'At the close of one of these paroxysms, when I had with great difficulty held him down in his bed, he sank into what appeared to be a slumber. Overpowered with watching and exertion, I had closed my eyes for a few minutes, when I felt a violent clutch on my shoulder. I awoke instantly. He had raised himself up, so as to seat himself in bed—a dreadful change had come over his face, but consciousness had returned, for he evidently knew me. The child, who had been long since disturbed by his ravings, rose from its little bed, and ran towards its father, screaming with fright—the mother hastily caught it in her arms, lest he should injure it in the violence of his insanity; but, terrified by the alteration of his features, stood transfixed by the bedside. He grasped my shoulder convulsively, and, striking his breast with the other hand, made a desperate attempt to articulate. It was unavailing; he extended his arm towards them, and made another violent effort. There was a rattling noise in the throat—a glare of the eye—a short stifled groan—and he fell back—dead!'
It would afford us the highest gratification to be enabled to record Mr. Pickwick's opinion of the foregoing anecdote. We have little doubt that we should have been enabled to present it to our readers, but for a most unfortunate occurrence.
Mr. Pickwick had replaced on the table the glass which, during the last few sentences of the tale, he had retained in his hand; and had just made up his mind to speak—indeed, we have the authority of Mr. Snodgrass's note-book for stating, that he had actually opened his mouth—when the waiter entered the room, and said—
'Some gentlemen, Sir.'
It has been conjectured that Mr. Pickwick was on the point of delivering some remarks which would have enlightened the world, if not the Thames, when he was thus interrupted; for he gazed sternly on the waiter's countenance, and then looked round on the company generally, as if seeking for information relative to the new-comers.
'Oh!' said Mr. Winkle, rising, 'some friends of mine—show them in. Very pleasant fellows,' added Mr. Winkle, after the waiter had retired—'officers of the 97th, whose acquaintance I made rather oddly this morning. You will like them very much.'
Mr. Pickwick's equanimity was at once restored. The waiter returned, and ushered three gentlemen into the room.
'Lieutenant Tappleton,' said Mr. Winkle, 'Lieutenant Tappleton, Mr. Pickwick—Doctor Payne, Mr. Pickwick—Mr. Snodgrass you have seen before, my friend Mr. Tupman, Doctor Payne—Doctor Slammer, Mr. Pickwick—Mr. Tupman, Doctor Slam—'
Here Mr. Winkle suddenly paused; for strong emotion was visible on the countenance both of Mr. Tupman and the doctor.
'I have met THIS gentleman before,' said the Doctor, with marked emphasis.
'Indeed!' said Mr. Winkle.
'And—and that person, too, if I am not mistaken,' said the doctor, bestowing a scrutinising glance on the green-coated stranger. 'I think I gave that person a very pressing invitation last night, which he thought proper to decline.' Saying which the doctor scowled magnanimously on the stranger, and whispered his friend Lieutenant Tappleton.
'You don't say so,' said that gentleman, at the conclusion of the whisper.
'I do, indeed,' replied Doctor Slammer.
'You are bound to kick him on the spot,' murmured the owner of the camp-stool, with great importance.
'Do be quiet, Payne,' interposed the lieutenant. 'Will you allow me to ask you, sir,' he said, addressing Mr. Pickwick, who was considerably mystified by this very unpolite by-play—'will you allow me to ask you, Sir, whether that person belongs to your party?'
'No, Sir,' replied Mr. Pickwick, 'he is a guest of ours.'
'He is a member of your club, or I am mistaken?' said the lieutenant inquiringly.
'Certainly not,' responded Mr. Pickwick.
'And never wears your club-button?' said the lieutenant.
'No—never!' replied the astonished Mr. Pickwick.
Lieutenant Tappleton turned round to his friend Doctor Slammer, with a scarcely perceptible shrug of the shoulder, as if implying some doubt of the accuracy of his recollection. The little doctor looked wrathful, but confounded; and Mr. Payne gazed with a ferocious aspect on the beaming countenance of the unconscious Pickwick.
'Sir,' said the doctor, suddenly addressing Mr. Tupman, in a tone which made that gentleman start as perceptibly as if a pin had been cunningly inserted in the calf of his leg, 'you were at the ball here last night!'
Mr. Tupman gasped a faint affirmative, looking very hard at Mr. Pickwick all the while.
'That person was your companion,' said the doctor, pointing to the still unmoved stranger.
Mr. Tupman admitted the fact.
'Now, sir,' said the doctor to the stranger, 'I ask you once again, in the presence of these gentlemen, whether you choose to give me your card, and to receive the treatment of a gentleman; or whether you impose upon me the necessity of personally chastising you on the spot?'
'Stay, sir,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I really cannot allow this matter to go any further without some explanation. Tupman, recount the circumstances.'
Mr. Tupman, thus solemnly adjured, stated the case in a few words; touched slightly on the borrowing of the coat; expatiated largely on its having been done 'after dinner'; wound up with a little penitence on his own account; and left the stranger to clear himself as best he could.
He was apparently about to proceed to do so, when Lieutenant Tappleton, who had been eyeing him with great curiosity, said with considerable scorn, 'Haven't I seen you at the theatre, Sir?'
'Certainly,' replied the unabashed stranger.
'He is a strolling actor!' said the lieutenant contemptuously, turning to Doctor Slammer.—'He acts in the piece that the officers of the 52nd get up at the Rochester Theatre to-morrow night. You cannot proceed in this affair, Slammer—impossible!'
'Quite!' said the dignified Payne.
'Sorry to have placed you in this disagreeable situation,' said Lieutenant Tappleton, addressing Mr. Pickwick; 'allow me to suggest, that the best way of avoiding a recurrence of such scenes in future will be to be more select in the choice of your companions. Good-evening, Sir!' and the lieutenant bounced out of the room.
'And allow me to say, Sir,' said the irascible Doctor Payne, 'that if I had been Tappleton, or if I had been Slammer, I would have pulled your nose, Sir, and the nose of every man in this company. I would, sir—every man. Payne is my name, sir—Doctor Payne of the 43rd. Good-evening, Sir.' Having concluded this speech, and uttered the last three words in a loud key, he stalked majestically after his friend, closely followed by Doctor Slammer, who said nothing, but contented himself by withering the company with a look. Rising rage and extreme bewilderment had swelled the noble breast of Mr. Pickwick, almost to the bursting of his waistcoat, during the delivery of the above defiance. He stood transfixed to the spot, gazing on vacancy. The closing of the door recalled him to himself. He rushed forward with fury in his looks, and fire in his eye. His hand was upon the lock of the door; in another instant it would have been on the throat of Doctor Payne of the 43rd, had not Mr. Snodgrass seized his revered leader by the coat tail, and dragged him backwards.
'Restrain him,' cried Mr. Snodgrass; 'Winkle, Tupman—he must not peril his distinguished life in such a cause as this.'
'Let me go,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Hold him tight,' shouted Mr. Snodgrass; and by the united efforts of the whole company, Mr. Pickwick was forced into an arm-chair. 'Leave him alone,' said the green-coated stranger; 'brandy-and-water—jolly old gentleman—lots of pluck—swallow this—ah!—capital stuff.' Having previously tested the virtues of a bumper, which had been mixed by the dismal man, the stranger applied the glass to Mr. Pickwick's mouth; and the remainder of its contents rapidly disappeared.
There was a short pause; the brandy-and-water had done its work; the amiable countenance of Mr. Pickwick was fast recovering its customary expression.
'They are not worth your notice,' said the dismal man.
'You are right, sir,' replied Mr. Pickwick, 'they are not. I am ashamed to have been betrayed into this warmth of feeling. Draw your chair up to the table, Sir.'
The dismal man readily complied; a circle was again formed round the table, and harmony once more prevailed. Some lingering irritability appeared to find a resting-place in Mr. Winkle's bosom, occasioned possibly by the temporary abstraction of his coat—though it is scarcely reasonable to suppose that so slight a circumstance can have excited even a passing feeling of anger in a Pickwickian's breast. With this exception, their good-humour was completely restored; and the evening concluded with the conviviality with which it had begun.
CHAPTER IV. A FIELD DAY AND BIVOUAC—MORE NEW FRIENDS—AN INVITATION TO THE COUNTRY
Many authors entertain, not only a foolish, but a really dishonest objection to acknowledge the sources whence they derive much valuable information. We have no such feeling. We are merely endeavouring to discharge, in an upright manner, the responsible duties of our editorial functions; and whatever ambition we might have felt under other circumstances to lay claim to the authorship of these adventures, a regard for truth forbids us to do more than claim the merit of their judicious arrangement and impartial narration. The Pickwick papers are our New River Head; and we may be compared to the New River Company. The labours of others have raised for us an immense reservoir of important facts. We merely lay them on, and communicate them, in a clear and gentle stream, through the medium of these pages, to a world thirsting for Pickwickian knowledge.
Acting in this spirit, and resolutely proceeding on our determination to avow our obligations to the authorities we have consulted, we frankly say, that to the note-book of Mr. Snodgrass are we indebted for the particulars recorded in this and the succeeding chapter—particulars which, now that we have disburdened our consciences, we shall proceed to detail without further comment.
The whole population of Rochester and the adjoining towns rose from their beds at an early hour of the following morning, in a state of the utmost bustle and excitement. A grand review was to take place upon the lines. The manoeuvres of half a dozen regiments were to be inspected by the eagle eye of the commander-in-chief; temporary fortifications had been erected, the citadel was to be attacked and taken, and a mine was to be sprung.
Mr. Pickwick was, as our readers may have gathered from the slight extract we gave from his description of Chatham, an enthusiastic admirer of the army. Nothing could have been more delightful to him—nothing could have harmonised so well with the peculiar feeling of each of his companions—as this sight. Accordingly they were soon afoot, and walking in the direction of the scene of action, towards which crowds of people were already pouring from a variety of quarters.
The appearance of everything on the lines denoted that the approaching ceremony was one of the utmost grandeur and importance. There were sentries posted to keep the ground for the troops, and servants on the batteries keeping places for the ladies, and sergeants running to and fro, with vellum-covered books under their arms, and Colonel Bulder, in full military uniform, on horseback, galloping first to one place and then to another, and backing his horse among the people, and prancing, and curvetting, and shouting in a most alarming manner, and making himself very hoarse in the voice, and very red in the face, without any assignable cause or reason whatever. Officers were running backwards and forwards, first communicating with Colonel Bulder, and then ordering the sergeants, and then running away altogether; and even the very privates themselves looked from behind their glazed stocks with an air of mysterious solemnity, which sufficiently bespoke the special nature of the occasion.
Mr. Pickwick and his three companions stationed themselves in the front of the crowd, and patiently awaited the commencement of the proceedings. The throng was increasing every moment; and the efforts they were compelled to make, to retain the position they had gained, sufficiently occupied their attention during the two hours that ensued. At one time there was a sudden pressure from behind, and then Mr. Pickwick was jerked forward for several yards, with a degree of speed and elasticity highly inconsistent with the general gravity of his demeanour; at another moment there was a request to 'keep back' from the front, and then the butt-end of a musket was either dropped upon Mr. Pickwick's toe, to remind him of the demand, or thrust into his chest, to insure its being complied with. Then some facetious gentlemen on the left, after pressing sideways in a body, and squeezing Mr. Snodgrass into the very last extreme of human torture, would request to know 'vere he vos a shovin' to'; and when Mr. Winkle had done expressing his excessive indignation at witnessing this unprovoked assault, some person behind would knock his hat over his eyes, and beg the favour of his putting his head in his pocket. These, and other practical witticisms, coupled with the unaccountable absence of Mr. Tupman (who had suddenly disappeared, and was nowhere to be found), rendered their situation upon the whole rather more uncomfortable than pleasing or desirable.
At length that low roar of many voices ran through the crowd which usually announces the arrival of whatever they have been waiting for. All eyes were turned in the direction of the sally-port. A few moments of eager expectation, and colours were seen fluttering gaily in the air, arms glistened brightly in the sun, column after column poured on to the plain. The troops halted and formed; the word of command rang through the line; there was a general clash of muskets as arms were presented; and the commander-in-chief, attended by Colonel Bulder and numerous officers, cantered to the front. The military bands struck up altogether; the horses stood upon two legs each, cantered backwards, and whisked their tails about in all directions; the dogs barked, the mob screamed, the troops recovered, and nothing was to be seen on either side, as far as the eye could reach, but a long perspective of red coats and white trousers, fixed and motionless.
Mr. Pickwick had been so fully occupied in falling about, and disentangling himself, miraculously, from between the legs of horses, that he had not enjoyed sufficient leisure to observe the scene before him, until it assumed the appearance we have just described. When he was at last enabled to stand firmly on his legs, his gratification and delight were unbounded.
'Can anything be finer or more delightful?' he inquired of Mr. Winkle.
'Nothing,' replied that gentleman, who had had a short man standing on each of his feet for the quarter of an hour immediately preceding. 'It is indeed a noble and a brilliant sight,' said Mr. Snodgrass, in whose bosom a blaze of poetry was rapidly bursting forth, 'to see the gallant defenders of their country drawn up in brilliant array before its peaceful citizens; their faces beaming—not with warlike ferocity, but with civilised gentleness; their eyes flashing—not with the rude fire of rapine or revenge, but with the soft light of humanity and intelligence.'
Mr. Pickwick fully entered into the spirit of this eulogium, but he could not exactly re-echo its terms; for the soft light of intelligence burned rather feebly in the eyes of the warriors, inasmuch as the command 'eyes front' had been given, and all the spectator saw before him was several thousand pair of optics, staring straight forward, wholly divested of any expression whatever.
'We are in a capital situation now,' said Mr. Pickwick, looking round him. The crowd had gradually dispersed in their immediate vicinity, and they were nearly alone.
'Capital!' echoed both Mr. Snodgrass and Mr. Winkle.
'What are they doing now?' inquired Mr. Pickwick, adjusting his spectacles.
'I—I—rather think,' said Mr. Winkle, changing colour—'I rather think they're going to fire.'
'Nonsense,' said Mr. Pickwick hastily.
'I—I—really think they are,' urged Mr. Snodgrass, somewhat alarmed.
'Impossible,' replied Mr. Pickwick. He had hardly uttered the word, when the whole half-dozen regiments levelled their muskets as if they had but one common object, and that object the Pickwickians, and burst forth with the most awful and tremendous discharge that ever shook the earth to its centres, or an elderly gentleman off his.
It was in this trying situation, exposed to a galling fire of blank cartridges, and harassed by the operations of the military, a fresh body of whom had begun to fall in on the opposite side, that Mr. Pickwick displayed that perfect coolness and self-possession, which are the indispensable accompaniments of a great mind. He seized Mr. Winkle by the arm, and placing himself between that gentleman and Mr. Snodgrass, earnestly besought them to remember that beyond the possibility of being rendered deaf by the noise, there was no immediate danger to be apprehended from the firing.
'But—but—suppose some of the men should happen to have ball cartridges by mistake,' remonstrated Mr. Winkle, pallid at the supposition he was himself conjuring up. 'I heard something whistle through the air now—so sharp; close to my ear.' 'We had better throw ourselves on our faces, hadn't we?' said Mr. Snodgrass.
'No, no—it's over now,' said Mr. Pickwick. His lip might quiver, and his cheek might blanch, but no expression of fear or concern escaped the lips of that immortal man.
Mr. Pickwick was right—the firing ceased; but he had scarcely time to congratulate himself on the accuracy of his opinion, when a quick movement was visible in the line; the hoarse shout of the word of command ran along it, and before either of the party could form a guess at the meaning of this new manoeuvre, the whole of the half-dozen regiments, with fixed bayonets, charged at double-quick time down upon the very spot on which Mr. Pickwick and his friends were stationed. Man is but mortal; and there is a point beyond which human courage cannot extend. Mr. Pickwick gazed through his spectacles for an instant on the advancing mass, and then fairly turned his back and—we will not say fled; firstly, because it is an ignoble term, and, secondly, because Mr. Pickwick's figure was by no means adapted for that mode of retreat—he trotted away, at as quick a rate as his legs would convey him; so quickly, indeed, that he did not perceive the awkwardness of his situation, to the full extent, until too late.
The opposite troops, whose falling-in had perplexed Mr. Pickwick a few seconds before, were drawn up to repel the mimic attack of the sham besiegers of the citadel; and the consequence was that Mr. Pickwick and his two companions found themselves suddenly inclosed between two lines of great length, the one advancing at a rapid pace, and the other firmly waiting the collision in hostile array.
'Hoi!' shouted the officers of the advancing line.
'Get out of the way!' cried the officers of the stationary one.
'Where are we to go to?' screamed the agitated Pickwickians.
'Hoi—hoi—hoi!' was the only reply. There was a moment of intense bewilderment, a heavy tramp of footsteps, a violent concussion, a smothered laugh; the half-dozen regiments were half a thousand yards off, and the soles of Mr. Pickwick's boots were elevated in air.
Mr. Snodgrass and Mr. Winkle had each performed a compulsory somerset with remarkable agility, when the first object that met the eyes of the latter as he sat on the ground, staunching with a yellow silk handkerchief the stream of life which issued from his nose, was his venerated leader at some distance off, running after his own hat, which was gambolling playfully away in perspective.
There are very few moments in a man's existence when he experiences so much ludicrous distress, or meets with so little charitable commiseration, as when he is in pursuit of his own hat. A vast deal of coolness, and a peculiar degree of judgment, are requisite in catching a hat. A man must not be precipitate, or he runs over it; he must not rush into the opposite extreme, or he loses it altogether. The best way is to keep gently up with the object of pursuit, to be wary and cautious, to watch your opportunity well, get gradually before it, then make a rapid dive, seize it by the crown, and stick it firmly on your head; smiling pleasantly all the time, as if you thought it as good a joke as anybody else.
There was a fine gentle wind, and Mr. Pickwick's hat rolled sportively before it. The wind puffed, and Mr. Pickwick puffed, and the hat rolled over and over as merrily as a lively porpoise in a strong tide: and on it might have rolled, far beyond Mr. Pickwick's reach, had not its course been providentially stopped, just as that gentleman was on the point of resigning it to its fate.
Mr. Pickwick, we say, was completely exhausted, and about to give up the chase, when the hat was blown with some violence against the wheel of a carriage, which was drawn up in a line with half a dozen other vehicles on the spot to which his steps had been directed. Mr. Pickwick, perceiving his advantage, darted briskly forward, secured his property, planted it on his head, and paused to take breath. He had not been stationary half a minute, when he heard his own name eagerly pronounced by a voice, which he at once recognised as Mr. Tupman's, and, looking upwards, he beheld a sight which filled him with surprise and pleasure.
In an open barouche, the horses of which had been taken out, the better to accommodate it to the crowded place, stood a stout old gentleman, in a blue coat and bright buttons, corduroy breeches and top-boots, two young ladies in scarfs and feathers, a young gentleman apparently enamoured of one of the young ladies in scarfs and feathers, a lady of doubtful age, probably the aunt of the aforesaid, and Mr. Tupman, as easy and unconcerned as if he had belonged to the family from the first moments of his infancy. Fastened up behind the barouche was a hamper of spacious dimensions—one of those hampers which always awakens in a contemplative mind associations connected with cold fowls, tongues, and bottles of wine—and on the box sat a fat and red-faced boy, in a state of somnolency, whom no speculative observer could have regarded for an instant without setting down as the official dispenser of the contents of the before-mentioned hamper, when the proper time for their consumption should arrive.
Mr. Pickwick had bestowed a hasty glance on these interesting objects, when he was again greeted by his faithful disciple.
'Pickwick—Pickwick,' said Mr. Tupman; 'come up here. Make haste.'
'Come along, Sir. Pray, come up,' said the stout gentleman. 'Joe!—damn that boy, he's gone to sleep again.—Joe, let down the steps.' The fat boy rolled slowly off the box, let down the steps, and held the carriage door invitingly open. Mr. Snodgrass and Mr. Winkle came up at the moment.
'Room for you all, gentlemen,' said the stout man. 'Two inside, and one out. Joe, make room for one of these gentlemen on the box. Now, Sir, come along;' and the stout gentleman extended his arm, and pulled first Mr. Pickwick, and then Mr. Snodgrass, into the barouche by main force. Mr. Winkle mounted to the box, the fat boy waddled to the same perch, and fell fast asleep instantly.
'Well, gentlemen,' said the stout man, 'very glad to see you. Know you very well, gentlemen, though you mayn't remember me. I spent some ev'nin's at your club last winter—picked up my friend Mr. Tupman here this morning, and very glad I was to see him. Well, Sir, and how are you? You do look uncommon well, to be sure.'
Mr. Pickwick acknowledged the compliment, and cordially shook hands with the stout gentleman in the top-boots.
'Well, and how are you, sir?' said the stout gentleman, addressing Mr. Snodgrass with paternal anxiety. 'Charming, eh? Well, that's right—that's right. And how are you, sir (to Mr. Winkle)? Well, I am glad to hear you say you are well; very glad I am, to be sure. My daughters, gentlemen—my gals these are; and that's my sister, Miss Rachael Wardle. She's a Miss, she is; and yet she ain't a Miss—eh, Sir, eh?' And the stout gentleman playfully inserted his elbow between the ribs of Mr. Pickwick, and laughed very heartily.
'Lor, brother!' said Miss Wardle, with a deprecating smile.
'True, true,' said the stout gentleman; 'no one can deny it. Gentlemen, I beg your pardon; this is my friend Mr. Trundle. And now you all know each other, let's be comfortable and happy, and see what's going forward; that's what I say.' So the stout gentleman put on his spectacles, and Mr. Pickwick pulled out his glass, and everybody stood up in the carriage, and looked over somebody else's shoulder at the evolutions of the military.
Astounding evolutions they were, one rank firing over the heads of another rank, and then running away; and then the other rank firing over the heads of another rank, and running away in their turn; and then forming squares, with officers in the centre; and then descending the trench on one side with scaling-ladders, and ascending it on the other again by the same means; and knocking down barricades of baskets, and behaving in the most gallant manner possible. Then there was such a ramming down of the contents of enormous guns on the battery, with instruments like magnified mops; such a preparation before they were let off, and such an awful noise when they did go, that the air resounded with the screams of ladies. The young Misses Wardle were so frightened, that Mr. Trundle was actually obliged to hold one of them up in the carriage, while Mr. Snodgrass supported the other; and Mr. Wardle's sister suffered under such a dreadful state of nervous alarm, that Mr. Tupman found it indispensably necessary to put his arm round her waist, to keep her up at all. Everybody was excited, except the fat boy, and he slept as soundly as if the roaring of cannon were his ordinary lullaby.
'Joe, Joe!' said the stout gentleman, when the citadel was taken, and the besiegers and besieged sat down to dinner. 'Damn that boy, he's gone to sleep again. Be good enough to pinch him, sir—in the leg, if you please; nothing else wakes him—thank you. Undo the hamper, Joe.'
The fat boy, who had been effectually roused by the compression of a portion of his leg between the finger and thumb of Mr. Winkle, rolled off the box once again, and proceeded to unpack the hamper with more expedition than could have been expected from his previous inactivity.
'Now we must sit close,' said the stout gentleman. After a great many jokes about squeezing the ladies' sleeves, and a vast quantity of blushing at sundry jocose proposals, that the ladies should sit in the gentlemen's laps, the whole party were stowed down in the barouche; and the stout gentleman proceeded to hand the things from the fat boy (who had mounted up behind for the purpose) into the carriage.
'Now, Joe, knives and forks.' The knives and forks were handed in, and the ladies and gentlemen inside, and Mr. Winkle on the box, were each furnished with those useful instruments.
'Plates, Joe, plates.' A similar process employed in the distribution of the crockery.
'Now, Joe, the fowls. Damn that boy; he's gone to sleep again. Joe! Joe!' (Sundry taps on the head with a stick, and the fat boy, with some difficulty, roused from his lethargy.) 'Come, hand in the eatables.'
There was something in the sound of the last word which roused the unctuous boy. He jumped up, and the leaden eyes which twinkled behind his mountainous cheeks leered horribly upon the food as he unpacked it from the basket.
'Now make haste,' said Mr. Wardle; for the fat boy was hanging fondly over a capon, which he seemed wholly unable to part with. The boy sighed deeply, and, bestowing an ardent gaze upon its plumpness, unwillingly consigned it to his master.
'That's right—look sharp. Now the tongue—now the pigeon pie. Take care of that veal and ham—mind the lobsters—take the salad out of the cloth—give me the dressing.' Such were the hurried orders which issued from the lips of Mr. Wardle, as he handed in the different articles described, and placed dishes in everybody's hands, and on everybody's knees, in endless number. 'Now ain't this capital?' inquired that jolly personage, when the work of destruction had commenced.
'Capital!' said Mr. Winkle, who was carving a fowl on the box.
'Glass of wine?'
'With the greatest pleasure.' 'You'd better have a bottle to yourself up there, hadn't you?'
'You're very good.'
'Yes, Sir.' (He wasn't asleep this time, having just succeeded in abstracting a veal patty.)
'Bottle of wine to the gentleman on the box. Glad to see you, Sir.'
'Thank'ee.' Mr. Winkle emptied his glass, and placed the bottle on the coach-box, by his side.
'Will you permit me to have the pleasure, Sir?' said Mr. Trundle to Mr. Winkle.
'With great pleasure,' replied Mr. Winkle to Mr. Trundle, and then the two gentlemen took wine, after which they took a glass of wine round, ladies and all.
'How dear Emily is flirting with the strange gentleman,' whispered the spinster aunt, with true spinster-aunt-like envy, to her brother, Mr. Wardle.
'Oh! I don't know,' said the jolly old gentleman; 'all very natural, I dare say—nothing unusual. Mr. Pickwick, some wine, Sir?' Mr. Pickwick, who had been deeply investigating the interior of the pigeon-pie, readily assented.
'Emily, my dear,' said the spinster aunt, with a patronising air, 'don't talk so loud, love.'
'Aunt and the little old gentleman want to have it all to themselves, I think,' whispered Miss Isabella Wardle to her sister Emily. The young ladies laughed very heartily, and the old one tried to look amiable, but couldn't manage it.
'Young girls have such spirits,' said Miss Wardle to Mr. Tupman, with an air of gentle commiseration, as if animal spirits were contraband, and their possession without a permit a high crime and misdemeanour.
'Oh, they have,' replied Mr. Tupman, not exactly making the sort of reply that was expected from him. 'It's quite delightful.'
'Hem!' said Miss Wardle, rather dubiously.
'Will you permit me?' said Mr. Tupman, in his blandest manner, touching the enchanting Rachael's wrist with one hand, and gently elevating the bottle with the other. 'Will you permit me?'
'Oh, sir!' Mr. Tupman looked most impressive; and Rachael expressed her fear that more guns were going off, in which case, of course, she should have required support again.
'Do you think my dear nieces pretty?' whispered their affectionate aunt to Mr. Tupman.
'I should, if their aunt wasn't here,' replied the ready Pickwickian, with a passionate glance.
'Oh, you naughty man—but really, if their complexions were a little better, don't you think they would be nice-looking girls—by candlelight?'
'Yes; I think they would,' said Mr. Tupman, with an air of indifference.
'Oh, you quiz—I know what you were going to say.'
'What?' inquired Mr. Tupman, who had not precisely made up his mind to say anything at all.
'You were going to say that Isabel stoops—I know you were—you men are such observers. Well, so she does; it can't be denied; and, certainly, if there is one thing more than another that makes a girl look ugly it is stooping. I often tell her that when she gets a little older she'll be quite frightful. Well, you are a quiz!'
Mr. Tupman had no objection to earning the reputation at so cheap a rate: so he looked very knowing, and smiled mysteriously.
'What a sarcastic smile,' said the admiring Rachael; 'I declare I'm quite afraid of you.'
'Afraid of me!'
'Oh, you can't disguise anything from me—I know what that smile means very well.'
'What?' said Mr. Tupman, who had not the slightest notion himself.
'You mean,' said the amiable aunt, sinking her voice still lower—'you mean, that you don't think Isabella's stooping is as bad as Emily's boldness. Well, she is bold! You cannot think how wretched it makes me sometimes—I'm sure I cry about it for hours together—my dear brother is SO good, and so unsuspicious, that he never sees it; if he did, I'm quite certain it would break his heart. I wish I could think it was only manner—I hope it may be—' (Here the affectionate relative heaved a deep sigh, and shook her head despondingly).
'I'm sure aunt's talking about us,' whispered Miss Emily Wardle to her sister—'I'm quite certain of it—she looks so malicious.'
'Is she?' replied Isabella.—'Hem! aunt, dear!'
'Yes, my dear love!'
'I'm SO afraid you'll catch cold, aunt—have a silk handkerchief to tie round your dear old head—you really should take care of yourself—consider your age!'
However well deserved this piece of retaliation might have been, it was as vindictive a one as could well have been resorted to. There is no guessing in what form of reply the aunt's indignation would have vented itself, had not Mr. Wardle unconsciously changed the subject, by calling emphatically for Joe.
'Damn that boy,' said the old gentleman, 'he's gone to sleep again.'
'Very extraordinary boy, that,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'does he always sleep in this way?'
'Sleep!' said the old gentleman, 'he's always asleep. Goes on errands fast asleep, and snores as he waits at table.'
'How very odd!' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Ah! odd indeed,' returned the old gentleman; 'I'm proud of that boy—wouldn't part with him on any account—he's a natural curiosity! Here, Joe—Joe—take these things away, and open another bottle—d'ye hear?'
The fat boy rose, opened his eyes, swallowed the huge piece of pie he had been in the act of masticating when he last fell asleep, and slowly obeyed his master's orders—gloating languidly over the remains of the feast, as he removed the plates, and deposited them in the hamper. The fresh bottle was produced, and speedily emptied: the hamper was made fast in its old place—the fat boy once more mounted the box—the spectacles and pocket-glass were again adjusted—and the evolutions of the military recommenced. There was a great fizzing and banging of guns, and starting of ladies—and then a Mine was sprung, to the gratification of everybody—and when the mine had gone off, the military and the company followed its example, and went off too.
'Now, mind,' said the old gentleman, as he shook hands with Mr. Pickwick at the conclusion of a conversation which had been carried on at intervals, during the conclusion of the proceedings, 'we shall see you all to-morrow.'
'Most certainly,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
'You have got the address?'
'Manor Farm, Dingley Dell,' said Mr. Pickwick, consulting his pocket-book. 'That's it,' said the old gentleman. 'I don't let you off, mind, under a week; and undertake that you shall see everything worth seeing. If you've come down for a country life, come to me, and I'll give you plenty of it. Joe—damn that boy, he's gone to sleep again—Joe, help Tom put in the horses.'
The horses were put in—the driver mounted—the fat boy clambered up by his side—farewells were exchanged—and the carriage rattled off. As the Pickwickians turned round to take a last glimpse of it, the setting sun cast a rich glow on the faces of their entertainers, and fell upon the form of the fat boy. His head was sunk upon his bosom; and he slumbered again.
CHAPTER V. A SHORT ONE—SHOWING, AMONG OTHER MATTERS, HOW Mr. PICKWICK UNDERTOOK TO DRIVE, AND Mr. WINKLE TO RIDE, AND HOW THEY BOTH DID IT
Bright and pleasant was the sky, balmy the air, and beautiful the appearance of every object around, as Mr. Pickwick leaned over the balustrades of Rochester Bridge, contemplating nature, and waiting for breakfast. The scene was indeed one which might well have charmed a far less reflective mind, than that to which it was presented.
On the left of the spectator lay the ruined wall, broken in many places, and in some, overhanging the narrow beach below in rude and heavy masses. Huge knots of seaweed hung upon the jagged and pointed stones, trembling in every breath of wind; and the green ivy clung mournfully round the dark and ruined battlements. Behind it rose the ancient castle, its towers roofless, and its massive walls crumbling away, but telling us proudly of its old might and strength, as when, seven hundred years ago, it rang with the clash of arms, or resounded with the noise of feasting and revelry. On either side, the banks of the Medway, covered with cornfields and pastures, with here and there a windmill, or a distant church, stretched away as far as the eye could see, presenting a rich and varied landscape, rendered more beautiful by the changing shadows which passed swiftly across it as the thin and half-formed clouds skimmed away in the light of the morning sun. The river, reflecting the clear blue of the sky, glistened and sparkled as it flowed noiselessly on; and the oars of the fishermen dipped into the water with a clear and liquid sound, as their heavy but picturesque boats glided slowly down the stream.
Mr. Pickwick was roused from the agreeable reverie into which he had been led by the objects before him, by a deep sigh, and a touch on his shoulder. He turned round: and the dismal man was at his side.
'Contemplating the scene?' inquired the dismal man. 'I was,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'And congratulating yourself on being up so soon?'
Mr. Pickwick nodded assent.
'Ah! people need to rise early, to see the sun in all his splendour, for his brightness seldom lasts the day through. The morning of day and the morning of life are but too much alike.'
'You speak truly, sir,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'How common the saying,' continued the dismal man, '"The morning's too fine to last." How well might it be applied to our everyday existence. God! what would I forfeit to have the days of my childhood restored, or to be able to forget them for ever!'
'You have seen much trouble, sir,' said Mr. Pickwick compassionately.
'I have,' said the dismal man hurriedly; 'I have. More than those who see me now would believe possible.' He paused for an instant, and then said abruptly—
'Did it ever strike you, on such a morning as this, that drowning would be happiness and peace?'
'God bless me, no!' replied Mr. Pickwick, edging a little from the balustrade, as the possibility of the dismal man's tipping him over, by way of experiment, occurred to him rather forcibly.
'I have thought so, often,' said the dismal man, without noticing the action. 'The calm, cool water seems to me to murmur an invitation to repose and rest. A bound, a splash, a brief struggle; there is an eddy for an instant, it gradually subsides into a gentle ripple; the waters have closed above your head, and the world has closed upon your miseries and misfortunes for ever.' The sunken eye of the dismal man flashed brightly as he spoke, but the momentary excitement quickly subsided; and he turned calmly away, as he said—
'There—enough of that. I wish to see you on another subject. You invited me to read that paper, the night before last, and listened attentively while I did so.' 'I did,' replied Mr. Pickwick; 'and I certainly thought—'
'I asked for no opinion,' said the dismal man, interrupting him, 'and I want none. You are travelling for amusement and instruction. Suppose I forward you a curious manuscript—observe, not curious because wild or improbable, but curious as a leaf from the romance of real life—would you communicate it to the club, of which you have spoken so frequently?'
'Certainly,' replied Mr. Pickwick, 'if you wished it; and it would be entered on their transactions.' 'You shall have it,' replied the dismal man. 'Your address;' and, Mr. Pickwick having communicated their probable route, the dismal man carefully noted it down in a greasy pocket-book, and, resisting Mr. Pickwick's pressing invitation to breakfast, left that gentleman at his inn, and walked slowly away.
Mr. Pickwick found that his three companions had risen, and were waiting his arrival to commence breakfast, which was ready laid in tempting display. They sat down to the meal; and broiled ham, eggs, tea, coffee and sundries, began to disappear with a rapidity which at once bore testimony to the excellence of the fare, and the appetites of its consumers.
'Now, about Manor Farm,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'How shall we go?'
'We had better consult the waiter, perhaps,' said Mr. Tupman; and the waiter was summoned accordingly.
'Dingley Dell, gentlemen—fifteen miles, gentlemen—cross road—post-chaise, sir?'
'Post-chaise won't hold more than two,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'True, sir—beg your pardon, sir.—Very nice four-wheel chaise, sir—seat for two behind—one in front for the gentleman that drives—oh! beg your pardon, sir—that'll only hold three.'
'What's to be done?' said Mr. Snodgrass.
'Perhaps one of the gentlemen would like to ride, sir?' suggested the waiter, looking towards Mr. Winkle; 'very good saddle-horses, sir—any of Mr. Wardle's men coming to Rochester, bring 'em back, Sir.'
'The very thing,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Winkle, will you go on horseback?'
Now Mr. Winkle did entertain considerable misgivings in the very lowest recesses of his own heart, relative to his equestrian skill; but, as he would not have them even suspected, on any account, he at once replied with great hardihood, 'Certainly. I should enjoy it of all things.' Mr. Winkle had rushed upon his fate; there was no resource. 'Let them be at the door by eleven,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Very well, sir,' replied the waiter.
The waiter retired; the breakfast concluded; and the travellers ascended to their respective bedrooms, to prepare a change of clothing, to take with them on their approaching expedition.
Mr. Pickwick had made his preliminary arrangements, and was looking over the coffee-room blinds at the passengers in the street, when the waiter entered, and announced that the chaise was ready—an announcement which the vehicle itself confirmed, by forthwith appearing before the coffee-room blinds aforesaid.
It was a curious little green box on four wheels, with a low place like a wine-bin for two behind, and an elevated perch for one in front, drawn by an immense brown horse, displaying great symmetry of bone. An hostler stood near, holding by the bridle another immense horse—apparently a near relative of the animal in the chaise—ready saddled for Mr. Winkle.
'Bless my soul!' said Mr. Pickwick, as they stood upon the pavement while the coats were being put in. 'Bless my soul! who's to drive? I never thought of that.'
'Oh! you, of course,' said Mr. Tupman.
'Of course,' said Mr. Snodgrass.
'I!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick.
'Not the slightest fear, Sir,' interposed the hostler. 'Warrant him quiet, Sir; a hinfant in arms might drive him.'
'He don't shy, does he?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'Shy, sir?-he wouldn't shy if he was to meet a vagin-load of monkeys with their tails burned off.'
The last recommendation was indisputable. Mr. Tupman and Mr. Snodgrass got into the bin; Mr. Pickwick ascended to his perch, and deposited his feet on a floor-clothed shelf, erected beneath it for that purpose.
'Now, shiny Villiam,' said the hostler to the deputy hostler, 'give the gen'lm'n the ribbons.' 'Shiny Villiam'—so called, probably, from his sleek hair and oily countenance—placed the reins in Mr. Pickwick's left hand; and the upper hostler thrust a whip into his right.
'Wo-o!' cried Mr. Pickwick, as the tall quadruped evinced a decided inclination to back into the coffee-room window. 'Wo-o!' echoed Mr. Tupman and Mr. Snodgrass, from the bin. 'Only his playfulness, gen'lm'n,' said the head hostler encouragingly; 'jist kitch hold on him, Villiam.' The deputy restrained the animal's impetuosity, and the principal ran to assist Mr. Winkle in mounting.
'T'other side, sir, if you please.'
'Blowed if the gen'lm'n worn't a-gettin' up on the wrong side,' whispered a grinning post-boy to the inexpressibly gratified waiter.
Mr. Winkle, thus instructed, climbed into his saddle, with about as much difficulty as he would have experienced in getting up the side of a first-rate man-of-war.
'All right?' inquired Mr. Pickwick, with an inward presentiment that it was all wrong.
'All right,' replied Mr. Winkle faintly.
'Let 'em go,' cried the hostler.—'Hold him in, sir;' and away went the chaise, and the saddle-horse, with Mr. Pickwick on the box of the one, and Mr. Winkle on the back of the other, to the delight and gratification of the whole inn-yard.
'What makes him go sideways?' said Mr. Snodgrass in the bin, to Mr. Winkle in the saddle.
'I can't imagine,' replied Mr. Winkle. His horse was drifting up the street in the most mysterious manner—side first, with his head towards one side of the way, and his tail towards the other.
Mr. Pickwick had no leisure to observe either this or any other particular, the whole of his faculties being concentrated in the management of the animal attached to the chaise, who displayed various peculiarities, highly interesting to a bystander, but by no means equally amusing to any one seated behind him. Besides constantly jerking his head up, in a very unpleasant and uncomfortable manner, and tugging at the reins to an extent which rendered it a matter of great difficulty for Mr. Pickwick to hold them, he had a singular propensity for darting suddenly every now and then to the side of the road, then stopping short, and then rushing forward for some minutes, at a speed which it was wholly impossible to control.
'What CAN he mean by this?' said Mr. Snodgrass, when the horse had executed this manoeuvre for the twentieth time.
'I don't know,' replied Mr. Tupman; 'it looks very like shying, don't it?' Mr. Snodgrass was about to reply, when he was interrupted by a shout from Mr. Pickwick.
'Woo!' said that gentleman; 'I have dropped my whip.' 'Winkle,' said Mr. Snodgrass, as the equestrian came trotting up on the tall horse, with his hat over his ears, and shaking all over, as if he would shake to pieces, with the violence of the exercise, 'pick up the whip, there's a good fellow.' Mr. Winkle pulled at the bridle of the tall horse till he was black in the face; and having at length succeeded in stopping him, dismounted, handed the whip to Mr. Pickwick, and grasping the reins, prepared to remount.
Now whether the tall horse, in the natural playfulness of his disposition, was desirous of having a little innocent recreation with Mr. Winkle, or whether it occurred to him that he could perform the journey as much to his own satisfaction without a rider as with one, are points upon which, of course, we can arrive at no definite and distinct conclusion. By whatever motives the animal was actuated, certain it is that Mr. Winkle had no sooner touched the reins, than he slipped them over his head, and darted backwards to their full length.
'Poor fellow,' said Mr. Winkle soothingly—'poor fellow—good old horse.' The 'poor fellow' was proof against flattery; the more Mr. Winkle tried to get nearer him, the more he sidled away; and, notwithstanding all kinds of coaxing and wheedling, there were Mr. Winkle and the horse going round and round each other for ten minutes, at the end of which time each was at precisely the same distance from the other as when they first commenced—an unsatisfactory sort of thing under any circumstances, but particularly so in a lonely road, where no assistance can be procured.
'What am I to do?' shouted Mr. Winkle, after the dodging had been prolonged for a considerable time. 'What am I to do? I can't get on him.'
'You had better lead him till we come to a turnpike,' replied Mr. Pickwick from the chaise.
'But he won't come!' roared Mr. Winkle. 'Do come and hold him.'
Mr. Pickwick was the very personation of kindness and humanity: he threw the reins on the horse's back, and having descended from his seat, carefully drew the chaise into the hedge, lest anything should come along the road, and stepped back to the assistance of his distressed companion, leaving Mr. Tupman and Mr. Snodgrass in the vehicle.
The horse no sooner beheld Mr. Pickwick advancing towards him with the chaise whip in his hand, than he exchanged the rotary motion in which he had previously indulged, for a retrograde movement of so very determined a character, that it at once drew Mr. Winkle, who was still at the end of the bridle, at a rather quicker rate than fast walking, in the direction from which they had just come. Mr. Pickwick ran to his assistance, but the faster Mr. Pickwick ran forward, the faster the horse ran backward. There was a great scraping of feet, and kicking up of the dust; and at last Mr. Winkle, his arms being nearly pulled out of their sockets, fairly let go his hold. The horse paused, stared, shook his head, turned round, and quietly trotted home to Rochester, leaving Mr. Winkle and Mr. Pickwick gazing on each other with countenances of blank dismay. A rattling noise at a little distance attracted their attention. They looked up.
'Bless my soul!' exclaimed the agonised Mr. Pickwick; 'there's the other horse running away!'
It was but too true. The animal was startled by the noise, and the reins were on his back. The results may be guessed. He tore off with the four-wheeled chaise behind him, and Mr. Tupman and Mr. Snodgrass in the four-wheeled chaise. The heat was a short one. Mr. Tupman threw himself into the hedge, Mr. Snodgrass followed his example, the horse dashed the four—wheeled chaise against a wooden bridge, separated the wheels from the body, and the bin from the perch; and finally stood stock still to gaze upon the ruin he had made.
The first care of the two unspilt friends was to extricate their unfortunate companions from their bed of quickset—a process which gave them the unspeakable satisfaction of discovering that they had sustained no injury, beyond sundry rents in their garments, and various lacerations from the brambles. The next thing to be done was to unharness the horse. This complicated process having been effected, the party walked slowly forward, leading the horse among them, and abandoning the chaise to its fate.
An hour's walk brought the travellers to a little road-side public-house, with two elm-trees, a horse trough, and a signpost, in front; one or two deformed hay-ricks behind, a kitchen garden at the side, and rotten sheds and mouldering outhouses jumbled in strange confusion all about it. A red-headed man was working in the garden; and to him Mr. Pickwick called lustily, 'Hollo there!'
The red-headed man raised his body, shaded his eyes with his hand, and stared, long and coolly, at Mr. Pickwick and his companions.
'Hollo there!' repeated Mr. Pickwick.
'Hollo!' was the red-headed man's reply.
'How far is it to Dingley Dell?'
'Better er seven mile.'
'Is it a good road?'
'No, 'tain't.' Having uttered this brief reply, and apparently satisfied himself with another scrutiny, the red-headed man resumed his work. 'We want to put this horse up here,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'I suppose we can, can't we?' 'Want to put that ere horse up, do ee?' repeated the red-headed man, leaning on his spade.
'Of course,' replied Mr. Pickwick, who had by this time advanced, horse in hand, to the garden rails.
'Missus'—roared the man with the red head, emerging from the garden, and looking very hard at the horse—'missus!'
A tall, bony woman—straight all the way down—in a coarse, blue pelisse, with the waist an inch or two below her arm-pits, responded to the call.
'Can we put this horse up here, my good woman?' said Mr. Tupman, advancing, and speaking in his most seductive tones. The woman looked very hard at the whole party; and the red-headed man whispered something in her ear.
'No,' replied the woman, after a little consideration, 'I'm afeerd on it.'
'Afraid!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, 'what's the woman afraid of?'
'It got us in trouble last time,' said the woman, turning into the house; 'I woan't have nothin' to say to 'un.'
'Most extraordinary thing I have ever met with in my life,' said the astonished Mr. Pickwick.
'I—I—really believe,' whispered Mr. Winkle, as his friends gathered round him, 'that they think we have come by this horse in some dishonest manner.'
'What!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, in a storm of indignation. Mr. Winkle modestly repeated his suggestion.
'Hollo, you fellow,' said the angry Mr. Pickwick,'do you think we stole the horse?'
'I'm sure ye did,' replied the red-headed man, with a grin which agitated his countenance from one auricular organ to the other. Saying which he turned into the house and banged the door after him.
'It's like a dream,' ejaculated Mr. Pickwick, 'a hideous dream. The idea of a man's walking about all day with a dreadful horse that he can't get rid of!' The depressed Pickwickians turned moodily away, with the tall quadruped, for which they all felt the most unmitigated disgust, following slowly at their heels.
It was late in the afternoon when the four friends and their four-footed companion turned into the lane leading to Manor Farm; and even when they were so near their place of destination, the pleasure they would otherwise have experienced was materially damped as they reflected on the singularity of their appearance, and the absurdity of their situation. Torn clothes, lacerated faces, dusty shoes, exhausted looks, and, above all, the horse. Oh, how Mr. Pickwick cursed that horse: he had eyed the noble animal from time to time with looks expressive of hatred and revenge; more than once he had calculated the probable amount of the expense he would incur by cutting his throat; and now the temptation to destroy him, or to cast him loose upon the world, rushed upon his mind with tenfold force. He was roused from a meditation on these dire imaginings by the sudden appearance of two figures at a turn of the lane. It was Mr. Wardle, and his faithful attendant, the fat boy.
'Why, where have you been?' said the hospitable old gentleman; 'I've been waiting for you all day. Well, you DO look tired. What! Scratches! Not hurt, I hope—eh? Well, I AM glad to hear that—very. So you've been spilt, eh? Never mind. Common accident in these parts. Joe—he's asleep again!—Joe, take that horse from the gentlemen, and lead it into the stable.'
The fat boy sauntered heavily behind them with the animal; and the old gentleman, condoling with his guests in homely phrase on so much of the day's adventures as they thought proper to communicate, led the way to the kitchen.
'We'll have you put to rights here,' said the old gentleman, 'and then I'll introduce you to the people in the parlour. Emma, bring out the cherry brandy; now, Jane, a needle and thread here; towels and water, Mary. Come, girls, bustle about.'
Three or four buxom girls speedily dispersed in search of the different articles in requisition, while a couple of large-headed, circular-visaged males rose from their seats in the chimney-corner (for although it was a May evening their attachment to the wood fire appeared as cordial as if it were Christmas), and dived into some obscure recesses, from which they speedily produced a bottle of blacking, and some half-dozen brushes.
'Bustle!' said the old gentleman again, but the admonition was quite unnecessary, for one of the girls poured out the cherry brandy, and another brought in the towels, and one of the men suddenly seizing Mr. Pickwick by the leg, at imminent hazard of throwing him off his balance, brushed away at his boot till his corns were red-hot; while the other shampooed Mr. Winkle with a heavy clothes-brush, indulging, during the operation, in that hissing sound which hostlers are wont to produce when engaged in rubbing down a horse.
Mr. Snodgrass, having concluded his ablutions, took a survey of the room, while standing with his back to the fire, sipping his cherry brandy with heartfelt satisfaction. He describes it as a large apartment, with a red brick floor and a capacious chimney; the ceiling garnished with hams, sides of bacon, and ropes of onions. The walls were decorated with several hunting-whips, two or three bridles, a saddle, and an old rusty blunderbuss, with an inscription below it, intimating that it was 'Loaded'—as it had been, on the same authority, for half a century at least. An old eight-day clock, of solemn and sedate demeanour, ticked gravely in one corner; and a silver watch, of equal antiquity, dangled from one of the many hooks which ornamented the dresser.
'Ready?' said the old gentleman inquiringly, when his guests had been washed, mended, brushed, and brandied.
'Quite,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
'Come along, then;' and the party having traversed several dark passages, and being joined by Mr. Tupman, who had lingered behind to snatch a kiss from Emma, for which he had been duly rewarded with sundry pushings and scratchings, arrived at the parlour door.
'Welcome,' said their hospitable host, throwing it open and stepping forward to announce them, 'welcome, gentlemen, to Manor Farm.'
CHAPTER VI. AN OLD-FASHIONED CARD-PARTY—THE CLERGYMAN'S VERSES—THE STORY OF THE CONVICT'S RETURN
Several guests who were assembled in the old parlour rose to greet Mr. Pickwick and his friends upon their entrance; and during the performance of the ceremony of introduction, with all due formalities, Mr. Pickwick had leisure to observe the appearance, and speculate upon the characters and pursuits, of the persons by whom he was surrounded—a habit in which he, in common with many other great men, delighted to indulge.
A very old lady, in a lofty cap and faded silk gown—no less a personage than Mr. Wardle's mother—occupied the post of honour on the right-hand corner of the chimney-piece; and various certificates of her having been brought up in the way she should go when young, and of her not having departed from it when old, ornamented the walls, in the form of samplers of ancient date, worsted landscapes of equal antiquity, and crimson silk tea-kettle holders of a more modern period. The aunt, the two young ladies, and Mr. Wardle, each vying with the other in paying zealous and unremitting attentions to the old lady, crowded round her easy-chair, one holding her ear-trumpet, another an orange, and a third a smelling-bottle, while a fourth was busily engaged in patting and punching the pillows which were arranged for her support. On the opposite side sat a bald-headed old gentleman, with a good-humoured, benevolent face—the clergyman of Dingley Dell; and next him sat his wife, a stout, blooming old lady, who looked as if she were well skilled, not only in the art and mystery of manufacturing home-made cordials greatly to other people's satisfaction, but of tasting them occasionally very much to her own. A little hard-headed, Ripstone pippin-faced man, was conversing with a fat old gentleman in one corner; and two or three more old gentlemen, and two or three more old ladies, sat bolt upright and motionless on their chairs, staring very hard at Mr. Pickwick and his fellow-voyagers.
'Mr. Pickwick, mother,' said Mr. Wardle, at the very top of his voice.
'Ah!' said the old lady, shaking her head; 'I can't hear you.'
'Mr. Pickwick, grandma!' screamed both the young ladies together.
'Ah!' exclaimed the old lady. 'Well, it don't much matter. He don't care for an old 'ooman like me, I dare say.'
'I assure you, ma'am,' said Mr. Pickwick, grasping the old lady's hand, and speaking so loud that the exertion imparted a crimson hue to his benevolent countenance—'I assure you, ma'am, that nothing delights me more than to see a lady of your time of life heading so fine a family, and looking so young and well.'
'Ah!' said the old lady, after a short pause: 'it's all very fine, I dare say; but I can't hear him.'
'Grandma's rather put out now,' said Miss Isabella Wardle, in a low tone; 'but she'll talk to you presently.'
Mr. Pickwick nodded his readiness to humour the infirmities of age, and entered into a general conversation with the other members of the circle.
'Delightful situation this,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Delightful!' echoed Messrs. Snodgrass, Tupman, and Winkle.
'Well, I think it is,' said Mr. Wardle.
'There ain't a better spot o' ground in all Kent, sir,' said the hard-headed man with the pippin—face; 'there ain't indeed, sir—I'm sure there ain't, Sir.' The hard-headed man looked triumphantly round, as if he had been very much contradicted by somebody, but had got the better of him at last.
'There ain't a better spot o' ground in all Kent,' said the hard-headed man again, after a pause.
''Cept Mullins's Meadows,' observed the fat man solemnly. 'Mullins's Meadows!' ejaculated the other, with profound contempt.
'Ah, Mullins's Meadows,' repeated the fat man.
'Reg'lar good land that,' interposed another fat man.
'And so it is, sure-ly,' said a third fat man.
'Everybody knows that,' said the corpulent host.
The hard-headed man looked dubiously round, but finding himself in a minority, assumed a compassionate air and said no more. 'What are they talking about?' inquired the old lady of one of her granddaughters, in a very audible voice; for, like many deaf people, she never seemed to calculate on the possibility of other persons hearing what she said herself.
'About the land, grandma.'
'What about the land?—Nothing the matter, is there?'
'No, no. Mr. Miller was saying our land was better than Mullins's Meadows.'
'How should he know anything about it?'inquired the old lady indignantly. 'Miller's a conceited coxcomb, and you may tell him I said so.' Saying which, the old lady, quite unconscious that she had spoken above a whisper, drew herself up, and looked carving-knives at the hard-headed delinquent.
'Come, come,' said the bustling host, with a natural anxiety to change the conversation, 'what say you to a rubber, Mr. Pickwick?'
'I should like it of all things,' replied that gentleman; 'but pray don't make up one on my account.'
'Oh, I assure you, mother's very fond of a rubber,' said Mr. Wardle; 'ain't you, mother?'
The old lady, who was much less deaf on this subject than on any other, replied in the affirmative.
'Joe, Joe!' said the gentleman; 'Joe—damn that—oh, here he is; put out the card—tables.'
The lethargic youth contrived without any additional rousing to set out two card-tables; the one for Pope Joan, and the other for whist. The whist-players were Mr. Pickwick and the old lady, Mr. Miller and the fat gentleman. The round game comprised the rest of the company.
The rubber was conducted with all that gravity of deportment and sedateness of demeanour which befit the pursuit entitled 'whist'—a solemn observance, to which, as it appears to us, the title of 'game' has been very irreverently and ignominiously applied. The round-game table, on the other hand, was so boisterously merry as materially to interrupt the contemplations of Mr. Miller, who, not being quite so much absorbed as he ought to have been, contrived to commit various high crimes and misdemeanours, which excited the wrath of the fat gentleman to a very great extent, and called forth the good-humour of the old lady in a proportionate degree.
'There!' said the criminal Miller triumphantly, as he took up the odd trick at the conclusion of a hand; 'that could not have been played better, I flatter myself; impossible to have made another trick!'
'Miller ought to have trumped the diamond, oughtn't he, Sir?' said the old lady.
Mr. Pickwick nodded assent.
'Ought I, though?' said the unfortunate, with a doubtful appeal to his partner.
'You ought, Sir,' said the fat gentleman, in an awful voice.
'Very sorry,' said the crestfallen Miller.
'Much use that,' growled the fat gentleman.
'Two by honours—makes us eight,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Another hand. 'Can you one?' inquired the old lady.
'I can,' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'Double, single, and the rub.'
'Never was such luck,' said Mr. Miller.
'Never was such cards,' said the fat gentleman.
A solemn silence; Mr. Pickwick humorous, the old lady serious, the fat gentleman captious, and Mr. Miller timorous.
'Another double,' said the old lady, triumphantly making a memorandum of the circumstance, by placing one sixpence and a battered halfpenny under the candlestick.
'A double, sir,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Quite aware of the fact, Sir,' replied the fat gentleman sharply.
Another game, with a similar result, was followed by a revoke from the unlucky Miller; on which the fat gentleman burst into a state of high personal excitement which lasted until the conclusion of the game, when he retired into a corner, and remained perfectly mute for one hour and twenty-seven minutes; at the end of which time he emerged from his retirement, and offered Mr. Pickwick a pinch of snuff with the air of a man who had made up his mind to a Christian forgiveness of injuries sustained. The old lady's hearing decidedly improved and the unlucky Miller felt as much out of his element as a dolphin in a sentry-box.
Meanwhile the round game proceeded right merrily. Isabella Wardle and Mr. Trundle 'went partners,' and Emily Wardle and Mr. Snodgrass did the same; and even Mr. Tupman and the spinster aunt established a joint-stock company of fish and flattery. Old Mr. Wardle was in the very height of his jollity; and he was so funny in his management of the board, and the old ladies were so sharp after their winnings, that the whole table was in a perpetual roar of merriment and laughter. There was one old lady who always had about half a dozen cards to pay for, at which everybody laughed, regularly every round; and when the old lady looked cross at having to pay, they laughed louder than ever; on which the old lady's face gradually brightened up, till at last she laughed louder than any of them, Then, when the spinster aunt got 'matrimony,' the young ladies laughed afresh, and the Spinster aunt seemed disposed to be pettish; till, feeling Mr. Tupman squeezing her hand under the table, she brightened up too, and looked rather knowing, as if matrimony in reality were not quite so far off as some people thought for; whereupon everybody laughed again, and especially old Mr. Wardle, who enjoyed a joke as much as the youngest. As to Mr. Snodgrass, he did nothing but whisper poetical sentiments into his partner's ear, which made one old gentleman facetiously sly, about partnerships at cards and partnerships for life, and caused the aforesaid old gentleman to make some remarks thereupon, accompanied with divers winks and chuckles, which made the company very merry and the old gentleman's wife especially so. And Mr. Winkle came out with jokes which are very well known in town, but are not all known in the country; and as everybody laughed at them very heartily, and said they were very capital, Mr. Winkle was in a state of great honour and glory. And the benevolent clergyman looked pleasantly on; for the happy faces which surrounded the table made the good old man feel happy too; and though the merriment was rather boisterous, still it came from the heart and not from the lips; and this is the right sort of merriment, after all.
The evening glided swiftly away, in these cheerful recreations; and when the substantial though homely supper had been despatched, and the little party formed a social circle round the fire, Mr. Pickwick thought he had never felt so happy in his life, and at no time so much disposed to enjoy, and make the most of, the passing moment.
'Now this,' said the hospitable host, who was sitting in great state next the old lady's arm-chair, with her hand fast clasped in his—'this is just what I like—the happiest moments of my life have been passed at this old fireside; and I am so attached to it, that I keep up a blazing fire here every evening, until it actually grows too hot to bear it. Why, my poor old mother, here, used to sit before this fireplace upon that little stool when she was a girl; didn't you, mother?'
The tear which starts unbidden to the eye when the recollection of old times and the happiness of many years ago is suddenly recalled, stole down the old lady's face as she shook her head with a melancholy smile.
'You must excuse my talking about this old place, Mr. Pickwick,' resumed the host, after a short pause, 'for I love it dearly, and know no other—the old houses and fields seem like living friends to me; and so does our little church with the ivy, about which, by the bye, our excellent friend there made a song when he first came amongst us. Mr. Snodgrass, have you anything in your glass?'
'Plenty, thank you,' replied that gentleman, whose poetic curiosity had been greatly excited by the last observation of his entertainer. 'I beg your pardon, but you were talking about the song of the Ivy.'
'You must ask our friend opposite about that,' said the host knowingly, indicating the clergyman by a nod of his head.
'May I say that I should like to hear you repeat it, sir?' said Mr. Snodgrass.
'Why, really,' replied the clergyman, 'it's a very slight affair; and the only excuse I have for having ever perpetrated it is, that I was a young man at the time. Such as it is, however, you shall hear it, if you wish.'
A murmur of curiosity was of course the reply; and the old gentleman proceeded to recite, with the aid of sundry promptings from his wife, the lines in question. 'I call them,' said he,
THE IVY GREEN
Oh, a dainty plant is the Ivy green, That creepeth o'er ruins old! Of right choice food are his meals, I ween, In his cell so lone and cold. The wall must be crumbled, the stone decayed, To pleasure his dainty whim; And the mouldering dust that years have made, Is a merry meal for him. Creeping where no life is seen, A rare old plant is the Ivy green.
Fast he stealeth on, though he wears no wings, And a staunch old heart has he. How closely he twineth, how tight he clings To his friend the huge Oak Tree! And slily he traileth along the ground, And his leaves he gently waves, As he joyously hugs and crawleth round The rich mould of dead men's graves. Creeping where grim death has been, A rare old plant is the Ivy green.
Whole ages have fled and their works decayed, And nations have scattered been; But the stout old Ivy shall never fade, From its hale and hearty green. The brave old plant in its lonely days, Shall fatten upon the past; For the stateliest building man can raise, Is the Ivy's food at last. Creeping on where time has been, A rare old plant is the Ivy green.
While the old gentleman repeated these lines a second time, to enable Mr. Snodgrass to note them down, Mr. Pickwick perused the lineaments of his face with an expression of great interest. The old gentleman having concluded his dictation, and Mr. Snodgrass having returned his note-book to his pocket, Mr. Pickwick said—
'Excuse me, sir, for making the remark on so short an acquaintance; but a gentleman like yourself cannot fail, I should think, to have observed many scenes and incidents worth recording, in the course of your experience as a minister of the Gospel.'
'I have witnessed some certainly,' replied the old gentleman, 'but the incidents and characters have been of a homely and ordinary nature, my sphere of action being so very limited.'
'You did make some notes, I think, about John Edmunds, did you not?' inquired Mr. Wardle, who appeared very desirous to draw his friend out, for the edification of his new visitors.
The old gentleman slightly nodded his head in token of assent, and was proceeding to change the subject, when Mr. Pickwick said—
'I beg your pardon, sir, but pray, if I may venture to inquire, who was John Edmunds?'
'The very thing I was about to ask,' said Mr. Snodgrass eagerly.
'You are fairly in for it,' said the jolly host. 'You must satisfy the curiosity of these gentlemen, sooner or later; so you had better take advantage of this favourable opportunity, and do so at once.'
The old gentleman smiled good-humouredly as he drew his chair forward—the remainder of the party drew their chairs closer together, especially Mr. Tupman and the spinster aunt, who were possibly rather hard of hearing; and the old lady's ear-trumpet having been duly adjusted, and Mr. Miller (who had fallen asleep during the recital of the verses) roused from his slumbers by an admonitory pinch, administered beneath the table by his ex-partner the solemn fat man, the old gentleman, without further preface, commenced the following tale, to which we have taken the liberty of prefixing the title of
THE CONVICT'S RETURN
'When I first settled in this village,' said the old gentleman, 'which is now just five-and-twenty years ago, the most notorious person among my parishioners was a man of the name of Edmunds, who leased a small farm near this spot. He was a morose, savage-hearted, bad man; idle and dissolute in his habits; cruel and ferocious in his disposition. Beyond the few lazy and reckless vagabonds with whom he sauntered away his time in the fields, or sotted in the ale-house, he had not a single friend or acquaintance; no one cared to speak to the man whom many feared, and every one detested—and Edmunds was shunned by all.
'This man had a wife and one son, who, when I first came here, was about twelve years old. Of the acuteness of that woman's sufferings, of the gentle and enduring manner in which she bore them, of the agony of solicitude with which she reared that boy, no one can form an adequate conception. Heaven forgive me the supposition, if it be an uncharitable one, but I do firmly and in my soul believe, that the man systematically tried for many years to break her heart; but she bore it all for her child's sake, and, however strange it may seem to many, for his father's too; for brute as he was, and cruelly as he had treated her, she had loved him once; and the recollection of what he had been to her, awakened feelings of forbearance and meekness under suffering in her bosom, to which all God's creatures, but women, are strangers.
'They were poor—they could not be otherwise when the man pursued such courses; but the woman's unceasing and unwearied exertions, early and late, morning, noon, and night, kept them above actual want. These exertions were but ill repaid. People who passed the spot in the evening—sometimes at a late hour of the night—reported that they had heard the moans and sobs of a woman in distress, and the sound of blows; and more than once, when it was past midnight, the boy knocked softly at the door of a neighbour's house, whither he had been sent, to escape the drunken fury of his unnatural father.
'During the whole of this time, and when the poor creature often bore about her marks of ill-usage and violence which she could not wholly conceal, she was a constant attendant at our little church. Regularly every Sunday, morning and afternoon, she occupied the same seat with the boy at her side; and though they were both poorly dressed—much more so than many of their neighbours who were in a lower station—they were always neat and clean. Every one had a friendly nod and a kind word for "poor Mrs. Edmunds"; and sometimes, when she stopped to exchange a few words with a neighbour at the conclusion of the service in the little row of elm-trees which leads to the church porch, or lingered behind to gaze with a mother's pride and fondness upon her healthy boy, as he sported before her with some little companions, her careworn face would lighten up with an expression of heartfelt gratitude; and she would look, if not cheerful and happy, at least tranquil and contented.
'Five or six years passed away; the boy had become a robust and well-grown youth. The time that had strengthened the child's slight frame and knit his weak limbs into the strength of manhood had bowed his mother's form, and enfeebled her steps; but the arm that should have supported her was no longer locked in hers; the face that should have cheered her, no more looked upon her own. She occupied her old seat, but there was a vacant one beside her. The Bible was kept as carefully as ever, the places were found and folded down as they used to be: but there was no one to read it with her; and the tears fell thick and fast upon the book, and blotted the words from her eyes. Neighbours were as kind as they were wont to be of old, but she shunned their greetings with averted head. There was no lingering among the old elm-trees now-no cheering anticipations of happiness yet in store. The desolate woman drew her bonnet closer over her face, and walked hurriedly away.
'Shall I tell you that the young man, who, looking back to the earliest of his childhood's days to which memory and consciousness extended, and carrying his recollection down to that moment, could remember nothing which was not in some way connected with a long series of voluntary privations suffered by his mother for his sake, with ill-usage, and insult, and violence, and all endured for him—shall I tell you, that he, with a reckless disregard for her breaking heart, and a sullen, wilful forgetfulness of all she had done and borne for him, had linked himself with depraved and abandoned men, and was madly pursuing a headlong career, which must bring death to him, and shame to her? Alas for human nature! You have anticipated it long since.
'The measure of the unhappy woman's misery and misfortune was about to be completed. Numerous offences had been committed in the neighbourhood; the perpetrators remained undiscovered, and their boldness increased. A robbery of a daring and aggravated nature occasioned a vigilance of pursuit, and a strictness of search, they had not calculated on. Young Edmunds was suspected, with three companions. He was apprehended—committed—tried—condemned—to die. 'The wild and piercing shriek from a woman's voice, which resounded through the court when the solemn sentence was pronounced, rings in my ears at this moment. That cry struck a terror to the culprit's heart, which trial, condemnation—the approach of death itself, had failed to awaken. The lips which had been compressed in dogged sullenness throughout, quivered and parted involuntarily; the face turned ashy pale as the cold perspiration broke forth from every pore; the sturdy limbs of the felon trembled, and he staggered in the dock.
'In the first transports of her mental anguish, the suffering mother threw herself on her knees at my feet, and fervently sought the Almighty Being who had hitherto supported her in all her troubles to release her from a world of woe and misery, and to spare the life of her only child. A burst of grief, and a violent struggle, such as I hope I may never have to witness again, succeeded. I knew that her heart was breaking from that hour; but I never once heard complaint or murmur escape her lips. 'It was a piteous spectacle to see that woman in the prison-yard from day to day, eagerly and fervently attempting, by affection and entreaty, to soften the hard heart of her obdurate son. It was in vain. He remained moody, obstinate, and unmoved. Not even the unlooked-for commutation of his sentence to transportation for fourteen years, softened for an instant the sullen hardihood of his demeanour.
'But the spirit of resignation and endurance that had so long upheld her, was unable to contend against bodily weakness and infirmity. She fell sick. She dragged her tottering limbs from the bed to visit her son once more, but her strength failed her, and she sank powerless on the ground.
'And now the boasted coldness and indifference of the young man were tested indeed; and the retribution that fell heavily upon him nearly drove him mad. A day passed away and his mother was not there; another flew by, and she came not near him; a third evening arrived, and yet he had not seen her—, and in four-and-twenty hours he was to be separated from her, perhaps for ever. Oh! how the long-forgotten thoughts of former days rushed upon his mind, as he almost ran up and down the narrow yard—as if intelligence would arrive the sooner for his hurrying—and how bitterly a sense of his helplessness and desolation rushed upon him, when he heard the truth! His mother, the only parent he had ever known, lay ill—it might be, dying—within one mile of the ground he stood on; were he free and unfettered, a few minutes would place him by her side. He rushed to the gate, and grasping the iron rails with the energy of desperation, shook it till it rang again, and threw himself against the thick wall as if to force a passage through the stone; but the strong building mocked his feeble efforts, and he beat his hands together and wept like a child.
'I bore the mother's forgiveness and blessing to her son in prison; and I carried the solemn assurance of repentance, and his fervent supplication for pardon, to her sick-bed. I heard, with pity and compassion, the repentant man devise a thousand little plans for her comfort and support when he returned; but I knew that many months before he could reach his place of destination, his mother would be no longer of this world. 'He was removed by night. A few weeks afterwards the poor woman's soul took its flight, I confidently hope, and solemnly believe, to a place of eternal happiness and rest. I performed the burial service over her remains. She lies in our little churchyard. There is no stone at her grave's head. Her sorrows were known to man; her virtues to God. 'it had been arranged previously to the convict's departure, that he should write to his mother as soon as he could obtain permission, and that the letter should be addressed to me. The father had positively refused to see his son from the moment of his apprehension; and it was a matter of indifference to him whether he lived or died. Many years passed over without any intelligence of him; and when more than half his term of transportation had expired, and I had received no letter, I concluded him to be dead, as, indeed, I almost hoped he might be.
'Edmunds, however, had been sent a considerable distance up the country on his arrival at the settlement; and to this circumstance, perhaps, may be attributed the fact, that though several letters were despatched, none of them ever reached my hands. He remained in the same place during the whole fourteen years. At the expiration of the term, steadily adhering to his old resolution and the pledge he gave his mother, he made his way back to England amidst innumerable difficulties, and returned, on foot, to his native place.
'On a fine Sunday evening, in the month of August, John Edmunds set foot in the village he had left with shame and disgrace seventeen years before. His nearest way lay through the churchyard. The man's heart swelled as he crossed the stile. The tall old elms, through whose branches the declining sun cast here and there a rich ray of light upon the shady part, awakened the associations of his earliest days. He pictured himself as he was then, clinging to his mother's hand, and walking peacefully to church. He remembered how he used to look up into her pale face; and how her eyes would sometimes fill with tears as she gazed upon his features—tears which fell hot upon his forehead as she stooped to kiss him, and made him weep too, although he little knew then what bitter tears hers were. He thought how often he had run merrily down that path with some childish playfellow, looking back, ever and again, to catch his mother's smile, or hear her gentle voice; and then a veil seemed lifted from his memory, and words of kindness unrequited, and warnings despised, and promises broken, thronged upon his recollection till his heart failed him, and he could bear it no longer. 'He entered the church. The evening service was concluded and the congregation had dispersed, but it was not yet closed. His steps echoed through the low building with a hollow sound, and he almost feared to be alone, it was so still and quiet. He looked round him. Nothing was changed. The place seemed smaller than it used to be; but there were the old monuments on which he had gazed with childish awe a thousand times; the little pulpit with its faded cushion; the Communion table before which he had so often repeated the Commandments he had reverenced as a child, and forgotten as a man. He approached the old seat; it looked cold and desolate. The cushion had been removed, and the Bible was not there. Perhaps his mother now occupied a poorer seat, or possibly she had grown infirm and could not reach the church alone. He dared not think of what he feared. A cold feeling crept over him, and he trembled violently as he turned away. 'An old man entered the porch just as he reached it. Edmunds started back, for he knew him well; many a time he had watched him digging graves in the churchyard. What would he say to the returned convict?
'The old man raised his eyes to the stranger's face, bade him "good-evening," and walked slowly on. He had forgotten him.
'He walked down the hill, and through the village. The weather was warm, and the people were sitting at their doors, or strolling in their little gardens as he passed, enjoying the serenity of the evening, and their rest from labour. Many a look was turned towards him, and many a doubtful glance he cast on either side to see whether any knew and shunned him. There were strange faces in almost every house; in some he recognised the burly form of some old schoolfellow—a boy when he last saw him—surrounded by a troop of merry children; in others he saw, seated in an easy-chair at a cottage door, a feeble and infirm old man, whom he only remembered as a hale and hearty labourer; but they had all forgotten him, and he passed on unknown.
'The last soft light of the setting sun had fallen on the earth, casting a rich glow on the yellow corn sheaves, and lengthening the shadows of the orchard trees, as he stood before the old house—the home of his infancy—to which his heart had yearned with an intensity of affection not to be described, through long and weary years of captivity and sorrow. The paling was low, though he well remembered the time that it had seemed a high wall to him; and he looked over into the old garden. There were more seeds and gayer flowers than there used to be, but there were the old trees still—the very tree under which he had lain a thousand times when tired of playing in the sun, and felt the soft, mild sleep of happy boyhood steal gently upon him. There were voices within the house. He listened, but they fell strangely upon his ear; he knew them not. They were merry too; and he well knew that his poor old mother could not be cheerful, and he away. The door opened, and a group of little children bounded out, shouting and romping. The father, with a little boy in his arms, appeared at the door, and they crowded round him, clapping their tiny hands, and dragging him out, to join their joyous sports. The convict thought on the many times he had shrunk from his father's sight in that very place. He remembered how often he had buried his trembling head beneath the bedclothes, and heard the harsh word, and the hard stripe, and his mother's wailing; and though the man sobbed aloud with agony of mind as he left the spot, his fist was clenched, and his teeth were set, in a fierce and deadly passion.
'And such was the return to which he had looked through the weary perspective of many years, and for which he had undergone so much suffering! No face of welcome, no look of forgiveness, no house to receive, no hand to help him—and this too in the old village. What was his loneliness in the wild, thick woods, where man was never seen, to this!
'He felt that in the distant land of his bondage and infamy, he had thought of his native place as it was when he left it; and not as it would be when he returned. The sad reality struck coldly at his heart, and his spirit sank within him. He had not courage to make inquiries, or to present himself to the only person who was likely to receive him with kindness and compassion. He walked slowly on; and shunning the roadside like a guilty man, turned into a meadow he well remembered; and covering his face with his hands, threw himself upon the grass.
'He had not observed that a man was lying on the bank beside him; his garments rustled as he turned round to steal a look at the new-comer; and Edmunds raised his head.
'The man had moved into a sitting posture. His body was much bent, and his face was wrinkled and yellow. His dress denoted him an inmate of the workhouse: he had the appearance of being very old, but it looked more the effect of dissipation or disease, than the length of years. He was staring hard at the stranger, and though his eyes were lustreless and heavy at first, they appeared to glow with an unnatural and alarmed expression after they had been fixed upon him for a short time, until they seemed to be starting from their sockets. Edmunds gradually raised himself to his knees, and looked more and more earnestly on the old man's face. They gazed upon each other in silence.
'The old man was ghastly pale. He shuddered and tottered to his feet. Edmunds sprang to his. He stepped back a pace or two. Edmunds advanced.
'"Let me hear you speak," said the convict, in a thick, broken voice.
'"Stand off!" cried the old man, with a dreadful oath. The convict drew closer to him.
'"Stand off!" shrieked the old man. Furious with terror, he raised his stick, and struck Edmunds a heavy blow across the face.
'"Father—devil!" murmured the convict between his set teeth. He rushed wildly forward, and clenched the old man by the throat—but he was his father; and his arm fell powerless by his side.
'The old man uttered a loud yell which rang through the lonely fields like the howl of an evil spirit. His face turned black, the gore rushed from his mouth and nose, and dyed the grass a deep, dark red, as he staggered and fell. He had ruptured a blood-vessel, and he was a dead man before his son could raise him. 'In that corner of the churchyard,' said the old gentleman, after a silence of a few moments, 'in that corner of the churchyard of which I have before spoken, there lies buried a man who was in my employment for three years after this event, and who was truly contrite, penitent, and humbled, if ever man was. No one save myself knew in that man's lifetime who he was, or whence he came—it was John Edmunds, the returned convict.'
CHAPTER VII. HOW Mr. WINKLE, INSTEAD OF SHOOTING AT THE PIGEON AND KILLING THE CROW, SHOT AT THE CROW AND WOUNDED THE PIGEON; HOW THE DINGLEY DELL CRICKET CLUB PLAYED ALL-MUGGLETON, AND HOW ALL-MUGGLETON DINED AT THE DINGLEY DELL EXPENSE; WITH OTHER INTERESTING AND INSTRUCTIVE MATTERS
The fatiguing adventures of the day or the somniferous influence of the clergyman's tale operated so strongly on the drowsy tendencies of Mr. Pickwick, that in less than five minutes after he had been shown to his comfortable bedroom he fell into a sound and dreamless sleep, from which he was only awakened by the morning sun darting his bright beams reproachfully into the apartment. Mr. Pickwick was no sluggard, and he sprang like an ardent warrior from his tent-bedstead.
'Pleasant, pleasant country,' sighed the enthusiastic gentleman, as he opened his lattice window. 'Who could live to gaze from day to day on bricks and slates who had once felt the influence of a scene like this? Who could continue to exist where there are no cows but the cows on the chimney-pots; nothing redolent of Pan but pan-tiles; no crop but stone crop? Who could bear to drag out a life in such a spot? Who, I ask, could endure it?' and, having cross-examined solitude after the most approved precedents, at considerable length, Mr. Pickwick thrust his head out of the lattice and looked around him.
The rich, sweet smell of the hay-ricks rose to his chamber window; the hundred perfumes of the little flower-garden beneath scented the air around; the deep-green meadows shone in the morning dew that glistened on every leaf as it trembled in the gentle air; and the birds sang as if every sparkling drop were to them a fountain of inspiration. Mr. Pickwick fell into an enchanting and delicious reverie.