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Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 33)


'Count,' said Mrs. Leo Hunter.'Mrs. Hunt,' replied the count.

'This is Mr. Snodgrass, a friend of Mr. Pickwick's, and a poet.'

'Stop,' exclaimed the count, bringing out the tablets oncemore. 'Head, potry--chapter, literary friends--name, Snowgrass;ver good. Introduced to Snowgrass--great poet, friend of PeekWeeks--by Mrs. Hunt, which wrote other sweet poem--what isthat name?--Fog--Perspiring Fog--ver good--ver goodindeed.' And the count put up his tablets, and with sundry bowsand acknowledgments walked away, thoroughly satisfied that hehad made the most important and valuable additions to his stockof information.

'Wonderful man, Count Smorltork,' said Mrs. Leo Hunter.

'Sound philosopher,' said Mr. Pott.

'Clear-headed, strong-minded person,' added Mr. Snodgrass.

A chorus of bystanders took up the shout of Count Smorltork'spraise, shook their heads sagely, and unanimously cried, 'Very!'

As the enthusiasm in Count Smorltork's favour ran very high,his praises might have been sung until the end of the festivities,if the four something-ean singers had not ranged themselves infront of a small apple-tree, to look picturesque, and commencedsinging their national songs, which appeared by no meansdifficult of execution, inasmuch as the grand secret seemed to be,that three of the something-ean singers should grunt, while thefourth howled. This interesting performance having concludedamidst the loud plaudits of the whole company, a boy forthwithproceeded to entangle himself with the rails of a chair, and tojump over it, and crawl under it, and fall down with it, and doeverything but sit upon it, and then to make a cravat of his legs,and tie them round his neck, and then to illustrate the ease withwhich a human being can be made to look like a magnified toad--all which feats yielded high delight and satisfaction to theassembled spectators. After which, the voice of Mrs. Pott washeard to chirp faintly forth, something which courtesy interpretedinto a song, which was all very classical, and strictly incharacter, because Apollo was himself a composer, andcomposers can very seldom sing their own music or anybody else's,either. This was succeeded by Mrs. Leo Hunter's recitation of herfar-famed 'Ode to an Expiring Frog,' which was encored once,and would have been encored twice, if the major part of theguests, who thought it was high time to get something to eat, hadnot said that it was perfectly shameful to take advantage ofMrs. Hunter's good nature. So although Mrs. Leo Hunterprofessed her perfect willingness to recite the ode again, her kindand considerate friends wouldn't hear of it on any account; andthe refreshment room being thrown open, all the people who hadever been there before, scrambled in with all possible despatch--Mrs. Leo Hunter's usual course of proceedings being, to issuecards for a hundred, and breakfast for fifty, or in other words tofeed only the very particular lions, and let the smaller animalstake care of themselves.

'Where is Mr. Pott?' said Mrs. Leo Hunter, as she placed theaforesaid lions around her.

'Here I am,' said the editor, from the remotest end of theroom; far beyond all hope of food, unless something was donefor him by the hostess.

'Won't you come up here?'

'Oh, pray don't mind him,' said Mrs. Pott, in the mostobliging voice--'you give yourself a great deal of unnecessarytrouble, Mrs. Hunter. You'll do very well there, won't you--dear?'

'Certainly--love,' replied the unhappy Pott, with a grim smile.Alas for the knout! The nervous arm that wielded it, with such agigantic force on public characters, was paralysed beneath theglance of the imperious Mrs. Pott.

Mrs. Leo Hunter looked round her in triumph. Count Smorltorkwas busily engaged in taking notes of the contents of thedishes; Mr. Tupman was doing the honours of the lobster saladto several lionesses, with a degree of grace which no brigand everexhibited before; Mr. Snodgrass having cut out the young gentlemanwho cut up the books for the Eatanswill GAZETTE, wasengaged in an impassioned argument with the young lady whodid the poetry; and Mr. Pickwick was making himself universallyagreeable. Nothing seemed wanting to render the select circlecomplete, when Mr. Leo Hunter--whose department on theseoccasions, was to stand about in doorways, and talk to the lessimportant people--suddenly called out--'My dear; here's Mr. Charles Fitz-Marshall.'

'Oh dear,' said Mrs. Leo Hunter, 'how anxiously I have beenexpecting him. Pray make room, to let Mr. Fitz-Marshall pass.Tell Mr. Fitz-Marshall, my dear, to come up to me directly, tobe scolded for coming so late.'

'Coming, my dear ma'am,' cried a voice, 'as quick as I can--crowds of people--full room--hard work--very.'

Mr. Pickwick's knife and fork fell from his hand. He staredacross the table at Mr. Tupman, who had dropped his knife andfork, and was looking as if he were about to sink into the groundwithout further notice.

'Ah!' cried the voice, as its owner pushed his way among thelast five-and-twenty Turks, officers, cavaliers, and Charles theSeconds, that remained between him and the table, 'regularmangle--Baker's patent--not a crease in my coat, after all thissqueezing--might have "got up my linen" as I came along--ha! ha! not a bad idea, that--queer thing to have it mangledwhen it's upon one, though--trying process--very.'

With these broken words, a young man dressed as a navalofficer made his way up to the table, and presented to theastonished Pickwickians the identical form and features of Mr.Alfred Jingle.The offender had barely time to take Mrs. Leo Hunter'sproffered hand, when his eyes encountered the indignant orbs ofMr. Pickwick.

'Hollo!' said Jingle. 'Quite forgot--no directions to postillion--give 'em at once--back in a minute.'

'The servant, or Mr. Hunter will do it in a moment, Mr.Fitz-Marshall,' said Mrs. Leo Hunter.

'No, no--I'll do it--shan't be long--back in no time,' repliedJingle. With these words he disappeared among the crowd.

'Will you allow me to ask you, ma'am,' said the excited Mr.Pickwick, rising from his seat, 'who that young man is, andwhere he resides?'

'He is a gentleman of fortune, Mr. Pickwick,' said Mrs. LeoHunter, 'to whom I very much want to introduce you. The countwill be delighted with him.'

'Yes, yes,' said Mr. Pickwick hastily. 'His residence--'

'Is at present at the Angel at Bury.'

'At Bury?'

'At Bury St. Edmunds, not many miles from here. But dearme, Mr. Pickwick, you are not going to leave us; surely Mr.Pickwick you cannot think of going so soon?'

But long before Mrs. Leo Hunter had finished speaking, Mr.Pickwick had plunged through the throng, and reached thegarden, whither he was shortly afterwards joined by Mr. Tupman,who had followed his friend closely.

'It's of no use,' said Mr. Tupman. 'He has gone.'

'I know it,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'and I will follow him.'

'Follow him! Where?' inquired Mr. Tupman.

'To the Angel at Bury,' replied Mr. Pickwick, speaking veryquickly. 'How do we know whom he is deceiving there? Hedeceived a worthy man once, and we were the innocent cause. Heshall not do it again, if I can help it; I'll expose him! Sam!Where's my servant?'

'Here you are, Sir,' said Mr. Weller, emerging from asequestered spot, where he had been engaged in discussing abottle of Madeira, which he had abstracted from the breakfast-table an hour or two before. 'Here's your servant, Sir. Proud o'the title, as the living skellinton said, ven they show'd him.'

'Follow me instantly,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Tupman, if I stay atBury, you can join me there, when I write. Till then, good-bye!'

Remonstrances were useless. Mr. Pickwick was roused, and hismind was made up. Mr. Tupman returned to his companions;and in another hour had drowned all present recollection of Mr.Alfred Jingle, or Mr. Charles Fitz-Marshall, in an exhilaratingquadrille and a bottle of champagne. By that time, Mr. Pickwickand Sam Weller, perched on the outside of a stage-coach, wereevery succeeding minute placing a less and less distance betweenthemselves and the good old town of Bury St. Edmunds.

CHAPTER XVITOO FULL OF ADVENTURE TO BE BRIEFLY DESCRIBED

There is no month in the whole year in which nature wears a morebeautiful appearance than in the month of August. Spring has manybeauties, and May is a fresh and blooming month, but the charmsof this time of year are enhanced by their contrast with thewinter season. August has no such advantage. It comes when weremember nothing but clear skies, green fields, and sweet-smellingflowers--when the recollection of snow, and ice, and bleak winds,has faded from our minds as completely as they have disappearedfrom the earth--and yet what a pleasant time it is! Orchards andcornfields ring with the hum of labour; trees bend beneath thethick clusters of rich fruit which bow their branches to theground; and the corn, piled in graceful sheaves, or waving inevery light breath that sweeps above it, as if it wooed thesickle, tinges the landscape with a golden hue. A mellow softnessappears to hang over the whole earth; the influence of the seasonseems to extend itself to the very wagon, whose slow motion acrossthe well-reaped field is perceptible only to the eye, but strikeswith no harsh sound upon the ear.

As the coach rolls swiftly past the fields and orchards whichskirt the road, groups of women and children, piling the fruit insieves, or gathering the scattered ears of corn, pause for aninstant from their labour, and shading the sun-burned face witha still browner hand, gaze upon the passengers with curious eyes,while some stout urchin, too small to work, but too mischievousto be left at home, scrambles over the side of the basket in whichhe has been deposited for security, and kicks and screams withdelight. The reaper stops in his work, and stands with foldedarms, looking at the vehicle as it whirls past; and the rough cart-horses bestow a sleepy glance upon the smart coach team, whichsays as plainly as a horse's glance can, 'It's all very fine to lookat, but slow going, over a heavy field, is better than warm worklike that, upon a dusty road, after all.' You cast a look behindyou, as you turn a corner of the road. The women and childrenhave resumed their labour; the reaper once more stoops to hiswork; the cart-horses have moved on; and all are again in motion.The influence of a scene like this, was not lost upon the well-regulated mind of Mr. Pickwick. Intent upon the resolution hehad formed, of exposing the real character of the nefariousJingle, in any quarter in which he might be pursuing his fraudulentdesigns, he sat at first taciturn and contemplative, broodingover the means by which his purpose could be best attained. Bydegrees his attention grew more and more attracted by theobjects around him; and at last he derived as much enjoymentfrom the ride, as if it had been undertaken for the pleasantestreason in the world.

'Delightful prospect, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Beats the chimbley-pots, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller, touchinghis hat.

'I suppose you have hardly seen anything but chimney-potsand bricks and mortar all your life, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, smiling.

'I worn't always a boots, sir,' said Mr. Weller, with a shake ofthe head. 'I wos a vaginer's boy, once.'

'When was that?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.

'When I wos first pitched neck and crop into the world, to playat leap-frog with its troubles,' replied Sam. 'I wos a carrier's boyat startin'; then a vaginer's, then a helper, then a boots. Now I'ma gen'l'm'n's servant. I shall be a gen'l'm'n myself one of thesedays, perhaps, with a pipe in my mouth, and a summer-house inthe back-garden. Who knows? I shouldn't be surprised for one.'

'You are quite a philosopher, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'It runs in the family, I b'lieve, sir,' replied Mr. Weller. 'Myfather's wery much in that line now. If my mother-in-law blowshim up, he whistles. She flies in a passion, and breaks his pipe;he steps out, and gets another. Then she screams wery loud, andfalls into 'sterics; and he smokes wery comfortably till she comesto agin. That's philosophy, Sir, ain't it?'

'A very good substitute for it, at all events,' replied Mr.Pickwick, laughing. 'It must have been of great service to you, inthe course of your rambling life, Sam.'

'Service, sir,' exclaimed Sam. 'You may say that. Arter I runaway from the carrier, and afore I took up with the vaginer, I hadunfurnished lodgin's for a fortnight.'

'Unfurnished lodgings?' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Yes--the dry arches of Waterloo Bridge. Fine sleeping-place--vithin ten minutes' walk of all the public offices--only if there isany objection to it, it is that the sitivation's rayther too airy. I seesome queer sights there.''Ah, I suppose you did,' said Mr. Pickwick, with an air ofconsiderable interest.

'Sights, sir,' resumed Mr. Weller, 'as 'ud penetrate yourbenevolent heart, and come out on the other side. You don't seethe reg'lar wagrants there; trust 'em, they knows better than that.Young beggars, male and female, as hasn't made a rise in theirprofession, takes up their quarters there sometimes; but it'sgenerally the worn-out, starving, houseless creeturs as rollthemselves in the dark corners o' them lonesome places--poorcreeturs as ain't up to the twopenny rope.'

'And pray, Sam, what is the twopenny rope?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.

'The twopenny rope, sir,' replied Mr. Weller, 'is just a cheaplodgin' house, where the beds is twopence a night.'

'What do they call a bed a rope for?' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Bless your innocence, sir, that ain't it,' replied Sam. 'Ven thelady and gen'l'm'n as keeps the hot-el first begun business, theyused to make the beds on the floor; but this wouldn't do at noprice, 'cos instead o' taking a moderate twopenn'orth o' sleep,the lodgers used to lie there half the day. So now they has tworopes, 'bout six foot apart, and three from the floor, which goesright down the room; and the beds are made of slips of coarsesacking, stretched across 'em.'

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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