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Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 9)


Mr. Pickwick was right--the firing ceased; but he had scarcelytime to congratulate himself on the accuracy of his opinion, whena quick movement was visible in the line; the hoarse shout of theword of command ran along it, and before either of the partycould form a guess at the meaning of this new manoeuvre, thewhole of the half-dozen regiments, with fixed bayonets, chargedat double-quick time down upon the very spot on which Mr.Pickwick and his friends were stationed.Man is but mortal; and there is a point beyond which humancourage cannot extend. Mr. Pickwick gazed through his spectaclesfor an instant on the advancing mass, and then fairly turned hisback and--we will not say fled; firstly, because it is an ignobleterm, and, secondly, because Mr. Pickwick's figure was by nomeans adapted for that mode of retreat--he trotted away, at asquick a rate as his legs would convey him; so quickly, indeed,that he did not perceive the awkwardness of his situation, to thefull extent, until too late.

The opposite troops, whose falling-in had perplexed Mr.Pickwick a few seconds before, were drawn up to repel the mimicattack of the sham besiegers of the citadel; and the consequencewas that Mr. Pickwick and his two companions found themselvessuddenly inclosed between two lines of great length, the oneadvancing at a rapid pace, and the other firmly waiting thecollision in hostile array.

'Hoi!' shouted the officers of the advancing line.

'Get out of the way!' cried the officers of the stationary one.

'Where are we to go to?' screamed the agitated Pickwickians.

'Hoi--hoi--hoi!' was the only reply. There was a moment ofintense bewilderment, a heavy tramp of footsteps, a violentconcussion, a smothered laugh; the half-dozen regiments werehalf a thousand yards off, and the soles of Mr. Pickwick's bootswere elevated in air.

Mr. Snodgrass and Mr. Winkle had each performed acompulsory somerset with remarkable agility, when the first objectthat met the eyes of the latter as he sat on the ground, staunchingwith a yellow silk handkerchief the stream of life which issuedfrom his nose, was his venerated leader at some distance off,running after his own hat, which was gambolling playfully awayin perspective.

There are very few moments in a man's existence when heexperiences so much ludicrous distress, or meets with so littlecharitable commiseration, as when he is in pursuit of his own hat.A vast deal of coolness, and a peculiar degree of judgment, arerequisite in catching a hat. A man must not be precipitate, or heruns over it; he must not rush into the opposite extreme, or heloses it altogether. The best way is to keep gently up with theobject of pursuit, to be wary and cautious, to watch your opportunitywell, get gradually before it, then make a rapid dive, seize itby the crown, and stick it firmly on your head; smiling pleasantlyall the time, as if you thought it as good a joke as anybody else.

There was a fine gentle wind, and Mr. Pickwick's hat rolledsportively before it. The wind puffed, and Mr. Pickwick puffed,and the hat rolled over and over as merrily as a lively porpoisein a strong tide: and on it might have rolled, far beyondMr. Pickwick's reach, had not its course been providentiallystopped, just as that gentleman was on the point of resigning itto its fate.

Mr. Pickwick, we say, was completely exhausted, and about togive up the chase, when the hat was blown with some violenceagainst the wheel of a carriage, which was drawn up in a line withhalf a dozen other vehicles on the spot to which his steps had beendirected. Mr. Pickwick, perceiving his advantage, darted brisklyforward, secured his property, planted it on his head, and pausedto take breath. He had not been stationary half a minute, whenhe heard his own name eagerly pronounced by a voice, which heat once recognised as Mr. Tupman's, and, looking upwards, hebeheld a sight which filled him with surprise and pleasure.

in an open barouche, the horses of which had been taken out,the better to accommodate it to the crowded place, stood a stoutold gentleman, in a blue coat and bright buttons, corduroybreeches and top-boots, two young ladies in scarfs and feathers, ayoung gentleman apparently enamoured of one of the youngladies in scarfs and feathers, a lady of doubtful age, probably theaunt of the aforesaid, and Mr. Tupman, as easy and unconcernedas if he had belonged to the family from the first moments of hisinfancy. Fastened up behind the barouche was a hamper ofspacious dimensions--one of those hampers which alwaysawakens in a contemplative mind associations connected withcold fowls, tongues, and bottles of wine--and on the box sat afat and red-faced boy, in a state of somnolency, whom nospeculative observer could have regarded for an instant withoutsetting down as the official dispenser of the contents of thebefore-mentioned hamper, when the proper time for theirconsumption should arrive.

Mr. Pickwick had bestowed a hasty glance on these interestingobjects, when he was again greeted by his faithful disciple.

'Pickwick--Pickwick,' said Mr. Tupman; 'come up here. Make haste.'

'Come along, Sir. Pray, come up,' said the stout gentleman.'Joe!--damn that boy, he's gone to sleep again.--Joe, let downthe steps.' The fat boy rolled slowly off the box, let down thesteps, and held the carriage door invitingly open. Mr. Snodgrassand Mr. Winkle came up at the moment.

'Room for you all, gentlemen,' said the stout man. 'Two inside,and one out. Joe, make room for one of these gentlemen on thebox. Now, Sir, come along;' and the stout gentleman extendedhis arm, and pulled first Mr. Pickwick, and then Mr. Snodgrass,into the barouche by main force. Mr. Winkle mounted to thebox, the fat boy waddled to the same perch, and fell fast asleepinstantly.

'Well, gentlemen,' said the stout man, 'very glad to see you.Know you very well, gentlemen, though you mayn't rememberme. I spent some ev'nin's at your club last winter--picked up myfriend Mr. Tupman here this morning, and very glad I was to seehim. Well, Sir, and how are you? You do look uncommon well,to be sure.'

Mr. Pickwick acknowledged the compliment, and cordiallyshook hands with the stout gentleman in the top-boots.

'Well, and how are you, sir?' said the stout gentleman,addressing Mr. Snodgrass with paternal anxiety. 'Charming, eh?Well, that's right--that's right. And how are you, sir (to Mr.Winkle)? Well, I am glad to hear you say you are well; very gladI am, to be sure. My daughters, gentlemen--my gals these are;and that's my sister, Miss Rachael Wardle. She's a Miss, she is;and yet she ain't a Miss--eh, Sir, eh?' And the stout gentlemanplayfully inserted his elbow between the ribs of Mr. Pickwick, andlaughed very heartily.

'Lor, brother!' said Miss Wardle, with a deprecating smile.

'True, true,' said the stout gentleman; 'no one can deny it.Gentlemen, I beg your pardon; this is my friend Mr. Trundle.And now you all know each other, let's be comfortable andhappy, and see what's going forward; that's what I say.' So thestout gentleman put on his spectacles, and Mr. Pickwick pulledout his glass, and everybody stood up in the carriage, and lookedover somebody else's shoulder at the evolutions of the military.

Astounding evolutions they were, one rank firing over theheads of another rank, and then running away; and then theother rank firing over the heads of another rank, and runningaway in their turn; and then forming squares, with officers in thecentre; and then descending the trench on one side with scaling-ladders, and ascending it on the other again by the same means;and knocking down barricades of baskets, and behaving in themost gallant manner possible. Then there was such a rammingdown of the contents of enormous guns on the battery, withinstruments like magnified mops; such a preparation before theywere let off, and such an awful noise when they did go, that theair resounded with the screams of ladies. The young MissesWardle were so frightened, that Mr. Trundle was actually obligedto hold one of them up in the carriage, while Mr. Snodgrasssupported the other; and Mr. Wardle's sister suffered under sucha dreadful state of nervous alarm, that Mr. Tupman found itindispensably necessary to put his arm round her waist, to keepher up at all. Everybody was excited, except the fat boy, and heslept as soundly as if the roaring of cannon were his ordinary lullaby.

'Joe, Joe!' said the stout gentleman, when the citadel wastaken, and the besiegers and besieged sat down to dinner. 'Damnthat boy, he's gone to sleep again. Be good enough to pinch him,sir--in the leg, if you please; nothing else wakes him--thank you.Undo the hamper, Joe.'

The fat boy, who had been effectually roused by thecompression of a portion of his leg between the finger and thumb ofMr. Winkle, rolled off the box once again, and proceeded tounpack the hamper with more expedition than could have beenexpected from his previous inactivity.

'Now we must sit close,' said the stout gentleman. After agreat many jokes about squeezing the ladies' sleeves, and a vastquantity of blushing at sundry jocose proposals, that the ladiesshould sit in the gentlemen's laps, the whole party were stoweddown in the barouche; and the stout gentleman proceeded tohand the things from the fat boy (who had mounted up behindfor the purpose) into the carriage.

'Now, Joe, knives and forks.' The knives and forks werehanded in, and the ladies and gentlemen inside, and Mr. Winkleon the box, were each furnished with those useful instruments.

'Plates, Joe, plates.' A similar process employed in thedistribution of the crockery.

'Now, Joe, the fowls. Damn that boy; he's gone to sleep again.Joe! Joe!' (Sundry taps on the head with a stick, and the fat boy,with some difficulty, roused from his lethargy.) 'Come, hand inthe eatables.'

There was something in the sound of the last word whichroused the unctuous boy. He jumped up, and the leaden eyeswhich twinkled behind his mountainous cheeks leered horriblyupon the food as he unpacked it from the basket.

'Now make haste,' said Mr. Wardle; for the fat boy washanging fondly over a capon, which he seemed wholly unable topart with. The boy sighed deeply, and, bestowing an ardent gazeupon its plumpness, unwillingly consigned it to his master.

'That's right--look sharp. Now the tongue--now the pigeonpie. Take care of that veal and ham--mind the lobsters--take thesalad out of the cloth--give me the dressing.' Such were thehurried orders which issued from the lips of Mr. Wardle, as hehanded in the different articles described, and placed dishes ineverybody's hands, and on everybody's knees, in endless number.'Now ain't this capital?' inquired that jolly personage, whenthe work of destruction had commenced.

'Capital!' said Mr. Winkle, who was carving a fowl on the box.

'Glass of wine?'

'With the greatest pleasure.''You'd better have a bottle to yourself up there, hadn't you?'

'You're very good.'

'Joe!'

'Yes, Sir.' (He wasn't asleep this time, having just succeeded inabstracting a veal patty.)

'Bottle of wine to the gentleman on the box. Glad to see you, Sir.'

'Thank'ee.' Mr. Winkle emptied his glass, and placed the bottleon the coach-box, by his side.

'Will you permit me to have the pleasure, Sir?' said Mr. Trundleto Mr. Winkle.

'With great pleasure,' replied Mr. Winkle to Mr. Trundle,and then the two gentlemen took wine, after which they took aglass of wine round, ladies and all.

'How dear Emily is flirting with the strange gentleman,'whispered the spinster aunt, with true spinster-aunt-like envy, toher brother, Mr. Wardle.

'Oh! I don't know,' said the jolly old gentleman; 'all verynatural, I dare say--nothing unusual. Mr. Pickwick, some wine,Sir?' Mr. Pickwick, who had been deeply investigating theinterior of the pigeon-pie, readily assented.

'Emily, my dear,' said the spinster aunt, with a patronising air,'don't talk so loud, love.'

'Lor, aunt!'

'Aunt and the little old gentleman want to have it all tothemselves, I think,' whispered Miss Isabella Wardle to her sisterEmily. The young ladies laughed very heartily, and the old onetried to look amiable, but couldn't manage it.

'Young girls have such spirits,' said Miss Wardle to Mr. Tupman,with an air of gentle commiseration, as if animal spiritswere contraband, and their possession without a permit a highcrime and misdemeanour.

'Oh, they have,' replied Mr. Tupman, not exactly making thesort of reply that was expected from him. 'It's quite delightful.'

'Hem!' said Miss Wardle, rather dubiously.

'Will you permit me?' said Mr. Tupman, in his blandestmanner, touching the enchanting Rachael's wrist with one hand,and gently elevating the bottle with the other. 'Will you permit me?'

'Oh, sir!' Mr. Tupman looked most impressive; and Rachaelexpressed her fear that more guns were going off, in which case,of course, she should have required support again.

'Do you think my dear nieces pretty?' whispered theiraffectionate aunt to Mr. Tupman.

'I should, if their aunt wasn't here,' replied the readyPickwickian, with a passionate glance.

'Oh, you naughty man--but really, if their complexions were alittle better, don't you think they would be nice-looking girls--by candlelight?'

'Yes; I think they would,' said Mr. Tupman, with an airof indifference.

'Oh, you quiz--I know what you were going to say.'

'What?' inquired Mr. Tupman, who had not precisely madeup his mind to say anything at all.

'You were going to say that Isabel stoops--I know you were--you men are such observers. Well, so she does; it can't be denied;and, certainly, if there is one thing more than another that makesa girl look ugly it is stooping. I often tell her that when she gets alittle older she'll be quite frightful. Well, you are a quiz!'

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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