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Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 15)


As their walk, which was not above two miles long, laythrough shady lanes and sequestered footpaths, and as theirconversation turned upon the delightful scenery by which theywere on every side surrounded, Mr. Pickwick was almostinclined to regret the expedition they had used, when he foundhimself in the main street of the town of Muggleton.Everybody whose genius has a topographical bent knowsperfectly well that Muggleton is a corporate town, with a mayor,burgesses, and freemen; and anybody who has consulted theaddresses of the mayor to the freemen, or the freemen to themayor, or both to the corporation, or all three to Parliament, willlearn from thence what they ought to have known before, thatMuggleton is an ancient and loyal borough, mingling a zealousadvocacy of Christian principles with a devoted attachment tocommercial rights; in demonstration whereof, the mayor,corporation, and other inhabitants, have presented at diverstimes, no fewer than one thousand four hundred and twentypetitions against the continuance of negro slavery abroad, andan equal number against any interference with the factory systemat home; sixty-eight in favour of the sale of livings in the Church,and eighty-six for abolishing Sunday trading in the street.

Mr. Pickwick stood in the principal street of this illustrioustown, and gazed with an air of curiosity, not unmixed withinterest, on the objects around him. There was an open squarefor the market-place; and in the centre of it, a large inn with asign-post in front, displaying an object very common in art, butrarely met with in nature--to wit, a blue lion, with three bow legsin the air, balancing himself on the extreme point of the centreclaw of his fourth foot. There were, within sight, an auctioneer'sand fire-agency office, a corn-factor's, a linen-draper's, asaddler's, a distiller's, a grocer's, and a shoe-shop--the last-mentioned warehouse being also appropriated to the diffusion ofhats, bonnets, wearing apparel, cotton umbrellas, and usefulknowledge. There was a red brick house with a small pavedcourtyard in front, which anybody might have known belongedto the attorney; and there was, moreover, another red brickhouse with Venetian blinds, and a large brass door-plate with avery legible announcement that it belonged to the surgeon. A fewboys were making their way to the cricket-field; and two or threeshopkeepers who were standing at their doors looked as if theyshould like to be making their way to the same spot, as indeed toall appearance they might have done, without losing any greatamount of custom thereby. Mr. Pickwick having paused to makethese observations, to be noted down at a more convenientperiod, hastened to rejoin his friends, who had turned outof the main street, and were already within sight of the fieldof battle.

The wickets were pitched, and so were a couple of marqueesfor the rest and refreshment of the contending parties. The gamehad not yet commenced. Two or three Dingley Dellers, and All-Muggletonians, were amusing themselves with a majestic air bythrowing the ball carelessly from hand to hand; and several othergentlemen dressed like them, in straw hats, flannel jackets, andwhite trousers--a costume in which they looked very much likeamateur stone-masons--were sprinkled about the tents, towardsone of which Mr. Wardle conducted the party.

Several dozen of 'How-are-you's?' hailed the old gentleman'sarrival; and a general raising of the straw hats, and bendingforward of the flannel jackets, followed his introduction of hisguests as gentlemen from London, who were extremely anxiousto witness the proceedings of the day, with which, he had nodoubt, they would be greatly delighted.

'You had better step into the marquee, I think, Sir,' said onevery stout gentleman, whose body and legs looked like half agigantic roll of flannel, elevated on a couple of inflated pillow-cases.

'You'll find it much pleasanter, Sir,' urged another stoutgentleman, who strongly resembled the other half of the roll offlannel aforesaid.

'You're very good,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'This way,' said the first speaker; 'they notch in here--it's thebest place in the whole field;' and the cricketer, panting on before,preceded them to the tent.

'Capital game--smart sport--fine exercise--very,' were thewords which fell upon Mr. Pickwick's ear as he entered the tent;and the first object that met his eyes was his green-coated friendof the Rochester coach, holding forth, to the no small delight andedification of a select circle of the chosen of All-Muggleton. Hisdress was slightly improved, and he wore boots; but there was nomistaking him.

The stranger recognised his friends immediately; and, dartingforward and seizing Mr. Pickwick by the hand, dragged him to aseat with his usual impetuosity, talking all the while as if thewhole of the arrangements were under his especial patronageand direction.

'This way--this way--capital fun--lots of beer--hogsheads;rounds of beef--bullocks; mustard--cart-loads; glorious day--down with you--make yourself at home--glad to see you--very.'

Mr. Pickwick sat down as he was bid, and Mr. Winkle andMr. Snodgrass also complied with the directions of theirmysterious friend. Mr. Wardle looked on in silent wonder.

'Mr. Wardle--a friend of mine,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Friend of yours!--My dear sir, how are you?--Friend of myfriend's--give me your hand, sir'--and the stranger graspedMr. Wardle's hand with all the fervour of a close intimacy ofmany years, and then stepped back a pace or two as if to take afull survey of his face and figure, and then shook hands with himagain, if possible, more warmly than before.

'Well; and how came you here?' said Mr. Pickwick, with asmile in which benevolence struggled with surprise.'Come,' replied the stranger--'stopping at Crown--Crown atMuggleton--met a party--flannel jackets--white trousers--anchovy sandwiches--devilled kidney--splendid fellows--glorious.'

Mr. Pickwick was sufficiently versed in the stranger's system ofstenography to infer from this rapid and disjointed communicationthat he had, somehow or other, contracted an acquaintancewith the All-Muggletons, which he had converted, by a processpeculiar to himself, into that extent of good-fellowship on whicha general invitation may be easily founded. His curiosity wastherefore satisfied, and putting on his spectacles he preparedhimself to watch the play which was just commencing.

All-Muggleton had the first innings; and the interest becameintense when Mr. Dumkins and Mr. Podder, two of the mostrenowned members of that most distinguished club, walked, batin hand, to their respective wickets. Mr. Luffey, the highestornament of Dingley Dell, was pitched to bowl against theredoubtable Dumkins, and Mr. Struggles was selected to do thesame kind office for the hitherto unconquered Podder. Severalplayers were stationed, to 'look out,' in different parts of thefield, and each fixed himself into the proper attitude by placingone hand on each knee, and stooping very much as if he were'making a back' for some beginner at leap-frog. All the regularplayers do this sort of thing;--indeed it is generally supposed thatit is quite impossible to look out properly in any other position.

The umpires were stationed behind the wickets; the scorerswere prepared to notch the runs; a breathless silence ensued.Mr. Luffey retired a few paces behind the wicket of the passivePodder, and applied the ball to his right eye for several seconds.Dumkins confidently awaited its coming with his eyes fixed on themotions of Luffey.

'Play!' suddenly cried the bowler. The ball flew from his handstraight and swift towards the centre stump of the wicket. Thewary Dumkins was on the alert: it fell upon the tip of the bat, andbounded far away over the heads of the scouts, who had juststooped low enough to let it fly over them.

'Run--run--another.--Now, then throw her up--up with her--stopthere--another--no--yes--no--throw her up, throw herup!'--Such were the shouts which followed the stroke; and at theconclusion of which All-Muggleton had scored two. Nor wasPodder behindhand in earning laurels wherewith to garnishhimself and Muggleton. He blocked the doubtful balls, missed thebad ones, took the good ones, and sent them flying to all parts ofthe field. The scouts were hot and tired; the bowlers werechanged and bowled till their arms ached; but Dumkins andPodder remained unconquered. Did an elderly gentleman essayto stop the progress of the ball, it rolled between his legs orslipped between his fingers. Did a slim gentleman try to catch it,it struck him on the nose, and bounded pleasantly off withredoubled violence, while the slim gentleman's eyes filled withwater, and his form writhed with anguish. Was it thrown straightup to the wicket, Dumkins had reached it before the ball. Inshort, when Dumkins was caught out, and Podder stumped out,All-Muggleton had notched some fifty-four, while the score ofthe Dingley Dellers was as blank as their faces. The advantagewas too great to be recovered. In vain did the eager Luffey, andthe enthusiastic Struggles, do all that skill and experience couldsuggest, to regain the ground Dingley Dell had lost in the contest--it was of no avail; and in an early period of the winning gameDingley Dell gave in, and allowed the superior prowess of All-Muggleton.

The stranger, meanwhile, had been eating, drinking, andtalking, without cessation. At every good stroke he expressed hissatisfaction and approval of the player in a most condescendingand patronising manner, which could not fail to have beenhighly gratifying to the party concerned; while at every badattempt at a catch, and every failure to stop the ball, he launchedhis personal displeasure at the head of the devoted individual insuch denunciations as--'Ah, ah!--stupid'--'Now, butter-fingers'--'Muff'--'Humbug'--and so forth--ejaculations whichseemed to establish him in the opinion of all around, as a mostexcellent and undeniable judge of the whole art and mystery ofthe noble game of cricket.

'Capital game--well played--some strokes admirable,' said thestranger, as both sides crowded into the tent, at the conclusion ofthe game.

'You have played it, sir?' inquired Mr. Wardle, who had beenmuch amused by his loquacity.'Played it! Think I have--thousands of times--not here--WestIndies--exciting thing--hot work--very.''It must be rather a warm pursuit in such a climate,' observedMr. Pickwick.

'Warm!--red hot--scorching--glowing. Played a match once--single wicket--friend thecolonel--Sir Thomas Blazo--whoshould get the greatest number of runs.--Won the toss--firstinnings--seven o'clock A.m.--six natives to look out--went in;kept in--heat intense--natives all fainted--taken away--freshhalf-dozen ordered--fainted also--Blazo bowling--supported bytwo natives--couldn't bowl me out--fainted too--cleared awaythe colonel--wouldn't give in--faithful attendant--QuankoSamba--last man left--sun so hot, bat in blisters, ball scorchedbrown--five hundred and seventy runs--rather exhausted--Quanko mustered up last remaining strength--bowled me out--had a bath, and went out to dinner.'

'And what became of what's-his-name, Sir?' inquired anold gentleman.

'Blazo?'

'No--the other gentleman.''Quanko Samba?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Poor Quanko--never recovered it--bowled on, on my account--bowled off, on his own--died, sir.' Here the stranger buried hiscountenance in a brown jug, but whether to hide his emotion orimbibe its contents, we cannot distinctly affirm. We only knowthat he paused suddenly, drew a long and deep breath, andlooked anxiously on, as two of the principal members of theDingley Dell club approached Mr. Pickwick, and said--

'We are about to partake of a plain dinner at the Blue Lion,Sir; we hope you and your friends will join us.''Of course,' said Mr. Wardle, 'among our friends we includeMr.--;' and he looked towards the stranger.

'Jingle,' said that versatile gentleman, taking the hint at once.'Jingle--Alfred Jingle, Esq., of No Hall, Nowhere.'

'I shall be very happy, I am sure,' said Mr. Pickwick.'So shall I,' said Mr. Alfred Jingle, drawing one arm throughMr. Pickwick's, and another through Mr. Wardle's, as hewhispered confidentially in the ear of the former gentleman:--

'Devilish good dinner--cold, but capital--peeped into theroom this morning--fowls and pies, and all that sort of thing--pleasant fellows these--well behaved, too--very.'

There being no further preliminaries to arrange, the companystraggled into the town in little knots of twos and threes; andwithin a quarter of an hour were all seated in the great room ofthe Blue Lion Inn, Muggleton--Mr. Dumkins acting as chairman,and Mr. Luffey officiating as vice.

There was a vast deal of talking and rattling of knives andforks, and plates; a great running about of three ponderous-headed waiters, and a rapid disappearance of the substantialviands on the table; to each and every of which item of confusion,the facetious Mr. Jingle lent the aid of half-a-dozen ordinary menat least. When everybody had eaten as much as possible, the clothwas removed, bottles, glasses, and dessert were placed on thetable; and the waiters withdrew to 'clear away,'or in other words,to appropriate to their own private use and emolument whateverremnants of the eatables and drinkables they could contrive tolay their hands on.

Amidst the general hum of mirth and conversation that ensued,there was a little man with a puffy Say-nothing-to-me,-or-I'll-contradict-you sort of countenance, who remained very quiet;occasionally looking round him when the conversation slackened,as if he contemplated putting in something very weighty; andnow and then bursting into a short cough of inexpressiblegrandeur. At length, during a moment of comparative silence, thelittle man called out in a very loud, solemn voice,--

'Mr. Luffey!'

Everybody was hushed into a profound stillness as the individualaddressed, replied--

'Sir!'

'I wish to address a few words to you, Sir, if you will entreat thegentlemen to fill their glasses.'

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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