Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 3)

Such was the individual on whom Mr. Pickwick gazed throughhis spectacles (which he had fortunately recovered), and to whomhe proceeded, when his friends had exhausted themselves, toreturn in chosen terms his warmest thanks for his recent assistance.

'Never mind,' said the stranger, cutting the address very short,'said enough--no more; smart chap that cabman--handledhis fives well; but if I'd been your friend in the green jemmy--damn me--punch his head,--'cod I would,--pig's whisper--pieman too,--no gammon.'

This coherent speech was interrupted by the entrance of theRochester coachman, to announce that 'the Commodore' was onthe point of starting.

'Commodore!' said the stranger, starting up, 'my coach--place booked,--one outside--leave you to pay for the brandy-and-water,--want change for a five,--bad silver--Brummagembuttons--won't do--no go--eh?' and he shook his head most knowingly.

Now it so happened that Mr. Pickwick and his threecompanions had resolved to make Rochester their first halting-placetoo; and having intimated to their new-found acquaintance thatthey were journeying to the same city, they agreed to occupy theseat at the back of the coach, where they could all sit together.

'Up with you,' said the stranger, assisting Mr. Pickwick on tothe roof with so much precipitation as to impair the gravity ofthat gentleman's deportment very materially.

'Any luggage, Sir?' inquired the coachman.'Who--I? Brown paper parcel here, that's all--other luggagegone by water--packing-cases, nailed up--big as houses--heavy, heavy, damned heavy,' replied the stranger, as he forcedinto his pocket as much as he could of the brown paper parcel,which presented most suspicious indications of containing oneshirt and a handkerchief.

'Heads, heads--take care of your heads!' cried the loquaciousstranger, as they came out under the low archway, which in thosedays formed the entrance to the coach-yard. 'Terrible place--dangerous work--other day--five children--mother--tall lady,eating sandwiches--forgot the arch--crash--knock--childrenlook round--mother's head off--sandwich in her hand--nomouth to put it in--head of a family off--shocking, shocking!Looking at Whitehall, sir?--fine place--little window--somebodyelse's head off there, eh, sir?--he didn't keep a sharplook-out enough either--eh, Sir, eh?'

'I am ruminating,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'on the strangemutability of human affairs.'

'Ah! I see--in at the palace door one day, out at the windowthe next. Philosopher, Sir?''An observer of human nature, Sir,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Ah, so am I. Most people are when they've little to do and lessto get. Poet, Sir?'

'My friend Mr. Snodgrass has a strong poetic turn,' saidMr. Pickwick.

'So have I,' said the stranger. 'Epic poem--ten thousand lines--revolution of July--composed it on the spot--Mars by day,Apollo by night--bang the field-piece, twang the lyre.'

'You were present at that glorious scene, sir?' said Mr. Snodgrass.

'Present! think I was;* fired a musket--fired with an idea--rushed into wine shop--wrote it down--back again--whiz, bang--another idea--wine shop again--pen and ink--back again--cut and slash--noble time, Sir. Sportsman, sir ?'abruptly turningto Mr. Winkle.[* A remarkable instance of the prophetic force of Mr.Jingle's imagination; this dialogue occurring in the year1827, and the Revolution in 1830.

'A little, Sir,' replied that gentleman.

'Fine pursuit, sir--fine pursuit.--Dogs, Sir?'

'Not just now,' said Mr. Winkle.

'Ah! you should keep dogs--fine animals--sagacious creatures--dog of my own once--pointer--surprising instinct--outshooting one day--entering inclosure--whistled--dog stopped--whistled again--Ponto--no go; stock still--called him--Ponto,Ponto--wouldn't move--dog transfixed--staring at a board--looked up, saw an inscription--"Gamekeeper has orders to shootall dogs found in this inclosure"--wouldn't pass it--wonderfuldog--valuable dog that--very.'

'Singular circumstance that,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Will youallow me to make a note of it?'

'Certainly, Sir, certainly--hundred more anecdotes of the sameanimal.--Fine girl, Sir' (to Mr. Tracy Tupman, who had beenbestowing sundry anti-Pickwickian glances on a young lady bythe roadside).

'Very!' said Mr. Tupman.

'English girls not so fine as Spanish--noble creatures--jet hair--black eyes--lovely forms--sweet creatures--beautiful.'

'You have been in Spain, sir?' said Mr. Tracy Tupman.

'Lived there--ages.''Many conquests, sir?' inquired Mr. Tupman.

'Conquests! Thousands. Don Bolaro Fizzgig--grandee--onlydaughter--Donna Christina--splendid creature--loved me todistraction--jealous father--high-souled daughter--handsomeEnglishman--Donna Christina in despair--prussic acid--stomach pump in my portmanteau--operation performed--oldBolaro in ecstasies--consent to our union--join hands and floodsof tears--romantic story--very.'

'Is the lady in England now, sir?' inquired Mr. Tupman, onwhom the description of her charms had produced a powerful impression.

'Dead, sir--dead,' said the stranger, applying to his right eyethe brief remnant of a very old cambric handkerchief. 'Neverrecovered the stomach pump--undermined constitution--fell a victim.'

'And her father?' inquired the poetic Snodgrass.

'Remorse and misery,' replied the stranger. 'Suddendisappearance--talk of the whole city--search made everywherewithout success--public fountain in the great square suddenlyceased playing--weeks elapsed--still a stoppage--workmenemployed to clean it--water drawn off--father-in-law discoveredsticking head first in the main pipe, with a full confession in hisright boot--took him out, and the fountain played away again,as well as ever.'

'Will you allow me to note that little romance down, Sir?' saidMr. Snodgrass, deeply affected.

'Certainly, Sir, certainly--fifty more if you like to hear 'em--strange life mine--rather curious history--not extraordinary,but singular.'

In this strain, with an occasional glass of ale, by way ofparenthesis, when the coach changed horses, did the strangerproceed, until they reached Rochester bridge, by which time thenote-books, both of Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Snodgrass, werecompletely filled with selections from his adventures.

'Magnificent ruin!' said Mr. Augustus Snodgrass, with all thepoetic fervour that distinguished him, when they came in sight ofthe fine old castle.

'What a sight for an antiquarian!' were the very words whichfell from Mr. Pickwick's mouth, as he applied his telescope to his eye.

'Ah! fine place,' said the stranger, 'glorious pile--frowningwalls--tottering arches--dark nooks--crumbling staircases--oldcathedral too--earthy smell--pilgrims' feet wore away the oldsteps--little Saxon doors--confessionals like money-takers'boxes at theatres--queer customers those monks--popes, andlord treasurers, and all sorts of old fellows, with great red faces,and broken noses, turning up every day--buff jerkins too--match-locks--sarcophagus--fine place--old legends too--strangestories: capital;' and the stranger continued to soliloquise untilthey reached the Bull Inn, in the High Street, where the coach stopped.

'Do you remain here, Sir?' inquired Mr. Nathaniel Winkle.

'Here--not I--but you'd better--good house--nice beds--Wright's next house, dear--very dear--half-a-crown in the bill ifyou look at the waiter--charge you more if you dine at a friend'sthan they would if you dined in the coffee-room--rum fellows--very.'

Mr. Winkle turned to Mr. Pickwick, and murmured a fewwords; a whisper passed from Mr. Pickwick to Mr. Snodgrass,from Mr. Snodgrass to Mr. Tupman, and nods of assent wereexchanged. Mr. Pickwick addressed the stranger.

'You rendered us a very important service this morning, sir,'said he, 'will you allow us to offer a slight mark of our gratitudeby begging the favour of your company at dinner?'

'Great pleasure--not presume to dictate, but broiled fowl andmushrooms--capital thing! What time?'

'Let me see,' replied Mr. Pickwick, referring to his watch, 'it isnow nearly three. Shall we say five?'

'Suit me excellently,' said the stranger, 'five precisely--till then--care ofyourselves;' and lifting the pinched-up hat a few inchesfrom his head, and carelessly replacing it very much on one side,the stranger, with half the brown paper parcel sticking out of hispocket, walked briskly up the yard, and turned into the High Street.

'Evidently a traveller in many countries, and a close observer ofmen and things,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'I should like to see his poem,' said Mr. Snodgrass.

'I should like to have seen that dog,' said Mr. Winkle.

Mr. Tupman said nothing; but he thought of Donna Christina,the stomach pump, and the fountain; and his eyes filled with tears.

A private sitting-room having been engaged, bedroomsinspected, and dinner ordered, the party walked out to view thecity and adjoining neighbourhood.

We do not find, from a careful perusal of Mr. Pickwick's notesof the four towns, Stroud, Rochester, Chatham, and Brompton,that his impressions of their appearance differ in any materialpoint from those of other travellers who have gone over the sameground. His general description is easily abridged.

'The principal productions of these towns,' says Mr. Pickwick,'appear to be soldiers, sailors, Jews, chalk, shrimps, officers, anddockyard men. The commodities chiefly exposed for sale in thepublic streets are marine stores, hard-bake, apples, flat-fish, andoysters. The streets present a lively and animated appearance,occasioned chiefly by the conviviality of the military. It is trulydelightful to a philanthropic mind to see these gallant menstaggering along under the influence of an overflow both ofanimal and ardent spirits; more especially when we rememberthat the following them about, and jesting with them, affords acheap and innocent amusement for the boy population. Nothing,'adds Mr. Pickwick, 'can exceed their good-humour. It wasbut the day before my arrival that one of them had been mostgrossly insulted in the house of a publican. The barmaidhad positively refused to draw him any more liquor; in returnfor which he had (merely in playfulness) drawn his bayonet,and wounded the girl in the shoulder. And yet this fine fellowwas the very first to go down to the house next morning andexpress his readiness to overlook the matter, and forget whathad occurred!

'The consumption of tobacco in these towns,' continues Mr.Pickwick, 'must be very great, and the smell which pervades thestreets must be exceedingly delicious to those who are extremelyfond of smoking. A superficial traveller might object to the dirt,which is their leading characteristic; but to those who view it asan indication of traffic and commercial prosperity, it istruly gratifying.'

Punctual to five o'clock came the stranger, and shortly afterwardsthe dinner. He had divested himself of his brown paperparcel, but had made no alteration in his attire, and was, ifpossible, more loquacious than ever.

'What's that?' he inquired, as the waiter removed one of the covers.

'Soles, Sir.'

'Soles--ah!--capital fish--all come from London-stage-coach proprietors get up political dinners--carriage of soles--dozens of baskets--cunning fellows. Glass of wine, Sir.'

'With pleasure,' said Mr. Pickwick; and the stranger tookwine, first with him, and then with Mr. Snodgrass, and then withMr. Tupman, and then with Mr. Winkle, and then with thewhole party together, almost as rapidly as he talked.

'Devil of a mess on the staircase, waiter,' said the stranger.'Forms going up--carpenters coming down--lamps, glasses,harps. What's going forward?'

'Ball, Sir,' said the waiter.

'Assembly, eh?'

'No, Sir, not assembly, Sir. Ball for the benefit of a charity, Sir.'

'Many fine women in this town, do you know, Sir?' inquiredMr. Tupman, with great interest.

'Splendid--capital. Kent, sir--everybody knows Kent--apples, cherries, hops, and women. Glass of wine, Sir!'

'With great pleasure,' replied Mr. Tupman. The stranger filled,and emptied.

'I should very much like to go,' said Mr. Tupman, resumingthe subject of the ball, 'very much.'

'Tickets at the bar, Sir,' interposed the waiter; 'half-a-guineaeach, Sir.'

Mr. Tupman again expressed an earnest wish to be present atthe festivity; but meeting with no response in the darkened eye ofMr. Snodgrass, or the abstracted gaze of Mr. Pickwick, heapplied himself with great interest to the port wine and dessert,which had just been placed on the table. The waiter withdrew,and the party were left to enjoy the cosy couple of hourssucceeding dinner.

'Beg your pardon, sir,' said the stranger, 'bottle stands--passit round--way of the sun--through the button-hole--no heeltaps,'and he emptied his glass, which he had filled about twominutes before, and poured out another, with the air of a manwho was used to it.

The wine was passed, and a fresh supply ordered. The visitortalked, the Pickwickians listened. Mr. Tupman felt every momentmore disposed for the ball. Mr. Pickwick's countenance glowedwith an expression of universal philanthropy, and Mr. Winkleand Mr. Snodgrass fell fast asleep.

'They're beginning upstairs,' said the stranger--'hear thecompany--fiddles tuning--now the harp--there they go.' Thevarious sounds which found their way downstairs announced thecommencement of the first quadrille.

'How I should like to go,' said Mr. Tupman again.

'So should I,' said the stranger--'confounded luggage,--heavysmacks--nothing to go in--odd, ain't it?'

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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