'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
'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,
'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
'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.
'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?'
'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!'
CHAPTER XVIISHOWING THAT AN ATTACK OF RHEUMATISM, IN SOMECASES, ACTS AS A QUICKENER
TO INVENTIVE GENIUS
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
THE PARISH CLERKA TALE OF TRUE LOVE
'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.