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Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 37)


'Well! Day after day, when school was over, and the pupilsgone, did Nathaniel Pipkin sit himself down at the front window,and, while he feigned to be reading a book, throw sidelong glancesover the way in search of the bright eyes of Maria Lobbs; and hehadn't sat there many days, before the bright eyes appeared at anupper window, apparently deeply engaged in reading too. Thiswas delightful, and gladdening to the heart of Nathaniel Pipkin.It was something to sit there for hours together, and look uponthat pretty face when the eyes were cast down; but when MariaLobbs began to raise her eyes from her book, and dart their raysin the direction of Nathaniel Pipkin, his delight and admirationwere perfectly boundless. At last, one day when he knew oldLobbs was out, Nathaniel Pipkin had the temerity to kiss his handto Maria Lobbs; and Maria Lobbs, instead of shutting thewindow, and pulling down the blind, kissed HERS to him, andsmiled. Upon which Nathaniel Pipkin determined, that, comewhat might, he would develop the state of his feelings, withoutfurther delay.

'A prettier foot, a gayer heart, a more dimpled face, or asmarter form, never bounded so lightly over the earth theygraced, as did those of Maria Lobbs, the old saddler's daughter.There was a roguish twinkle in her sparkling eyes, that wouldhave made its way to far less susceptible bosoms than that ofNathaniel Pipkin; and there was such a joyous sound in hermerry laugh, that the sternest misanthrope must have smiled tohear it. Even old Lobbs himself, in the very height of his ferocity,couldn't resist the coaxing of his pretty daughter; and when she,and her cousin Kate--an arch, impudent-looking, bewitchinglittle person--made a dead set upon the old man together, as, tosay the truth, they very often did, he could have refused themnothing, even had they asked for a portion of the countless andinexhaustible treasures, which were hidden from the light, in theiron safe.

'Nathaniel Pipkin's heart beat high within him, when he sawthis enticing little couple some hundred yards before him onesummer's evening, in the very field in which he had many a timestrolled about till night-time, and pondered on the beauty ofMaria Lobbs. But though he had often thought then, how brisklyhe would walk up to Maria Lobbs and tell her of his passion if hecould only meet her, he felt, now that she was unexpectedlybefore him, all the blood in his body mounting to his face,manifestly to the great detriment of his legs, which, deprived oftheir usual portion, trembled beneath him. When they stopped togather a hedge flower, or listen to a bird, Nathaniel Pipkinstopped too, and pretended to be absorbed in meditation, asindeed he really was; for he was thinking what on earth he shouldever do, when they turned back, as they inevitably must in time,and meet him face to face. But though he was afraid to make upto them, he couldn't bear to lose sight of them; so when theywalked faster he walked faster, when they lingered he lingered,and when they stopped he stopped; and so they might have goneon, until the darkness prevented them, if Kate had not lookedslyly back, and encouragingly beckoned Nathaniel to advance.There was something in Kate's manner that was not to beresisted, and so Nathaniel Pipkin complied with the invitation;and after a great deal of blushing on his part, and immoderatelaughter on that of the wicked little cousin, Nathaniel Pipkinwent down on his knees on the dewy grass, and declared hisresolution to remain there for ever, unless he were permitted torise the accepted lover of Maria Lobbs. Upon this, the merrylaughter of Miss Lobbs rang through the calm evening air--without seeming to disturb it, though; it had such a pleasantsound--and the wicked little cousin laughed more immoderatelythan before, and Nathaniel Pipkin blushed deeper than ever. Atlength, Maria Lobbs being more strenuously urged by the love-worn little man, turned away her head, and whispered her cousinto say, or at all events Kate did say, that she felt much honouredby Mr. Pipkin's addresses; that her hand and heart were at herfather's disposal; but that nobody could be insensible to Mr.Pipkin's merits. As all this was said with much gravity, and asNathaniel Pipkin walked home with Maria Lobbs, and struggledfor a kiss at parting, he went to bed a happy man, and dreamedall night long, of softening old Lobbs, opening the strong box,and marrying Maria.

The next day, Nathaniel Pipkin saw old Lobbs go out uponhis old gray pony, and after a great many signs at the windowfrom the wicked little cousin, the object and meaning of which hecould by no means understand, the bony apprentice with the thinlegs came over to say that his master wasn't coming home allnight, and that the ladies expected Mr. Pipkin to tea, at sixo'clock precisely. How the lessons were got through that day,neither Nathaniel Pipkin nor his pupils knew any more than youdo; but they were got through somehow, and, after the boys hadgone, Nathaniel Pipkin took till full six o'clock to dress himselfto his satisfaction. Not that it took long to select the garments heshould wear, inasmuch as he had no choice about the matter;but the putting of them on to the best advantage, and the touchingof them up previously, was a task of no inconsiderable difficultyor importance.

'There was a very snug little party, consisting of Maria Lobbsand her cousin Kate, and three or four romping, good-humoured,rosy-cheeked girls. Nathaniel Pipkin had ocular demonstration ofthe fact, that the rumours of old Lobbs's treasures were notexaggerated. There were the real solid silver teapot, cream-ewer,and sugar-basin, on the table, and real silver spoons to stir thetea with, and real china cups to drink it out of, and plates of thesame, to hold the cakes and toast in. The only eye-sore in thewhole place was another cousin of Maria Lobbs's, and a brotherof Kate, whom Maria Lobbs called "Henry," and who seemedto keep Maria Lobbs all to himself, up in one corner of the table.It's a delightful thing to see affection in families, but it may becarried rather too far, and Nathaniel Pipkin could not helpthinking that Maria Lobbs must be very particularly fond of herrelations, if she paid as much attention to all of them as to thisindividual cousin. After tea, too, when the wicked little cousinproposed a game at blind man's buff, it somehow or otherhappened that Nathaniel Pipkin was nearly always blind, andwhenever he laid his hand upon the male cousin, he was sure tofind that Maria Lobbs was not far off. And though the wickedlittle cousin and the other girls pinched him, and pulled his hair,and pushed chairs in his way, and all sorts of things, Maria Lobbsnever seemed to come near him at all; and once--once--NathanielPipkin could have sworn he heard the sound of a kiss,followed by a faint remonstrance from Maria Lobbs, and a half-suppressed laugh from her female friends. All this was odd--very odd--and there is no saying what Nathaniel Pipkin mightor might not have done, in consequence, if his thoughts had notbeen suddenly directed into a new channel.

'The circumstance which directed his thoughts into a newchannel was a loud knocking at the street door, and the personwho made this loud knocking at the street door was no otherthan old Lobbs himself, who had unexpectedly returned, andwas hammering away, like a coffin-maker; for he wanted hissupper. The alarming intelligence was no sooner communicatedby the bony apprentice with the thin legs, than the girls trippedupstairs to Maria Lobbs's bedroom, and the male cousin andNathaniel Pipkin were thrust into a couple of closets in thesitting-room, for want of any better places of concealment; andwhen Maria Lobbs and the wicked little cousin had stowed themaway, and put the room to rights, they opened the street door toold Lobbs, who had never left off knocking since he first began.

'Now it did unfortunately happen that old Lobbs being veryhungry was monstrous cross. Nathaniel Pipkin could hear himgrowling away like an old mastiff with a sore throat; and wheneverthe unfortunate apprentice with the thin legs came into theroom, so surely did old Lobbs commence swearing at him in amost Saracenic and ferocious manner, though apparently withno other end or object than that of easing his bosom by thedischarge of a few superfluous oaths. At length some supper,which had been warming up, was placed on the table, and thenold Lobbs fell to, in regular style; and having made clear work ofit in no time, kissed his daughter, and demanded his pipe.

'Nature had placed Nathaniel Pipkin's knees in very closejuxtaposition, but when he heard old Lobbs demand his pipe,they knocked together, as if they were going to reduce each otherto powder; for, depending from a couple of hooks, in the verycloset in which he stood, was a large, brown-stemmed, silver-bowled pipe, which pipe he himself had seen in the mouth of oldLobbs, regularly every afternoon and evening, for the last fiveyears. The two girls went downstairs for the pipe, and upstairs forthe pipe, and everywhere but where they knew the pipe was, andold Lobbs stormed away meanwhile, in the most wonderfulmanner. At last he thought of the closet, and walked up to it. Itwas of no use a little man like Nathaniel Pipkin pulling thedoor inwards, when a great strong fellow like old Lobbs waspulling it outwards. Old Lobbs gave it one tug, and open it flew,disclosing Nathaniel Pipkin standing bolt upright inside, andshaking with apprehension from head to foot. Bless us! what anappalling look old Lobbs gave him, as he dragged him out by thecollar, and held him at arm's length.

'"Why, what the devil do you want here?" said old Lobbs, ina fearful voice.

'Nathaniel Pipkin could make no reply, so old Lobbs shookhim backwards and forwards, for two or three minutes, by wayof arranging his ideas for him.

'"What do you want here?" roared Lobbs; "I suppose youhave come after my daughter, now!"

'Old Lobbs merely said this as a sneer: for he did not believethat mortal presumption could have carried Nathaniel Pipkin sofar. What was his indignation, when that poor man replied--'"Yes, I did, Mr. Lobbs, I did come after your daughter. Ilove her, Mr. Lobbs."

'"Why, you snivelling, wry-faced, puny villain," gasped oldLobbs, paralysed by the atrocious confession; "what do youmean by that? Say this to my face! Damme, I'll throttle you!"

'It is by no means improbable that old Lobbs would havecarried his threat into execution, in the excess of his rage, if hisarm had not been stayed by a very unexpected apparition: to wit,the male cousin, who, stepping out of his closet, and walking upto old Lobbs, said--

'"I cannot allow this harmless person, Sir, who has been askedhere, in some girlish frolic, to take upon himself, in a very noblemanner, the fault (if fault it is) which I am guilty of, and amready to avow. I love your daughter, sir; and I came here for thepurpose of meeting her."

'Old Lobbs opened his eyes very wide at this, but not widerthan Nathaniel Pipkin.

'"You did?" said Lobbs, at last finding breath to speak.

'"I did."

'"And I forbade you this house, long ago."

'"You did, or I should not have been here, clandestinely,to-night."

'I am sorry to record it of old Lobbs, but I think he wouldhave struck the cousin, if his pretty daughter, with her bright eyesswimming in tears, had not clung to his arm.

'"Don't stop him, Maria," said the young man; "if he has thewill to strike me, let him. I would not hurt a hair of his gray head,for the riches of the world."

'The old man cast down his eyes at this reproof, and they metthose of his daughter. I have hinted once or twice before, thatthey were very bright eyes, and, though they were tearful now,their influence was by no means lessened. Old Lobbs turnedhis head away, as if to avoid being persuaded by them,when, as fortune would have it, he encountered the face ofthe wicked little cousin, who, half afraid for her brother, andhalf laughing at Nathaniel Pipkin, presented as bewitching anexpression of countenance, with a touch of slyness in it, too, asany man, old or young, need look upon. She drew her arm coaxinglythrough the old man's, and whispered something in hisear; and do what he would, old Lobbs couldn't help breakingout into a smile, while a tear stole down his cheek at the same time.'Five minutes after this, the girls were brought down from thebedroom with a great deal of giggling and modesty; and whilethe young people were making themselves perfectly happy, oldLobbs got down the pipe, and smoked it; and it was a remarkablecircumstance about that particular pipe of tobacco, that it wasthe most soothing and delightful one he ever smoked.

'Nathaniel Pipkin thought it best to keep his own counsel, andby so doing gradually rose into high favour with old Lobbs. whotaught him to smoke in time; and they used to sit out in thegarden on the fine evenings, for many years afterwards, smokingand drinking in great state. He soon recovered the effects of hisattachment, for we find his name in the parish register, as awitness to the marriage of Maria Lobbs to her cousin; and it alsoappears, by reference to other documents, that on the night of thewedding he was incarcerated in the village cage, for having, in astate of extreme intoxication, committed sundry excesses in thestreets, in all of which he was aided and abetted by the bonyapprentice with the thin legs.'

CHAPTER XVIIIBRIEFLY ILLUSTRATIVE OF TWO POINTS; FIRST, THEPOWER OF HYSTERICS, AND, SECONDLY, THE FORCE OFCIRCUMSTANCEs

For two days after the DEJEUNE at Mrs. Hunter's, the Pickwickiansremained at Eatanswill, anxiously awaiting the arrival of someintelligence from their revered leader. Mr. Tupman and Mr.Snodgrass were once again left to their own means of amusement;for Mr. Winkle, in compliance with a most pressing invitation,continued to reside at Mr. Pott's house, and to devote his timeto the companionship of his amiable lady. Nor was the occasionalsociety of Mr. Pott himself wanting to complete their felicity.Deeply immersed in the intensity of his speculations for thepublic weal and the destruction of the INDEPENDENT, it was not thehabit of that great man to descend from his mental pinnacle tothe humble level of ordinary minds. On this occasion, however,and as if expressly in compliment to any follower of Mr.Pickwick's, he unbent, relaxed, stepped down from his pedestal,and walked upon the ground, benignly adapting his remarks to thecomprehension of the herd, and seeming in outward form, if not inspirit, to be one of them.

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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