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Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 49)


It was quite impossible to resist the urgent desire to see whatwas going forward. So out went Mr. Pickwick's head again. Theprospect was worse than before. The middle-aged lady hadfinished arranging her hair; had carefully enveloped it in a muslinnightcap with a small plaited border; and was gazing pensivelyon the fire.

'This matter is growing alarming,' reasoned Mr. Pickwick withhimself. 'I can't allow things to go on in this way. By the self-possession of that lady, it is clear to me that I must have comeinto the wrong room. If I call out she'll alarm the house; but if Iremain here the consequences will be still more frightful.'Mr. Pickwick, it is quite unnecessary to say, was one of themost modest and delicate-minded of mortals. The very idea ofexhibiting his nightcap to a lady overpowered him, but he hadtied those confounded strings in a knot, and, do what he would,he couldn't get it off. The disclosure must be made. There wasonly one other way of doing it. He shrunk behind the curtains,and called out very loudly--

'Ha-hum!'

That the lady started at this unexpected sound was evident, byher falling up against the rushlight shade; that she persuadedherself it must have been the effect of imagination was equallyclear, for when Mr. Pickwick, under the impression that she hadfainted away stone-dead with fright, ventured to peep out again,she was gazing pensively on the fire as before.

'Most extraordinary female this,' thought Mr. Pickwick,popping in again. 'Ha-hum!'

These last sounds, so like those in which, as legends inform us,the ferocious giant Blunderbore was in the habit of expressing hisopinion that it was time to lay the cloth, were too distinctlyaudible to be again mistaken for the workings of fancy.

'Gracious Heaven!' said the middle-aged lady, 'what's that?'

'It's-- it's--only a gentleman, ma'am,' said Mr. Pickwick, frombehind the curtains.

'A gentleman!' said the lady, with a terrific scream.

'It's all over!' thought Mr. Pickwick.

'A strange man!' shrieked the lady. Another instant and thehouse would be alarmed. Her garments rustled as she rushedtowards the door.

'Ma'am,' said Mr. Pickwick, thrusting out his head. in theextremity of his desperation, 'ma'am!'

Now, although Mr. Pickwick was not actuated by any definiteobject in putting out his head, it was instantaneously productiveof a good effect. The lady, as we have already stated, was near thedoor. She must pass it, to reach the staircase, and she would mostundoubtedly have done so by this time, had not the suddenapparition of Mr. Pickwick's nightcap driven her back into theremotest corner of the apartment, where she stood staring wildlyat Mr. Pickwick, while Mr. Pickwick in his turn stared wildlyat her.

'Wretch,' said the lady, covering her eyes with her hands,'what do you want here?'

'Nothing, ma'am; nothing whatever, ma'am,' said Mr.Pickwick earnestly.

'Nothing!' said the lady, looking up.

'Nothing, ma'am, upon my honour,' said Mr. Pickwick,nodding his head so energetically, that the tassel of his nightcapdanced again. 'I am almost ready to sink, ma'am, beneath theconfusion of addressing a lady in my nightcap (here the ladyhastily snatched off hers), but I can't get it off, ma'am (here Mr.Pickwick gave it a tremendous tug, in proof of the statement). Itis evident to me, ma'am, now, that I have mistaken this bedroomfor my own. I had not been here five minutes, ma'am, when yousuddenly entered it.'

'If this improbable story be really true, Sir,' said the lady,sobbing violently, 'you will leave it instantly.'

'I will, ma'am, with the greatest pleasure,' replied Mr. Pickwick.

'Instantly, sir,' said the lady.

'Certainly, ma'am,' interposed Mr. Pickwick, very quickly.'Certainly, ma'am. I--I--am very sorry, ma'am,' said Mr.Pickwick, making his appearance at the bottom of the bed, 'tohave been the innocent occasion of this alarm and emotion;deeply sorry, ma'am.'

The lady pointed to the door. One excellent quality of Mr.Pickwick's character was beautifully displayed at this moment,under the most trying circumstances. Although he had hastilyPut on his hat over his nightcap, after the manner of the oldpatrol; although he carried his shoes and gaiters in his hand, andhis coat and waistcoat over his arm; nothing could subdue hisnative politeness.

'I am exceedingly sorry, ma'am,' said Mr. Pickwick, bowingvery low.

'If you are, Sir, you will at once leave the room,' said the lady.

'Immediately, ma'am; this instant, ma'am,' said Mr. Pickwick,opening the door, and dropping both his shoes with a crash in so doing.

'I trust, ma'am,' resumed Mr. Pickwick, gathering up his shoes,and turning round to bow again--'I trust, ma'am, that myunblemished character, and the devoted respect I entertain for yoursex, will plead as some slight excuse for this--' But before Mr.Pickwick could conclude the sentence, the lady had thrust himinto the passage, and locked and bolted the door behind him.

Whatever grounds of self-congratulation Mr. Pickwick mighthave for having escaped so quietly from his late awkwardsituation, his present position was by no means enviable. He wasalone, in an open passage, in a strange house in the middle of thenight, half dressed; it was not to be supposed that he could findhis way in perfect darkness to a room which he had been whollyunable to discover with a light, and if he made the slightest noisein his fruitless attempts to do so, he stood every chance of beingshot at, and perhaps killed, by some wakeful traveller. He had noresource but to remain where he was until daylight appeared. Soafter groping his way a few paces down the passage, and, to hisinfinite alarm, stumbling over several pairs of boots in so doing,Mr. Pickwick crouched into a little recess in the wall, to wait formorning, as philosophically as he might.

He was not destined, however, to undergo this additional trialof patience; for he had not been long ensconced in his presentconcealment when, to his unspeakable horror, a man, bearing alight, appeared at the end of the passage. His horror was suddenlyconverted into joy, however, when he recognised the form of hisfaithful attendant. It was indeed Mr. Samuel Weller, who aftersitting up thus late, in conversation with the boots, who wassitting up for the mail, was now about to retire to rest.

'Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, suddenly appearing before him,'where's my bedroom?'

Mr. Weller stared at his master with the most emphaticsurprise; and it was not until the question had been repeatedthree several times, that he turned round, and led the way to thelong-sought apartment.

'Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, as he got into bed, 'I have made oneof the most extraordinary mistakes to-night, that ever wereheard of.'

'Wery likely, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller drily.

'But of this I am determined, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'that ifI were to stop in this house for six months, I would never trustmyself about it, alone, again.'

'That's the wery prudentest resolution as you could come to,Sir,' replied Mr. Weller. 'You rayther want somebody to lookarter you, Sir, when your judgment goes out a wisitin'.'

'What do you mean by that, Sam?' said Mr. Pickwick. Heraised himself in bed, and extended his hand, as if he were aboutto say something more; but suddenly checking himself, turnedround, and bade his valet 'Good-night.'

'Good-night, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller. He paused when he gotoutside the door--shook his head--walked on--stopped--snuffed the candle--shook his head again--and finally proceededslowly to his chamber, apparently buried in the profoundest meditation.

CHAPTER XXIIIIN WHICH Mr. SAMUEL WELLER BEGINS TO DEVOTE HISENERGIES TO THE RETURN MATCH BETWEEN HIMSELFAND Mr. TROTTER

In a small room in the vicinity of the stableyard, betimes in themorning, which was ushered in by Mr. Pickwick's adventure with themiddle--aged lady in the yellow curl-papers, sat Mr. Weller, senior,preparing himself for his journey to London. He was sitting in anexcellent attitude for having his portrait taken; and here it is.

It is very possible that at some earlier period of his career,Mr. Weller's profile might have presented a bold and determinedoutline. His face, however, had expanded under the influence ofgood living, and a disposition remarkable for resignation; and itsbold, fleshy curves had so far extended beyond the limits originallyassigned them, that unless you took a full view of his countenancein front, it was difficult to distinguish more than the extreme tipof a very rubicund nose. His chin, from the same cause, hadacquired the grave and imposing form which is generallydescribed by prefixing the word 'double' to that expressivefeature; and his complexion exhibited that peculiarly mottledcombination of colours which is only to be seen in gentlemen ofhis profession, and in underdone roast beef. Round his neck hewore a crimson travelling-shawl, which merged into his chin bysuch imperceptible gradations, that it was difficult to distinguishthe folds of the one, from the folds of the other. Over this, hemounted a long waistcoat of a broad pink-striped pattern, andover that again, a wide-skirted green coat, ornamented with largebrass buttons, whereof the two which garnished the waist, wereso far apart, that no man had ever beheld them both at the sametime. His hair, which was short, sleek, and black, was just visiblebeneath the capacious brim of a low-crowned brown hat. His legswere encased in knee-cord breeches, and painted top-boots; and acopper watch-chain, terminating in one seal, and a key of thesame material, dangled loosely from his capacious waistband.

We have said that Mr. Weller was engaged in preparing for hisjourney to London--he was taking sustenance, in fact. On thetable before him, stood a pot of ale, a cold round of beef, and avery respectable-looking loaf, to each of which he distributed hisfavours in turn, with the most rigid impartiality. He had just cuta mighty slice from the latter, when the footsteps of somebodyentering the room, caused him to raise his head; and he beheldhis son.

'Mornin', Sammy!' said the father.

The son walked up to the pot of ale, and nodding significantlyto his parent, took a long draught by way of reply.

'Wery good power o' suction, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller theelder, looking into the pot, when his first-born had set it downhalf empty. 'You'd ha' made an uncommon fine oyster, Sammy,if you'd been born in that station o' life.'

'Yes, I des-say, I should ha' managed to pick up a respectablelivin',' replied Sam applying himself to the cold beef, withconsiderable vigour.

'I'm wery sorry, Sammy,' said the elder Mr. Weller, shakingup the ale, by describing small circles with the pot, preparatoryto drinking. 'I'm wery sorry, Sammy, to hear from your lips, asyou let yourself be gammoned by that 'ere mulberry man. Ialways thought, up to three days ago, that the names of Vellerand gammon could never come into contract, Sammy, never.'

'Always exceptin' the case of a widder, of course,' said Sam.

'Widders, Sammy,' replied Mr. Weller, slightly changingcolour. 'Widders are 'ceptions to ev'ry rule. I have heerd howmany ordinary women one widder's equal to in pint o' comin'over you. I think it's five-and-twenty, but I don't rightly knowvether it ain't more.'

'Well; that's pretty well,' said Sam.

'Besides,' continued Mr. Weller, not noticing the interruption,'that's a wery different thing. You know what the counsel said,Sammy, as defended the gen'l'm'n as beat his wife with the poker,venever he got jolly. "And arter all, my Lord," says he, "it's aamiable weakness." So I says respectin' widders, Sammy, and soyou'll say, ven you gets as old as me.'

'I ought to ha' know'd better, I know,' said Sam.

'Ought to ha' know'd better!' repeated Mr. Weller, striking thetable with his fist. 'Ought to ha' know'd better! why, I know ayoung 'un as hasn't had half nor quarter your eddication--ashasn't slept about the markets, no, not six months--who'd ha'scorned to be let in, in such a vay; scorned it, Sammy.' In theexcitement of feeling produced by this agonising reflection, Mr.Weller rang the bell, and ordered an additional pint of ale.

'Well, it's no use talking about it now,' said Sam. 'It's over,and can't be helped, and that's one consolation, as they alwayssays in Turkey, ven they cuts the wrong man's head off. It's myinnings now, gov'nor, and as soon as I catches hold o' this 'ereTrotter, I'll have a good 'un.'

'I hope you will, Sammy. I hope you will,' returned Mr. Weller.'Here's your health, Sammy, and may you speedily vipe off thedisgrace as you've inflicted on the family name.' In honour ofthis toast Mr. Weller imbibed at a draught, at least two-thirds ofa newly-arrived pint, and handed it over to his son, to dispose ofthe remainder, which he instantaneously did.

'And now, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller, consulting a large double-faced silver watch that hung at the end of the copper chain.'Now it's time I was up at the office to get my vay-bill and see thecoach loaded; for coaches, Sammy, is like guns--they requiresto be loaded with wery great care, afore they go off.'

At this parental and professional joke, Mr. Weller, junior,smiled a filial smile. His revered parent continued in a solemn tone--

'I'm a-goin' to leave you, Samivel, my boy, and there's notelling ven I shall see you again. Your mother-in-law may ha'been too much for me, or a thousand things may have happenedby the time you next hears any news o' the celebrated Mr. Vellero' the Bell Savage. The family name depends wery much uponyou, Samivel, and I hope you'll do wot's right by it. Upon alllittle pints o' breedin', I know I may trust you as vell as if it wasmy own self. So I've only this here one little bit of adwice to giveyou. If ever you gets to up'ards o' fifty, and feels disposed to goa-marryin' anybody--no matter who--jist you shut yourself upin your own room, if you've got one, and pison yourself off hand.Hangin's wulgar, so don't you have nothin' to say to that. Pisonyourself, Samivel, my boy, pison yourself, and you'll be glad onit arterwards.' With these affecting words, Mr. Weller lookedsteadfastly on his son, and turning slowly upon his heel,disappeared from his sight.

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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