Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 69)

'Does Mr. Sawyer live here?' said Mr. Pickwick, when the doorwas opened.

'Yes,' said the girl, 'first floor. It's the door straight afore you,when you gets to the top of the stairs.' Having given this instruction,the handmaid, who had been brought up among theaboriginal inhabitants of Southwark, disappeared, with thecandle in her hand, down the kitchen stairs, perfectly satisfiedthat she had done everything that could possibly be required ofher under the circumstances.

Mr. Snodgrass, who entered last, secured the street door, afterseveral ineffectual efforts, by putting up the chain; and thefriends stumbled upstairs, where they were received by Mr. BobSawyer, who had been afraid to go down, lest he should bewaylaid by Mrs. Raddle.

'How are you?' said the discomfited student. 'Glad to see you--take care of the glasses.' This caution was addressed to Mr.Pickwick, who had put his hat in the tray.

'Dear me,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I beg your pardon.'

'Don't mention it, don't mention it,' said Bob Sawyer. 'I'mrather confined for room here, but you must put up with all that,when you come to see a young bachelor. Walk in. You've seenthis gentleman before, I think?' Mr. Pickwick shook hands withMr. Benjamin Allen, and his friends followed his example. Theyhad scarcely taken their seats when there was another double knock.

'I hope that's Jack Hopkins!' said Mr. Bob Sawyer. 'Hush.Yes, it is. Come up, Jack; come up.'

A heavy footstep was heard upon the stairs, and Jack Hopkinspresented himself. He wore a black velvet waistcoat, withthunder-and-lightning buttons; and a blue striped shirt, with awhite false collar.

'You're late, Jack?' said Mr. Benjamin Allen.

'Been detained at Bartholomew's,' replied Hopkins.

'Anything new?'

'No, nothing particular. Rather a good accident brought intothe casualty ward.'

'What was that, sir?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.

'Only a man fallen out of a four pair of stairs' window; but it'sa very fair case indeed.'

'Do you mean that the patient is in a fair way to recover?'inquired Mr. Pickwick.'No,' replied Mr. Hopkins carelessly. 'No, I should rather sayhe wouldn't. There must be a splendid operation, though,to-morrow--magnificent sight if Slasher does it.'

'You consider Mr. Slasher a good operator?' said Mr. Pickwick.'Best alive,' replied Hopkins. 'Took a boy's leg out of thesocket last week--boy ate five apples and a gingerbread cake--exactly two minutes after it was all over, boy said he wouldn't liethere to be made game of, and he'd tell his mother if they didn't begin.'

'Dear me!' said Mr. Pickwick, astonished.

'Pooh! That's nothing, that ain't,' said Jack Hopkins. 'Is it, Bob?'

'Nothing at all,' replied Mr. Bob Sawyer.

'By the bye, Bob,' said Hopkins, with a scarcely perceptibleglance at Mr. Pickwick's attentive face, 'we had a curiousaccident last night. A child was brought in, who had swallowed anecklace.'

'Swallowed what, Sir?' interrupted Mr. Pickwick.'A necklace,' replied Jack Hopkins. 'Not all at once, you know,that would be too much--you couldn't swallow that, if the childdid--eh, Mr. Pickwick? ha, ha!' Mr. Hopkins appeared highlygratified with his own pleasantry, and continued--'No, the waywas this. Child's parents were poor people who lived in a court.Child's eldest sister bought a necklace--common necklace, madeof large black wooden beads. Child being fond of toys, cribbedthe necklace, hid it, played with it, cut the string, and swalloweda bead. Child thought it capital fun, went back next day, andswallowed another bead.'

'Bless my heart,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'what a dreadful thing! Ibeg your pardon, Sir. Go on.'

'Next day, child swallowed two beads; the day after that, hetreated himself to three, and so on, till in a week's time he hadgot through the necklace--five-and-twenty beads in all. Thesister, who was an industrious girl, and seldom treated herself toa bit of finery, cried her eyes out, at the loss of the necklace;looked high and low for it; but, I needn't say, didn't find it. Afew days afterwards, the family were at dinner--baked shoulderof mutton, and potatoes under it--the child, who wasn't hungry,was playing about the room, when suddenly there was heard adevil of a noise, like a small hailstorm. "Don't do that, my boy,"said the father. "I ain't a-doin' nothing," said the child. "Well,don't do it again," said the father. There was a short silence, andthen the noise began again, worse than ever. "If you don't mindwhat I say, my boy," said the father, "you'll find yourself in bed,in something less than a pig's whisper." He gave the child ashake to make him obedient, and such a rattling ensued asnobody ever heard before. "Why, damme, it's IN the child!" saidthe father, "he's got the croup in the wrong place!" "No, Ihaven't, father," said the child, beginning to cry, "it's the necklace;I swallowed it, father."--The father caught the child up,and ran with him to the hospital; the beads in the boy's stomachrattling all the way with the jolting; and the people looking up inthe air, and down in the cellars, to see where the unusual soundcame from. He's in the hospital now,' said Jack Hopkins, 'and hemakes such a devil of a noise when he walks about, that they'reobliged to muffle him in a watchman's coat, for fear he shouldwake the patients.'

'That's the most extraordinary case I ever heard of,' saidMr. Pickwick, with an emphatic blow on the table.

'Oh, that's nothing,' said Jack Hopkins. 'Is it, Bob?'

'Certainly not,' replied Bob Sawyer.

'Very singular things occur in our profession, I can assure you,Sir,' said Hopkins.

'So I should be disposed to imagine,' replied Mr. Pickwick.

Another knock at the door announced a large-headed youngman in a black wig, who brought with him a scorbutic youth in along stock. The next comer was a gentleman in a shirt emblazonedwith pink anchors, who was closely followed by a pale youth witha plated watchguard. The arrival of a prim personage in cleanlinen and cloth boots rendered the party complete. The littletable with the green baize cover was wheeled out; the firstinstalment of punch was brought in, in a white jug; and thesucceeding three hours were devoted to VINGT-ET-UN at sixpence adozen, which was only once interrupted by a slight disputebetween the scorbutic youth and the gentleman with the pinkanchors; in the course of which, the scorbutic youth intimated aburning desire to pull the nose of the gentleman with the emblemsof hope; in reply to which, that individual expressed his decidedunwillingness to accept of any 'sauce' on gratuitous terms, eitherfrom the irascible young gentleman with the scorbutic countenance,or any other person who was ornamented with a head.

When the last 'natural' had been declared, and the profit andloss account of fish and sixpences adjusted, to the satisfaction ofall parties, Mr. Bob Sawyer rang for supper, and the visitorssqueezed themselves into corners while it was getting ready.

it was not so easily got ready as some people may imagine.First of all, it was necessary to awaken the girl, who had fallenasleep with her face on the kitchen table; this took a little time,and, even when she did answer the bell, another quarter of anhour was consumed in fruitless endeavours to impart to her afaint and distant glimmering of reason. The man to whom theorder for the oysters had been sent, had not been told to openthem; it is a very difficult thing to open an oyster with a limpknife and a two-pronged fork; and very little was done in thisway. Very little of the beef was done either; and the ham (whichwas also from the German-sausage shop round the corner) wasin a similar predicament. However, there was plenty of porter ina tin can; and the cheese went a great way, for it was very strong.So upon the whole, perhaps, the supper was quite as good as suchmatters usually are.

After supper, another jug of punch was put upon the table,together with a paper of cigars, and a couple of bottles of spirits.Then there was an awful pause; and this awful pause wasoccasioned by a very common occurrence in this sort of place,but a very embarrassing one notwithstanding.

The fact is, the girl was washing the glasses. The establishmentboasted four: we do not record the circumstance as at allderogatory to Mrs. Raddle, for there never was a lodging-houseyet, that was not short of glasses. The landlady's glasses werelittle, thin, blown-glass tumblers, and those which had beenborrowed from the public-house were great, dropsical, bloatedarticles, each supported on a huge gouty leg. This would havebeen in itself sufficient to have possessed the company with thereal state of affairs; but the young woman of all work hadprevented the possibility of any misconception arising in themind of any gentleman upon the subject, by forcibly draggingevery man's glass away, long before he had finished his beer, andaudibly stating, despite the winks and interruptions of Mr. BobSawyer, that it was to be conveyed downstairs, and washed forthwith.

It is a very ill wind that blows nobody any good. The primman in the cloth boots, who had been unsuccessfully attemptingto make a joke during the whole time the round game lasted,saw his opportunity, and availed himself of it. The instant theglasses disappeared, he commenced a long story about a greatpublic character, whose name he had forgotten, making a particularlyhappy reply to another eminent and illustrious individualwhom he had never been able to identify. He enlarged at somelength and with great minuteness upon divers collateral circumstances,distantly connected with the anecdote in hand, but forthe life of him he couldn't recollect at that precise moment whatthe anecdote was, although he had been in the habit of telling thestory with great applause for the last ten years.

'Dear me,' said the prim man in the cloth boots, 'it is a veryextraordinary circumstance.'

'I am sorry you have forgotten it,' said Mr. Bob Sawyer,glancing eagerly at the door, as he thought he heard the noise ofglasses jingling; 'very sorry.'

'So am I,' responded the prim man, 'because I know it wouldhave afforded so much amusement. Never mind; I dare say Ishall manage to recollect it, in the course of half an hour or so.'

The prim man arrived at this point just as the glasses cameback, when Mr. Bob Sawyer, who had been absorbed in attentionduring the whole time, said he should very much like to hear theend of it, for, so far as it went, it was, without exception, the verybest story he had ever heard.The sight of the tumblers restored Bob Sawyer to a degree ofequanimity which he had not possessed since his interview with hislandlady. His face brightened up, and he began to feel quite convivial.

'Now, Betsy,' said Mr. Bob Sawyer, with great suavity, anddispersing, at the same time, the tumultuous little mob of glassesthe girl had collected in the centre of the table--'now, Betsy, thewarm water; be brisk, there's a good girl.'

'You can't have no warm water,' replied Betsy.

'No warm water!' exclaimed Mr. Bob Sawyer.

'No,' said the girl, with a shake of the head which expressed amore decided negative than the most copious language couldhave conveyed. 'Missis Raddle said you warn't to have none.'

The surprise depicted on the countenances of his guestsimparted new courage to the host.

'Bring up the warm water instantly--instantly!' said Mr. BobSawyer, with desperate sternness.

'No. I can't,' replied the girl; 'Missis Raddle raked out thekitchen fire afore she went to bed, and locked up the kittle.'

'Oh, never mind; never mind. Pray don't disturb yourselfabout such a trifle,' said Mr. Pickwick, observing the conflict ofBob Sawyer's passions, as depicted in his countenance, 'coldwater will do very well.'

'Oh, admirably,' said Mr. Benjamin Allen.

'My landlady is subject to some slight attacks of mentalderangement,' remarked Bob Sawyer, with a ghastly smile; 'I fearI must give her warning.'

'No, don't,' said Ben Allen.

'I fear I must,' said Bob, with heroic firmness. 'I'll pay herwhat I owe her, and give her warning to-morrow morning.' Poorfellow! how devoutly he wished he could!

Mr. Bob Sawyer's heart-sickening attempts to rally under thislast blow, communicated a dispiriting influence to the company,the greater part of whom, with the view of raising their spirits,attached themselves with extra cordiality to the cold brandy-and-water, the first perceptible effects of which were displayed in arenewal of hostilities between the scorbutic youth and thegentleman in the shirt. The belligerents vented their feelings ofmutual contempt, for some time, in a variety of frownings andsnortings, until at last the scorbutic youth felt it necessary tocome to a more explicit understanding on the matter; when thefollowing clear understanding took place.'Sawyer,' said the scorbutic youth, in a loud voice.

'Well, Noddy,' replied Mr. Bob Sawyer.

'I should be very sorry, Sawyer,' said Mr. Noddy, 'to createany unpleasantness at any friend's table, and much less at yours,Sawyer--very; but I must take this opportunity of informingMr. Gunter that he is no gentleman.'

'And I should be very sorry, Sawyer, to create any disturbancein the street in which you reside,' said Mr. Gunter, 'but I'mafraid I shall be under the necessity of alarming the neighbours bythrowing the person who has just spoken, out o' window.'

'What do you mean by that, sir?' inquired Mr. Noddy.

'What I say, Sir,' replied Mr. Gunter.

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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