'And never came back again,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Wrong for vunce, sir,' replied Mr. Weller, 'for back he come, two minits afore the time, a-bilin' with rage, sayin' how he'd been nearly run over by a hackney-coach that he warn't used to it; and he was blowed if he wouldn't write to the lord mayor. They got him pacified at last; and for five years arter that, he never even so much as peeped out o' the lodge gate.'
'At the expiration of that time he died, I suppose,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'No, he didn't, Sir,' replied Sam. 'He got a curiosity to go and taste the beer at a new public-house over the way, and it wos such a wery nice parlour, that he took it into his head to go there every night, which he did for a long time, always comin' back reg'lar about a quarter of an hour afore the gate shut, which was all wery snug and comfortable. At last he began to get so precious jolly, that he used to forget how the time vent, or care nothin' at all about it, and he went on gettin' later and later, till vun night his old friend wos just a-shuttin' the gate—had turned the key in fact—wen he come up. "Hold hard, Bill," he says. "Wot, ain't you come home yet, Tventy?" says the turnkey, "I thought you wos in, long ago." "No, I wasn't," says the little man, with a smile. "Well, then, I'll tell you wot it is, my friend," says the turnkey, openin' the gate wery slow and sulky, "it's my 'pinion as you've got into bad company o' late, which I'm wery sorry to see. Now, I don't wish to do nothing harsh," he says, "but if you can't confine yourself to steady circles, and find your vay back at reg'lar hours, as sure as you're a-standin' there, I'll shut you out altogether!" The little man was seized vith a wiolent fit o' tremblin', and never vent outside the prison walls artervards!'
As Sam concluded, Mr. Pickwick slowly retraced his steps downstairs. After a few thoughtful turns in the Painted Ground, which, as it was now dark, was nearly deserted, he intimated to Mr. Weller that he thought it high time for him to withdraw for the night; requesting him to seek a bed in some adjacent public-house, and return early in the morning, to make arrangements for the removal of his master's wardrobe from the George and Vulture. This request Mr. Samuel Weller prepared to obey, with as good a grace as he could assume, but with a very considerable show of reluctance nevertheless. He even went so far as to essay sundry ineffectual hints regarding the expediency of stretching himself on the gravel for that night; but finding Mr. Pickwick obstinately deaf to any such suggestions, finally withdrew.
There is no disguising the fact that Mr. Pickwick felt very low-spirited and uncomfortable—not for lack of society, for the prison was very full, and a bottle of wine would at once have purchased the utmost good-fellowship of a few choice spirits, without any more formal ceremony of introduction; but he was alone in the coarse, vulgar crowd, and felt the depression of spirits and sinking of heart, naturally consequent on the reflection that he was cooped and caged up, without a prospect of liberation. As to the idea of releasing himself by ministering to the sharpness of Dodson & Fogg, it never for an instant entered his thoughts.
In this frame of mind he turned again into the coffee-room gallery, and walked slowly to and fro. The place was intolerably dirty, and the smell of tobacco smoke perfectly suffocating. There was a perpetual slamming and banging of doors as the people went in and out; and the noise of their voices and footsteps echoed and re-echoed through the passages constantly. A young woman, with a child in her arms, who seemed scarcely able to crawl, from emaciation and misery, was walking up and down the passage in conversation with her husband, who had no other place to see her in. As they passed Mr. Pickwick, he could hear the female sob bitterly; and once she burst into such a passion of grief, that she was compelled to lean against the wall for support, while the man took the child in his arms, and tried to soothe her.
Mr. Pickwick's heart was really too full to bear it, and he went upstairs to bed.
Now, although the warder's room was a very uncomfortable one (being, in every point of decoration and convenience, several hundred degrees inferior to the common infirmary of a county jail), it had at present the merit of being wholly deserted save by Mr. Pickwick himself. So, he sat down at the foot of his little iron bedstead, and began to wonder how much a year the warder made out of the dirty room. Having satisfied himself, by mathematical calculation, that the apartment was about equal in annual value to the freehold of a small street in the suburbs of London, he took to wondering what possible temptation could have induced a dingy-looking fly that was crawling over his pantaloons, to come into a close prison, when he had the choice of so many airy situations—a course of meditation which led him to the irresistible conclusion that the insect was insane. After settling this point, he began to be conscious that he was getting sleepy; whereupon he took his nightcap out of the pocket in which he had had the precaution to stow it in the morning, and, leisurely undressing himself, got into bed and fell asleep.
'Bravo! Heel over toe—cut and shuffle—pay away at it, Zephyr! I'm smothered if the opera house isn't your proper hemisphere. Keep it up! Hooray!' These expressions, delivered in a most boisterous tone, and accompanied with loud peals of laughter, roused Mr. Pickwick from one of those sound slumbers which, lasting in reality some half-hour, seem to the sleeper to have been protracted for three weeks or a month.
The voice had no sooner ceased than the room was shaken with such violence that the windows rattled in their frames, and the bedsteads trembled again. Mr. Pickwick started up, and remained for some minutes fixed in mute astonishment at the scene before him.
On the floor of the room, a man in a broad-skirted green coat, with corduroy knee-smalls and gray cotton stockings, was performing the most popular steps of a hornpipe, with a slang and burlesque caricature of grace and lightness, which, combined with the very appropriate character of his costume, was inexpressibly absurd. Another man, evidently very drunk, who had probably been tumbled into bed by his companions, was sitting up between the sheets, warbling as much as he could recollect of a comic song, with the most intensely sentimental feeling and expression; while a third, seated on one of the bedsteads, was applauding both performers with the air of a profound connoisseur, and encouraging them by such ebullitions of feeling as had already roused Mr. Pickwick from his sleep.
This last man was an admirable specimen of a class of gentry which never can be seen in full perfection but in such places—they may be met with, in an imperfect state, occasionally about stable-yards and Public-houses; but they never attain their full bloom except in these hot-beds, which would almost seem to be considerately provided by the legislature for the sole purpose of rearing them.
He was a tall fellow, with an olive complexion, long dark hair, and very thick bushy whiskers meeting under his chin. He wore no neckerchief, as he had been playing rackets all day, and his Open shirt collar displayed their full luxuriance. On his head he wore one of the common eighteenpenny French skull-caps, with a gaudy tassel dangling therefrom, very happily in keeping with a common fustian coat. His legs, which, being long, were afflicted with weakness, graced a pair of Oxford-mixture trousers, made to show the full symmetry of those limbs. Being somewhat negligently braced, however, and, moreover, but imperfectly buttoned, they fell in a series of not the most graceful folds over a pair of shoes sufficiently down at heel to display a pair of very soiled white stockings. There was a rakish, vagabond smartness, and a kind of boastful rascality, about the whole man, that was worth a mine of gold.
This figure was the first to perceive that Mr. Pickwick was looking on; upon which he winked to the Zephyr, and entreated him, with mock gravity, not to wake the gentleman. 'Why, bless the gentleman's honest heart and soul!' said the Zephyr, turning round and affecting the extremity of surprise; 'the gentleman is awake. Hem, Shakespeare! How do you do, Sir? How is Mary and Sarah, sir? and the dear old lady at home, Sir? Will you have the kindness to put my compliments into the first little parcel you're sending that way, sir, and say that I would have sent 'em before, only I was afraid they might be broken in the wagon, sir?'
'Don't overwhelm the gentlemen with ordinary civilities when you see he's anxious to have something to drink,' said the gentleman with the whiskers, with a jocose air. 'Why don't you ask the gentleman what he'll take?'
'Dear me, I quite forgot,' replied the other. 'What will you take, sir? Will you take port wine, sir, or sherry wine, sir? I can recommend the ale, sir; or perhaps you'd like to taste the porter, sir? Allow me to have the felicity of hanging up your nightcap, Sir.'
With this, the speaker snatched that article of dress from Mr. Pickwick's head, and fixed it in a twinkling on that of the drunken man, who, firmly impressed with the belief that he was delighting a numerous assembly, continued to hammer away at the comic song in the most melancholy strains imaginable.
Taking a man's nightcap from his brow by violent means, and adjusting it on the head of an unknown gentleman, of dirty exterior, however ingenious a witticism in itself, is unquestionably one of those which come under the denomination of practical jokes. Viewing the matter precisely in this light, Mr. Pickwick, without the slightest intimation of his purpose, sprang vigorously out of bed, struck the Zephyr so smart a blow in the chest as to deprive him of a considerable portion of the commodity which sometimes bears his name, and then, recapturing his nightcap, boldly placed himself in an attitude of defence.
'Now,' said Mr. Pickwick, gasping no less from excitement than from the expenditure of so much energy, 'come on—both of you—both of you!' With this liberal invitation the worthy gentleman communicated a revolving motion to his clenched fists, by way of appalling his antagonists with a display of science.
It might have been Mr. Pickwick's very unexpected gallantry, or it might have been the complicated manner in which he had got himself out of bed, and fallen all in a mass upon the hornpipe man, that touched his adversaries. Touched they were; for, instead of then and there making an attempt to commit man-slaughter, as Mr. Pickwick implicitly believed they would have done, they paused, stared at each other a short time, and finally laughed outright.
'Well, you're a trump, and I like you all the better for it,' said the Zephyr. 'Now jump into bed again, or you'll catch the rheumatics. No malice, I hope?' said the man, extending a hand the size of the yellow clump of fingers which sometimes swings over a glover's door.
'Certainly not,' said Mr. Pickwick, with great alacrity; for, now that the excitement was over, he began to feel rather cool about the legs.
'Allow me the H-onour,' said the gentleman with the whiskers, presenting his dexter hand, and aspirating the h.
'With much pleasure, sir,' said Mr. Pickwick; and having executed a very long and solemn shake, he got into bed again.
'My name is Smangle, sir,' said the man with the whiskers.
'Oh,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Mine is Mivins,' said the man in the stockings.
'I am delighted to hear it, sir,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Hem,' coughed Mr. Smangle.
'Did you speak, sir?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'No, I did not, sir,' said Mr. Smangle.
All this was very genteel and pleasant; and, to make matters still more comfortable, Mr. Smangle assured Mr. Pickwick a great many more times that he entertained a very high respect for the feelings of a gentleman; which sentiment, indeed, did him infinite credit, as he could be in no wise supposed to understand them.
'Are you going through the court, sir?' inquired Mr. Smangle. 'Through the what?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Through the court—Portugal Street—the Court for Relief of—You know.'
'Oh, no,' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'No, I am not.'
'Going out, perhaps?' suggested Mr. Mivins.
'I fear not,' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'I refuse to pay some damages, and am here in consequence.'
'Ah,' said Mr. Smangle, 'paper has been my ruin.'
'A stationer, I presume, Sir?' said Mr. Pickwick innocently.
'Stationer! No, no; confound and curse me! Not so low as that. No trade. When I say paper, I mean bills.'
'Oh, you use the word in that sense. I see,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Damme! A gentleman must expect reverses,' said Smangle. 'What of that? Here am I in the Fleet Prison. Well; good. What then? I'm none the worse for that, am I?'
'Not a bit,' replied Mr. Mivins. And he was quite right; for, so far from Mr. Smangle being any the worse for it, he was something the better, inasmuch as to qualify himself for the place, he had attained gratuitous possession of certain articles of jewellery, which, long before that, had found their way to the pawnbroker's.
'Well; but come,' said Mr. Smangle; 'this is dry work. Let's rinse our mouths with a drop of burnt sherry; the last-comer shall stand it, Mivins shall fetch it, and I'll help to drink it. That's a fair and gentlemanlike division of labour, anyhow. Curse me!'
Unwilling to hazard another quarrel, Mr. Pickwick gladly assented to the proposition, and consigned the money to Mr. Mivins, who, as it was nearly eleven o'clock, lost no time in repairing to the coffee-room on his errand.
'I say,' whispered Smangle, the moment his friend had left the room; 'what did you give him?'
'Half a sovereign,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'He's a devilish pleasant gentlemanly dog,' said Mr. Smangle;—'infernal pleasant. I don't know anybody more so; but—' Here Mr. Smangle stopped short, and shook his head dubiously.
'You don't think there is any probability of his appropriating the money to his own use?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Oh, no! Mind, I don't say that; I expressly say that he's a devilish gentlemanly fellow,' said Mr. Smangle. 'But I think, perhaps, if somebody went down, just to see that he didn't dip his beak into the jug by accident, or make some confounded mistake in losing the money as he came upstairs, it would be as well. Here, you sir, just run downstairs, and look after that gentleman, will you?'
This request was addressed to a little timid-looking, nervous man, whose appearance bespoke great poverty, and who had been crouching on his bedstead all this while, apparently stupefied by the novelty of his situation.
'You know where the coffee-room is,' said Smangle; 'just run down, and tell that gentleman you've come to help him up with the jug. Or—stop—I'll tell you what—I'll tell you how we'll do him,' said Smangle, with a cunning look.
'How?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Send down word that he's to spend the change in cigars. Capital thought. Run and tell him that; d'ye hear? They shan't be wasted,' continued Smangle, turning to Mr. Pickwick. 'I'LL smoke 'em.'
This manoeuvring was so exceedingly ingenious and, withal, performed with such immovable composure and coolness, that Mr. Pickwick would have had no wish to disturb it, even if he had had the power. In a short time Mr. Mivins returned, bearing the sherry, which Mr. Smangle dispensed in two little cracked mugs; considerately remarking, with reference to himself, that a gentleman must not be particular under such circumstances, and that, for his part, he was not too proud to drink out of the jug. In which, to show his sincerity, he forthwith pledged the company in a draught which half emptied it.
An excellent understanding having been by these means promoted, Mr. Smangle proceeded to entertain his hearers with a relation of divers romantic adventures in which he had been from time to time engaged, involving various interesting anecdotes of a thoroughbred horse, and a magnificent Jewess, both of surpassing beauty, and much coveted by the nobility and gentry of these kingdoms.
Long before these elegant extracts from the biography of a gentleman were concluded, Mr. Mivins had betaken himself to bed, and had set in snoring for the night, leaving the timid stranger and Mr. Pickwick to the full benefit of Mr. Smangle's experiences.
Nor were the two last-named gentlemen as much edified as they might have been by the moving passages narrated. Mr. Pickwick had been in a state of slumber for some time, when he had a faint perception of the drunken man bursting out afresh with the comic song, and receiving from Mr. Smangle a gentle intimation, through the medium of the water-jug, that his audience was not musically disposed. Mr. Pickwick then once again dropped off to sleep, with a confused consciousness that Mr. Smangle was still engaged in relating a long story, the chief point of which appeared to be that, on some occasion particularly stated and set forth, he had 'done' a bill and a gentleman at the same time.
CHAPTER XLII. ILLUSTRATIVE, LIKE THE PRECEDING ONE, OF THE OLD PROVERB, THAT ADVERSITY BRINGS A MAN ACQUAINTED WITH STRANGE BEDFELLOWS—LIKEWISE CONTAINING Mr. PICKWICK'S EXTRAORDINARY AND STARTLING ANNOUNCEMENT TO Mr. SAMUEL WELLER
When Mr. Pickwick opened his eyes next morning, the first object upon which they rested was Samuel Weller, seated upon a small black portmanteau, intently regarding, apparently in a condition of profound abstraction, the stately figure of the dashing Mr. Smangle; while Mr. Smangle himself, who was already partially dressed, was seated on his bedstead, occupied in the desperately hopeless attempt of staring Mr. Weller out of countenance. We say desperately hopeless, because Sam, with a comprehensive gaze which took in Mr. Smangle's cap, feet, head, face, legs, and whiskers, all at the same time, continued to look steadily on, with every demonstration of lively satisfaction, but with no more regard to Mr. Smangle's personal sentiments on the subject than he would have displayed had he been inspecting a wooden statue, or a straw-embowelled Guy Fawkes.
'Well; will you know me again?' said Mr. Smangle, with a frown.
'I'd svear to you anyveres, Sir,' replied Sam cheerfully.
'Don't be impertinent to a gentleman, Sir,' said Mr. Smangle.
'Not on no account,' replied Sam. 'If you'll tell me wen he wakes, I'll be upon the wery best extra-super behaviour!' This observation, having a remote tendency to imply that Mr. Smangle was no gentleman, kindled his ire.
'Mivins!' said Mr. Smangle, with a passionate air.
'What's the office?' replied that gentleman from his couch.
'Who the devil is this fellow?'
''Gad,' said Mr. Mivins, looking lazily out from under the bed-clothes, 'I ought to ask YOU that. Hasn't he any business here?'
'No,' replied Mr. Smangle. 'Then knock him downstairs, and tell him not to presume to get up till I come and kick him,' rejoined Mr. Mivins; with this prompt advice that excellent gentleman again betook himself to slumber.
The conversation exhibiting these unequivocal symptoms of verging on the personal, Mr. Pickwick deemed it a fit point at which to interpose.
'Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Sir,' rejoined that gentleman.
'Has anything new occurred since last night?'
'Nothin' partickler, sir,' replied Sam, glancing at Mr. Smangle's whiskers; 'the late prewailance of a close and confined atmosphere has been rayther favourable to the growth of veeds, of an alarmin' and sangvinary natur; but vith that 'ere exception things is quiet enough.'
'I shall get up,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'give me some clean things.' Whatever hostile intentions Mr. Smangle might have entertained, his thoughts were speedily diverted by the unpacking of the portmanteau; the contents of which appeared to impress him at once with a most favourable opinion, not only of Mr. Pickwick, but of Sam also, who, he took an early opportunity of declaring in a tone of voice loud enough for that eccentric personage to overhear, was a regular thoroughbred original, and consequently the very man after his own heart. As to Mr. Pickwick, the affection he conceived for him knew no limits.
'Now is there anything I can do for you, my dear Sir?' said Smangle.
'Nothing that I am aware of, I am obliged to you,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
'No linen that you want sent to the washerwoman's? I know a delightful washerwoman outside, that comes for my things twice a week; and, by Jove!—how devilish lucky!—this is the day she calls. Shall I put any of those little things up with mine? Don't say anything about the trouble. Confound and curse it! if one gentleman under a cloud is not to put himself a little out of the way to assist another gentleman in the same condition, what's human nature?'
Thus spake Mr. Smangle, edging himself meanwhile as near as possible to the portmanteau, and beaming forth looks of the most fervent and disinterested friendship.
'There's nothing you want to give out for the man to brush, my dear creature, is there?' resumed Smangle.
'Nothin' whatever, my fine feller,' rejoined Sam, taking the reply into his own mouth. 'P'raps if vun of us wos to brush, without troubling the man, it 'ud be more agreeable for all parties, as the schoolmaster said when the young gentleman objected to being flogged by the butler.'
'And there's nothing I can send in my little box to the washer-woman's, is there?' said Smangle, turning from Sam to Mr. Pickwick, with an air of some discomfiture.
'Nothin' whatever, Sir,' retorted Sam; 'I'm afeered the little box must be chock full o' your own as it is.'
This speech was accompanied with such a very expressive look at that particular portion of Mr. Smangle's attire, by the appearance of which the skill of laundresses in getting up gentlemen's linen is generally tested, that he was fain to turn upon his heel, and, for the present at any rate, to give up all design on Mr. Pickwick's purse and wardrobe. He accordingly retired in dudgeon to the racket-ground, where he made a light and whole-some breakfast on a couple of the cigars which had been purchased on the previous night. Mr. Mivins, who was no smoker, and whose account for small articles of chandlery had also reached down to the bottom of the slate, and been 'carried over' to the other side, remained in bed, and, in his own words, 'took it out in sleep.'
After breakfasting in a small closet attached to the coffee-room, which bore the imposing title of the Snuggery, the temporary inmate of which, in consideration of a small additional charge, had the unspeakable advantage of overhearing all the conversation in the coffee-room aforesaid; and, after despatching Mr. Weller on some necessary errands, Mr. Pickwick repaired to the lodge, to consult Mr. Roker concerning his future accommodation.
'Accommodation, eh?' said that gentleman, consulting a large book. 'Plenty of that, Mr. Pickwick. Your chummage ticket will be on twenty-seven, in the third.'
'Oh,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'My what, did you say?'
'Your chummage ticket,' replied Mr. Roker; 'you're up to that?'
'Not quite,' replied Mr. Pickwick, with a smile.
'Why,' said Mr. Roker, 'it's as plain as Salisbury. You'll have a chummage ticket upon twenty-seven in the third, and them as is in the room will be your chums.'
'Are there many of them?' inquired Mr. Pickwick dubiously.
'Three,' replied Mr. Roker.
Mr. Pickwick coughed.
'One of 'em's a parson,' said Mr. Roker, filling up a little piece of paper as he spoke; 'another's a butcher.'
'Eh?' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick.
'A butcher,' repeated Mr. Roker, giving the nib of his pen a tap on the desk to cure it of a disinclination to mark. 'What a thorough-paced goer he used to be sure-ly! You remember Tom Martin, Neddy?' said Roker, appealing to another man in the lodge, who was paring the mud off his shoes with a five-and-twenty-bladed pocket-knife.
'I should think so,' replied the party addressed, with a strong emphasis on the personal pronoun.
'Bless my dear eyes!' said Mr. Roker, shaking his head slowly from side to side, and gazing abstractedly out of the grated windows before him, as if he were fondly recalling some peaceful scene of his early youth; 'it seems but yesterday that he whopped the coal-heaver down Fox-under-the-Hill by the wharf there. I think I can see him now, a-coming up the Strand between the two street-keepers, a little sobered by the bruising, with a patch o' winegar and brown paper over his right eyelid, and that 'ere lovely bulldog, as pinned the little boy arterwards, a-following at his heels. What a rum thing time is, ain't it, Neddy?'
The gentleman to whom these observations were addressed, who appeared of a taciturn and thoughtful cast, merely echoed the inquiry; Mr. Roker, shaking off the poetical and gloomy train of thought into which he had been betrayed, descended to the common business of life, and resumed his pen.
'Do you know what the third gentlemen is?' inquired Mr. Pickwick, not very much gratified by this description of his future associates.
'What is that Simpson, Neddy?' said Mr. Roker, turning to his companion.
'What Simpson?' said Neddy.
'Why, him in twenty-seven in the third, that this gentleman's going to be chummed on.'
'Oh, him!' replied Neddy; 'he's nothing exactly. He WAS a horse chaunter: he's a leg now.'
'Ah, so I thought,' rejoined Mr. Roker, closing the book, and placing the small piece of paper in Mr. Pickwick's hands. 'That's the ticket, sir.'
Very much perplexed by this summary disposition of this person, Mr. Pickwick walked back into the prison, revolving in his mind what he had better do. Convinced, however, that before he took any other steps it would be advisable to see, and hold personal converse with, the three gentlemen with whom it was proposed to quarter him, he made the best of his way to the third flight.
After groping about in the gallery for some time, attempting in the dim light to decipher the numbers on the different doors, he at length appealed to a pot-boy, who happened to be pursuing his morning occupation of gleaning for pewter.
'Which is twenty-seven, my good fellow?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Five doors farther on,' replied the pot-boy. 'There's the likeness of a man being hung, and smoking the while, chalked outside the door.'
Guided by this direction, Mr. Pickwick proceeded slowly along the gallery until he encountered the 'portrait of a gentleman,' above described, upon whose countenance he tapped, with the knuckle of his forefinger—gently at first, and then audibly. After repeating this process several times without effect, he ventured to open the door and peep in.
There was only one man in the room, and he was leaning out of window as far as he could without overbalancing himself, endeavouring, with great perseverance, to spit upon the crown of the hat of a personal friend on the parade below. As neither speaking, coughing, sneezing, knocking, nor any other ordinary mode of attracting attention, made this person aware of the presence of a visitor, Mr. Pickwick, after some delay, stepped up to the window, and pulled him gently by the coat tail. The individual brought in his head and shoulders with great swiftness, and surveying Mr. Pickwick from head to foot, demanded in a surly tone what the—something beginning with a capital H—he wanted.
'I believe,' said Mr. Pickwick, consulting his ticket—'I believe this is twenty-seven in the third?'
'Well?' replied the gentleman.
'I have come here in consequence of receiving this bit of paper,' rejoined Mr. Pickwick.
'Hand it over,' said the gentleman.
Mr. Pickwick complied.
'I think Roker might have chummed you somewhere else,' said Mr. Simpson (for it was the leg), after a very discontented sort of a pause.
Mr. Pickwick thought so also; but, under all the circumstances, he considered it a matter of sound policy to be silent. Mr. Simpson mused for a few moments after this, and then, thrusting his head out of the window, gave a shrill whistle, and pronounced some word aloud, several times. What the word was, Mr. Pickwick could not distinguish; but he rather inferred that it must be some nickname which distinguished Mr. Martin, from the fact of a great number of gentlemen on the ground below, immediately proceeding to cry 'Butcher!' in imitation of the tone in which that useful class of society are wont, diurnally, to make their presence known at area railings.
Subsequent occurrences confirmed the accuracy of Mr. Pickwick's impression; for, in a few seconds, a gentleman, prematurely broad for his years, clothed in a professional blue jean frock and top-boots with circular toes, entered the room nearly out of breath, closely followed by another gentleman in very shabby black, and a sealskin cap. The latter gentleman, who fastened his coat all the way up to his chin by means of a pin and a button alternately, had a very coarse red face, and looked like a drunken chaplain; which, indeed, he was.
These two gentlemen having by turns perused Mr. Pickwick's billet, the one expressed his opinion that it was 'a rig,' and the other his conviction that it was 'a go.' Having recorded their feelings in these very intelligible terms, they looked at Mr. Pickwick and each other in awkward silence.
'It's an aggravating thing, just as we got the beds so snug,' said the chaplain, looking at three dirty mattresses, each rolled up in a blanket; which occupied one corner of the room during the day, and formed a kind of slab, on which were placed an old cracked basin, ewer, and soap-dish, of common yellow earthenware, with a blue flower—'very aggravating.'
Mr. Martin expressed the same opinion in rather stronger terms; Mr. Simpson, after having let a variety of expletive adjectives loose upon society without any substantive to accompany them, tucked up his sleeves, and began to wash the greens for dinner.
While this was going on, Mr. Pickwick had been eyeing the room, which was filthily dirty, and smelt intolerably close. There was no vestige of either carpet, curtain, or blind. There was not even a closet in it. Unquestionably there were but few things to put away, if there had been one; but, however few in number, or small in individual amount, still, remnants of loaves and pieces of cheese, and damp towels, and scrags of meat, and articles of wearing apparel, and mutilated crockery, and bellows without nozzles, and toasting-forks without prongs, do present somewhat of an uncomfortable appearance when they are scattered about the floor of a small apartment, which is the common sitting and sleeping room of three idle men.
'I suppose this can be managed somehow,' said the butcher, after a pretty long silence. 'What will you take to go out?' 'I beg your pardon,' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'What did you say? I hardly understand you.'
'What will you take to be paid out?' said the butcher. 'The regular chummage is two-and-six. Will you take three bob?'
'And a bender,' suggested the clerical gentleman.
'Well, I don't mind that; it's only twopence a piece more,' said Mr. Martin. 'What do you say, now? We'll pay you out for three-and-sixpence a week. Come!'
'And stand a gallon of beer down,' chimed in Mr. Simpson. 'There!'
'And drink it on the spot,' said the chaplain. 'Now!'
'I really am so wholly ignorant of the rules of this place,' returned Mr. Pickwick, 'that I do not yet comprehend you. Can I live anywhere else? I thought I could not.'
At this inquiry Mr. Martin looked, with a countenance of excessive surprise, at his two friends, and then each gentleman pointed with his right thumb over his left shoulder. This action imperfectly described in words by the very feeble term of 'over the left,' when performed by any number of ladies or gentlemen who are accustomed to act in unison, has a very graceful and airy effect; its expression is one of light and playful sarcasm.
'CAN you!' repeated Mr. Martin, with a smile of pity.
'Well, if I knew as little of life as that, I'd eat my hat and swallow the buckle whole,' said the clerical gentleman.
'So would I,' added the sporting one solemnly.
After this introductory preface, the three chums informed Mr. Pickwick, in a breath, that money was, in the Fleet, just what money was out of it; that it would instantly procure him almost anything he desired; and that, supposing he had it, and had no objection to spend it, if he only signified his wish to have a room to himself, he might take possession of one, furnished and fitted to boot, in half an hour's time.
With this the parties separated, very much to their common satisfaction; Mr. Pickwick once more retracing his steps to the lodge, and the three companions adjourning to the coffee-room, there to spend the five shillings which the clerical gentleman had, with admirable prudence and foresight, borrowed of him for the purpose.
'I knowed it!' said Mr. Roker, with a chuckle, when Mr. Pickwick stated the object with which he had returned. 'Didn't I say so, Neddy?'
The philosophical owner of the universal penknife growled an affirmative.
'I knowed you'd want a room for yourself, bless you!' said Mr. Roker. 'Let me see. You'll want some furniture. You'll hire that of me, I suppose? That's the reg'lar thing.'
'With great pleasure,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
'There's a capital room up in the coffee-room flight, that belongs to a Chancery prisoner,' said Mr. Roker. 'It'll stand you in a pound a week. I suppose you don't mind that?'
'Not at all,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Just step there with me,' said Roker, taking up his hat with great alacrity; 'the matter's settled in five minutes. Lord! why didn't you say at first that you was willing to come down handsome?'
The matter was soon arranged, as the turnkey had foretold. The Chancery prisoner had been there long enough to have lost his friends, fortune, home, and happiness, and to have acquired the right of having a room to himself. As he laboured, however, under the inconvenience of often wanting a morsel of bread, he eagerly listened to Mr. Pickwick's proposal to rent the apartment, and readily covenanted and agreed to yield him up the sole and undisturbed possession thereof, in consideration of the weekly payment of twenty shillings; from which fund he furthermore contracted to pay out any person or persons that might be chummed upon it.
As they struck the bargain, Mr. Pickwick surveyed him with a painful interest. He was a tall, gaunt, cadaverous man, in an old greatcoat and slippers, with sunken cheeks, and a restless, eager eye. His lips were bloodless, and his bones sharp and thin. God help him! the iron teeth of confinement and privation had been slowly filing him down for twenty years.
'And where will you live meanwhile, Sir?' said Mr. Pickwick, as he laid the amount of the first week's rent, in advance, on the tottering table.
The man gathered up the money with a trembling hand, and replied that he didn't know yet; he must go and see where he could move his bed to.
'I am afraid, sir,' said Mr. Pickwick, laying his hand gently and compassionately on his arm—'I am afraid you will have to live in some noisy, crowded place. Now, pray, consider this room your own when you want quiet, or when any of your friends come to see you.'
'Friends!' interposed the man, in a voice which rattled in his throat. 'if I lay dead at the bottom of the deepest mine in the world; tight screwed down and soldered in my coffin; rotting in the dark and filthy ditch that drags its slime along, beneath the foundations of this prison; I could not be more forgotten or unheeded than I am here. I am a dead man; dead to society, without the pity they bestow on those whose souls have passed to judgment. Friends to see me! My God! I have sunk, from the prime of life into old age, in this place, and there is not one to raise his hand above my bed when I lie dead upon it, and say, "It is a blessing he is gone!"'
The excitement, which had cast an unwonted light over the man's face, while he spoke, subsided as he concluded; and pressing his withered hands together in a hasty and disordered manner, he shuffled from the room.
'Rides rather rusty,' said Mr. Roker, with a smile. 'Ah! they're like the elephants. They feel it now and then, and it makes 'em wild!'
Having made this deeply-sympathising remark, Mr. Roker entered upon his arrangements with such expedition, that in a short time the room was furnished with a carpet, six chairs, a table, a sofa bedstead, a tea-kettle, and various small articles, on hire, at the very reasonable rate of seven-and-twenty shillings and sixpence per week.
'Now, is there anything more we can do for you?' inquired Mr. Roker, looking round with great satisfaction, and gaily chinking the first week's hire in his closed fist.
'Why, yes,' said Mr. Pickwick, who had been musing deeply for some time. 'Are there any people here who run on errands, and so forth?'
'Outside, do you mean?' inquired Mr. Roker.
'Yes. I mean who are able to go outside. Not prisoners.'
'Yes, there is,' said Roker. 'There's an unfortunate devil, who has got a friend on the poor side, that's glad to do anything of that sort. He's been running odd jobs, and that, for the last two months. Shall I send him?'
'If you please,' rejoined Mr. Pickwick. 'Stay; no. The poor side, you say? I should like to see it. I'll go to him myself.'
The poor side of a debtor's prison is, as its name imports, that in which the most miserable and abject class of debtors are confined. A prisoner having declared upon the poor side, pays neither rent nor chummage. His fees, upon entering and leaving the jail, are reduced in amount, and he becomes entitled to a share of some small quantities of food: to provide which, a few charitable persons have, from time to time, left trifling legacies in their wills. Most of our readers will remember, that, until within a very few years past, there was a kind of iron cage in the wall of the Fleet Prison, within which was posted some man of hungry looks, who, from time to time, rattled a money-box, and exclaimed in a mournful voice, 'Pray, remember the poor debtors; pray remember the poor debtors.' The receipts of this box, when there were any, were divided among the poor prisoners; and the men on the poor side relieved each other in this degrading office.
Although this custom has been abolished, and the cage is now boarded up, the miserable and destitute condition of these unhappy persons remains the same. We no longer suffer them to appeal at the prison gates to the charity and compassion of the passersby; but we still leave unblotted the leaves of our statute book, for the reverence and admiration of succeeding ages, the just and wholesome law which declares that the sturdy felon shall be fed and clothed, and that the penniless debtor shall be left to die of starvation and nakedness. This is no fiction. Not a week passes over our head, but, in every one of our prisons for debt, some of these men must inevitably expire in the slow agonies of want, if they were not relieved by their fellow-prisoners.
Turning these things in his mind, as he mounted the narrow staircase at the foot of which Roker had left him, Mr. Pickwick gradually worked himself to the boiling-over point; and so excited was he with his reflections on this subject, that he had burst into the room to which he had been directed, before he had any distinct recollection, either of the place in which he was, or of the object of his visit.
The general aspect of the room recalled him to himself at once; but he had no sooner cast his eye on the figure of a man who was brooding over the dusty fire, than, letting his hat fall on the floor, he stood perfectly fixed and immovable with astonishment.
Yes; in tattered garments, and without a coat; his common calico shirt, yellow and in rags; his hair hanging over his face; his features changed with suffering, and pinched with famine—there sat Mr. Alfred Jingle; his head resting on his hands, his eyes fixed upon the fire, and his whole appearance denoting misery and dejection!
Near him, leaning listlessly against the wall, stood a strong-built countryman, flicking with a worn-out hunting-whip the top-boot that adorned his right foot; his left being thrust into an old slipper. Horses, dogs, and drink had brought him there, pell-mell. There was a rusty spur on the solitary boot, which he occasionally jerked into the empty air, at the same time giving the boot a smart blow, and muttering some of the sounds by which a sportsman encourages his horse. He was riding, in imagination, some desperate steeplechase at that moment. Poor wretch! He never rode a match on the swiftest animal in his costly stud, with half the speed at which he had torn along the course that ended in the Fleet.
On the opposite side of the room an old man was seated on a small wooden box, with his eyes riveted on the floor, and his face settled into an expression of the deepest and most hopeless despair. A young girl—his little grand-daughter—was hanging about him, endeavouring, with a thousand childish devices, to engage his attention; but the old man neither saw nor heard her. The voice that had been music to him, and the eyes that had been light, fell coldly on his senses. His limbs were shaking with disease, and the palsy had fastened on his mind.
There were two or three other men in the room, congregated in a little knot, and noiselessly talking among themselves. There was a lean and haggard woman, too—a prisoner's wife—who was watering, with great solicitude, the wretched stump of a dried-up, withered plant, which, it was plain to see, could never send forth a green leaf again—too true an emblem, perhaps, of the office she had come there to discharge.
Such were the objects which presented themselves to Mr. Pickwick's view, as he looked round him in amazement. The noise of some one stumbling hastily into the room, roused him. Turning his eyes towards the door, they encountered the new-comer; and in him, through his rags and dirt, he recognised the familiar features of Mr. Job Trotter.
'Mr. Pickwick!' exclaimed Job aloud.
'Eh?' said Jingle, starting from his seat. 'Mr ——! So it is—queer place—strange things—serves me right—very.' Mr. Jingle thrust his hands into the place where his trousers pockets used to be, and, dropping his chin upon his breast, sank back into his chair.
Mr. Pickwick was affected; the two men looked so very miserable. The sharp, involuntary glance Jingle had cast at a small piece of raw loin of mutton, which Job had brought in with him, said more of their reduced state than two hours' explanation could have done. Mr. Pickwick looked mildly at Jingle, and said—
'I should like to speak to you in private. Will you step out for an instant?'
'Certainly,' said Jingle, rising hastily. 'Can't step far—no danger of overwalking yourself here—spike park—grounds pretty—romantic, but not extensive—open for public inspection—family always in town—housekeeper desperately careful—very.'
'You have forgotten your coat,' said Mr. Pickwick, as they walked out to the staircase, and closed the door after them.
'Eh?' said Jingle. 'Spout—dear relation—uncle Tom—couldn't help it—must eat, you know. Wants of nature—and all that.'
'What do you mean?'
'Gone, my dear sir—last coat—can't help it. Lived on a pair of boots, whole fortnight. Silk umbrella—ivory handle—week—fact—honour—ask Job—knows it.'
'Lived for three weeks upon a pair of boots, and a silk umbrella with an ivory handle!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, who had only heard of such things in shipwrecks or read of them in Constable's Miscellany.
'True,' said Jingle, nodding his head. 'Pawnbroker's shop—duplicates here—small sums—mere nothing—all rascals.'
'Oh,' said Mr. Pickwick, much relieved by this explanation; 'I understand you. You have pawned your wardrobe.'
'Everything—Job's too—all shirts gone—never mind—saves washing. Nothing soon—lie in bed—starve—die—inquest—little bone-house—poor prisoner—common necessaries—hush it up—gentlemen of the jury—warden's tradesmen—keep it snug—natural death—coroner's order—workhouse funeral—serve him right—all over—drop the curtain.'
Jingle delivered this singular summary of his prospects in life, with his accustomed volubility, and with various twitches of the countenance to counterfeit smiles. Mr. Pickwick easily perceived that his recklessness was assumed, and looking him full, but not unkindly, in the face, saw that his eyes were moist with tears.
'Good fellow,' said Jingle, pressing his hand, and turning his head away. 'Ungrateful dog—boyish to cry—can't help it—bad fever—weak—ill—hungry. Deserved it all—but suffered much—very.' Wholly unable to keep up appearances any longer, and perhaps rendered worse by the effort he had made, the dejected stroller sat down on the stairs, and, covering his face with his hands, sobbed like a child.
'Come, come,' said Mr. Pickwick, with considerable emotion, 'we will see what can be done, when I know all about the matter. Here, Job; where is that fellow?'
'Here, sir,' replied Job, presenting himself on the staircase. We have described him, by the bye, as having deeply-sunken eyes, in the best of times. In his present state of want and distress, he looked as if those features had gone out of town altogether.
'Here, sir,' cried Job.
'Come here, sir,' said Mr. Pickwick, trying to look stern, with four large tears running down his waistcoat. 'Take that, sir.'
Take what? In the ordinary acceptation of such language, it should have been a blow. As the world runs, it ought to have been a sound, hearty cuff; for Mr. Pickwick had been duped, deceived, and wronged by the destitute outcast who was now wholly in his power. Must we tell the truth? It was something from Mr. Pickwick's waistcoat pocket, which chinked as it was given into Job's hand, and the giving of which, somehow or other imparted a sparkle to the eye, and a swelling to the heart, of our excellent old friend, as he hurried away.
Sam had returned when Mr. Pickwick reached his own room, and was inspecting the arrangements that had been made for his comfort, with a kind of grim satisfaction which was very pleasant to look upon. Having a decided objection to his master's being there at all, Mr. Weller appeared to consider it a high moral duty not to appear too much pleased with anything that was done, said, suggested, or proposed.
'Well, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Well, sir,' replied Mr. Weller.
'Pretty comfortable now, eh, Sam?'
'Pretty vell, sir,' responded Sam, looking round him in a disparaging manner.
'Have you seen Mr. Tupman and our other friends?'
'Yes, I HAVE seen 'em, sir, and they're a-comin' to-morrow, and wos wery much surprised to hear they warn't to come to-day,' replied Sam.
'You have brought the things I wanted?'
Mr. Weller in reply pointed to various packages which he had arranged, as neatly as he could, in a corner of the room.
'Very well, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, after a little hesitation; 'listen to what I am going to say, Sam.'
'Cert'nly, Sir,' rejoined Mr. Weller; 'fire away, Sir.'
'I have felt from the first, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, with much solemnity, 'that this is not the place to bring a young man to.'
'Nor an old 'un neither, Sir,' observed Mr. Weller.
'You're quite right, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'but old men may come here through their own heedlessness and unsuspicion, and young men may be brought here by the selfishness of those they serve. It is better for those young men, in every point of view, that they should not remain here. Do you understand me, Sam?'
'Vy no, Sir, I do NOT,' replied Mr. Weller doggedly.
'Try, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Vell, sir,' rejoined Sam, after a short pause, 'I think I see your drift; and if I do see your drift, it's my 'pinion that you're a-comin' it a great deal too strong, as the mail-coachman said to the snowstorm, ven it overtook him.'
'I see you comprehend me, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Independently of my wish that you should not be idling about a place like this, for years to come, I feel that for a debtor in the Fleet to be attended by his manservant is a monstrous absurdity. Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'for a time you must leave me.'
'Oh, for a time, eh, sir?' rejoined Mr. Weller rather sarcastically.
'Yes, for the time that I remain here,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Your wages I shall continue to pay. Any one of my three friends will be happy to take you, were it only out of respect to me. And if I ever do leave this place, Sam,' added Mr. Pickwick, with assumed cheerfulness—'if I do, I pledge you my word that you shall return to me instantly.'
'Now I'll tell you wot it is, Sir,' said Mr. Weller, in a grave and solemn voice. 'This here sort o' thing won't do at all, so don't let's hear no more about it.' 'I am serious, and resolved, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'You air, air you, sir?' inquired Mr. Weller firmly. 'Wery good, Sir; then so am I.'
Thus speaking, Mr. Weller fixed his hat on his head with great precision, and abruptly left the room.
'Sam!' cried Mr. Pickwick, calling after him, 'Sam! Here!'
But the long gallery ceased to re-echo the sound of footsteps. Sam Weller was gone.
CHAPTER XLIII. SHOWING HOW Mr. SAMUEL WELLER GOT INTO DIFFICULTIES
In a lofty room, ill-lighted and worse ventilated, situated in Portugal Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, there sit nearly the whole year round, one, two, three, or four gentlemen in wigs, as the case may be, with little writing-desks before them, constructed after the fashion of those used by the judges of the land, barring the French polish. There is a box of barristers on their right hand; there is an enclosure of insolvent debtors on their left; and there is an inclined plane of most especially dirty faces in their front. These gentlemen are the Commissioners of the Insolvent Court, and the place in which they sit, is the Insolvent Court itself.
It is, and has been, time out of mind, the remarkable fate of this court to be, somehow or other, held and understood, by the general consent of all the destitute shabby-genteel people in London, as their common resort, and place of daily refuge. It is always full. The steams of beer and spirits perpetually ascend to the ceiling, and, being condensed by the heat, roll down the walls like rain; there are more old suits of clothes in it at one time, than will be offered for sale in all Houndsditch in a twelvemonth; more unwashed skins and grizzly beards than all the pumps and shaving-shops between Tyburn and Whitechapel could render decent, between sunrise and sunset.
It must not be supposed that any of these people have the least shadow of business in, or the remotest connection with, the place they so indefatigably attend. If they had, it would be no matter of surprise, and the singularity of the thing would cease. Some of them sleep during the greater part of the sitting; others carry small portable dinners wrapped in pocket-handkerchiefs or sticking out of their worn-out pockets, and munch and listen with equal relish; but no one among them was ever known to have the slightest personal interest in any case that was ever brought forward. Whatever they do, there they sit from the first moment to the last. When it is heavy, rainy weather, they all come in, wet through; and at such times the vapours of the court are like those of a fungus-pit.
A casual visitor might suppose this place to be a temple dedicated to the Genius of Seediness. There is not a messenger or process-server attached to it, who wears a coat that was made for him; not a tolerably fresh, or wholesome-looking man in the whole establishment, except a little white-headed apple-faced tipstaff, and even he, like an ill-conditioned cherry preserved in brandy, seems to have artificially dried and withered up into a state of preservation to which he can lay no natural claim. The very barristers' wigs are ill-powdered, and their curls lack crispness.
But the attorneys, who sit at a large bare table below the commissioners, are, after all, the greatest curiosities. The professional establishment of the more opulent of these gentlemen, consists of a blue bag and a boy; generally a youth of the Jewish persuasion. They have no fixed offices, their legal business being transacted in the parlours of public-houses, or the yards of prisons, whither they repair in crowds, and canvass for customers after the manner of omnibus cads. They are of a greasy and mildewed appearance; and if they can be said to have any vices at all, perhaps drinking and cheating are the most conspicuous among them. Their residences are usually on the outskirts of 'the Rules,' chiefly lying within a circle of one mile from the obelisk in St. George's Fields. Their looks are not prepossessing, and their manners are peculiar.
Mr. Solomon Pell, one of this learned body, was a fat, flabby, pale man, in a surtout which looked green one minute, and brown the next, with a velvet collar of the same chameleon tints. His forehead was narrow, his face wide, his head large, and his nose all on one side, as if Nature, indignant with the propensities she observed in him in his birth, had given it an angry tweak which it had never recovered. Being short-necked and asthmatic, however, he respired principally through this feature; so, perhaps, what it wanted in ornament, it made up in usefulness.
'I'm sure to bring him through it,' said Mr. Pell.
'Are you, though?' replied the person to whom the assurance was pledged.
'Certain sure,' replied Pell; 'but if he'd gone to any irregular practitioner, mind you, I wouldn't have answered for the consequences.'
'Ah!' said the other, with open mouth.
'No, that I wouldn't,' said Mr. Pell; and he pursed up his lips, frowned, and shook his head mysteriously.
Now, the place where this discourse occurred was the public-house just opposite to the Insolvent Court; and the person with whom it was held was no other than the elder Mr. Weller, who had come there, to comfort and console a friend, whose petition to be discharged under the act, was to be that day heard, and whose attorney he was at that moment consulting.
'And vere is George?' inquired the old gentleman.
Mr. Pell jerked his head in the direction of a back parlour, whither Mr. Weller at once repairing, was immediately greeted in the warmest and most flattering manner by some half-dozen of his professional brethren, in token of their gratification at his arrival. The insolvent gentleman, who had contracted a speculative but imprudent passion for horsing long stages, which had led to his present embarrassments, looked extremely well, and was soothing the excitement of his feelings with shrimps and porter.
The salutation between Mr. Weller and his friends was strictly confined to the freemasonry of the craft; consisting of a jerking round of the right wrist, and a tossing of the little finger into the air at the same time. We once knew two famous coachmen (they are dead now, poor fellows) who were twins, and between whom an unaffected and devoted attachment existed. They passed each other on the Dover road, every day, for twenty-four years, never exchanging any other greeting than this; and yet, when one died, the other pined away, and soon afterwards followed him!
'Vell, George,' said Mr. Weller senior, taking off his upper coat, and seating himself with his accustomed gravity. 'How is it? All right behind, and full inside?'
'All right, old feller,' replied the embarrassed gentleman.
'Is the gray mare made over to anybody?' inquired Mr. Weller anxiously. George nodded in the affirmative.
'Vell, that's all right,' said Mr. Weller. 'Coach taken care on, also?'
'Con-signed in a safe quarter,' replied George, wringing the heads off half a dozen shrimps, and swallowing them without any more ado.
'Wery good, wery good,' said Mr. Weller. 'Alvays see to the drag ven you go downhill. Is the vay-bill all clear and straight for'erd?'
'The schedule, sir,' said Pell, guessing at Mr. Weller's meaning, 'the schedule is as plain and satisfactory as pen and ink can make it.'
Mr. Weller nodded in a manner which bespoke his inward approval of these arrangements; and then, turning to Mr. Pell, said, pointing to his friend George—
'Ven do you take his cloths off?'
'Why,' replied Mr. Pell, 'he stands third on the opposed list, and I should think it would be his turn in about half an hour. I told my clerk to come over and tell us when there was a chance.'
Mr. Weller surveyed the attorney from head to foot with great admiration, and said emphatically—
'And what'll you take, sir?'
'Why, really,' replied Mr. Pell, 'you're very—Upon my word and honour, I'm not in the habit of—It's so very early in the morning, that, actually, I am almost—Well, you may bring me threepenn'orth of rum, my dear.'
The officiating damsel, who had anticipated the order before it was given, set the glass of spirits before Pell, and retired.
'Gentlemen,' said Mr. Pell, looking round upon the company, 'success to your friend! I don't like to boast, gentlemen; it's not my way; but I can't help saying, that, if your friend hadn't been fortunate enough to fall into hands that—But I won't say what I was going to say. Gentlemen, my service to you.' Having emptied the glass in a twinkling, Mr. Pell smacked his lips, and looked complacently round on the assembled coachmen, who evidently regarded him as a species of divinity.
'Let me see,' said the legal authority. 'What was I a-saying, gentlemen?'
'I think you was remarkin' as you wouldn't have no objection to another o' the same, Sir,' said Mr. Weller, with grave facetiousness. 'Ha, ha!' laughed Mr. Pell. 'Not bad, not bad. A professional man, too! At this time of the morning, it would be rather too good a—Well, I don't know, my dear—you may do that again, if you please. Hem!'
This last sound was a solemn and dignified cough, in which Mr. Pell, observing an indecent tendency to mirth in some of his auditors, considered it due to himself to indulge.
'The late Lord Chancellor, gentlemen, was very fond of me,' said Mr. Pell.
'And wery creditable in him, too,' interposed Mr. Weller.
'Hear, hear,' assented Mr. Pell's client. 'Why shouldn't he be?
'Ah! Why, indeed!' said a very red-faced man, who had said nothing yet, and who looked extremely unlikely to say anything more. 'Why shouldn't he?'
A murmur of assent ran through the company.
'I remember, gentlemen,' said Mr. Pell, 'dining with him on one occasion; there was only us two, but everything as splendid as if twenty people had been expected—the great seal on a dumb-waiter at his right hand, and a man in a bag-wig and suit of armour guarding the mace with a drawn sword and silk stockings—which is perpetually done, gentlemen, night and day; when he said, "Pell," he said, "no false delicacy, Pell. You're a man of talent; you can get anybody through the Insolvent Court, Pell; and your country should be proud of you." Those were his very words. "My Lord," I said, "you flatter me."—"Pell," he said, "if I do, I'm damned."'
'Did he say that?' inquired Mr. Weller.
'He did,' replied Pell.
'Vell, then,' said Mr. Weller, 'I say Parliament ought to ha' took it up; and if he'd been a poor man, they would ha' done it.'
'But, my dear friend,' argued Mr. Pell, 'it was in confidence.'
'In what?' said Mr. Weller.
'Oh! wery good,' replied Mr. Weller, after a little reflection. 'If he damned hisself in confidence, o' course that was another thing.'
'Of course it was,' said Mr. Pell. 'The distinction's obvious, you will perceive.'
'Alters the case entirely,' said Mr. Weller. 'Go on, Sir.' 'No, I will not go on, Sir,' said Mr. Pell, in a low and serious tone. 'You have reminded me, Sir, that this conversation was private—private and confidential, gentlemen. Gentlemen, I am a professional man. It may be that I am a good deal looked up to, in my profession—it may be that I am not. Most people know. I say nothing. Observations have already been made, in this room, injurious to the reputation of my noble friend. You will excuse me, gentlemen; I was imprudent. I feel that I have no right to mention this matter without his concurrence. Thank you, Sir; thank you.' Thus delivering himself, Mr. Pell thrust his hands into his pockets, and, frowning grimly around, rattled three halfpence with terrible determination.
This virtuous resolution had scarcely been formed, when the boy and the blue bag, who were inseparable companions, rushed violently into the room, and said (at least the boy did, for the blue bag took no part in the announcement) that the case was coming on directly. The intelligence was no sooner received than the whole party hurried across the street, and began to fight their way into court—a preparatory ceremony, which has been calculated to occupy, in ordinary cases, from twenty-five minutes to thirty.
Mr. Weller, being stout, cast himself at once into the crowd, with the desperate hope of ultimately turning up in some place which would suit him. His success was not quite equal to his expectations; for having neglected to take his hat off, it was knocked over his eyes by some unseen person, upon whose toes he had alighted with considerable force. Apparently this individual regretted his impetuosity immediately afterwards, for, muttering an indistinct exclamation of surprise, he dragged the old man out into the hall, and, after a violent struggle, released his head and face.
'Samivel!' exclaimed Mr. Weller, when he was thus enabled to behold his rescuer.
'You're a dutiful and affectionate little boy, you are, ain't you,' said Mr. Weller, 'to come a-bonnetin' your father in his old age?'
'How should I know who you wos?' responded the son. 'Do you s'pose I wos to tell you by the weight o' your foot?'
'Vell, that's wery true, Sammy,' replied Mr. Weller, mollified at once; 'but wot are you a-doin' on here? Your gov'nor can't do no good here, Sammy. They won't pass that werdick, they won't pass it, Sammy.' And Mr. Weller shook his head with legal solemnity.
'Wot a perwerse old file it is!' exclaimed Sam. 'always a-goin' on about werdicks and alleybis and that. Who said anything about the werdick?'
Mr. Weller made no reply, but once more shook his head most learnedly.
'Leave off rattlin' that 'ere nob o' yourn, if you don't want it to come off the springs altogether,' said Sam impatiently, 'and behave reasonable. I vent all the vay down to the Markis o' Granby, arter you, last night.'
'Did you see the Marchioness o' Granby, Sammy?' inquired Mr. Weller, with a sigh.
'Yes, I did,' replied Sam.
'How wos the dear creetur a-lookin'?'
'Wery queer,' said Sam. 'I think she's a-injurin' herself gradivally vith too much o' that 'ere pine-apple rum, and other strong medicines of the same natur.'
'You don't mean that, Sammy?' said the senior earnestly.
'I do, indeed,' replied the junior. Mr. Weller seized his son's hand, clasped it, and let it fall. There was an expression on his countenance in doing so—not of dismay or apprehension, but partaking more of the sweet and gentle character of hope. A gleam of resignation, and even of cheerfulness, passed over his face too, as he slowly said, 'I ain't quite certain, Sammy; I wouldn't like to say I wos altogether positive, in case of any subsekent disappointment, but I rayther think, my boy, I rayther think, that the shepherd's got the liver complaint!'
'Does he look bad?' inquired Sam.
'He's uncommon pale,' replied his father, ''cept about the nose, which is redder than ever. His appetite is wery so-so, but he imbibes wonderful.'
Some thoughts of the rum appeared to obtrude themselves on Mr. Weller's mind, as he said this; for he looked gloomy and thoughtful; but he very shortly recovered, as was testified by a perfect alphabet of winks, in which he was only wont to indulge when particularly pleased.
'Vell, now,' said Sam, 'about my affair. Just open them ears o' yourn, and don't say nothin' till I've done.' With this preface, Sam related, as succinctly as he could, the last memorable conversation he had had with Mr. Pickwick.
'Stop there by himself, poor creetur!' exclaimed the elder Mr. Weller, 'without nobody to take his part! It can't be done, Samivel, it can't be done.'
'O' course it can't,' asserted Sam: 'I know'd that, afore I came.' 'Why, they'll eat him up alive, Sammy,'exclaimed Mr. Weller.
Sam nodded his concurrence in the opinion.
'He goes in rayther raw, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller metaphorically, 'and he'll come out, done so ex-ceedin' brown, that his most formiliar friends won't know him. Roast pigeon's nothin' to it, Sammy.'
Again Sam Weller nodded.
'It oughtn't to be, Samivel,' said Mr. Weller gravely.
'It mustn't be,' said Sam.
'Cert'nly not,' said Mr. Weller.
'Vell now,' said Sam, 'you've been a-prophecyin' away, wery fine, like a red-faced Nixon, as the sixpenny books gives picters on.'
'Who wos he, Sammy?' inquired Mr. Weller.
'Never mind who he was,' retorted Sam; 'he warn't a coachman; that's enough for you.' 'I know'd a ostler o' that name,' said Mr. Weller, musing.
'It warn't him,' said Sam. 'This here gen'l'm'n was a prophet.'
'Wot's a prophet?' inquired Mr. Weller, looking sternly on his son.
'Wy, a man as tells what's a-goin' to happen,' replied Sam.
'I wish I'd know'd him, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller. 'P'raps he might ha' throw'd a small light on that 'ere liver complaint as we wos a-speakin' on, just now. Hows'ever, if he's dead, and ain't left the bisness to nobody, there's an end on it. Go on, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller, with a sigh.
'Well,' said Sam, 'you've been a-prophecyin' avay about wot'll happen to the gov'ner if he's left alone. Don't you see any way o' takin' care on him?'
'No, I don't, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller, with a reflective visage.
'No vay at all?' inquired Sam.
'No vay,' said Mr. Weller, 'unless'—and a gleam of intelligence lighted up his countenance as he sank his voice to a whisper, and applied his mouth to the ear of his offspring—'unless it is getting him out in a turn-up bedstead, unbeknown to the turnkeys, Sammy, or dressin' him up like a old 'ooman vith a green wail.'
Sam Weller received both of these suggestions with unexpected contempt, and again propounded his question.
'No,' said the old gentleman; 'if he von't let you stop there, I see no vay at all. It's no thoroughfare, Sammy, no thoroughfare.'
'Well, then, I'll tell you wot it is,' said Sam, 'I'll trouble you for the loan of five-and-twenty pound.'
'Wot good'll that do?' inquired Mr. Weller.
'Never mind,' replied Sam. 'P'raps you may ask for it five minits arterwards; p'raps I may say I von't pay, and cut up rough. You von't think o' arrestin' your own son for the money, and sendin' him off to the Fleet, will you, you unnat'ral wagabone?'
At this reply of Sam's, the father and son exchanged a complete code of telegraph nods and gestures, after which, the elder Mr. Weller sat himself down on a stone step and laughed till he was purple.
'Wot a old image it is!' exclaimed Sam, indignant at this loss of time. 'What are you a-settin' down there for, con-wertin' your face into a street-door knocker, wen there's so much to be done. Where's the money?' 'In the boot, Sammy, in the boot,' replied Mr. Weller, composing his features. 'Hold my hat, Sammy.'
Having divested himself of this encumbrance, Mr. Weller gave his body a sudden wrench to one side, and by a dexterous twist, contrived to get his right hand into a most capacious pocket, from whence, after a great deal of panting and exertion, he extricated a pocket-book of the large octavo size, fastened by a huge leathern strap. From this ledger he drew forth a couple of whiplashes, three or four buckles, a little sample-bag of corn, and, finally, a small roll of very dirty bank-notes, from which he selected the required amount, which he handed over to Sam.
'And now, Sammy,' said the old gentleman, when the whip-lashes, and the buckles, and the samples, had been all put back, and the book once more deposited at the bottom of the same pocket, 'now, Sammy, I know a gen'l'm'n here, as'll do the rest o' the bisness for us, in no time—a limb o' the law, Sammy, as has got brains like the frogs, dispersed all over his body, and reachin' to the wery tips of his fingers; a friend of the Lord Chancellorship's, Sammy, who'd only have to tell him what he wanted, and he'd lock you up for life, if that wos all.'
'I say,' said Sam, 'none o' that.'
'None o' wot?' inquired Mr. Weller.
'Wy, none o' them unconstitootional ways o' doin' it,' retorted Sam. 'The have-his-carcass, next to the perpetual motion, is vun of the blessedest things as wos ever made. I've read that 'ere in the newspapers wery of'en.'
'Well, wot's that got to do vith it?' inquired Mr. Weller.
'Just this here,' said Sam, 'that I'll patronise the inwention, and go in, that vay. No visperin's to the Chancellorship—I don't like the notion. It mayn't be altogether safe, vith reference to gettin' out agin.'
Deferring to his son's feeling upon this point, Mr. Weller at once sought the erudite Solomon Pell, and acquainted him with his desire to issue a writ, instantly, for the SUM of twenty-five pounds, and costs of process; to be executed without delay upon the body of one Samuel Weller; the charges thereby incurred, to be paid in advance to Solomon Pell.
The attorney was in high glee, for the embarrassed coach-horser was ordered to be discharged forthwith. He highly approved of Sam's attachment to his master; declared that it strongly reminded him of his own feelings of devotion to his friend, the Chancellor; and at once led the elder Mr. Weller down to the Temple, to swear the affidavit of debt, which the boy, with the assistance of the blue bag, had drawn up on the spot.
Meanwhile, Sam, having been formally introduced to the whitewashed gentleman and his friends, as the offspring of Mr. Weller, of the Belle Savage, was treated with marked distinction, and invited to regale himself with them in honour of the occasion—an invitation which he was by no means backward in accepting.
The mirth of gentlemen of this class is of a grave and quiet character, usually; but the present instance was one of peculiar festivity, and they relaxed in proportion. After some rather tumultuous toasting of the Chief Commissioner and Mr. Solomon Pell, who had that day displayed such transcendent abilities, a mottled-faced gentleman in a blue shawl proposed that somebody should sing a song. The obvious suggestion was, that the mottled-faced gentleman, being anxious for a song, should sing it himself; but this the mottled-faced gentleman sturdily, and somewhat offensively, declined to do. Upon which, as is not unusual in such cases, a rather angry colloquy ensued.
'Gentlemen,' said the coach-horser, 'rather than disturb the harmony of this delightful occasion, perhaps Mr. Samuel Weller will oblige the company.'
'Raly, gentlemen,' said Sam, 'I'm not wery much in the habit o' singin' without the instrument; but anythin' for a quiet life, as the man said wen he took the sitivation at the lighthouse.'
With this prelude, Mr. Samuel Weller burst at once into the following wild and beautiful legend, which, under the impression that it is not generally known, we take the liberty of quoting. We would beg to call particular attention to the monosyllable at the end of the second and fourth lines, which not only enables the singer to take breath at those points, but greatly assists the metre.
Bold Turpin vunce, on Hounslow Heath, His bold mare Bess bestrode-er; Ven there he see'd the Bishop's coach A-coming along the road-er. So he gallops close to the 'orse's legs, And he claps his head vithin; And the Bishop says, 'Sure as eggs is eggs, This here's the bold Turpin!'
And the Bishop says, 'Sure as eggs is eggs, This here's the bold Turpin!'
Says Turpin, 'You shall eat your words, With a sarse of leaden bul-let;' So he puts a pistol to his mouth, And he fires it down his gul-let. The coachman he not likin' the job, Set off at full gal-lop, But Dick put a couple of balls in his nob, And perwailed on him to stop.
But Dick put a couple of balls in his nob, And perwailed on him to stop.
'I maintain that that 'ere song's personal to the cloth,' said the mottled-faced gentleman, interrupting it at this point. 'I demand the name o' that coachman.'
'Nobody know'd,' replied Sam. 'He hadn't got his card in his pocket.'
'I object to the introduction o' politics,' said the mottled-faced gentleman. 'I submit that, in the present company, that 'ere song's political; and, wot's much the same, that it ain't true. I say that that coachman did not run away; but that he died game—game as pheasants; and I won't hear nothin' said to the contrairey.'
As the mottled-faced gentleman spoke with great energy and determination, and as the opinions of the company seemed divided on the subject, it threatened to give rise to fresh altercation, when Mr. Weller and Mr. Pell most opportunely arrived.
'All right, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller.
'The officer will be here at four o'clock,' said Mr. Pell. 'I suppose you won't run away meanwhile, eh? Ha! ha!'
'P'raps my cruel pa 'ull relent afore then,' replied Sam, with a broad grin.
'Not I,' said the elder Mr. Weller.
'Do,' said Sam.
'Not on no account,' replied the inexorable creditor.
'I'll give bills for the amount, at sixpence a month,' said Sam.
'I won't take 'em,' said Mr. Weller.
'Ha, ha, ha! very good, very good,' said Mr. Solomon Pell, who was making out his little bill of costs; 'a very amusing incident indeed! Benjamin, copy that.' And Mr. Pell smiled again, as he called Mr. Weller's attention to the amount.
'Thank you, thank you,' said the professional gentleman, taking up another of the greasy notes as Mr. Weller took it from the pocket-book. 'Three ten and one ten is five. Much obliged to you, Mr. Weller. Your son is a most deserving young man, very much so indeed, Sir. It's a very pleasant trait in a young man's character, very much so,' added Mr. Pell, smiling smoothly round, as he buttoned up the money.
'Wot a game it is!' said the elder Mr. Weller, with a chuckle. 'A reg'lar prodigy son!'
'Prodigal—prodigal son, Sir,' suggested Mr. Pell, mildly.
'Never mind, Sir,' said Mr. Weller, with dignity. 'I know wot's o'clock, Sir. Wen I don't, I'll ask you, Sir.'
By the time the officer arrived, Sam had made himself so extremely popular, that the congregated gentlemen determined to see him to prison in a body. So off they set; the plaintiff and defendant walking arm in arm, the officer in front, and eight stout coachmen bringing up the rear. At Serjeant's Inn Coffee-house the whole party halted to refresh, and, the legal arrangements being completed, the procession moved on again.
Some little commotion was occasioned in Fleet Street, by the pleasantry of the eight gentlemen in the flank, who persevered in walking four abreast; it was also found necessary to leave the mottled-faced gentleman behind, to fight a ticket-porter, it being arranged that his friends should call for him as they came back. Nothing but these little incidents occurred on the way. When they reached the gate of the Fleet, the cavalcade, taking the time from the plaintiff, gave three tremendous cheers for the defendant, and, after having shaken hands all round, left him.
Sam, having been formally delivered into the warder's custody, to the intense astonishment of Roker, and to the evident emotion of even the phlegmatic Neddy, passed at once into the prison, walked straight to his master's room, and knocked at the door.
'Come in,' said Mr. Pickwick.
Sam appeared, pulled off his hat, and smiled.
'Ah, Sam, my good lad!' said Mr. Pickwick, evidently delighted to see his humble friend again; 'I had no intention of hurting your feelings yesterday, my faithful fellow, by what I said. Put down your hat, Sam, and let me explain my meaning, a little more at length.'
'Won't presently do, sir?' inquired Sam.
'Certainly,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'but why not now?'
'I'd rayther not now, sir,' rejoined Sam.
'Why?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
''Cause—' said Sam, hesitating.
'Because of what?' inquired Mr. Pickwick, alarmed at his follower's manner. 'Speak out, Sam.'
''Cause,' rejoined Sam—''cause I've got a little bisness as I want to do.'
'What business?' inquired Mr. Pickwick, surprised at Sam's confused manner.
'Nothin' partickler, Sir,' replied Sam.
'Oh, if it's nothing particular,' said Mr. Pickwick, with a smile, 'you can speak with me first.'
'I think I'd better see arter it at once,' said Sam, still hesitating.
Mr. Pickwick looked amazed, but said nothing.
'The fact is—' said Sam, stopping short.
'Well!' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Speak out, Sam.'
'Why, the fact is,' said Sam, with a desperate effort, 'perhaps I'd better see arter my bed afore I do anythin' else.'
'YOUR BED!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, in astonishment.
'Yes, my bed, Sir,' replied Sam, 'I'm a prisoner. I was arrested this here wery arternoon for debt.'
'You arrested for debt!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, sinking into a chair.
'Yes, for debt, Sir,' replied Sam. 'And the man as puts me in, 'ull never let me out till you go yourself.'
'Bless my heart and soul!' ejaculated Mr. Pickwick. 'What do you mean?'
'Wot I say, Sir,' rejoined Sam. 'If it's forty years to come, I shall be a prisoner, and I'm very glad on it; and if it had been Newgate, it would ha' been just the same. Now the murder's out, and, damme, there's an end on it!'
With these words, which he repeated with great emphasis and violence, Sam Weller dashed his hat upon the ground, in a most unusual state of excitement; and then, folding his arms, looked firmly and fixedly in his master's face.
CHAPTER LXIV. TREATS OF DIVERS LITTLE MATTERS WHICH OCCURRED IN THE FLEET, AND OF Mr. WINKLE'S MYSTERIOUS BEHAVIOUR; AND SHOWS HOW THE POOR CHANCERY PRISONER OBTAINED HIS RELEASE AT LAST
Mr. Pickwick felt a great deal too much touched by the warmth of Sam's attachment, to be able to exhibit any manifestation of anger or displeasure at the precipitate course he had adopted, in voluntarily consigning himself to a debtor's prison for an indefinite period. The only point on which he persevered in demanding an explanation, was, the name of Sam's detaining creditor; but this Mr. Weller as perseveringly withheld.
'It ain't o' no use, sir,' said Sam, again and again; 'he's a malicious, bad-disposed, vorldly-minded, spiteful, windictive creetur, with a hard heart as there ain't no soft'nin', as the wirtuous clergyman remarked of the old gen'l'm'n with the dropsy, ven he said, that upon the whole he thought he'd rayther leave his property to his vife than build a chapel vith it.'
'But consider, Sam,' Mr. Pickwick remonstrated, 'the sum is so small that it can very easily be paid; and having made up My mind that you shall stop with me, you should recollect how much more useful you would be, if you could go outside the walls.' 'Wery much obliged to you, sir,' replied Mr. Weller gravely; 'but I'd rayther not.'
'Rather not do what, Sam?'
'Wy, I'd rayther not let myself down to ask a favour o' this here unremorseful enemy.'
'But it is no favour asking him to take his money, Sam,' reasoned Mr. Pickwick.
'Beg your pardon, sir,' rejoined Sam, 'but it 'ud be a wery great favour to pay it, and he don't deserve none; that's where it is, sir.'
Here Mr. Pickwick, rubbing his nose with an air of some vexation, Mr. Weller thought it prudent to change the theme of the discourse.
'I takes my determination on principle, Sir,' remarked Sam, 'and you takes yours on the same ground; wich puts me in mind o' the man as killed his-self on principle, wich o' course you've heerd on, Sir.' Mr. Weller paused when he arrived at this point, and cast a comical look at his master out of the corners of his eyes.
'There is no "of course" in the case, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, gradually breaking into a smile, in spite of the uneasiness which Sam's obstinacy had given him. 'The fame of the gentleman in question, never reached my ears.'
'No, sir!' exclaimed Mr. Weller. 'You astonish me, Sir; he wos a clerk in a gov'ment office, sir.'
'Was he?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Yes, he wos, Sir,' rejoined Mr. Weller; 'and a wery pleasant gen'l'm'n too—one o' the precise and tidy sort, as puts their feet in little India-rubber fire-buckets wen it's wet weather, and never has no other bosom friends but hare-skins; he saved up his money on principle, wore a clean shirt ev'ry day on principle; never spoke to none of his relations on principle, 'fear they shou'd want to borrow money of him; and wos altogether, in fact, an uncommon agreeable character. He had his hair cut on principle vunce a fortnight, and contracted for his clothes on the economic principle—three suits a year, and send back the old uns. Being a wery reg'lar gen'l'm'n, he din'd ev'ry day at the same place, where it was one-and-nine to cut off the joint, and a wery good one-and-nine's worth he used to cut, as the landlord often said, with the tears a-tricklin' down his face, let alone the way he used to poke the fire in the vinter time, which wos a dead loss o' four-pence ha'penny a day, to say nothin' at all o' the aggrawation o' seein' him do it. So uncommon grand with it too! "POST arter the next gen'l'm'n," he sings out ev'ry day ven he comes in. "See arter the TIMES, Thomas; let me look at the MORNIN' HERALD, when it's out o' hand; don't forget to bespeak the CHRONICLE; and just bring the 'TIZER, vill you:" and then he'd set vith his eyes fixed on the clock, and rush out, just a quarter of a minit 'fore the time to waylay the boy as wos a-comin' in with the evenin' paper, which he'd read with sich intense interest and persewerance as worked the other customers up to the wery confines o' desperation and insanity, 'specially one i-rascible old gen'l'm'n as the vaiter wos always obliged to keep a sharp eye on, at sich times, fear he should be tempted to commit some rash act with the carving-knife. Vell, Sir, here he'd stop, occupyin' the best place for three hours, and never takin' nothin' arter his dinner, but sleep, and then he'd go away to a coffee-house a few streets off, and have a small pot o' coffee and four crumpets, arter wich he'd walk home to Kensington and go to bed. One night he wos took very ill; sends for a doctor; doctor comes in a green fly, with a kind o' Robinson Crusoe set o' steps, as he could let down wen he got out, and pull up arter him wen he got in, to perwent the necessity o' the coachman's gettin' down, and thereby undeceivin' the public by lettin' 'em see that it wos only a livery coat as he'd got on, and not the trousers to match. "Wot's the matter?" says the doctor. "Wery ill," says the patient. "Wot have you been a-eatin' on?" says the doctor. "Roast weal," says the patient. "Wot's the last thing you dewoured?" says the doctor. "Crumpets," says the patient. "That's it!" says the doctor. "I'll send you a box of pills directly, and don't you never take no more of 'em," he says. "No more o' wot?" says the patient—"pills?" "No; crumpets," says the doctor. "Wy?" says the patient, starting up in bed; "I've eat four crumpets, ev'ry night for fifteen year, on principle." "Well, then, you'd better leave 'em off, on principle," says the doctor. "Crumpets is NOT wholesome, Sir," says the doctor, wery fierce. "But they're so cheap," says the patient, comin' down a little, "and so wery fillin' at the price." "They'd be dear to you, at any price; dear if you wos paid to eat 'em," says the doctor. "Four crumpets a night," he says, "vill do your business in six months!" The patient looks him full in the face, and turns it over in his mind for a long time, and at last he says, "Are you sure o' that 'ere, Sir?" "I'll stake my professional reputation on it," says the doctor. "How many crumpets, at a sittin', do you think 'ud kill me off at once?" says the patient. "I don't know," says the doctor. "Do you think half-a-crown's wurth 'ud do it?" says the patient. "I think it might," says the doctor. "Three shillins' wurth 'ud be sure to do it, I s'pose?" says the patient. "Certainly," says the doctor. "Wery good," says the patient; "good-night." Next mornin' he gets up, has a fire lit, orders in three shillins' wurth o' crumpets, toasts 'em all, eats 'em all, and blows his brains out.'
'What did he do that for?' inquired Mr. Pickwick abruptly; for he was considerably startled by this tragical termination of the narrative.
'Wot did he do it for, Sir?' reiterated Sam. 'Wy, in support of his great principle that crumpets wos wholesome, and to show that he wouldn't be put out of his way for nobody!' With such like shiftings and changings of the discourse, did Mr. Weller meet his master's questioning on the night of his taking up his residence in the Fleet. Finding all gentle remonstrance useless, Mr. Pickwick at length yielded a reluctant consent to his taking lodgings by the week, of a bald-headed cobbler, who rented a small slip room in one of the upper galleries. To this humble apartment Mr. Weller moved a mattress and bedding, which he hired of Mr. Roker; and, by the time he lay down upon it at night, was as much at home as if he had been bred in the prison, and his whole family had vegetated therein for three generations.
'Do you always smoke arter you goes to bed, old cock?' inquired Mr. Weller of his landlord, when they had both retired for the night.
'Yes, I does, young bantam,' replied the cobbler.
'Will you allow me to in-quire wy you make up your bed under that 'ere deal table?' said Sam.
''Cause I was always used to a four-poster afore I came here, and I find the legs of the table answer just as well,' replied the cobbler.
'You're a character, sir,' said Sam.
'I haven't got anything of the kind belonging to me,' rejoined the cobbler, shaking his head; 'and if you want to meet with a good one, I'm afraid you'll find some difficulty in suiting yourself at this register office.'
The above short dialogue took place as Mr. Weller lay extended on his mattress at one end of the room, and the cobbler on his, at the other; the apartment being illumined by the light of a rush-candle, and the cobbler's pipe, which was glowing below the table, like a red-hot coal. The conversation, brief as it was, predisposed Mr. Weller strongly in his landlord's favour; and, raising himself on his elbow, he took a more lengthened survey of his appearance than he had yet had either time or inclination to make.
He was a sallow man—all cobblers are; and had a strong bristly beard—all cobblers have. His face was a queer, good-tempered, crooked-featured piece of workmanship, ornamented with a couple of eyes that must have worn a very joyous expression at one time, for they sparkled yet. The man was sixty, by years, and Heaven knows how old by imprisonment, so that his having any look approaching to mirth or contentment, was singular enough. He was a little man, and, being half doubled up as he lay in bed, looked about as long as he ought to have been without his legs. He had a great red pipe in his mouth, and was smoking, and staring at the rush-light, in a state of enviable placidity.
'Have you been here long?' inquired Sam, breaking the silence which had lasted for some time.
'Twelve year,' replied the cobbler, biting the end of his pipe as he spoke.
'Contempt?' inquired Sam. The cobbler nodded.
'Well, then,' said Sam, with some sternness, 'wot do you persevere in bein' obstinit for, vastin' your precious life away, in this here magnified pound? Wy don't you give in, and tell the Chancellorship that you're wery sorry for makin' his court contemptible, and you won't do so no more?'
The cobbler put his pipe in the corner of his mouth, while he smiled, and then brought it back to its old place again; but said nothing.
'Wy don't you?' said Sam, urging his question strenuously.
'Ah,' said the cobbler, 'you don't quite understand these matters. What do you suppose ruined me, now?'
'Wy,' said Sam, trimming the rush-light, 'I s'pose the beginnin' wos, that you got into debt, eh?'
'Never owed a farden,' said the cobbler; 'try again.'
'Well, perhaps,' said Sam, 'you bought houses, wich is delicate English for goin' mad; or took to buildin', wich is a medical term for bein' incurable.'
The cobbler shook his head and said, 'Try again.'
'You didn't go to law, I hope?' said Sam suspiciously.
'Never in my life,' replied the cobbler.
'The fact is, I was ruined by having money left me.'
'Come, come,' said Sam, 'that von't do. I wish some rich enemy 'ud try to vork my destruction in that 'ere vay. I'd let him.'
'Oh, I dare say you don't believe it,' said the cobbler, quietly smoking his pipe. 'I wouldn't if I was you; but it's true for all that.'
'How wos it?' inquired Sam, half induced to believe the fact already, by the look the cobbler gave him.
'Just this,' replied the cobbler; 'an old gentleman that I worked for, down in the country, and a humble relation of whose I married—she's dead, God bless her, and thank Him for it!—was seized with a fit and went off.'
'Where?' inquired Sam, who was growing sleepy after the numerous events of the day.
'How should I know where he went?' said the cobbler, speaking through his nose in an intense enjoyment of his pipe. 'He went off dead.'
'Oh, that indeed,' said Sam. 'Well?'
'Well,' said the cobbler, 'he left five thousand pound behind him.'
'And wery gen-teel in him so to do,' said Sam.
'One of which,' continued the cobbler, 'he left to me, 'cause I married his relation, you see.'
'Wery good,' murmured Sam.
'And being surrounded by a great number of nieces and nevys, as was always quarrelling and fighting among themselves for the property, he makes me his executor, and leaves the rest to me in trust, to divide it among 'em as the will prowided.'
'Wot do you mean by leavin' it on trust?' inquired Sam, waking up a little. 'If it ain't ready-money, were's the use on it?'
'It's a law term, that's all,' said the cobbler.
'I don't think that,' said Sam, shaking his head. 'There's wery little trust at that shop. Hows'ever, go on.' 'Well,' said the cobbler, 'when I was going to take out a probate of the will, the nieces and nevys, who was desperately disappointed at not getting all the money, enters a caveat against it.' 'What's that?' inquired Sam.
'A legal instrument, which is as much as to say, it's no go,' replied the cobbler.
'I see,' said Sam, 'a sort of brother-in-law o' the have-his-carcass. Well.'
'But,' continued the cobbler, 'finding that they couldn't agree among themselves, and consequently couldn't get up a case against the will, they withdrew the caveat, and I paid all the legacies. I'd hardly done it, when one nevy brings an action to set the will aside. The case comes on, some months afterwards, afore a deaf old gentleman, in a back room somewhere down by Paul's Churchyard; and arter four counsels had taken a day a-piece to bother him regularly, he takes a week or two to consider, and read the evidence in six volumes, and then gives his judgment that how the testator was not quite right in his head, and I must pay all the money back again, and all the costs. I appealed; the case come on before three or four very sleepy gentlemen, who had heard it all before in the other court, where they're lawyers without work; the only difference being, that, there, they're called doctors, and in the other place delegates, if you understand that; and they very dutifully confirmed the decision of the old gentleman below. After that, we went into Chancery, where we are still, and where I shall always be. My lawyers have had all my thousand pound long ago; and what between the estate, as they call it, and the costs, I'm here for ten thousand, and shall stop here, till I die, mending shoes. Some gentlemen have talked of bringing it before Parliament, and I dare say would have done it, only they hadn't time to come to me, and I hadn't power to go to them, and they got tired of my long letters, and dropped the business. And this is God's truth, without one word of suppression or exaggeration, as fifty people, both in this place and out of it, very well know.'
The cobbler paused to ascertain what effect his story had produced on Sam; but finding that he had dropped asleep, knocked the ashes out of his pipe, sighed, put it down, drew the bed-clothes over his head, and went to sleep, too.
Mr. Pickwick was sitting at breakfast, alone, next morning (Sam being busily engaged in the cobbler's room, polishing his master's shoes and brushing the black gaiters) when there came a knock at the door, which, before Mr. Pickwick could cry 'Come in!' was followed by the appearance of a head of hair and a cotton-velvet cap, both of which articles of dress he had no difficulty in recognising as the personal property of Mr. Smangle.
'How are you?' said that worthy, accompanying the inquiry with a score or two of nods; 'I say—do you expect anybody this morning? Three men—devilish gentlemanly fellows—have been asking after you downstairs, and knocking at every door on the hall flight; for which they've been most infernally blown up by the collegians that had the trouble of opening 'em.'
'Dear me! How very foolish of them,' said Mr. Pickwick, rising. 'Yes; I have no doubt they are some friends whom I rather expected to see, yesterday.'
'Friends of yours!' exclaimed Smangle, seizing Mr. Pickwick by the hand. 'Say no more. Curse me, they're friends of mine from this minute, and friends of Mivins's, too. Infernal pleasant, gentlemanly dog, Mivins, isn't he?' said Smangle, with great feeling.
'I know so little of the gentleman,' said Mr. Pickwick, hesitating, 'that I—'
'I know you do,' interrupted Smangle, clasping Mr. Pickwick by the shoulder. 'You shall know him better. You'll be delighted with him. That man, Sir,' said Smangle, with a solemn countenance, 'has comic powers that would do honour to Drury Lane Theatre.'
'Has he indeed?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Ah, by Jove he has!' replied Smangle. 'Hear him come the four cats in the wheel-barrow—four distinct cats, sir, I pledge you my honour. Now you know that's infernal clever! Damme, you can't help liking a man, when you see these traits about him. He's only one fault—that little failing I mentioned to you, you know.'
As Mr. Smangle shook his head in a confidential and sympathising manner at this juncture, Mr. Pickwick felt that he was expected to say something, so he said, 'Ah!' and looked restlessly at the door.
'Ah!' echoed Mr. Smangle, with a long-drawn sigh. 'He's delightful company, that man is, sir. I don't know better company anywhere; but he has that one drawback. If the ghost of his grandfather, Sir, was to rise before him this minute, he'd ask him for the loan of his acceptance on an eightpenny stamp.' 'Dear me!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick.
'Yes,' added Mr. Smangle; 'and if he'd the power of raising him again, he would, in two months and three days from this time, to renew the bill!'
'Those are very remarkable traits,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'but I'm afraid that while we are talking here, my friends may be in a state of great perplexity at not finding me.'
'I'll show 'em the way,' said Smangle, making for the door. 'Good-day. I won't disturb you while they're here, you know. By the bye—'