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Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 64)


CHAPTER XXXHOW THE PICKWICKIANS MADE AND CULTIVATED THEACQUAINTANCE OF A COUPLE OF NICE YOUNG MENBELONGING TO ONE OF THE LIBERAL PROFESSIONS; HOWTHEY DISPORTED THEMSELVES ON THE ICE; AND HOWTHEIR VISIT CAME TO A CONCLUSION

'Well, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, as that favoured servitor enteredhis bed-chamber, with his warm water, on the morning of ChristmasDay, 'still frosty?'

'Water in the wash-hand basin's a mask o' ice, Sir,' responded Sam.

'Severe weather, Sam,' observed Mr. Pickwick.

'Fine time for them as is well wropped up, as the Polar bear saidto himself, ven he was practising his skating,' replied Mr. Weller.

'I shall be down in a quarter of an hour, Sam,' said Mr.Pickwick, untying his nightcap.

'Wery good, sir,' replied Sam. 'There's a couple o' sawbonesdownstairs.'

'A couple of what!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, sitting up in bed.

'A couple o' sawbones,' said Sam.

'What's a sawbones?' inquired Mr. Pickwick, not quitecertain whether it was a live animal, or something to eat.

'What! Don't you know what a sawbones is, sir?' inquiredMr. Weller. 'I thought everybody know'd as a sawbones was a surgeon.'

'Oh, a surgeon, eh?' said Mr. Pickwick, with a smile.

'Just that, sir,' replied Sam. 'These here ones as is below,though, ain't reg'lar thoroughbred sawbones; they're only intrainin'.''In other words they're medical students, I suppose?' saidMr. Pickwick.

Sam Weller nodded assent.

'I am glad of it,' said Mr. Pickwick, casting his nightcapenergetically on the counterpane. 'They are fine fellows--veryfine fellows; with judgments matured by observation andreflection; and tastes refined by reading and study. I am veryglad of it.'

'They're a-smokin' cigars by the kitchen fire,' said Sam.

'Ah!' observed Mr. Pickwick, rubbing his hands, 'overflowingwith kindly feelings and animal spirits. Just what I liketo see.''And one on 'em,' said Sam, not noticing his master's interruption,'one on 'em's got his legs on the table, and is a-drinkingbrandy neat, vile the t'other one--him in the barnacles--has gota barrel o' oysters atween his knees, which he's a-openin' likesteam, and as fast as he eats 'em, he takes a aim vith the shellsat young dropsy, who's a sittin' down fast asleep, in thechimbley corner.'

'Eccentricities of genius, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Youmay retire.'

Sam did retire accordingly. Mr. Pickwick at the expiration ofthe quarter of an hour, went down to breakfast.

'Here he is at last!' said old Mr. Wardle. 'Pickwick, this isMiss Allen's brother, Mr. Benjamin Allen. Ben we call him, andso may you, if you like. This gentleman is his very particularfriend, Mr.--'

'Mr. Bob Sawyer,'interposed Mr. Benjamin Allen; whereuponMr. Bob Sawyer and Mr. Benjamin Allen laughed in concert.

Mr. Pickwick bowed to Bob Sawyer, and Bob Sawyer bowedto Mr. Pickwick. Bob and his very particular friend then appliedthemselves most assiduously to the eatables before them; andMr. Pickwick had an opportunity of glancing at them both.

Mr. Benjamin Allen was a coarse, stout, thick-set young man,with black hair cut rather short, and a white face cut rather long.He was embellished with spectacles, and wore a white neckerchief.Below his single-breasted black surtout, which wasbuttoned up to his chin, appeared the usual number of pepper-and-salt coloured legs, terminating in a pair of imperfectlypolished boots. Although his coat was short in the sleeves, itdisclosed no vestige of a linen wristband; and although there wasquite enough of his face to admit of the encroachment of a shirtcollar, it was not graced by the smallest approach to that appendage.He presented, altogether, rather a mildewy appearance,and emitted a fragrant odour of full-flavoured Cubas.

Mr. Bob Sawyer, who was habited in a coarse, blue coat,which, without being either a greatcoat or a surtout, partook ofthe nature and qualities of both, had about him that sort ofslovenly smartness, and swaggering gait, which is peculiar toyoung gentlemen who smoke in the streets by day, shout andscream in the same by night, call waiters by their Christiannames, and do various other acts and deeds of an equallyfacetious description. He wore a pair of plaid trousers,and a large, rough, double-breasted waistcoat; out of doors, hecarried a thick stick with a big top. He eschewed gloves, andlooked, upon the whole, something like a dissipated Robinson Crusoe.

Such were the two worthies to whom Mr. Pickwick wasintroduced, as he took his seat at the breakfast-table onChristmas morning.

'Splendid morning, gentlemen,' said Mr. Pickwick.

Mr. Bob Sawyer slightly nodded his assent to the proposition,and asked Mr. Benjamin Allen for the mustard.

'Have you come far this morning, gentlemen?' inquiredMr. Pickwick.

'Blue Lion at Muggleton,' briefly responded Mr. Allen.

'You should have joined us last night,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'So we should,' replied Bob Sawyer, 'but the brandy was toogood to leave in a hurry; wasn't it, Ben?'

'Certainly,' said Mr. Benjamin Allen; 'and the cigars were notbad, or the pork-chops either; were they, Bob?'

'Decidedly not,' said Bob. The particular friends resumed theirattack upon the breakfast, more freely than before, as if therecollection of last night's supper had imparted a new relish tothe meal.

'Peg away, Bob,' said Mr. Allen, to his companion, encouragingly.

'So I do,' replied Bob Sawyer. And so, to do him justice, he did.

'Nothing like dissecting, to give one an appetite,' said Mr.Bob Sawyer, looking round the table.

Mr. Pickwick slightly shuddered.

'By the bye, Bob,' said Mr. Allen, 'have you finished that leg yet?'

'Nearly,' replied Sawyer, helping himself to half a fowl as hespoke. 'It's a very muscular one for a child's.''Is it?' inquired Mr. Allen carelessly.

'Very,' said Bob Sawyer, with his mouth full.

'I've put my name down for an arm at our place,' said Mr.Allen. 'We're clubbing for a subject, and the list is nearly full,only we can't get hold of any fellow that wants a head. I wishyou'd take it.'

'No,' replied 'Bob Sawyer; 'can't afford expensive luxuries.'

'Nonsense!' said Allen.

'Can't, indeed,' rejoined Bob Sawyer, 'I wouldn't mind abrain, but I couldn't stand a whole head.''Hush, hush, gentlemen, pray,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I hear the ladies.'

As Mr. Pickwick spoke, the ladies, gallantly escorted byMessrs. Snodgrass, Winkle, and Tupman, returned from anearly walk.

'Why, Ben!' said Arabella, in a tone which expressed moresurprise than pleasure at the sight of her brother.

'Come to take you home to-morrow,' replied Benjamin.

Mr. Winkle turned pale.

'Don't you see Bob Sawyer, Arabella?' inquired Mr. BenjaminAllen, somewhat reproachfully. Arabella gracefully held out herhand, in acknowledgment of Bob Sawyer's presence. A thrill ofhatred struck to Mr. Winkle's heart, as Bob Sawyer inflicted onthe proffered hand a perceptible squeeze.

'Ben, dear!' said Arabella, blushing; 'have--have--you beenintroduced to Mr. Winkle?'

'I have not been, but I shall be very happy to be, Arabella,'replied her brother gravely. Here Mr. Allen bowed grimly toMr. Winkle, while Mr. Winkle and Mr. Bob Sawyer glancedmutual distrust out of the corners of their eyes.

The arrival of the two new visitors, and the consequent checkupon Mr. Winkle and the young lady with the fur round herboots, would in all probability have proved a very unpleasantinterruption to the hilarity of the party, had not the cheerfulnessof Mr. Pickwick, and the good humour of the host, been exertedto the very utmost for the common weal. Mr. Winkle graduallyinsinuated himself into the good graces of Mr. Benjamin Allen,and even joined in a friendly conversation with Mr. Bob Sawyer;who, enlivened with the brandy, and the breakfast, and thetalking, gradually ripened into a state of extreme facetiousness,and related with much glee an agreeable anecdote, about theremoval of a tumour on some gentleman's head, which heillustrated by means of an oyster-knife and a half-quartern loaf,to the great edification of the assembled company. Then thewhole train went to church, where Mr. Benjamin Allen fell fastasleep; while Mr. Bob Sawyer abstracted his thoughts fromworldly matters, by the ingenious process of carving his name onthe seat of the pew, in corpulent letters of four inches long.

'Now,' said Wardle, after a substantial lunch, with the agreeableitems of strong beer and cherry-brandy, had been doneample justice to, 'what say you to an hour on the ice? We shallhave plenty of time.'

'Capital!' said Mr. Benjamin Allen.

'Prime!' ejaculated Mr. Bob Sawyer.

'You skate, of course, Winkle?' said Wardle.

'Ye-yes; oh, yes,' replied Mr. Winkle. 'I--I--am RATHER outof practice.'

'Oh, DO skate, Mr. Winkle,' said Arabella. 'I like to see it so much.'

'Oh, it is SO graceful,' said another young lady.A third young lady said it was elegant, and a fourth expressedher opinion that it was 'swan-like.'

'I should be very happy, I'm sure,' said Mr. Winkle, reddening;'but I have no skates.'

This objection was at once overruled. Trundle had a couple ofpair, and the fat boy announced that there were half a dozenmore downstairs; whereat Mr. Winkle expressed exquisitedelight, and looked exquisitely uncomfortable.

Old Wardle led the way to a pretty large sheet of ice; and thefat boy and Mr. Weller, having shovelled and swept away thesnow which had fallen on it during the night, Mr. Bob Sawyeradjusted his skates with a dexterity which to Mr. Winkle wasperfectly marvellous, and described circles with his left leg, andcut figures of eight, and inscribed upon the ice, without oncestopping for breath, a great many other pleasant and astonishingdevices, to the excessive satisfaction of Mr. Pickwick, Mr. Tupman,and the ladies; which reached a pitch of positive enthusiasm,when old Wardle and Benjamin Allen, assisted by theaforesaid Bob Sawyer, performed some mystic evolutions, whichthey called a reel.

All this time, Mr. Winkle, with his face and hands blue withthe cold, had been forcing a gimlet into the sole of his feet, andputting his skates on, with the points behind, and getting thestraps into a very complicated and entangled state, with theassistance of Mr. Snodgrass, who knew rather less about skatesthan a Hindoo. At length, however, with the assistance of Mr.Weller, the unfortunate skates were firmly screwed and buckledon, and Mr. Winkle was raised to his feet.

'Now, then, Sir,' said Sam, in an encouraging tone; 'off vithyou, and show 'em how to do it.'

'Stop, Sam, stop!' said Mr. Winkle, trembling violently, andclutching hold of Sam's arms with the grasp of a drowning man.'How slippery it is, Sam!'

'Not an uncommon thing upon ice, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller.'Hold up, Sir!'

This last observation of Mr. Weller's bore reference to ademonstration Mr. Winkle made at the instant, of a franticdesire to throw his feet in the air, and dash the back of his headon the ice.

'These--these--are very awkward skates; ain't they, Sam?'inquired Mr. Winkle, staggering.

'I'm afeerd there's a orkard gen'l'm'n in 'em, Sir,' replied Sam.

'Now, Winkle,' cried Mr. Pickwick, quite unconscious thatthere was anything the matter. 'Come; the ladies are all anxiety.'

'Yes, yes,' replied Mr. Winkle, with a ghastly smile. 'I'm coming.'

'Just a-goin' to begin,' said Sam, endeavouring to disengagehimself. 'Now, Sir, start off!'

'Stop an instant, Sam,' gasped Mr. Winkle, clinging mostaffectionately to Mr. Weller. 'I find I've got a couple of coats athome that I don't want, Sam. You may have them, Sam.'

'Thank'ee, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller.

'Never mind touching your hat, Sam,' said Mr. Winkle hastily.'You needn't take your hand away to do that. I meant to havegiven you five shillings this morning for a Christmas box, Sam.I'll give it you this afternoon, Sam.'

'You're wery good, sir,' replied Mr. Weller.

'Just hold me at first, Sam; will you?' said Mr. Winkle.'There--that's right. I shall soon get in the way of it, Sam. Nottoo fast, Sam; not too fast.'

Mr. Winkle, stooping forward, with his body half doubled up,was being assisted over the ice by Mr. Weller, in a very singularand un-swan-like manner, when Mr. Pickwick most innocentlyshouted from the opposite bank--

'Sam!'

'Sir?'

'Here. I want you.'

'Let go, Sir,' said Sam. 'Don't you hear the governor a-callin'?Let go, sir.'

With a violent effort, Mr. Weller disengaged himself from thegrasp of the agonised Pickwickian, and, in so doing, administereda considerable impetus to the unhappy Mr. Winkle. With anaccuracy which no degree of dexterity or practice could haveinsured, that unfortunate gentleman bore swiftly down into thecentre of the reel, at the very moment when Mr. Bob Sawyer wasperforming a flourish of unparalleled beauty. Mr. Winkle struck wildlyagainst him, and with a loud crash they both fell heavily down.Mr. Pickwick ran to the spot. Bob Sawyer had risen to his feet,but Mr. Winkle was far too wise to do anything of the kind, in skates.He was seated on the ice, making spasmodic efforts to smile; butanguish was depicted on every lineament of his countenance.

'Are you hurt?' inquired Mr. Benjamin Allen, with great anxiety.

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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