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Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 24)


'Let me see: yes, I had been out. It was late at night when Ireached home, and found the proudest of the three proudbrothers waiting to see me--urgent business he said: I recollectit well. I hated that man with all a madman's hate. Many andmany a time had my fingers longed to tear him. They told me hewas there. I ran swiftly upstairs. He had a word to say to me. Idismissed the servants. It was late, and we were alone together--for the first time.

'I kept my eyes carefully from him at first, for I knew what helittle thought--and I gloried in the knowledge--that the light ofmadness gleamed from them like fire. We sat in silence for a fewminutes. He spoke at last. My recent dissipation, and strangeremarks, made so soon after his sister's death, were an insult toher memory. Coupling together many circumstances which hadat first escaped his observation, he thought I had not treated herwell. He wished to know whether he was right in inferring that Imeant to cast a reproach upon her memory, and a disrespect upon herfamily. It was due to the uniform he wore, to demand this explanation.

'This man had a commission in the army--a commission,purchased with my money, and his sister's misery! This was theman who had been foremost in the plot to ensnare me, and graspmy wealth. This was the man who had been the main instrumentin forcing his sister to wed me; well knowing that her heart wasgiven to that puling boy. Due to his uniform! The livery of hisdegradation! I turned my eyes upon him--I could not help it--but I spoke not a word.

'I saw the sudden change that came upon him beneath mygaze. He was a bold man, but the colour faded from his face, andhe drew back his chair. I dragged mine nearer to him; and Ilaughed--I was very merry then--I saw him shudder. I felt themadness rising within me. He was afraid of me.

'"You were very fond of your sister when she was alive," Isaid.--"Very."

'He looked uneasily round him, and I saw his hand grasp theback of his chair; but he said nothing.

'"You villain," said I, "I found you out: I discovered yourhellish plots against me; I know her heart was fixed on some oneelse before you compelled her to marry me. I know it--I know it."

'He jumped suddenly from his chair, brandished it aloft, andbid me stand back--for I took care to be getting closer to him allthe time I spoke.

'I screamed rather than talked, for I felt tumultuous passionseddying through my veins, and the old spirits whispering andtaunting me to tear his heart out.

'"Damn you," said I, starting up, and rushing upon him; "Ikilled her. I am a madman. Down with you. Blood, blood! I willhave it!"

'I turned aside with one blow the chair he hurled at me in histerror, and closed with him; and with a heavy crash we rolledupon the floor together.'It was a fine struggle that; for he was a tall, strong man,fighting for his life; and I, a powerful madman, thirsting todestroy him. I knew no strength could equal mine, and I wasright. Right again, though a madman! His struggles grew fainter.I knelt upon his chest, and clasped his brawny throat firmly withboth hands. His face grew purple; his eyes were starting from hishead, and with protruded tongue, he seemed to mock me. Isqueezed the tighter.'The door was suddenly burst open with a loud noise, and acrowd of people rushed forward, crying aloud to each other tosecure the madman.

'My secret was out; and my only struggle now was for libertyand freedom. I gained my feet before a hand was on me, threwmyself among my assailants, and cleared my way with my strongarm, as if I bore a hatchet in my hand, and hewed them downbefore me. I gained the door, dropped over the banisters, and inan instant was in the street.

'Straight and swift I ran, and no one dared to stop me. I heardthe noise of the feet behind, and redoubled my speed. It grewfainter and fainter in the distance, and at length died awayaltogether; but on I bounded, through marsh and rivulet, overfence and wall, with a wild shout which was taken up by thestrange beings that flocked around me on every side, and swelledthe sound, till it pierced the air. I was borne upon the arms ofdemons who swept along upon the wind, and bore down bankand hedge before them, and spun me round and round with arustle and a speed that made my head swim, until at last theythrew me from them with a violent shock, and I fell heavily uponthe earth. When I woke I found myself here--here in this graycell, where the sunlight seldom comes, and the moon steals in, inrays which only serve to show the dark shadows about me, and thatsilent figure in its old corner. When I lie awake, I can sometimeshear strange shrieks and cries from distant parts of thislarge place. What they are, I know not; but they neither comefrom that pale form, nor does it regard them. For from the firstshades of dusk till the earliest light of morning, it still standsmotionless in the same place, listening to the music of my ironchain, and watching my gambols on my straw bed.'

At the end of the manuscript was written, in another hand, thisnote:--

[The unhappy man whose ravings are recorded above, was amelancholy instance of the baneful results of energiesmisdirected in early life, and excesses prolonged until theirconsequences could never be repaired. The thoughtless riot,dissipation, and debauchery of his younger days produced fever anddelirium. The first effects of the latter was the strange delusion,founded upon a well-known medical theory, strongly contendedfor by some, and as strongly contested by others, that anhereditary madness existed in his family. This produced a settledgloom, which in time developed a morbid insanity, and finallyterminated in raving madness. There is every reason to believethat the events he detailed, though distorted in the descriptionby his diseased imagination, really happened. It is only matter ofwonder to those who were acquainted with the vices of his earlycareer, that his passions, when no longer controlled by reason,did not lead him to the commission of still more frightful deeds.]

Mr. Pickwick's candle was just expiring in the socket, as heconcluded the perusal of the old clergyman's manuscript; andwhen the light went suddenly out, without any previous flickerby way of warning, it communicated a very considerable start tohis excited frame. Hastily throwing off such articles of clothing ashe had put on when he rose from his uneasy bed, and casting afearful glance around, he once more scrambled hastily betweenthe sheets, and soon fell fast asleep.

The sun was shining brilliantly into his chamber, when heawoke, and the morning was far advanced. The gloom which hadoppressed him on the previous night had disappeared with thedark shadows which shrouded the landscape, and his thoughtsand feelings were as light and gay as the morning itself. After ahearty breakfast, the four gentlemen sallied forth to walk toGravesend, followed by a man bearing the stone in its deal box.They reached the town about one o'clock (their luggage they haddirected to be forwarded to the city, from Rochester), and beingfortunate enough to secure places on the outside of a coach,arrived in London in sound health and spirits, on that same afternoon.

The next three or four days were occupied with the preparationswhich were necessary for their journey to the borough ofEatanswill. As any references to that most important undertakingdemands a separate chapter, we may devote the few lineswhich remain at the close of this, to narrate, with great brevity,the history of the antiquarian discovery.

It appears from the Transactions of the Club, then, that Mr.Pickwick lectured upon the discovery at a General Club Meeting,convened on the night succeeding their return, and entered into avariety of ingenious and erudite speculations on the meaning ofthe inscription. It also appears that a skilful artist executed afaithful delineation of the curiosity, which was engraven onstone, and presented to the Royal Antiquarian Society, and otherlearned bodies: that heart-burnings and jealousies withoutnumber were created by rival controversies which were pennedupon the subject; and that Mr. Pickwick himself wrote apamphlet, containing ninety-six pages of very small print, andtwenty-seven different readings of the inscription: that three oldgentlemen cut off their eldest sons with a shilling a-piece forpresuming to doubt the antiquity of the fragment; and that oneenthusiastic individual cut himself off prematurely, in despair atbeing unable to fathom its meaning: that Mr. Pickwick waselected an honorary member of seventeen native and foreignsocieties, for making the discovery: that none of the seventeencould make anything of it; but that all the seventeen agreed itwas very extraordinary.

Mr. Blotton, indeed--and the name will be doomed to theundying contempt of those who cultivate the mysterious and thesublime--Mr. Blotton, we say, with the doubt and cavillingpeculiar to vulgar minds, presumed to state a view of the case, asdegrading as ridiculous. Mr. Blotton, with a mean desire totarnish the lustre of the immortal name of Pickwick, actuallyundertook a journey to Cobham in person, and on his return,sarcastically observed in an oration at the club, that he had seenthe man from whom the stone was purchased; that the manpresumed the stone to be ancient, but solemnly denied theantiquity of the inscription--inasmuch as he represented it tohave been rudely carved by himself in an idle mood, and todisplay letters intended to bear neither more or less than thesimple construction of--'BILL STUMPS, HIS MARK'; andthat Mr. Stumps, being little in the habit of original composition,and more accustomed to be guided by the sound of words thanby the strict rules of orthography, had omitted the concluding'L' of his Christian name.

The Pickwick Club (as might have been expected from soenlightened an institution) received this statement with the contemptit deserved, expelled the presumptuous and ill-conditionedBlotton from the society, and voted Mr. Pickwick a pair of goldspectacles, in token of their confidence and approbation: inreturn for which, Mr. Pickwick caused a portrait of himself tobe painted, and hung up in the club room.

Mr. Blotton was ejected but not conquered. He also wrote apamphlet, addressed to the seventeen learned societies, nativeand foreign, containing a repetition of the statement he hadalready made, and rather more than half intimating his opinionthat the seventeen learned societies were so many 'humbugs.'Hereupon, the virtuous indignation of the seventeen learnedsocieties being roused, several fresh pamphlets appeared; theforeign learned societies corresponded with the native learnedsocieties; the native learned societies translated the pamphlets ofthe foreign learned societies into English; the foreign learnedsocieties translated the pamphlets of the native learned societiesinto all sorts of languages; and thus commenced that celebratedscientific discussion so well known to all men, as the Pickwickcontroversy.

But this base attempt to injure Mr. Pickwick recoiled upon thehead of its calumnious author. The seventeen learned societiesunanimously voted the presumptuous Blotton an ignorantmeddler, and forthwith set to work upon more treatises thanever. And to this day the stone remains, an illegible monumentof Mr. Pickwick's greatness, and a lasting trophy to the littlenessof his enemies.

CHAPTER XIIDESCRIPTIVE OF A VERY IMPORTANT PROCEEDING ONTHE PART OF Mr. PICKWICK; NO LESS AN EPOCH IN HISLIFE, THAN IN THIS HISTORY

Mr. Pickwick's apartments in Goswell Street, although on alimited scale, were not only of a very neat and comfortabledescription, but peculiarly adapted for the residence of a manof his genius and observation. His sitting-room was the first-floorfront, his bedroom the second-floor front; and thus, whether he weresitting at his desk in his parlour, or standing before the dressing-glass in his dormitory, he had an equal opportunity of contemplating human nature in all the numerous phases it exhibits, in that notmore populous than popular thoroughfare. His landlady, Mrs. Bardell--the relict and sole executrix of a deceased custom-house officer--wasa comely woman of bustling manners and agreeable appearance, with anatural genius for cooking, improved by study and long practice, intoan exquisite talent. There were no children, no servants, no fowls.The only other inmates of the house were a large man and asmall boy; the first a lodger, the second a production of Mrs.Bardell's. The large man was always home precisely at teno'clock at night, at which hour he regularly condensed himselfinto the limits of a dwarfish French bedstead in the back parlour;and the infantine sports and gymnastic exercises of MasterBardell were exclusively confined to the neighbouring pavementsand gutters. Cleanliness and quiet reigned throughout the house;and in it Mr. Pickwick's will was law.

To any one acquainted with these points of the domesticeconomy of the establishment, and conversant with the admirableregulation of Mr. Pickwick's mind, his appearance and behaviouron the morning previous to that which had been fixed upon forthe journey to Eatanswill would have been most mysterious andunaccountable. He paced the room to and fro with hurried steps,popped his head out of the window at intervals of about threeminutes each, constantly referred to his watch, and exhibitedmany other manifestations of impatience very unusual with him.It was evident that something of great importance was incontemplation, but what that something was, not even Mrs. Bardellhad been enabled to discover.

'Mrs. Bardell,' said Mr. Pickwick, at last, as that amiablefemale approached the termination of a prolonged dusting of theapartment.

'Sir,' said Mrs. Bardell.

'Your little boy is a very long time gone.'

'Why it's a good long way to the Borough, sir,' remonstratedMrs. Bardell.

'Ah,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'very true; so it is.'Mr. Pickwick relapsed into silence, and Mrs. Bardell resumedher dusting.

'Mrs. Bardell,' said Mr. Pickwick, at the expiration of a few minutes.

'Sir,' said Mrs. Bardell again.'Do you think it a much greater expense to keep two people,than to keep one?'

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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