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Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 30)


"'Well," said Tom, slowly undressing himself, and staring atthe old chair all the while, which stood with a mysterious aspectby the bedside, "I never saw such a rum concern as that in mydays. Very odd," said Tom, who had got rather sage with the hotpunch--'very odd." Tom shook his head with an air of profoundwisdom, and looked at the chair again. He couldn't makeanything of it though, so he got into bed, covered himself upwarm, and fell asleep.

'In about half an hour, Tom woke up with a start, from aconfused dream of tall men and tumblers of punch; and the firstobject that presented itself to his waking imagination was thequeer chair.

'"I won't look at it any more," said Tom to himself, and hesqueezed his eyelids together, and tried to persuade himself hewas going to sleep again. No use; nothing but queer chairsdanced before his eyes, kicking up their legs, jumping over eachother's backs, and playing all kinds of antics.

"'I may as well see one real chair, as two or three completesets of false ones," said Tom, bringing out his head from underthe bedclothes. There it was, plainly discernible by the light ofthe fire, looking as provoking as ever.

'Tom gazed at the chair; and, suddenly as he looked at it, amost extraordinary change seemed to come over it. The carvingof the back gradually assumed the lineaments and expression ofan old, shrivelled human face; the damask cushion became anantique, flapped waistcoat; the round knobs grew into a coupleof feet, encased in red cloth slippers; and the whole chair lookedlike a very ugly old man, of the previous century, with his armsakimbo. Tom sat up in bed, and rubbed his eyes to dispel theillusion. No. The chair was an ugly old gentleman; and whatwas more, he was winking at Tom Smart.

'Tom was naturally a headlong, careless sort of dog, and hehad had five tumblers of hot punch into the bargain; so, althoughhe was a little startled at first, he began to grow rather indignantwhen he saw the old gentleman winking and leering at him withsuch an impudent air. At length he resolved that he wouldn'tstand it; and as the old face still kept winking away as fast asever, Tom said, in a very angry tone--

'"What the devil are you winking at me for?"

'"Because I like it, Tom Smart," said the chair; or the oldgentleman, whichever you like to call him. He stopped winkingthough, when Tom spoke, and began grinning like asuperannuated monkey.

'"How do you know my name, old nut-cracker face?"inquired Tom Smart, rather staggered; though he pretended tocarry it off so well.

'"Come, come, Tom," said the old gentleman, "that's not theway to address solid Spanish mahogany. Damme, you couldn'ttreat me with less respect if I was veneered." When the oldgentleman said this, he looked so fierce that Tom began togrow frightened.

'"I didn't mean to treat you with any disrespect, Sir," saidTom, in a much humbler tone than he had spoken in at first.

'"Well, well," said the old fellow, "perhaps not--perhapsnot. Tom--"

'"sir--"

'"I know everything about you, Tom; everything. You'revery poor, Tom."

'"I certainly am," said Tom Smart. "But how came you toknow that?"

'"Never mind that," said the old gentleman; "you're muchtoo fond of punch, Tom."

'Tom Smart was just on the point of protesting that he hadn'ttasted a drop since his last birthday, but when his eye encounteredthat of the old gentleman he looked so knowing that Tomblushed, and was silent.

'"Tom," said the old gentleman, "the widow's a fine woman--remarkably fine woman--eh, Tom?" Here the old fellowscrewed up his eyes, cocked up one of his wasted little legs, andlooked altogether so unpleasantly amorous, that Tom was quitedisgusted with the levity of his behaviour--at his time of life, too!'"I am her guardian, Tom," said the old gentleman.

'"Are you?" inquired Tom Smart.

'"I knew her mother, Tom," said the old fellow: "and hergrandmother. She was very fond of me--made me this waistcoat, Tom."

'"Did she?" said Tom Smart.

'"And these shoes," said the old fellow, lifting up one of thered cloth mufflers; "but don't mention it, Tom. I shouldn't like tohave it known that she was so much attached to me. It mightoccasion some unpleasantness in the family." When the oldrascal said this, he looked so extremely impertinent, that, asTom Smart afterwards declared, he could have sat upon himwithout remorse.

'"I have been a great favourite among the women in my time,Tom," said the profligate old debauchee; "hundreds of finewomen have sat in my lap for hours together. What do you thinkof that, you dog, eh!" The old gentleman was proceeding torecount some other exploits of his youth, when he was seizedwith such a violent fit of creaking that he was unable to proceed.

'"Just serves you right, old boy," thought Tom Smart; but hedidn't say anything.

'"Ah!" said the old fellow, "I am a good deal troubled withthis now. I am getting old, Tom, and have lost nearly all my rails.I have had an operation performed, too--a small piece let intomy back--and I found it a severe trial, Tom."

'"I dare say you did, Sir," said Tom Smart.

'"However," said the old gentleman, "that's not the point.Tom! I want you to marry the widow."

'"Me, Sir!" said Tom.

'"You," said the old gentleman.

'"Bless your reverend locks," said Tom (he had a few scatteredhorse-hairs left)--"bless your reverend locks, she wouldn't haveme." And Tom sighed involuntarily, as he thought of the bar.

'"Wouldn't she?" said the old gentleman firmly.

'"No, no," said Tom; "there's somebody else in the wind. Atall man--a confoundedly tall man--with black whiskers."

'"Tom," said the old gentleman; "she will never have him."

'"Won't she?" said Tom. "If you stood in the bar, oldgentleman, you'd tell another story."'"Pooh, pooh," said the old gentleman. "I know all about that. "

'"About what?" said Tom.

'"The kissing behind the door, and all that sort of thing,Tom," said the old gentleman. And here he gave anotherimpudent look, which made Tom very wroth, because as you allknow, gentlemen, to hear an old fellow, who ought to knowbetter, talking about these things, is very unpleasant--nothingmore so.

'"I know all about that, Tom," said the old gentleman. "Ihave seen it done very often in my time, Tom, between morepeople than I should like to mention to you; but it never came toanything after all."

'"You must have seen some queer things," said Tom, with aninquisitive look.

'"You may say that, Tom," replied the old fellow, with a verycomplicated wink. "I am the last of my family, Tom," said theold gentleman, with a melancholy sigh.

'"Was it a large one?" inquired Tom Smart.

'"There were twelve of us, Tom," said the old gentleman;"fine, straight-backed, handsome fellows as you'd wish to see.None of your modern abortions--all with arms, and with adegree of polish, though I say it that should not, which it wouldhave done your heart good to behold."

'"And what's become of the others, Sir?" asked Tom Smart--

'The old gentleman applied his elbow to his eye as he replied,"Gone, Tom, gone. We had hard service, Tom, and they hadn'tall my constitution. They got rheumatic about the legs and arms,and went into kitchens and other hospitals; and one of 'em, withlong service and hard usage, positively lost his senses--he gotso crazy that he was obliged to be burnt. Shocking thing that, Tom."

'"Dreadful!" said Tom Smart.

'The old fellow paused for a few minutes, apparently strugglingwith his feelings of emotion, and then said--

'"However, Tom, I am wandering from the point. This tallman, Tom, is a rascally adventurer. The moment he married thewidow, he would sell off all the furniture, and run away. Whatwould be the consequence? She would be deserted and reducedto ruin, and I should catch my death of cold in some broker's shop."

'"Yes, but--"

'"Don't interrupt me," said the old gentleman. "Of you, Tom,I entertain a very different opinion; for I well know that if youonce settled yourself in a public-house, you would never leave it,as long as there was anything to drink within its walls."

'"I am very much obliged to you for your good opinion, Sir,"said Tom Smart.

'"Therefore," resumed the old gentleman, in a dictatorialtone, "you shall have her, and he shall not."

'"What is to prevent it?" said Tom Smart eagerly.

'"This disclosure," replied the old gentleman; "he is already married."

'"How can I prove it?" said Tom, starting half out of bed.

'The old gentleman untucked his arm from his side, and havingpointed to one of the oaken presses, immediately replaced it, inits old position.

'"He little thinks," said the old gentleman, "that in the right-hand pocket of a pair of trousers in that press, he has left a letter,entreating him to return to his disconsolate wife, with six--markme, Tom--six babes, and all of them small ones."

'As the old gentleman solemnly uttered these words, hisfeatures grew less and less distinct, and his figure more shadowy.A film came over Tom Smart's eyes. The old man seemedgradually blending into the chair, the damask waistcoat toresolve into a cushion, the red slippers to shrink into little redcloth bags. The light faded gently away, and Tom Smart fellback on his pillow, and dropped asleep.

'Morning aroused Tom from the lethargic slumber, intowhich he had fallen on the disappearance of the old man. He satup in bed, and for some minutes vainly endeavoured to recall theevents of the preceding night. Suddenly they rushed upon him.He looked at the chair; it was a fantastic and grim-looking pieceof furniture, certainly, but it must have been a remarkablyingenious and lively imagination, that could have discovered anyresemblance between it and an old man.

'"How are you, old boy?" said Tom. He was bolder in thedaylight--most men are.

'The chair remained motionless, and spoke not a word.

'"Miserable morning," said Tom. No. The chair would not bedrawn into conversation.

'"Which press did you point to?--you can tell me that," saidTom. Devil a word, gentlemen, the chair would say.

'"It's not much trouble to open it, anyhow," said Tom,getting out of bed very deliberately. He walked up to one of thepresses. The key was in the lock; he turned it, and opened thedoor. There was a pair of trousers there. He put his hand into thepocket, and drew forth the identical letter the old gentlemanhad described!

'"Queer sort of thing, this," said Tom Smart, looking first atthe chair and then at the press, and then at the letter, and then atthe chair again. "Very queer," said Tom. But, as there wasnothing in either, to lessen the queerness, he thought he might aswell dress himself, and settle the tall man's business at once--just to put him out of his misery.

'Tom surveyed the rooms he passed through, on his waydownstairs, with the scrutinising eye of a landlord; thinking itnot impossible, that before long, they and their contents wouldbe his property. The tall man was standing in the snug littlebar, with his hands behind him, quite at home. He grinnedvacantly at Tom. A casual observer might have supposed he didit, only to show his white teeth; but Tom Smart thought that aconsciousness of triumph was passing through the place wherethe tall man's mind would have been, if he had had any. Tomlaughed in his face; and summoned the landlady.

'"Good-morning ma'am," said Tom Smart, closing the doorof the little parlour as the widow entered.

'"Good-morning, Sir," said the widow. "What will you takefor breakfast, sir?"

'Tom was thinking how he should open the case, so he madeno answer.

'"There's a very nice ham," said the widow, "and a beautifulcold larded fowl. Shall I send 'em in, Sir?"

'These words roused Tom from his reflections. His admirationof the widow increased as she spoke. Thoughtful creature!Comfortable provider!

'"Who is that gentleman in the bar, ma'am?" inquired Tom.

'"His name is Jinkins, Sir," said the widow, slightly blushing.

'"He's a tall man," said Tom.

'"He is a very fine man, Sir," replied the widow, "and a verynice gentleman."

'"Ah!" said Tom.

'"Is there anything more you want, Sir?" inquired the widow,rather puzzled by Tom's manner.'"Why, yes," said Tom. "My dear ma'am, will you have thekindness to sit down for one moment?"

'The widow looked much amazed, but she sat down, and Tomsat down too, close beside her. I don't know how it happened,gentlemen--indeed my uncle used to tell me that Tom Smart saidhe didn't know how it happened either--but somehow or otherthe palm of Tom's hand fell upon the back of the widow's hand,and remained there while he spoke.

'"My dear ma'am," said Tom Smart--he had always a greatnotion of committing the amiable--"my dear ma'am, youdeserve a very excellent husband--you do indeed."

'"Lor, Sir!" said the widow--as well she might; Tom's modeof commencing the conversation being rather unusual, not tosay startling; the fact of his never having set eyes upon herbefore the previous night being taken into consideration. "Lor, Sir!"

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
Viewed 135370 times

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