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Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 47)


CHAPTER XXIIMr. PICKWICK JOURNEYS TO IPSWICH AND MEETS WITHA ROMANTIC ADVENTURE WITH A MIDDLE-AGED LADYIN YELLOW CURL-PAPERS

'That 'ere your governor's luggage, Sammy?' inquired Mr. Weller ofhis affectionate son, as he entered the yard of the Bull Inn,Whitechapel, with a travelling-bag and a small portmanteau.

'You might ha' made a worser guess than that, old feller,'replied Mr. Weller the younger, setting down his burden in theyard, and sitting himself down upon it afterwards. 'The governorhisself'll be down here presently.'

'He's a-cabbin' it, I suppose?' said the father.

'Yes, he's a havin' two mile o' danger at eight-pence,' respondedthe son. 'How's mother-in-law this mornin'?'

'Queer, Sammy, queer,' replied the elder Mr. Weller, withimpressive gravity. 'She's been gettin' rayther in the Methodisticalorder lately, Sammy; and she is uncommon pious, to be sure.She's too good a creetur for me, Sammy. I feel I don't deserve her.'

'Ah,' said Mr. Samuel. 'that's wery self-denyin' o' you.'

'Wery,' replied his parent, with a sigh. 'She's got hold o' someinwention for grown-up people being born again, Sammy--thenew birth, I think they calls it. I should wery much like to see thatsystem in haction, Sammy. I should wery much like to see yourmother-in-law born again. Wouldn't I put her out to nurse!'

'What do you think them women does t'other day,' continuedMr. Weller, after a short pause, during which he had significantlystruck the side of his nose with his forefinger some half-dozentimes. 'What do you think they does, t'other day, Sammy?'

'Don't know,' replied Sam, 'what?'

'Goes and gets up a grand tea drinkin' for a feller they callstheir shepherd,' said Mr. Weller. 'I was a-standing starin' in atthe pictur shop down at our place, when I sees a little bill aboutit; "tickets half-a-crown. All applications to be made to thecommittee. Secretary, Mrs. Weller"; and when I got home therewas the committee a-sittin' in our back parlour. Fourteen women;I wish you could ha' heard 'em, Sammy. There they was,a-passin' resolutions, and wotin' supplies, and all sorts o' games.Well, what with your mother-in-law a-worrying me to go, andwhat with my looking for'ard to seein' some queer starts if I did,I put my name down for a ticket; at six o'clock on the Fridayevenin' I dresses myself out wery smart, and off I goes with theold 'ooman, and up we walks into a fust-floor where there wastea-things for thirty, and a whole lot o' women as beginswhisperin' to one another, and lookin' at me, as if they'd neverseen a rayther stout gen'l'm'n of eight-and-fifty afore. By and by,there comes a great bustle downstairs, and a lanky chap with ared nose and a white neckcloth rushes up, and sings out, "Here'sthe shepherd a-coming to wisit his faithful flock;" and in comesa fat chap in black, vith a great white face, a-smilin' avay likeclockwork. Such goin's on, Sammy! "The kiss of peace," says theshepherd; and then he kissed the women all round, and ven he'ddone, the man vith the red nose began. I was just a-thinkin'whether I hadn't better begin too--'specially as there was a werynice lady a-sittin' next me--ven in comes the tea, and yourmother-in-law, as had been makin' the kettle bile downstairs. Atit they went, tooth and nail. Such a precious loud hymn, Sammy,while the tea was a brewing; such a grace, such eatin' anddrinkin'! I wish you could ha' seen the shepherd walkin' into theham and muffins. I never see such a chap to eat and drink--never. The red-nosed man warn't by no means the sort of personyou'd like to grub by contract, but he was nothin' to the shepherd.Well; arter the tea was over, they sang another hymn, andthen the shepherd began to preach: and wery well he did it,considerin' how heavy them muffins must have lied on his chest.Presently he pulls up, all of a sudden, and hollers out, "Where isthe sinner; where is the mis'rable sinner?" Upon which, all thewomen looked at me, and began to groan as if they was a-dying.I thought it was rather sing'ler, but howsoever, I says nothing.Presently he pulls up again, and lookin' wery hard at me, says,"Where is the sinner; where is the mis'rable sinner?" and all thewomen groans again, ten times louder than afore. I got rathersavage at this, so I takes a step or two for'ard and says, "Myfriend," says I, "did you apply that 'ere obserwation to me?"'Stead of beggin' my pardon as any gen'l'm'n would ha' done,he got more abusive than ever:--called me a wessel, Sammy--awessel of wrath--and all sorts o' names. So my blood beingreg'larly up, I first gave him two or three for himself, and thentwo or three more to hand over to the man with the red nose,and walked off. I wish you could ha' heard how the womenscreamed, Sammy, ven they picked up the shepherd from underneaththe table--Hollo! here's the governor, the size of life.'

As Mr. Weller spoke, Mr. Pickwick dismounted from a cab,and entered the yard.'Fine mornin', Sir,' said Mr. Weller, senior.

'Beautiful indeed,' replied Mr. Pickwick.

'Beautiful indeed,' echoes a red-haired man with an inquisitivenose and green spectacles, who had unpacked himself from a cabat the same moment as Mr. Pickwick. 'Going to Ipswich, Sir?'

'I am,' replied Mr. Pickwick.

'Extraordinary coincidence. So am I.'

Mr. Pickwick bowed.

'Going outside?' said the red-haired man.Mr. Pickwick bowed again.

'Bless my soul, how remarkable--I am going outside, too,' saidthe red-haired man; 'we are positively going together.' And thered-haired man, who was an important-looking, sharp-nosed,mysterious-spoken personage, with a bird-like habit of giving hishead a jerk every time he said anything, smiled as if he had madeone of the strangest discoveries that ever fell to the lot ofhuman wisdom.

'I am happy in the prospect of your company, Sir,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Ah,' said the new-comer, 'it's a good thing for both of us,isn't it? Company, you see--company--is--is--it's a verydifferent thing from solitude--ain't it?'

'There's no denying that 'ere,' said Mr. Weller, joining in theconversation, with an affable smile. 'That's what I call a self-evident proposition, as the dog's-meat man said, when thehousemaid told him he warn't a gentleman.'

'Ah,' said the red-haired man, surveying Mr. Weller from headto foot with a supercilious look. 'Friend of yours, sir?'

'Not exactly a friend,' replied Mr. Pickwick, in a low tone.'The fact is, he is my servant, but I allow him to take a good manyliberties; for, between ourselves, I flatter myself he is an original,and I am rather proud of him.'

'Ah,' said the red-haired man, 'that, you see, is a matter oftaste. I am not fond of anything original; I don't like it; don't seethe necessity for it. What's your name, sir?'

'Here is my card, sir,' replied Mr. Pickwick, much amused bythe abruptness of the question, and the singular manner of the stranger.

'Ah,' said the red-haired man, placing the card in his pocket-book, 'Pickwick; very good. I like to know a man's name, itsaves so much trouble. That's my card, sir. Magnus, you willperceive, sir--Magnus is my name. It's rather a good name, Ithink, sir.'

'A very good name, indeed,' said Mr. Pickwick, wholly unableto repress a smile.

'Yes, I think it is,' resumed Mr. Magnus. 'There's a goodname before it, too, you will observe. Permit me, sir--if you holdthe card a little slanting, this way, you catch the light upon theup-stroke. There--Peter Magnus--sounds well, I think, sir.'

'Very,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Curious circumstance about those initials, sir,' said Mr.Magnus. 'You will observe--P.M.--post meridian. In hastynotes to intimate acquaintance, I sometimes sign myself "Afternoon."It amuses my friends very much, Mr. Pickwick.'

'It is calculated to afford them the highest gratification, Ishould conceive,' said Mr. Pickwick, rather envying the ease withwhich Mr. Magnus's friends were entertained.

'Now, gen'l'm'n,' said the hostler, 'coach is ready, if you please.'

'Is all my luggage in?' inquired Mr. Magnus.

'All right, sir.'

'Is the red bag in?'

'All right, Sir.'

'And the striped bag?'

'Fore boot, Sir.'

'And the brown-paper parcel?'

'Under the seat, Sir.'

'And the leather hat-box?'

'They're all in, Sir.'

'Now, will you get up?' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Excuse me,' replied Magnus, standing on the wheel. 'Excuseme, Mr. Pickwick. I cannot consent to get up, in this state ofuncertainty. I am quite satisfied from that man's manner, that theleather hat-box is not in.'

The solemn protestations of the hostler being whollyunavailing, the leather hat-box was obliged to be raked up from thelowest depth of the boot, to satisfy him that it had been safelypacked; and after he had been assured on this head, he felt asolemn presentiment, first, that the red bag was mislaid, andnext that the striped bag had been stolen, and then that thebrown-paper parcel 'had come untied.' At length when he hadreceived ocular demonstration of the groundless nature of eachand every of these suspicions, he consented to climb up to theroof of the coach, observing that now he had taken everythingoff his mind, he felt quite comfortable and happy.

'You're given to nervousness, ain't you, Sir?' inquired Mr.Weller, senior, eyeing the stranger askance, as he mounted to his place.

'Yes; I always am rather about these little matters,' said thestranger, 'but I am all right now--quite right.'

'Well, that's a blessin', said Mr. Weller. 'Sammy, help yourmaster up to the box; t'other leg, Sir, that's it; give us your hand,Sir. Up with you. You was a lighter weight when you was a boy, sir.''True enough, that, Mr. Weller,' said the breathless Mr.Pickwick good-humouredly, as he took his seat on the box beside him.

'Jump up in front, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller. 'Now Villam, run'em out. Take care o' the archvay, gen'l'm'n. "Heads," as thepieman says. That'll do, Villam. Let 'em alone.' And away wentthe coach up Whitechapel, to the admiration of the wholepopulation of that pretty densely populated quarter.

'Not a wery nice neighbourhood, this, Sir,' said Sam, with atouch of the hat, which always preceded his entering intoconversation with his master.

'It is not indeed, Sam,' replied Mr. Pickwick, surveying thecrowded and filthy street through which they were passing.

'It's a wery remarkable circumstance, Sir,' said Sam, 'thatpoverty and oysters always seem to go together.'

'I don't understand you, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'What I mean, sir,' said Sam, 'is, that the poorer a place is, thegreater call there seems to be for oysters. Look here, sir; here'sa oyster-stall to every half-dozen houses. The street's lined vith'em. Blessed if I don't think that ven a man's wery poor,he rushes out of his lodgings, and eats oysters in reg'lar desperation.'

'To be sure he does,' said Mr. Weller, senior; 'and it's just thesame vith pickled salmon!'

'Those are two very remarkable facts, which never occurred tome before,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'The very first place we stop at,I'll make a note of them.'

By this time they had reached the turnpike at Mile End; aprofound silence prevailed until they had got two or three milesfarther on, when Mr. Weller, senior, turning suddenly to Mr.Pickwick, said--

'Wery queer life is a pike-keeper's, sir.'

'A what?' said Mr. Pickwick.

'A pike-keeper.'

'What do you mean by a pike-keeper?' inquired Mr. Peter Magnus.

'The old 'un means a turnpike-keeper, gen'l'm'n,' observedMr. Samuel Weller, in explanation.

'Oh,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I see. Yes; very curious life.Very uncomfortable.'

'They're all on 'em men as has met vith some disappointmentin life,' said Mr. Weller, senior.

'Ay, ay,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Yes. Consequence of vich, they retires from the world, andshuts themselves up in pikes; partly with the view of beingsolitary, and partly to rewenge themselves on mankind by takin' tolls.'

'Dear me,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I never knew that before.'

'Fact, Sir,' said Mr. Weller; 'if they was gen'l'm'n, you'dcall 'em misanthropes, but as it is, they only takes to pike-keepin'.'

With such conversation, possessing the inestimable charm ofblending amusement with instruction, did Mr. Weller beguile thetediousness of the journey, during the greater part of the day.Topics of conversation were never wanting, for even when anypause occurred in Mr. Weller's loquacity, it was abundantlysupplied by the desire evinced by Mr. Magnus to make himselfacquainted with the whole of the personal history of his fellow-travellers, and his loudly-expressed anxiety at every stage,respecting the safety and well-being of the two bags, the leatherhat-box, and the brown-paper parcel.

In the main street of Ipswich, on the left-hand side of the way,a short distance after you have passed through the open spacefronting the Town Hall, stands an inn known far and wide by theappellation of the Great White Horse, rendered the moreconspicuous by a stone statue of some rampacious animal withflowing mane and tail, distantly resembling an insane cart-horse,which is elevated above the principal door. The Great WhiteHorse is famous in the neighbourhood, in the same degree as aprize ox, or a county-paper-chronicled turnip, or unwieldy pig--for its enormous size. Never was such labyrinths of uncarpetedpassages, such clusters of mouldy, ill-lighted rooms, such hugenumbers of small dens for eating or sleeping in, beneath any oneroof, as are collected together between the four walls of theGreat White Horse at Ipswich.

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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