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Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 51)


'He-he-he,'tittered Mr. Magnus, affecting cheerfulness, andgasping with agitation. 'It only wants two minutes, Mr. Pickwick.Am I pale, Sir?''Not very,' replied Mr. Pickwick.

There was a brief pause.

'I beg your pardon, Mr. Pickwick; but have you ever done thissort of thing in your time?' said Mr. Magnus.

'You mean proposing?' said Mr. Pickwick.'Yes.'

'Never,' said Mr. Pickwick, with great energy, 'never.'

'You have no idea, then, how it's best to begin?' said Mr. Magnus.

'Why,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I may have formed some ideasupon the subject, but, as I have never submitted them to the testof experience, I should be sorry if you were induced to regulateyour proceedings by them.'

'I should feel very much obliged to you, for any advice, Sir,'said Mr. Magnus, taking another look at the clock, the hand ofwhich was verging on the five minutes past.

'Well, sir,' said Mr. Pickwick, with the profound solemnitywith which that great man could, when he pleased, render hisremarks so deeply impressive. 'I should commence, sir, with atribute to the lady's beauty and excellent qualities; from them,Sir, I should diverge to my own unworthiness.'

'Very good,' said Mr. Magnus.

'Unworthiness for HER only, mind, sir,' resumed Mr. Pickwick;'for to show that I was not wholly unworthy, sir, I should take abrief review of my past life, and present condition. I should argue,by analogy, that to anybody else, I must be a very desirableobject. I should then expatiate on the warmth of my love, andthe depth of my devotion. Perhaps I might then be tempted toseize her hand.'

'Yes, I see,' said Mr. Magnus; 'that would be a very great point.'

'I should then, Sir,' continued Mr. Pickwick, growing warmeras the subject presented itself in more glowing colours beforehim--'I should then, Sir, come to the plain and simple question,"Will you have me?" I think I am justified in assuming thatupon this, she would turn away her head.'

'You think that may be taken for granted?' said Mr. Magnus;'because, if she did not do that at the right place, it wouldbe embarrassing.'

'I think she would,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Upon this, sir, Ishould squeeze her hand, and I think--I think, Mr. Magnus--that after I had done that, supposing there was no refusal, Ishould gently draw away the handkerchief, which my slightknowledge of human nature leads me to suppose the lady wouldbe applying to her eyes at the moment, and steal a respectful kiss.I think I should kiss her, Mr. Magnus; and at this particularpoint, I am decidedly of opinion that if the lady were going totake me at all, she would murmur into my ears a bashful acceptance.'

Mr. Magnus started; gazed on Mr. Pickwick's intelligent face,for a short time in silence; and then (the dial pointing to the tenminutes past) shook him warmly by the hand, and rusheddesperately from the room.

Mr. Pickwick had taken a few strides to and fro; and the smallhand of the clock following the latter part of his example, hadarrived at the figure which indicates the half-hour, when the doorsuddenly opened. He turned round to meet Mr. Peter Magnus,and encountered, in his stead, the joyous face of Mr. Tupman,the serene countenance of Mr. Winkle, and the intellectuallineaments of Mr. Snodgrass. As Mr. Pickwick greeted them,Mr. Peter Magnus tripped into the room.

'My friends, the gentleman I was speaking of--Mr. Magnus,'said Mr. Pickwick.

'Your servant, gentlemen,' said Mr. Magnus, evidently in ahigh state of excitement; 'Mr. Pickwick, allow me to speak to youone moment, sir.'

As he said this, Mr. Magnus harnessed his forefinger to Mr.Pickwick's buttonhole, and, drawing him to a window recess, said--

'Congratulate me, Mr. Pickwick; I followed your advice to thevery letter.'

'And it was all correct, was it?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.

'It was, Sir. Could not possibly have been better,' replied Mr.Magnus. 'Mr. Pickwick, she is mine.'

'I congratulate you, with all my heart,' replied Mr. Pickwick,warmly shaking his new friend by the hand.

'You must see her. Sir,' said Mr. Magnus; 'this way, if youplease. Excuse us for one instant, gentlemen.' Hurrying on inthis way, Mr. Peter Magnus drew Mr. Pickwick from the room.He paused at the next door in the passage, and tapped gently thereat.

'Come in,' said a female voice. And in they went.

'Miss Witherfield,' said Mr. Magnus, 'allow me to introducemy very particular friend, Mr. Pickwick. Mr. Pickwick, I beg tomake you known to Miss Witherfield.'

The lady was at the upper end of the room. As Mr. Pickwickbowed, he took his spectacles from his waistcoat pocket, and putthem on; a process which he had no sooner gone through, than,uttering an exclamation of surprise, Mr. Pickwick retreatedseveral paces, and the lady, with a half-suppressed scream, hidher face in her hands, and dropped into a chair; whereuponMr. Peter Magnus was stricken motionless on the spot, and gazedfrom one to the other, with a countenance expressive of theextremities of horror and surprise.This certainly was, to all appearance, very unaccountablebehaviour; but the fact is, that Mr. Pickwick no sooner put onhis spectacles, than he at once recognised in the future Mrs.Magnus the lady into whose room he had so unwarrantablyintruded on the previous night; and the spectacles had no soonercrossed Mr. Pickwick's nose, than the lady at once identified thecountenance which she had seen surrounded by all the horrors ofa nightcap. So the lady screamed, and Mr. Pickwick started.

'Mr. Pickwick!' exclaimed Mr. Magnus, lost in astonishment,'what is the meaning of this, Sir? What is the meaning of it, Sir?'added Mr. Magnus, in a threatening, and a louder tone.

'Sir,' said Mr. Pickwick, somewhat indignant at the very suddenmanner in which Mr. Peter Magnus had conjugated himself intothe imperative mood, 'I decline answering that question.'

'You decline it, Sir?' said Mr. Magnus.

'I do, Sir,' replied Mr. Pickwick; 'I object to say anythingwhich may compromise that lady, or awaken unpleasant recollectionsin her breast, without her consent and permission.'

'Miss Witherfield,' said Mr. Peter Magnus, 'do you know this person?'

'Know him!' repeated the middle-aged lady, hesitating.

'Yes, know him, ma'am; I said know him,' replied Mr.Magnus, with ferocity.

'I have seen him,' replied the middle-aged lady.

'Where?' inquired Mr. Magnus, 'where?'

'That,' said the middle-aged lady, rising from her seat, andaverting her head--'that I would not reveal for worlds.'

'I understand you, ma'am,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'and respectyour delicacy; it shall never be revealed by ME depend upon it.'

'Upon my word, ma'am,' said Mr. Magnus, 'considering thesituation in which I am placed with regard to yourself, you carrythis matter off with tolerable coolness--tolerable coolness, ma'am.'

'Cruel Mr. Magnus!' said the middle-aged lady; here she weptvery copiously indeed.

'Address your observations to me, sir,' interposed Mr. Pickwick;'I alone am to blame, if anybody be.'

'Oh! you alone are to blame, are you, sir?' said Mr. Magnus;'I--I--see through this, sir. You repent of your determinationnow, do you?'

'My determination!' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Your determination, Sir. Oh! don't stare at me, Sir,' saidMr. Magnus; 'I recollect your words last night, Sir. You camedown here, sir, to expose the treachery and falsehood of anindividual on whose truth and honour you had placed implicitreliance--eh?' Here Mr. Peter Magnus indulged in a prolongedsneer; and taking off his green spectacles--which he probablyfound superfluous in his fit of jealousy--rolled his little eyesabout, in a manner frightful to behold.

'Eh?' said Mr. Magnus; and then he repeated the sneer withincreased effect. 'But you shall answer it, Sir.'

'Answer what?' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Never mind, sir,' replied Mr. Magnus, striding up and downthe room. 'Never mind.'

There must be something very comprehensive in this phrase of'Never mind,' for we do not recollect to have ever witnessed aquarrel in the street, at a theatre, public room, or elsewhere, inwhich it has not been the standard reply to all belligerent inquiries.'Do you call yourself a gentleman, sir?'--'Never mind, sir.' 'DidI offer to say anything to the young woman, sir?'--'Never mind,sir.' 'Do you want your head knocked up against that wall, sir?'--'Never mind, sir.' It is observable, too, that there would appearto be some hidden taunt in this universal 'Never mind,' whichrouses more indignation in the bosom of the individual addressed,than the most lavish abuse could possibly awaken.

We do not mean to assert that the application of this brevityto himself, struck exactly that indignation to Mr. Pickwick'ssoul, which it would infallibly have roused in a vulgar breast.We merely record the fact that Mr. Pickwick opened the roomdoor, and abruptly called out, 'Tupman, come here!'

Mr. Tupman immediately presented himself, with a look ofvery considerable surprise.

'Tupman,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'a secret of some delicacy, inwhich that lady is concerned, is the cause of a difference whichhas just arisen between this gentleman and myself. When I assurehim, in your presence, that it has no relation to himself, and isnot in any way connected with his affairs, I need hardly beg youto take notice that if he continue to dispute it, he expresses adoubt of my veracity, which I shall consider extremely insulting.'As Mr. Pickwick said this, he looked encyclopedias at Mr. PeterMagnus.

Mr. Pickwick's upright and honourable bearing, coupled withthat force and energy of speech which so eminently distinguishedhim, would have carried conviction to any reasonable mind; but,unfortunately, at that particular moment, the mind of Mr. PeterMagnus was in anything but reasonable order. Consequently,instead of receiving Mr. Pickwick's explanation as he ought tohave done, he forthwith proceeded to work himself into a red-hot, scorching, consuming passion, and to talk about what wasdue to his own feelings, and all that sort of thing; adding force tohis declamation by striding to and fro, and pulling his hair--amusements which he would vary occasionally, by shaking hisfist in Mr. Pickwick's philanthropic countenance.

Mr. Pickwick, in his turn, conscious of his own innocence andrectitude, and irritated by having unfortunately involved themiddle-aged lady in such an unpleasant affair, was not so quietlydisposed as was his wont. The consequence was, that words ranhigh, and voices higher; and at length Mr. Magnus told Mr.Pickwick he should hear from him; to which Mr. Pickwickreplied, with laudable politeness, that the sooner he heard fromhim the better; whereupon the middle-aged lady rushed interror from the room, out of which Mr. Tupman dragged Mr.Pickwick, leaving Mr. Peter Magnus to himself and meditation.

If the middle-aged lady had mingled much with the busy world,or had profited at all by the manners and customs of those whomake the laws and set the fashions, she would have known thatthis sort of ferocity is the most harmless thing in nature; but asshe had lived for the most part in the country, and never read theparliamentary debates, she was little versed in these particularrefinements of civilised life. Accordingly, when she had gainedher bedchamber, bolted herself in, and began to meditate on thescene she had just witnessed, the most terrific pictures of slaughterand destruction presented themselves to her imagination; amongwhich, a full-length portrait of Mr. Peter Magnus borne homeby four men, with the embellishment of a whole barrelful ofbullets in his left side, was among the very least. The more themiddle-aged lady meditated, the more terrified she became; andat length she determined to repair to the house of the principalmagistrate of the town, and request him to secure the persons ofMr. Pickwick and Mr. Tupman without delay.

To this decision the middle-aged lady was impelled by a varietyof considerations, the chief of which was the incontestable proofit would afford of her devotion to Mr. Peter Magnus, and heranxiety for his safety. She was too well acquainted with hisjealous temperament to venture the slightest allusion to the realcause of her agitation on beholding Mr. Pickwick; and shetrusted to her own influence and power of persuasion with thelittle man, to quell his boisterous jealousy, supposing that Mr.Pickwick were removed, and no fresh quarrel could arise. Filledwith these reflections, the middle-aged lady arrayed herself in herbonnet and shawl, and repaired to the mayor's dwelling straightway.

Now George Nupkins, Esquire, the principal magistrateaforesaid, was as grand a personage as the fastest walker wouldfind out, between sunrise and sunset, on the twenty-first of June,which being, according to the almanacs, the longest day in thewhole year, would naturally afford him the longest period for hissearch. On this particular morning, Mr. Nupkins was in a stateof the utmost excitement and irritation, for there had been arebellion in the town; all the day-scholars at the largest day-school had conspired to break the windows of an obnoxiousapple-seller, and had hooted the beadle and pelted theconstabulary--an elderly gentleman in top-boots, who had beencalled out to repress the tumult, and who had been a peace-officer, man and boy, for half a century at least. And Mr. Nupkinswas sitting in his easy-chair, frowning with majesty, and boilingwith rage, when a lady was announced on pressing, private, andparticular business. Mr. Nupkins looked calmly terrible, andcommanded that the lady should be shown in; which command,like all the mandates of emperors, and magistrates, and othergreat potentates of the earth, was forthwith obeyed; and MissWitherfield, interestingly agitated, was ushered in accordingly.

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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