Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 14)

'The old man was ghastly pale. He shuddered and tottered tohis feet. Edmunds sprang to his. He stepped back a pace or two.Edmunds advanced.

'"Let me hear you speak," said the convict, in a thick, broken voice.

'"Stand off!" cried the old man, with a dreadful oath. Theconvict drew closer to him.

'"Stand off!" shrieked the old man. Furious with terror, heraised his stick, and struck Edmunds a heavy blow across the face.

'"Father--devil!" murmured the convict between his setteeth. He rushed wildly forward, and clenched the old man bythe throat--but he was his father; and his arm fell powerless byhis side.

'The old man uttered a loud yell which rang through thelonely fields like the howl of an evil spirit. His face turned black,the gore rushed from his mouth and nose, and dyed the grass adeep, dark red, as he staggered and fell. He had ruptured ablood-vessel, and he was a dead man before his son could raise him.'In that corner of the churchyard,' said the old gentleman, aftera silence of a few moments, 'in that corner of the churchyard ofwhich I have before spoken, there lies buried a man who was inmy employment for three years after this event, and who wastruly contrite, penitent, and humbled, if ever man was. No onesave myself knew in that man's lifetime who he was, or whence hecame--it was John Edmunds, the returned convict.'


The fatiguing adventures of the day or the somniferous influenceof the clergyman's tale operated so strongly on the drowsytendencies of Mr. Pickwick, that in less than five minutesafter he had been shown to his comfortable bedroom he fellinto a sound and dreamless sleep, from which he was only awakenedby the morning sun darting his bright beams reproachfully into theapartment. Mr. Pickwick was no sluggard, and he sprang like anardent warrior from his tent-bedstead.

'Pleasant, pleasant country,' sighed the enthusiastic gentleman,as he opened his lattice window. 'Who could live to gaze fromday to day on bricks and slates who had once felt the influence ofa scene like this? Who could continue to exist where there are nocows but the cows on the chimney-pots; nothing redolent of Panbut pan-tiles; no crop but stone crop? Who could bear to dragout a life in such a spot? Who, I ask, could endure it?' and,having cross-examined solitude after the most approved precedents,at considerable length, Mr. Pickwick thrust his head outof the lattice and looked around him.

The rich, sweet smell of the hay-ricks rose to his chamberwindow; the hundred perfumes of the little flower-gardenbeneath scented the air around; the deep-green meadows shonein the morning dew that glistened on every leaf as it trembledin the gentle air; and the birds sang as if every sparkling dropwere to them a fountain of inspiration. Mr. Pickwick fell into anenchanting and delicious reverie.

'Hollo!' was the sound that roused him.

He looked to the right, but he saw nobody; his eyes wanderedto the left, and pierced the prospect; he stared into the sky, but hewasn't wanted there; and then he did what a common mindwould have done at once--looked into the garden, and there sawMr. Wardle.'How are you?' said the good-humoured individual, out ofbreath with his own anticipations of pleasure.'Beautiful morning,ain't it? Glad to see you up so early. Make haste down, andcome out. I'll wait for you here.'Mr. Pickwick needed no second invitation. Ten minutessufficed for the completion of his toilet, and at the expiration ofthat time he was by the old gentleman's side.

'Hollo!' said Mr. Pickwick in his turn, seeing that hiscompanion was armed with a gun, and that another lay ready on thegrass; 'what's going forward?'

'Why, your friend and I,' replied the host, 'are going out rook-shooting before breakfast. He's a very good shot, ain't he?'

'I've heard him say he's a capital one,' replied Mr. Pickwick,'but I never saw him aim at anything.'

'Well,' said the host, 'I wish he'd come. Joe--Joe!'

The fat boy, who under the exciting influence of the morningdid not appear to be more than three parts and a fraction asleep,emerged from the house.

'Go up, and call the gentleman, and tell him he'll find me andMr. Pickwick in the rookery. Show the gentleman the way there;d'ye hear?'

The boy departed to execute his commission; and the host,carrying both guns like a second Robinson Crusoe, led the wayfrom the garden.

'This is the place,' said the old gentleman, pausing after a fewminutes walking, in an avenue of trees. The information wasunnecessary; for the incessant cawing of the unconscious rookssufficiently indicated their whereabouts.

The old gentleman laid one gun on the ground, and loaded the other.

'Here they are,' said Mr. Pickwick; and, as he spoke, theforms of Mr. Tupman, Mr. Snodgrass, and Mr. Winkle appearedin the distance. The fat boy, not being quite certain whichgentleman he was directed to call, had with peculiar sagacity, andto prevent the possibility of any mistake, called them all.

'Come along,' shouted the old gentleman, addressing Mr.Winkle; 'a keen hand like you ought to have been up long ago,even to such poor work as this.'

Mr. Winkle responded with a forced smile, and took up thespare gun with an expression of countenance which a metaphysicalrook, impressed with a foreboding of his approachingdeath by violence, may be supposed to assume. It might havebeen keenness, but it looked remarkably like misery.The old gentleman nodded; and two ragged boys who hadbeen marshalled to the spot under the direction of the infantLambert, forthwith commenced climbing up two of the trees.'What are these lads for?' inquired Mr. Pickwick abruptly. Hewas rather alarmed; for he was not quite certain but that thedistress of the agricultural interest, about which he had oftenheard a great deal, might have compelled the small boys attachedto the soil to earn a precarious and hazardous subsistence bymaking marks of themselves for inexperienced sportsmen.'Only to start the game,' replied Mr. Wardle, laughing.

'To what?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.

'Why, in plain English, to frighten the rooks.'

'Oh, is that all?'

'You are satisfied?'


'Very well. Shall I begin?'

'If you please,' said Mr. Winkle, glad of any respite.

'Stand aside, then. Now for it.'

The boy shouted, and shook a branch with a nest on it. Half adozen young rooks in violent conversation, flew out to ask whatthe matter was. The old gentleman fired by way of reply. Downfell one bird, and off flew the others.

'Take him up, Joe,' said the old gentleman.

There was a smile upon the youth's face as he advanced.Indistinct visions of rook-pie floated through his imagination.He laughed as he retired with the bird--it was a plump one.

'Now, Mr. Winkle,' said the host, reloading his own gun.'Fire away.'

Mr. Winkle advanced, and levelled his gun. Mr. Pickwick andhis friends cowered involuntarily to escape damage from theheavy fall of rooks, which they felt quite certain would beoccasioned by the devastating barrel of their friend. There was asolemn pause--a shout--a flapping of wings--a faint click.

'Hollo!' said the old gentleman.

'Won't it go?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.

'Missed fire,' said Mr. Winkle, who was very pale--probablyfrom disappointment.

'Odd,' said the old gentleman, taking the gun. 'Never knew oneof them miss fire before. Why, I don't see anything of the cap.''Bless my soul!' said Mr. Winkle, 'I declare I forgot the cap!'

The slight omission was rectified. Mr. Pickwick crouchedagain. Mr. Winkle stepped forward with an air of determinationand resolution; and Mr. Tupman looked out from behind a tree.The boy shouted; four birds flew out. Mr. Winkle fired. Therewas a scream as of an individual--not a rook--in corporalanguish. Mr. Tupman had saved the lives of innumerableunoffending birds by receiving a portion of the charge in his left arm.

To describe the confusion that ensued would be impossible.To tell how Mr. Pickwick in the first transports of emotion calledMr. Winkle 'Wretch!' how Mr. Tupman lay prostrate on theground; and how Mr. Winkle knelt horror-stricken beside him;how Mr. Tupman called distractedly upon some feminineChristian name, and then opened first one eye, and then theother, and then fell back and shut them both--all this would beas difficult to describe in detail, as it would be to depict thegradual recovering of the unfortunate individual, the binding upof his arm with pocket-handkerchiefs, and the conveying himback by slow degrees supported by the arms of his anxious friends.

They drew near the house. The ladies were at the garden gate,waiting for their arrival and their breakfast. The spinster auntappeared; she smiled, and beckoned them to walk quicker. 'Twasevident she knew not of the disaster. Poor thing! there are timeswhen ignorance is bliss indeed.

They approached nearer.

'Why, what is the matter with the little old gentleman?' saidIsabella Wardle. The spinster aunt heeded not the remark; shethought it applied to Mr. Pickwick. In her eyes Tracy Tupmanwas a youth; she viewed his years through a diminishing glass.

'Don't be frightened,' called out the old host, fearful ofalarming his daughters. The little party had crowded socompletely round Mr. Tupman, that they could not yet clearlydiscern the nature of the accident.

'Don't be frightened,' said the host.

'What's the matter?' screamed the ladies.

'Mr. Tupman has met with a little accident; that's all.'

The spinster aunt uttered a piercing scream, burst into anhysteric laugh, and fell backwards in the arms of her nieces.

'Throw some cold water over her,' said the old gentleman.

'No, no,' murmured the spinster aunt; 'I am better now.Bella, Emily--a surgeon! Is he wounded?--Is he dead?--Ishe-- Ha, ha, ha!' Here the spinster aunt burst into fit numbertwo, of hysteric laughter interspersed with screams.

'Calm yourself,' said Mr. Tupman, affected almost to tears bythis expression of sympathy with his sufferings. 'Dear, dearmadam, calm yourself.'

'It is his voice!' exclaimed the spinster aunt; and strongsymptoms of fit number three developed themselves forthwith.

'Do not agitate yourself, I entreat you, dearest madam,' saidMr. Tupman soothingly. 'I am very little hurt, I assure you.'

'Then you are not dead!' ejaculated the hysterical lady. 'Oh,say you are not dead!'

'Don't be a fool, Rachael,' interposed Mr. Wardle, rathermore roughly than was consistent with the poetic nature of thescene. 'What the devil's the use of his saying he isn't dead?'

'No, no, I am not,' said Mr. Tupman. 'I require no assistancebut yours. Let me lean on your arm.' He added, in a whisper,'Oh, Miss Rachael!' The agitated female advanced, and offeredher arm. They turned into the breakfast parlour. Mr. TracyTupman gently pressed her hand to his lips, and sank upon the sofa.

'Are you faint?' inquired the anxious Rachael.

'No,' said Mr. Tupman. 'It is nothing. I shall be betterpresently.' He closed his eyes.

'He sleeps,' murmured the spinster aunt. (His organs of visionhad been closed nearly twenty seconds.) 'Dear--dear--Mr. Tupman!'

Mr. Tupman jumped up--'Oh, say those words again!' he exclaimed.

The lady started. 'Surely you did not hear them!' shesaid bashfully.

'Oh, yes, I did!' replied Mr. Tupman; 'repeat them. If youwould have me recover, repeat them.''Hush!' said the lady. 'My brother.'Mr. Tracy Tupman resumed his former position; and Mr.Wardle, accompanied by a surgeon, entered the room.

The arm was examined, the wound dressed, and pronouncedto be a very slight one; and the minds of the company havingbeen thus satisfied, they proceeded to satisfy their appetites withcountenances to which an expression of cheerfulness was againrestored. Mr. Pickwick alone was silent and reserved. Doubt anddistrust were exhibited in his countenance. His confidence inMr. Winkle had been shaken--greatly shaken--by the proceedingsof the morning.'Are you a cricketer?' inquired Mr. Wardle of the marksman.

At any other time, Mr. Winkle would have replied in theaffirmative. He felt the delicacy of his situation, and modestlyreplied, 'No.'

'Are you, sir?' inquired Mr. Snodgrass.

'I was once upon a time,' replied the host; 'but I have given itup now. I subscribe to the club here, but I don't play.'

'The grand match is played to-day, I believe,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'It is,' replied the host. 'Of course you would like to see it.'

'I, sir,' replied Mr. Pickwick, 'am delighted to view any sportswhich may be safely indulged in, and in which the impotenteffects of unskilful people do not endanger human life.' Mr.Pickwick paused, and looked steadily on Mr. Winkle, whoquailed beneath his leader's searching glance. The great manwithdrew his eyes after a few minutes, and added: 'Shall we bejustified in leaving our wounded friend to the care of the ladies?'

'You cannot leave me in better hands,' said Mr. Tupman.

'Quite impossible,' said Mr. Snodgrass.

It was therefore settled that Mr. Tupman should be left athome in charge of the females; and that the remainder of theguests, under the guidance of Mr. Wardle, should proceed to thespot where was to be held that trial of skill, which had roused allMuggleton from its torpor, and inoculated Dingley Dell with afever of excitement.

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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