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Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 19)


'Drive on, boys,' cried the testy old gentleman; 'don't wasteany more time with that old idiot!'

'Idiot!' exclaimed the old man with a grin, as he stood in themiddle of the road with the gate half-closed, watching the chaisewhich rapidly diminished in the increasing distance. 'No--notmuch o' that either; you've lost ten minutes here, and gone awayas wise as you came, arter all. If every man on the line as has aguinea give him, earns it half as well, you won't catch t'other shaythis side Mich'lmas, old short-and-fat.' And with anotherprolonged grin, the old man closed the gate, re-entered his house,and bolted the door after him.

Meanwhile the chaise proceeded, without any slackening ofpace, towards the conclusion of the stage. The moon, as Wardlehad foretold, was rapidly on the wane; large tiers of dark, heavyclouds, which had been gradually overspreading the sky for sometime past, now formed one black mass overhead; and large dropsof rain which pattered every now and then against the windowsof the chaise, seemed to warn the travellers of the rapid approachof a stormy night. The wind, too, which was directly against them,swept in furious gusts down the narrow road, and howleddismally through the trees which skirted the pathway. Mr. Pickwickdrew his coat closer about him, coiled himself more snuglyup into the corner of the chaise, and fell into a sound sleep, fromwhich he was only awakened by the stopping of the vehicle,the sound of the hostler's bell, and a loud cry of 'Horses ondirectly!'

But here another delay occurred. The boys were sleeping withsuch mysterious soundness, that it took five minutes a-piece towake them. The hostler had somehow or other mislaid the key ofthe stable, and even when that was found, two sleepy helpers putthe wrong harness on the wrong horses, and the whole process ofharnessing had to be gone through afresh. Had Mr. Pickwick beenalone, these multiplied obstacles would have completely put an end tothe pursuit at once, but old Wardle was not to be so easily daunted;and he laid about him with such hearty good-will, cuffing this man,and pushing that; strapping a buckle here, and taking in a linkthere, that the chaise was ready in a much shorter time than couldreasonably have been expected, under so many difficulties.

They resumed their journey; and certainly the prospect beforethem was by no means encouraging. The stage was fifteen mileslong, the night was dark, the wind high, and the rain pouring intorrents. It was impossible to make any great way against suchobstacles united; it was hard upon one o'clock already; andnearly two hours were consumed in getting to the end of thestage. Here, however, an object presented itself, which rekindledtheir hopes, and reanimated their drooping spirits.

'When did this chaise come in?' cried old Wardle, leaping outof his own vehicle, and pointing to one covered with wet mud,which was standing in the yard.

'Not a quarter of an hour ago, sir,' replied the hostler, to whomthe question was addressed.'Lady and gentleman?' inquired Wardle, almost breathlesswith impatience.

'Yes, sir.'

'Tall gentleman--dress-coat--long legs--thin body?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Elderly lady--thin face--rather skinny--eh?'

'Yes, sir.'

'By heavens, it's the couple, Pickwick,' exclaimed the oldgentleman.

'Would have been here before,' said the hostler, 'but they brokea trace.'

''Tis them!' said Wardle, 'it is, by Jove! Chaise-and-fourinstantly! We shall catch them yet before they reach the nextstage. A guinea a-piece, boys-be alive there--bustle about--there's good fellows.'

And with such admonitions as these, the old gentleman ran upand down the yard, and bustled to and fro, in a state of excitementwhich communicated itself to Mr. Pickwick also; andunder the influence of which, that gentleman got himself intocomplicated entanglements with harness, and mixed up withhorses and wheels of chaises, in the most surprising manner,firmly believing that by so doing he was materially forwarding thepreparations for their resuming their journey.

'Jump in--jump in!' cried old Wardle, climbing into thechaise, pulling up the steps, and slamming the door after him.'Come along! Make haste!' And before Mr. Pickwick knewprecisely what he was about, he felt himself forced in at the otherdoor, by one pull from the old gentleman and one push from thehostler; and off they were again.

'Ah! we are moving now,' said the old gentleman exultingly.They were indeed, as was sufficiently testified to Mr. Pickwick, byhis constant collision either with the hard wood-work of thechaise, or the body of his companion.

'Hold up!' said the stout old Mr. Wardle, as Mr. Pickwickdived head foremost into his capacious waistcoat.

'I never did feel such a jolting in my life,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Never mind,' replied his companion, 'it will soon be over.Steady, steady.'

Mr. Pickwick planted himself into his own corner, as firmly ashe could; and on whirled the chaise faster than ever.

They had travelled in this way about three miles, when Mr.Wardle, who had been looking out of the Window for two orthree minutes, suddenly drew in his face, covered with splashes,and exclaimed in breathless eagerness--

'Here they are!'

Mr. Pickwick thrust his head out of his window. Yes: therewas a chaise-and-four, a short distance before them, dashingalong at full gallop.

'Go on, go on,' almost shrieked the old gentleman. 'Twoguineas a-piece, boys--don't let 'em gain on us--keep it up--keep it up.'

The horses in the first chaise started on at their utmost speed;and those in Mr. Wardle's galloped furiously behind them.

'I see his head,' exclaimed the choleric old man; 'damme, I seehis head.'

'So do I' said Mr. Pickwick; 'that's he.'Mr. Pickwick was not mistaken. The countenance of Mr. Jingle,completely coated with mud thrown up by the wheels, was plainlydiscernible at the window of his chaise; and the motion of his arm,which was waving violently towards the postillions, denoted thathe was encouraging them to increased exertion.

The interest was intense. Fields, trees, and hedges, seemed torush past them with the velocity of a whirlwind, so rapid was thepace at which they tore along. They were close by the side of thefirst chaise. Jingle's voice could be plainly heard, even above thedin of the wheels, urging on the boys. Old Mr. Wardle foamedwith rage and excitement. He roared out scoundrels and villainsby the dozen, clenched his fist and shook it expressively at theobject of his indignation; but Mr. Jingle only answered with acontemptuous smile, and replied to his menaces by a shout oftriumph, as his horses, answering the increased application of whipand spur, broke into a faster gallop, and left the pursuers behind.

Mr. Pickwick had just drawn in his head, and Mr. Wardle,exhausted with shouting, had done the same, when a tremendousjolt threw them forward against the front of the vehicle. There wasa sudden bump--a loud crash--away rolled a wheel, and overwent the chaise.

After a very few seconds of bewilderment and confusion, inwhich nothing but the plunging of horses, and breaking of glasscould be made out, Mr. Pickwick felt himself violently pulled outfrom among the ruins of the chaise; and as soon as he had gainedhis feet, extricated his head from the skirts of his greatcoat,which materially impeded the usefulness of his spectacles, the fulldisaster of the case met his view.

Old Mr. Wardle without a hat, and his clothes torn in severalplaces, stood by his side, and the fragments of the chaise layscattered at their feet. The post-boys, who had succeeded incutting the traces, were standing, disfigured with mud and disorderedby hard riding, by the horses' heads. About a hundredyards in advance was the other chaise, which had pulled up onhearing the crash. The postillions, each with a broad grinconvulsing his countenance, were viewing the adverse party fromtheir saddles, and Mr. Jingle was contemplating the wreck fromthe coach window, with evident satisfaction. The day was justbreaking, and the whole scene was rendered perfectly visible bythe grey light of the morning.

'Hollo!' shouted the shameless Jingle, 'anybody damaged?--elderly gentlemen--no light weights--dangerous work--very.'

'You're a rascal,' roared Wardle.

'Ha! ha!' replied Jingle; and then he added, with a knowingwink, and a jerk of the thumb towards the interior of the chaise--'I say--she's very well--desires her compliments--begs you won'ttrouble yourself--love to TUPPY--won't you get up behind?--drive on, boys.'

The postillions resumed their proper attitudes, and awayrattled the chaise, Mr. Jingle fluttering in derision a whitehandkerchief from the coach window.

Nothing in the whole adventure, not even the upset, haddisturbed the calm and equable current of Mr. Pickwick'stemper. The villainy, however, which could first borrow moneyof his faithful follower, and then abbreviate his name to 'Tuppy,'was more than he could patiently bear. He drew his breath hard,and coloured up to the very tips of his spectacles, as he said,slowly and emphatically--

'If ever I meet that man again, I'll--'

'Yes, yes,' interrupted Wardle, 'that's all very well; but while westand talking here, they'll get their licence, and be married in London.'

Mr. Pickwick paused, bottled up his vengeance, and corked it down.'How far is it to the next stage?' inquired Mr. Wardle, of oneof the boys.

'Six mile, ain't it, Tom?'

'Rayther better.'

'Rayther better nor six mile, Sir.'

'Can't be helped,' said Wardle, 'we must walk it, Pickwick.'

'No help for it,' replied that truly great man.

So sending forward one of the boys on horseback, to procurea fresh chaise and horses, and leaving the other behind to takecare of the broken one, Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Wardle setmanfully forward on the walk, first tying their shawls round theirnecks, and slouching down their hats to escape as much aspossible from the deluge of rain, which after a slight cessationhad again begun to pour heavily down.

CHAPTER XCLEARING UP ALL DOUBTS (IF ANY EXISTED) OF THEDISINTERESTEDNESS OF Mr. A. JINGLE'S CHARACTER

There are in London several old inns, once the headquartersof celebrated coaches in the days when coaches performedtheir journeys in a graver and more solemn manner thanthey do in these times; but which have now degenerated into littlemore than the abiding and booking-places of country wagons. Thereader would look in vain for any of these ancient hostelries,among the Golden Crosses and Bull and Mouths, which reartheir stately fronts in the improved streets of London. If hewould light upon any of these old places, he must direct his stepsto the obscurer quarters of the town, and there in some secludednooks he will find several, still standing with a kind of gloomysturdiness, amidst the modern innovations which surround them.

In the Borough especially, there still remain some half-dozenold inns, which have preserved their external features unchanged,and which have escaped alike the rage for public improvement andthe encroachments of private speculation. Great, rambling queerold places they are, with galleries, and passages, and staircases,wide enough and antiquated enough to furnish materials for a hundredghost stories, supposing we should ever be reduced to the lamentablenecessity of inventing any, and that the world should exist longenough to exhaust the innumerable veracious legends connected withold London Bridge, and its adjacent neighbourhood on the Surrey side.

It was in the yard of one of these inns--of no less celebrated aone than the White Hart--that a man was busily employed inbrushing the dirt off a pair of boots, early on the morningsucceeding the events narrated in the last chapter. He washabited in a coarse, striped waistcoat, with black calico sleeves,and blue glass buttons; drab breeches and leggings. A bright redhandkerchief was wound in a very loose and unstudied styleround his neck, and an old white hat was carelessly thrown onone side of his head. There were two rows of boots before him,one cleaned and the other dirty, and at every addition he madeto the clean row, he paused from his work, and contemplated itsresults with evident satisfaction.

The yard presented none of that bustle and activity which arethe usual characteristics of a large coach inn. Three or fourlumbering wagons, each with a pile of goods beneath its amplecanopy, about the height of the second-floor window of anordinary house, were stowed away beneath a lofty roof whichextended over one end of the yard; and another, which wasprobably to commence its journey that morning, was drawn outinto the open space. A double tier of bedroom galleries, with oldClumsy balustrades, ran round two sides of the straggling area,and a double row of bells to correspond, sheltered from theweather by a little sloping roof, hung over the door leading to thebar and coffee-room. Two or three gigs and chaise-carts werewheeled up under different little sheds and pent-houses; and theoccasional heavy tread of a cart-horse, or rattling of a chain atthe farther end of the yard, announced to anybody who caredabout the matter, that the stable lay in that direction. Whenwe add that a few boys in smock-frocks were lying asleep onheavy packages, wool-packs, and other articles that werescattered about on heaps of straw, we have described as fullyas need be the general appearance of the yard of the WhiteHart Inn, High Street, Borough, on the particular morning in question.

A loud ringing of one of the bells was followed by the appearanceof a smart chambermaid in the upper sleeping gallery, who,after tapping at one of the doors, and receiving a request fromwithin, called over the balustrades--'Sam!'

'Hollo,' replied the man with the white hat.

'Number twenty-two wants his boots.'

'Ask number twenty-two, vether he'll have 'em now, or vaittill he gets 'em,' was the reply.

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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