'He was traversing the scorching sands of a mighty desert, barefoot and alone. The sand choked and blinded him; its fine thin grains entered the very pores of his skin, and irritated him almost to madness. Gigantic masses of the same material, carried forward by the wind, and shone through by the burning sun, stalked in the distance like pillars of living fire. The bones of men, who had perished in the dreary waste, lay scattered at his feet; a fearful light fell on everything around; so far as the eye could reach, nothing but objects of dread and horror presented themselves. Vainly striving to utter a cry of terror, with his tongue cleaving to his mouth, he rushed madly forward. Armed with supernatural strength, he waded through the sand, until, exhausted with fatigue and thirst, he fell senseless on the earth. What fragrant coolness revived him; what gushing sound was that? Water! It was indeed a well; and the clear fresh stream was running at his feet. He drank deeply of it, and throwing his aching limbs upon the bank, sank into a delicious trance. The sound of approaching footsteps roused him. An old gray-headed man tottered forward to slake his burning thirst. It was HE again! Fe wound his arms round the old man's body, and held him back. He struggled, and shrieked for water—for but one drop of water to save his life! But he held the old man firmly, and watched his agonies with greedy eyes; and when his lifeless head fell forward on his bosom, he rolled the corpse from him with his feet.
'When the fever left him, and consciousness returned, he awoke to find himself rich and free, to hear that the parent who would have let him die in jail—WOULD! who HAD let those who were far dearer to him than his own existence die of want, and sickness of heart that medicine cannot cure—had been found dead in his bed of down. He had had all the heart to leave his son a beggar, but proud even of his health and strength, had put off the act till it was too late, and now might gnash his teeth in the other world, at the thought of the wealth his remissness had left him. He awoke to this, and he awoke to more. To recollect the purpose for which he lived, and to remember that his enemy was his wife's own father—the man who had cast him into prison, and who, when his daughter and her child sued at his feet for mercy, had spurned them from his door. Oh, how he cursed the weakness that prevented him from being up, and active, in his scheme of vengeance! 'He caused himself to be carried from the scene of his loss and misery, and conveyed to a quiet residence on the sea-coast; not in the hope of recovering his peace of mind or happiness, for both were fled for ever; but to restore his prostrate energies, and meditate on his darling object. And here, some evil spirit cast in his way the opportunity for his first, most horrible revenge.
'It was summer-time; and wrapped in his gloomy thoughts, he would issue from his solitary lodgings early in the evening, and wandering along a narrow path beneath the cliffs, to a wild and lonely spot that had struck his fancy in his ramblings, seat himself on some fallen fragment of the rock, and burying his face in his hands, remain there for hours—sometimes until night had completely closed in, and the long shadows of the frowning cliffs above his head cast a thick, black darkness on every object near him.
'He was seated here, one calm evening, in his old position, now and then raising his head to watch the flight of a sea-gull, or carry his eye along the glorious crimson path, which, commencing in the middle of the ocean, seemed to lead to its very verge where the sun was setting, when the profound stillness of the spot was broken by a loud cry for help; he listened, doubtful of his having heard aright, when the cry was repeated with even greater vehemence than before, and, starting to his feet, he hastened in the direction whence it proceeded.
'The tale told itself at once: some scattered garments lay on the beach; a human head was just visible above the waves at a little distance from the shore; and an old man, wringing his hands in agony, was running to and fro, shrieking for assistance. The invalid, whose strength was now sufficiently restored, threw off his coat, and rushed towards the sea, with the intention of plunging in, and dragging the drowning man ashore.
'"Hasten here, Sir, in God's name; help, help, sir, for the love of Heaven. He is my son, Sir, my only son!" said the old man frantically, as he advanced to meet him. "My only son, Sir, and he is dying before his father's eyes!"
'At the first word the old man uttered, the stranger checked himself in his career, and, folding his arms, stood perfectly motionless.
'"Great God!" exclaimed the old man, recoiling, "Heyling!"
'The stranger smiled, and was silent.
'"Heyling!" said the old man wildly; "my boy, Heyling, my dear boy, look, look!" Gasping for breath, the miserable father pointed to the spot where the young man was struggling for life.
'"Hark!" said the old man. "He cries once more. He is alive yet. Heyling, save him, save him!"
'The stranger smiled again, and remained immovable as a statue. '"I have wronged you," shrieked the old man, falling on his knees, and clasping his hands together. "Be revenged; take my all, my life; cast me into the water at your feet, and, if human nature can repress a struggle, I will die, without stirring hand or foot. Do it, Heyling, do it, but save my boy; he is so young, Heyling, so young to die!"
'"Listen," said the stranger, grasping the old man fiercely by the wrist; "I will have life for life, and here is ONE. MY child died, before his father's eyes, a far more agonising and painful death than that young slanderer of his sister's worth is meeting while I speak. You laughed—laughed in your daughter's face, where death had already set his hand—at our sufferings, then. What think you of them now! See there, see there!"
'As the stranger spoke, he pointed to the sea. A faint cry died away upon its surface; the last powerful struggle of the dying man agitated the rippling waves for a few seconds; and the spot where he had gone down into his early grave, was undistinguishable from the surrounding water.
'Three years had elapsed, when a gentleman alighted from a private carriage at the door of a London attorney, then well known as a man of no great nicety in his professional dealings, and requested a private interview on business of importance. Although evidently not past the prime of life, his face was pale, haggard, and dejected; and it did not require the acute perception of the man of business, to discern at a glance, that disease or suffering had done more to work a change in his appearance, than the mere hand of time could have accomplished in twice the period of his whole life.
'"I wish you to undertake some legal business for me," said the stranger.
'The attorney bowed obsequiously, and glanced at a large packet which the gentleman carried in his hand. His visitor observed the look, and proceeded.
'"It is no common business," said he; "nor have these papers reached my hands without long trouble and great expense."
'The attorney cast a still more anxious look at the packet; and his visitor, untying the string that bound it, disclosed a quantity of promissory notes, with copies of deeds, and other documents.
'"Upon these papers," said the client, "the man whose name they bear, has raised, as you will see, large sums of money, for years past. There was a tacit understanding between him and the men into whose hands they originally went—and from whom I have by degrees purchased the whole, for treble and quadruple their nominal value—that these loans should be from time to time renewed, until a given period had elapsed. Such an understanding is nowhere expressed. He has sustained many losses of late; and these obligations accumulating upon him at once, would crush him to the earth."
'"The whole amount is many thousands of pounds," said the attorney, looking over the papers.
'"It is," said the client.
'"What are we to do?" inquired the man of business.
'"Do!" replied the client, with sudden vehemence. "Put every engine of the law in force, every trick that ingenuity can devise and rascality execute; fair means and foul; the open oppression of the law, aided by all the craft of its most ingenious practitioners. I would have him die a harassing and lingering death. Ruin him, seize and sell his lands and goods, drive him from house and home, and drag him forth a beggar in his old age, to die in a common jail."
'"But the costs, my dear Sir, the costs of all this," reasoned the attorney, when he had recovered from his momentary surprise. "If the defendant be a man of straw, who is to pay the costs, Sir?"
'"Name any sum," said the stranger, his hand trembling so violently with excitement, that he could scarcely hold the pen he seized as he spoke—"any sum, and it is yours. Don't be afraid to name it, man. I shall not think it dear, if you gain my object."
'The attorney named a large sum, at hazard, as the advance he should require to secure himself against the possibility of loss; but more with the view of ascertaining how far his client was really disposed to go, than with any idea that he would comply with the demand. The stranger wrote a cheque upon his banker, for the whole amount, and left him.
'The draft was duly honoured, and the attorney, finding that his strange client might be safely relied upon, commenced his work in earnest. For more than two years afterwards, Mr. Heyling would sit whole days together, in the office, poring over the papers as they accumulated, and reading again and again, his eyes gleaming with joy, the letters of remonstrance, the prayers for a little delay, the representations of the certain ruin in which the opposite party must be involved, which poured in, as suit after suit, and process after process, was commenced. To all applications for a brief indulgence, there was but one reply—the money must be paid. Land, house, furniture, each in its turn, was taken under some one of the numerous executions which were issued; and the old man himself would have been immured in prison had he not escaped the vigilance of the officers, and fled.
'The implacable animosity of Heyling, so far from being satiated by the success of his persecution, increased a hundredfold with the ruin he inflicted. On being informed of the old man's flight, his fury was unbounded. He gnashed his teeth with rage, tore the hair from his head, and assailed with horrid imprecations the men who had been intrusted with the writ. He was only restored to comparative calmness by repeated assurances of the certainty of discovering the fugitive. Agents were sent in quest of him, in all directions; every stratagem that could be invented was resorted to, for the purpose of discovering his place of retreat; but it was all in vain. Half a year had passed over, and he was still undiscovered.
'At length late one night, Heyling, of whom nothing had been seen for many weeks before, appeared at his attorney's private residence, and sent up word that a gentleman wished to see him instantly. Before the attorney, who had recognised his voice from above stairs, could order the servant to admit him, he had rushed up the staircase, and entered the drawing-room pale and breathless. Having closed the door, to prevent being overheard, he sank into a chair, and said, in a low voice—
'"Hush! I have found him at last."
'"No!" said the attorney. "Well done, my dear sir, well done."
'"He lies concealed in a wretched lodging in Camden Town," said Heyling. "Perhaps it is as well we DID lose sight of him, for he has been living alone there, in the most abject misery, all the time, and he is poor—very poor."
'"Very good," said the attorney. "You will have the caption made to-morrow, of course?"
'"Yes," replied Heyling. "Stay! No! The next day. You are surprised at my wishing to postpone it," he added, with a ghastly smile; "but I had forgotten. The next day is an anniversary in his life: let it be done then."
'"Very good," said the attorney. "Will you write down instructions for the officer?"
'"No; let him meet me here, at eight in the evening, and I will accompany him myself."
'They met on the appointed night, and, hiring a hackney-coach, directed the driver to stop at that corner of the old Pancras Road, at which stands the parish workhouse. By the time they alighted there, it was quite dark; and, proceeding by the dead wall in front of the Veterinary Hospital, they entered a small by-street, which is, or was at that time, called Little College Street, and which, whatever it may be now, was in those days a desolate place enough, surrounded by little else than fields and ditches.
'Having drawn the travelling-cap he had on half over his face, and muffled himself in his cloak, Heyling stopped before the meanest-looking house in the street, and knocked gently at the door. It was at once opened by a woman, who dropped a curtsey of recognition, and Heyling, whispering the officer to remain below, crept gently upstairs, and, opening the door of the front room, entered at once.
'The object of his search and his unrelenting animosity, now a decrepit old man, was seated at a bare deal table, on which stood a miserable candle. He started on the entrance of the stranger, and rose feebly to his feet.
'"What now, what now?" said the old man. "What fresh misery is this? What do you want here?"
'"A word with YOU," replied Heyling. As he spoke, he seated himself at the other end of the table, and, throwing off his cloak and cap, disclosed his features.
'The old man seemed instantly deprived of speech. He fell backward in his chair, and, clasping his hands together, gazed on the apparition with a mingled look of abhorrence and fear.
'"This day six years," said Heyling, "I claimed the life you owed me for my child's. Beside the lifeless form of your daughter, old man, I swore to live a life of revenge. I have never swerved from my purpose for a moment's space; but if I had, one thought of her uncomplaining, suffering look, as she drooped away, or of the starving face of our innocent child, would have nerved me to my task. My first act of requital you well remember: this is my last."
'The old man shivered, and his hands dropped powerless by his side.
'"I leave England to-morrow," said Heyling, after a moment's pause. "To-night I consign you to the living death to which you devoted her—a hopeless prison—"
'He raised his eyes to the old man's countenance, and paused. He lifted the light to his face, set it gently down, and left the apartment.
'"You had better see to the old man," he said to the woman, as he opened the door, and motioned the officer to follow him into the street. "I think he is ill." The woman closed the door, ran hastily upstairs, and found him lifeless.
'Beneath a plain gravestone, in one of the most peaceful and secluded churchyards in Kent, where wild flowers mingle with the grass, and the soft landscape around forms the fairest spot in the garden of England, lie the bones of the young mother and her gentle child. But the ashes of the father do not mingle with theirs; nor, from that night forward, did the attorney ever gain the remotest clue to the subsequent history of his queer client.' As the old man concluded his tale, he advanced to a peg in one corner, and taking down his hat and coat, put them on with great deliberation; and, without saying another word, walked slowly away. As the gentleman with the Mosaic studs had fallen asleep, and the major part of the company were deeply occupied in the humorous process of dropping melted tallow-grease into his brandy-and-water, Mr. Pickwick departed unnoticed, and having settled his own score, and that of Mr. Weller, issued forth, in company with that gentleman, from beneath the portal of the Magpie and Stump.
CHAPTER XXII. Mr. PICKWICK JOURNEYS TO IPSWICH AND MEETS WITH A ROMANTIC ADVENTURE WITH A MIDDLE-AGED LADY IN YELLOW CURL-PAPERS
'That 'ere your governor's luggage, Sammy?' inquired Mr. Weller of his affectionate son, as he entered the yard of the Bull Inn, Whitechapel, with a travelling-bag and a small portmanteau.
'You might ha' made a worser guess than that, old feller,' replied Mr. Weller the younger, setting down his burden in the yard, and sitting himself down upon it afterwards. 'The governor hisself'll be down here presently.'
'He's a-cabbin' it, I suppose?' said the father.
'Yes, he's a havin' two mile o' danger at eight-pence,' responded the son. 'How's mother-in-law this mornin'?'
'Queer, Sammy, queer,' replied the elder Mr. Weller, with impressive gravity. 'She's been gettin' rayther in the Methodistical order lately, Sammy; and she is uncommon pious, to be sure. She's too good a creetur for me, Sammy. I feel I don't deserve her.'
'Ah,' said Mr. Samuel. 'that's wery self-denyin' o' you.'
'Wery,' replied his parent, with a sigh. 'She's got hold o' some inwention for grown-up people being born again, Sammy—the new birth, I think they calls it. I should wery much like to see that system in haction, Sammy. I should wery much like to see your mother-in-law born again. Wouldn't I put her out to nurse!'
'What do you think them women does t'other day,' continued Mr. Weller, after a short pause, during which he had significantly struck the side of his nose with his forefinger some half-dozen times. 'What do you think they does, t'other day, Sammy?'
'Don't know,' replied Sam, 'what?'
'Goes and gets up a grand tea drinkin' for a feller they calls their shepherd,' said Mr. Weller. 'I was a-standing starin' in at the pictur shop down at our place, when I sees a little bill about it; "tickets half-a-crown. All applications to be made to the committee. Secretary, Mrs. Weller"; and when I got home there was the committee a-sittin' in our back parlour. Fourteen women; I wish you could ha' heard 'em, Sammy. There they was, a-passin' resolutions, and wotin' supplies, and all sorts o' games. Well, what with your mother-in-law a-worrying me to go, and what with my looking for'ard to seein' some queer starts if I did, I put my name down for a ticket; at six o'clock on the Friday evenin' I dresses myself out wery smart, and off I goes with the old 'ooman, and up we walks into a fust-floor where there was tea-things for thirty, and a whole lot o' women as begins whisperin' to one another, and lookin' at me, as if they'd never seen a rayther stout gen'l'm'n of eight-and-fifty afore. By and by, there comes a great bustle downstairs, and a lanky chap with a red nose and a white neckcloth rushes up, and sings out, "Here's the shepherd a-coming to wisit his faithful flock;" and in comes a fat chap in black, vith a great white face, a-smilin' avay like clockwork. Such goin's on, Sammy! "The kiss of peace," says the shepherd; and then he kissed the women all round, and ven he'd done, the man vith the red nose began. I was just a-thinkin' whether I hadn't better begin too—'specially as there was a wery nice lady a-sittin' next me—ven in comes the tea, and your mother-in-law, as had been makin' the kettle bile downstairs. At it they went, tooth and nail. Such a precious loud hymn, Sammy, while the tea was a brewing; such a grace, such eatin' and drinkin'! I wish you could ha' seen the shepherd walkin' into the ham and muffins. I never see such a chap to eat and drink—never. The red-nosed man warn't by no means the sort of person you'd like to grub by contract, but he was nothin' to the shepherd. Well; arter the tea was over, they sang another hymn, and then the shepherd began to preach: and wery well he did it, considerin' how heavy them muffins must have lied on his chest. Presently he pulls up, all of a sudden, and hollers out, "Where is the sinner; where is the mis'rable sinner?" Upon which, all the women looked at me, and began to groan as if they was a-dying. I thought it was rather sing'ler, but howsoever, I says nothing. Presently he pulls up again, and lookin' wery hard at me, says, "Where is the sinner; where is the mis'rable sinner?" and all the women groans again, ten times louder than afore. I got rather savage at this, so I takes a step or two for'ard and says, "My friend," says I, "did you apply that 'ere obserwation to me?" 'Stead of beggin' my pardon as any gen'l'm'n would ha' done, he got more abusive than ever:—called me a wessel, Sammy—a wessel of wrath—and all sorts o' names. So my blood being reg'larly up, I first gave him two or three for himself, and then two or three more to hand over to the man with the red nose, and walked off. I wish you could ha' heard how the women screamed, Sammy, ven they picked up the shepherd from underneath the table—Hollo! here's the governor, the size of life.'
As Mr. Weller spoke, Mr. Pickwick dismounted from a cab, and entered the yard. 'Fine mornin', Sir,' said Mr. Weller, senior.
'Beautiful indeed,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
'Beautiful indeed,' echoes a red-haired man with an inquisitive nose and green spectacles, who had unpacked himself from a cab at the same moment as Mr. Pickwick. 'Going to Ipswich, Sir?'
'I am,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
'Extraordinary coincidence. So am I.'
Mr. Pickwick bowed.
'Going outside?' said the red-haired man. Mr. Pickwick bowed again.
'Bless my soul, how remarkable—I am going outside, too,' said the red-haired man; 'we are positively going together.' And the red-haired man, who was an important-looking, sharp-nosed, mysterious-spoken personage, with a bird-like habit of giving his head a jerk every time he said anything, smiled as if he had made one of the strangest discoveries that ever fell to the lot of human wisdom.
'I am happy in the prospect of your company, Sir,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Ah,' said the new-comer, 'it's a good thing for both of us, isn't it? Company, you see—company—is—is—it's a very different thing from solitude—ain't it?'
'There's no denying that 'ere,' said Mr. Weller, joining in the conversation, with an affable smile. 'That's what I call a self-evident proposition, as the dog's-meat man said, when the housemaid told him he warn't a gentleman.'
'Ah,' said the red-haired man, surveying Mr. Weller from head to foot with a supercilious look. 'Friend of yours, sir?'
'Not exactly a friend,' replied Mr. Pickwick, in a low tone. 'The fact is, he is my servant, but I allow him to take a good many liberties; for, between ourselves, I flatter myself he is an original, and I am rather proud of him.'
'Ah,' said the red-haired man, 'that, you see, is a matter of taste. I am not fond of anything original; I don't like it; don't see the necessity for it. What's your name, sir?'
'Here is my card, sir,' replied Mr. Pickwick, much amused by the abruptness of the question, and the singular manner of the stranger.
'Ah,' said the red-haired man, placing the card in his pocket-book, 'Pickwick; very good. I like to know a man's name, it saves so much trouble. That's my card, sir. Magnus, you will perceive, sir—Magnus is my name. It's rather a good name, I think, sir.'
'A very good name, indeed,' said Mr. Pickwick, wholly unable to repress a smile.
'Yes, I think it is,' resumed Mr. Magnus. 'There's a good name before it, too, you will observe. Permit me, sir—if you hold the card a little slanting, this way, you catch the light upon the up-stroke. There—Peter Magnus—sounds well, I think, sir.'
'Very,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Curious circumstance about those initials, sir,' said Mr. Magnus. 'You will observe—P.M.—post meridian. In hasty notes to intimate acquaintance, I sometimes sign myself "Afternoon." It amuses my friends very much, Mr. Pickwick.'
'It is calculated to afford them the highest gratification, I should conceive,' said Mr. Pickwick, rather envying the ease with which Mr. Magnus's friends were entertained.
'Now, gen'l'm'n,' said the hostler, 'coach is ready, if you please.'
'Is all my luggage in?' inquired Mr. Magnus.
'All right, sir.'
'Is the red bag in?'
'All right, Sir.'
'And the striped bag?'
'Fore boot, Sir.'
'And the brown-paper parcel?'
'Under the seat, Sir.'
'And the leather hat-box?'
'They're all in, Sir.'
'Now, will you get up?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Excuse me,' replied Magnus, standing on the wheel. 'Excuse me, Mr. Pickwick. I cannot consent to get up, in this state of uncertainty. I am quite satisfied from that man's manner, that the leather hat-box is not in.'
The solemn protestations of the hostler being wholly unavailing, the leather hat-box was obliged to be raked up from the lowest depth of the boot, to satisfy him that it had been safely packed; and after he had been assured on this head, he felt a solemn presentiment, first, that the red bag was mislaid, and next that the striped bag had been stolen, and then that the brown-paper parcel 'had come untied.' At length when he had received ocular demonstration of the groundless nature of each and every of these suspicions, he consented to climb up to the roof of the coach, observing that now he had taken everything off his mind, he felt quite comfortable and happy.
'You're given to nervousness, ain't you, Sir?' inquired Mr. Weller, senior, eyeing the stranger askance, as he mounted to his place.
'Yes; I always am rather about these little matters,' said the stranger, 'but I am all right now—quite right.'
'Well, that's a blessin', said Mr. Weller. 'Sammy, help your master up to the box; t'other leg, Sir, that's it; give us your hand, Sir. Up with you. You was a lighter weight when you was a boy, sir.' 'True enough, that, Mr. Weller,' said the breathless Mr. Pickwick good-humouredly, as he took his seat on the box beside him.
'Jump up in front, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller. 'Now Villam, run 'em out. Take care o' the archvay, gen'l'm'n. "Heads," as the pieman says. That'll do, Villam. Let 'em alone.' And away went the coach up Whitechapel, to the admiration of the whole population of that pretty densely populated quarter.
'Not a wery nice neighbourhood, this, Sir,' said Sam, with a touch of the hat, which always preceded his entering into conversation with his master.
'It is not indeed, Sam,' replied Mr. Pickwick, surveying the crowded and filthy street through which they were passing.
'It's a wery remarkable circumstance, Sir,' said Sam, 'that poverty and oysters always seem to go together.'
'I don't understand you, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'What I mean, sir,' said Sam, 'is, that the poorer a place is, the greater call there seems to be for oysters. Look here, sir; here's a oyster-stall to every half-dozen houses. The street's lined vith 'em. Blessed if I don't think that ven a man's wery poor, he rushes out of his lodgings, and eats oysters in reg'lar desperation.'
'To be sure he does,' said Mr. Weller, senior; 'and it's just the same vith pickled salmon!'
'Those are two very remarkable facts, which never occurred to me before,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'The very first place we stop at, I'll make a note of them.'
By this time they had reached the turnpike at Mile End; a profound silence prevailed until they had got two or three miles farther on, when Mr. Weller, senior, turning suddenly to Mr. Pickwick, said—
'Wery queer life is a pike-keeper's, sir.'
'A what?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'What do you mean by a pike-keeper?' inquired Mr. Peter Magnus.
'The old 'un means a turnpike-keeper, gen'l'm'n,' observed Mr. Samuel Weller, in explanation.
'Oh,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I see. Yes; very curious life. Very uncomfortable.'
'They're all on 'em men as has met vith some disappointment in life,' said Mr. Weller, senior.
'Ay, ay,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Yes. Consequence of vich, they retires from the world, and shuts themselves up in pikes; partly with the view of being solitary, and partly to rewenge themselves on mankind by takin' tolls.'
'Dear me,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I never knew that before.'
'Fact, Sir,' said Mr. Weller; 'if they was gen'l'm'n, you'd call 'em misanthropes, but as it is, they only takes to pike-keepin'.'
With such conversation, possessing the inestimable charm of blending amusement with instruction, did Mr. Weller beguile the tediousness of the journey, during the greater part of the day. Topics of conversation were never wanting, for even when any pause occurred in Mr. Weller's loquacity, it was abundantly supplied by the desire evinced by Mr. Magnus to make himself acquainted with the whole of the personal history of his fellow-travellers, and his loudly-expressed anxiety at every stage, respecting the safety and well-being of the two bags, the leather hat-box, and the brown-paper parcel.
In the main street of Ipswich, on the left-hand side of the way, a short distance after you have passed through the open space fronting the Town Hall, stands an inn known far and wide by the appellation of the Great White Horse, rendered the more conspicuous by a stone statue of some rampacious animal with flowing mane and tail, distantly resembling an insane cart-horse, which is elevated above the principal door. The Great White Horse is famous in the neighbourhood, in the same degree as a prize ox, or a county-paper-chronicled turnip, or unwieldy pig—for its enormous size. Never was such labyrinths of uncarpeted passages, such clusters of mouldy, ill-lighted rooms, such huge numbers of small dens for eating or sleeping in, beneath any one roof, as are collected together between the four walls of the Great White Horse at Ipswich.
It was at the door of this overgrown tavern that the London coach stopped, at the same hour every evening; and it was from this same London coach that Mr. Pickwick, Sam Weller, and Mr. Peter Magnus dismounted, on the particular evening to which this chapter of our history bears reference.
'Do you stop here, sir?' inquired Mr. Peter Magnus, when the striped bag, and the red bag, and the brown-paper parcel, and the leather hat-box, had all been deposited in the passage. 'Do you stop here, sir?'
'I do,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Dear me,' said Mr. Magnus, 'I never knew anything like these extraordinary coincidences. Why, I stop here too. I hope we dine together?'
'With pleasure,' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'I am not quite certain whether I have any friends here or not, though. Is there any gentleman of the name of Tupman here, waiter?'
A corpulent man, with a fortnight's napkin under his arm, and coeval stockings on his legs, slowly desisted from his occupation of staring down the street, on this question being put to him by Mr. Pickwick; and, after minutely inspecting that gentleman's appearance, from the crown of his hat to the lowest button of his gaiters, replied emphatically—
'Nor any gentleman of the name of Snodgrass?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'My friends have not arrived to-day, Sir,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'We will dine alone, then. Show us a private room, waiter.'
On this request being preferred, the corpulent man condescended to order the boots to bring in the gentlemen's luggage; and preceding them down a long, dark passage, ushered them into a large, badly-furnished apartment, with a dirty grate, in which a small fire was making a wretched attempt to be cheerful, but was fast sinking beneath the dispiriting influence of the place. After the lapse of an hour, a bit of fish and a steak was served up to the travellers, and when the dinner was cleared away, Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Peter Magnus drew their chairs up to the fire, and having ordered a bottle of the worst possible port wine, at the highest possible price, for the good of the house, drank brandy-and-water for their own.
Mr. Peter Magnus was naturally of a very communicative disposition, and the brandy-and-water operated with wonderful effect in warming into life the deepest hidden secrets of his bosom. After sundry accounts of himself, his family, his connections, his friends, his jokes, his business, and his brothers (most talkative men have a great deal to say about their brothers), Mr. Peter Magnus took a view of Mr. Pickwick through his coloured spectacles for several minutes, and then said, with an air of modesty—
'And what do you think—what DO you think, Mr. Pickwick—I have come down here for?'
'Upon my word,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'it is wholly impossible for me to guess; on business, perhaps.'
'Partly right, Sir,' replied Mr. Peter Magnus, 'but partly wrong at the same time; try again, Mr. Pickwick.'
'Really,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I must throw myself on your mercy, to tell me or not, as you may think best; for I should never guess, if I were to try all night.'
'Why, then, he-he-he!' said Mr. Peter Magnus, with a bashful titter, 'what should you think, Mr. Pickwick, if I had come down here to make a proposal, Sir, eh? He, he, he!'
'Think! That you are very likely to succeed,' replied Mr. Pickwick, with one of his beaming smiles. 'Ah!' said Mr. Magnus. 'But do you really think so, Mr. Pickwick? Do you, though?'
'Certainly,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'No; but you're joking, though.'
'I am not, indeed.'
'Why, then,' said Mr. Magnus, 'to let you into a little secret, I think so too. I don't mind telling you, Mr. Pickwick, although I'm dreadful jealous by nature—horrid—that the lady is in this house.' Here Mr. Magnus took off his spectacles, on purpose to wink, and then put them on again.
'That's what you were running out of the room for, before dinner, then, so often,' said Mr. Pickwick archly.
'Hush! Yes, you're right, that was it; not such a fool as to see her, though.'
'No; wouldn't do, you know, after having just come off a journey. Wait till to-morrow, sir; double the chance then. Mr. Pickwick, Sir, there is a suit of clothes in that bag, and a hat in that box, which, I expect, in the effect they will produce, will be invaluable to me, sir.'
'Indeed!' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Yes; you must have observed my anxiety about them to-day. I do not believe that such another suit of clothes, and such a hat, could be bought for money, Mr. Pickwick.'
Mr. Pickwick congratulated the fortunate owner of the irresistible garments on their acquisition; and Mr. Peter Magnus remained a few moments apparently absorbed in contemplation. 'She's a fine creature,' said Mr. Magnus.
'Is she?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Very,' said Mr. Magnus. 'Very. She lives about twenty miles from here, Mr. Pickwick. I heard she would be here to-night and all to-morrow forenoon, and came down to seize the opportunity. I think an inn is a good sort of a place to propose to a single woman in, Mr. Pickwick. She is more likely to feel the loneliness of her situation in travelling, perhaps, than she would be at home. What do you think, Mr. Pickwick?'
'I think it is very probable,' replied that gentleman.
'I beg your pardon, Mr. Pickwick,' said Mr. Peter Magnus, 'but I am naturally rather curious; what may you have come down here for?'
'On a far less pleasant errand, Sir,' replied Mr. Pickwick, the colour mounting to his face at the recollection. 'I have come down here, Sir, to expose the treachery and falsehood of an individual, upon whose truth and honour I placed implicit reliance.'
'Dear me,' said Mr. Peter Magnus, 'that's very unpleasant. It is a lady, I presume? Eh? ah! Sly, Mr. Pickwick, sly. Well, Mr. Pickwick, sir, I wouldn't probe your feelings for the world. Painful subjects, these, sir, very painful. Don't mind me, Mr. Pickwick, if you wish to give vent to your feelings. I know what it is to be jilted, Sir; I have endured that sort of thing three or four times.'
'I am much obliged to you, for your condolence on what you presume to be my melancholy case,' said Mr. Pickwick, winding up his watch, and laying it on the table, 'but—'
'No, no,' said Mr. Peter Magnus, 'not a word more; it's a painful subject. I see, I see. What's the time, Mr. Pickwick?' 'Past twelve.'
'Dear me, it's time to go to bed. It will never do, sitting here. I shall be pale to-morrow, Mr. Pickwick.'
At the bare notion of such a calamity, Mr. Peter Magnus rang the bell for the chambermaid; and the striped bag, the red bag, the leathern hat-box, and the brown-paper parcel, having been conveyed to his bedroom, he retired in company with a japanned candlestick, to one side of the house, while Mr. Pickwick, and another japanned candlestick, were conducted through a multitude of tortuous windings, to another.
'This is your room, sir,' said the chambermaid.
'Very well,' replied Mr. Pickwick, looking round him. It was a tolerably large double-bedded room, with a fire; upon the whole, a more comfortable-looking apartment than Mr. Pickwick's short experience of the accommodations of the Great White Horse had led him to expect.
'Nobody sleeps in the other bed, of course,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Oh, no, Sir.'
'Very good. Tell my servant to bring me up some hot water at half-past eight in the morning, and that I shall not want him any more to-night.'
'Yes, Sir,' and bidding Mr. Pickwick good-night, the chambermaid retired, and left him alone.
Mr. Pickwick sat himself down in a chair before the fire, and fell into a train of rambling meditations. First he thought of his friends, and wondered when they would join him; then his mind reverted to Mrs. Martha Bardell; and from that lady it wandered, by a natural process, to the dingy counting-house of Dodson & Fogg. From Dodson & Fogg's it flew off at a tangent, to the very centre of the history of the queer client; and then it came back to the Great White Horse at Ipswich, with sufficient clearness to convince Mr. Pickwick that he was falling asleep. So he roused himself, and began to undress, when he recollected he had left his watch on the table downstairs.
Now this watch was a special favourite with Mr. Pickwick, having been carried about, beneath the shadow of his waistcoat, for a greater number of years than we feel called upon to state at present. The possibility of going to sleep, unless it were ticking gently beneath his pillow, or in the watch-pocket over his head, had never entered Mr. Pickwick's brain. So as it was pretty late now, and he was unwilling to ring his bell at that hour of the night, he slipped on his coat, of which he had just divested himself, and taking the japanned candlestick in his hand, walked quietly downstairs. The more stairs Mr. Pickwick went down, the more stairs there seemed to be to descend, and again and again, when Mr. Pickwick got into some narrow passage, and began to congratulate himself on having gained the ground-floor, did another flight of stairs appear before his astonished eyes. At last he reached a stone hall, which he remembered to have seen when he entered the house. Passage after passage did he explore; room after room did he peep into; at length, as he was on the point of giving up the search in despair, he opened the door of the identical room in which he had spent the evening, and beheld his missing property on the table.
Mr. Pickwick seized the watch in triumph, and proceeded to retrace his steps to his bedchamber. If his progress downward had been attended with difficulties and uncertainty, his journey back was infinitely more perplexing. Rows of doors, garnished with boots of every shape, make, and size, branched off in every possible direction. A dozen times did he softly turn the handle of some bedroom door which resembled his own, when a gruff cry from within of 'Who the devil's that?' or 'What do you want here?' caused him to steal away, on tiptoe, with a perfectly marvellous celerity. He was reduced to the verge of despair, when an open door attracted his attention. He peeped in. Right at last! There were the two beds, whose situation he perfectly remembered, and the fire still burning. His candle, not a long one when he first received it, had flickered away in the drafts of air through which he had passed and sank into the socket as he closed the door after him. 'No matter,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I can undress myself just as well by the light of the fire.'
The bedsteads stood one on each side of the door; and on the inner side of each was a little path, terminating in a rush-bottomed chair, just wide enough to admit of a person's getting into or out of bed, on that side, if he or she thought proper. Having carefully drawn the curtains of his bed on the outside, Mr. Pickwick sat down on the rush-bottomed chair, and leisurely divested himself of his shoes and gaiters. He then took off and folded up his coat, waistcoat, and neckcloth, and slowly drawing on his tasselled nightcap, secured it firmly on his head, by tying beneath his chin the strings which he always had attached to that article of dress. It was at this moment that the absurdity of his recent bewilderment struck upon his mind. Throwing himself back in the rush-bottomed chair, Mr. Pickwick laughed to himself so heartily, that it would have been quite delightful to any man of well-constituted mind to have watched the smiles that expanded his amiable features as they shone forth from beneath the nightcap.
'It is the best idea,' said Mr. Pickwick to himself, smiling till he almost cracked the nightcap strings—'it is the best idea, my losing myself in this place, and wandering about these staircases, that I ever heard of. Droll, droll, very droll.' Here Mr. Pickwick smiled again, a broader smile than before, and was about to continue the process of undressing, in the best possible humour, when he was suddenly stopped by a most unexpected interruption: to wit, the entrance into the room of some person with a candle, who, after locking the door, advanced to the dressing-table, and set down the light upon it.
The smile that played on Mr. Pickwick's features was instantaneously lost in a look of the most unbounded and wonder-stricken surprise. The person, whoever it was, had come in so suddenly and with so little noise, that Mr. Pickwick had had no time to call out, or oppose their entrance. Who could it be? A robber? Some evil-minded person who had seen him come upstairs with a handsome watch in his hand, perhaps. What was he to do?
The only way in which Mr. Pickwick could catch a glimpse of his mysterious visitor with the least danger of being seen himself, was by creeping on to the bed, and peeping out from between the curtains on the opposite side. To this manoeuvre he accordingly resorted. Keeping the curtains carefully closed with his hand, so that nothing more of him could be seen than his face and nightcap, and putting on his spectacles, he mustered up courage and looked out.
Mr. Pickwick almost fainted with horror and dismay. Standing before the dressing-glass was a middle-aged lady, in yellow curl-papers, busily engaged in brushing what ladies call their 'back-hair.' However the unconscious middle-aged lady came into that room, it was quite clear that she contemplated remaining there for the night; for she had brought a rushlight and shade with her, which, with praiseworthy precaution against fire, she had stationed in a basin on the floor, where it was glimmering away, like a gigantic lighthouse in a particularly small piece of water.
'Bless my soul!' thought Mr. Pickwick, 'what a dreadful thing!'
'Hem!' said the lady; and in went Mr. Pickwick's head with automaton-like rapidity.
'I never met with anything so awful as this,' thought poor Mr. Pickwick, the cold perspiration starting in drops upon his nightcap. 'Never. This is fearful.'
It was quite impossible to resist the urgent desire to see what was going forward. So out went Mr. Pickwick's head again. The prospect was worse than before. The middle-aged lady had finished arranging her hair; had carefully enveloped it in a muslin nightcap with a small plaited border; and was gazing pensively on the fire.
'This matter is growing alarming,' reasoned Mr. Pickwick with himself. 'I can't allow things to go on in this way. By the self-possession of that lady, it is clear to me that I must have come into the wrong room. If I call out she'll alarm the house; but if I remain here the consequences will be still more frightful.' Mr. Pickwick, it is quite unnecessary to say, was one of the most modest and delicate-minded of mortals. The very idea of exhibiting his nightcap to a lady overpowered him, but he had tied those confounded strings in a knot, and, do what he would, he couldn't get it off. The disclosure must be made. There was only one other way of doing it. He shrunk behind the curtains, and called out very loudly—
That the lady started at this unexpected sound was evident, by her falling up against the rushlight shade; that she persuaded herself it must have been the effect of imagination was equally clear, for when Mr. Pickwick, under the impression that she had fainted away stone-dead with fright, ventured to peep out again, she was gazing pensively on the fire as before.
'Most extraordinary female this,' thought Mr. Pickwick, popping in again. 'Ha-hum!'
These last sounds, so like those in which, as legends inform us, the ferocious giant Blunderbore was in the habit of expressing his opinion that it was time to lay the cloth, were too distinctly audible to be again mistaken for the workings of fancy.
'Gracious Heaven!' said the middle-aged lady, 'what's that?'
'It's—it's—only a gentleman, ma'am,' said Mr. Pickwick, from behind the curtains.
'A gentleman!' said the lady, with a terrific scream.
'It's all over!' thought Mr. Pickwick.
'A strange man!' shrieked the lady. Another instant and the house would be alarmed. Her garments rustled as she rushed towards the door.
'Ma'am,' said Mr. Pickwick, thrusting out his head in the extremity of his desperation, 'ma'am!'
Now, although Mr. Pickwick was not actuated by any definite object in putting out his head, it was instantaneously productive of a good effect. The lady, as we have already stated, was near the door. She must pass it, to reach the staircase, and she would most undoubtedly have done so by this time, had not the sudden apparition of Mr. Pickwick's nightcap driven her back into the remotest corner of the apartment, where she stood staring wildly at Mr. Pickwick, while Mr. Pickwick in his turn stared wildly at her.
'Wretch,' said the lady, covering her eyes with her hands, 'what do you want here?'
'Nothing, ma'am; nothing whatever, ma'am,' said Mr. Pickwick earnestly.
'Nothing!' said the lady, looking up.
'Nothing, ma'am, upon my honour,' said Mr. Pickwick, nodding his head so energetically, that the tassel of his nightcap danced again. 'I am almost ready to sink, ma'am, beneath the confusion of addressing a lady in my nightcap (here the lady hastily snatched off hers), but I can't get it off, ma'am (here Mr. Pickwick gave it a tremendous tug, in proof of the statement). It is evident to me, ma'am, now, that I have mistaken this bedroom for my own. I had not been here five minutes, ma'am, when you suddenly entered it.'
'If this improbable story be really true, Sir,' said the lady, sobbing violently, 'you will leave it instantly.'
'I will, ma'am, with the greatest pleasure,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
'Instantly, sir,' said the lady.
'Certainly, ma'am,' interposed Mr. Pickwick, very quickly. 'Certainly, ma'am. I—I—am very sorry, ma'am,' said Mr. Pickwick, making his appearance at the bottom of the bed, 'to have been the innocent occasion of this alarm and emotion; deeply sorry, ma'am.'
The lady pointed to the door. One excellent quality of Mr. Pickwick's character was beautifully displayed at this moment, under the most trying circumstances. Although he had hastily Put on his hat over his nightcap, after the manner of the old patrol; although he carried his shoes and gaiters in his hand, and his coat and waistcoat over his arm; nothing could subdue his native politeness.
'I am exceedingly sorry, ma'am,' said Mr. Pickwick, bowing very low.
'If you are, Sir, you will at once leave the room,' said the lady.
'Immediately, ma'am; this instant, ma'am,' said Mr. Pickwick, opening the door, and dropping both his shoes with a crash in so doing.
'I trust, ma'am,' resumed Mr. Pickwick, gathering up his shoes, and turning round to bow again—'I trust, ma'am, that my unblemished character, and the devoted respect I entertain for your sex, will plead as some slight excuse for this—' But before Mr. Pickwick could conclude the sentence, the lady had thrust him into the passage, and locked and bolted the door behind him.
Whatever grounds of self-congratulation Mr. Pickwick might have for having escaped so quietly from his late awkward situation, his present position was by no means enviable. He was alone, in an open passage, in a strange house in the middle of the night, half dressed; it was not to be supposed that he could find his way in perfect darkness to a room which he had been wholly unable to discover with a light, and if he made the slightest noise in his fruitless attempts to do so, he stood every chance of being shot at, and perhaps killed, by some wakeful traveller. He had no resource but to remain where he was until daylight appeared. So after groping his way a few paces down the passage, and, to his infinite alarm, stumbling over several pairs of boots in so doing, Mr. Pickwick crouched into a little recess in the wall, to wait for morning, as philosophically as he might.
He was not destined, however, to undergo this additional trial of patience; for he had not been long ensconced in his present concealment when, to his unspeakable horror, a man, bearing a light, appeared at the end of the passage. His horror was suddenly converted into joy, however, when he recognised the form of his faithful attendant. It was indeed Mr. Samuel Weller, who after sitting up thus late, in conversation with the boots, who was sitting up for the mail, was now about to retire to rest.
'Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, suddenly appearing before him, 'where's my bedroom?'
Mr. Weller stared at his master with the most emphatic surprise; and it was not until the question had been repeated three several times, that he turned round, and led the way to the long-sought apartment.
'Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, as he got into bed, 'I have made one of the most extraordinary mistakes to-night, that ever were heard of.'
'Wery likely, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller drily.
'But of this I am determined, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'that if I were to stop in this house for six months, I would never trust myself about it, alone, again.'
'That's the wery prudentest resolution as you could come to, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller. 'You rayther want somebody to look arter you, Sir, when your judgment goes out a wisitin'.'
'What do you mean by that, Sam?' said Mr. Pickwick. He raised himself in bed, and extended his hand, as if he were about to say something more; but suddenly checking himself, turned round, and bade his valet 'Good-night.'
'Good-night, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller. He paused when he got outside the door—shook his head—walked on—stopped—snuffed the candle—shook his head again—and finally proceeded slowly to his chamber, apparently buried in the profoundest meditation.
CHAPTER XXIII. IN WHICH Mr. SAMUEL WELLER BEGINS TO DEVOTE HIS ENERGIES TO THE RETURN MATCH BETWEEN HIMSELF AND Mr. TROTTER
In a small room in the vicinity of the stableyard, betimes in the morning, which was ushered in by Mr. Pickwick's adventure with the middle—aged lady in the yellow curl-papers, sat Mr. Weller, senior, preparing himself for his journey to London. He was sitting in an excellent attitude for having his portrait taken; and here it is.
It is very possible that at some earlier period of his career, Mr. Weller's profile might have presented a bold and determined outline. His face, however, had expanded under the influence of good living, and a disposition remarkable for resignation; and its bold, fleshy curves had so far extended beyond the limits originally assigned them, that unless you took a full view of his countenance in front, it was difficult to distinguish more than the extreme tip of a very rubicund nose. His chin, from the same cause, had acquired the grave and imposing form which is generally described by prefixing the word 'double' to that expressive feature; and his complexion exhibited that peculiarly mottled combination of colours which is only to be seen in gentlemen of his profession, and in underdone roast beef. Round his neck he wore a crimson travelling-shawl, which merged into his chin by such imperceptible gradations, that it was difficult to distinguish the folds of the one, from the folds of the other. Over this, he mounted a long waistcoat of a broad pink-striped pattern, and over that again, a wide-skirted green coat, ornamented with large brass buttons, whereof the two which garnished the waist, were so far apart, that no man had ever beheld them both at the same time. His hair, which was short, sleek, and black, was just visible beneath the capacious brim of a low-crowned brown hat. His legs were encased in knee-cord breeches, and painted top-boots; and a copper watch-chain, terminating in one seal, and a key of the same material, dangled loosely from his capacious waistband.
We have said that Mr. Weller was engaged in preparing for his journey to London—he was taking sustenance, in fact. On the table before him, stood a pot of ale, a cold round of beef, and a very respectable-looking loaf, to each of which he distributed his favours in turn, with the most rigid impartiality. He had just cut a mighty slice from the latter, when the footsteps of somebody entering the room, caused him to raise his head; and he beheld his son.
'Mornin', Sammy!' said the father.
The son walked up to the pot of ale, and nodding significantly to his parent, took a long draught by way of reply.
'Wery good power o' suction, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller the elder, looking into the pot, when his first-born had set it down half empty. 'You'd ha' made an uncommon fine oyster, Sammy, if you'd been born in that station o' life.'
'Yes, I des-say, I should ha' managed to pick up a respectable livin',' replied Sam applying himself to the cold beef, with considerable vigour.
'I'm wery sorry, Sammy,' said the elder Mr. Weller, shaking up the ale, by describing small circles with the pot, preparatory to drinking. 'I'm wery sorry, Sammy, to hear from your lips, as you let yourself be gammoned by that 'ere mulberry man. I always thought, up to three days ago, that the names of Veller and gammon could never come into contract, Sammy, never.'
'Always exceptin' the case of a widder, of course,' said Sam.
'Widders, Sammy,' replied Mr. Weller, slightly changing colour. 'Widders are 'ceptions to ev'ry rule. I have heerd how many ordinary women one widder's equal to in pint o' comin' over you. I think it's five-and-twenty, but I don't rightly know vether it ain't more.'
'Well; that's pretty well,' said Sam.
'Besides,' continued Mr. Weller, not noticing the interruption, 'that's a wery different thing. You know what the counsel said, Sammy, as defended the gen'l'm'n as beat his wife with the poker, venever he got jolly. "And arter all, my Lord," says he, "it's a amiable weakness." So I says respectin' widders, Sammy, and so you'll say, ven you gets as old as me.'
'I ought to ha' know'd better, I know,' said Sam.
'Ought to ha' know'd better!' repeated Mr. Weller, striking the table with his fist. 'Ought to ha' know'd better! why, I know a young 'un as hasn't had half nor quarter your eddication—as hasn't slept about the markets, no, not six months—who'd ha' scorned to be let in, in such a vay; scorned it, Sammy.' In the excitement of feeling produced by this agonising reflection, Mr. Weller rang the bell, and ordered an additional pint of ale.
'Well, it's no use talking about it now,' said Sam. 'It's over, and can't be helped, and that's one consolation, as they always says in Turkey, ven they cuts the wrong man's head off. It's my innings now, gov'nor, and as soon as I catches hold o' this 'ere Trotter, I'll have a good 'un.'
'I hope you will, Sammy. I hope you will,' returned Mr. Weller. 'Here's your health, Sammy, and may you speedily vipe off the disgrace as you've inflicted on the family name.' In honour of this toast Mr. Weller imbibed at a draught, at least two-thirds of a newly-arrived pint, and handed it over to his son, to dispose of the remainder, which he instantaneously did.
'And now, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller, consulting a large double-faced silver watch that hung at the end of the copper chain. 'Now it's time I was up at the office to get my vay-bill and see the coach loaded; for coaches, Sammy, is like guns—they requires to be loaded with wery great care, afore they go off.'
At this parental and professional joke, Mr. Weller, junior, smiled a filial smile. His revered parent continued in a solemn tone—
'I'm a-goin' to leave you, Samivel, my boy, and there's no telling ven I shall see you again. Your mother-in-law may ha' been too much for me, or a thousand things may have happened by the time you next hears any news o' the celebrated Mr. Veller o' the Bell Savage. The family name depends wery much upon you, Samivel, and I hope you'll do wot's right by it. Upon all little pints o' breedin', I know I may trust you as vell as if it was my own self. So I've only this here one little bit of adwice to give you. If ever you gets to up'ards o' fifty, and feels disposed to go a-marryin' anybody—no matter who—jist you shut yourself up in your own room, if you've got one, and pison yourself off hand. Hangin's wulgar, so don't you have nothin' to say to that. Pison yourself, Samivel, my boy, pison yourself, and you'll be glad on it arterwards.' With these affecting words, Mr. Weller looked steadfastly on his son, and turning slowly upon his heel, disappeared from his sight.
In the contemplative mood which these words had awakened, Mr. Samuel Weller walked forth from the Great White Horse when his father had left him; and bending his steps towards St. Clement's Church, endeavoured to dissipate his melancholy, by strolling among its ancient precincts. He had loitered about, for some time, when he found himself in a retired spot—a kind of courtyard of venerable appearance—which he discovered had no other outlet than the turning by which he had entered. He was about retracing his steps, when he was suddenly transfixed to the spot by a sudden appearance; and the mode and manner of this appearance, we now proceed to relate.
Mr. Samuel Weller had been staring up at the old brick houses now and then, in his deep abstraction, bestowing a wink upon some healthy-looking servant girl as she drew up a blind, or threw open a bedroom window, when the green gate of a garden at the bottom of the yard opened, and a man having emerged therefrom, closed the green gate very carefully after him, and walked briskly towards the very spot where Mr. Weller was standing.
Now, taking this, as an isolated fact, unaccompanied by any attendant circumstances, there was nothing very extraordinary in it; because in many parts of the world men do come out of gardens, close green gates after them, and even walk briskly away, without attracting any particular share of public observation. It is clear, therefore, that there must have been something in the man, or in his manner, or both, to attract Mr. Weller's particular notice. Whether there was, or not, we must leave the reader to determine, when we have faithfully recorded the behaviour of the individual in question.
When the man had shut the green gate after him, he walked, as we have said twice already, with a brisk pace up the courtyard; but he no sooner caught sight of Mr. Weller than he faltered, and stopped, as if uncertain, for the moment, what course to adopt. As the green gate was closed behind him, and there was no other outlet but the one in front, however, he was not long in perceiving that he must pass Mr. Samuel Weller to get away. He therefore resumed his brisk pace, and advanced, staring straight before him. The most extraordinary thing about the man was, that he was contorting his face into the most fearful and astonishing grimaces that ever were beheld. Nature's handiwork never was disguised with such extraordinary artificial carving, as the man had overlaid his countenance with in one moment.
'Well!' said Mr. Weller to himself, as the man approached. 'This is wery odd. I could ha' swore it was him.'
Up came the man, and his face became more frightfully distorted than ever, as he drew nearer.
'I could take my oath to that 'ere black hair and mulberry suit,' said Mr. Weller; 'only I never see such a face as that afore.'
As Mr. Weller said this, the man's features assumed an unearthly twinge, perfectly hideous. He was obliged to pass very near Sam, however, and the scrutinising glance of that gentleman enabled him to detect, under all these appalling twists of feature, something too like the small eyes of Mr. Job Trotter to be easily mistaken.
'Hollo, you Sir!' shouted Sam fiercely.
The stranger stopped.
'Hollo!' repeated Sam, still more gruffly.
The man with the horrible face looked, with the greatest surprise, up the court, and down the court, and in at the windows of the houses—everywhere but at Sam Weller—and took another step forward, when he was brought to again by another shout.
'Hollo, you sir!' said Sam, for the third time.
There was no pretending to mistake where the voice came from now, so the stranger, having no other resource, at last looked Sam Weller full in the face.
'It won't do, Job Trotter,' said Sam. 'Come! None o' that 'ere nonsense. You ain't so wery 'andsome that you can afford to throw avay many o' your good looks. Bring them 'ere eyes o' yourn back into their proper places, or I'll knock 'em out of your head. D'ye hear?'
As Mr. Weller appeared fully disposed to act up to the spirit of this address, Mr. Trotter gradually allowed his face to resume its natural expression; and then giving a start of joy, exclaimed, 'What do I see? Mr. Walker!'
'Ah,' replied Sam. 'You're wery glad to see me, ain't you?'
'Glad!' exclaimed Job Trotter; 'oh, Mr. Walker, if you had but known how I have looked forward to this meeting! It is too much, Mr. Walker; I cannot bear it, indeed I cannot.' And with these words, Mr. Trotter burst into a regular inundation of tears, and, flinging his arms around those of Mr. Weller, embraced him closely, in an ecstasy of joy.
'Get off!' cried Sam, indignant at this process, and vainly endeavouring to extricate himself from the grasp of his enthusiastic acquaintance. 'Get off, I tell you. What are you crying over me for, you portable engine?'
'Because I am so glad to see you,' replied Job Trotter, gradually releasing Mr. Weller, as the first symptoms of his pugnacity disappeared. 'Oh, Mr. Walker, this is too much.'
'Too much!' echoed Sam, 'I think it is too much—rayther! Now, what have you got to say to me, eh?'
Mr. Trotter made no reply; for the little pink pocket-handkerchief was in full force.
'What have you got to say to me, afore I knock your head off?' repeated Mr. Weller, in a threatening manner.
'Eh!' said Mr. Trotter, with a look of virtuous surprise.
'What have you got to say to me?'
'I, Mr. Walker!'
'Don't call me Valker; my name's Veller; you know that vell enough. What have you got to say to me?'
'Bless you, Mr. Walker—Weller, I mean—a great many things, if you will come away somewhere, where we can talk comfortably. If you knew how I have looked for you, Mr. Weller—'
'Wery hard, indeed, I s'pose?' said Sam drily.
'Very, very, Sir,' replied Mr. Trotter, without moving a muscle of his face. 'But shake hands, Mr. Weller.'
Sam eyed his companion for a few seconds, and then, as if actuated by a sudden impulse, complied with his request. 'How,' said Job Trotter, as they walked away, 'how is your dear, good master? Oh, he is a worthy gentleman, Mr. Weller! I hope he didn't catch cold, that dreadful night, Sir.'
There was a momentary look of deep slyness in Job Trotter's eye, as he said this, which ran a thrill through Mr. Weller's clenched fist, as he burned with a desire to make a demonstration on his ribs. Sam constrained himself, however, and replied that his master was extremely well.
'Oh, I am so glad,' replied Mr. Trotter; 'is he here?'
'Is yourn?' asked Sam, by way of reply.
'Oh, yes, he is here, and I grieve to say, Mr. Weller, he is going on worse than ever.'
'Ah, ah!' said Sam.
'At a boarding-school?' said Sam.
'No, not at a boarding-school,' replied Job Trotter, with the same sly look which Sam had noticed before; 'not at a boarding-school.'
'At the house with the green gate?' said Sam, eyeing his companion closely.
'No, no—oh, not there,' replied Job, with a quickness very unusual to him, 'not there.'
'What was you a-doin' there?' asked Sam, with a sharp glance. 'Got inside the gate by accident, perhaps?'
'Why, Mr. Weller,' replied Job, 'I don't mind telling you my little secrets, because, you know, we took such a fancy for each other when we first met. You recollect how pleasant we were that morning?'
'Oh, yes,' said Sam, impatiently. 'I remember. Well?'
'Well,' replied Job, speaking with great precision, and in the low tone of a man who communicates an important secret; 'in that house with the green gate, Mr. Weller, they keep a good many servants.'
'So I should think, from the look on it,' interposed Sam.
'Yes,' continued Mr. Trotter, 'and one of them is a cook, who has saved up a little money, Mr. Weller, and is desirous, if she can establish herself in life, to open a little shop in the chandlery way, you see.' 'Yes.'
'Yes, Mr. Weller. Well, Sir, I met her at a chapel that I go to; a very neat little chapel in this town, Mr. Weller, where they sing the number four collection of hymns, which I generally carry about with me, in a little book, which you may perhaps have seen in my hand—and I got a little intimate with her, Mr. Weller, and from that, an acquaintance sprung up between us, and I may venture to say, Mr. Weller, that I am to be the chandler.'
'Ah, and a wery amiable chandler you'll make,' replied Sam, eyeing Job with a side look of intense dislike.
'The great advantage of this, Mr. Weller,' continued Job, his eyes filling with tears as he spoke, 'will be, that I shall be able to leave my present disgraceful service with that bad man, and to devote myself to a better and more virtuous life; more like the way in which I was brought up, Mr. Weller.'
'You must ha' been wery nicely brought up,' said Sam.
'Oh, very, Mr. Weller, very,' replied Job. At the recollection of the purity of his youthful days, Mr. Trotter pulled forth the pink handkerchief, and wept copiously.
'You must ha' been an uncommon nice boy, to go to school vith,' said Sam.
'I was, sir,' replied Job, heaving a deep sigh; 'I was the idol of the place.'
'Ah,' said Sam, 'I don't wonder at it. What a comfort you must ha' been to your blessed mother.'
At these words, Mr. Job Trotter inserted an end of the pink handkerchief into the corner of each eye, one after the other, and began to weep copiously.
'Wot's the matter with the man,' said Sam, indignantly. 'Chelsea water-works is nothin' to you. What are you melting vith now? The consciousness o' willainy?'
'I cannot keep my feelings down, Mr. Weller,' said Job, after a short pause. 'To think that my master should have suspected the conversation I had with yours, and so dragged me away in a post-chaise, and after persuading the sweet young lady to say she knew nothing of him, and bribing the school-mistress to do the same, deserted her for a better speculation! Oh! Mr. Weller, it makes me shudder.'
'Oh, that was the vay, was it?' said Mr. Weller.
'To be sure it was,' replied Job.
'Vell,' said Sam, as they had now arrived near the hotel, 'I vant to have a little bit o' talk with you, Job; so if you're not partickler engaged, I should like to see you at the Great White Horse to-night, somewheres about eight o'clock.'
'I shall be sure to come,' said Job.
'Yes, you'd better,' replied Sam, with a very meaning look, 'or else I shall perhaps be askin' arter you, at the other side of the green gate, and then I might cut you out, you know.'
'I shall be sure to be with you, sir,' said Mr. Trotter; and wringing Sam's hand with the utmost fervour, he walked away.
'Take care, Job Trotter, take care,' said Sam, looking after him, 'or I shall be one too many for you this time. I shall, indeed.' Having uttered this soliloquy, and looked after Job till he was to be seen no more, Mr. Weller made the best of his way to his master's bedroom.
'It's all in training, Sir,' said Sam.
'What's in training, Sam?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'I've found 'em out, Sir,' said Sam.
'Found out who?'
'That 'ere queer customer, and the melan-cholly chap with the black hair.'
'Impossible, Sam!' said Mr. Pickwick, with the greatest energy. 'Where are they, Sam: where are they?'
'Hush, hush!' replied Mr. Weller; and as he assisted Mr. Pickwick to dress, he detailed the plan of action on which he proposed to enter.
'But when is this to be done, Sam?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'All in good time, Sir,' replied Sam.
Whether it was done in good time, or not, will be seen hereafter.
CHAPTER XXIV. WHEREIN Mr. PETER MAGNUS GROWS JEALOUS, AND THE MIDDLE-AGED LADY APPREHENSIVE, WHICH BRINGS THE PICKWICKIANS WITHIN THE GRASP OF THE LAW
When Mr. Pickwick descended to the room in which he and Mr. Peter Magnus had spent the preceding evening, he found that gentleman with the major part of the contents of the two bags, the leathern hat-box, and the brown-paper parcel, displaying to all possible advantage on his person, while he himself was pacing up and down the room in a state of the utmost excitement and agitation.
'Good-morning, Sir,' said Mr. Peter Magnus. 'What do you think of this, Sir?'
'Very effective indeed,' replied Mr. Pickwick, surveying the garments of Mr. Peter Magnus with a good-natured smile.
'Yes, I think it'll do,' said Mr. Magnus. 'Mr. Pickwick, Sir, I have sent up my card.'
'Have you?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'And the waiter brought back word, that she would see me at eleven—at eleven, Sir; it only wants a quarter now.'
'Very near the time,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Yes, it is rather near,' replied Mr. Magnus, 'rather too near to be pleasant—eh! Mr. Pickwick, sir?'
'Confidence is a great thing in these cases,' observed Mr. Pickwick.
'I believe it is, Sir,' said Mr. Peter Magnus. 'I am very confident, Sir. Really, Mr. Pickwick, I do not see why a man should feel any fear in such a case as this, sir. What is it, Sir? There's nothing to be ashamed of; it's a matter of mutual accommodation, nothing more. Husband on one side, wife on the other. That's my view of the matter, Mr. Pickwick.'
'It is a very philosophical one,' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'But breakfast is waiting, Mr. Magnus. Come.'
Down they sat to breakfast, but it was evident, notwithstanding the boasting of Mr. Peter Magnus, that he laboured under a very considerable degree of nervousness, of which loss of appetite, a propensity to upset the tea-things, a spectral attempt at drollery, and an irresistible inclination to look at the clock, every other second, were among the principal symptoms.
'He-he-he,'tittered Mr. Magnus, affecting cheerfulness, and gasping with agitation. 'It only wants two minutes, Mr. Pickwick. Am I pale, Sir?' 'Not very,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
There was a brief pause.
'I beg your pardon, Mr. Pickwick; but have you ever done this sort of thing in your time?' said Mr. Magnus.
'You mean proposing?' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Yes.'
'Never,' said Mr. Pickwick, with great energy, 'never.'
'You have no idea, then, how it's best to begin?' said Mr. Magnus.
'Why,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I may have formed some ideas upon the subject, but, as I have never submitted them to the test of experience, I should be sorry if you were induced to regulate your proceedings by them.'
'I should feel very much obliged to you, for any advice, Sir,' said Mr. Magnus, taking another look at the clock, the hand of which was verging on the five minutes past.
'Well, sir,' said Mr. Pickwick, with the profound solemnity with which that great man could, when he pleased, render his remarks so deeply impressive. 'I should commence, sir, with a tribute to the lady's beauty and excellent qualities; from them, Sir, I should diverge to my own unworthiness.'
'Very good,' said Mr. Magnus.
'Unworthiness for HER only, mind, sir,' resumed Mr. Pickwick; 'for to show that I was not wholly unworthy, sir, I should take a brief review of my past life, and present condition. I should argue, by analogy, that to anybody else, I must be a very desirable object. I should then expatiate on the warmth of my love, and the depth of my devotion. Perhaps I might then be tempted to seize her hand.'
'Yes, I see,' said Mr. Magnus; 'that would be a very great point.'
'I should then, Sir,' continued Mr. Pickwick, growing warmer as the subject presented itself in more glowing colours before him—'I should then, Sir, come to the plain and simple question, "Will you have me?" I think I am justified in assuming that upon this, she would turn away her head.'
'You think that may be taken for granted?' said Mr. Magnus; 'because, if she did not do that at the right place, it would be embarrassing.'
'I think she would,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Upon this, sir, I should squeeze her hand, and I think—I think, Mr. Magnus—that after I had done that, supposing there was no refusal, I should gently draw away the handkerchief, which my slight knowledge of human nature leads me to suppose the lady would be applying to her eyes at the moment, and steal a respectful kiss. I think I should kiss her, Mr. Magnus; and at this particular point, I am decidedly of opinion that if the lady were going to take me at all, she would murmur into my ears a bashful acceptance.'
Mr. Magnus started; gazed on Mr. Pickwick's intelligent face, for a short time in silence; and then (the dial pointing to the ten minutes past) shook him warmly by the hand, and rushed desperately from the room.
Mr. Pickwick had taken a few strides to and fro; and the small hand of the clock following the latter part of his example, had arrived at the figure which indicates the half-hour, when the door suddenly opened. He turned round to meet Mr. Peter Magnus, and encountered, in his stead, the joyous face of Mr. Tupman, the serene countenance of Mr. Winkle, and the intellectual lineaments of Mr. Snodgrass. As Mr. Pickwick greeted them, Mr. Peter Magnus tripped into the room.
'My friends, the gentleman I was speaking of—Mr. Magnus,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Your servant, gentlemen,' said Mr. Magnus, evidently in a high state of excitement; 'Mr. Pickwick, allow me to speak to you one moment, sir.'
As he said this, Mr. Magnus harnessed his forefinger to Mr. Pickwick's buttonhole, and, drawing him to a window recess, said—
'Congratulate me, Mr. Pickwick; I followed your advice to the very letter.'
'And it was all correct, was it?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'It was, Sir. Could not possibly have been better,' replied Mr. Magnus. 'Mr. Pickwick, she is mine.'
'I congratulate you, with all my heart,' replied Mr. Pickwick, warmly shaking his new friend by the hand.
'You must see her. Sir,' said Mr. Magnus; 'this way, if you please. Excuse us for one instant, gentlemen.' Hurrying on in this way, Mr. Peter Magnus drew Mr. Pickwick from the room. He paused at the next door in the passage, and tapped gently thereat.
'Come in,' said a female voice. And in they went.
'Miss Witherfield,' said Mr. Magnus, 'allow me to introduce my very particular friend, Mr. Pickwick. Mr. Pickwick, I beg to make you known to Miss Witherfield.'
The lady was at the upper end of the room. As Mr. Pickwick bowed, he took his spectacles from his waistcoat pocket, and put them on; a process which he had no sooner gone through, than, uttering an exclamation of surprise, Mr. Pickwick retreated several paces, and the lady, with a half-suppressed scream, hid her face in her hands, and dropped into a chair; whereupon Mr. Peter Magnus was stricken motionless on the spot, and gazed from one to the other, with a countenance expressive of the extremities of horror and surprise. This certainly was, to all appearance, very unaccountable behaviour; but the fact is, that Mr. Pickwick no sooner put on his spectacles, than he at once recognised in the future Mrs. Magnus the lady into whose room he had so unwarrantably intruded on the previous night; and the spectacles had no sooner crossed Mr. Pickwick's nose, than the lady at once identified the countenance which she had seen surrounded by all the horrors of a nightcap. So the lady screamed, and Mr. Pickwick started.
'Mr. Pickwick!' exclaimed Mr. Magnus, lost in astonishment, 'what is the meaning of this, Sir? What is the meaning of it, Sir?' added Mr. Magnus, in a threatening, and a louder tone.
'Sir,' said Mr. Pickwick, somewhat indignant at the very sudden manner in which Mr. Peter Magnus had conjugated himself into the imperative mood, 'I decline answering that question.'
'You decline it, Sir?' said Mr. Magnus.
'I do, Sir,' replied Mr. Pickwick; 'I object to say anything which may compromise that lady, or awaken unpleasant recollections in her breast, without her consent and permission.'
'Miss Witherfield,' said Mr. Peter Magnus, 'do you know this person?'
'Know him!' repeated the middle-aged lady, hesitating.
'Yes, know him, ma'am; I said know him,' replied Mr. Magnus, with ferocity.
'I have seen him,' replied the middle-aged lady.
'Where?' inquired Mr. Magnus, 'where?'
'That,' said the middle-aged lady, rising from her seat, and averting her head—'that I would not reveal for worlds.'
'I understand you, ma'am,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'and respect your delicacy; it shall never be revealed by ME depend upon it.'
'Upon my word, ma'am,' said Mr. Magnus, 'considering the situation in which I am placed with regard to yourself, you carry this matter off with tolerable coolness—tolerable coolness, ma'am.'
'Cruel Mr. Magnus!' said the middle-aged lady; here she wept very copiously indeed.
'Address your observations to me, sir,' interposed Mr. Pickwick; 'I alone am to blame, if anybody be.'
'Oh! you alone are to blame, are you, sir?' said Mr. Magnus; 'I—I—see through this, sir. You repent of your determination now, do you?'
'My determination!' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Your determination, Sir. Oh! don't stare at me, Sir,' said Mr. Magnus; 'I recollect your words last night, Sir. You came down here, sir, to expose the treachery and falsehood of an individual on whose truth and honour you had placed implicit reliance—eh?' Here Mr. Peter Magnus indulged in a prolonged sneer; and taking off his green spectacles—which he probably found superfluous in his fit of jealousy—rolled his little eyes about, in a manner frightful to behold.
'Eh?' said Mr. Magnus; and then he repeated the sneer with increased effect. 'But you shall answer it, Sir.'
'Answer what?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Never mind, sir,' replied Mr. Magnus, striding up and down the room. 'Never mind.'
There must be something very comprehensive in this phrase of 'Never mind,' for we do not recollect to have ever witnessed a quarrel in the street, at a theatre, public room, or elsewhere, in which it has not been the standard reply to all belligerent inquiries. 'Do you call yourself a gentleman, sir?'—'Never mind, sir.' 'Did I offer to say anything to the young woman, sir?'—'Never mind, sir.' 'Do you want your head knocked up against that wall, sir?'—'Never mind, sir.' It is observable, too, that there would appear to be some hidden taunt in this universal 'Never mind,' which rouses more indignation in the bosom of the individual addressed, than the most lavish abuse could possibly awaken.
We do not mean to assert that the application of this brevity to himself, struck exactly that indignation to Mr. Pickwick's soul, which it would infallibly have roused in a vulgar breast. We merely record the fact that Mr. Pickwick opened the room door, and abruptly called out, 'Tupman, come here!'
Mr. Tupman immediately presented himself, with a look of very considerable surprise.
'Tupman,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'a secret of some delicacy, in which that lady is concerned, is the cause of a difference which has just arisen between this gentleman and myself. When I assure him, in your presence, that it has no relation to himself, and is not in any way connected with his affairs, I need hardly beg you to take notice that if he continue to dispute it, he expresses a doubt of my veracity, which I shall consider extremely insulting.' As Mr. Pickwick said this, he looked encyclopedias at Mr. Peter Magnus.
Mr. Pickwick's upright and honourable bearing, coupled with that force and energy of speech which so eminently distinguished him, would have carried conviction to any reasonable mind; but, unfortunately, at that particular moment, the mind of Mr. Peter Magnus was in anything but reasonable order. Consequently, instead of receiving Mr. Pickwick's explanation as he ought to have done, he forthwith proceeded to work himself into a red-hot, scorching, consuming passion, and to talk about what was due to his own feelings, and all that sort of thing; adding force to his declamation by striding to and fro, and pulling his hair—amusements which he would vary occasionally, by shaking his fist in Mr. Pickwick's philanthropic countenance.
Mr. Pickwick, in his turn, conscious of his own innocence and rectitude, and irritated by having unfortunately involved the middle-aged lady in such an unpleasant affair, was not so quietly disposed as was his wont. The consequence was, that words ran high, and voices higher; and at length Mr. Magnus told Mr. Pickwick he should hear from him; to which Mr. Pickwick replied, with laudable politeness, that the sooner he heard from him the better; whereupon the middle-aged lady rushed in terror from the room, out of which Mr. Tupman dragged Mr. Pickwick, leaving Mr. Peter Magnus to himself and meditation.
If the middle-aged lady had mingled much with the busy world, or had profited at all by the manners and customs of those who make the laws and set the fashions, she would have known that this sort of ferocity is the most harmless thing in nature; but as she had lived for the most part in the country, and never read the parliamentary debates, she was little versed in these particular refinements of civilised life. Accordingly, when she had gained her bedchamber, bolted herself in, and began to meditate on the scene she had just witnessed, the most terrific pictures of slaughter and destruction presented themselves to her imagination; among which, a full-length portrait of Mr. Peter Magnus borne home by four men, with the embellishment of a whole barrelful of bullets in his left side, was among the very least. The more the middle-aged lady meditated, the more terrified she became; and at length she determined to repair to the house of the principal magistrate of the town, and request him to secure the persons of Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Tupman without delay.
To this decision the middle-aged lady was impelled by a variety of considerations, the chief of which was the incontestable proof it would afford of her devotion to Mr. Peter Magnus, and her anxiety for his safety. She was too well acquainted with his jealous temperament to venture the slightest allusion to the real cause of her agitation on beholding Mr. Pickwick; and she trusted to her own influence and power of persuasion with the little man, to quell his boisterous jealousy, supposing that Mr. Pickwick were removed, and no fresh quarrel could arise. Filled with these reflections, the middle-aged lady arrayed herself in her bonnet and shawl, and repaired to the mayor's dwelling straightway.
Now George Nupkins, Esquire, the principal magistrate aforesaid, was as grand a personage as the fastest walker would find out, between sunrise and sunset, on the twenty-first of June, which being, according to the almanacs, the longest day in the whole year, would naturally afford him the longest period for his search. On this particular morning, Mr. Nupkins was in a state of the utmost excitement and irritation, for there had been a rebellion in the town; all the day-scholars at the largest day-school had conspired to break the windows of an obnoxious apple-seller, and had hooted the beadle and pelted the constabulary—an elderly gentleman in top-boots, who had been called out to repress the tumult, and who had been a peace-officer, man and boy, for half a century at least. And Mr. Nupkins was sitting in his easy-chair, frowning with majesty, and boiling with rage, when a lady was announced on pressing, private, and particular business. Mr. Nupkins looked calmly terrible, and commanded that the lady should be shown in; which command, like all the mandates of emperors, and magistrates, and other great potentates of the earth, was forthwith obeyed; and Miss Witherfield, interestingly agitated, was ushered in accordingly.
'Muzzle!' said the magistrate.
Muzzle was an undersized footman, with a long body and short legs.
'Muzzle!' 'Yes, your Worship.'
'Place a chair, and leave the room.'
'Yes, your Worship.'
'Now, ma'am, will you state your business?' said the magistrate.
'It is of a very painful kind, Sir,' said Miss Witherfield.
'Very likely, ma'am,' said the magistrate. 'Compose your feelings, ma'am.' Here Mr. Nupkins looked benignant. 'And then tell me what legal business brings you here, ma'am.' Here the magistrate triumphed over the man; and he looked stern again.
'It is very distressing to me, Sir, to give this information,' said Miss Witherfield, 'but I fear a duel is going to be fought here.'