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Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 48)


It was at the door of this overgrown tavern that the Londoncoach stopped, at the same hour every evening; and it was fromthis same London coach that Mr. Pickwick, Sam Weller, andMr. Peter Magnus dismounted, on the particular evening towhich this chapter of our history bears reference.

'Do you stop here, sir?' inquired Mr. Peter Magnus, when thestriped bag, and the red bag, and the brown-paper parcel, and theleather hat-box, had all been deposited in the passage. 'Do youstop here, sir?'

'I do,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Dear me,' said Mr. Magnus, 'I never knew anything like theseextraordinary coincidences. Why, I stop here too. I hope we dine together?'

'With pleasure,' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'I am not quite certainwhether I have any friends here or not, though. Is there anygentleman of the name of Tupman here, waiter?'

A corpulent man, with a fortnight's napkin under his arm, andcoeval stockings on his legs, slowly desisted from his occupationof staring down the street, on this question being put to him byMr. Pickwick; and, after minutely inspecting that gentleman'sappearance, from the crown of his hat to the lowest button of hisgaiters, replied emphatically--

'No!'

'Nor any gentleman of the name of Snodgrass?' inquiredMr. Pickwick.

'No!'

'Nor Winkle?'

'No!'

'My friends have not arrived to-day, Sir,' said Mr. Pickwick.'We will dine alone, then. Show us a private room, waiter.'

On this request being preferred, the corpulent mancondescended to order the boots to bring in the gentlemen's luggage;and preceding them down a long, dark passage, ushered theminto a large, badly-furnished apartment, with a dirty grate, inwhich a small fire was making a wretched attempt to be cheerful,but was fast sinking beneath the dispiriting influence of the place.After the lapse of an hour, a bit of fish and a steak was served upto the travellers, and when the dinner was cleared away, Mr.Pickwick and Mr. Peter Magnus drew their chairs up to the fire,and having ordered a bottle of the worst possible port wine, atthe highest possible price, for the good of the house, drankbrandy-and-water for their own.

Mr. Peter Magnus was naturally of a very communicativedisposition, and the brandy-and-water operated with wonderfuleffect in warming into life the deepest hidden secrets of hisbosom. After sundry accounts of himself, his family, his connections,his friends, his jokes, his business, and his brothers (mosttalkative men have a great deal to say about their brothers),Mr. Peter Magnus took a view of Mr. Pickwick through hiscoloured spectacles for several minutes, and then said, with anair of modesty--

'And what do you think--what DO you think, Mr. Pickwick--Ihave come down here for?'

'Upon my word,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'it is wholly impossiblefor me to guess; on business, perhaps.'

'Partly right, Sir,' replied Mr. Peter Magnus, 'but partly wrongat the same time; try again, Mr. Pickwick.'

'Really,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I must throw myself on yourmercy, to tell me or not, as you may think best; for I should neverguess, if I were to try all night.'

'Why, then, he-he-he!' said Mr. Peter Magnus, with abashful titter, 'what should you think, Mr. Pickwick, if I hadcome down here to make a proposal, Sir, eh? He, he, he!'

'Think! That you are very likely to succeed,' replied Mr.Pickwick, with one of his beaming smiles.'Ah!' said Mr. Magnus. 'But do you really think so, Mr.Pickwick? Do you, though?'

'Certainly,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'No; but you're joking, though.'

'I am not, indeed.'

'Why, then,' said Mr. Magnus, 'to let you into a little secret, Ithink so too. I don't mind telling you, Mr. Pickwick, althoughI'm dreadful jealous by nature--horrid--that the lady is in thishouse.' Here Mr. Magnus took off his spectacles, on purpose towink, and then put them on again.

'That's what you were running out of the room for, beforedinner, then, so often,' said Mr. Pickwick archly.

'Hush! Yes, you're right, that was it; not such a fool as to seeher, though.'

'No!'

'No; wouldn't do, you know, after having just come off ajourney. Wait till to-morrow, sir; double the chance then. Mr.Pickwick, Sir, there is a suit of clothes in that bag, and a hat inthat box, which, I expect, in the effect they will produce, will beinvaluable to me, sir.'

'Indeed!' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Yes; you must have observed my anxiety about them to-day.I do not believe that such another suit of clothes, and such a hat,could be bought for money, Mr. Pickwick.'

Mr. Pickwick congratulated the fortunate owner of theirresistible garments on their acquisition; and Mr. Peter Magnusremained a few moments apparently absorbed in contemplation.'She's a fine creature,' said Mr. Magnus.

'Is she?' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Very,' said Mr. Magnus. 'very. She lives about twenty milesfrom here, Mr. Pickwick. I heard she would be here to-night andall to-morrow forenoon, and came down to seize the opportunity.I think an inn is a good sort of a place to propose to a singlewoman in, Mr. Pickwick. She is more likely to feel the lonelinessof her situation in travelling, perhaps, than she would be at home.What do you think, Mr. Pickwick?'

'I think it is very probable,' replied that gentleman.

'I beg your pardon, Mr. Pickwick,' said Mr. Peter Magnus,'but I am naturally rather curious; what may you have comedown here for?'

'On a far less pleasant errand, Sir,' replied Mr. Pickwick, thecolour mounting to his face at the recollection. 'I have comedown here, Sir, to expose the treachery and falsehood of anindividual, upon whose truth and honour I placed implicit reliance.'

'Dear me,' said Mr. Peter Magnus, 'that's very unpleasant. It isa lady, I presume? Eh? ah! Sly, Mr. Pickwick, sly. Well, Mr.Pickwick, sir, I wouldn't probe your feelings for the world.Painful subjects, these, sir, very painful. Don't mind me, Mr.Pickwick, if you wish to give vent to your feelings. I know whatit is to be jilted, Sir; I have endured that sort of thing three orfour times.'

'I am much obliged to you, for your condolence on what youpresume to be my melancholy case,' said Mr. Pickwick, windingup his watch, and laying it on the table, 'but--'

'No, no,' said Mr. Peter Magnus, 'not a word more; it's apainful subject. I see, I see. What's the time, Mr. Pickwick?''Past twelve.'

'Dear me, it's time to go to bed. It will never do, sitting here. Ishall be pale to-morrow, Mr. Pickwick.'

At the bare notion of such a calamity, Mr. Peter Magnus rangthe bell for the chambermaid; and the striped bag, the red bag,the leathern hat-box, and the brown-paper parcel, having beenconveyed to his bedroom, he retired in company with a japannedcandlestick, to one side of the house, while Mr. Pickwick, andanother japanned candlestick, were conducted through a multitudeof tortuous windings, to another.

'This is your room, sir,' said the chambermaid.

'Very well,' replied Mr. Pickwick, looking round him. It was atolerably large double-bedded room, with a fire; upon the whole,a more comfortable-looking apartment than Mr. Pickwick'sshort experience of the accommodations of the Great WhiteHorse had led him to expect.

'Nobody sleeps in the other bed, of course,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Oh, no, Sir.'

'Very good. Tell my servant to bring me up some hot water athalf-past eight in the morning, and that I shall not want him anymore to-night.'

'Yes, Sir,' and bidding Mr. Pickwick good-night, the chambermaidretired, and left him alone.

Mr. Pickwick sat himself down in a chair before the fire, andfell into a train of rambling meditations. First he thought of hisfriends, and wondered when they would join him; then his mindreverted to Mrs. Martha Bardell; and from that lady it wandered,by a natural process, to the dingy counting-house of Dodson &Fogg. From Dodson & Fogg's it flew off at a tangent, to the verycentre of the history of the queer client; and then it came back tothe Great White Horse at Ipswich, with sufficient clearness toconvince Mr. Pickwick that he was falling asleep. So he rousedhimself, and began to undress, when he recollected he had left hiswatch on the table downstairs.

Now this watch was a special favourite with Mr. Pickwick,having been carried about, beneath the shadow of his waistcoat,for a greater number of years than we feel called upon to state atpresent. The possibility of going to sleep, unless it were tickinggently beneath his pillow, or in the watch-pocket over his head,had never entered Mr. Pickwick's brain. So as it was pretty latenow, and he was unwilling to ring his bell at that hour of thenight, he slipped on his coat, of which he had just divestedhimself, and taking the japanned candlestick in his hand, walkedquietly downstairs.The more stairs Mr. Pickwick went down, the more stairsthere seemed to be to descend, and again and again, when Mr.Pickwick got into some narrow passage, and began to congratulatehimself on having gained the ground-floor, did another flightof stairs appear before his astonished eyes. At last he reached astone hall, which he remembered to have seen when he enteredthe house. Passage after passage did he explore; room after roomdid he peep into; at length, as he was on the point of giving up thesearch in despair, he opened the door of the identical room inwhich he had spent the evening, and beheld his missing propertyon the table.

Mr. Pickwick seized the watch in triumph, and proceeded toretrace his steps to his bedchamber. If his progress downward hadbeen attended with difficulties and uncertainty, his journey backwas infinitely more perplexing. Rows of doors, garnished withboots of every shape, make, and size, branched off in everypossible direction. A dozen times did he softly turn the handle ofsome bedroom door which resembled his own, when a gruff cryfrom within of 'Who the devil's that?' or 'What do you wanthere?' caused him to steal away, on tiptoe, with a perfectlymarvellous celerity. He was reduced to the verge of despair, whenan open door attracted his attention. He peeped in. Right at last!There were the two beds, whose situation he perfectly remembered,and the fire still burning. His candle, not a long one when hefirst received it, had flickered away in the drafts of air throughwhich he had passed and sank into the socket as he closed thedoor after him. 'No matter,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I can undressmyself just as well by the light of the fire.'

The bedsteads stood one on each side of the door; and on theinner side of each was a little path, terminating in a rush-bottomed chair, just wide enough to admit of a person's gettinginto or out of bed, on that side, if he or she thought proper.Having carefully drawn the curtains of his bed on the outside,Mr. Pickwick sat down on the rush-bottomed chair, and leisurelydivested himself of his shoes and gaiters. He then took off andfolded up his coat, waistcoat, and neckcloth, and slowly drawingon his tasselled nightcap, secured it firmly on his head, by tyingbeneath his chin the strings which he always had attached to thatarticle of dress. It was at this moment that the absurdity of hisrecent bewilderment struck upon his mind. Throwing himselfback in the rush-bottomed chair, Mr. Pickwick laughed tohimself so heartily, that it would have been quite delightful toany man of well-constituted mind to have watched the smilesthat expanded his amiable features as they shone forth frombeneath the nightcap.

'It is the best idea,' said Mr. Pickwick to himself, smiling till healmost cracked the nightcap strings--'it is the best idea, mylosing myself in this place, and wandering about these staircases,that I ever heard of. Droll, droll, very droll.' Here Mr. Pickwicksmiled again, a broader smile than before, and was about tocontinue the process of undressing, in the best possible humour,when he was suddenly stopped by a most unexpected interruption:to wit, the entrance into the room of some person with acandle, who, after locking the door, advanced to the dressing-table, and set down the light upon it.

The smile that played on Mr. Pickwick's features wasinstantaneously lost in a look of the most unbounded and wonder-stricken surprise. The person, whoever it was, had come in sosuddenly and with so little noise, that Mr. Pickwick had had notime to call out, or oppose their entrance. Who could it be? Arobber? Some evil-minded person who had seen him comeupstairs with a handsome watch in his hand, perhaps. What washe to do?

The only way in which Mr. Pickwick could catch a glimpse ofhis mysterious visitor with the least danger of being seen himself,was by creeping on to the bed, and peeping out from between thecurtains on the opposite side. To this manoeuvre he accordinglyresorted. Keeping the curtains carefully closed with his hand, sothat nothing more of him could be seen than his face and nightcap,and putting on his spectacles, he mustered up courage andlooked out.

Mr. Pickwick almost fainted with horror and dismay. Standingbefore the dressing-glass was a middle-aged lady, in yellow curl-papers, busily engaged in brushing what ladies call their 'back-hair.' However the unconscious middle-aged lady came into thatroom, it was quite clear that she contemplated remaining therefor the night; for she had brought a rushlight and shade with her,which, with praiseworthy precaution against fire, she hadstationed in a basin on the floor, where it was glimmering away,like a gigantic lighthouse in a particularly small piece of water.

'Bless my soul!' thought Mr. Pickwick, 'what a dreadful thing!'

'Hem!' said the lady; and in went Mr. Pickwick's head withautomaton-like rapidity.

'I never met with anything so awful as this,' thought poorMr. Pickwick, the cold perspiration starting in drops upon hisnightcap. 'Never. This is fearful.'

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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