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Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 17)


'Hadn't they better go to bed, ma'am?' inquired Emma. 'Twoof the boys will carry the gentlemen upstairs.'

'I won't go to bed,' said Mr. Winkle firmly.

'No living boy shall carry me,' said Mr. Pickwick stoutly; andhe went on smiling as before.'Hurrah!' gasped Mr. Winkle faintly.

'Hurrah!' echoed Mr. Pickwick, taking off his hat and dashingit on the floor, and insanely casting his spectacles into the middleof the kitchen. At this humorous feat he laughed outright.

'Let's--have--'nother--bottle,'cried Mr. Winkle, commencingin a very loud key, and ending in a very faint one. His headdropped upon his breast; and, muttering his invincible determinationnot to go to his bed, and a sanguinary regret that he hadnot 'done for old Tupman' in the morning, he fell fast asleep; inwhich condition he was borne to his apartment by two younggiants under the personal superintendence of the fat boy, towhose protecting care Mr. Snodgrass shortly afterwards confidedhis own person, Mr. Pickwick accepted the proffered arm ofMr. Tupman and quietly disappeared, smiling more than ever;and Mr. Wardle, after taking as affectionate a leave of the wholefamily as if he were ordered for immediate execution, consignedto Mr. Trundle the honour of conveying him upstairs, andretired, with a very futile attempt to look impressively solemnand dignified.'What a shocking scene!' said the spinster aunt.

'Dis-gusting!' ejaculated both the young ladies.

'Dreadful--dreadful!' said Jingle, looking very grave: he wasabout a bottle and a half ahead of any of his companions.'Horrid spectacle--very!'

'What a nice man!' whispered the spinster aunt to Mr. Tupman.

'Good-looking, too!' whispered Emily Wardle.

'Oh, decidedly,' observed the spinster aunt.

Mr. Tupman thought of the widow at Rochester, and his mindwas troubled. The succeeding half-hour's conversation was notof a nature to calm his perturbed spirit. The new visitor was verytalkative, and the number of his anecdotes was only to beexceeded by the extent of his politeness. Mr. Tupman felt that asJingle's popularity increased, he (Tupman) retired further into theshade. His laughter was forced--his merriment feigned; andwhen at last he laid his aching temples between the sheets, hethought, with horrid delight, on the satisfaction it would affordhim to have Jingle's head at that moment between the feather bedand the mattress.

The indefatigable stranger rose betimes next morning, and,although his companions remained in bed overpowered with thedissipation of the previous night, exerted himself most successfullyto promote the hilarity of the breakfast-table. So successfulwere his efforts, that even the deaf old lady insisted on having oneor two of his best jokes retailed through the trumpet; and evenshe condescended to observe to the spinster aunt, that 'He'(meaning Jingle) 'was an impudent young fellow:' a sentiment inwhich all her relations then and there present thoroughlycoincided.

It was the old lady's habit on the fine summer mornings torepair to the arbour in which Mr. Tupman had already signalisedhimself, in form and manner following: first, the fat boy fetchedfrom a peg behind the old lady's bedroom door, a close blacksatin bonnet, a warm cotton shawl, and a thick stick with acapacious handle; and the old lady, having put on the bonnet andshawl at her leisure, would lean one hand on the stick and theother on the fat boy's shoulder, and walk leisurely to the arbour,where the fat boy would leave her to enjoy the fresh air for thespace of half an hour; at the expiration of which time he wouldreturn and reconduct her to the house.

The old lady was very precise and very particular; and as thisceremony had been observed for three successive summerswithout the slightest deviation from the accustomed form,she was not a little surprised on this particular morning to seethe fat boy, instead of leaving the arbour, walk a few paces outof it, look carefully round him in every direction, and returntowards her with great stealth and an air of the most profound mystery.

The old lady was timorous--most old ladies are--and her firstimpression was that the bloated lad was about to do her somegrievous bodily harm with the view of possessing himself of herloose coin. She would have cried for assistance, but age andinfirmity had long ago deprived her of the power of screaming;she, therefore, watched his motions with feelings of intense horrorwhich were in no degree diminished by his coming close up to her,and shouting in her ear in an agitated, and as it seemed to her, athreatening tone--

'Missus!'

Now it so happened that Mr. Jingle was walking in the gardenclose to the arbour at that moment. He too heard the shouts of'Missus,' and stopped to hear more. There were three reasons forhis doing so. In the first place, he was idle and curious; secondly,he was by no means scrupulous; thirdly, and lastly, he wasconcealed from view by some flowering shrubs. So there hestood, and there he listened.

'Missus!' shouted the fat boy.

'Well, Joe,' said the trembling old lady. 'I'm sure I have beena good mistress to you, Joe. You have invariably been treatedvery kindly. You have never had too much to do; and you havealways had enough to eat.'

This last was an appeal to the fat boy's most sensitive feelings.He seemed touched, as he replied emphatically--'I knows I has.'

'Then what can you want to do now?' said the old lady,gaining courage.

'I wants to make your flesh creep,' replied the boy.

This sounded like a very bloodthirsty mode of showing one'sgratitude; and as the old lady did not precisely understand theprocess by which such a result was to be attained, all her formerhorrors returned.

'What do you think I see in this very arbour last night?'inquired the boy.

'Bless us! What?' exclaimed the old lady, alarmed at thesolemn manner of the corpulent youth.

'The strange gentleman--him as had his arm hurt--a-kissin'and huggin'--'

'Who, Joe? None of the servants, I hope.''Worser than that,' roared the fat boy, in the old lady's ear.

'Not one of my grandda'aters?'

'Worser than that.'

'Worse than that, Joe!' said the old lady, who had thought thisthe extreme limit of human atrocity. 'Who was it, Joe? I insistupon knowing.'

The fat boy looked cautiously round, and having concludedhis survey, shouted in the old lady's ear--

'Miss Rachael.'

'What!' said the old lady, in a shrill tone. 'Speak louder.'

'Miss Rachael,' roared the fat boy.

'My da'ater!'

The train of nods which the fat boy gave by way of assent,communicated a blanc-mange like motion to his fat cheeks.

'And she suffered him!' exclaimed the old lady.A grin stole over the fat boy's features as he said--

'I see her a-kissin' of him agin.'

If Mr. Jingle, from his place of concealment, could havebeheld the expression which the old lady's face assumed at thiscommunication, the probability is that a sudden burst oflaughter would have betrayed his close vicinity to the summer-house. He listened attentively. Fragments of angry sentences suchas, 'Without my permission!'--'At her time of life'--'Miserableold 'ooman like me'--'Might have waited till I was dead,' and soforth, reached his ears; and then he heard the heels of the fatboy's boots crunching the gravel, as he retired and left the oldlady alone.

It was a remarkable coincidence perhaps, but it was neverthelessa fact, that Mr. Jingle within five minutes of his arrival at ManorFarm on the preceding night, had inwardly resolved to lay siegeto the heart of the spinster aunt, without delay. He had observationenough to see, that his off-hand manner was by no meansdisagreeable to the fair object of his attack; and he had morethan a strong suspicion that she possessed that most desirable ofall requisites, a small independence. The imperative necessity ofousting his rival by some means or other, flashed quickly uponhim, and he immediately resolved to adopt certain proceedingstending to that end and object, without a moment's delay.Fielding tells us that man is fire, and woman tow, and the Princeof Darkness sets a light to 'em. Mr. Jingle knew that young men,to spinster aunts, are as lighted gas to gunpowder, and hedetermined to essay the effect of an explosion without loss of time.

Full of reflections upon this important decision, he crept fromhis place of concealment, and, under cover of the shrubs beforementioned, approached the house. Fortune seemed determined tofavour his design. Mr. Tupman and the rest of the gentlemen leftthe garden by the side gate just as he obtained a view of it; andthe young ladies, he knew, had walked out alone, soon afterbreakfast. The coast was clear.

The breakfast-parlour door was partially open. He peeped in.The spinster aunt was knitting. He coughed; she looked up andsmiled. Hesitation formed no part of Mr. Alfred Jingle'scharacter. He laid his finger on his lips mysteriously, walked in,and closed the door.

'Miss Wardle,' said Mr. Jingle, with affected earnestness,'forgive intrusion--short acquaintance--no time for ceremony--all discovered.'

'Sir!' said the spinster aunt, rather astonished by the unexpectedapparition and somewhat doubtful of Mr. Jingle's sanity.

'Hush!' said Mr. Jingle, in a stage-whisper--'Large boy--dumpling face--round eyes--rascal!' Here he shook his headexpressively, and the spinster aunt trembled with agitation.

'I presume you allude to Joseph, Sir?' said the lady, making aneffort to appear composed.

'Yes, ma'am--damn that Joe!--treacherous dog, Joe--told theold lady--old lady furious--wild--raving--arbour--Tupman--kissing and hugging--all that sort of thing--eh, ma'am--eh?'

'Mr. Jingle,' said the spinster aunt, 'if you come here, Sir, toinsult me--'

'Not at all--by no means,' replied the unabashed Mr. Jingle--'overheard the tale--came to warn you of your danger--tendermy services--prevent the hubbub. Never mind--think it aninsult--leave the room'--and he turned, as if to carry the threatinto execution.

'What SHALL I do!' said the poor spinster, bursting into tears.'My brother will be furious.'

'Of course he will,' said Mr. Jingle pausing--'outrageous.''Oh, Mr. Jingle, what CAN I say!' exclaimed the spinster aunt, inanother flood of despair.

'Say he dreamt it,' replied Mr. Jingle coolly.

A ray of comfort darted across the mind of the spinster aunt atthis suggestion. Mr. Jingle perceived it, and followed up his advantage.

'Pooh, pooh!--nothing more easy--blackguard boy--lovelywoman--fat boy horsewhipped--you believed--end of thematter--all comfortable.'

Whether the probability of escaping from the consequences ofthis ill-timed discovery was delightful to the spinster's feelings, orwhether the hearing herself described as a 'lovely woman'softened the asperity of her grief, we know not. She blushedslightly, and cast a grateful look on Mr. Jingle.

That insinuating gentleman sighed deeply, fixed his eyes on thespinster aunt's face for a couple of minutes, started melodramatically,and suddenly withdrew them.

'You seem unhappy, Mr. Jingle,' said the lady, in a plaintivevoice. 'May I show my gratitude for your kind interference,by inquiring into the cause, with a view, if possible, to its removal?'

'Ha!' exclaimed Mr. Jingle, with another start--'removal!remove my unhappiness, and your love bestowed upon a manwho is insensible to the blessing--who even now contemplates adesign upon the affections of the niece of the creature who--butno; he is my friend; I will not expose his vices. Miss Wardle--farewell!' At the conclusion of this address, the most consecutivehe was ever known to utter, Mr. Jingle applied to his eyes theremnant of a handkerchief before noticed, and turned towardsthe door.

'Stay, Mr. Jingle!' said the spinster aunt emphatically. 'Youhave made an allusion to Mr. Tupman--explain it.'

'Never!' exclaimed Jingle, with a professional (i.e., theatrical)air. 'Never!' and, by way of showing that he had no desire to bequestioned further, he drew a chair close to that of the spinsteraunt and sat down.

'Mr. Jingle,' said the aunt, 'I entreat--I implore you, if thereis any dreadful mystery connected with Mr. Tupman, reveal it.'

'Can I,' said Mr. Jingle, fixing his eyes on the aunt's face--'can I see--lovely creature--sacrificed at the shrine--heartless avarice!' He appeared to be struggling with variousconflicting emotions for a few seconds, and then said in a low voice--

'Tupman only wants your money.'

'The wretch!' exclaimed the spinster, with energetic indignation.(Mr. Jingle's doubts were resolved. She HAD money.)

'More than that,' said Jingle--'loves another.'

'Another!' ejaculated the spinster. 'Who?''Short girl--black eyes--niece Emily.'

There was a pause.

Now, if there was one individual in the whole world, of whomthe spinster aunt entertained a mortal and deep-rooted jealousy,it was this identical niece. The colour rushed over her face andneck, and she tossed her head in silence with an air of ineffablecontempt. At last, biting her thin lips, and bridling up, she said--

'It can't be. I won't believe it.'

'Watch 'em,' said Jingle.

'I will,' said the aunt.

'Watch his looks.'

'I will.'

'His whispers.'

'I will.'

'He'll sit next her at table.'

'Let him.'

'He'll flatter her.'

'Let him.'

'He'll pay her every possible attention.'

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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