelligence, Mr. Pickwick smilingly announced his determination to test the powers of the narcotic bedstead for that night; and Mr. Roker, after informing him that he could retire to rest at whatever hour he thought proper, without any further notice or formality, walked off, leaving him standing with Sam in the gallery.
It was getting dark; that is to say, a few gas jets were kindled in this place which was never light, by way of compliment to the evening, which had set in outside. As it was rather warm, some of the tenants of the numerous little rooms which opened into the gallery on either hand, had set their doors ajar. Mr. Pickwick peeped into them as he passed along, with great curiosity and interest. Here, four or five great hulking fellows, just visible through a cloud of tobacco smoke, were engaged in noisy and riotous conversation over half-emptied pots of beer, or playing at all-fours with a very greasy pack of cards. In the adjoining room, some solitary tenant might be seen poring, by the light of a feeble tallow candle, over a bundle of soiled and tattered papers, yellow with dust and dropping to pieces from age, writing, for the hundredth time, some lengthened statement of his grievances, for the perusal of some great man whose eyes it would never reach, or whose heart it would never touch. In a third, a man, with his wife and a whole crowd of children, might be seen making up a scanty bed on the ground, or upon a few chairs, for the younger ones to pass the night in. And in a fourth, and a fifth, and a sixth, and a seventh, the noise, and the beer, and the tobacco smoke, and the cards, all came over again in greater force than before.
In the galleries themselves, and more especially on the stair-cases, there lingered a great number of people, who came there, some because their rooms were empty and lonesome, others because their rooms were full and hot; the greater part because they were restless and uncomfortable, and not possessed of the secret of exactly knowing what to do with themselves. There were many classes of people here, from the labouring man in his fustian jacket, to the broken-down spendthrift in his shawl dressing-gown, most appropriately out at elbows; but there was the same air about them all—a kind of listless, jail-bird, careless swagger, a vagabondish who's-afraid sort of bearing, which is wholly indescribable in words, but which any man can understand in one moment if he wish, by setting foot in the nearest debtors' prison, and looking at the very first group of people he sees there, with the same interest as Mr. Pickwick did.
'It strikes me, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, leaning over the iron rail at the stair-head-'it strikes me, Sam, that imprisonment for debt is scarcely any punishment at all.'
'Think not, sir?' inquired Mr. Weller.
'You see how these fellows drink, and smoke, and roar,' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'It's quite impossible that they can mind it much.'
'Ah, that's just the wery thing, Sir,' rejoined Sam, 'they don't mind it; it's a reg'lar holiday to them—all porter and skittles. It's the t'other vuns as gets done over vith this sort o' thing; them down-hearted fellers as can't svig avay at the beer, nor play at skittles neither; them as vould pay if they could, and gets low by being boxed up. I'll tell you wot it is, sir; them as is always a-idlin' in public-houses it don't damage at all, and them as is alvays a-workin' wen they can, it damages too much. "It's unekal," as my father used to say wen his grog worn't made half-and-half: "it's unekal, and that's the fault on it."'
'I think you're right, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, after a few moments' reflection, 'quite right.'
'P'raps, now and then, there's some honest people as likes it,' observed Mr. Weller, in a ruminative tone, 'but I never heerd o' one as I can call to mind, 'cept the little dirty-faced man in the brown coat; and that was force of habit.'
'And who was he?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'Wy, that's just the wery point as nobody never know'd,' replied Sam.
'But what did he do?'
'Wy, he did wot many men as has been much better know'd has done in their time, Sir,' replied Sam, 'he run a match agin the constable, and vun it.'
'In other words, I suppose,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'he got into debt.'
'Just that, Sir,' replied Sam, 'and in course o' time he come here in consekens. It warn't much—execution for nine pound nothin', multiplied by five for costs; but hows'ever here he stopped for seventeen year. If he got any wrinkles in his face, they were stopped up vith the dirt, for both the dirty face and the brown coat wos just the same at the end o' that time as they wos at the beginnin'. He wos a wery peaceful, inoffendin' little creetur, and wos alvays a-bustlin' about for somebody, or playin' rackets and never vinnin'; till at last the turnkeys they got quite fond on him, and he wos in the lodge ev'ry night, a-chattering vith 'em, and tellin' stories, and all that 'ere. Vun night he wos in there as usual, along vith a wery old friend of his, as wos on the lock, ven he says all of a sudden, "I ain't seen the market outside, Bill," he says (Fleet Market wos there at that time)—"I ain't seen the market outside, Bill," he says, "for seventeen year." "I know you ain't," says the turnkey, smoking his pipe. "I should like to see it for a minit, Bill," he says. "Wery probable," says the turnkey, smoking his pipe wery fierce, and making believe he warn't up to wot the little man wanted. "Bill," says the little man, more abrupt than afore, "I've got the fancy in my head. Let me see the public streets once more afore I die; and if I ain't struck with apoplexy, I'll be back in five minits by the clock." "And wot 'ud become o' me if you WOS struck with apoplexy?" said the turnkey. "Wy," says the little creetur, "whoever found me, 'ud bring me home, for I've got my card in my pocket, Bill," he says, "No. 20, Coffee-room Flight": and that wos true, sure enough, for wen he wanted to make the acquaintance of any new-comer, he used to pull out a little limp card vith them words on it and nothin' else; in consideration of vich, he vos alvays called Number Tventy. The turnkey takes a fixed look at him, and at last he says in a solemn manner, "Tventy," he says, "I'll trust you; you Won't get your old friend into trouble." "No, my boy; I hope I've somethin' better behind here," says the little man; and as he said it he hit his little vesket wery hard, and then a tear started out o' each eye, which wos wery extraordinary, for it wos supposed as water never touched his face. He shook the turnkey by the hand; out he vent—'