Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 36)

'Lor, Miss Smithers, dear,' said the other nine-and-twentyboarders.

'Oh, the man--the man--behind the door!' screamed Miss Smithers.

The lady abbess no sooner heard this appalling cry, than sheretreated to her own bedroom, double-locked the door, andfainted away comfortably. The boarders, and the teachers, andthe servants, fell back upon the stairs, and upon each other; andnever was such a screaming, and fainting, and struggling beheld.In the midst of the tumult, Mr. Pickwick emerged from hisconcealment, and presented himself amongst them.

'Ladies--dear ladies,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Oh. he says we're dear,' cried the oldest and ugliest teacher.'Oh, the wretch!'

'Ladies,' roared Mr. Pickwick, rendered desperate by thedanger of his situation. 'Hear me. I am no robber. I want the ladyof the house.'

'Oh, what a ferocious monster!' screamed another teacher.'He wants Miss Tomkins.'

Here there was a general scream.

'Ring the alarm bell, somebody!' cried a dozen voices.

'Don't--don't,' shouted Mr. Pickwick. 'Look at me. Do I looklike a robber! My dear ladies--you may bind me hand and leg,or lock me up in a closet, if you like. Only hear what I have gotto say--only hear me.'

'How did you come in our garden?' faltered the housemaid.

'Call the lady of the house, and I'll tell her everything,' saidMr. Pickwick, exerting his lungs to the utmost pitch. 'Call her--only be quiet, and call her, and you shall hear everything .'

It might have been Mr. Pickwick's appearance, or it might havebeen his manner, or it might have been the temptation--irresistible to a female mind--of hearing something at presentenveloped in mystery, that reduced the more reasonable portionof the establishment (some four individuals) to a state ofcomparative quiet. By them it was proposed, as a test of Mr.Pickwick's sincerity, that he should immediately submit to personalrestraint; and that gentleman having consented to hold aconference with Miss Tomkins, from the interior of a closet inwhich the day boarders hung their bonnets and sandwich-bags,he at once stepped into it, of his own accord, and was securelylocked in. This revived the others; and Miss Tomkins havingbeen brought to, and brought down, the conference began.

'What did you do in my garden, man?' said Miss Tomkins, ina faint voice.

'I came to warn you that one of your young ladies was going toelope to-night,' replied Mr. Pickwick, from the interior of the closet.

'Elope!' exclaimed Miss Tomkins, the three teachers, thethirty boarders, and the five servants. 'Who with?''Your friend, Mr. Charles Fitz-Marshall.'

'MY friend! I don't know any such person.'

'Well, Mr. Jingle, then.'

'I never heard the name in my life.'

'Then, I have been deceived, and deluded,' said Mr. Pickwick.'I have been the victim of a conspiracy--a foul and base conspiracy.Send to the Angel, my dear ma'am, if you don't believe me.Send to the Angel for Mr. Pickwick's manservant, I imploreyou, ma'am.'

'He must be respectable--he keeps a manservant,' said MissTomkins to the writing and ciphering governess.

'It's my opinion, Miss Tomkins,' said the writing and cipheringgoverness, 'that his manservant keeps him, I think he's a madman,Miss Tomkins, and the other's his keeper.'

'I think you are very right, Miss Gwynn,' responded MissTomkins. 'Let two of the servants repair to the Angel, and let theothers remain here, to protect us.'

So two of the servants were despatched to the Angel in searchof Mr. Samuel Weller; and the remaining three stopped behindto protect Miss Tomkins, and the three teachers, and the thirtyboarders. And Mr. Pickwick sat down in the closet, beneath agrove of sandwich-bags, and awaited the return of the messengers,with all the philosophy and fortitude he could summon to his aid.

An hour and a half elapsed before they came back, and whenthey did come, Mr. Pickwick recognised, in addition to the voiceof Mr. Samuel Weller, two other voices, the tones of whichstruck familiarly on his ear; but whose they were, he could not forthe life of him call to mind.

A very brief conversation ensued. The door was unlocked.Mr. Pickwick stepped out of the closet, and found himself in thepresence of the whole establishment of Westgate House, MrSamuel Weller, and--old Wardle, and his destined son-in-law,Mr. Trundle!

'My dear friend,' said Mr. Pickwick, running forward andgrasping Wardle's hand, 'my dear friend, pray, for Heaven's sake,explain to this lady the unfortunate and dreadful situation inwhich I am placed. You must have heard it from my servant;say, at all events, my dear fellow, that I am neither a robber nora madman.'

'I have said so, my dear friend. I have said so already,' repliedMr. Wardle, shaking the right hand of his friend, while Mr.Trundle shook the left.'And whoever says, or has said, he is,' interposed Mr. Weller,stepping forward, 'says that which is not the truth, but so farfrom it, on the contrary, quite the rewerse. And if there's anynumber o' men on these here premises as has said so, I shall bewery happy to give 'em all a wery convincing proof o' their beingmistaken, in this here wery room, if these wery respectable ladies'll have the goodness to retire, and order 'em up, one at a time.'Having delivered this defiance with great volubility, Mr. Wellerstruck his open palm emphatically with his clenched fist, andwinked pleasantly on Miss Tomkins, the intensity of whosehorror at his supposing it within the bounds of possibility thatthere could be any men on the premises of Westgate HouseEstablishment for Young Ladies, it is impossible to describe.

Mr. Pickwick's explanation having already been partially made,was soon concluded. But neither in the course of his walk homewith his friends, nor afterwards when seated before a blazingfire at the supper he so much needed, could a single observationbe drawn from him. He seemed bewildered and amazed. Once,and only once, he turned round to Mr. Wardle, and said--

'How did you come here?'

'Trundle and I came down here, for some good shooting onthe first,' replied Wardle. 'We arrived to-night, and wereastonished to hear from your servant that you were here too.But I am glad you are,' said the old fellow, slapping him onthe back--'I am glad you are. We shall have a jovial partyon the first, and we'll give Winkle another chance--eh, oldboy?'

Mr. Pickwick made no reply, he did not even ask after hisfriends at Dingley Dell, and shortly afterwards retired for thenight, desiring Sam to fetch his candle when he rung.The bell did ring in due course, and Mr. Weller presented himself.

'Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, looking out from under the bed-clothes.

'Sir,' said Mr. Weller.

Mr. Pickwick paused, and Mr. Weller snuffed the candle.

'Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick again, as if with a desperate effort.

'Sir,' said Mr. Weller, once more.

'Where is that Trotter?'

'Job, sir?'


'Gone, sir.'

'With his master, I suppose?'

'Friend or master, or whatever he is, he's gone with him,'replied Mr. Weller. 'There's a pair on 'em, sir.'

'Jingle suspected my design, and set that fellow on you, withthis story, I suppose?' said Mr. Pickwick, half choking.

'Just that, sir,' replied Mr. Weller.

'It was all false, of course?'

'All, sir,' replied Mr. Weller. 'Reg'lar do, sir; artful dodge.'

'I don't think he'll escape us quite so easily the next time, Sam!'said Mr. Pickwick.

'I don't think he will, Sir.'

'Whenever I meet that Jingle again, wherever it is,' said Mr.Pickwick, raising himself in bed, and indenting his pillow with atremendous blow, 'I'll inflict personal chastisement on him, inaddition to the exposure he so richly merits. I will, or my nameis not Pickwick.'

'And venever I catches hold o' that there melan-cholly chapwith the black hair,' said Sam, 'if I don't bring some real waterinto his eyes, for once in a way, my name ain't Weller. Good-night, Sir!'


The constitution of Mr. Pickwick, though able to sustain a veryconsiderable amount of exertion and fatigue, was not proof againstsuch a combination of attacks as he had undergone on the memorablenight, recorded in the last chapter. The process of being washedin the night air, and rough-dried in a closet, is as dangerous asit is peculiar. Mr. Pickwick was laid up with an attack of rheumatism.

But although the bodily powers of the great man were thusimpaired, his mental energies retained their pristine vigour. Hisspirits were elastic; his good-humour was restored. Even thevexation consequent upon his recent adventure had vanishedfrom his mind; and he could join in the hearty laughter, whichany allusion to it excited in Mr. Wardle, without anger andwithout embarrassment. Nay, more. During the two days Mr.Pickwick was confined to bed, Sam was his constant attendant.On the first, he endeavoured to amuse his master by anecdoteand conversation; on the second, Mr. Pickwick demanded hiswriting-desk, and pen and ink, and was deeply engaged duringthe whole day. On the third, being able to sit up in his bedchamber,he despatched his valet with a message to Mr. Wardle and Mr. Trundle,intimating that if they would take their wine there, that evening,they would greatly oblige him. The invitation was most willinglyaccepted; and when they were seated overtheir wine, Mr. Pickwick, with sundry blushes, produced thefollowing little tale, as having been 'edited' by himself, during hisrecent indisposition, from his notes of Mr. Weller'sunsophisticated recital.


'Once upon a time, in a very small country town, at a considerabledistance from London, there lived a little man named NathanielPipkin, who was the parish clerk of the little town, and lived in alittle house in the little High Street, within ten minutes' walkfrom the little church; and who was to be found every day, fromnine till four, teaching a little learning to the little boys. NathanielPipkin was a harmless, inoffensive, good-natured being, with aturned-up nose, and rather turned-in legs, a cast in his eye, and ahalt in his gait; and he divided his time between the church andhis school, verily believing that there existed not, on the face ofthe earth, so clever a man as the curate, so imposing an apartmentas the vestry-room, or so well-ordered a seminary as his own.Once, and only once, in his life, Nathaniel Pipkin had seen abishop--a real bishop, with his arms in lawn sleeves, and hishead in a wig. He had seen him walk, and heard him talk, at aconfirmation, on which momentous occasion Nathaniel Pipkinwas so overcome with reverence and awe, when the aforesaidbishop laid his hand on his head, that he fainted right cleanaway, and was borne out of church in the arms of the beadle.

'This was a great event, a tremendous era, in NathanielPipkin's life, and it was the only one that had ever occurred toruffle the smooth current of his quiet existence, when happeningone fine afternoon, in a fit of mental abstraction, to raise his eyesfrom the slate on which he was devising some tremendousproblem in compound addition for an offending urchin to solve,they suddenly rested on the blooming countenance of MariaLobbs, the only daughter of old Lobbs, the great saddler over theway. Now, the eyes of Mr. Pipkin had rested on the pretty faceof Maria Lobbs many a time and oft before, at church and elsewhere;but the eyes of Maria Lobbs had never looked so bright,the cheeks of Maria Lobbs had never looked so ruddy, as uponthis particular occasion. No wonder then, that Nathaniel Pipkinwas unable to take his eyes from the countenance of Miss Lobbs;no wonder that Miss Lobbs, finding herself stared at by a youngman, withdrew her head from the window out of which she hadbeen peeping, and shut the casement and pulled down the blind;no wonder that Nathaniel Pipkin, immediately thereafter, fellupon the young urchin who had previously offended, and cuffedand knocked him about to his heart's content. All this was verynatural, and there's nothing at all to wonder at about it.

'It IS matter of wonder, though, that anyone of Mr. NathanielPipkin's retiring disposition, nervous temperament, and mostparticularly diminutive income, should from this day forth, havedared to aspire to the hand and heart of the only daughter of thefiery old Lobbs--of old Lobbs, the great saddler, who could havebought up the whole village at one stroke of his pen, and neverfelt the outlay--old Lobbs, who was well known to have heaps ofmoney, invested in the bank at the nearest market town--whowas reported to have countless and inexhaustible treasureshoarded up in the little iron safe with the big keyhole, over thechimney-piece in the back parlour--and who, it was well known,on festive occasions garnished his board with a real silver teapot,cream-ewer, and sugar-basin, which he was wont, in the pride ofhis heart, to boast should be his daughter's property when shefound a man to her mind. I repeat it, to be matter of profoundastonishment and intense wonder, that Nathaniel Pipkin shouldhave had the temerity to cast his eyes in this direction. But love isblind; and Nathaniel had a cast in his eye; and perhaps these twocircumstances, taken together, prevented his seeing the matter inits proper light.

'Now, if old Lobbs had entertained the most remote or distantidea of the state of the affections of Nathaniel Pipkin, he wouldjust have razed the school-room to the ground, or exterminatedits master from the surface of the earth, or committed some otheroutrage and atrocity of an equally ferocious and violent description;for he was a terrible old fellow, was Lobbs, when his pridewas injured, or his blood was up. Swear! Such trains of oathswould come rolling and pealing over the way, sometimes, whenhe was denouncing the idleness of the bony apprentice with thethin legs, that Nathaniel Pipkin would shake in his shoes withhorror, and the hair of the pupils' heads would stand on endwith fright.

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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