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Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 40)


'Stop, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, when they had got half acrossthe first field.

'What's the matter now?' said Wardle.

'I won't suffer this barrow to be moved another step,' saidMr. Pickwick, resolutely, 'unless Winkle carries that gun of his ina different manner.'

'How AM I to carry it?' said the wretched Winkle.'Carry it with the muzzle to the ground,' replied Mr. Pickwick.

'It's so unsportsmanlike,' reasoned Winkle.

'I don't care whether it's unsportsmanlike or not,' repliedMr. Pickwick; 'I am not going to be shot in a wheel-barrow, forthe sake of appearances, to please anybody.'

'I know the gentleman'll put that 'ere charge into somebodyafore he's done,' growled the long man.

'Well, well--I don't mind,' said poor Winkle, turning his gun-stock uppermost--'there.'

'Anythin' for a quiet life,' said Mr. Weller; and on they went again.

'Stop!' said Mr. Pickwick, after they had gone a few yards farther.

'What now?' said Wardle.

'That gun of Tupman's is not safe: I know it isn't,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Eh? What! not safe?' said Mr. Tupman, in a tone of great alarm.

'Not as you are carrying it,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'I am verysorry to make any further objection, but I cannot consent to goon, unless you carry it as Winkle does his.'

'I think you had better, sir,' said the long gamekeeper, 'oryou're quite as likely to lodge the charge in yourself as inanything else.'

Mr. Tupman, with the most obliging haste, placed his piece inthe position required, and the party moved on again; the twoamateurs marching with reversed arms, like a couple of privatesat a royal funeral.

The dogs suddenly came to a dead stop, and the party advancingstealthily a single pace, stopped too.

'What's the matter with the dogs' legs?' whispered Mr.Winkle. 'How queer they're standing.'

'Hush, can't you?' replied Wardle softly. 'Don't you see,they're making a point?'

'Making a point!' said Mr. Winkle, staring about him, as if heexpected to discover some particular beauty in the landscape,which the sagacious animals were calling special attention to.'Making a point! What are they pointing at?'

'Keep your eyes open,' said Wardle, not heeding the questionin the excitement of the moment. 'Now then.'

There was a sharp whirring noise, that made Mr. Winkle startback as if he had been shot himself. Bang, bang, went a couple ofguns--the smoke swept quickly away over the field, and curledinto the air.

'Where are they!' said Mr. Winkle, in a state of the highestexcitement, turning round and round in all directions. 'Where arethey? Tell me when to fire. Where are they--where are they?'

'Where are they!' said Wardle, taking up a brace of birdswhich the dogs had deposited at his feet. 'Why, here they are.'

'No, no; I mean the others,' said the bewildered Winkle.

'Far enough off, by this time,' replied Wardle, coolly reloadinghis gun.

'We shall very likely be up with another covey in five minutes,'said the long gamekeeper. 'If the gentleman begins to fire now,perhaps he'll just get the shot out of the barrel by the time they rise.'

'Ha! ha! ha!' roared Mr. Weller.

'Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, compassionating his follower'sconfusion and embarrassment.

'Sir.'

'Don't laugh.'

'Certainly not, Sir.' So, by way of indemnification, Mr. Wellercontorted his features from behind the wheel-barrow, for theexclusive amusement of the boy with the leggings, who thereuponburst into a boisterous laugh, and was summarily cuffed by thelong gamekeeper, who wanted a pretext for turning round, to hidehis own merriment.

'Bravo, old fellow!' said Wardle to Mr. Tupman; 'you firedthat time, at all events.'

'Oh, yes,' replied Mr. Tupman, with conscious pride. 'I let it off.'

'Well done. You'll hit something next time, if you look sharp.Very easy, ain't it?'

'Yes, it's very easy,' said Mr. Tupman. 'How it hurts one'sshoulder, though. It nearly knocked me backwards. I had no ideathese small firearms kicked so.'

'Ah,' said the old gentleman, smiling, 'you'll get used to it intime. Now then--all ready--all right with the barrow there?'

'All right, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller.

'Come along, then.'

'Hold hard, Sir,' said Sam, raising the barrow.

'Aye, aye,' replied Mr. Pickwick; and on they went, as brisklyas need be.

'Keep that barrow back now,' cried Wardle, when it had beenhoisted over a stile into another field, and Mr. Pickwick had beendeposited in it once more.

'All right, sir,' replied Mr. Weller, pausing.

'Now, Winkle,' said the old gentleman, 'follow me softly, anddon't be too late this time.'

'Never fear,' said Mr. Winkle. 'Are they pointing?'

'No, no; not now. Quietly now, quietly.' On they crept, andvery quietly they would have advanced, if Mr. Winkle, in theperformance of some very intricate evolutions with his gun, had notaccidentally fired, at the most critical moment, over the boy'shead, exactly in the very spot where the tall man's brain wouldhave been, had he been there instead.

'Why, what on earth did you do that for?' said old Wardle, asthe birds flew unharmed away.

'I never saw such a gun in my life,' replied poor Mr. Winkle,looking at the lock, as if that would do any good. 'It goes off ofits own accord. It WILL do it.'

'Will do it!' echoed Wardle, with something of irritation in hismanner. 'I wish it would kill something of its own accord.'

'It'll do that afore long, Sir,' observed the tall man, in a low,prophetic voice.

'What do you mean by that observation, Sir?' inquired Mr.Winkle, angrily.

'Never mind, Sir, never mind,' replied the long gamekeeper;'I've no family myself, sir; and this here boy's mother will getsomething handsome from Sir Geoffrey, if he's killed on his land.Load again, Sir, load again.'

'Take away his gun,' cried Mr. Pickwick from the barrow,horror-stricken at the long man's dark insinuations. 'Take awayhis gun, do you hear, somebody?'

Nobody, however, volunteered to obey the command; andMr. Winkle, after darting a rebellious glance at Mr. Pickwick,reloaded his gun, and proceeded onwards with the rest.

We are bound, on the authority of Mr. Pickwick, to state, thatMr. Tupman's mode of proceeding evinced far more of prudenceand deliberation, than that adopted by Mr. Winkle. Still, this byno means detracts from the great authority of the latter gentleman,on all matters connected with the field; because, as Mr.Pickwick beautifully observes, it has somehow or other happened,from time immemorial, that many of the best and ablest philosophers,who have been perfect lights of science in matters of theory,have been wholly unable to reduce them to practice.

Mr. Tupman's process, like many of our most sublime discoveries,was extremely simple. With the quickness and penetration of aman of genius, he had at once observed that the two great points tobe attained were--first, to discharge his piecewithout injury to himself, and, secondly, to do so, withoutdanger to the bystanders--obviously, the best thing to do, aftersurmounting the difficulty of firing at all, was to shut his eyesfirmly, and fire into the air.

On one occasion, after performing this feat, Mr. Tupman, onopening his eyes, beheld a plump partridge in the act of falling,wounded, to the ground. He was on the point of congratulatingMr. Wardle on his invariable success, when that gentlemanadvanced towards him, and grasped him warmly by the hand.

'Tupman,' said the old gentleman, 'you singled out thatparticular bird?'

'No,' said Mr. Tupman--'no.'

'You did,' said Wardle. 'I saw you do it--I observed you pickhim out--I noticed you, as you raised your piece to take aim; andI will say this, that the best shot in existence could not have doneit more beautifully. You are an older hand at this than I thoughtyou, Tupman; you have been out before.'It was in vain for Mr. Tupman to protest, with a smile of self-denial, that he never had. The very smile was taken as evidence tothe contrary; and from that time forth his reputation wasestablished. It is not the only reputation that has been acquiredas easily, nor are such fortunate circumstances confined topartridge-shooting.

Meanwhile, Mr. Winkle flashed, and blazed, and smokedaway, without producing any material results worthy of beingnoted down; sometimes expending his charge in mid-air, and atothers sending it skimming along so near the surface of theground as to place the lives of the two dogs on a rather uncertainand precarious tenure. As a display of fancy-shooting, it wasextremely varied and curious; as an exhibition of firing with anyprecise object, it was, upon the whole, perhaps a failure. It is anestablished axiom, that 'every bullet has its billet.' If it apply inan equal degree to shot, those of Mr. Winkle were unfortunatefoundlings, deprived of their natural rights, cast loose upon theworld, and billeted nowhere.'Well,' said Wardle, walking up to the side of the barrow, andwiping the streams of perspiration from his jolly red face;'smoking day, isn't it?'

'It is, indeed,' replied Mr. Pickwick. The sun is tremendouslyhot, even to me. I don't know how you must feel it.'

'Why,' said the old gentleman, 'pretty hot. It's past twelve,though. You see that green hill there?'

'Certainly.'

'That's the place where we are to lunch; and, by Jove, there'sthe boy with the basket, punctual as clockwork!'

'So he is,' said Mr. Pickwick, brightening up. 'Good boy, that.I'll give him a shilling, presently. Now, then, Sam, wheel away.'

'Hold on, sir,' said Mr. Weller, invigorated with the prospect ofrefreshments. 'Out of the vay, young leathers. If you walley myprecious life don't upset me, as the gen'l'm'n said to the driverwhen they was a-carryin' him to Tyburn.' And quickening hispace to a sharp run, Mr. Weller wheeled his master nimbly to thegreen hill, shot him dexterously out by the very side of the basket,and proceeded to unpack it with the utmost despatch.

'Weal pie,' said Mr. Weller, soliloquising, as he arranged theeatables on the grass. 'Wery good thing is weal pie, when youknow the lady as made it, and is quite sure it ain't kittens; andarter all though, where's the odds, when they're so like weal thatthe wery piemen themselves don't know the difference?'

'Don't they, Sam?' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Not they, sir,' replied Mr. Weller, touching his hat. 'I lodgedin the same house vith a pieman once, sir, and a wery nice manhe was--reg'lar clever chap, too--make pies out o' anything, hecould. "What a number o' cats you keep, Mr. Brooks," says I,when I'd got intimate with him. "Ah," says he, "I do--a goodmany," says he, "You must be wery fond o' cats," says I. "Otherpeople is," says he, a-winkin' at me; "they ain't in season till thewinter though," says he. "Not in season!" says I. "No," says he,"fruits is in, cats is out." "Why, what do you mean?" says I."Mean!" says he. "That I'll never be a party to the combinationo' the butchers, to keep up the price o' meat," says he. "Mr.Weller," says he, a-squeezing my hand wery hard, and visperingin my ear--"don't mention this here agin--but it's the seasonin'as does it. They're all made o' them noble animals," says he,a-pointin' to a wery nice little tabby kitten, "and I seasons 'emfor beefsteak, weal or kidney, 'cording to the demand. And morethan that," says he, "I can make a weal a beef-steak, or a beef-steak a kidney, or any one on 'em a mutton, at a minute's notice,just as the market changes, and appetites wary!"'

'He must have been a very ingenious young man, that, Sam,'said Mr. Pickwick, with a slight shudder.

'Just was, sir,' replied Mr. Weller, continuing his occupation ofemptying the basket, 'and the pies was beautiful. Tongue--, wellthat's a wery good thing when it ain't a woman's. Bread--knuckle o' ham, reg'lar picter--cold beef in slices, wery good.What's in them stone jars, young touch-and-go?'

'Beer in this one,' replied the boy, taking from his shoulder acouple of large stone bottles, fastened together by a leathernstrap--'cold punch in t'other.'

'And a wery good notion of a lunch it is, take it altogether,'said Mr. Weller, surveying his arrangement of the repast withgreat satisfaction. 'Now, gen'l'm'n, "fall on," as the English saidto the French when they fixed bagginets.'

It needed no second invitation to induce the party to yield fulljustice to the meal; and as little pressing did it require to induceMr. Weller, the long gamekeeper, and the two boys, to stationthemselves on the grass, at a little distance, and do good executionupon a decent proportion of the viands. An old oak afforded apleasant shelter to the group, and a rich prospect of arable andmeadow land, intersected with luxuriant hedges, and richlyornamented with wood, lay spread out before them.

'This is delightful--thoroughly delightful!' said Mr. Pickwick;the skin of whose expressive countenance was rapidly peeling off,with exposure to the sun.

'So it is--so it is, old fellow,' replied Wardle. 'Come; aglass of punch!'

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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