The dogs suddenly came to a dead stop, and the party advancing stealthily a single pace, stopped too.
'What's the matter with the dogs' legs?' whispered Mr. Winkle. 'How queer they're standing.'
'Hush, can't you?' replied Wardle softly. 'Don't you see, they're making a point?'
'Making a point!' said Mr. Winkle, staring about him, as if he expected to discover some particular beauty in the landscape, which the sagacious animals were calling special attention to. 'Making a point! What are they pointing at?'
'Keep your eyes open,' said Wardle, not heeding the question in the excitement of the moment. 'Now then.'
There was a sharp whirring noise, that made Mr. Winkle start back as if he had been shot himself. Bang, bang, went a couple of guns—the smoke swept quickly away over the field, and curled into the air.
'Where are they!' said Mr. Winkle, in a state of the highest excitement, turning round and round in all directions. 'Where are they? Tell me when to fire. Where are they—where are they?'
'Where are they!' said Wardle, taking up a brace of birds which the dogs had deposited at his feet. 'Why, here they are.'
'No, no; I mean the others,' said the bewildered Winkle.
'Far enough off, by this time,' replied Wardle, coolly reloading his gun.
'We shall very likely be up with another covey in five minutes,' said the long gamekeeper. 'If the gentleman begins to fire now, perhaps he'll just get the shot out of the barrel by the time they rise.'
'Ha! ha! ha!' roared Mr. Weller.
'Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, compassionating his follower's confusion and embarrassment.
'Certainly not, Sir.' So, by way of indemnification, Mr. Weller contorted his features from behind the wheel-barrow, for the exclusive amusement of the boy with the leggings, who thereupon burst into a boisterous laugh, and was summarily cuffed by the long gamekeeper, who wanted a pretext for turning round, to hide his own merriment.
'Bravo, old fellow!' said Wardle to Mr. Tupman; 'you fired that time, at all events.'
'Oh, yes,' replied Mr. Tupman, with conscious pride. 'I let it off.'
'Well done. You'll hit something next time, if you look sharp. Very easy, ain't it?'
'Yes, it's very easy,' said Mr. Tupman. 'How it hurts one's shoulder, though. It nearly knocked me backwards. I had no idea these small firearms kicked so.'
'Ah,' said the old gentleman, smiling, 'you'll get used to it in time. Now then—all ready—all right with the barrow there?'
'All right, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller.
'Come along, then.'
'Hold hard, Sir,' said Sam, raising the barrow.
'Aye, aye,' replied Mr. Pickwick; and on they went, as briskly as need be.
'Keep that barrow back now,' cried Wardle, when it had been hoisted over a stile into another field, and Mr. Pickwick had been deposited in it once more.
'All right, sir,' replied Mr. Weller, pausing.
'Now, Winkle,' said the old gentleman, 'follow me softly, and don't be too late this time.'
'Never fear,' said Mr. Winkle. 'Are they pointing?'
'No, no; not now. Quietly now, quietly.' On they crept, and very quietly they would have advanced, if Mr. Winkle, in the performance of some very intricate evolutions with his gun, had not accidentally fired, at the most critical moment, over the boy's head, exactly in the very spot where the tall man's brain would have been, had he been there instead.
'Why, what on earth did you do that for?' said old Wardle, as the birds flew unharmed away.
'I never saw such a gun in my life,' replied poor Mr. Winkle, looking at the lock, as if that would do any good. 'It goes off of its own accord. It WILL do it.'
'Will do it!' echoed Wardle, with something of irritation in his manner. 'I wish it would kill something of its own accord.'
'It'll do that afore long, Sir,' observed the tall man, in a low, prophetic voice.
'What do you mean by that observation, Sir?' inquired Mr. Winkle, angrily.
'Never mind, Sir, never mind,' replied the long gamekeeper; 'I've no family myself, sir; and this here boy's mother will get something handsome from Sir Geoffrey, if he's killed on his land. Load again, Sir, load again.'
'Take away his gun,' cried Mr. Pickwick from the barrow, horror-stricken at the long man's dark insinuations. 'Take away his gun, do you hear, somebody?'
Nobody, however, volunteered to obey the command; and Mr. Winkle, after darting a rebellious glance at Mr. Pickwick, reloaded his gun, and proceeded onwards with the rest.
We are bound, on the authority of Mr. Pickwick, to state, that Mr. Tupman's mode of proceeding evinced far more of prudence and deliberation, than that adopted by Mr. Winkle. Still, this by no means detracts from the great authority of the latter gentleman, on all matters connected with the field; because, as Mr. Pickwick beautifully observes, it has somehow or other happened, from time immemorial, that many of the best and ablest philosophers, who have been perfect lights of science in matters of theory, have been wholly unable to reduce them to practice.
Mr. Tupman's process, like many of our most sublime discoveries, was extremely simple. With the quickness and penetration of a man of genius, he had at once observed that the two great points to be attained were—first, to discharge his piece without injury to himself, and, secondly, to do so, without danger to the bystanders—obviously, the best thing to do, after surmounting the difficulty of firing at all, was to shut his eyes firmly, and fire into the air.
On one occasion, after performing this feat, Mr. Tupman, on opening his eyes, beheld a plump partridge in the act of falling, wounded, to the ground. He was on the point of congratulating Mr. Wardle on his invariable success, when that gentleman advanced towards him, and grasped him warmly by the hand.
'Tupman,' said the old gentleman, 'you singled out that particular bird?'
'No,' said Mr. Tupman—'no.'
'You did,' said Wardle. 'I saw you do it—I observed you pick him out—I noticed you, as you raised your piece to take aim; and I will say this, that the best shot in existence could not have done it more beautifully. You are an older hand at this than I thought you, Tupman; you have been out before.' It was in vain for Mr. Tupman to protest, with a smile of self-denial, that he never had. The very smile was taken as evidence to the contrary; and from that time forth his reputation was established. It is not the only reputation that has been acquired as easily, nor are such fortunate circumstances confined to partridge-shooting.
Meanwhile, Mr. Winkle flashed, and blazed, and smoked away, without producing any material results worthy of being noted down; sometimes expending his charge in mid-air, and at others sending it skimming along so near the surface of the ground as to place the lives of the two dogs on a rather uncertain and precarious tenure. As a display of fancy-shooting, it was extremely varied and curious; as an exhibition of firing with any precise object, it was, upon the whole, perhaps a failure. It is an established axiom, that 'every bullet has its billet.' If it apply in an equal degree to shot, those of Mr. Winkle were unfortunate foundlings, deprived of their natural rights, cast loose upon the world, and billeted nowhere. 'Well,' said Wardle, walking up to the side of the barrow, and wiping the streams of perspiration from his jolly red face; 'smoking day, isn't it?'
'It is, indeed,' replied Mr. Pickwick. The sun is tremendously hot, even to me. I don't know how you must feel it.'
'Why,' said the old gentleman, 'pretty hot. It's past twelve, though. You see that green hill there?'
'That's the place where we are to lunch; and, by Jove, there's the boy with the basket, punctual as clockwork!'
'So he is,' said Mr. Pickwick, brightening up. 'Good boy, that. I'll give him a shilling, presently. Now, then, Sam, wheel away.'
'Hold on, sir,' said Mr. Weller, invigorated with the prospect of refreshments. 'Out of the vay, young leathers. If you walley my precious life don't upset me, as the gen'l'm'n said to the driver when they was a-carryin' him to Tyburn.' And quickening his pace to a sharp run, Mr. Weller wheeled his master nimbly to the green hill, shot him dexterously out by the very side of the basket, and proceeded to unpack it with the utmost despatch.
'Weal pie,' said Mr. Weller, soliloquising, as he arranged the eatables on the grass. 'Wery good thing is weal pie, when you know the lady as made it, and is quite sure it ain't kittens; and arter all though, where's the odds, when they're so like weal that the wery piemen themselves don't know the difference?'
'Don't they, Sam?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Not they, sir,' replied Mr. Weller, touching his hat. 'I lodged in the same house vith a pieman once, sir, and a wery nice man he was—reg'lar clever chap, too—make pies out o' anything, he could. "What a number o' cats you keep, Mr. Brooks," says I, when I'd got intimate with him. "Ah," says he, "I do—a good many," says he, "You must be wery fond o' cats," says I. "Other people is," says he, a-winkin' at me; "they ain't in season till the winter though," says he. "Not in season!" says I. "No," says he, "fruits is in, cats is out." "Why, what do you mean?" says I. "Mean!" says he. "That I'll never be a party to the combination o' the butchers, to keep up the price o' meat," says he. "Mr. Weller," says he, a-squeezing my hand wery hard, and vispering in my ear—"don't mention this here agin—but it's the seasonin' as does it. They're all made o' them noble animals," says he, a-pointin' to a wery nice little tabby kitten, "and I seasons 'em for beefsteak, weal or kidney, 'cording to the demand. And more than that," says he, "I can make a weal a beef-steak, or a beef-steak a kidney, or any one on 'em a mutton, at a minute's notice, just as the market changes, and appetites wary!"'
'He must have been a very ingenious young man, that, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, with a slight shudder.
'Just was, sir,' replied Mr. Weller, continuing his occupation of emptying the basket, 'and the pies was beautiful. Tongue—, well that's a wery good thing when it ain't a woman's. Bread—knuckle o' ham, reg'lar picter—cold beef in slices, wery good. What's in them stone jars, young touch-and-go?'
'Beer in this one,' replied the boy, taking from his shoulder a couple of large stone bottles, fastened together by a leathern strap—'cold punch in t'other.'
'And a wery good notion of a lunch it is, take it altogether,' said Mr. Weller, surveying his arrangement of the repast with great satisfaction. 'Now, gen'l'm'n, "fall on," as the English said to the French when they fixed bagginets.'
It needed no second invitation to induce the party to yield full justice to the meal; and as little pressing did it require to induce Mr. Weller, the long gamekeeper, and the two boys, to station themselves on the grass, at a little distance, and do good execution upon a decent proportion of the viands. An old oak afforded a pleasant shelter to the group, and a rich prospect of arable and meadow land, intersected with luxuriant hedges, and richly ornamented with wood, lay spread out before them.
'This is delightful—thoroughly delightful!' said Mr. Pickwick; the skin of whose expressive countenance was rapidly peeling off, with exposure to the sun.
'So it is—so it is, old fellow,' replied Wardle. 'Come; a glass of punch!'
'With great pleasure,' said Mr. Pickwick; the satisfaction of whose countenance, after drinking it, bore testimony to the sincerity of the reply.
'Good,' said Mr. Pickwick, smacking his lips. 'Very good. I'll take another. Cool; very cool. Come, gentlemen,' continued Mr. Pickwick, still retaining his hold upon the jar, 'a toast. Our friends at Dingley Dell.'
The toast was drunk with loud acclamations.
'I'll tell you what I shall do, to get up my shooting again,' said Mr. Winkle, who was eating bread and ham with a pocket-knife. 'I'll put a stuffed partridge on the top of a post, and practise at it, beginning at a short distance, and lengthening it by degrees. I understand it's capital practice.'
'I know a gen'l'man, Sir,' said Mr. Weller, 'as did that, and begun at two yards; but he never tried it on agin; for he blowed the bird right clean away at the first fire, and nobody ever seed a feather on him arterwards.'
'Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Sir,' replied Mr. Weller.
'Have the goodness to reserve your anecdotes till they are called for.'
Here Mr. Weller winked the eye which was not concealed by the beer-can he was raising to his lips, with such exquisite facetiousness, that the two boys went into spontaneous convulsions, and even the long man condescended to smile.
'Well, that certainly is most capital cold punch,' said Mr. Pickwick, looking earnestly at the stone bottle; 'and the day is extremely warm, and—Tupman, my dear friend, a glass of punch?'
'With the greatest delight,' replied Mr. Tupman; and having drank that glass, Mr. Pickwick took another, just to see whether there was any orange peel in the punch, because orange peel always disagreed with him; and finding that there was not, Mr. Pickwick took another glass to the health of their absent friend, and then felt himself imperatively called upon to propose another in honour of the punch-compounder, unknown.
This constant succession of glasses produced considerable effect upon Mr. Pickwick; his countenance beamed with the most sunny smiles, laughter played around his lips, and good-humoured merriment twinkled in his eye. Yielding by degrees to the influence of the exciting liquid, rendered more so by the heat, Mr. Pickwick expressed a strong desire to recollect a song which he had heard in his infancy, and the attempt proving abortive, sought to stimulate his memory with more glasses of punch, which appeared to have quite a contrary effect; for, from forgetting the words of the song, he began to forget how to articulate any words at all; and finally, after rising to his legs to address the company in an eloquent speech, he fell into the barrow, and fast asleep, simultaneously.
The basket having been repacked, and it being found perfectly impossible to awaken Mr. Pickwick from his torpor, some discussion took place whether it would be better for Mr. Weller to wheel his master back again, or to leave him where he was, until they should all be ready to return. The latter course was at length decided on; and as the further expedition was not to exceed an hour's duration, and as Mr. Weller begged very hard to be one of the party, it was determined to leave Mr. Pickwick asleep in the barrow, and to call for him on their return. So away they went, leaving Mr. Pickwick snoring most comfortably in the shade.
That Mr. Pickwick would have continued to snore in the shade until his friends came back, or, in default thereof, until the shades of evening had fallen on the landscape, there appears no reasonable cause to doubt; always supposing that he had been suffered to remain there in peace. But he was NOT suffered to remain there in peace. And this was what prevented him.
Captain Boldwig was a little fierce man in a stiff black neckerchief and blue surtout, who, when he did condescend to walk about his property, did it in company with a thick rattan stick with a brass ferrule, and a gardener and sub-gardener with meek faces, to whom (the gardeners, not the stick) Captain Boldwig gave his orders with all due grandeur and ferocity; for Captain Boldwig's wife's sister had married a marquis, and the captain's house was a villa, and his land 'grounds,' and it was all very high, and mighty, and great.
Mr. Pickwick had not been asleep half an hour when little Captain Boldwig, followed by the two gardeners, came striding along as fast as his size and importance would let him; and when he came near the oak tree, Captain Boldwig paused and drew a long breath, and looked at the prospect as if he thought the prospect ought to be highly gratified at having him to take notice of it; and then he struck the ground emphatically with his stick, and summoned the head-gardener.
'Hunt,' said Captain Boldwig.
'Yes, Sir,' said the gardener.
'Roll this place to-morrow morning—do you hear, Hunt?'
'And take care that you keep this place in good order—do you hear, Hunt?'
'And remind me to have a board done about trespassers, and spring guns, and all that sort of thing, to keep the common people out. Do you hear, Hunt; do you hear?'
'I'll not forget it, Sir.'
'I beg your pardon, Sir,' said the other man, advancing, with his hand to his hat.
'Well, Wilkins, what's the matter with you?' said Captain Boldwig.
'I beg your pardon, sir—but I think there have been trespassers here to-day.'
'Ha!' said the captain, scowling around him.
'Yes, sir—they have been dining here, I think, sir.'
'Why, damn their audacity, so they have,' said Captain Boldwig, as the crumbs and fragments that were strewn upon the grass met his eye. 'They have actually been devouring their food here. I wish I had the vagabonds here!' said the captain, clenching the thick stick.
'I wish I had the vagabonds here,' said the captain wrathfully.
'Beg your pardon, sir,' said Wilkins, 'but—'
'But what? Eh?' roared the captain; and following the timid glance of Wilkins, his eyes encountered the wheel-barrow and Mr. Pickwick.
'Who are you, you rascal?' said the captain, administering several pokes to Mr. Pickwick's body with the thick stick. 'What's your name?'
'Cold punch,' murmured Mr. Pickwick, as he sank to sleep again.
'What?' demanded Captain Boldwig.
'What did he say his name was?' asked the captain.
'Punch, I think, sir,' replied Wilkins.
'That's his impudence—that's his confounded impudence,' said Captain Boldwig. 'He's only feigning to be asleep now,' said the captain, in a high passion. 'He's drunk; he's a drunken plebeian. Wheel him away, Wilkins, wheel him away directly.' 'Where shall I wheel him to, sir?' inquired Wilkins, with great timidity.
'Wheel him to the devil,' replied Captain Boldwig.
'Very well, sir,' said Wilkins.
'Stay,' said the captain.
Wilkins stopped accordingly.
'Wheel him,' said the captain—'wheel him to the pound; and let us see whether he calls himself Punch when he comes to himself. He shall not bully me—he shall not bully me. Wheel him away.'
Away Mr. Pickwick was wheeled in compliance with this imperious mandate; and the great Captain Boldwig, swelling with indignation, proceeded on his walk.
Inexpressible was the astonishment of the little party when they returned, to find that Mr. Pickwick had disappeared, and taken the wheel-barrow with him. It was the most mysterious and unaccountable thing that was ever heard of For a lame man to have got upon his legs without any previous notice, and walked off, would have been most extraordinary; but when it came to his wheeling a heavy barrow before him, by way of amusement, it grew positively miraculous. They searched every nook and corner round, together and separately; they shouted, whistled, laughed, called—and all with the same result. Mr. Pickwick was not to be found. After some hours of fruitless search, they arrived at the unwelcome conclusion that they must go home without him.
Meanwhile Mr. Pickwick had been wheeled to the pound, and safely deposited therein, fast asleep in the wheel-barrow, to the immeasurable delight and satisfaction not only of all the boys in the village, but three-fourths of the whole population, who had gathered round, in expectation of his waking. If their most intense gratification had been awakened by seeing him wheeled in, how many hundredfold was their joy increased when, after a few indistinct cries of 'Sam!' he sat up in the barrow, and gazed with indescribable astonishment on the faces before him.
A general shout was of course the signal of his having woke up; and his involuntary inquiry of 'What's the matter?' occasioned another, louder than the first, if possible.
'Here's a game!' roared the populace.
'Where am I?' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick.
'In the pound,' replied the mob.
'How came I here? What was I doing? Where was I brought from?' 'Boldwig! Captain Boldwig!' was the only reply.
'Let me out,' cried Mr. Pickwick. 'Where's my servant? Where are my friends?'
'You ain't got no friends. Hurrah!' Then there came a turnip, then a potato, and then an egg; with a few other little tokens of the playful disposition of the many-headed.
How long this scene might have lasted, or how much Mr. Pickwick might have suffered, no one can tell, had not a carriage, which was driving swiftly by, suddenly pulled up, from whence there descended old Wardle and Sam Weller, the former of whom, in far less time than it takes to write it, if not to read it, had made his way to Mr. Pickwick's side, and placed him in the vehicle, just as the latter had concluded the third and last round of a single combat with the town-beadle.
'Run to the justice's!' cried a dozen voices.
'Ah, run avay,' said Mr. Weller, jumping up on the box. 'Give my compliments—Mr. Veller's compliments—to the justice, and tell him I've spiled his beadle, and that, if he'll swear in a new 'un, I'll come back again to-morrow and spile him. Drive on, old feller.'
'I'll give directions for the commencement of an action for false imprisonment against this Captain Boldwig, directly I get to London,' said Mr. Pickwick, as soon as the carriage turned out of the town.
'We were trespassing, it seems,' said Wardle.
'I don't care,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I'll bring the action.'
'No, you won't,' said Wardle.
'I will, by—' But as there was a humorous expression in Wardle's face, Mr. Pickwick checked himself, and said, 'Why not?'
'Because,' said old Wardle, half-bursting with laughter, 'because they might turn on some of us, and say we had taken too much cold punch.'
Do what he would, a smile would come into Mr. Pickwick's face; the smile extended into a laugh; the laugh into a roar; the roar became general. So, to keep up their good-humour, they stopped at the first roadside tavern they came to, and ordered a glass of brandy-and-water all round, with a magnum of extra strength for Mr. Samuel Weller.
CHAPTER XX. SHOWING HOW DODSON AND FOGG WERE MEN OF BUSINESS, AND THEIR CLERKS MEN OF PLEASURE; AND HOW AN AFFECTING INTERVIEW TOOK PLACE BETWEEN Mr. WELLER AND HIS LONG-LOST PARENT; SHOWING ALSO WHAT CHOICE SPIRITS ASSEMBLED AT THE MAGPIE AND STUMP, AND WHAT A CAPITAL CHAPTER THE NEXT ONE WILL BE
In the ground-floor front of a dingy house, at the very farthest end of Freeman's Court, Cornhill, sat the four clerks of Messrs. Dodson & Fogg, two of his Majesty's attorneys of the courts of King's Bench and Common Pleas at Westminster, and solicitors of the High Court of Chancery—the aforesaid clerks catching as favourable glimpses of heaven's light and heaven's sun, in the course of their daily labours, as a man might hope to do, were he placed at the bottom of a reasonably deep well; and without the opportunity of perceiving the stars in the day-time, which the latter secluded situation affords.
The clerks' office of Messrs. Dodson & Fogg was a dark, mouldy, earthy-smelling room, with a high wainscotted partition to screen the clerks from the vulgar gaze, a couple of old wooden chairs, a very loud-ticking clock, an almanac, an umbrella-stand, a row of hat-pegs, and a few shelves, on which were deposited several ticketed bundles of dirty papers, some old deal boxes with paper labels, and sundry decayed stone ink bottles of various shapes and sizes. There was a glass door leading into the passage which formed the entrance to the court, and on the outer side of this glass door, Mr. Pickwick, closely followed by Sam Weller, presented himself on the Friday morning succeeding the occurrence of which a faithful narration is given in the last chapter.
'Come in, can't you!' cried a voice from behind the partition, in reply to Mr. Pickwick's gentle tap at the door. And Mr. Pickwick and Sam entered accordingly.
'Mr. Dodson or Mr. Fogg at home, sir?' inquired Mr. Pickwick, gently, advancing, hat in hand, towards the partition.
'Mr. Dodson ain't at home, and Mr. Fogg's particularly engaged,' replied the voice; and at the same time the head to which the voice belonged, with a pen behind its ear, looked over the partition, and at Mr. Pickwick.
It was a ragged head, the sandy hair of which, scrupulously parted on one side, and flattened down with pomatum, was twisted into little semi-circular tails round a flat face ornamented with a pair of small eyes, and garnished with a very dirty shirt collar, and a rusty black stock.
'Mr. Dodson ain't at home, and Mr. Fogg's particularly engaged,' said the man to whom the head belonged.
'When will Mr. Dodson be back, sir?' inquired Mr. Pickwick. 'Can't say.'
'Will it be long before Mr. Fogg is disengaged, Sir?'
Here the man proceeded to mend his pen with great deliberation, while another clerk, who was mixing a Seidlitz powder, under cover of the lid of his desk, laughed approvingly.
'I think I'll wait,' said Mr. Pickwick. There was no reply; so Mr. Pickwick sat down unbidden, and listened to the loud ticking of the clock and the murmured conversation of the clerks.
'That was a game, wasn't it?' said one of the gentlemen, in a brown coat and brass buttons, inky drabs, and bluchers, at the conclusion of some inaudible relation of his previous evening's adventures.
'Devilish good—devilish good,' said the Seidlitz-powder man. 'Tom Cummins was in the chair,' said the man with the brown coat. 'It was half-past four when I got to Somers Town, and then I was so uncommon lushy, that I couldn't find the place where the latch-key went in, and was obliged to knock up the old 'ooman. I say, I wonder what old Fogg 'ud say, if he knew it. I should get the sack, I s'pose—eh?'
At this humorous notion, all the clerks laughed in concert.
'There was such a game with Fogg here, this mornin',' said the man in the brown coat, 'while Jack was upstairs sorting the papers, and you two were gone to the stamp-office. Fogg was down here, opening the letters when that chap as we issued the writ against at Camberwell, you know, came in—what's his name again?'
'Ramsey,' said the clerk who had spoken to Mr. Pickwick.
'Ah, Ramsey—a precious seedy-looking customer. "Well, sir," says old Fogg, looking at him very fierce—you know his way—"well, Sir, have you come to settle?" "Yes, I have, sir," said Ramsey, putting his hand in his pocket, and bringing out the money, "the debt's two pound ten, and the costs three pound five, and here it is, Sir;" and he sighed like bricks, as he lugged out the money, done up in a bit of blotting-paper. Old Fogg looked first at the money, and then at him, and then he coughed in his rum way, so that I knew something was coming. "You don't know there's a declaration filed, which increases the costs materially, I suppose," said Fogg. "You don't say that, sir," said Ramsey, starting back; "the time was only out last night, Sir." "I do say it, though," said Fogg, "my clerk's just gone to file it. Hasn't Mr. Jackson gone to file that declaration in Bullman and Ramsey, Mr. Wicks?" Of course I said yes, and then Fogg coughed again, and looked at Ramsey. "My God!" said Ramsey; "and here have I nearly driven myself mad, scraping this money together, and all to no purpose." "None at all," said Fogg coolly; "so you had better go back and scrape some more together, and bring it here in time." "I can't get it, by God!" said Ramsey, striking the desk with his fist. "Don't bully me, sir," said Fogg, getting into a passion on purpose. "I am not bullying you, sir," said Ramsey. "You are," said Fogg; "get out, sir; get out of this office, Sir, and come back, Sir, when you know how to behave yourself." Well, Ramsey tried to speak, but Fogg wouldn't let him, so he put the money in his pocket, and sneaked out. The door was scarcely shut, when old Fogg turned round to me, with a sweet smile on his face, and drew the declaration out of his coat pocket. "Here, Wicks," says Fogg, "take a cab, and go down to the Temple as quick as you can, and file that. The costs are quite safe, for he's a steady man with a large family, at a salary of five-and-twenty shillings a week, and if he gives us a warrant of attorney, as he must in the end, I know his employers will see it paid; so we may as well get all we can get out of him, Mr. Wicks; it's a Christian act to do it, Mr. Wicks, for with his large family and small income, he'll be all the better for a good lesson against getting into debt—won't he, Mr. Wicks, won't he?"—and he smiled so good-naturedly as he went away, that it was delightful to see him. He is a capital man of business,' said Wicks, in a tone of the deepest admiration, 'capital, isn't he?'
The other three cordially subscribed to this opinion, and the anecdote afforded the most unlimited satisfaction.
'Nice men these here, Sir,' whispered Mr. Weller to his master; 'wery nice notion of fun they has, Sir.'
Mr. Pickwick nodded assent, and coughed to attract the attention of the young gentlemen behind the partition, who, having now relaxed their minds by a little conversation among themselves, condescended to take some notice of the stranger.
'I wonder whether Fogg's disengaged now?' said Jackson.
'I'll see,' said Wicks, dismounting leisurely from his stool. 'What name shall I tell Mr. Fogg?'
'Pickwick,' replied the illustrious subject of these memoirs.
Mr. Jackson departed upstairs on his errand, and immediately returned with a message that Mr. Fogg would see Mr. Pickwick in five minutes; and having delivered it, returned again to his desk.
'What did he say his name was?' whispered Wicks.
'Pickwick,' replied Jackson; 'it's the defendant in Bardell and Pickwick.'
A sudden scraping of feet, mingled with the sound of suppressed laughter, was heard from behind the partition.
'They're a-twiggin' of you, Sir,' whispered Mr. Weller.
'Twigging of me, Sam!' replied Mr. Pickwick; 'what do you mean by twigging me?'
Mr. Weller replied by pointing with his thumb over his shoulder, and Mr. Pickwick, on looking up, became sensible of the pleasing fact, that all the four clerks, with countenances expressive of the utmost amusement, and with their heads thrust over the wooden screen, were minutely inspecting the figure and general appearance of the supposed trifler with female hearts, and disturber of female happiness. On his looking up, the row of heads suddenly disappeared, and the sound of pens travelling at a furious rate over paper, immediately succeeded.
A sudden ring at the bell which hung in the office, summoned Mr. Jackson to the apartment of Fogg, from whence he came back to say that he (Fogg) was ready to see Mr. Pickwick if he would step upstairs. Upstairs Mr. Pickwick did step accordingly, leaving Sam Weller below. The room door of the one-pair back, bore inscribed in legible characters the imposing words, 'Mr. Fogg'; and, having tapped thereat, and been desired to come in, Jackson ushered Mr. Pickwick into the presence.
'Is Mr. Dodson in?' inquired Mr. Fogg.
'Just come in, Sir,' replied Jackson.
'Ask him to step here.'
'Yes, sir.' Exit Jackson.
'Take a seat, sir,' said Fogg; 'there is the paper, sir; my partner will be here directly, and we can converse about this matter, sir.'
Mr. Pickwick took a seat and the paper, but, instead of reading the latter, peeped over the top of it, and took a survey of the man of business, who was an elderly, pimply-faced, vegetable-diet sort of man, in a black coat, dark mixture trousers, and small black gaiters; a kind of being who seemed to be an essential part of the desk at which he was writing, and to have as much thought or feeling.
After a few minutes' silence, Mr. Dodson, a plump, portly, stern-looking man, with a loud voice, appeared; and the conversation commenced.
'This is Mr. Pickwick,' said Fogg.
'Ah! You are the defendant, Sir, in Bardell and Pickwick?' said Dodson.
'I am, sir,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
'Well, sir,' said Dodson, 'and what do you propose?'
'Ah!' said Fogg, thrusting his hands into his trousers' pockets, and throwing himself back in his chair, 'what do you propose, Mr Pickwick?'
'Hush, Fogg,' said Dodson, 'let me hear what Mr. Pickwick has to say.'
'I came, gentlemen,' said Mr. Pickwick, gazing placidly on the two partners, 'I came here, gentlemen, to express the surprise with which I received your letter of the other day, and to inquire what grounds of action you can have against me.'
'Grounds of—' Fogg had ejaculated this much, when he was stopped by Dodson.
'Mr. Fogg,' said Dodson, 'I am going to speak.' 'I beg your pardon, Mr. Dodson,' said Fogg.
'For the grounds of action, sir,' continued Dodson, with moral elevation in his air, 'you will consult your own conscience and your own feelings. We, Sir, we, are guided entirely by the statement of our client. That statement, Sir, may be true, or it may be false; it may be credible, or it may be incredible; but, if it be true, and if it be credible, I do not hesitate to say, Sir, that our grounds of action, Sir, are strong, and not to be shaken. You may be an unfortunate man, Sir, or you may be a designing one; but if I were called upon, as a juryman upon my oath, Sir, to express an opinion of your conduct, Sir, I do not hesitate to assert that I should have but one opinion about it.' Here Dodson drew himself up, with an air of offended virtue, and looked at Fogg, who thrust his hands farther in his pockets, and nodding his head sagely, said, in a tone of the fullest concurrence, 'Most certainly.'
'Well, Sir,' said Mr. Pickwick, with considerable pain depicted in his countenance, 'you will permit me to assure you that I am a most unfortunate man, so far as this case is concerned.'
'I hope you are, Sir,' replied Dodson; 'I trust you may be, Sir. If you are really innocent of what is laid to your charge, you are more unfortunate than I had believed any man could possibly be. What do you say, Mr. Fogg?'
'I say precisely what you say,' replied Fogg, with a smile of incredulity.
'The writ, Sir, which commences the action,' continued Dodson, 'was issued regularly. Mr. Fogg, where is the PRAECIPE book?'
'Here it is,' said Fogg, handing over a square book, with a parchment cover.
'Here is the entry,' resumed Dodson. '"Middlesex, Capias MARTHA BARDELL, WIDOW, v. SAMUEL PICKWICK. Damages #1500. Dodson & Fogg for the plaintiff, Aug. 28, 1827." All regular, Sir; perfectly.' Dodson coughed and looked at Fogg, who said 'Perfectly,' also. And then they both looked at Mr. Pickwick.
'I am to understand, then,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'that it really is your intention to proceed with this action?'
'Understand, sir!—that you certainly may,' replied Dodson, with something as near a smile as his importance would allow.
'And that the damages are actually laid at fifteen hundred pounds?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'To which understanding you may add my assurance, that if we could have prevailed upon our client, they would have been laid at treble the amount, sir,' replied Dodson. 'I believe Mrs. Bardell specially said, however,' observed Fogg, glancing at Dodson, 'that she would not compromise for a farthing less.'
'Unquestionably,' replied Dodson sternly. For the action was only just begun; and it wouldn't have done to let Mr. Pickwick compromise it then, even if he had been so disposed.
'As you offer no terms, sir,' said Dodson, displaying a slip of parchment in his right hand, and affectionately pressing a paper copy of it, on Mr. Pickwick with his left, 'I had better serve you with a copy of this writ, sir. Here is the original, sir.'
'Very well, gentlemen, very well,' said Mr. Pickwick, rising in person and wrath at the same time; 'you shall hear from my solicitor, gentlemen.'
'We shall be very happy to do so,' said Fogg, rubbing his hands.
'Very,' said Dodson, opening the door.
'And before I go, gentlemen,' said the excited Mr. Pickwick, turning round on the landing, 'permit me to say, that of all the disgraceful and rascally proceedings—'
'Stay, sir, stay,' interposed Dodson, with great politeness. 'Mr. Jackson! Mr. Wicks!'
'Sir,' said the two clerks, appearing at the bottom of the stairs.
'I merely want you to hear what this gentleman says,' replied Dodson. 'Pray, go on, sir—disgraceful and rascally proceedings, I think you said?'
'I did,' said Mr. Pickwick, thoroughly roused. 'I said, Sir, that of all the disgraceful and rascally proceedings that ever were attempted, this is the most so. I repeat it, sir.'
'You hear that, Mr. Wicks,' said Dodson.
'You won't forget these expressions, Mr. Jackson?' said Fogg.
'Perhaps you would like to call us swindlers, sir,' said Dodson. 'Pray do, Sir, if you feel disposed; now pray do, Sir.'
'I do,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'You ARE swindlers.'
'Very good,' said Dodson. 'You can hear down there, I hope, Mr. Wicks?'
'Oh, yes, Sir,' said Wicks.
'You had better come up a step or two higher, if you can't,' added Mr. Fogg. 'Go on, Sir; do go on. You had better call us thieves, Sir; or perhaps You would like to assault one Of US. Pray do it, Sir, if you would; we will not make the smallest resistance. Pray do it, Sir.'
As Fogg put himself very temptingly within the reach of Mr. Pickwick's clenched fist, there is little doubt that that gentleman would have complied with his earnest entreaty, but for the interposition of Sam, who, hearing the dispute, emerged from the office, mounted the stairs, and seized his master by the arm.
'You just come away,' said Mr. Weller. 'Battledore and shuttlecock's a wery good game, vhen you ain't the shuttlecock and two lawyers the battledores, in which case it gets too excitin' to be pleasant. Come avay, Sir. If you want to ease your mind by blowing up somebody, come out into the court and blow up me; but it's rayther too expensive work to be carried on here.'
And without the slightest ceremony, Mr. Weller hauled his master down the stairs, and down the court, and having safely deposited him in Cornhill, fell behind, prepared to follow whithersoever he should lead.
Mr. Pickwick walked on abstractedly, crossed opposite the Mansion House, and bent his steps up Cheapside. Sam began to wonder where they were going, when his master turned round, and said—
'Sam, I will go immediately to Mr. Perker's.'
'That's just exactly the wery place vere you ought to have gone last night, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller.
'I think it is, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'I KNOW it is,' said Mr. Weller.
'Well, well, Sam,' replied Mr. Pickwick, 'we will go there at once; but first, as I have been rather ruffled, I should like a glass of brandy-and-water warm, Sam. Where can I have it, Sam?'
Mr. Weller's knowledge of London was extensive and peculiar. He replied, without the slightest consideration—
'Second court on the right hand side—last house but vun on the same side the vay—take the box as stands in the first fireplace, 'cos there ain't no leg in the middle o' the table, which all the others has, and it's wery inconvenient.'
Mr. Pickwick observed his valet's directions implicitly, and bidding Sam follow him, entered the tavern he had pointed out, where the hot brandy-and-water was speedily placed before him; while Mr. Weller, seated at a respectful distance, though at the same table with his master, was accommodated with a pint of porter.
The room was one of a very homely description, and was apparently under the especial patronage of stage-coachmen; for several gentleman, who had all the appearance of belonging to that learned profession, were drinking and smoking in the different boxes. Among the number was one stout, red-faced, elderly man, in particular, seated in an opposite box, who attracted Mr. Pickwick's attention. The stout man was smoking with great vehemence, but between every half-dozen puffs, he took his pipe from his mouth, and looked first at Mr. Weller and then at Mr. Pickwick. Then, he would bury in a quart pot, as much of his countenance as the dimensions of the quart pot admitted of its receiving, and take another look at Sam and Mr. Pickwick. Then he would take another half-dozen puffs with an air of profound meditation and look at them again. At last the stout man, putting up his legs on the seat, and leaning his back against the wall, began to puff at his pipe without leaving off at all, and to stare through the smoke at the new-comers, as if he had made up his mind to see the most he could of them.
At first the evolutions of the stout man had escaped Mr. Weller's observation, but by degrees, as he saw Mr. Pickwick's eyes every now and then turning towards him, he began to gaze in the same direction, at the same time shading his eyes with his hand, as if he partially recognised the object before him, and wished to make quite sure of its identity. His doubts were speedily dispelled, however; for the stout man having blown a thick cloud from his pipe, a hoarse voice, like some strange effort of ventriloquism, emerged from beneath the capacious shawls which muffled his throat and chest, and slowly uttered these sounds—'Wy, Sammy!'
'Who's that, Sam?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'Why, I wouldn't ha' believed it, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller, with astonished eyes. 'It's the old 'un.'
'Old one,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'What old one?'
'My father, sir,' replied Mr. Weller. 'How are you, my ancient?' And with this beautiful ebullition of filial affection, Mr. Weller made room on the seat beside him, for the stout man, who advanced pipe in mouth and pot in hand, to greet him.
'Wy, Sammy,' said the father, 'I ha'n't seen you, for two year and better.'
'Nor more you have, old codger,' replied the son. 'How's mother-in-law?'
'Wy, I'll tell you what, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller, senior, with much solemnity in his manner; 'there never was a nicer woman as a widder, than that 'ere second wentur o' mine—a sweet creetur she was, Sammy; all I can say on her now, is, that as she was such an uncommon pleasant widder, it's a great pity she ever changed her condition. She don't act as a vife, Sammy.' 'Don't she, though?' inquired Mr. Weller, junior.
The elder Mr. Weller shook his head, as he replied with a sigh, 'I've done it once too often, Sammy; I've done it once too often. Take example by your father, my boy, and be wery careful o' widders all your life, 'specially if they've kept a public-house, Sammy.' Having delivered this parental advice with great pathos, Mr. Weller, senior, refilled his pipe from a tin box he carried in his pocket; and, lighting his fresh pipe from the ashes of the old One, commenced smoking at a great rate.
'Beg your pardon, sir,' he said, renewing the subject, and addressing Mr. Pickwick, after a considerable pause, 'nothin' personal, I hope, sir; I hope you ha'n't got a widder, sir.'
'Not I,' replied Mr. Pickwick, laughing; and while Mr. Pickwick laughed, Sam Weller informed his parent in a whisper, of the relation in which he stood towards that gentleman.
'Beg your pardon, sir,' said Mr. Weller, senior, taking off his hat, 'I hope you've no fault to find with Sammy, Sir?'
'None whatever,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Wery glad to hear it, sir,' replied the old man; 'I took a good deal o' pains with his eddication, sir; let him run in the streets when he was wery young, and shift for hisself. It's the only way to make a boy sharp, sir.'
'Rather a dangerous process, I should imagine,' said Mr. Pickwick, with a smile.
'And not a wery sure one, neither,' added Mr. Weller; 'I got reg'larly done the other day.'
'No!' said his father.
'I did,' said the son; and he proceeded to relate, in as few words as possible, how he had fallen a ready dupe to the stratagems of Job Trotter.
Mr. Weller, senior, listened to the tale with the most profound attention, and, at its termination, said—
'Worn't one o' these chaps slim and tall, with long hair, and the gift o' the gab wery gallopin'?'
Mr. Pickwick did not quite understand the last item of description, but, comprehending the first, said 'Yes,' at a venture.
'T' other's a black-haired chap in mulberry livery, with a wery large head?'
'Yes, yes, he is,' said Mr. Pickwick and Sam, with great earnestness. 'Then I know where they are, and that's all about it,' said Mr. Weller; 'they're at Ipswich, safe enough, them two.'
'No!' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Fact,' said Mr. Weller, 'and I'll tell you how I know it. I work an Ipswich coach now and then for a friend o' mine. I worked down the wery day arter the night as you caught the rheumatic, and at the Black Boy at Chelmsford—the wery place they'd come to—I took 'em up, right through to Ipswich, where the man-servant—him in the mulberries—told me they was a-goin' to put up for a long time.'
'I'll follow him,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'we may as well see Ipswich as any other place. I'll follow him.'
'You're quite certain it was them, governor?' inquired Mr. Weller, junior.
'Quite, Sammy, quite,' replied his father, 'for their appearance is wery sing'ler; besides that 'ere, I wondered to see the gen'l'm'n so formiliar with his servant; and, more than that, as they sat in the front, right behind the box, I heerd 'em laughing and saying how they'd done old Fireworks.'
'Old who?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Old Fireworks, Sir; by which, I've no doubt, they meant you, Sir.' There is nothing positively vile or atrocious in the appellation of 'old Fireworks,' but still it is by no means a respectful or flattering designation. The recollection of all the wrongs he had sustained at Jingle's hands, had crowded on Mr. Pickwick's mind, the moment Mr. Weller began to speak; it wanted but a feather to turn the scale, and 'old Fireworks' did it.
'I'll follow him,' said Mr. Pickwick, with an emphatic blow on the table.
'I shall work down to Ipswich the day arter to-morrow, Sir,' said Mr. Weller the elder, 'from the Bull in Whitechapel; and if you really mean to go, you'd better go with me.'
'So we had,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'very true; I can write to Bury, and tell them to meet me at Ipswich. We will go with you. But don't hurry away, Mr. Weller; won't you take anything?'
'You're wery good, Sir,' replied Mr. W., stopping short;—'perhaps a small glass of brandy to drink your health, and success to Sammy, Sir, wouldn't be amiss.'
'Certainly not,' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'A glass of brandy here!' The brandy was brought; and Mr. Weller, after pulling his hair to Mr. Pickwick, and nodding to Sam, jerked it down his capacious throat as if it had been a small thimbleful. 'Well done, father,' said Sam, 'take care, old fellow, or you'll have a touch of your old complaint, the gout.'
'I've found a sov'rin' cure for that, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller, setting down the glass.
'A sovereign cure for the gout,' said Mr. Pickwick, hastily producing his note-book—'what is it?'
'The gout, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller, 'the gout is a complaint as arises from too much ease and comfort. If ever you're attacked with the gout, sir, jist you marry a widder as has got a good loud woice, with a decent notion of usin' it, and you'll never have the gout agin. It's a capital prescription, sir. I takes it reg'lar, and I can warrant it to drive away any illness as is caused by too much jollity.' Having imparted this valuable secret, Mr. Weller drained his glass once more, produced a laboured wink, sighed deeply, and slowly retired.
'Well, what do you think of what your father says, Sam?' inquired Mr. Pickwick, with a smile.
'Think, Sir!' replied Mr. Weller; 'why, I think he's the wictim o' connubiality, as Blue Beard's domestic chaplain said, vith a tear of pity, ven he buried him.'
There was no replying to this very apposite conclusion, and, therefore, Mr. Pickwick, after settling the reckoning, resumed his walk to Gray's Inn. By the time he reached its secluded groves, however, eight o'clock had struck, and the unbroken stream of gentlemen in muddy high-lows, soiled white hats, and rusty apparel, who were pouring towards the different avenues of egress, warned him that the majority of the offices had closed for that day.
After climbing two pairs of steep and dirty stairs, he found his anticipations were realised. Mr. Perker's 'outer door' was closed; and the dead silence which followed Mr. Weller's repeated kicks thereat, announced that the officials had retired from business for the night.
'This is pleasant, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'I shouldn't lose an hour in seeing him; I shall not be able to get one wink of sleep to-night, I know, unless I have the satisfaction of reflecting that I have confided this matter to a professional man.'
'Here's an old 'ooman comin' upstairs, sir,' replied Mr. Weller; 'p'raps she knows where we can find somebody. Hollo, old lady, vere's Mr. Perker's people?'
'Mr. Perker's people,' said a thin, miserable-looking old woman, stopping to recover breath after the ascent of the staircase—'Mr. Perker's people's gone, and I'm a-goin' to do the office out.' 'Are you Mr. Perker's servant?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'I am Mr. Perker's laundress,' replied the woman.
'Ah,' said Mr. Pickwick, half aside to Sam, 'it's a curious circumstance, Sam, that they call the old women in these inns, laundresses. I wonder what's that for?'
''Cos they has a mortal awersion to washing anythin', I suppose, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller.
'I shouldn't wonder,' said Mr. Pickwick, looking at the old woman, whose appearance, as well as the condition of the office, which she had by this time opened, indicated a rooted antipathy to the application of soap and water; 'do you know where I can find Mr. Perker, my good woman?'
'No, I don't,' replied the old woman gruffly; 'he's out o' town now.'
'That's unfortunate,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'where's his clerk? Do you know?'
'Yes, I know where he is, but he won't thank me for telling you,' replied the laundress.
'I have very particular business with him,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Won't it do in the morning?' said the woman.
'Not so well,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
'Well,' said the old woman, 'if it was anything very particular, I was to say where he was, so I suppose there's no harm in telling. If you just go to the Magpie and Stump, and ask at the bar for Mr. Lowten, they'll show you in to him, and he's Mr. Perker's clerk.'
With this direction, and having been furthermore informed that the hostelry in question was situated in a court, happy in the double advantage of being in the vicinity of Clare Market, and closely approximating to the back of New Inn, Mr. Pickwick and Sam descended the rickety staircase in safety, and issued forth in quest of the Magpie and Stump.
This favoured tavern, sacred to the evening orgies of Mr. Lowten and his companions, was what ordinary people would designate a public-house. That the landlord was a man of money-making turn was sufficiently testified by the fact of a small bulkhead beneath the tap-room window, in size and shape not unlike a sedan-chair, being underlet to a mender of shoes: and that he was a being of a philanthropic mind was evident from the protection he afforded to a pieman, who vended his delicacies without fear of interruption, on the very door-step. In the lower windows, which were decorated with curtains of a saffron hue, dangled two or three printed cards, bearing reference to Devonshire cider and Dantzic spruce, while a large blackboard, announcing in white letters to an enlightened public, that there were 500,000 barrels of double stout in the cellars of the establishment, left the mind in a state of not unpleasing doubt and uncertainty as to the precise direction in the bowels of the earth, in which this mighty cavern might be supposed to extend. When we add that the weather-beaten signboard bore the half-obliterated semblance of a magpie intently eyeing a crooked streak of brown paint, which the neighbours had been taught from infancy to consider as the 'stump,' we have said all that need be said of the exterior of the edifice.
On Mr. Pickwick's presenting himself at the bar, an elderly female emerged from behind the screen therein, and presented herself before him.
'Is Mr. Lowten here, ma'am?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'Yes, he is, Sir,' replied the landlady. 'Here, Charley, show the gentleman in to Mr. Lowten.'
'The gen'l'm'n can't go in just now,' said a shambling pot-boy, with a red head, 'cos' Mr. Lowten's a-singin' a comic song, and he'll put him out. He'll be done directly, Sir.'
The red-headed pot-boy had scarcely finished speaking, when a most unanimous hammering of tables, and jingling of glasses, announced that the song had that instant terminated; and Mr. Pickwick, after desiring Sam to solace himself in the tap, suffered himself to be conducted into the presence of Mr. Lowten.
At the announcement of 'A gentleman to speak to you, Sir,' a puffy-faced young man, who filled the chair at the head of the table, looked with some surprise in the direction from whence the voice proceeded; and the surprise seemed to be by no means diminished, when his eyes rested on an individual whom he had never seen before.
'I beg your pardon, Sir,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'and I am very sorry to disturb the other gentlemen, too, but I come on very particular business; and if you will suffer me to detain you at this end of the room for five minutes, I shall be very much obliged to you.'
The puffy-faced young man rose, and drawing a chair close to Mr. Pickwick in an obscure corner of the room, listened attentively to his tale of woe.
'Ah,'he said, when Mr. Pickwick had concluded, 'Dodson and Fogg—sharp practice theirs—capital men of business, Dodson and Fogg, sir.'
Mr. Pickwick admitted the sharp practice of Dodson and Fogg, and Lowten resumed. 'Perker ain't in town, and he won't be, neither, before the end of next week; but if you want the action defended, and will leave the copy with me, I can do all that's needful till he comes back.'
'That's exactly what I came here for,' said Mr. Pickwick, handing over the document. 'If anything particular occurs, you can write to me at the post-office, Ipswich.'
'That's all right,' replied Mr. Perker's clerk; and then seeing Mr. Pickwick's eye wandering curiously towards the table, he added, 'will you join us, for half an hour or so? We are capital company here to-night. There's Samkin and Green's managing-clerk, and Smithers and Price's chancery, and Pimkin and Thomas's out o' doors—sings a capital song, he does—and Jack Bamber, and ever so many more. You're come out of the country, I suppose. Would you like to join us?'
Mr. Pickwick could not resist so tempting an opportunity of studying human nature. He suffered himself to be led to the table, where, after having been introduced to the company in due form, he was accommodated with a seat near the chairman and called for a glass of his favourite beverage.
A profound silence, quite contrary to Mr. Pickwick's expectation, succeeded. 'You don't find this sort of thing disagreeable, I hope, sir?' said his right hand neighbour, a gentleman in a checked shirt and Mosaic studs, with a cigar in his mouth.
'Not in the least,' replied Mr. Pickwick; 'I like it very much, although I am no smoker myself.'
'I should be very sorry to say I wasn't,' interposed another gentleman on the opposite side of the table. 'It's board and lodgings to me, is smoke.'
Mr. Pickwick glanced at the speaker, and thought that if it were washing too, it would be all the better.
Here there was another pause. Mr. Pickwick was a stranger, and his coming had evidently cast a damp upon the party.
'Mr. Grundy's going to oblige the company with a song,' said the chairman.
'No, he ain't,' said Mr. Grundy.
'Why not?' said the chairman.
'Because he can't,' said Mr. Grundy. 'You had better say he won't,' replied the chairman.
'Well, then, he won't,' retorted Mr. Grundy. Mr. Grundy's positive refusal to gratify the company occasioned another silence. 'Won't anybody enliven us?' said the chairman, despondingly.
'Why don't you enliven us yourself, Mr. Chairman?' said a young man with a whisker, a squint, and an open shirt collar (dirty), from the bottom of the table.
'Hear! hear!' said the smoking gentleman, in the Mosaic jewellery.
'Because I only know one song, and I have sung it already, and it's a fine of "glasses round" to sing the same song twice in a night,' replied the chairman.
This was an unanswerable reply, and silence prevailed again.
'I have been to-night, gentlemen,' said Mr. Pickwick, hoping to start a subject which all the company could take a part in discussing, 'I have been to-night, in a place which you all know very well, doubtless, but which I have not been in for some years, and know very little of; I mean Gray's Inn, gentlemen. Curious little nooks in a great place, like London, these old inns are.'
'By Jove!' said the chairman, whispering across the table to Mr. Pickwick, 'you have hit upon something that one of us, at least, would talk upon for ever. You'll draw old Jack Bamber out; he was never heard to talk about anything else but the inns, and he has lived alone in them till he's half crazy.'
The individual to whom Lowten alluded, was a little, yellow, high-shouldered man, whose countenance, from his habit of stooping forward when silent, Mr. Pickwick had not observed before. He wondered, though, when the old man raised his shrivelled face, and bent his gray eye upon him, with a keen inquiring look, that such remarkable features could have escaped his attention for a moment. There was a fixed grim smile perpetually on his countenance; he leaned his chin on a long, skinny hand, with nails of extraordinary length; and as he inclined his head to one side, and looked keenly out from beneath his ragged gray eyebrows, there was a strange, wild slyness in his leer, quite repulsive to behold.
This was the figure that now started forward, and burst into an animated torrent of words. As this chapter has been a long one, however, and as the old man was a remarkable personage, it will be more respectful to him, and more convenient to us, to let him speak for himself in a fresh one.
CHAPTER XXI. IN WHICH THE OLD MAN LAUNCHES FORTH INTO HIS FAVOURITE THEME, AND RELATES A STORY ABOUT A QUEER CLIENT
Aha!' said the old man, a brief description of whose manner and appearance concluded the last chapter, 'aha! who was talking about the inns?'
'I was, Sir,' replied Mr. Pickwick—'I was observing what singular old places they are.'
'YOU!' said the old man contemptuously. 'What do YOU know of the time when young men shut themselves up in those lonely rooms, and read and read, hour after hour, and night after night, till their reason wandered beneath their midnight studies; till their mental powers were exhausted; till morning's light brought no freshness or health to them; and they sank beneath the unnatural devotion of their youthful energies to their dry old books? Coming down to a later time, and a very different day, what do YOU know of the gradual sinking beneath consumption, or the quick wasting of fever—the grand results of "life" and dissipation—which men have undergone in these same rooms? How many vain pleaders for mercy, do you think, have turned away heart-sick from the lawyer's office, to find a resting-place in the Thames, or a refuge in the jail? They are no ordinary houses, those. There is not a panel in the old wainscotting, but what, if it were endowed with the powers of speech and memory, could start from the wall, and tell its tale of horror—the romance of life, Sir, the romance of life! Common-place as they may seem now, I tell you they are strange old places, and I would rather hear many a legend with a terrific-sounding name, than the true history of one old set of chambers.'
There was something so odd in the old man's sudden energy, and the subject which had called it forth, that Mr. Pickwick was prepared with no observation in reply; and the old man checking his impetuosity, and resuming the leer, which had disappeared during his previous excitement, said—
'Look at them in another light—their most common-place and least romantic. What fine places of slow torture they are! Think of the needy man who has spent his all, beggared himself, and pinched his friends, to enter the profession, which is destined never to yield him a morsel of bread. The waiting—the hope—the disappointment—the fear—the misery—the poverty—the blight on his hopes, and end to his career—the suicide perhaps, or the shabby, slipshod drunkard. Am I not right about them?' And the old man rubbed his hands, and leered as if in delight at having found another point of view in which to place his favourite subject.
Mr. Pickwick eyed the old man with great curiosity, and the remainder of the company smiled, and looked on in silence.
'Talk of your German universities,' said the little old man. 'Pooh, pooh! there's romance enough at home without going half a mile for it; only people never think of it.'
'I never thought of the romance of this particular subject before, certainly,' said Mr. Pickwick, laughing. 'To be sure you didn't,' said the little old man; 'of course not. As a friend of mine used to say to me, "What is there in chambers in particular?" "Queer old places," said I. "Not at all," said he. "Lonely," said I. "Not a bit of it," said he. He died one morning of apoplexy, as he was going to open his outer door. Fell with his head in his own letter-box, and there he lay for eighteen months. Everybody thought he'd gone out of town.'
'And how was he found out at last?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'The benchers determined to have his door broken open, as he hadn't paid any rent for two years. So they did. Forced the lock; and a very dusty skeleton in a blue coat, black knee-shorts, and silks, fell forward in the arms of the porter who opened the door. Queer, that. Rather, perhaps; rather, eh?'The little old man put his head more on one side, and rubbed his hands with unspeakable glee.
'I know another case,' said the little old man, when his chuckles had in some degree subsided. 'It occurred in Clifford's Inn. Tenant of a top set—bad character—shut himself up in his bedroom closet, and took a dose of arsenic. The steward thought he had run away: opened the door, and put a bill up. Another man came, took the chambers, furnished them, and went to live there. Somehow or other he couldn't sleep—always restless and uncomfortable. "Odd," says he. "I'll make the other room my bedchamber, and this my sitting-room." He made the change, and slept very well at night, but suddenly found that, somehow, he couldn't read in the evening: he got nervous and uncomfortable, and used to be always snuffing his candles and staring about him. "I can't make this out," said he, when he came home from the play one night, and was drinking a glass of cold grog, with his back to the wall, in order that he mightn't be able to fancy there was any one behind him—"I can't make it out," said he; and just then his eyes rested on the little closet that had been always locked up, and a shudder ran through his whole frame from top to toe. "I have felt this strange feeling before," said he, "I cannot help thinking there's something wrong about that closet." He made a strong effort, plucked up his courage, shivered the lock with a blow or two of the poker, opened the door, and there, sure enough, standing bolt upright in the corner, was the last tenant, with a little bottle clasped firmly in his hand, and his face—well!' As the little old man concluded, he looked round on the attentive faces of his wondering auditory with a smile of grim delight.
'What strange things these are you tell us of, Sir,' said Mr. Pickwick, minutely scanning the old man's countenance, by the aid of his glasses.
'Strange!' said the little old man. 'Nonsense; you think them strange, because you know nothing about it. They are funny, but not uncommon.'
'Funny!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick involuntarily. 'Yes, funny, are they not?' replied the little old man, with a diabolical leer; and then, without pausing for an answer, he continued—
'I knew another man—let me see—forty years ago now—who took an old, damp, rotten set of chambers, in one of the most ancient inns, that had been shut up and empty for years and years before. There were lots of old women's stories about the place, and it certainly was very far from being a cheerful one; but he was poor, and the rooms were cheap, and that would have been quite a sufficient reason for him, if they had been ten times worse than they really were. He was obliged to take some mouldering fixtures that were on the place, and, among the rest, was a great lumbering wooden press for papers, with large glass doors, and a green curtain inside; a pretty useless thing for him, for he had no papers to put in it; and as to his clothes, he carried them about with him, and that wasn't very hard work, either. Well, he had moved in all his furniture—it wasn't quite a truck-full—and had sprinkled it about the room, so as to make the four chairs look as much like a dozen as possible, and was sitting down before the fire at night, drinking the first glass of two gallons of whisky he had ordered on credit, wondering whether it would ever be paid for, and if so, in how many years' time, when his eyes encountered the glass doors of the wooden press. "Ah," says he, "if I hadn't been obliged to take that ugly article at the old broker's valuation, I might have got something comfortable for the money. I'll tell you what it is, old fellow," he said, speaking aloud to the press, having nothing else to speak to, "if it wouldn't cost more to break up your old carcass, than it would ever be worth afterward, I'd have a fire out of you in less than no time." He had hardly spoken the words, when a sound resembling a faint groan, appeared to issue from the interior of the case. It startled him at first, but thinking, on a moment's reflection, that it must be some young fellow in the next chamber, who had been dining out, he put his feet on the fender, and raised the poker to stir the fire. At that moment, the sound was repeated; and one of the glass doors slowly opening, disclosed a pale and emaciated figure in soiled and worn apparel, standing erect in the press. The figure was tall and thin, and the countenance expressive of care and anxiety; but there was something in the hue of the skin, and gaunt and unearthly appearance of the whole form, which no being of this world was ever seen to wear. "Who are you?" said the new tenant, turning very pale; poising the poker in his hand, however, and taking a very decent aim at the countenance of the figure. "Who are you?" "Don't throw that poker at me," replied the form; "if you hurled it with ever so sure an aim, it would pass through me, without resistance, and expend its force on the wood behind. I am a spirit." "And pray, what do you want here?" faltered the tenant. "In this room," replied the apparition, "my worldly ruin was worked, and I and my children beggared. In this press, the papers in a long, long suit, which accumulated for years, were deposited. In this room, when I had died of grief, and long-deferred hope, two wily harpies divided the wealth for which I had contested during a wretched existence, and of which, at last, not one farthing was left for my unhappy descendants. I terrified them from the spot, and since that day have prowled by night—the only period at which I can revisit the earth—about the scenes of my long-protracted misery. This apartment is mine: leave it to me." "If you insist upon making your appearance here," said the tenant, who had had time to collect his presence of mind during this prosy statement of the ghost's, "I shall give up possession with the greatest pleasure; but I should like to ask you one question, if you will allow me." "Say on," said the apparition sternly. "Well," said the tenant, "I don't apply the observation personally to you, because it is equally applicable to most of the ghosts I ever heard of; but it does appear to me somewhat inconsistent, that when you have an opportunity of visiting the fairest spots of earth—for I suppose space is nothing to you—you should always return exactly to the very places where you have been most miserable." "Egad, that's very true; I never thought of that before," said the ghost. "You see, Sir," pursued the tenant, "this is a very uncomfortable room. From the appearance of that press, I should be disposed to say that it is not wholly free from bugs; and I really think you might find much more comfortable quarters: to say nothing of the climate of London, which is extremely disagreeable." "You are very right, Sir," said the ghost politely, "it never struck me till now; I'll try change of air directly"—and, in fact, he began to vanish as he spoke; his legs, indeed, had quite disappeared. "And if, Sir," said the tenant, calling after him, "if you WOULD have the goodness to suggest to the other ladies and gentlemen who are now engaged in haunting old empty houses, that they might be much more comfortable elsewhere, you will confer a very great benefit on society." "I will," replied the ghost; "we must be dull fellows—very dull fellows, indeed; I can't imagine how we can have been so stupid." With these words, the spirit disappeared; and what is rather remarkable,' added the old man, with a shrewd look round the table, 'he never came back again.'
'That ain't bad, if it's true,' said the man in the Mosaic studs, lighting a fresh cigar.
'IF!' exclaimed the old man, with a look of excessive contempt. 'I suppose,' he added, turning to Lowten, 'he'll say next, that my story about the queer client we had, when I was in an attorney's office, is not true either—I shouldn't wonder.'
'I shan't venture to say anything at all about it, seeing that I never heard the story,' observed the owner of the Mosaic decorations.
'I wish you would repeat it, Sir,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Ah, do,' said Lowten, 'nobody has heard it but me, and I have nearly forgotten it.'
The old man looked round the table, and leered more horribly than ever, as if in triumph, at the attention which was depicted in every face. Then rubbing his chin with his hand, and looking up to the ceiling as if to recall the circumstances to his memory, he began as follows:—
THE OLD MAN'S TALE ABOUT THE QUEER CLIENT
'It matters little,' said the old man, 'where, or how, I picked up this brief history. If I were to relate it in the order in which it reached me, I should commence in the middle, and when I had arrived at the conclusion, go back for a beginning. It is enough for me to say that some of its circumstances passed before my own eyes; for the remainder I know them to have happened, and there are some persons yet living, who will remember them but too well.
'In the Borough High Street, near St. George's Church, and on the same side of the way, stands, as most people know, the smallest of our debtors' prisons, the Marshalsea. Although in later times it has been a very different place from the sink of filth and dirt it once was, even its improved condition holds out but little temptation to the extravagant, or consolation to the improvident. The condemned felon has as good a yard for air and exercise in Newgate, as the insolvent debtor in the Marshalsea Prison. [Better. But this is past, in a better age, and the prison exists no longer.]
'It may be my fancy, or it may be that I cannot separate the place from the old recollections associated with it, but this part of London I cannot bear. The street is broad, the shops are spacious, the noise of passing vehicles, the footsteps of a perpetual stream of people—all the busy sounds of traffic, resound in it from morn to midnight; but the streets around are mean and close; poverty and debauchery lie festering in the crowded alleys; want and misfortune are pent up in the narrow prison; an air of gloom and dreariness seems, in my eyes at least, to hang about the scene, and to impart to it a squalid and sickly hue.
'Many eyes, that have long since been closed in the grave, have looked round upon that scene lightly enough, when entering the gate of the old Marshalsea Prison for the first time; for despair seldom comes with the first severe shock of misfortune. A man has confidence in untried friends, he remembers the many offers of service so freely made by his boon companions when he wanted them not; he has hope—the hope of happy inexperience—and however he may bend beneath the first shock, it springs up in his bosom, and flourishes there for a brief space, until it droops beneath the blight of disappointment and neglect. How soon have those same eyes, deeply sunken in the head, glared from faces wasted with famine, and sallow from confinement, in days when it was no figure of speech to say that debtors rotted in prison, with no hope of release, and no prospect of liberty! The atrocity in its full extent no longer exists, but there is enough of it left to give rise to occurrences that make the heart bleed.
'Twenty years ago, that pavement was worn with the footsteps of a mother and child, who, day by day, so surely as the morning came, presented themselves at the prison gate; often after a night of restless misery and anxious thoughts, were they there, a full hour too soon, and then the young mother turning meekly away, would lead the child to the old bridge, and raising him in her arms to show him the glistening water, tinted with the light of the morning's sun, and stirring with all the bustling preparations for business and pleasure that the river presented at that early hour, endeavour to interest his thoughts in the objects before him. But she would quickly set him down, and hiding her face in her shawl, give vent to the tears that blinded her; for no expression of interest or amusement lighted up his thin and sickly face. His recollections were few enough, but they were all of one kind—all connected with the poverty and misery of his parents. Hour after hour had he sat on his mother's knee, and with childish sympathy watched the tears that stole down her face, and then crept quietly away into some dark corner, and sobbed himself to sleep. The hard realities of the world, with many of its worst privations—hunger and thirst, and cold and want—had all come home to him, from the first dawnings of reason; and though the form of childhood was there, its light heart, its merry laugh, and sparkling eyes were wanting. 'The father and mother looked on upon this, and upon each other, with thoughts of agony they dared not breathe in words. The healthy, strong-made man, who could have borne almost any fatigue of active exertion, was wasting beneath the close confinement and unhealthy atmosphere of a crowded prison. The slight and delicate woman was sinking beneath the combined effects of bodily and mental illness. The child's young heart was breaking.
'Winter came, and with it weeks of cold and heavy rain. The poor girl had removed to a wretched apartment close to the spot of her husband's imprisonment; and though the change had been rendered necessary by their increasing poverty, she was happier now, for she was nearer him. For two months, she and her little companion watched the opening of the gate as usual. One day she failed to come, for the first time. Another morning arrived, and she came alone. The child was dead.
'They little know, who coldly talk of the poor man's bereavements, as a happy release from pain to the departed, and a merciful relief from expense to the survivor—they little know, I say, what the agony of those bereavements is. A silent look of affection and regard when all other eyes are turned coldly away—the consciousness that we possess the sympathy and affection of one being when all others have deserted us—is a hold, a stay, a comfort, in the deepest affliction, which no wealth could purchase, or power bestow. The child had sat at his parents' feet for hours together, with his little hands patiently folded in each other, and his thin wan face raised towards them. They had seen him pine away, from day to day; and though his brief existence had been a joyless one, and he was now removed to that peace and rest which, child as he was, he had never known in this world, they were his parents, and his loss sank deep into their souls.
'It was plain to those who looked upon the mother's altered face, that death must soon close the scene of her adversity and trial. Her husband's fellow-prisoners shrank from obtruding on his grief and misery, and left to himself alone, the small room he had previously occupied in common with two companions. She shared it with him; and lingering on without pain, but without hope, her life ebbed slowly away.
'She had fainted one evening in her husband's arms, and he had borne her to the open window, to revive her with the air, when the light of the moon falling full upon her face, showed him a change upon her features, which made him stagger beneath her weight, like a helpless infant.
'"Set me down, George," she said faintly. He did so, and seating himself beside her, covered his face with his hands, and burst into tears.
'"It is very hard to leave you, George," she said; "but it is God's will, and you must bear it for my sake. Oh! how I thank Him for having taken our boy! He is happy, and in heaven now. What would he have done here, without his mother!"
'"You shall not die, Mary, you shall not die;" said the husband, starting up. He paced hurriedly to and fro, striking his head with his clenched fists; then reseating himself beside her, and supporting her in his arms, added more calmly, "Rouse yourself, my dear girl. Pray, pray do. You will revive yet."
'"Never again, George; never again," said the dying woman. "Let them lay me by my poor boy now, but promise me, that if ever you leave this dreadful place, and should grow rich, you will have us removed to some quiet country churchyard, a long, long way off—very far from here—where we can rest in peace. Dear George, promise me you will."
'"I do, I do," said the man, throwing himself passionately on his knees before her. "Speak to me, Mary, another word; one look—but one!"
'He ceased to speak: for the arm that clasped his neck grew stiff and heavy. A deep sigh escaped from the wasted form before him; the lips moved, and a smile played upon the face; but the lips were pallid, and the smile faded into a rigid and ghastly stare. He was alone in the world.
'That night, in the silence and desolation of his miserable room, the wretched man knelt down by the dead body of his wife, and called on God to witness a terrible oath, that from that hour, he devoted himself to revenge her death and that of his child; that thenceforth to the last moment of his life, his whole energies should be directed to this one object; that his revenge should be protracted and terrible; that his hatred should be undying and inextinguishable; and should hunt its object through the world.
'The deepest despair, and passion scarcely human, had made such fierce ravages on his face and form, in that one night, that his companions in misfortune shrank affrighted from him as he passed by. His eyes were bloodshot and heavy, his face a deadly white, and his body bent as if with age. He had bitten his under lip nearly through in the violence of his mental suffering, and the blood which had flowed from the wound had trickled down his chin, and stained his shirt and neckerchief. No tear, or sound of complaint escaped him; but the unsettled look, and disordered haste with which he paced up and down the yard, denoted the fever which was burning within.
'It was necessary that his wife's body should be removed from the prison, without delay. He received the communication with perfect calmness, and acquiesced in its propriety. Nearly all the inmates of the prison had assembled to witness its removal; they fell back on either side when the widower appeared; he walked hurriedly forward, and stationed himself, alone, in a little railed area close to the lodge gate, from whence the crowd, with an instinctive feeling of delicacy, had retired. The rude coffin was borne slowly forward on men's shoulders. A dead silence pervaded the throng, broken only by the audible lamentations of the women, and the shuffling steps of the bearers on the stone pavement. They reached the spot where the bereaved husband stood: and stopped. He laid his hand upon the coffin, and mechanically adjusting the pall with which it was covered, motioned them onward. The turnkeys in the prison lobby took off their hats as it passed through, and in another moment the heavy gate closed behind it. He looked vacantly upon the crowd, and fell heavily to the ground.
'Although for many weeks after this, he was watched, night and day, in the wildest ravings of fever, neither the consciousness of his loss, nor the recollection of the vow he had made, ever left him for a moment. Scenes changed before his eyes, place succeeded place, and event followed event, in all the hurry of delirium; but they were all connected in some way with the great object of his mind. He was sailing over a boundless expanse of sea, with a blood-red sky above, and the angry waters, lashed into fury beneath, boiling and eddying up, on every side. There was another vessel before them, toiling and labouring in the howling storm; her canvas fluttering in ribbons from the mast, and her deck thronged with figures who were lashed to the sides, over which huge waves every instant burst, sweeping away some devoted creatures into the foaming sea. Onward they bore, amidst the roaring mass of water, with a speed and force which nothing could resist; and striking the stem of the foremost vessel, crushed her beneath their keel. From the huge whirlpool which the sinking wreck occasioned, arose a shriek so loud and shrill—the death-cry of a hundred drowning creatures, blended into one fierce yell—that it rung far above the war-cry of the elements, and echoed, and re-echoed till it seemed to pierce air, sky, and ocean. But what was that—that old gray head that rose above the water's surface, and with looks of agony, and screams for aid, buffeted with the waves! One look, and he had sprung from the vessel's side, and with vigorous strokes was swimming towards it. He reached it; he was close upon it. They were HIS features. The old man saw him coming, and vainly strove to elude his grasp. But he clasped him tight, and dragged him beneath the water. Down, down with him, fifty fathoms down; his struggles grew fainter and fainter, until they wholly ceased. He was dead; he had killed him, and had kept his oath.