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Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 8)


'No, Sir,' replied Mr. Pickwick, 'he is a guest of ours.'

'He is a member of your club, or I am mistaken?' said thelieutenant inquiringly.

'Certainly not,' responded Mr. Pickwick.

'And never wears your club-button?' said the lieutenant.

'No--never!' replied the astonished Mr. Pickwick.

Lieutenant Tappleton turned round to his friend DoctorSlammer, with a scarcely perceptible shrug of the shoulder, as ifimplying some doubt of the accuracy of his recollection. The littledoctor looked wrathful, but confounded; and Mr. Payne gazedwith a ferocious aspect on the beaming countenance of theunconscious Pickwick.

'Sir,' said the doctor, suddenly addressing Mr. Tupman, in atone which made that gentleman start as perceptibly as if a pinhad been cunningly inserted in the calf of his leg, 'you were at theball here last night!'

Mr. Tupman gasped a faint affirmative, looking very hard atMr. Pickwick all the while.

'That person was your companion,' said the doctor, pointingto the still unmoved stranger.

Mr. Tupman admitted the fact.

'Now, sir,' said the doctor to the stranger, 'I ask you onceagain, in the presence of these gentlemen, whether you choose togive me your card, and to receive the treatment of a gentleman;or whether you impose upon me the necessity of personallychastising you on the spot?'

'Stay, sir,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I really cannot allow this matterto go any further without some explanation. Tupman, recount thecircumstances.'

Mr. Tupman, thus solemnly adjured, stated the case in a fewwords; touched slightly on the borrowing of the coat; expatiatedlargely on its having been done 'after dinner'; wound up with alittle penitence on his own account; and left the stranger to clearhimself as best he could.

He was apparently about to proceed to do so, when LieutenantTappleton, who had been eyeing him with great curiosity, saidwith considerable scorn, 'Haven't I seen you at the theatre, Sir?'

'Certainly,' replied the unabashed stranger.

'He is a strolling actor!' said the lieutenant contemptuously,turning to Doctor Slammer.--'He acts in the piece that theofficers of the 52nd get up at the Rochester Theatre to-morrownight. You cannot proceed in this affair, Slammer--impossible!'

'Quite!' said the dignified Payne.

'Sorry to have placed you in this disagreeable situation,' saidLieutenant Tappleton, addressing Mr. Pickwick; 'allow me tosuggest, that the best way of avoiding a recurrence of such scenesin future will be to be more select in the choice of your companions.Good-evening, Sir!' and the lieutenant bounced out of the room.

'And allow me to say, Sir,' said the irascible Doctor Payne,'that if I had been Tappleton, or if I had been Slammer, I wouldhave pulled your nose, Sir, and the nose of every man in thiscompany. I would, sir--every man. Payne is my name, sir--Doctor Payne of the 43rd. Good-evening, Sir.' Having concludedthis speech, and uttered the last three words in a loud key, hestalked majestically after his friend, closely followed by DoctorSlammer, who said nothing, but contented himself by witheringthe company with a look.Rising rage and extreme bewilderment had swelled the noblebreast of Mr. Pickwick, almost to the bursting of his waistcoat,during the delivery of the above defiance. He stood transfixed tothe spot, gazing on vacancy. The closing of the door recalled himto himself. He rushed forward with fury in his looks, and fire inhis eye. His hand was upon the lock of the door; in anotherinstant it would have been on the throat of Doctor Payne of the43rd, had not Mr. Snodgrass seized his revered leader by the coattail, and dragged him backwards.

'Restrain him,' cried Mr. Snodgrass; 'Winkle, Tupman--hemust not peril his distinguished life in such a cause as this.'

'Let me go,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Hold him tight,' shouted Mr. Snodgrass; and by the unitedefforts of the whole company, Mr. Pickwick was forced into an arm-chair.'Leave him alone,' said the green-coated stranger; 'brandy-and-water--jolly old gentleman--lots of pluck--swallow this--ah!--capital stuff.' Having previously tested the virtues of abumper, which had been mixed by the dismal man, the strangerapplied the glass to Mr. Pickwick's mouth; and the remainder ofits contents rapidly disappeared.

There was a short pause; the brandy-and-water had done itswork; the amiable countenance of Mr. Pickwick was fastrecovering its customary expression.

'They are not worth your notice,' said the dismal man.

'You are right, sir,' replied Mr. Pickwick, 'they are not. I amashamed to have been betrayed into this warmth of feeling. Drawyour chair up to the table, Sir.'

The dismal man readily complied; a circle was again formedround the table, and harmony once more prevailed. Somelingering irritability appeared to find a resting-place in Mr.Winkle's bosom, occasioned possibly by the temporary abstractionof his coat--though it is scarcely reasonable to suppose thatso slight a circumstance can have excited even a passing feeling ofanger in a Pickwickian's breast. With this exception, their good-humour was completely restored; and the evening concludedwith the conviviality with which it had begun.

CHAPTER IVA FIELD DAY AND BIVOUAC--MORE NEW FRIENDS--ANINVITATION TO THE COUNTRY

Many authors entertain, not only a foolish, but a really dishonestobjection to acknowledge the sources whence they derive muchvaluable information. We have no such feeling. We are merelyendeavouring to discharge, in an upright manner, the responsibleduties of our editorial functions; and whatever ambition we mighthave felt under other circumstances to lay claim to the authorshipof these adventures, a regard for truth forbids us to do morethan claim the merit of their judicious arrangement and impartialnarration. The Pickwick papers are our New River Head; and we maybe compared to the New River Company. The labours of others haveraised for us an immense reservoir of important facts. We merelylay them on, and communicate them, in a clear and gentle stream,through the medium of these pages, to a world thirsting forPickwickian knowledge.

Acting in this spirit, and resolutely proceeding on ourdetermination to avow our obligations to the authorities we haveconsulted, we frankly say, that to the note-book of Mr. Snodgrassare we indebted for the particulars recorded in this and thesucceeding chapter--particulars which, now that we have disburdenedour consciences, we shall proceed to detail without further comment.

The whole population of Rochester and the adjoining townsrose from their beds at an early hour of the following morning,in a state of the utmost bustle and excitement. A grandreview was to take place upon the lines. The manoeuvres of halfa dozen regiments were to be inspected by the eagle eye ofthe commander-in-chief; temporary fortifications had beenerected, the citadel was to be attacked and taken, and a mine wasto be sprung.

Mr. Pickwick was, as our readers may have gathered from theslight extract we gave from his description of Chatham, anenthusiastic admirer of the army. Nothing could have been moredelightful to him--nothing could have harmonised so well withthe peculiar feeling of each of his companions--as this sight.Accordingly they were soon afoot, and walking in the directionof the scene of action, towards which crowds of people werealready pouring from a variety of quarters.

The appearance of everything on the lines denoted that theapproaching ceremony was one of the utmost grandeur andimportance. There were sentries posted to keep the ground forthe troops, and servants on the batteries keeping places for theladies, and sergeants running to and fro, with vellum-coveredbooks under their arms, and Colonel Bulder, in full militaryuniform, on horseback, galloping first to one place and then toanother, and backing his horse among the people, and prancing,and curvetting, and shouting in a most alarming manner, andmaking himself very hoarse in the voice, and very red in the face,without any assignable cause or reason whatever. Officers wererunning backwards and forwards, first communicating withColonel Bulder, and then ordering the sergeants, and thenrunning away altogether; and even the very privates themselveslooked from behind their glazed stocks with an air of mysterioussolemnity, which sufficiently bespoke the special nature of the occasion.

Mr. Pickwick and his three companions stationed themselvesin the front of the crowd, and patiently awaited the commencementof the proceedings. The throng was increasing everymoment; and the efforts they were compelled to make, to retainthe position they had gained, sufficiently occupied their attentionduring the two hours that ensued. At one time there was a suddenpressure from behind, and then Mr. Pickwick was jerked forwardfor several yards, with a degree of speed and elasticity highlyinconsistent with the general gravity of his demeanour; atanother moment there was a request to 'keep back' from thefront, and then the butt-end of a musket was either droppedupon Mr. Pickwick's toe, to remind him of the demand, orthrust into his chest, to insure its being complied with. Then somefacetious gentlemen on the left, after pressing sideways in a body,and squeezing Mr. Snodgrass into the very last extreme of humantorture, would request to know 'vere he vos a shovin' to'; andwhen Mr. Winkle had done expressing his excessive indignationat witnessing this unprovoked assault, some person behindwould knock his hat over his eyes, and beg the favour of hisputting his head in his pocket. These, and other practicalwitticisms, coupled with the unaccountable absence of Mr.Tupman (who had suddenly disappeared, and was nowhere to befound), rendered their situation upon the whole rather moreuncomfortable than pleasing or desirable.

At length that low roar of many voices ran through the crowdwhich usually announces the arrival of whatever they have beenwaiting for. All eyes were turned in the direction of the sally-port.A few moments of eager expectation, and colours were seenfluttering gaily in the air, arms glistened brightly in the sun,column after column poured on to the plain. The troops haltedand formed; the word of command rang through the line; therewas a general clash of muskets as arms were presented; and thecommander-in-chief, attended by Colonel Bulder and numerousofficers, cantered to the front. The military bands struck upaltogether; the horses stood upon two legs each, cantered backwards,and whisked their tails about in all directions; the dogsbarked, the mob screamed, the troops recovered, and nothingwas to be seen on either side, as far as the eye could reach, but along perspective of red coats and white trousers, fixed and motionless.

Mr. Pickwick had been so fully occupied in falling about, anddisentangling himself, miraculously, from between the legs ofhorses, that he had not enjoyed sufficient leisure to observe thescene before him, until it assumed the appearance we have justdescribed. When he was at last enabled to stand firmly on his legs,his gratification and delight were unbounded.

'Can anything be finer or more delightful?' he inquired ofMr. Winkle.

'Nothing,' replied that gentleman, who had had a short manstanding on each of his feet for the quarter of an hourimmediately preceding.'It is indeed a noble and a brilliant sight,' said Mr. Snodgrass,in whose bosom a blaze of poetry was rapidly bursting forth, 'tosee the gallant defenders of their country drawn up in brilliantarray before its peaceful citizens; their faces beaming--not withwarlike ferocity, but with civilised gentleness; their eyes flashing--not with the rude fire of rapine or revenge, but with the softlight of humanity and intelligence.'

Mr. Pickwick fully entered into the spirit of this eulogium, buthe could not exactly re-echo its terms; for the soft light ofintelligence burned rather feebly in the eyes of the warriors,inasmuch as the command 'eyes front' had been given, and allthe spectator saw before him was several thousand pair of optics,staring straight forward, wholly divested of any expression whatever.

'We are in a capital situation now,' said Mr. Pickwick, lookinground him. The crowd had gradually dispersed in theirimmediate vicinity, and they were nearly alone.

'Capital!' echoed both Mr. Snodgrass and Mr. Winkle.

'What are they doing now?' inquired Mr. Pickwick, adjustinghis spectacles.

'I--I--rather think,' said Mr. Winkle, changing colour--'Irather think they're going to fire.'

'Nonsense,' said Mr. Pickwick hastily.

'I--I--really think they are,' urged Mr. Snodgrass, somewhatalarmed.

'Impossible,' replied Mr. Pickwick. He had hardly uttered theword, when the whole half-dozen regiments levelled their musketsas if they had but one common object, and that object thePickwickians, and burst forth with the most awful and tremendousdischarge that ever shook the earth to its centres, or anelderly gentleman off his.

It was in this trying situation, exposed to a galling fire of blankcartridges, and harassed by the operations of the military, a freshbody of whom had begun to fall in on the opposite side, thatMr. Pickwick displayed that perfect coolness and self-possession,which are the indispensable accompaniments of a great mind. Heseized Mr. Winkle by the arm, and placing himself between thatgentleman and Mr. Snodgrass, earnestly besought them toremember that beyond the possibility of being rendered deaf bythe noise, there was no immediate danger to be apprehendedfrom the firing.

'But--but--suppose some of the men should happen to haveball cartridges by mistake,' remonstrated Mr. Winkle, pallid atthe supposition he was himself conjuring up. 'I heard somethingwhistle through the air now--so sharp; close to my ear.''We had better throw ourselves on our faces, hadn't we?' saidMr. Snodgrass.

'No, no--it's over now,' said Mr. Pickwick. His lip mightquiver, and his cheek might blanch, but no expression of fear orconcern escaped the lips of that immortal man.

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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