Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 35)

'All them old cats WILL run their heads agin milestones,'observed Mr. Weller, in a parenthesis.

'But this taking him in the very act of elopement, would be avery difficult thing to accomplish, I fear,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'I don't know, sir,' said Mr. Trotter, after a few moments'reflection. 'I think it might be very easily done.'

'How?' was Mr. Pickwick's inquiry.

'Why,' replied Mr. Trotter, 'my master and I, being in theconfidence of the two servants, will be secreted in the kitchen atten o'clock. When the family have retired to rest, we shall comeout of the kitchen, and the young lady out of her bedroom. Apost-chaise will be waiting, and away we go.'

'Well?' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Well, sir, I have been thinking that if you were in waiting inthe garden behind, alone--'

'Alone,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Why alone?'

'I thought it very natural,' replied Job, 'that the old ladywouldn't like such an unpleasant discovery to be made beforemore persons than can possibly be helped. The young lady, too,sir--consider her feelings.'

'You are very right,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'The considerationevinces your delicacy of feeling. Go on; you are very right.'

'Well, sir, I have been thinking that if you were waiting in theback garden alone, and I was to let you in, at the door whichopens into it, from the end of the passage, at exactly half-pasteleven o'clock, you would be just in the very moment of time toassist me in frustrating the designs of this bad man, by whom Ihave been unfortunately ensnared.' Here Mr. Trotter sighed deeply.

'Don't distress yourself on that account,' said Mr. Pickwick;'if he had one grain of the delicacy of feeling which distinguishesyou, humble as your station is, I should have some hopes of him.'

Job Trotter bowed low; and in spite of Mr. Weller's previousremonstrance, the tears again rose to his eyes.

'I never see such a feller,' said Sam, 'Blessed if I don't thinkhe's got a main in his head as is always turned on.'

'Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, with great severity, 'holdyour tongue.'

'Wery well, sir,' replied Mr. Weller.

'I don't like this plan,' said Mr. Pickwick, after deep meditation.'Why cannot I communicate with the young lady's friends?'

'Because they live one hundred miles from here, sir,' respondedJob Trotter.

'That's a clincher,' said Mr. Weller, aside.

'Then this garden,' resumed Mr. Pickwick. 'How am I to getinto it?'

'The wall is very low, sir, and your servant will give you aleg up.''My servant will give me a leg up,' repeated Mr. Pickwickmechanically. 'You will be sure to be near this door that youspeak of?'

'You cannot mistake it, Sir; it's the only one that opens intothe garden. Tap at it when you hear the clock strike, and I willopen it instantly.'

'I don't like the plan,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'but as I see noother, and as the happiness of this young lady's whole life is atstake, I adopt it. I shall be sure to be there.'

Thus, for the second time, did Mr. Pickwick's innate good-feeling involve him in an enterprise from which he would mostwillingly have stood aloof.

'What is the name of the house?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.

'Westgate House, Sir. You turn a little to the right when youget to the end of the town; it stands by itself, some little distanceoff the high road, with the name on a brass plate on the gate.'

'I know it,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'I observed it once before, whenI was in this town. You may depend upon me.'

Mr. Trotter made another bow, and turned to depart, whenMr. Pickwick thrust a guinea into his hand.

'You're a fine fellow,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'and I admire yourgoodness of heart. No thanks. Remember--eleven o'clock.'

'There is no fear of my forgetting it, sir,' replied Job Trotter.With these words he left the room, followed by Sam.

'I say,' said the latter, 'not a bad notion that 'ere crying. I'dcry like a rain-water spout in a shower on such good terms.How do you do it?'

'It comes from the heart, Mr. Walker,' replied Job solemnly.'Good-morning, sir.'

'You're a soft customer, you are; we've got it all out o' you,anyhow,' thought Mr. Weller, as Job walked away.

We cannot state the precise nature of the thoughts whichpassed through Mr. Trotter's mind, because we don't know whatthey were.

The day wore on, evening came, and at a little before teno'clock Sam Weller reported that Mr. Jingle and Job had goneout together, that their luggage was packed up, and that they hadordered a chaise. The plot was evidently in execution, as Mr.Trotter had foretold.

Half-past ten o'clock arrived, and it was time for Mr. Pickwickto issue forth on his delicate errand. Resisting Sam's tender of hisgreatcoat, in order that he might have no encumbrance in scalingthe wall, he set forth, followed by his attendant.

There was a bright moon, but it was behind the clouds. it wasa fine dry night, but it was most uncommonly dark. Paths,hedges, fields, houses, and trees, were enveloped in one deepshade. The atmosphere was hot and sultry, the summer lightningquivered faintly on the verge of the horizon, and was the onlysight that varied the dull gloom in which everything was wrapped--sound there was none, except the distant barking of somerestless house-dog.

They found the house, read the brass plate, walked round thewall, and stopped at that portion of it which divided them fromthe bottom of the garden.

'You will return to the inn, Sam, when you have assisted meover,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Wery well, Sir.'

'And you will sit up, till I return.'

'Cert'nly, Sir.'

'Take hold of my leg; and, when I say "Over," raise me gently.'

'All right, sir.'

Having settled these preliminaries, Mr. Pickwick grasped thetop of the wall, and gave the word 'Over,' which was literallyobeyed. Whether his body partook in some degree of the elasticityof his mind, or whether Mr. Weller's notions of a gentle pushwere of a somewhat rougher description than Mr. Pickwick's, theimmediate effect of his assistance was to jerk that immortalgentleman completely over the wall on to the bed beneath,where, after crushing three gooseberry-bushes and a rose-tree, hefinally alighted at full length.

'You ha'n't hurt yourself, I hope, Sir?' said Sam, in a loudwhisper, as soon as he had recovered from the surprise consequentupon the mysterious disappearance of his master.

'I have not hurt MYSELF, Sam, certainly,' replied Mr. Pickwick,from the other side of the wall, 'but I rather think that YOU havehurt me.'

'I hope not, Sir,' said Sam.

'Never mind,' said Mr. Pickwick, rising, 'it's nothing but a fewscratches. Go away, or we shall be overheard.'

'Good-bye, Sir.'


With stealthy steps Sam Weller departed, leaving Mr. Pickwickalone in the garden.

Lights occasionally appeared in the different windows of thehouse, or glanced from the staircases, as if the inmates wereretiring to rest. Not caring to go too near the door, until theappointed time, Mr. Pickwick crouched into an angle of the wall,and awaited its arrival.

It was a situation which might well have depressed the spiritsof many a man. Mr. Pickwick, however, felt neither depressionnor misgiving. He knew that his purpose was in the main a goodone, and he placed implicit reliance on the high-minded Job. itwas dull, certainly; not to say dreary; but a contemplative mancan always employ himself in meditation. Mr. Pickwick hadmeditated himself into a doze, when he was roused by the chimesof the neighbouring church ringing out the hour--half-past eleven.

'That's the time,' thought Mr. Pickwick, getting cautiously onhis feet. He looked up at the house. The lights had disappeared,and the shutters were closed--all in bed, no doubt. He walkedon tiptoe to the door, and gave a gentle tap. Two or threeminutes passing without any reply, he gave another tap ratherlouder, and then another rather louder than that.

At length the sound of feet was audible upon the stairs, andthen the light of a candle shone through the keyhole of the door.There was a good deal of unchaining and unbolting, and the doorwas slowly opened.

Now the door opened outwards; and as the door opened widerand wider, Mr. Pickwick receded behind it, more and more. Whatwas his astonishment when he just peeped out, by way of caution,to see that the person who had opened it was--not Job Trotter,but a servant-girl with a candle in her hand! Mr. Pickwick drewin his head again, with the swiftness displayed by that admirablemelodramatic performer, Punch, when he lies in wait for theflat-headed comedian with the tin box of music.

'It must have been the cat, Sarah,' said the girl, addressingherself to some one in the house. 'Puss, puss, puss,--tit, tit, tit.'

But no animal being decoyed by these blandishments, the girlslowly closed the door, and re-fastened it; leaving Mr. Pickwickdrawn up straight against the wall.

'This is very curious,' thought Mr. Pickwick. 'They are sittingup beyond their usual hour, I suppose. Extremely unfortunate,that they should have chosen this night, of all others, for such apurpose--exceedingly.' And with these thoughts, Mr. Pickwickcautiously retired to the angle of the wall in which he had beenbefore ensconced; waiting until such time as he might deem itsafe to repeat the signal.

He had not been here five minutes, when a vivid flashof lightning was followed by a loud peal of thunder thatcrashed and rolled away in the distance with a terrific noise--then came another flash of lightning, brighter than the other,and a second peal of thunder louder than the first; and thendown came the rain, with a force and fury that swept everythingbefore it.

Mr. Pickwick was perfectly aware that a tree is a very dangerousneighbour in a thunderstorm. He had a tree on his right, atree on his left, a third before him, and a fourth behind. If heremained where he was, he might fall the victim of an accident;if he showed himself in the centre of the garden, he might beconsigned to a constable. Once or twice he tried to scale the wall,but having no other legs this time, than those with which Naturehad furnished him, the only effect of his struggles was to inflict avariety of very unpleasant gratings on his knees and shins, and tothrow him into a state of the most profuse perspiration.

'What a dreadful situation,' said Mr. Pickwick, pausing towipe his brow after this exercise. He looked up at the house--allwas dark. They must be gone to bed now. He would try thesignal again.

He walked on tiptoe across the moist gravel, and tapped at thedoor. He held his breath, and listened at the key-hole. No reply:very odd. Another knock. He listened again. There was a lowwhispering inside, and then a voice cried--

'Who's there?'

'That's not Job,' thought Mr. Pickwick, hastily drawing himselfstraight up against the wall again. 'It's a woman.'

He had scarcely had time to form this conclusion, when awindow above stairs was thrown up, and three or four femalevoices repeated the query--'Who's there?'

Mr. Pickwick dared not move hand or foot. It was clear thatthe whole establishment was roused. He made up his mind toremain where he was, until the alarm had subsided; and then bya supernatural effort, to get over the wall, or perish inthe attempt.

Like all Mr. Pickwick's determinations, this was the best thatcould be made under the circumstances; but, unfortunately, itwas founded upon the assumption that they would not ventureto open the door again. What was his discomfiture, when heheard the chain and bolts withdrawn, and saw the door slowlyopening, wider and wider! He retreated into the corner, step bystep; but do what he would, the interposition of his own person,prevented its being opened to its utmost width.

'Who's there?' screamed a numerous chorus of treble voicesfrom the staircase inside, consisting of the spinster lady of theestablishment, three teachers, five female servants, and thirtyboarders, all half-dressed and in a forest of curl-papers.

Of course Mr. Pickwick didn't say who was there: and then theburden of the chorus changed into--'Lor! I am so frightened.'

'Cook,' said the lady abbess, who took care to be on the topstair, the very last of the group--'cook, why don't you go a littleway into the garden?''Please, ma'am, I don't like,' responded the cook.

'Lor, what a stupid thing that cook is!' said the thirty boarders.

'Cook,' said the lady abbess, with great dignity; 'don'tanswer me, if you please. I insist upon your looking into thegarden immediately.'

Here the cook began to cry, and the housemaid said it was 'ashame!' for which partisanship she received a month's warningon the spot.

'Do you hear, cook?' said the lady abbess, stamping herfoot impatiently.

'Don't you hear your missis, cook?' said the three teachers.

'What an impudent thing that cook is!' said the thirty boarders.

The unfortunate cook, thus strongly urged, advanced a step ortwo, and holding her candle just where it prevented her fromseeing at all, declared there was nothing there, and it must havebeen the wind. The door was just going to be closed in consequence,when an inquisitive boarder, who had been peepingbetween the hinges, set up a fearful screaming, which called backthe cook and housemaid, and all the more adventurous, in no time.

'What is the matter with Miss Smithers?' said the lady abbess,as the aforesaid Miss Smithers proceeded to go into hysterics offour young lady power.

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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