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Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 11)


'What CAN he mean by this?' said Mr. Snodgrass, when thehorse had executed this manoeuvre for the twentieth time.

'I don't know,' replied Mr. Tupman; 'it looks very like shying,don't it?' Mr. Snodgrass was about to reply, when he was interruptedby a shout from Mr. Pickwick.

'Woo!' said that gentleman; 'I have dropped my whip.''Winkle,' said Mr. Snodgrass, as the equestrian came trottingup on the tall horse, with his hat over his ears, and shaking allover, as if he would shake to pieces, with the violence of theexercise, 'pick up the whip, there's a good fellow.' Mr. Winklepulled at the bridle of the tall horse till he was black in the face;and having at length succeeded in stopping him, dismounted,handed the whip to Mr. Pickwick, and grasping the reins,prepared to remount.

Now whether the tall horse, in the natural playfulness of hisdisposition, was desirous of having a little innocent recreationwith Mr. Winkle, or whether it occurred to him that he couldperform the journey as much to his own satisfaction without arider as with one, are points upon which, of course, we canarrive at no definite and distinct conclusion. By whatever motivesthe animal was actuated, certain it is that Mr. Winkle had nosooner touched the reins, than he slipped them over his head, anddarted backwards to their full length.

'Poor fellow,' said Mr. Winkle soothingly--'poor fellow--good old horse.' The 'poor fellow' was proof against flattery; themore Mr. Winkle tried to get nearer him, the more he sidledaway; and, notwithstanding all kinds of coaxing and wheedling,there were Mr. Winkle and the horse going round and round eachother for ten minutes, at the end of which time each was atprecisely the same distance from the other as when they firstcommenced--an unsatisfactory sort of thing under any circumstances,but particularly so in a lonely road, where no assistancecan be procured.

'What am I to do?' shouted Mr. Winkle, after the dodging hadbeen prolonged for a considerable time. 'What am I to do? Ican't get on him.'

'You had better lead him till we come to a turnpike,' repliedMr. Pickwick from the chaise.

'But he won't come!' roared Mr. Winkle. 'Do come and hold him.'

Mr. Pickwick was the very personation of kindness andhumanity: he threw the reins on the horse's back, and havingdescended from his seat, carefully drew the chaise into the hedge,lest anything should come along the road, and stepped back tothe assistance of his distressed companion, leaving Mr. Tupmanand Mr. Snodgrass in the vehicle.

The horse no sooner beheld Mr. Pickwick advancing towardshim with the chaise whip in his hand, than he exchanged therotary motion in which he had previously indulged, for a retrogrademovement of so very determined a character, that it at oncedrew Mr. Winkle, who was still at the end of the bridle, at arather quicker rate than fast walking, in the direction from whichthey had just come. Mr. Pickwick ran to his assistance, but thefaster Mr. Pickwick ran forward, the faster the horse ran backward.There was a great scraping of feet, and kicking up ofthe dust; and at last Mr. Winkle, his arms being nearly pulledout of their sockets, fairly let go his hold. The horse paused,stared, shook his head, turned round, and quietly trottedhome to Rochester, leaving Mr. Winkle and Mr. Pickwickgazing on each other with countenances of blank dismay. Arattling noise at a little distance attracted their attention. Theylooked up.

'Bless my soul!' exclaimed the agonised Mr. Pickwick; 'there'sthe other horse running away!'

It was but too true. The animal was startled by the noise, andthe reins were on his back. The results may be guessed. He toreoff with the four-wheeled chaise behind him, and Mr. Tupmanand Mr. Snodgrass in the four-wheeled chaise. The heat was ashort one. Mr. Tupman threw himself into the hedge, Mr. Snodgrassfollowed his example, the horse dashed the four--wheeledchaise against a wooden bridge, separated the wheels from thebody, and the bin from the perch; and finally stood stock still togaze upon the ruin he had made.

The first care of the two unspilt friends was to extricate theirunfortunate companions from their bed of quickset--a processwhich gave them the unspeakable satisfaction of discovering thatthey had sustained no injury, beyond sundry rents in theirgarments, and various lacerations from the brambles. The nextthing to be done was to unharness the horse. This complicatedprocess having been effected, the party walked slowly forward,leading the horse among them, and abandoning the chaise to its fate.

An hour's walk brought the travellers to a little road-sidepublic-house, with two elm-trees, a horse trough, and a signpost,in front; one or two deformed hay-ricks behind, a kitchen gardenat the side, and rotten sheds and mouldering outhouses jumbledin strange confusion all about it. A red-headed man was workingin the garden; and to him Mr. Pickwick called lustily, 'Hollo there!'

The red-headed man raised his body, shaded his eyes with his hand,and stared, long and coolly, at Mr. Pickwick and his companions.

'Hollo there!' repeated Mr. Pickwick.

'Hollo!' was the red-headed man's reply.

'How far is it to Dingley Dell?'

'Better er seven mile.'

'Is it a good road?'

'No, 'tain't.' Having uttered this brief reply, and apparentlysatisfied himself with another scrutiny, the red-headed manresumed his work.'We want to put this horse up here,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'Isuppose we can, can't we?''Want to put that ere horse up, do ee?' repeated the red-headed man, leaning on his spade.

'Of course,' replied Mr. Pickwick, who had by this timeadvanced, horse in hand, to the garden rails.

'Missus'--roared the man with the red head, emerging fromthe garden, and looking very hard at the horse--'missus!'

A tall, bony woman--straight all the way down--in a coarse,blue pelisse, with the waist an inch or two below her arm-pits,responded to the call.

'Can we put this horse up here, my good woman?' said Mr.Tupman, advancing, and speaking in his most seductive tones.The woman looked very hard at the whole party; and the red-headed man whispered something in her ear.

'No,' replied the woman, after a little consideration, 'I'mafeerd on it.'

'Afraid!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, 'what's the woman afraid of ?'

'It got us in trouble last time,' said the woman, turning into thehouse; 'I woan't have nothin' to say to 'un.'

'Most extraordinary thing I have ever met with in my life,' saidthe astonished Mr. Pickwick.

'I--I--really believe,' whispered Mr. Winkle, as his friendsgathered round him, 'that they think we have come by this horsein some dishonest manner.'

'What!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, in a storm of indignation.Mr. Winkle modestly repeated his suggestion.

'Hollo, you fellow,' said the angry Mr. Pickwick,'do you thinkwe stole the horse?'

'I'm sure ye did,' replied the red-headed man, with a grin whichagitated his countenance from one auricular organ to the other.Saying which he turned into the house and banged the door after him.

'It's like a dream,' ejaculated Mr. Pickwick, 'a hideous dream.The idea of a man's walking about all day with a dreadful horsethat he can't get rid of!' The depressed Pickwickians turnedmoodily away, with the tall quadruped, for which they all felt themost unmitigated disgust, following slowly at their heels.

It was late in the afternoon when the four friends and theirfour-footed companion turned into the lane leading to ManorFarm; and even when they were so near their place of destination,the pleasure they would otherwise have experienced was materiallydamped as they reflected on the singularity of their appearance,and the absurdity of their situation. Torn clothes, lacerated faces,dusty shoes, exhausted looks, and, above all, the horse. Oh, howMr. Pickwick cursed that horse: he had eyed the noble animalfrom time to time with looks expressive of hatred and revenge;more than once he had calculated the probable amount of theexpense he would incur by cutting his throat; and now thetemptation to destroy him, or to cast him loose upon the world,rushed upon his mind with tenfold force. He was roused from ameditation on these dire imaginings by the sudden appearance oftwo figures at a turn of the lane. It was Mr. Wardle, and hisfaithful attendant, the fat boy.

'Why, where have you been ?' said the hospitable old gentleman;'I've been waiting for you all day. Well, you DO look tired. What!Scratches! Not hurt, I hope--eh? Well, I AM glad to hear that--very. So you've been spilt, eh? Never mind. Common accident inthese parts. Joe--he's asleep again!--Joe, take that horse fromthe gentlemen, and lead it into the stable.'

The fat boy sauntered heavily behind them with the animal;and the old gentleman, condoling with his guests in homelyphrase on so much of the day's adventures as they thought properto communicate, led the way to the kitchen.

'We'll have you put to rights here,' said the old gentleman, 'andthen I'll introduce you to the people in the parlour. Emma, bringout the cherry brandy; now, Jane, a needle and thread here;towels and water, Mary. Come, girls, bustle about.'

Three or four buxom girls speedily dispersed in search of thedifferent articles in requisition, while a couple of large-headed,circular-visaged males rose from their seats in the chimney-corner (for although it was a May evening their attachment to thewood fire appeared as cordial as if it were Christmas), and divedinto some obscure recesses, from which they speedily produced abottle of blacking, and some half-dozen brushes.

'Bustle!' said the old gentleman again, but the admonition wasquite unnecessary, for one of the girls poured out the cherrybrandy, and another brought in the towels, and one of the mensuddenly seizing Mr. Pickwick by the leg, at imminent hazard ofthrowing him off his balance, brushed away at his boot till hiscorns were red-hot; while the other shampooed Mr. Winkle witha heavy clothes-brush, indulging, during the operation, in thathissing sound which hostlers are wont to produce when engagedin rubbing down a horse.

Mr. Snodgrass, having concluded his ablutions, took a surveyof the room, while standing with his back to the fire, sipping hischerry brandy with heartfelt satisfaction. He describes it as alarge apartment, with a red brick floor and a capacious chimney;the ceiling garnished with hams, sides of bacon, and ropes ofonions. The walls were decorated with several hunting-whips,two or three bridles, a saddle, and an old rusty blunderbuss, withan inscription below it, intimating that it was 'Loaded'--as it hadbeen, on the same authority, for half a century at least. An oldeight-day clock, of solemn and sedate demeanour, ticked gravelyin one corner; and a silver watch, of equal antiquity, dangledfrom one of the many hooks which ornamented the dresser.

'Ready?' said the old gentleman inquiringly, when his guestshad been washed, mended, brushed, and brandied.

'Quite,' replied Mr. Pickwick.

'Come along, then;' and the party having traversed severaldark passages, and being joined by Mr. Tupman, who hadlingered behind to snatch a kiss from Emma, for which he hadbeen duly rewarded with sundry pushings and scratchings,arrived at the parlour door.

'Welcome,' said their hospitable host, throwing it open andstepping forward to announce them, 'welcome, gentlemen, toManor Farm.'

CHAPTER VIAN OLD-FASHIONED CARD-PARTY--THE CLERGYMAN'SVERSES--THE STORY OF THE CONVICT'S RETURN

Several guests who were assembled in the old parlour rose togreet Mr. Pickwick and his friends upon their entrance; and duringthe performance of the ceremony of introduction, with all dueformalities, Mr. Pickwick had leisure to observe the appearance,and speculate upon the characters and pursuits, of the persons bywhom he was surrounded--a habit in which he, in common with manyother great men, delighted to indulge.

A very old lady, in a lofty cap and faded silk gown--no less apersonage than Mr. Wardle's mother--occupied the post ofhonour on the right-hand corner of the chimney-piece; andvarious certificates of her having been brought up in the way sheshould go when young, and of her not having departed from itwhen old, ornamented the walls, in the form of samplers ofancient date, worsted landscapes of equal antiquity, and crimsonsilk tea-kettle holders of a more modern period. The aunt, the twoyoung ladies, and Mr. Wardle, each vying with the other inpaying zealous and unremitting attentions to the old lady,crowded round her easy-chair, one holding her ear-trumpet,another an orange, and a third a smelling-bottle, while a fourthwas busily engaged in patting and punching the pillows whichwere arranged for her support. On the opposite side sat a bald-headed old gentleman, with a good-humoured, benevolent face--the clergyman of Dingley Dell; and next him sat his wife, a stout,blooming old lady, who looked as if she were well skilled, notonly in the art and mystery of manufacturing home-madecordials greatly to other people's satisfaction, but of tasting themoccasionally very much to her own. A little hard-headed,Ripstone pippin-faced man, was conversing with a fat oldgentleman in one corner; and two or three more old gentlemen,and two or three more old ladies, sat bolt upright and motionlesson their chairs, staring very hard at Mr. Pickwick and hisfellow-voyagers.

'Mr. Pickwick, mother,' said Mr. Wardle, at the very top ofhis voice.

'Ah!' said the old lady, shaking her head; 'I can't hear you.'

'Mr. Pickwick, grandma!' screamed both the young ladies together.

'Ah!' exclaimed the old lady. 'Well, it don't much matter. Hedon't care for an old 'ooman like me, I dare say.'

'I assure you, ma'am,' said Mr. Pickwick, grasping the oldlady's hand, and speaking so loud that the exertion imparted acrimson hue to his benevolent countenance--'I assure you,ma'am, that nothing delights me more than to see a lady of yourtime of life heading so fine a family, and looking so young and well.'

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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