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Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 68)


Long before the close of this address, which we are bound tosay was of a very prosy character for Mr. Pickwick, the Serjeanthad relapsed into a state of abstraction. After some minutes,however, during which he had reassumed his pen, he appeared tobe again aware of the presence of his clients; raising his headfrom the paper, he said, rather snappishly--

'Who is with me in this case?'

'Mr. Phunky, Serjeant Snubbin,' replied the attorney.

'Phunky--Phunky,' said the Serjeant, 'I never heard the namebefore. He must be a very young man.'

'Yes, he is a very young man,' replied the attorney. 'He wasonly called the other day. Let me see--he has not been at the Bareight years yet.'

'Ah, I thought not,' said the Serjeant, in that sort of pityingtone in which ordinary folks would speak of a very helpless littlechild. 'Mr. Mallard, send round to Mr.--Mr.--' 'Phunky's--Holborn Court, Gray's Inn,' interposed Perker. (Holborn Court,by the bye, is South Square now.) 'Mr. Phunky, and say I shouldbe glad if he'd step here, a moment.'

Mr. Mallard departed to execute his commission; and SerjeantSnubbin relapsed into abstraction until Mr. Phunky himself wasintroduced.

Although an infant barrister, he was a full-grown man. He hada very nervous manner, and a painful hesitation in his speech; itdid not appear to be a natural defect, but seemed rather theresult of timidity, arising from the consciousness of being 'keptdown' by want of means, or interest, or connection, or impudence,as the case might be. He was overawed by the Serjeant, andprofoundly courteous to the attorney.

'I have not had the pleasure of seeing you before, Mr. Phunky,'said Serjeant Snubbin, with haughty condescension.

Mr. Phunky bowed. He HAD had the pleasure of seeing theSerjeant, and of envying him too, with all a poor man's envy, foreight years and a quarter.

'You are with me in this case, I understand?' said the Serjeant.

If Mr. Phunky had been a rich man, he would have instantlysent for his clerk to remind him; if he had been a wise one, hewould have applied his forefinger to his forehead, andendeavoured to recollect, whether, in the multiplicity of hisengagements, he had undertaken this one or not; but as he was neitherrich nor wise (in this sense, at all events) he turned red, and bowed.

'Have you read the papers, Mr. Phunky?' inquired the Serjeant.

Here again, Mr. Phunky should have professed to haveforgotten all about the merits of the case; but as he had read suchpapers as had been laid before him in the course of the action, andhad thought of nothing else, waking or sleeping, throughout thetwo months during which he had been retained as Mr. SerjeantSnubbin's junior, he turned a deeper red and bowed again.

'This is Mr. Pickwick,' said the Serjeant, waving his pen in thedirection in which that gentleman was standing.

Mr. Phunky bowed to Mr. Pickwick, with a reverence which afirst client must ever awaken; and again inclined his head towardshis leader.

'Perhaps you will take Mr. Pickwick away,' said the Serjeant,'and--and--and--hear anything Mr. Pickwick may wish tocommunicate. We shall have a consultation, of course.' Withthat hint that he had been interrupted quite long enough, Mr.Serjeant Snubbin, who had been gradually growing more andmore abstracted, applied his glass to his eyes for an instant,bowed slightly round, and was once more deeply immersed in thecase before him, which arose out of an interminable lawsuit,originating in the act of an individual, deceased a century or soago, who had stopped up a pathway leading from some placewhich nobody ever came from, to some other place whichnobody ever went to.

Mr. Phunky would not hear of passing through any door untilMr. Pickwick and his solicitor had passed through before him, soit was some time before they got into the Square; and when theydid reach it, they walked up and down, and held a long conference,the result of which was, that it was a very difficult matterto say how the verdict would go; that nobody could presume tocalculate on the issue of an action; that it was very lucky they hadprevented the other party from getting Serjeant Snubbin; andother topics of doubt and consolation, common in such a positionof affairs.

Mr. Weller was then roused by his master from a sweet sleep ofan hour's duration; and, bidding adieu to Lowten, they returnedto the city.

CHAPTER XXXIIDESCRIBES, FAR MORE FULLY THAN THE COURT NEWSMANEVER DID, A BACHELOR'S PARTY, GIVEN BY Mr.BOB SAWYER AT HIS LODGINGS IN THE BOROUGH

There is a repose about Lant Street, in the Borough, whichsheds a gentle melancholy upon the soul. There are always agood many houses to let in the street: it is a by-street too,and its dulness is soothing. A house in Lant Street wouldnot come within the denomination of a first-rate residence,in the strict acceptation of the term; but it is a most desirablespot nevertheless. If a man wished to abstract himself from theworld--to remove himself from within the reach of temptation--to place himself beyond the possibility of any inducement to lookout of the window--we should recommend him by all means goto Lant Street.

In this happy retreat are colonised a few clear-starchers, asprinkling of journeymen bookbinders, one or two prison agentsfor the Insolvent Court, several small housekeepers who areemployed in the Docks, a handful of mantua-makers, and aseasoning of jobbing tailors. The majority of the inhabitantseither direct their energies to the letting of furnished apartments,or devote themselves to the healthful and invigorating pursuit ofmangling. The chief features in the still life of the street aregreen shutters, lodging-bills, brass door-plates, and bell-handles;the principal specimens of animated nature, the pot-boy, themuffin youth, and the baked-potato man. The population ismigratory, usually disappearing on the verge of quarter-day, andgenerally by night. His Majesty's revenues are seldom collectedin this happy valley; the rents are dubious; and the watercommunication is very frequently cut off.

Mr. Bob Sawyer embellished one side of the fire, in his first-floor front, early on the evening for which he had invited Mr.Pickwick, and Mr. Ben Allen the other. The preparations for thereception of visitors appeared to be completed. The umbrellas inthe passage had been heaped into the little corner outside theback-parlour door; the bonnet and shawl of the landlady'sservant had been removed from the bannisters; there were notmore than two pairs of pattens on the street-door mat; and akitchen candle, with a very long snuff, burned cheerfully on theledge of the staircase window. Mr. Bob Sawyer had himselfpurchased the spirits at a wine vaults in High Street, and hadreturned home preceding the bearer thereof, to preclude thepossibility of their delivery at the wrong house. The punch wasready-made in a red pan in the bedroom; a little table, coveredwith a green baize cloth, had been borrowed from the parlour,to play at cards on; and the glasses of the establishment, togetherwith those which had been borrowed for the occasion from thepublic-house, were all drawn up in a tray, which was depositedon the landing outside the door.

Notwithstanding the highly satisfactory nature of all thesearrangements, there was a cloud on the countenance of Mr. BobSawyer, as he sat by the fireside. There was a sympathisingexpression, too, in the features of Mr. Ben Allen, as he gazedintently on the coals, and a tone of melancholy in his voice, as hesaid, after a long silence--'Well, it is unlucky she should have taken it in her head to turnsour, just on this occasion. She might at least have waitedtill to-morrow.'

'That's her malevolence--that's her malevolence,' returnedMr. Bob Sawyer vehemently. 'She says that if I can afford to givea party I ought to be able to pay her confounded "little bill."''How long has it been running?' inquired Mr. Ben Allen. Abill, by the bye, is the most extraordinary locomotive engine thatthe genius of man ever produced. It would keep on runningduring the longest lifetime, without ever once stopping of itsown accord.

'Only a quarter, and a month or so,' replied Mr. Bob Sawyer.

Ben Allen coughed hopelessly, and directed a searching lookbetween the two top bars of the stove.

'It'll be a deuced unpleasant thing if she takes it into her headto let out, when those fellows are here, won't it?' said Mr. BenAllen at length.

'Horrible,' replied Bob Sawyer, 'horrible.'A low tap was heard at the room door. Mr. Bob Sawyerlooked expressively at his friend, and bade the tapper come in;whereupon a dirty, slipshod girl in black cotton stockings, whomight have passed for the neglected daughter of a superannuateddustman in very reduced circumstances, thrust in her head, and said--

'Please, Mister Sawyer, Missis Raddle wants to speak to you.'

Before Mr. Bob Sawyer could return any answer, the girlsuddenly disappeared with a jerk, as if somebody had given hera violent pull behind; this mysterious exit was no sooneraccomplished, than there was another tap at the door--a smart,pointed tap, which seemed to say, 'Here I am, and in I'm coming.'

Mr, Bob Sawyer glanced at his friend with a look of abjectapprehension, and once more cried, 'Come in.'

The permission was not at all necessary, for, before Mr. BobSawyer had uttered the words, a little, fierce woman bouncedinto the room, all in a tremble with passion, and pale with rage.

'Now, Mr. Sawyer,' said the little, fierce woman, trying toappear very calm, 'if you'll have the kindness to settle that littlebill of mine I'll thank you, because I've got my rent to pay thisafternoon, and my landlord's a-waiting below now.' Here thelittle woman rubbed her hands, and looked steadily over Mr. BobSawyer's head, at the wall behind him.

'I am very sorry to put you to any inconvenience, Mrs. Raddle,'said Bob Sawyer deferentially, 'but--'

'Oh, it isn't any inconvenience,' replied the little woman, witha shrill titter. 'I didn't want it particular before to-day; leastways,as it has to go to my landlord directly, it was as well for you tokeep it as me. You promised me this afternoon, Mr. Sawyer, andevery gentleman as has ever lived here, has kept his word, Sir,as of course anybody as calls himself a gentleman does.'Mrs. Raddle tossed her head, bit her lips, rubbed her handsharder, and looked at the wall more steadily than ever. It wasplain to see, as Mr. Bob Sawyer remarked in a style of Easternallegory on a subsequent occasion, that she was 'getting thesteam up.'

'I am very sorry, Mrs. Raddle,' said Bob Sawyer, with allimaginable humility, 'but the fact is, that I have been disappointedin the City to-day.'--Extraordinary place that City. An astonishingnumber of men always ARE getting disappointed there.

'Well, Mr. Sawyer,' said Mrs. Raddle, planting herself firmlyon a purple cauliflower in the Kidderminster carpet, 'and what'sthat to me, Sir?'

'I--I--have no doubt, Mrs. Raddle,' said Bob Sawyer, blinkingthis last question, 'that before the middle of next week we shallbe able to set ourselves quite square, and go on, on a bettersystem, afterwards.'

This was all Mrs. Raddle wanted. She had bustled up tothe apartment of the unlucky Bob Sawyer, so bent upon goinginto a passion, that, in all probability, payment would haverather disappointed her than otherwise. She was in excellentorder for a little relaxation of the kind, having just exchangeda few introductory compliments with Mr. R. in the front kitchen.

'Do you suppose, Mr. Sawyer,' said Mrs. Raddle, elevating hervoice for the information of the neighbours--'do you supposethat I'm a-going day after day to let a fellar occupy my lodgingsas never thinks of paying his rent, nor even the very money laidout for the fresh butter and lump sugar that's bought for hisbreakfast, and the very milk that's took in, at the street door?Do you suppose a hard-working and industrious woman as haslived in this street for twenty year (ten year over the way, andnine year and three-quarters in this very house) has nothing elseto do but to work herself to death after a parcel of lazy idlefellars, that are always smoking and drinking, and lounging,when they ought to be glad to turn their hands to anything thatwould help 'em to pay their bills? Do you--'

'My good soul,' interposed Mr. Benjamin Allen soothingly.

'Have the goodness to keep your observashuns to yourself, Sir,I beg,' said Mrs. Raddle, suddenly arresting the rapid torrent ofher speech, and addressing the third party with impressive slownessand solemnity. 'I am not aweer, Sir, that you have any rightto address your conversation to me. I don't think I let theseapartments to you, Sir.'

'No, you certainly did not,' said Mr. Benjamin Allen.

'Very good, Sir,' responded Mrs. Raddle, with lofty politeness.'Then p'raps, Sir, you'll confine yourself to breaking the arms andlegs of the poor people in the hospitals, and keep yourself TOyourself, Sir, or there may be some persons here as will makeyou, Sir.'

'But you are such an unreasonable woman,' remonstratedMr. Benjamin Allen.

'I beg your parding, young man,' said Mrs. Raddle, in a coldperspiration of anger. 'But will you have the goodness just to callme that again, sir?'

'I didn't make use of the word in any invidious sense, ma'am,'replied Mr. Benjamin Allen, growing somewhat uneasy on hisown account.

'I beg your parding, young man,' demanded Mrs. Raddle, in alouder and more imperative tone. 'But who do you call a woman?Did you make that remark to me, sir?'

'Why, bless my heart!' said Mr. Benjamin Allen.

'Did you apply that name to me, I ask of you, sir?' interruptedMrs. Raddle, with intense fierceness, throwing the door wide open.

'Why, of course I did,' replied Mr. Benjamin Allen.

'Yes, of course you did,' said Mrs. Raddle, backing graduallyto the door, and raising her voice to its loudest pitch, for thespecial behoof of Mr. Raddle in the kitchen. 'Yes, of course youdid! And everybody knows that they may safely insult me in myown 'ouse while my husband sits sleeping downstairs, and takingno more notice than if I was a dog in the streets. He ought to beashamed of himself (here Mrs. Raddle sobbed) to allow his wifeto be treated in this way by a parcel of young cutters and carversof live people's bodies, that disgraces the lodgings (another sob),and leaving her exposed to all manner of abuse; a base, faint-hearted, timorous wretch, that's afraid to come upstairs, andface the ruffinly creatures--that's afraid--that's afraid to come!'Mrs. Raddle paused to listen whether the repetition of the taunthad roused her better half; and finding that it had not beensuccessful, proceeded to descend the stairs with sobs innumerable;when there came a loud double knock at the street door;whereupon she burst into an hysterical fit of weeping, accompaniedwith dismal moans, which was prolonged until the knockhad been repeated six times, when, in an uncontrollable burst ofmental agony, she threw down all the umbrellas, and disappearedinto the back parlour, closing the door after her with an awful crash.

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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