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Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 38)


Such having been the demeanour of this celebrated publiccharacter towards Mr. Winkle, it will be readily imagined thatconsiderable surprise was depicted on the countenance of thelatter gentleman, when, as he was sitting alone in the breakfast-room, the door was hastily thrown open, and as hastily closed,on the entrance of Mr. Pott, who, stalking majestically towardshim, and thrusting aside his proffered hand, ground his teeth, asif to put a sharper edge on what he was about to utter, andexclaimed, in a saw-like voice--

'Serpent!'

'Sir!' exclaimed Mr. Winkle, starting from his chair.

'Serpent, Sir,' repeated Mr. Pott, raising his voice, and thensuddenly depressing it: 'I said, serpent, sir--make the most of it.'

When you have parted with a man at two o'clock in themorning, on terms of the utmost good-fellowship, and he meetsyou again, at half-past nine, and greets you as a serpent, it is notunreasonable to conclude that something of an unpleasantnature has occurred meanwhile. So Mr. Winkle thought. Hereturned Mr. Pott's gaze of stone, and in compliance with thatgentleman's request, proceeded to make the most he could of the'serpent.' The most, however, was nothing at all; so, after aprofound silence of some minutes' duration, he said,--

'Serpent, Sir! Serpent, Mr. Pott! What can you mean, Sir?--this is pleasantry.'

'Pleasantry, sir!' exclaimed Pott, with a motion of the hand,indicative of a strong desire to hurl the Britannia metal teapot atthe head of the visitor. 'Pleasantry, sir!--But--no, I will be calm;I will be calm, Sir;' in proof of his calmness, Mr. Pott flunghimself into a chair, and foamed at the mouth.

'My dear sir,' interposed Mr. Winkle.

'DEAR Sir!' replied Pott. 'How dare you address me, as dear Sir,Sir? How dare you look me in the face and do it, sir?'

'Well, Sir, if you come to that,' responded Mr. Winkle, 'howdare you look me in the face, and call me a serpent, sir?'

'Because you are one,' replied Mr. Pott.

'Prove it, Sir,' said Mr. Winkle warmly. 'Prove it.'

A malignant scowl passed over the profound face of the editor,as he drew from his pocket the INDEPENDENT of that morning; andlaying his finger on a particular paragraph, threw the journalacross the table to Mr. Winkle.

That gentleman took it up, and read as follows:--

'Our obscure and filthy contemporary, in some disgustingobservations on the recent election for this borough, has presumedto violate the hallowed sanctity of private life, and to refer,

in a manner not to be misunderstood, to the personal affairs ofour late candidate--aye, and notwithstanding his base defeat, wewill add, our future member, Mr. Fizkin. What does our dastardlycontemporary mean? What would the ruffian say, if we, settingat naught, like him, the decencies of social intercourse, were toraise the curtain which happily conceals His private life fromgeneral ridicule, not to say from general execration? What, if wewere even to point out, and comment on, facts and circumstances,which are publicly notorious, and beheld by every one but ourmole-eyed contemporary--what if we were to print the followingeffusion, which we received while we were writing the commencementof this article, from a talented fellow-townsman andcorrespondent?

'"LINES TO A BRASS POT

'"Oh Pott! if you'd knownHow false she'd have grown,When you heard the marriage bells tinkle;You'd have done then, I vow,What you cannot help now,And handed her over to W*****"'

'What,' said Mr. Pott solemnly--'what rhymes to "tinkle,"villain?'

'What rhymes to tinkle?' said Mrs. Pott, whose entrance at themoment forestalled the reply. 'What rhymes to tinkle? Why,Winkle, I should conceive.' Saying this, Mrs. Pott smiled sweetlyon the disturbed Pickwickian, and extended her hand towardshim. The agitated young man would have accepted it, in hisconfusion, had not Pott indignantly interposed.

'Back, ma'am--back!' said the editor. 'Take his hand beforemy very face!'

'Mr. P.!' said his astonished lady.

'Wretched woman, look here,' exclaimed the husband. 'Lookhere, ma'am--"Lines to a Brass Pot." "Brass Pot"; that's me,ma'am. "False SHE'D have grown"; that's you, ma'am--you.'With this ebullition of rage, which was not unaccompanied withsomething like a tremble, at the expression of his wife's face,Mr. Pott dashed the current number of the Eatanswill INDEPENDENTat her feet.

'Upon my word, Sir,' said the astonished Mrs. Pott, stoopingto pick up the paper. 'Upon my word, Sir!'

Mr. Pott winced beneath the contemptuous gaze of his wife.He had made a desperate struggle to screw up his courage, but itwas fast coming unscrewed again.

There appears nothing very tremendous in this little sentence,'Upon my word, sir,' when it comes to be read; but the tone ofvoice in which it was delivered, and the look that accompanied it,both seeming to bear reference to some revenge to be thereaftervisited upon the head of Pott, produced their effect upon him.The most unskilful observer could have detected in his troubledcountenance, a readiness to resign his Wellington boots to anyefficient substitute who would have consented to stand in themat that moment.

Mrs. Pott read the paragraph, uttered a loud shriek, andthrew herself at full length on the hearth-rug, screaming, andtapping it with the heels of her shoes, in a manner which couldleave no doubt of the propriety of her feelings on the occasion.

'My dear,' said the terrified Pott, 'I didn't say I believed it;--I--'but the unfortunate man's voice was drowned in thescreaming of his partner.

'Mrs. Pott, let me entreat you, my dear ma'am, to composeyourself,' said Mr. Winkle; but the shrieks and tappings werelouder, and more frequent than ever.

'My dear,' said Mr. Pott, 'I'm very sorry. If you won't consideryour own health, consider me, my dear. We shall have a crowdround the house.' But the more strenuously Mr. Pott entreated,the more vehemently the screams poured forth.

Very fortunately, however, attached to Mrs. Pott's person wasa bodyguard of one, a young lady whose ostensible employmentwas to preside over her toilet, but who rendered herself useful ina variety of ways, and in none more so than in the particulardepartment of constantly aiding and abetting her mistress inevery wish and inclination opposed to the desires of the unhappyPott. The screams reached this young lady's ears in due course,and brought her into the room with a speed which threatened toderange, materially, the very exquisite arrangement of her capand ringlets.

'Oh, my dear, dear mistress!' exclaimed the bodyguard,kneeling frantically by the side of the prostrate Mrs. Pott. 'Oh,my dear mistress, what is the matter?'

'Your master--your brutal master,' murmured the patient.

Pott was evidently giving way.

'It's a shame,' said the bodyguard reproachfully. 'I know he'llbe the death on you, ma'am. Poor dear thing!'

He gave way more. The opposite party followed up the attack.

'Oh, don't leave me--don't leave me, Goodwin,' murmuredMrs. Pott, clutching at the wrist of the said Goodwin with anhysteric jerk. 'You're the only person that's kind to me, Goodwin.'

At this affecting appeal, Goodwin got up a little domestictragedy of her own, and shed tears copiously.

'Never, ma'am--never,' said Goodwin.'Oh, sir, you should becareful--you should indeed; you don't know what harm you maydo missis; you'll be sorry for it one day, I know--I've alwayssaid so.'

The unlucky Pott looked timidly on, but said nothing.

'Goodwin,' said Mrs. Pott, in a soft voice.

'Ma'am,' said Goodwin.

'If you only knew how I have loved that man--''Don't distress yourself by recollecting it, ma'am,' said the bodyguard.

Pott looked very frightened. It was time to finish him.

'And now,' sobbed Mrs. Pott, 'now, after all, to be treated inthis way; to be reproached and insulted in the presence of athird party, and that party almost a stranger. But I will notsubmit to it! Goodwin,' continued Mrs. Pott, raising herself inthe arms of her attendant, 'my brother, the lieutenant, shallinterfere. I'll be separated, Goodwin!'

'It would certainly serve him right, ma'am,' said Goodwin.

Whatever thoughts the threat of a separation might haveawakened in Mr. Pott's mind, he forbore to give utterance tothem, and contented himself by saying, with great humility:--

'My dear, will you hear me?'

A fresh train of sobs was the only reply, as Mrs. Pott grewmore hysterical, requested to be informed why she was ever born,and required sundry other pieces of information of a similar description.

'My dear,' remonstrated Mr. Pott, 'do not give way to thesesensitive feelings. I never believed that the paragraph had anyfoundation, my dear--impossible. I was only angry, my dear--Imay say outrageous--with the INDEPENDENT people for daring toinsert it; that's all.' Mr. Pott cast an imploring look at theinnocent cause of the mischief, as if to entreat him to say nothingabout the serpent.

'And what steps, sir, do you mean to take to obtain redress?'inquired Mr. Winkle, gaining courage as he saw Pott losing it.

'Oh, Goodwin,' observed Mrs. Pott, 'does he mean to horsewhipthe editor of the INDEPENDENT--does he, Goodwin?'

'Hush, hush, ma'am; pray keep yourself quiet,' replied thebodyguard. 'I dare say he will, if you wish it, ma'am.'

'Certainly,' said Pott, as his wife evinced decided symptoms ofgoing off again. 'Of course I shall.'

'When, Goodwin--when?' said Mrs. Pott, still undecidedabout the going off.

'Immediately, of course,' said Mr. Pott; 'before the day is out.'

'Oh, Goodwin,' resumed Mrs. Pott, 'it's the only way ofmeeting the slander, and setting me right with the world.'

'Certainly, ma'am,' replied Goodwin. 'No man as is a man,ma'am, could refuse to do it.'

So, as the hysterics were still hovering about, Mr. Pott saidonce more that he would do it; but Mrs. Pott was so overcome atthe bare idea of having ever been suspected, that she was half adozen times on the very verge of a relapse, and most unquestionablywould have gone off, had it not been for the indefatigableefforts of the assiduous Goodwin, and repeated entreaties forpardon from the conquered Pott; and finally, when that unhappyindividual had been frightened and snubbed down to his properlevel, Mrs. Pott recovered, and they went to breakfast.

'You will not allow this base newspaper slander to shortenyour stay here, Mr. Winkle?' said Mrs. Pott, smiling through thetraces of her tears.

'I hope not,' said Mr. Pott, actuated, as he spoke, by a wishthat his visitor would choke himself with the morsel of dry toastwhich he was raising to his lips at the moment, and so terminatehis stay effectually.

'I hope not.'

'You are very good,' said Mr. Winkle; 'but a letter has beenreceived from Mr. Pickwick--so I learn by a note from Mr.Tupman, which was brought up to my bedroom door, thismorning--in which he requests us to join him at Bury to-day;and we are to leave by the coach at noon.'

'But you will come back?' said Mrs. Pott.

'Oh, certainly,' replied Mr. Winkle.

'You are quite sure?' said Mrs. Pott, stealing a tender look ather visitor.

'Quite,' responded Mr. Winkle.

The breakfast passed off in silence, for each of the party wasbrooding over his, or her, own personal grievances. Mrs. Pottwas regretting the loss of a beau; Mr. Pott his rash pledge tohorsewhip the INDEPENDENT; Mr. Winkle his having innocentlyplaced himself in so awkward a situation. Noon approached, andafter many adieux and promises to return, he tore himself away.

'If he ever comes back, I'll poison him,' thought Mr. Pott, ashe turned into the little back office where he prepared his thunderbolts.

'If I ever do come back, and mix myself up with these peopleagain,'thought Mr. Winkle, as he wended his way to the Peacock,'I shall deserve to be horsewhipped myself--that's all.'

His friends were ready, the coach was nearly so, and in half anhour they were proceeding on their journey, along the road overwhich Mr. Pickwick and Sam had so recently travelled, and ofwhich, as we have already said something, we do not feel calledupon to extract Mr. Snodgrass's poetical and beautiful description.

Mr. Weller was standing at the door of the Angel, ready toreceive them, and by that gentleman they were ushered to theapartment of Mr. Pickwick, where, to the no small surprise ofMr. Winkle and Mr. Snodgrass, and the no small embarrassmentof Mr. Tupman, they found old Wardle and Trundle.

'How are you?' said the old man, grasping Mr. Tupman'shand. 'Don't hang back, or look sentimental about it; it can't behelped, old fellow. For her sake, I wish you'd had her; for yourown, I'm very glad you have not. A young fellow like you will dobetter one of these days, eh?' With this conclusion, Wardleslapped Mr. Tupman on the back, and laughed heartily.

'Well, and how are you, my fine fellows?' said the old gentleman,shaking hands with Mr. Winkle and Mr. Snodgrass at thesame time. 'I have just been telling Pickwick that we must haveyou all down at Christmas. We're going to have a wedding--areal wedding this time.'

'A wedding!' exclaimed Mr. Snodgrass, turning very pale.

'Yes, a wedding. But don't be frightened,' said the good-humoured old man; 'it's only Trundle there, and Bella.'

'Oh, is that all?' said Mr. Snodgrass, relieved from a painfuldoubt which had fallen heavily on his breast. 'Give you joy, Sir.How is Joe?'

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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