Mr. Pickwick had never held any personal communication with Mr. Winkle, senior, although he had once or twice corresponded with him by letter, and returned satisfactory answers to his inquiries concerning the moral character and behaviour of his son; he felt nervously sensible that to wait upon him, for the first time, attended by Bob Sawyer and Ben Allen, both slightly fuddled, was not the most ingenious and likely means that could have been hit upon to prepossess him in his favour.
'However,' said Mr. Pickwick, endeavouring to reassure himself, 'I must do the best I can. I must see him to-night, for I faithfully promised to do so. If they persist in accompanying me, I must make the interview as brief as possible, and be content that, for their own sakes, they will not expose themselves.'
As he comforted himself with these reflections, the chaise stopped at the door of the Old Royal. Ben Allen having been partially awakened from a stupendous sleep, and dragged out by the collar by Mr. Samuel Weller, Mr. Pickwick was enabled to alight. They were shown to a comfortable apartment, and Mr. Pickwick at once propounded a question to the waiter concerning the whereabout of Mr. Winkle's residence.
'Close by, Sir,' said the waiter, 'not above five hundred yards, Sir. Mr. Winkle is a wharfinger, Sir, at the canal, sir. Private residence is not—oh dear, no, sir, not five hundred yards, sir.' Here the waiter blew a candle out, and made a feint of lighting it again, in order to afford Mr. Pickwick an opportunity of asking any further questions, if he felt so disposed. 'Take anything now, Sir?' said the waiter, lighting the candle in desperation at Mr. Pickwick's silence. 'Tea or coffee, Sir? Dinner, sir?'
'Very good, sir. Like to order supper, Sir?'
'Not just now.'
'Very good, Sir.' Here, he walked slowly to the door, and then stopping short, turned round and said, with great suavity—
'Shall I send the chambermaid, gentlemen?'
'You may if you please,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
'If YOU please, sir.'
'And bring some soda-water,' said Bob Sawyer.
'Soda-water, Sir! Yes, Sir.' With his mind apparently relieved from an overwhelming weight, by having at last got an order for something, the waiter imperceptibly melted away. Waiters never walk or run. They have a peculiar and mysterious power of skimming out of rooms, which other mortals possess not.
Some slight symptoms of vitality having been awakened in Mr. Ben Allen by the soda-water, he suffered himself to be prevailed upon to wash his face and hands, and to submit to be brushed by Sam. Mr. Pickwick and Bob Sawyer having also repaired the disorder which the journey had made in their apparel, the three started forth, arm in arm, to Mr. Winkle's; Bob Sawyer impregnating the atmosphere with tobacco smoke as he walked along.
About a quarter of a mile off, in a quiet, substantial-looking street, stood an old red brick house with three steps before the door, and a brass plate upon it, bearing, in fat Roman capitals, the words, 'Mr. Winkle.'The steps were very white, and the bricks were very red, and the house was very clean; and here stood Mr. Pickwick, Mr. Benjamin Allen, and Mr. Bob Sawyer, as the clock struck ten.
A smart servant-girl answered the knock, and started on beholding the three strangers.
'Is Mr. Winkle at home, my dear?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'He is just going to supper, Sir,' replied the girl.
'Give him that card if you please,' rejoined Mr. Pickwick. 'Say I am sorry to trouble him at so late an hour; but I am anxious to see him to-night, and have only just arrived.' The girl looked timidly at Mr. Bob Sawyer, who was expressing his admiration of her personal charms by a variety of wonderful grimaces; and casting an eye at the hats and greatcoats which hung in the passage, called another girl to mind the door while she went upstairs. The sentinel was speedily relieved; for the girl returned immediately, and begging pardon of the gentlemen for leaving them in the street, ushered them into a floor-clothed back parlour, half office and half dressing room, in which the principal useful and ornamental articles of furniture were a desk, a wash-hand stand and shaving-glass, a boot-rack and boot-jack, a high stool, four chairs, a table, and an old eight-day clock. Over the mantelpiece were the sunken doors of an iron safe, while a couple of hanging shelves for books, an almanac, and several files of dusty papers, decorated the walls.
'Very sorry to leave you standing at the door, Sir,' said the girl, lighting a lamp, and addressing Mr. Pickwick with a winning smile, 'but you was quite strangers to me; and we have such a many trampers that only come to see what they can lay their hands on, that really—'
'There is not the least occasion for any apology, my dear,' said Mr. Pickwick good-humouredly.
'Not the slightest, my love,' said Bob Sawyer, playfully stretching forth his arms, and skipping from side to side, as if to prevent the young lady's leaving the room.
The young lady was not at all softened by these allurements, for she at once expressed her opinion, that Mr. Bob Sawyer was an 'odous creetur;' and, on his becoming rather more pressing in his attentions, imprinted her fair fingers upon his face, and bounced out of the room with many expressions of aversion and contempt.
Deprived of the young lady's society, Mr. Bob Sawyer proceeded to divert himself by peeping into the desk, looking into all the table drawers, feigning to pick the lock of the iron safe, turning the almanac with its face to the wall, trying on the boots of Mr. Winkle, senior, over his own, and making several other humorous experiments upon the furniture, all of which afforded Mr. Pickwick unspeakable horror and agony, and yielded Mr. Bob Sawyer proportionate delight.
At length the door opened, and a little old gentleman in a snuff-coloured suit, with a head and face the precise counterpart of those belonging to Mr. Winkle, junior, excepting that he was rather bald, trotted into the room with Mr. Pickwick's card in one hand, and a silver candlestick in the other.
'Mr. Pickwick, sir, how do you do?' said Winkle the elder, putting down the candlestick and proffering his hand. 'Hope I see you well, sir. Glad to see you. Be seated, Mr. Pickwick, I beg, Sir. This gentleman is—'
'My friend, Mr. Sawyer,' interposed Mr. Pickwick, 'your son's friend.'
'Oh,' said Mr. Winkle the elder, looking rather grimly at Bob. 'I hope you are well, sir.'
'Right as a trivet, sir,' replied Bob Sawyer.
'This other gentleman,' cried Mr. Pickwick, 'is, as you will see when you have read the letter with which I am intrusted, a very near relative, or I should rather say a very particular friend of your son's. His name is Allen.'
'THAT gentleman?' inquired Mr. Winkle, pointing with the card towards Ben Allen, who had fallen asleep in an attitude which left nothing of him visible but his spine and his coat collar.
Mr. Pickwick was on the point of replying to the question, and reciting Mr. Benjamin Allen's name and honourable distinctions at full length, when the sprightly Mr. Bob Sawyer, with a view of rousing his friend to a sense of his situation, inflicted a startling pinch upon the fleshly part of his arm, which caused him to jump up with a shriek. Suddenly aware that he was in the presence of a stranger, Mr. Ben Allen advanced and, shaking Mr. Winkle most affectionately by both hands for about five minutes, murmured, in some half-intelligible fragments of sentences, the great delight he felt in seeing him, and a hospitable inquiry whether he felt disposed to take anything after his walk, or would prefer waiting 'till dinner-time;' which done, he sat down and gazed about him with a petrified stare, as if he had not the remotest idea where he was, which indeed he had not.
All this was most embarrassing to Mr. Pickwick, the more especially as Mr. Winkle, senior, evinced palpable astonishment at the eccentric—not to say extraordinary—behaviour of his two companions. To bring the matter to an issue at once, he drew a letter from his pocket, and presenting it to Mr. Winkle, senior, said—
'This letter, Sir, is from your son. You will see, by its contents, that on your favourable and fatherly consideration of it, depend his future happiness and welfare. Will you oblige me by giving it the calmest and coolest perusal, and by discussing the subject afterwards with me, in the tone and spirit in which alone it ought to be discussed? You may judge of the importance of your decision to your son, and his intense anxiety upon the subject, by my waiting upon you, without any previous warning, at so late an hour; and,' added Mr. Pickwick, glancing slightly at his two companions—'and under such unfavourable circumstances.'
With this prelude, Mr. Pickwick placed four closely-written sides of extra superfine wire-wove penitence in the hands of the astounded Mr. Winkle, senior. Then reseating himself in his chair, he watched his looks and manner: anxiously, it is true, but with the open front of a gentleman who feels he has taken no part which he need excuse or palliate. The old wharfinger turned the letter over, looked at the front, back, and sides, made a microscopic examination of the fat little boy on the seal, raised his eyes to Mr. Pickwick's face, and then, seating himself on the high stool, and drawing the lamp closer to him, broke the wax, unfolded the epistle, and lifting it to the light, prepared to read. Just at this moment, Mr. Bob Sawyer, whose wit had lain dormant for some minutes, placed his hands on his knees, and made a face after the portraits of the late Mr. Grimaldi, as clown. It so happened that Mr. Winkle, senior, instead of being deeply engaged in reading the letter, as Mr. Bob Sawyer thought, chanced to be looking over the top of it at no less a person than Mr. Bob Sawyer himself; rightly conjecturing that the face aforesaid was made in ridicule and derision of his own person, he fixed his eyes on Bob with such expressive sternness, that the late Mr. Grimaldi's lineaments gradually resolved themselves into a very fine expression of humility and confusion.
'Did you speak, Sir?' inquired Mr. Winkle, senior, after an awful silence.
'No, sir,' replied Bob, With no remains of the clown about him, save and except the extreme redness of his cheeks.
'You are sure you did not, sir?' said Mr. Winkle, senior.
'Oh dear, yes, sir, quite,' replied Bob.
'I thought you did, Sir,' replied the old gentleman, with indignant emphasis. 'Perhaps you LOOKED at me, sir?'
'Oh, no! sir, not at all,' replied Bob, with extreme civility.
'I am very glad to hear it, sir,' said Mr. Winkle, senior. Having frowned upon the abashed Bob with great magnificence, the old gentleman again brought the letter to the light, and began to read it seriously.
Mr. Pickwick eyed him intently as he turned from the bottom line of the first page to the top line of the second, and from the bottom of the second to the top of the third, and from the bottom of the third to the top of the fourth; but not the slightest alteration of countenance afforded a clue to the feelings with which he received the announcement of his son's marriage, which Mr. Pickwick knew was in the very first half-dozen lines.
He read the letter to the last word, folded it again with all the carefulness and precision of a man of business, and, just when Mr. Pickwick expected some great outbreak of feeling, dipped a pen in the ink-stand, and said, as quietly as if he were speaking on the most ordinary counting-house topic—
'What is Nathaniel's address, Mr. Pickwick?'
'The George and Vulture, at present,' replied that gentleman.
'George and Vulture. Where is that?'
'George Yard, Lombard Street.'
'In the city?'
The old gentleman methodically indorsed the address on the back of the letter; and then, placing it in the desk, which he locked, said, as he got off the stool and put the bunch of keys in his pocket—
'I suppose there is nothing else which need detain us, Mr. Pickwick?'
'Nothing else, my dear Sir!' observed that warm-hearted person in indignant amazement. 'Nothing else! Have you no opinion to express on this momentous event in our young friend's life? No assurance to convey to him, through me, of the continuance of your affection and protection? Nothing to say which will cheer and sustain him, and the anxious girl who looks to him for comfort and support? My dear Sir, consider.'
'I will consider,' replied the old gentleman. 'I have nothing to say just now. I am a man of business, Mr. Pickwick. I never commit myself hastily in any affair, and from what I see of this, I by no means like the appearance of it. A thousand pounds is not much, Mr. Pickwick.'
'You're very right, Sir,' interposed Ben Allen, just awake enough to know that he had spent his thousand pounds without the smallest difficulty. 'You're an intelligent man. Bob, he's a very knowing fellow this.'
'I am very happy to find that you do me the justice to make the admission, sir,' said Mr. Winkle, senior, looking contemptuously at Ben Allen, who was shaking his head profoundly. 'The fact is, Mr. Pickwick, that when I gave my son a roving license for a year or so, to see something of men and manners (which he has done under your auspices), so that he might not enter life a mere boarding-school milk-sop to be gulled by everybody, I never bargained for this. He knows that very well, so if I withdraw my countenance from him on this account, he has no call to be surprised. He shall hear from me, Mr. Pickwick. Good-night, sir.—Margaret, open the door.'
All this time, Bob Sawyer had been nudging Mr. Ben Allen to say something on the right side; Ben accordingly now burst, without the slightest preliminary notice, into a brief but impassioned piece of eloquence.
'Sir,' said Mr. Ben Allen, staring at the old gentleman, out of a pair of very dim and languid eyes, and working his right arm vehemently up and down, 'you—you ought to be ashamed of yourself.'
'As the lady's brother, of course you are an excellent judge of the question,' retorted Mr. Winkle, senior. 'There; that's enough. Pray say no more, Mr. Pickwick. Good-night, gentlemen!'
With these words the old gentleman took up the candle-stick and opening the room door, politely motioned towards the passage.
'You will regret this, Sir,' said Mr. Pickwick, setting his teeth close together to keep down his choler; for he felt how important the effect might prove to his young friend.
'I am at present of a different opinion,' calmly replied Mr. Winkle, senior. 'Once again, gentlemen, I wish you a good-night.'
Mr. Pickwick walked with angry strides into the street. Mr. Bob Sawyer, completely quelled by the decision of the old gentleman's manner, took the same course. Mr. Ben Allen's hat rolled down the steps immediately afterwards, and Mr. Ben Allen's body followed it directly. The whole party went silent and supperless to bed; and Mr. Pickwick thought, just before he fell asleep, that if he had known Mr. Winkle, senior, had been quite so much of a man of business, it was extremely probable he might never have waited upon him, on such an errand.
CHAPTER LI. IN WHICH Mr. PICKWICK ENCOUNTERS AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE—TO WHICH FORTUNATE CIRCUMSTANCE THE READER IS MAINLY INDEBTED FOR MATTER OF THRILLING INTEREST HEREIN SET DOWN, CONCERNING TWO GREAT PUBLIC MEN OF MIGHT AND POWER
The morning which broke upon Mr. Pickwick's sight at eight o'clock, was not at all calculated to elevate his spirits, or to lessen the depression which the unlooked-for result of his embassy inspired. The sky was dark and gloomy, the air was damp and raw, the streets were wet and sloppy. The smoke hung sluggishly above the chimney-tops as if it lacked the courage to rise, and the rain came slowly and doggedly down, as if it had not even the spirit to pour. A game-cock in the stableyard, deprived of every spark of his accustomed animation, balanced himself dismally on one leg in a corner; a donkey, moping with drooping head under the narrow roof of an outhouse, appeared from his meditative and miserable countenance to be contemplating suicide. In the street, umbrellas were the only things to be seen, and the clicking of pattens and splashing of rain-drops were the only sounds to be heard.
The breakfast was interrupted by very little conversation; even Mr. Bob Sawyer felt the influence of the weather, and the previous day's excitement. In his own expressive language he was 'floored.' So was Mr. Ben Allen. So was Mr. Pickwick.
In protracted expectation of the weather clearing up, the last evening paper from London was read and re-read with an intensity of interest only known in cases of extreme destitution; every inch of the carpet was walked over with similar perseverance; the windows were looked out of, often enough to justify the imposition of an additional duty upon them; all kinds of topics of conversation were started, and failed; and at length Mr. Pickwick, when noon had arrived, without a change for the better, rang the bell resolutely, and ordered out the chaise.
Although the roads were miry, and the drizzling rain came down harder than it had done yet, and although the mud and wet splashed in at the open windows of the carriage to such an extent that the discomfort was almost as great to the pair of insides as to the pair of outsides, still there was something in the motion, and the sense of being up and doing, which was so infinitely superior to being pent in a dull room, looking at the dull rain dripping into a dull street, that they all agreed, on starting, that the change was a great improvement, and wondered how they could possibly have delayed making it as long as they had done.
When they stopped to change at Coventry, the steam ascended from the horses in such clouds as wholly to obscure the hostler, whose voice was however heard to declare from the mist, that he expected the first gold medal from the Humane Society on their next distribution of rewards, for taking the postboy's hat off; the water descending from the brim of which, the invisible gentleman declared, must have drowned him (the postboy), but for his great presence of mind in tearing it promptly from his head, and drying the gasping man's countenance with a wisp of straw.
'This is pleasant,' said Bob Sawyer, turning up his coat collar, and pulling the shawl over his mouth to concentrate the fumes of a glass of brandy just swallowed.
'Wery,' replied Sam composedly.
'You don't seem to mind it,' observed Bob.
'Vy, I don't exactly see no good my mindin' on it 'ud do, sir,' replied Sam.
'That's an unanswerable reason, anyhow,' said Bob.
'Yes, sir,' rejoined Mr. Weller. 'Wotever is, is right, as the young nobleman sweetly remarked wen they put him down in the pension list 'cos his mother's uncle's vife's grandfather vunce lit the king's pipe vith a portable tinder-box.' 'Not a bad notion that, Sam,' said Mr. Bob Sawyer approvingly.
'Just wot the young nobleman said ev'ry quarter-day arterwards for the rest of his life,' replied Mr. Weller.
'Wos you ever called in,' inquired Sam, glancing at the driver, after a short silence, and lowering his voice to a mysterious whisper—'wos you ever called in, when you wos 'prentice to a sawbones, to wisit a postboy.'
'I don't remember that I ever was,' replied Bob Sawyer.
'You never see a postboy in that 'ere hospital as you WALKED (as they says o' the ghosts), did you?' demanded Sam.
'No,' replied Bob Sawyer. 'I don't think I ever did.'
'Never know'd a churchyard were there wos a postboy's tombstone, or see a dead postboy, did you?' inquired Sam, pursuing his catechism.
'No,' rejoined Bob, 'I never did.'
'No!' rejoined Sam triumphantly. 'Nor never vill; and there's another thing that no man never see, and that's a dead donkey. No man never see a dead donkey 'cept the gen'l'm'n in the black silk smalls as know'd the young 'ooman as kep' a goat; and that wos a French donkey, so wery likely he warn't wun o' the reg'lar breed.'
'Well, what has that got to do with the postboys?' asked Bob Sawyer.
'This here,' replied Sam. 'Without goin' so far as to as-sert, as some wery sensible people do, that postboys and donkeys is both immortal, wot I say is this: that wenever they feels theirselves gettin' stiff and past their work, they just rides off together, wun postboy to a pair in the usual way; wot becomes on 'em nobody knows, but it's wery probable as they starts avay to take their pleasure in some other vorld, for there ain't a man alive as ever see either a donkey or a postboy a-takin' his pleasure in this!'
Expatiating upon this learned and remarkable theory, and citing many curious statistical and other facts in its support, Sam Weller beguiled the time until they reached Dunchurch, where a dry postboy and fresh horses were procured; the next stage was Daventry, and the next Towcester; and at the end of each stage it rained harder than it had done at the beginning.
'I say,' remonstrated Bob Sawyer, looking in at the coach window, as they pulled up before the door of the Saracen's Head, Towcester, 'this won't do, you know.'
'Bless me!' said Mr. Pickwick, just awakening from a nap, 'I'm afraid you're wet.'
'Oh, you are, are you?' returned Bob. 'Yes, I am, a little that way, Uncomfortably damp, perhaps.'
Bob did look dampish, inasmuch as the rain was streaming from his neck, elbows, cuffs, skirts, and knees; and his whole apparel shone so with the wet, that it might have been mistaken for a full suit of prepared oilskin.
'I AM rather wet,' said Bob, giving himself a shake and casting a little hydraulic shower around, like a Newfoundland dog just emerged from the water.
'I think it's quite impossible to go on to-night,' interposed Ben.
'Out of the question, sir,' remarked Sam Weller, coming to assist in the conference; 'it's a cruelty to animals, sir, to ask 'em to do it. There's beds here, sir,' said Sam, addressing his master, 'everything clean and comfortable. Wery good little dinner, sir, they can get ready in half an hour—pair of fowls, sir, and a weal cutlet; French beans, 'taturs, tart, and tidiness. You'd better stop vere you are, sir, if I might recommend. Take adwice, sir, as the doctor said.'
The host of the Saracen's Head opportunely appeared at this moment, to confirm Mr. Weller's statement relative to the accommodations of the establishment, and to back his entreaties with a variety of dismal conjectures regarding the state of the roads, the doubt of fresh horses being to be had at the next stage, the dead certainty of its raining all night, the equally mortal certainty of its clearing up in the morning, and other topics of inducement familiar to innkeepers.
'Well,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'but I must send a letter to London by some conveyance, so that it may be delivered the very first thing in the morning, or I must go forwards at all hazards.'
The landlord smiled his delight. Nothing could be easier than for the gentleman to inclose a letter in a sheet of brown paper, and send it on, either by the mail or the night coach from Birmingham. If the gentleman were particularly anxious to have it left as soon as possible, he might write outside, 'To be delivered immediately,' which was sure to be attended to; or 'Pay the bearer half-a-crown extra for instant delivery,' which was surer still.
'Very well,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'then we will stop here.'
'Lights in the Sun, John; make up the fire; the gentlemen are wet!' cried the landlord. 'This way, gentlemen; don't trouble yourselves about the postboy now, sir. I'll send him to you when you ring for him, sir. Now, John, the candles.'
The candles were brought, the fire was stirred up, and a fresh log of wood thrown on. In ten minutes' time, a waiter was laying the cloth for dinner, the curtains were drawn, the fire was blazing brightly, and everything looked (as everything always does, in all decent English inns) as if the travellers had been expected, and their comforts prepared, for days beforehand.
Mr. Pickwick sat down at a side table, and hastily indited a note to Mr. Winkle, merely informing him that he was detained by stress of weather, but would certainly be in London next day; until when he deferred any account of his proceedings. This note was hastily made into a parcel, and despatched to the bar per Mr. Samuel Weller.
Sam left it with the landlady, and was returning to pull his master's boots off, after drying himself by the kitchen fire, when glancing casually through a half-opened door, he was arrested by the sight of a gentleman with a sandy head who had a large bundle of newspapers lying on the table before him, and was perusing the leading article of one with a settled sneer which curled up his nose and all other features into a majestic expression of haughty contempt.
'Hollo!' said Sam, 'I ought to know that 'ere head and them features; the eyeglass, too, and the broad-brimmed tile! Eatansvill to vit, or I'm a Roman.'
Sam was taken with a troublesome cough, at once, for the purpose of attracting the gentleman's attention; the gentleman starting at the sound, raised his head and his eyeglass, and disclosed to view the profound and thoughtful features of Mr. Pott, of the Eatanswill GAZETTE.
'Beggin' your pardon, sir,' said Sam, advancing with a bow, 'my master's here, Mr. Pott.'
'Hush! hush!' cried Pott, drawing Sam into the room, and closing the door, with a countenance of mysterious dread and apprehension.
'Wot's the matter, Sir?' inquired Sam, looking vacantly about him.
'Not a whisper of my name,' replied Pott; 'this is a buff neighbourhood. If the excited and irritable populace knew I was here, I should be torn to pieces.'
'No! Vould you, sir?' inquired Sam.
'I should be the victim of their fury,' replied Pott. 'Now young man, what of your master?'
'He's a-stopping here to-night on his vay to town, with a couple of friends,' replied Sam.
'Is Mr. Winkle one of them?' inquired Pott, with a slight frown.
'No, Sir. Mr. Vinkle stops at home now,' rejoined Sam. 'He's married.'
'Married!' exclaimed Pott, with frightful vehemence. He stopped, smiled darkly, and added, in a low, vindictive tone, 'It serves him right!' Having given vent to this cruel ebullition of deadly malice and cold-blooded triumph over a fallen enemy, Mr. Pott inquired whether Mr. Pickwick's friends were 'blue?' Receiving a most satisfactory answer in the affirmative from Sam, who knew as much about the matter as Pott himself, he consented to accompany him to Mr. Pickwick's room, where a hearty welcome awaited him, and an agreement to club their dinners together was at once made and ratified.
'And how are matters going on in Eatanswill?' inquired Mr. Pickwick, when Pott had taken a seat near the fire, and the whole party had got their wet boots off, and dry slippers on. 'Is the INDEPENDENT still in being?'
'The INDEPENDENT, sir,' replied Pott, 'is still dragging on a wretched and lingering career. Abhorred and despised by even the few who are cognisant of its miserable and disgraceful existence, stifled by the very filth it so profusely scatters, rendered deaf and blind by the exhalations of its own slime, the obscene journal, happily unconscious of its degraded state, is rapidly sinking beneath that treacherous mud which, while it seems to give it a firm standing with the low and debased classes of society, is nevertheless rising above its detested head, and will speedily engulf it for ever.'
Having delivered this manifesto (which formed a portion of his last week's leader) with vehement articulation, the editor paused to take breath, and looked majestically at Bob Sawyer.
'You are a young man, sir,' said Pott.
Mr. Bob Sawyer nodded.
'So are you, sir,' said Pott, addressing Mr. Ben Allen.
Ben admitted the soft impeachment.
'And are both deeply imbued with those blue principles, which, so long as I live, I have pledged myself to the people of these kingdoms to support and to maintain?' suggested Pott.
'Why, I don't exactly know about that,' replied Bob Sawyer. 'I am—'
'Not buff, Mr. Pickwick,' interrupted Pott, drawing back his chair, 'your friend is not buff, sir?'
'No, no,' rejoined Bob, 'I'm a kind of plaid at present; a compound of all sorts of colours.'
'A waverer,' said Pott solemnly, 'a waverer. I should like to show you a series of eight articles, Sir, that have appeared in the Eatanswill GAZETTE. I think I may venture to say that you would not be long in establishing your opinions on a firm and solid blue basis, sir.' 'I dare say I should turn very blue, long before I got to the end of them,' responded Bob.
Mr. Pott looked dubiously at Bob Sawyer for some seconds, and, turning to Mr. Pickwick, said—
'You have seen the literary articles which have appeared at intervals in the Eatanswill GAZETTE in the course of the last three months, and which have excited such general—I may say such universal—attention and admiration?'
'Why,' replied Mr. Pickwick, slightly embarrassed by the question, 'the fact is, I have been so much engaged in other ways, that I really have not had an opportunity of perusing them.'
'You should do so, Sir,' said Pott, with a severe countenance.
'I will,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'They appeared in the form of a copious review of a work on Chinese metaphysics, Sir,' said Pott.
'Oh,' observed Mr. Pickwick; 'from your pen, I hope?'
'From the pen of my critic, Sir,' rejoined Pott, with dignity.
'An abstruse subject, I should conceive,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Very, Sir,' responded Pott, looking intensely sage. 'He CRAMMED for it, to use a technical but expressive term; he read up for the subject, at my desire, in the "Encyclopaedia Britannica."'
'Indeed!' said Mr. Pickwick; 'I was not aware that that valuable work contained any information respecting Chinese metaphysics.'
'He read, Sir,' rejoined Pott, laying his hand on Mr. Pickwick's knee, and looking round with a smile of intellectual superiority—'he read for metaphysics under the letter M, and for China under the letter C, and combined his information, Sir!'
Mr. Pott's features assumed so much additional grandeur at the recollection of the power and research displayed in the learned effusions in question, that some minutes elapsed before Mr. Pickwick felt emboldened to renew the conversation; at length, as the editor's countenance gradually relaxed into its customary expression of moral supremacy, he ventured to resume the discourse by asking—
'Is it fair to inquire what great object has brought you so far from home?'
'That object which actuates and animates me in all my gigantic labours, Sir,' replied Pott, with a calm smile: 'my country's good.' 'I supposed it was some public mission,' observed Mr. Pickwick.
'Yes, Sir,' resumed Pott, 'it is.' Here, bending towards Mr. Pickwick, he whispered in a deep, hollow voice, 'A Buff ball, Sir, will take place in Birmingham to-morrow evening.'
'God bless me!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick.
'Yes, Sir, and supper,' added Pott.
'You don't say so!' ejaculated Mr. Pickwick.
Pott nodded portentously.
Now, although Mr. Pickwick feigned to stand aghast at this disclosure, he was so little versed in local politics that he was unable to form an adequate comprehension of the importance of the dire conspiracy it referred to; observing which, Mr. Pott, drawing forth the last number of the Eatanswill GAZETTE, and referring to the same, delivered himself of the following paragraph:—
'A reptile contemporary has recently sweltered forth his black venom in the vain and hopeless attempt of sullying the fair name of our distinguished and excellent representative, the Honourable Mr. Slumkey—that Slumkey whom we, long before he gained his present noble and exalted position, predicted would one day be, as he now is, at once his country's brightest honour, and her proudest boast: alike her bold defender and her honest pride—our reptile contemporary, we say, has made himself merry, at the expense of a superbly embossed plated coal-scuttle, which has been presented to that glorious man by his enraptured constituents, and towards the purchase of which, the nameless wretch insinuates, the Honourable Mr. Slumkey himself contributed, through a confidential friend of his butler's, more than three-fourths of the whole sum subscribed. Why, does not the crawling creature see, that even if this be the fact, the Honourable Mr. Slumkey only appears in a still more amiable and radiant light than before, if that be possible? Does not even his obtuseness perceive that this amiable and touching desire to carry out the wishes of the constituent body, must for ever endear him to the hearts and souls of such of his fellow townsmen as are not worse than swine; or, in other words, who are not as debased as our contemporary himself? But such is the wretched trickery of hole-and-corner Buffery! These are not its only artifices. Treason is abroad. We boldly state, now that we are goaded to the disclosure, and we throw ourselves on the country and its constables for protection—we boldly state that secret preparations are at this moment in progress for a Buff ball; which is to be held in a Buff town, in the very heart and centre of a Buff population; which is to be conducted by a Buff master of the ceremonies; which is to be attended by four ultra Buff members of Parliament, and the admission to which, is to be by Buff tickets! Does our fiendish contemporary wince? Let him writhe, in impotent malice, as we pen the words, WE WILL BE THERE.'
'There, Sir,' said Pott, folding up the paper quite exhausted, 'that is the state of the case!'
The landlord and waiter entering at the moment with dinner, caused Mr. Pott to lay his finger on his lips, in token that he considered his life in Mr. Pickwick's hands, and depended on his secrecy. Messrs. Bob Sawyer and Benjamin Allen, who had irreverently fallen asleep during the reading of the quotation from the Eatanswill GAZETTE, and the discussion which followed it, were roused by the mere whispering of the talismanic word 'Dinner' in their ears; and to dinner they went with good digestion waiting on appetite, and health on both, and a waiter on all three.
In the course of the dinner and the sitting which succeeded it, Mr. Pott descending, for a few moments, to domestic topics, informed Mr. Pickwick that the air of Eatanswill not agreeing with his lady, she was then engaged in making a tour of different fashionable watering-places with a view to the recovery of her wonted health and spirits; this was a delicate veiling of the fact that Mrs. Pott, acting upon her often-repeated threat of separation, had, in virtue of an arrangement negotiated by her brother, the lieutenant, and concluded by Mr. Pott, permanently retired with the faithful bodyguard upon one moiety or half part of the annual income and profits arising from the editorship and sale of the Eatanswill GAZETTE.
While the great Mr. Pott was dwelling upon this and other matters, enlivening the conversation from time to time with various extracts from his own lucubrations, a stern stranger, calling from the window of a stage-coach, outward bound, which halted at the inn to deliver packages, requested to know whether if he stopped short on his journey and remained there for the night, he could be furnished with the necessary accommodation of a bed and bedstead.
'Certainly, sir,' replied the landlord.
'I can, can I?' inquired the stranger, who seemed habitually suspicious in look and manner.
'No doubt of it, Sir,' replied the landlord.
'Good,' said the stranger. 'Coachman, I get down here. Guard, my carpet-bag!'
Bidding the other passengers good-night, in a rather snappish manner, the stranger alighted. He was a shortish gentleman, with very stiff black hair cut in the porcupine or blacking-brush style, and standing stiff and straight all over his head; his aspect was pompous and threatening; his manner was peremptory; his eyes were sharp and restless; and his whole bearing bespoke a feeling of great confidence in himself, and a consciousness of immeasurable superiority over all other people.
This gentleman was shown into the room originally assigned to the patriotic Mr. Pott; and the waiter remarked, in dumb astonishment at the singular coincidence, that he had no sooner lighted the candles than the gentleman, diving into his hat, drew forth a newspaper, and began to read it with the very same expression of indignant scorn, which, upon the majestic features of Pott, had paralysed his energies an hour before. The man observed too, that, whereas Mr. Pott's scorn had been roused by a newspaper headed the Eatanswill INDEPENDENT, this gentleman's withering contempt was awakened by a newspaper entitled the Eatanswill GAZETTE.
'Send the landlord,' said the stranger.
'Yes, sir,' rejoined the waiter.
The landlord was sent, and came.
'Are you the landlord?' inquired the gentleman.
'I am sir,' replied the landlord.
'My name is Slurk,' said the gentleman.
The landlord slightly inclined his head.
'Slurk, sir,' repeated the gentleman haughtily. 'Do you know me now, man?'
The landlord scratched his head, looked at the ceiling, and at the stranger, and smiled feebly.
'Do you know me, man?' inquired the stranger angrily.
The landlord made a strong effort, and at length replied,
'Well, Sir, I do not know you.'
'Great Heaven!' said the stranger, dashing his clenched fist upon the table. 'And this is popularity!'
The landlord took a step or two towards the door; the stranger fixing his eyes upon him, resumed.
'This,' said the stranger—'this is gratitude for years of labour and study in behalf of the masses. I alight wet and weary; no enthusiastic crowds press forward to greet their champion; the church bells are silent; the very name elicits no responsive feeling in their torpid bosoms. It is enough,' said the agitated Mr. Slurk, pacing to and fro, 'to curdle the ink in one's pen, and induce one to abandon their cause for ever.'
'Did you say brandy-and-water, Sir?' said the landlord, venturing a hint.
'Rum,' said Mr. Slurk, turning fiercely upon him. 'Have you got a fire anywhere?'
'We can light one directly, Sir,' said the landlord.
'Which will throw out no heat until it is bed-time,' interrupted Mr. Slurk. 'Is there anybody in the kitchen?'
Not a soul. There was a beautiful fire. Everybody had gone, and the house door was closed for the night.
'I will drink my rum-and-water,' said Mr. Slurk, 'by the kitchen fire.' So, gathering up his hat and newspaper, he stalked solemnly behind the landlord to that humble apartment, and throwing himself on a settle by the fireside, resumed his countenance of scorn, and began to read and drink in silent dignity.
Now, some demon of discord, flying over the Saracen's Head at that moment, on casting down his eyes in mere idle curiosity, happened to behold Slurk established comfortably by the kitchen fire, and Pott slightly elevated with wine in another room; upon which the malicious demon, darting down into the last-mentioned apartment with inconceivable rapidity, passed at once into the head of Mr. Bob Sawyer, and prompted him for his (the demon's) own evil purpose to speak as follows:—
'I say, we've let the fire out. It's uncommonly cold after the rain, isn't it?'
'It really is,' replied Mr. Pickwick, shivering.
'It wouldn't be a bad notion to have a cigar by the kitchen fire, would it?' said Bob Sawyer, still prompted by the demon aforesaid.
'It would be particularly comfortable, I think,' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'Mr. Pott, what do you say?'
Mr. Pott yielded a ready assent; and all four travellers, each with his glass in his hand, at once betook themselves to the kitchen, with Sam Weller heading the procession to show them the way.
The stranger was still reading; he looked up and started. Mr. Pott started.
'What's the matter?' whispered Mr. Pickwick.
'That reptile!' replied Pott.
'What reptile?' said Mr. Pickwick, looking about him for fear he should tread on some overgrown black beetle, or dropsical spider.
'That reptile,' whispered Pott, catching Mr. Pickwick by the arm, and pointing towards the stranger. 'That reptile Slurk, of the INDEPENDENT!'
'Perhaps we had better retire,' whispered Mr. Pickwick.
'Never, Sir,' rejoined Pott, pot-valiant in a double sense—'never.' With these words, Mr. Pott took up his position on an opposite settle, and selecting one from a little bundle of newspapers, began to read against his enemy.
Mr. Pott, of course read the INDEPENDENT, and Mr. Slurk, of course, read the GAZETTE; and each gentleman audibly expressed his contempt at the other's compositions by bitter laughs and sarcastic sniffs; whence they proceeded to more open expressions of opinion, such as 'absurd,' 'wretched,' 'atrocity,' 'humbug,' 'knavery', 'dirt,' 'filth,' 'slime,' 'ditch-water,' and other critical remarks of the like nature.
Both Mr. Bob Sawyer and Mr. Ben Allen had beheld these symptoms of rivalry and hatred, with a degree of delight which imparted great additional relish to the cigars at which they were puffing most vigorously. The moment they began to flag, the mischievous Mr. Bob Sawyer, addressing Slurk with great politeness, said—
'Will you allow me to look at your paper, Sir, when you have quite done with it?'
'You will find very little to repay you for your trouble in this contemptible THING, sir,' replied Slurk, bestowing a Satanic frown on Pott.
'You shall have this presently,' said Pott, looking up, pale with rage, and quivering in his speech, from the same cause. 'Ha! ha! you will be amused with this FELLOW'S audacity.'
Terrible emphasis was laid upon 'thing' and 'fellow'; and the faces of both editors began to glow with defiance.
'The ribaldry of this miserable man is despicably disgusting,' said Pott, pretending to address Bob Sawyer, and scowling upon Slurk. Here, Mr. Slurk laughed very heartily, and folding up the paper so as to get at a fresh column conveniently, said, that the blockhead really amused him.
'What an impudent blunderer this fellow is,' said Pott, turning from pink to crimson.
'Did you ever read any of this man's foolery, Sir?' inquired Slurk of Bob Sawyer.
'Never,' replied Bob; 'is it very bad?'
'Oh, shocking! shocking!' rejoined Slurk.
'Really! Dear me, this is too atrocious!' exclaimed Pott, at this juncture; still feigning to be absorbed in his reading.
'If you can wade through a few sentences of malice, meanness, falsehood, perjury, treachery, and cant,' said Slurk, handing the paper to Bob, 'you will, perhaps, be somewhat repaid by a laugh at the style of this ungrammatical twaddler.'
'What's that you said, Sir?' inquired Mr. Pott, looking up, trembling all over with passion.
'What's that to you, sir?' replied Slurk.
'Ungrammatical twaddler, was it, sir?' said Pott.
'Yes, sir, it was,' replied Slurk; 'and BLUE BORE, Sir, if you like that better; ha! ha!'
Mr. Pott retorted not a word at this jocose insult, but deliberately folded up his copy of the INDEPENDENT, flattened it carefully down, crushed it beneath his boot, spat upon it with great ceremony, and flung it into the fire.
'There, sir,' said Pott, retreating from the stove, 'and that's the way I would serve the viper who produces it, if I were not, fortunately for him, restrained by the laws of my country.'
'Serve him so, sir!' cried Slurk, starting up. 'Those laws shall never be appealed to by him, sir, in such a case. Serve him so, sir!'
'Hear! hear!' said Bob Sawyer.
'Nothing can be fairer,' observed Mr. Ben Allen.
'Serve him so, sir!' reiterated Slurk, in a loud voice.
Mr. Pott darted a look of contempt, which might have withered an anchor.
'Serve him so, sir!' reiterated Slurk, in a louder voice than before.
'I will not, sir,' rejoined Pott.
'Oh, you won't, won't you, sir?' said Mr. Slurk, in a taunting manner; 'you hear this, gentlemen! He won't; not that he's afraid—, oh, no! he WON'T. Ha! ha!'
'I consider you, sir,' said Mr. Pott, moved by this sarcasm, 'I consider you a viper. I look upon you, sir, as a man who has placed himself beyond the pale of society, by his most audacious, disgraceful, and abominable public conduct. I view you, sir, personally and politically, in no other light than as a most unparalleled and unmitigated viper.'
The indignant Independent did not wait to hear the end of this personal denunciation; for, catching up his carpet-bag, which was well stuffed with movables, he swung it in the air as Pott turned away, and, letting it fall with a circular sweep on his head, just at that particular angle of the bag where a good thick hairbrush happened to be packed, caused a sharp crash to be heard throughout the kitchen, and brought him at once to the ground.
'Gentlemen,' cried Mr. Pickwick, as Pott started up and seized the fire-shovel—'gentlemen! Consider, for Heaven's sake—help—Sam—here—pray, gentlemen—interfere, somebody.'
Uttering these incoherent exclamations, Mr. Pickwick rushed between the infuriated combatants just in time to receive the carpet-bag on one side of his body, and the fire-shovel on the other. Whether the representatives of the public feeling of Eatanswill were blinded by animosity, or (being both acute reasoners) saw the advantage of having a third party between them to bear all the blows, certain it is that they paid not the slightest attention to Mr. Pickwick, but defying each other with great spirit, plied the carpet-bag and the fire-shovel most fearlessly. Mr. Pickwick would unquestionably have suffered severely for his humane interference, if Mr. Weller, attracted by his master's cries, had not rushed in at the moment, and, snatching up a meal—sack, effectually stopped the conflict by drawing it over the head and shoulders of the mighty Pott, and clasping him tight round the shoulders.
'Take away that 'ere bag from the t'other madman,' said Sam to Ben Allen and Bob Sawyer, who had done nothing but dodge round the group, each with a tortoise-shell lancet in his hand, ready to bleed the first man stunned. 'Give it up, you wretched little creetur, or I'll smother you in it.'
Awed by these threats, and quite out of breath, the INDEPENDENT suffered himself to be disarmed; and Mr. Weller, removing the extinguisher from Pott, set him free with a caution.
'You take yourselves off to bed quietly,' said Sam, 'or I'll put you both in it, and let you fight it out vith the mouth tied, as I vould a dozen sich, if they played these games. And you have the goodness to come this here way, sir, if you please.'
Thus addressing his master, Sam took him by the arm, and led him off, while the rival editors were severally removed to their beds by the landlord, under the inspection of Mr. Bob Sawyer and Mr. Benjamin Allen; breathing, as they went away, many sanguinary threats, and making vague appointments for mortal combat next day. When they came to think it over, however, it occurred to them that they could do it much better in print, so they recommenced deadly hostilities without delay; and all Eatanswill rung with their boldness—on paper.
They had taken themselves off in separate coaches, early next morning, before the other travellers were stirring; and the weather having now cleared up, the chaise companions once more turned their faces to London.
CHAPTER LII. INVOLVING A SERIOUS CHANGE IN THE WELLER FAMILY, AND THE UNTIMELY DOWNFALL OF Mr. STIGGINS
Considering it a matter of delicacy to abstain from introducing either Bob Sawyer or Ben Allen to the young couple, until they were fully prepared to expect them, and wishing to spare Arabella's feelings as much as possible, Mr. Pickwick proposed that he and Sam should alight in the neighbourhood of the George and Vulture, and that the two young men should for the present take up their quarters elsewhere. To this they very readily agreed, and the proposition was accordingly acted upon; Mr. Ben Allen and Mr. Bob Sawyer betaking themselves to a sequestered pot-shop on the remotest confines of the Borough, behind the bar door of which their names had in other days very often appeared at the head of long and complex calculations worked in white chalk.
'Dear me, Mr. Weller,' said the pretty housemaid, meeting Sam at the door.
'Dear ME I vish it vos, my dear,' replied Sam, dropping behind, to let his master get out of hearing. 'Wot a sweet-lookin' creetur you are, Mary!'
'Lot, Mr. Weller, what nonsense you do talk!' said Mary. 'Oh! don't, Mr. Weller.'
'Don't what, my dear?' said Sam.
'Why, that,' replied the pretty housemaid. 'Lor, do get along with you.' Thus admonishing him, the pretty housemaid pushed Sam against the wall, declaring that he had tumbled her cap, and put her hair quite out of curl.
'And prevented what I was going to say, besides,' added Mary. 'There's a letter been waiting here for you four days; you hadn't gone away, half an hour, when it came; and more than that, it's got "immediate," on the outside.'
'Vere is it, my love?' inquired Sam.
'I took care of it, for you, or I dare say it would have been lost long before this,' replied Mary. 'There, take it; it's more than you deserve.'
With these words, after many pretty little coquettish doubts and fears, and wishes that she might not have lost it, Mary produced the letter from behind the nicest little muslin tucker possible, and handed it to Sam, who thereupon kissed it with much gallantry and devotion.
'My goodness me!' said Mary, adjusting the tucker, and feigning unconsciousness, 'you seem to have grown very fond of it all at once.'
To this Mr. Weller only replied by a wink, the intense meaning of which no description could convey the faintest idea of; and, sitting himself down beside Mary on a window-seat, opened the letter and glanced at the contents.
'Hollo!' exclaimed Sam, 'wot's all this?'
'Nothing the matter, I hope?' said Mary, peeping over his shoulder.
'Bless them eyes o' yourn!' said Sam, looking up.
'Never mind my eyes; you had much better read your letter,' said the pretty housemaid; and as she said so, she made the eyes twinkle with such slyness and beauty that they were perfectly irresistible.
Sam refreshed himself with a kiss, and read as follows:—
'MARKIS GRAN 'By DORKEN 'Wensdy.
'My DEAR SAMMLE,
'I am werry sorry to have the pleasure of being a Bear of ill news your Mother in law cort cold consekens of imprudently settin too long on the damp grass in the rain a hearing of a shepherd who warnt able to leave off till late at night owen to his having vound his-self up vith brandy and vater and not being able to stop his-self till he got a little sober which took a many hours to do the doctor says that if she'd svallo'd varm brandy and vater artervards insted of afore she mightn't have been no vus her veels wos immedetly greased and everythink done to set her agoin as could be inwented your father had hopes as she vould have vorked round as usual but just as she wos a turnen the corner my boy she took the wrong road and vent down hill vith a welocity you never see and notvithstandin that the drag wos put on directly by the medikel man it wornt of no use at all for she paid the last pike at twenty minutes afore six o'clock yesterday evenin havin done the journey wery much under the reglar time vich praps was partly owen to her haven taken in wery little luggage by the vay your father says that if you vill come and see me Sammy he vill take it as a wery great favor for I am wery lonely Samivel n. b. he VILL have it spelt that vay vich I say ant right and as there is sich a many things to settle he is sure your guvner wont object of course he vill not Sammy for I knows him better so he sends his dooty in which I join and am Samivel infernally yours
'Wot a incomprehensible letter,' said Sam; 'who's to know wot it means, vith all this he-ing and I-ing! It ain't my father's writin', 'cept this here signater in print letters; that's his.'
'Perhaps he got somebody to write it for him, and signed it himself afterwards,' said the pretty housemaid.
'Stop a minit,' replied Sam, running over the letter again, and pausing here and there, to reflect, as he did so. 'You've hit it. The gen'l'm'n as wrote it wos a-tellin' all about the misfortun' in a proper vay, and then my father comes a-lookin' over him, and complicates the whole concern by puttin' his oar in. That's just the wery sort o' thing he'd do. You're right, Mary, my dear.'
Having satisfied himself on this point, Sam read the letter all over, once more, and, appearing to form a clear notion of its contents for the first time, ejaculated thoughtfully, as he folded it up—
'And so the poor creetur's dead! I'm sorry for it. She warn't a bad-disposed 'ooman, if them shepherds had let her alone. I'm wery sorry for it.'
Mr. Weller uttered these words in so serious a manner, that the pretty housemaid cast down her eyes and looked very grave.
'Hows'ever,' said Sam, putting the letter in his pocket with a gentle sigh, 'it wos to be—and wos, as the old lady said arter she'd married the footman. Can't be helped now, can it, Mary?'
Mary shook her head, and sighed too.
'I must apply to the hemperor for leave of absence,' said Sam.
Mary sighed again—the letter was so very affecting.
'Good-bye!' said Sam.
'Good-bye,' rejoined the pretty housemaid, turning her head away.
'Well, shake hands, won't you?' said Sam.
The pretty housemaid put out a hand which, although it was a housemaid's, was a very small one, and rose to go.
'I shan't be wery long avay,' said Sam.
'You're always away,' said Mary, giving her head the slightest possible toss in the air. 'You no sooner come, Mr. Weller, than you go again.'
Mr. Weller drew the household beauty closer to him, and entered upon a whispering conversation, which had not proceeded far, when she turned her face round and condescended to look at him again. When they parted, it was somehow or other indispensably necessary for her to go to her room, and arrange the cap and curls before she could think of presenting herself to her mistress; which preparatory ceremony she went off to perform, bestowing many nods and smiles on Sam over the banisters as she tripped upstairs.
'I shan't be avay more than a day, or two, Sir, at the furthest,' said Sam, when he had communicated to Mr. Pickwick the intelligence of his father's loss.
'As long as may be necessary, Sam,' replied Mr. Pickwick, 'you have my full permission to remain.'
'You will tell your father, Sam, that if I can be of any assistance to him in his present situation, I shall be most willing and ready to lend him any aid in my power,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Thank'ee, sir,' rejoined Sam. 'I'll mention it, sir.'
And with some expressions of mutual good-will and interest, master and man separated.
It was just seven o'clock when Samuel Weller, alighting from the box of a stage-coach which passed through Dorking, stood within a few hundred yards of the Marquis of Granby. It was a cold, dull evening; the little street looked dreary and dismal; and the mahogany countenance of the noble and gallant marquis seemed to wear a more sad and melancholy expression than it was wont to do, as it swung to and fro, creaking mournfully in the wind. The blinds were pulled down, and the shutters partly closed; of the knot of loungers that usually collected about the door, not one was to be seen; the place was silent and desolate.
Seeing nobody of whom he could ask any preliminary questions, Sam walked softly in, and glancing round, he quickly recognised his parent in the distance.
The widower was seated at a small round table in the little room behind the bar, smoking a pipe, with his eyes intently fixed upon the fire. The funeral had evidently taken place that day, for attached to his hat, which he still retained on his head, was a hatband measuring about a yard and a half in length, which hung over the top rail of the chair and streamed negligently down. Mr. Weller was in a very abstracted and contemplative mood. Notwithstanding that Sam called him by name several times, he still continued to smoke with the same fixed and quiet countenance, and was only roused ultimately by his son's placing the palm of his hand on his shoulder.
'Sammy,' said Mr. Weller, 'you're welcome.'
'I've been a-callin' to you half a dozen times,' said Sam, hanging his hat on a peg, 'but you didn't hear me.'
'No, Sammy,' replied Mr. Weller, again looking thoughtfully at the fire. 'I was in a referee, Sammy.'
'Wot about?' inquired Sam, drawing his chair up to the fire.
'In a referee, Sammy,' replied the elder Mr. Weller, 'regarding HER, Samivel.' Here Mr. Weller jerked his head in the direction of Dorking churchyard, in mute explanation that his words referred to the late Mrs. Weller.
'I wos a-thinkin', Sammy,' said Mr. Weller, eyeing his son, with great earnestness, over his pipe, as if to assure him that however extraordinary and incredible the declaration might appear, it was nevertheless calmly and deliberately uttered. 'I wos a-thinkin', Sammy, that upon the whole I wos wery sorry she wos gone.'
'Vell, and so you ought to be,' replied Sam.
Mr. Weller nodded his acquiescence in the sentiment, and again fastening his eyes on the fire, shrouded himself in a cloud, and mused deeply.
'Those wos wery sensible observations as she made, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller, driving the smoke away with his hand, after a long silence.
'Wot observations?' inquired Sam.
'Them as she made, arter she was took ill,' replied the old gentleman. 'Wot was they?'
'Somethin' to this here effect. "Veller," she says, "I'm afeered I've not done by you quite wot I ought to have done; you're a wery kind-hearted man, and I might ha' made your home more comfortabler. I begin to see now," she says, "ven it's too late, that if a married 'ooman vishes to be religious, she should begin vith dischargin' her dooties at home, and makin' them as is about her cheerful and happy, and that vile she goes to church, or chapel, or wot not, at all proper times, she should be wery careful not to con-wert this sort o' thing into a excuse for idleness or self-indulgence. I have done this," she says, "and I've vasted time and substance on them as has done it more than me; but I hope ven I'm gone, Veller, that you'll think on me as I wos afore I know'd them people, and as I raly wos by natur."
'"Susan," says I—I wos took up wery short by this, Samivel; I von't deny it, my boy—"Susan," I says, "you've been a wery good vife to me, altogether; don't say nothin' at all about it; keep a good heart, my dear; and you'll live to see me punch that 'ere Stiggins's head yet." She smiled at this, Samivel,' said the old gentleman, stifling a sigh with his pipe, 'but she died arter all!'
'Vell,' said Sam, venturing to offer a little homely consolation, after the lapse of three or four minutes, consumed by the old gentleman in slowly shaking his head from side to side, and solemnly smoking, 'vell, gov'nor, ve must all come to it, one day or another.'
'So we must, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller the elder.
'There's a Providence in it all,' said Sam.
'O' course there is,' replied his father, with a nod of grave approval. 'Wot 'ud become of the undertakers vithout it, Sammy?'
Lost in the immense field of conjecture opened by this reflection, the elder Mr. Weller laid his pipe on the table, and stirred the fire with a meditative visage.
While the old gentleman was thus engaged, a very buxom-looking cook, dressed in mourning, who had been bustling about, in the bar, glided into the room, and bestowing many smirks of recognition upon Sam, silently stationed herself at the back of his father's chair, and announced her presence by a slight cough, the which, being disregarded, was followed by a louder one.
'Hollo!' said the elder Mr. Weller, dropping the poker as he looked round, and hastily drew his chair away. 'Wot's the matter now?'
'Have a cup of tea, there's a good soul,' replied the buxom female coaxingly. 'I von't,' replied Mr. Weller, in a somewhat boisterous manner. 'I'll see you—' Mr. Weller hastily checked himself, and added in a low tone, 'furder fust.'
'Oh, dear, dear! How adwersity does change people!' said the lady, looking upwards.
'It's the only thing 'twixt this and the doctor as shall change my condition,' muttered Mr. Weller.
'I really never saw a man so cross,' said the buxom female.
'Never mind. It's all for my own good; vich is the reflection vith vich the penitent school-boy comforted his feelin's ven they flogged him,' rejoined the old gentleman.
The buxom female shook her head with a compassionate and sympathising air; and, appealing to Sam, inquired whether his father really ought not to make an effort to keep up, and not give way to that lowness of spirits.
'You see, Mr. Samuel,' said the buxom female, 'as I was telling him yesterday, he will feel lonely, he can't expect but what he should, sir, but he should keep up a good heart, because, dear me, I'm sure we all pity his loss, and are ready to do anything for him; and there's no situation in life so bad, Mr. Samuel, that it can't be mended. Which is what a very worthy person said to me when my husband died.' Here the speaker, putting her hand before her mouth, coughed again, and looked affectionately at the elder Mr. Weller.
'As I don't rekvire any o' your conversation just now, mum, vill you have the goodness to re-tire?' inquired Mr. Weller, in a grave and steady voice.
'Well, Mr. Weller,' said the buxom female, 'I'm sure I only spoke to you out of kindness.'
'Wery likely, mum,' replied Mr. Weller. 'Samivel, show the lady out, and shut the door after her.'
This hint was not lost upon the buxom female; for she at once left the room, and slammed the door behind her, upon which Mr. Weller, senior, falling back in his chair in a violent perspiration, said—
'Sammy, if I wos to stop here alone vun week—only vun week, my boy—that 'ere 'ooman 'ud marry me by force and wiolence afore it was over.'
'Wot! is she so wery fond on you?' inquired Sam.
'Fond!' replied his father. 'I can't keep her avay from me. If I was locked up in a fireproof chest vith a patent Brahmin, she'd find means to get at me, Sammy.'
'Wot a thing it is to be so sought arter!' observed Sam, smiling.
'I don't take no pride out on it, Sammy,' replied Mr. Weller, poking the fire vehemently, 'it's a horrid sitiwation. I'm actiwally drove out o' house and home by it. The breath was scarcely out o' your poor mother-in-law's body, ven vun old 'ooman sends me a pot o' jam, and another a pot o' jelly, and another brews a blessed large jug o' camomile-tea, vich she brings in vith her own hands.' Mr. Weller paused with an aspect of intense disgust, and looking round, added in a whisper, 'They wos all widders, Sammy, all on 'em, 'cept the camomile-tea vun, as wos a single young lady o' fifty-three.'
Sam gave a comical look in reply, and the old gentleman having broken an obstinate lump of coal, with a countenance expressive of as much earnestness and malice as if it had been the head of one of the widows last-mentioned, said:
'In short, Sammy, I feel that I ain't safe anyveres but on the box.'
'How are you safer there than anyveres else?' interrupted Sam.
''Cos a coachman's a privileged indiwidual,' replied Mr. Weller, looking fixedly at his son. ''Cos a coachman may do vithout suspicion wot other men may not; 'cos a coachman may be on the wery amicablest terms with eighty mile o' females, and yet nobody think that he ever means to marry any vun among 'em. And wot other man can say the same, Sammy?'
'Vell, there's somethin' in that,' said Sam.
'If your gov'nor had been a coachman,' reasoned Mr. Weller, 'do you s'pose as that 'ere jury 'ud ever ha' conwicted him, s'posin' it possible as the matter could ha' gone to that extremity? They dustn't ha' done it.'
'Wy not?' said Sam, rather disparagingly.
'Wy not!' rejoined Mr. Weller; ''cos it 'ud ha' gone agin their consciences. A reg'lar coachman's a sort o' con-nectin' link betwixt singleness and matrimony, and every practicable man knows it.'
'Wot! You mean, they're gen'ral favorites, and nobody takes adwantage on 'em, p'raps?' said Sam.
His father nodded.
'How it ever come to that 'ere pass,' resumed the parent Weller, 'I can't say. Wy it is that long-stage coachmen possess such insiniwations, and is alvays looked up to—a-dored I may say—by ev'ry young 'ooman in ev'ry town he vurks through, I don't know. I only know that so it is. It's a regulation of natur—a dispensary, as your poor mother-in-law used to say.'
'A dispensation,' said Sam, correcting the old gentleman.
'Wery good, Samivel, a dispensation if you like it better,' returned Mr. Weller; 'I call it a dispensary, and it's always writ up so, at the places vere they gives you physic for nothin' in your own bottles; that's all.'
With these words, Mr. Weller refilled and relighted his pipe, and once more summoning up a meditative expression of countenance, continued as follows—
'Therefore, my boy, as I do not see the adwisability o' stoppin here to be married vether I vant to or not, and as at the same time I do not vish to separate myself from them interestin' members o' society altogether, I have come to the determination o' driving the Safety, and puttin' up vunce more at the Bell Savage, vich is my nat'ral born element, Sammy.'
'And wot's to become o' the bis'ness?' inquired Sam.
'The bis'ness, Samivel,' replied the old gentleman, 'good-vill, stock, and fixters, vill be sold by private contract; and out o' the money, two hundred pound, agreeable to a rekvest o' your mother-in-law's to me, a little afore she died, vill be invested in your name in—What do you call them things agin?'
'Wot things?' inquired Sam.
'Them things as is always a-goin' up and down, in the city.'
'Omnibuses?' suggested Sam.
'Nonsense,' replied Mr. Weller. 'Them things as is alvays a-fluctooatin', and gettin' theirselves inwolved somehow or another vith the national debt, and the chequers bill; and all that.'
'Oh! the funds,' said Sam.
'Ah!' rejoined Mr. Weller, 'the funs; two hundred pounds o' the money is to be inwested for you, Samivel, in the funs; four and a half per cent. reduced counsels, Sammy.'
'Wery kind o' the old lady to think o' me,' said Sam, 'and I'm wery much obliged to her.'
'The rest will be inwested in my name,' continued the elder Mr. Weller; 'and wen I'm took off the road, it'll come to you, so take care you don't spend it all at vunst, my boy, and mind that no widder gets a inklin' o' your fortun', or you're done.'
Having delivered this warning, Mr. Weller resumed his pipe with a more serene countenance; the disclosure of these matters appearing to have eased his mind considerably.
'Somebody's a-tappin' at the door,' said Sam.
'Let 'em tap,' replied his father, with dignity.
Sam acted upon the direction. There was another tap, and another, and then a long row of taps; upon which Sam inquired why the tapper was not admitted.
'Hush,' whispered Mr. Weller, with apprehensive looks, 'don't take no notice on 'em, Sammy, it's vun o' the widders, p'raps.'
No notice being taken of the taps, the unseen visitor, after a short lapse, ventured to open the door and peep in. It was no female head that was thrust in at the partially-opened door, but the long black locks and red face of Mr. Stiggins. Mr. Weller's pipe fell from his hands.
The reverend gentleman gradually opened the door by almost imperceptible degrees, until the aperture was just wide enough to admit of the passage of his lank body, when he glided into the room and closed it after him, with great care and gentleness. Turning towards Sam, and raising his hands and eyes in token of the unspeakable sorrow with which he regarded the calamity that had befallen the family, he carried the high-backed chair to his old corner by the fire, and, seating himself on the very edge, drew forth a brown pocket-handkerchief, and applied the same to his optics.
While this was going forward, the elder Mr. Weller sat back in his chair, with his eyes wide open, his hands planted on his knees, and his whole countenance expressive of absorbing and overwhelming astonishment. Sam sat opposite him in perfect silence, waiting, with eager curiosity, for the termination of the scene.
Mr. Stiggins kept the brown pocket-handkerchief before his eyes for some minutes, moaning decently meanwhile, and then, mastering his feelings by a strong effort, put it in his pocket and buttoned it up. After this, he stirred the fire; after that, he rubbed his hands and looked at Sam.
'Oh, my young friend,' said Mr. Stiggins, breaking the silence, in a very low voice, 'here's a sorrowful affliction!'
Sam nodded very slightly.
'For the man of wrath, too!' added Mr. Stiggins; 'it makes a vessel's heart bleed!' Mr. Weller was overheard by his son to murmur something relative to making a vessel's nose bleed; but Mr. Stiggins heard him not. 'Do you know, young man,' whispered Mr. Stiggins, drawing his chair closer to Sam, 'whether she has left Emanuel anything?'
'Who's he?' inquired Sam.
'The chapel,' replied Mr. Stiggins; 'our chapel; our fold, Mr. Samuel.'
'She hasn't left the fold nothin', nor the shepherd nothin', nor the animals nothin',' said Sam decisively; 'nor the dogs neither.'
Mr. Stiggins looked slily at Sam; glanced at the old gentleman, who was sitting with his eyes closed, as if asleep; and drawing his chair still nearer, said—
'Nothing for ME, Mr. Samuel?'
Sam shook his head.
'I think there's something,' said Stiggins, turning as pale as he could turn. 'Consider, Mr. Samuel; no little token?'
'Not so much as the vorth o' that 'ere old umberella o' yourn,' replied Sam.
'Perhaps,' said Mr. Stiggins hesitatingly, after a few moments' deep thought, 'perhaps she recommended me to the care of the man of wrath, Mr. Samuel?'
'I think that's wery likely, from what he said,' rejoined Sam; 'he wos a-speakin' about you, jist now.'
'Was he, though?' exclaimed Stiggins, brightening up. 'Ah! He's changed, I dare say. We might live very comfortably together now, Mr. Samuel, eh? I could take care of his property when you are away—good care, you see.'
Heaving a long-drawn sigh, Mr. Stiggins paused for a response.
Sam nodded, and Mr. Weller the elder gave vent to an extraordinary sound, which, being neither a groan, nor a grunt, nor a gasp, nor a growl, seemed to partake in some degree of the character of all four.
Mr. Stiggins, encouraged by this sound, which he understood to betoken remorse or repentance, looked about him, rubbed his hands, wept, smiled, wept again, and then, walking softly across the room to a well-remembered shelf in one corner, took down a tumbler, and with great deliberation put four lumps of sugar in it. Having got thus far, he looked about him again, and sighed grievously; with that, he walked softly into the bar, and presently returning with the tumbler half full of pine-apple rum, advanced to the kettle which was singing gaily on the hob, mixed his grog, stirred it, sipped it, sat down, and taking a long and hearty pull at the rum-and-water, stopped for breath.
The elder Mr. Weller, who still continued to make various strange and uncouth attempts to appear asleep, offered not a single word during these proceedings; but when Stiggins stopped for breath, he darted upon him, and snatching the tumbler from his hand, threw the remainder of the rum-and-water in his face, and the glass itself into the grate. Then, seizing the reverend gentleman firmly by the collar, he suddenly fell to kicking him most furiously, accompanying every application of his top-boot to Mr. Stiggins's person, with sundry violent and incoherent anathemas upon his limbs, eyes, and body.
'Sammy,' said Mr. Weller, 'put my hat on tight for me.'
Sam dutifully adjusted the hat with the long hatband more firmly on his father's head, and the old gentleman, resuming his kicking with greater agility than before, tumbled with Mr. Stiggins through the bar, and through the passage, out at the front door, and so into the street—the kicking continuing the whole way, and increasing in vehemence, rather than diminishing, every time the top-boot was lifted.
It was a beautiful and exhilarating sight to see the red-nosed man writhing in Mr. Weller's grasp, and his whole frame quivering with anguish as kick followed kick in rapid succession; it was a still more exciting spectacle to behold Mr. Weller, after a powerful struggle, immersing Mr. Stiggins's head in a horse-trough full of water, and holding it there, until he was half suffocated.
'There!' said Mr. Weller, throwing all his energy into one most complicated kick, as he at length permitted Mr. Stiggins to withdraw his head from the trough, 'send any vun o' them lazy shepherds here, and I'll pound him to a jelly first, and drownd him artervards! Sammy, help me in, and fill me a small glass of brandy. I'm out o' breath, my boy.'
CHAPTER LIII. COMPRISING THE FINAL EXIT OF Mr. JINGLE AND JOB TROTTER, WITH A GREAT MORNING OF BUSINESS IN GRAY'S INN SQUARE—CONCLUDING WITH A DOUBLE KNOCK AT Mr. PERKER'S DOOR
When Arabella, after some gentle preparation and many assurances that there was not the least occasion for being low-spirited, was at length made acquainted by Mr. Pickwick with the unsatisfactory result of his visit to Birmingham, she burst into tears, and sobbing aloud, lamented in moving terms that she should have been the unhappy cause of any estrangement between a father and his son.
'My dear girl,' said Mr. Pickwick kindly, 'it is no fault of yours. It was impossible to foresee that the old gentleman would be so strongly prepossessed against his son's marriage, you know. I am sure,' added Mr. Pickwick, glancing at her pretty face, 'he can have very little idea of the pleasure he denies himself.'
'Oh, my dear Mr. Pickwick,' said Arabella, 'what shall we do, if he continues to be angry with us?'
'Why, wait patiently, my dear, until he thinks better of it,' replied Mr. Pickwick cheerfully.
'But, dear Mr. Pickwick, what is to become of Nathaniel if his father withdraws his assistance?' urged Arabella.
'In that case, my love,' rejoined Mr. Pickwick, 'I will venture to prophesy that he will find some other friend who will not be backward in helping him to start in the world.'
The significance of this reply was not so well disguised by Mr. Pickwick but that Arabella understood it. So, throwing her arms round his neck, and kissing him affectionately, she sobbed louder than before.
'Come, come,' said Mr. Pickwick taking her hand, 'we will wait here a few days longer, and see whether he writes or takes any other notice of your husband's communication. If not, I have thought of half a dozen plans, any one of which would make you happy at once. There, my dear, there!'
With these words, Mr. Pickwick gently pressed Arabella's hand, and bade her dry her eyes, and not distress her husband. Upon which, Arabella, who was one of the best little creatures alive, put her handkerchief in her reticule, and by the time Mr. Winkle joined them, exhibited in full lustre the same beaming smiles and sparkling eyes that had originally captivated him.
'This is a distressing predicament for these young people,' thought Mr. Pickwick, as he dressed himself next morning. 'I'll walk up to Perker's, and consult him about the matter.'
As Mr. Pickwick was further prompted to betake himself to Gray's Inn Square by an anxious desire to come to a pecuniary settlement with the kind-hearted little attorney without further delay, he made a hurried breakfast, and executed his intention so speedily, that ten o'clock had not struck when he reached Gray's Inn.
It still wanted ten minutes to the hour when he had ascended the staircase on which Perker's chambers were. The clerks had not arrived yet, and he beguiled the time by looking out of the staircase window. The healthy light of a fine October morning made even the dingy old houses brighten up a little; some of the dusty windows actually looking almost cheerful as the sun's rays gleamed upon them. Clerk after clerk hastened into the square by one or other of the entrances, and looking up at the Hall clock, accelerated or decreased his rate of walking according to the time at which his office hours nominally commenced; the half-past nine o'clock people suddenly becoming very brisk, and the ten o'clock gentlemen falling into a pace of most aristocratic slowness. The clock struck ten, and clerks poured in faster than ever, each one in a greater perspiration than his predecessor. The noise of unlocking and opening doors echoed and re-echoed on every side; heads appeared as if by magic in every window; the porters took up their stations for the day; the slipshod laundresses hurried off; the postman ran from house to house; and the whole legal hive was in a bustle.
'You're early, Mr. Pickwick,' said a voice behind him.
'Ah, Mr. Lowten,' replied that gentleman, looking round, and recognising his old acquaintance.
'Precious warm walking, isn't it?' said Lowten, drawing a Bramah key from his pocket, with a small plug therein, to keep the dust out.
'You appear to feel it so,' rejoined Mr. Pickwick, smiling at the clerk, who was literally red-hot.
'I've come along, rather, I can tell you,' replied Lowten. 'It went the half hour as I came through the Polygon. I'm here before him, though, so I don't mind.'
Comforting himself with this reflection, Mr. Lowten extracted the plug from the door-key; having opened the door, replugged and repocketed his Bramah, and picked up the letters which the postman had dropped through the box, he ushered Mr. Pickwick into the office. Here, in the twinkling of an eye, he divested himself of his coat, put on a threadbare garment, which he took out of a desk, hung up his hat, pulled forth a few sheets of cartridge and blotting-paper in alternate layers, and, sticking a pen behind his ear, rubbed his hands with an air of great satisfaction.
'There, you see, Mr. Pickwick,' he said, 'now I'm complete. I've got my office coat on, and my pad out, and let him come as soon as he likes. You haven't got a pinch of snuff about you, have you?'
'No, I have not,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
'I'm sorry for it,' said Lowten. 'Never mind. I'll run out presently, and get a bottle of soda. Don't I look rather queer about the eyes, Mr. Pickwick?'
The individual appealed to, surveyed Mr. Lowten's eyes from a distance, and expressed his opinion that no unusual queerness was perceptible in those features.
'I'm glad of it,' said Lowten. 'We were keeping it up pretty tolerably at the Stump last night, and I'm rather out of sorts this morning. Perker's been about that business of yours, by the bye.'
'What business?' inquired Mr. Pickwick. 'Mrs. Bardell's costs?'
'No, I don't mean that,' replied Mr. Lowten. 'About getting that customer that we paid the ten shillings in the pound to the bill-discounter for, on your account—to get him out of the Fleet, you know—about getting him to Demerara.'
'Oh, Mr. Jingle,' said Mr. Pickwick hastily. 'Yes. Well?'
'Well, it's all arranged,' said Lowten, mending his pen. 'The agent at Liverpool said he had been obliged to you many times when you were in business, and he would be glad to take him on your recommendation.'
'That's well,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'I am delighted to hear it.'
'But I say,' resumed Lowten, scraping the back of the pen preparatory to making a fresh split, 'what a soft chap that other is!'
'Why, that servant, or friend, or whatever he is; you know, Trotter.'
'Ah!' said Mr. Pickwick, with a smile. 'I always thought him the reverse.'
'Well, and so did I, from what little I saw of him,' replied Lowten, 'it only shows how one may be deceived. What do you think of his going to Demerara, too?'
'What! And giving up what was offered him here!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick.
'Treating Perker's offer of eighteen bob a week, and a rise if he behaved himself, like dirt,' replied Lowten. 'He said he must go along with the other one, and so they persuaded Perker to write again, and they've got him something on the same estate; not near so good, Perker says, as a convict would get in New South Wales, if he appeared at his trial in a new suit of clothes.'
'Foolish fellow,' said Mr. Pickwick, with glistening eyes. 'Foolish fellow.'
'Oh, it's worse than foolish; it's downright sneaking, you know,' replied Lowten, nibbing the pen with a contemptuous face. 'He says that he's the only friend he ever had, and he's attached to him, and all that. Friendship's a very good thing in its way—we are all very friendly and comfortable at the Stump, for instance, over our grog, where every man pays for himself; but damn hurting yourself for anybody else, you know! No man should have more than two attachments—the first, to number one, and the second to the ladies; that's what I say—ha! ha!' Mr. Lowten concluded with a loud laugh, half in jocularity, and half in derision, which was prematurely cut short by the sound of Perker's footsteps on the stairs, at the first approach of which, he vaulted on his stool with an agility most remarkable, and wrote intensely.
The greeting between Mr. Pickwick and his professional adviser was warm and cordial; the client was scarcely ensconced in the attorney's arm-chair, however, when a knock was heard at the door, and a voice inquired whether Mr. Perker was within.
'Hark!' said Perker, 'that's one of our vagabond friends—Jingle himself, my dear Sir. Will you see him?'
'What do you think?' inquired Mr. Pickwick, hesitating.
'Yes, I think you had better. Here, you Sir, what's your name, walk in, will you?'
In compliance with this unceremonious invitation, Jingle and Job walked into the room, but, seeing Mr. Pickwick, stopped short in some confusion. 'Well,' said Perker, 'don't you know that gentleman?'
'Good reason to,' replied Mr. Jingle, stepping forward. 'Mr. Pickwick—deepest obligations—life preserver—made a man of me—you shall never repent it, Sir.'
'I am happy to hear you say so,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'You look much better.'
'Thanks to you, sir—great change—Majesty's Fleet—unwholesome place—very,' said Jingle, shaking his head. He was decently and cleanly dressed, and so was Job, who stood bolt upright behind him, staring at Mr. Pickwick with a visage of iron.
'When do they go to Liverpool?' inquired Mr. Pickwick, half aside to Perker.
'This evening, Sir, at seven o'clock,' said Job, taking one step forward. 'By the heavy coach from the city, Sir.'
'Are your places taken?'
'They are, sir,' replied Job.
'You have fully made up your mind to go?'
'I have sir,' answered Job.
'With regard to such an outfit as was indispensable for Jingle,' said Perker, addressing Mr. Pickwick aloud. 'I have taken upon myself to make an arrangement for the deduction of a small sum from his quarterly salary, which, being made only for one year, and regularly remitted, will provide for that expense. I entirely disapprove of your doing anything for him, my dear sir, which is not dependent on his own exertions and good conduct.'
'Certainly,' interposed Jingle, with great firmness. 'Clear head—man of the world—quite right—perfectly.'
'By compounding with his creditor, releasing his clothes from the pawnbroker's, relieving him in prison, and paying for his passage,' continued Perker, without noticing Jingle's observation, 'you have already lost upwards of fifty pounds.'
'Not lost,' said Jingle hastily, 'Pay it all—stick to business—cash up—every farthing. Yellow fever, perhaps—can't help that—if not—' Here Mr. Jingle paused, and striking the crown of his hat with great violence, passed his hand over his eyes, and sat down.
'He means to say,' said Job, advancing a few paces, 'that if he is not carried off by the fever, he will pay the money back again. If he lives, he will, Mr. Pickwick. I will see it done. I know he will, Sir,' said Job, with energy. 'I could undertake to swear it.'
'Well, well,' said Mr. Pickwick, who had been bestowing a score or two of frowns upon Perker, to stop his summary of benefits conferred, which the little attorney obstinately disregarded, 'you must be careful not to play any more desperate cricket matches, Mr. Jingle, or to renew your acquaintance with Sir Thomas Blazo, and I have little doubt of your preserving your health.'
Mr. Jingle smiled at this sally, but looked rather foolish notwithstanding; so Mr. Pickwick changed the subject by saying—
'You don't happen to know, do you, what has become of another friend of yours—a more humble one, whom I saw at Rochester?'
'Dismal Jemmy?' inquired Jingle.
Jingle shook his head.
'Clever rascal—queer fellow, hoaxing genius—Job's brother.'
'Job's brother!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick. 'Well, now I look at him closely, there IS a likeness.'
'We were always considered like each other, Sir,' said Job, with a cunning look just lurking in the corners of his eyes, 'only I was really of a serious nature, and he never was. He emigrated to America, Sir, in consequence of being too much sought after here, to be comfortable; and has never been heard of since.'
'That accounts for my not having received the "page from the romance of real life," which he promised me one morning when he appeared to be contemplating suicide on Rochester Bridge, I suppose,' said Mr. Pickwick, smiling. 'I need not inquire whether his dismal behaviour was natural or assumed.'
'He could assume anything, Sir,' said Job. 'You may consider yourself very fortunate in having escaped him so easily. On intimate terms he would have been even a more dangerous acquaintance than—' Job looked at Jingle, hesitated, and finally added, 'than—than-myself even.'
'A hopeful family yours, Mr. Trotter,' said Perker, sealing a letter which he had just finished writing.
'Yes, Sir,' replied Job. 'Very much so.'
'Well,' said the little man, laughing, 'I hope you are going to disgrace it. Deliver this letter to the agent when you reach Liverpool, and let me advise you, gentlemen, not to be too knowing in the West Indies. If you throw away this chance, you will both richly deserve to be hanged, as I sincerely trust you will be. And now you had better leave Mr. Pickwick and me alone, for we have other matters to talk over, and time is precious.' As Perker said this, he looked towards the door, with an evident desire to render the leave-taking as brief as possible.
It was brief enough on Mr. Jingle's part. He thanked the little attorney in a few hurried words for the kindness and promptitude with which he had rendered his assistance, and, turning to his benefactor, stood for a few seconds as if irresolute what to say or how to act. Job Trotter relieved his perplexity; for, with a humble and grateful bow to Mr. Pickwick, he took his friend gently by the arm, and led him away.
'A worthy couple!' said Perker, as the door closed behind them.
'I hope they may become so,' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'What do you think? Is there any chance of their permanent reformation?'
Perker shrugged his shoulders doubtfully, but observing Mr. Pickwick's anxious and disappointed look, rejoined—
'Of course there is a chance. I hope it may prove a good one. They are unquestionably penitent now; but then, you know, they have the recollection of very recent suffering fresh upon them. What they may become, when that fades away, is a problem that neither you nor I can solve. However, my dear Sir,' added Perker, laying his hand on Mr. Pickwick's shoulder, 'your object is equally honourable, whatever the result is. Whether that species of benevolence which is so very cautious and long-sighted that it is seldom exercised at all, lest its owner should be imposed upon, and so wounded in his self-love, be real charity or a worldly counterfeit, I leave to wiser heads than mine to determine. But if those two fellows were to commit a burglary to-morrow, my opinion of this action would be equally high.'
With these remarks, which were delivered in a much more animated and earnest manner than is usual in legal gentlemen, Perker drew his chair to his desk, and listened to Mr. Pickwick's recital of old Mr. Winkle's obstinacy.
'Give him a week,' said Perker, nodding his head prophetically.
'Do you think he will come round?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'I think he will,' rejoined Perker. 'If not, we must try the young lady's persuasion; and that is what anybody but you would have done at first.'
Mr. Perker was taking a pinch of snuff with various grotesque contractions of countenance, eulogistic of the persuasive powers appertaining unto young ladies, when the murmur of inquiry and answer was heard in the outer office, and Lowten tapped at the door.
'Come in!' cried the little man.
The clerk came in, and shut the door after him, with great mystery.
'What's the matter?' inquired Perker.
'You're wanted, Sir.'
'Who wants me?'
Lowten looked at Mr. Pickwick, and coughed.
'Who wants me? Can't you speak, Mr. Lowten?'
'Why, sir,' replied Lowten, 'it's Dodson; and Fogg is with him.'
'Bless my life!' said the little man, looking at his watch, 'I appointed them to be here at half-past eleven, to settle that matter of yours, Pickwick. I gave them an undertaking on which they sent down your discharge; it's very awkward, my dear Sir; what will you do? Would you like to step into the next room?'
The next room being the identical room in which Messrs. Dodson & Fogg were, Mr. Pickwick replied that he would remain where he was: the more especially as Messrs. Dodson & Fogg ought to be ashamed to look him in the face, instead of his being ashamed to see them. Which latter circumstance he begged Mr. Perker to note, with a glowing countenance and many marks of indignation.
'Very well, my dear Sir, very well,' replied Perker, 'I can only say that if you expect either Dodson or Fogg to exhibit any symptom of shame or confusion at having to look you, or anybody else, in the face, you are the most sanguine man in your expectations that I ever met with. Show them in, Mr. Lowten.'
Mr. Lowten disappeared with a grin, and immediately returned ushering in the firm, in due form of precedence—Dodson first, and Fogg afterwards.
'You have seen Mr. Pickwick, I believe?' said Perker to Dodson, inclining his pen in the direction where that gentleman was seated.
'How do you do, Mr. Pickwick?' said Dodson, in a loud voice.
'Dear me,'cried Fogg, 'how do you do, Mr. Pickwick? I hope you are well, Sir. I thought I knew the face,' said Fogg, drawing up a chair, and looking round him with a smile.
Mr. Pickwick bent his head very slightly, in answer to these salutations, and, seeing Fogg pull a bundle of papers from his coat pocket, rose and walked to the window.
'There's no occasion for Mr. Pickwick to move, Mr. Perker,' said Fogg, untying the red tape which encircled the little bundle, and smiling again more sweetly than before. 'Mr. Pickwick is pretty well acquainted with these proceedings. There are no secrets between us, I think. He! he! he!'
'Not many, I think,' said Dodson. 'Ha! ha! ha!' Then both the partners laughed together—pleasantly and cheerfully, as men who are going to receive money often do.