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Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 31)


'"I scorn to flatter, my dear ma'am," said Tom Smart. "Youdeserve a very admirable husband, and whoever he is, he'll be avery lucky man." As Tom said this, his eye involuntarily wanderedfrom the widow's face to the comfort around him.

'The widow looked more puzzled than ever, and made an effortto rise. Tom gently pressed her hand, as if to detain her, and shekept her seat. Widows, gentlemen, are not usually timorous, asmy uncle used to say.

'"I am sure I am very much obliged to you, Sir, for your goodopinion," said the buxom landlady, half laughing; "and if ever Imarry again--"

'"IF," said Tom Smart, looking very shrewdly out of the right-hand corner of his left eye. "IF--""'Well," said the widow, laughing outright this time, "WHENI do, I hope I shall have as good a husband as you describe."

'"Jinkins, to wit," said Tom.

'"Lor, sir!" exclaimed the widow.

'"Oh, don't tell me," said Tom, "I know him."

'"I am sure nobody who knows him, knows anything bad ofhim," said the widow, bridling up at the mysterious air withwhich Tom had spoken.

'"Hem!" said Tom Smart.

'The widow began to think it was high time to cry, so she tookout her handkerchief, and inquired whether Tom wished toinsult her, whether he thought it like a gentleman to take awaythe character of another gentleman behind his back, why, if hehad got anything to say, he didn't say it to the man, like a man,instead of terrifying a poor weak woman in that way; andso forth.

'"I'll say it to him fast enough," said Tom, "only I want youto hear it first."

'"What is it?" inquired the widow, looking intently in Tom'scountenance.

'"I'll astonish you," said Tom, putting his hand in his pocket.

'"If it is, that he wants money," said the widow, "I know thatalready, and you needn't trouble yourself."'"Pooh, nonsense, that's nothing," said Tom Smart, "I wantmoney. 'Tain't that."

'"Oh, dear, what can it be?" exclaimed the poor widow.

'"Don't be frightened," said Tom Smart. He slowly drewforth the letter, and unfolded it. "You won't scream?" said Tomdoubtfully.

'"No, no," replied the widow; "let me see it."

'"You won't go fainting away, or any of that nonsense?"said Tom.

'"No, no," returned the widow hastily.

'"And don't run out, and blow him up," said Tom; "becauseI'll do all that for you. You had better not exert yourself."

'"Well, well," said the widow, "let me see it."

'"I will," replied Tom Smart; and, with these words, he placedthe letter in the widow's hand.

'Gentlemen, I have heard my uncle say, that Tom Smart saidthe widow's lamentations when she heard the disclosure wouldhave pierced a heart of stone. Tom was certainly very tender-hearted, but they pierced his, to the very core. The widow rockedherself to and fro, and wrung her hands.

'"Oh, the deception and villainy of the man!" said the widow.

'"Frightful, my dear ma'am; but compose yourself," saidTom Smart.

'"Oh, I can't compose myself," shrieked the widow. "I shallnever find anyone else I can love so much!"

'"Oh, yes you will, my dear soul," said Tom Smart, letting falla shower of the largest-sized tears, in pity for the widow'smisfortunes. Tom Smart, in the energy of his compassion, hadput his arm round the widow's waist; and the widow, in a passionof grief, had clasped Tom's hand. She looked up in Tom's face,and smiled through her tears. Tom looked down in hers, andsmiled through his.

'I never could find out, gentlemen, whether Tom did or did notkiss the widow at that particular moment. He used to tell myuncle he didn't, but I have my doubts about it. Between ourselves,gentlemen, I rather think he did.

'At all events, Tom kicked the very tall man out at the frontdoor half an hour later, and married the widow a month after.And he used to drive about the country, with the clay-colouredgig with the red wheels, and the vixenish mare with the fast pace,till he gave up business many years afterwards, and went toFrance with his wife; and then the old house was pulled down.'

'Will you allow me to ask you,' said the inquisitive old gentleman,'what became of the chair?'

'Why,' replied the one-eyed bagman, 'it was observed to creakvery much on the day of the wedding; but Tom Smart couldn'tsay for certain whether it was with pleasure or bodily infirmity.He rather thought it was the latter, though, for it never spokeafterwards.'

'Everybody believed the story, didn't they?' said the dirty-faced man, refilling his pipe.

'Except Tom's enemies,' replied the bagman. 'Some of 'emsaid Tom invented it altogether; and others said he was drunkand fancied it, and got hold of the wrong trousers by mistakebefore he went to bed. But nobody ever minded what THEY said.'

'Tom Smart said it was all true?'

'Every word.'

'And your uncle?'

'Every letter.'

'They must have been very nice men, both of 'em,' said thedirty-faced man.

'Yes, they were,' replied the bagman; 'very nice men indeed!'

CHAPTER XVIN WHICH IS GIVEN A FAITHFUL PORTRAITURE OF TWODISTINGUISHED PERSONS; AND AN ACCURATE DESCRIPTIONOF A PUBLIC BREAKFAST IN THEIR HOUSE AND GROUNDS:WHICH PUBLIC BREAKFAST LEADS TO THE RECOGNITIONOF AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE, AND THE COMMENCEMENT OFANOTHER CHAPTER

Mr. Pickwick's conscience had been somewhat reproaching him forhis recent neglect of his friends at the Peacock; and he was juston the point of walking forth in quest of them, on the third morningafter the election had terminated, when his faithful valet put intohis hand a card, on which was engraved the following inscription:--

Mrs. Leo HunterTHE DEN. EATANSWILL.

'Person's a-waitin',' said Sam, epigrammatically.

'Does the person want me, Sam?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.

'He wants you partickler; and no one else 'll do, as the devil'sprivate secretary said ven he fetched avay Doctor Faustus,'replied Mr. Weller.

'HE. Is it a gentleman?' said Mr. Pickwick.

'A wery good imitation o' one, if it ain't,' replied Mr. Weller.

'But this is a lady's card,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Given me by a gen'l'm'n, howsoever,' replied Sam, 'and he'sa-waitin' in the drawing-room--said he'd rather wait all day,than not see you.'

Mr. Pickwick, on hearing this determination, descended to thedrawing-room, where sat a grave man, who started up on hisentrance, and said, with an air of profound respect:--

'Mr. Pickwick, I presume?'

'The same.'

'Allow me, Sir, the honour of grasping your hand. Permit me,Sir, to shake it,' said the grave man.

'Certainly,' said Mr. Pickwick.The stranger shook the extended hand, and then continued--

'We have heard of your fame, sir. The noise of your antiquariandiscussion has reached the ears of Mrs. Leo Hunter--my wife, sir; I am Mr. Leo Hunter'--the stranger paused, as if heexpected that Mr. Pickwick would be overcome by the disclosure;but seeing that he remained perfectly calm, proceeded--

'My wife, sir--Mrs. Leo Hunter--is proud to number amongher acquaintance all those who have rendered themselves celebratedby their works and talents. Permit me, sir, to place in a conspicuouspart of the list the name of Mr. Pickwick, and his brother-members ofthe club that derives its name from him.'

'I shall be extremely happy to make the acquaintance of sucha lady, sir,' replied Mr. Pickwick.

'You SHALL make it, sir,' said the grave man. 'To-morrowmorning, sir, we give a public breakfast--a FETE CHAMPETRE--to agreat number of those who have rendered themselves celebratedby their works and talents. Permit Mrs. Leo Hunter, Sir, to havethe gratification of seeing you at the Den.'

'With great pleasure,' replied Mr. Pickwick.

'Mrs. Leo Hunter has many of these breakfasts, Sir,' resumedthe new acquaintance--'"feasts of reason," sir, "and flows ofsoul," as somebody who wrote a sonnet to Mrs. Leo Hunter onher breakfasts, feelingly and originally observed.'

'Was HE celebrated for his works and talents?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.

'He was Sir,' replied the grave man, 'all Mrs. Leo Hunter'sacquaintances are; it is her ambition, sir, to have no otheracquaintance.'

'It is a very noble ambition,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'When I inform Mrs. Leo Hunter, that that remark fell fromyour lips, sir, she will indeed be proud,' said the grave man. 'Youhave a gentleman in your train, who has produced some beautifullittle poems, I think, sir.'

'My friend Mr. Snodgrass has a great taste for poetry,' repliedMr. Pickwick.

'So has Mrs. Leo Hunter, Sir. She dotes on poetry, sir. Sheadores it; I may say that her whole soul and mind are wound up,and entwined with it. She has produced some delightful pieces,herself, sir. You may have met with her "Ode to an ExpiringFrog," sir.'

'I don't think I have,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'You astonish me, Sir,' said Mr. Leo Hunter. 'It created animmense sensation. It was signed with an "L" and eight stars, andappeared originally in a lady's magazine. It commenced--

'"Can I view thee panting, lyingOn thy stomach, without sighing;Can I unmoved see thee dyingOn a logExpiring frog!"''Beautiful!' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Fine,' said Mr. Leo Hunter; 'so simple.'

'Very,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'The next verse is still more touching. Shall I repeat it?'

'If you please,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'It runs thus,' said the grave man, still more gravely.

'"Say, have fiends in shape of boys,With wild halloo, and brutal noise,Hunted thee from marshy joys,With a dog,Expiring frog!"'

'Finely expressed,' said Mr. Pickwick.'All point, Sir,' said Mr. Leo Hunter; 'but you shall hearMrs. Leo Hunter repeat it. She can do justice to it, Sir. She willrepeat it, in character, Sir, to-morrow morning.'

'In character!'

'As Minerva. But I forgot--it's a fancy-dress DEJEUNE.'

'Dear me,' said Mr. Pickwick, glancing at his own figure--'Ican't possibly--'

'Can't, sir; can't!' exclaimed Mr. Leo Hunter. 'SolomonLucas, the Jew in the High Street, has thousands of fancy-dresses. Consider, Sir, how many appropriate characters are openfor your selection. Plato, Zeno, Epicurus, Pythagoras--allfounders of clubs.'

'I know that,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'but as I cannot put myselfin competition with those great men, I cannot presume to weartheir dresses.'

The grave man considered deeply, for a few seconds, and then said--

'On reflection, Sir, I don't know whether it would not affordMrs. Leo Hunter greater pleasure, if her guests saw a gentlemanof your celebrity in his own costume, rather than in an assumedone. I may venture to promise an exception in your case, sir--yes, I am quite certain that, on behalf of Mrs. Leo Hunter, I mayventure to do so.'

'In that case,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I shall have great pleasurein coming.'

'But I waste your time, Sir,' said the grave man, as if suddenlyrecollecting himself. 'I know its value, sir. I will not detain you.I may tell Mrs. Leo Hunter, then, that she may confidentlyexpect you and your distinguished friends? Good-morning,Sir, I am proud to have beheld so eminent a personage--not astep sir; not a word.' And without giving Mr. Pickwick time tooffer remonstrance or denial, Mr. Leo Hunter stalked gravely away.

Mr. Pickwick took up his hat, and repaired to the Peacock,but Mr. Winkle had conveyed the intelligence of the fancy-ballthere, before him.

'Mrs. Pott's going,' were the first words with which he salutedhis leader.

'Is she?' said Mr. Pickwick.

'As Apollo,' replied Winkle. 'Only Pott objects to the tunic.'

'He is right. He is quite right,' said Mr. Pickwick emphatically.

'Yes; so she's going to wear a white satin gown with gold spangles.'

'They'll hardly know what she's meant for; will they?' inquiredMr. Snodgrass.

'Of course they will,' replied Mr. Winkle indignantly. 'They'llsee her lyre, won't they?'

'True; I forgot that,' said Mr. Snodgrass.

'I shall go as a bandit,'interposed Mr. Tupman.

'What!' said Mr. Pickwick, with a sudden start.

'As a bandit,' repeated Mr. Tupman, mildly.

'You don't mean to say,' said Mr. Pickwick, gazing withsolemn sternness at his friend--'you don't mean to say, Mr.Tupman, that it is your intention to put yourself into a greenvelvet jacket, with a two-inch tail?'

'Such IS my intention, Sir,' replied Mr. Tupman warmly. 'Andwhy not, sir?'

'Because, Sir,' said Mr. Pickwick, considerably excited--'because you are too old, Sir.'

'Too old!' exclaimed Mr. Tupman.

'And if any further ground of objection be wanting,' continuedMr. Pickwick, 'you are too fat, sir.'

'Sir,' said Mr. Tupman, his face suffused with a crimson glow,'this is an insult.'

'Sir,' replied Mr. Pickwick, in the same tone, 'it is not half theinsult to you, that your appearance in my presence in a greenvelvet jacket, with a two-inch tail, would be to me.'

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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