Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 39)

'Very well,' replied the old gentleman. 'Sleepy as ever.'

'And your mother, and the clergyman, and all of 'em?'

'Quite well.'

'Where,' said Mr. Tupman, with an effort--'where is--SHE,Sir?' and he turned away his head, and covered his eyes with his hand.'SHE!' said the old gentleman, with a knowing shake of thehead. 'Do you mean my single relative--eh?'

Mr. Tupman, by a nod, intimated that his question applied tothe disappointed Rachael.

'Oh, she's gone away,' said the old gentleman. 'She's living ata relation's, far enough off. She couldn't bear to see the girls, so Ilet her go. But come! Here's the dinner. You must be hungryafter your ride. I am, without any ride at all; so let us fall to.'

Ample justice was done to the meal; and when they wereseated round the table, after it had been disposed of, Mr. Pickwick,to the intense horror and indignation of his followers,related the adventure he had undergone, and the success whichhad attended the base artifices of the diabolical Jingle.'And the attack of rheumatism which I caught in that garden,'said Mr. Pickwick, in conclusion, 'renders me lame at thismoment.'

'I, too, have had something of an adventure,' said Mr. Winkle,with a smile; and, at the request of Mr. Pickwick, he detailed themalicious libel of the Eatanswill INDEPENDENT, and the consequentexcitement of their friend, the editor.

Mr. Pickwick's brow darkened during the recital. His friendsobserved it, and, when Mr. Winkle had concluded, maintained aprofound silence. Mr. Pickwick struck the table emphaticallywith his clenched fist, and spoke as follows:--

'Is it not a wonderful circumstance,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'thatwe seem destined to enter no man's house without involving himin some degree of trouble? Does it not, I ask, bespeak theindiscretion, or, worse than that, the blackness of heart--that Ishould say so!--of my followers, that, beneath whatever roofthey locate, they disturb the peace of mind and happiness ofsome confiding female? Is it not, I say--'

Mr. Pickwick would in all probability have gone on for sometime, had not the entrance of Sam, with a letter, caused him tobreak off in his eloquent discourse. He passed his handkerchiefacross his forehead, took off his spectacles, wiped them, and putthem on again; and his voice had recovered its wonted softness oftone when he said--

'What have you there, Sam?'

'Called at the post-office just now, and found this here letter,as has laid there for two days,' replied Mr. Weller. 'It's sealedvith a vafer, and directed in round hand.'

'I don't know this hand,' said Mr. Pickwick, opening theletter. 'Mercy on us! what's this? It must be a jest; it--it--can'tbe true.'

'What's the matter?' was the general inquiry.

'Nobody dead, is there?' said Wardle, alarmed at the horror inMr. Pickwick's countenance.

Mr. Pickwick made no reply, but, pushing the letter across thetable, and desiring Mr. Tupman to read it aloud, fell back in hischair with a look of vacant astonishment quite alarming tobehold.

Mr. Tupman, with a trembling voice, read the letter, of whichthe following is a copy:--

Freeman's Court, Cornhill,August 28th, 1827.

Bardell against Pickwick.


Having been instructed by Mrs. Martha Bardell to commencean action against you for a breach of promise of marriage, for whichthe plaintiff lays her damages at fifteen hundred pounds, we beg toinform you that a writ has been issued against you in this suit in theCourt of Common Pleas; and request to know, by return of post, thename of your attorney in London, who will accept service thereof.

We are, Sir,Your obedient servants,Dodson & Fogg.

Mr. Samuel Pickwick.

There was something so impressive in the mute astonishmentwith which each man regarded his neighbour, and every manregarded Mr. Pickwick, that all seemed afraid to speak. Thesilence was at length broken by Mr. Tupman.

'Dodson and Fogg,' he repeated mechanically.

'Bardell and Pickwick,' said Mr. Snodgrass, musing.

'Peace of mind and happiness of confiding females,' murmuredMr. Winkle, with an air of abstraction.

'It's a conspiracy,' said Mr. Pickwick, at length recovering thepower of speech; 'a base conspiracy between these two graspingattorneys, Dodson and Fogg. Mrs. Bardell would never do it;--she hasn't the heart to do it;--she hasn't the case to do it.Ridiculous--ridiculous.''Of her heart,' said Wardle, with a smile, 'you should certainlybe the best judge. I don't wish to discourage you, but I shouldcertainly say that, of her case, Dodson and Fogg are far betterjudges than any of us can be.'

'It's a vile attempt to extort money,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'I hope it is,' said Wardle, with a short, dry cough.

'Who ever heard me address her in any way but that in whicha lodger would address his landlady?' continued Mr. Pickwick,with great vehemence. 'Who ever saw me with her? Not even myfriends here--'

'Except on one occasion,' said Mr. Tupman.

Mr. Pickwick changed colour.'Ah,' said Mr. Wardle. 'Well, that's important. There wasnothing suspicious then, I suppose?'

Mr. Tupman glanced timidly at his leader. 'Why,' said he,'there was nothing suspicious; but--I don't know how ithappened, mind--she certainly was reclining in his arms.'

'Gracious powers!' ejaculated Mr. Pickwick, as the recollectionof the scene in question struck forcibly upon him; 'what adreadful instance of the force of circumstances! So she was--soshe was.'

'And our friend was soothing her anguish,' said Mr. Winkle,rather maliciously.

'So I was,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'I don't deny it. So I was.'

'Hollo!' said Wardle; 'for a case in which there's nothing suspicious,this looks rather queer--eh, Pickwick? Ah, sly dog--slydog!' and he laughed till the glasses on the sideboard rang again.

'What a dreadful conjunction of appearances!' exclaimedMr. Pickwick, resting his chin upon his hands. 'Winkle--Tupman--I beg your pardon for the observations I madejust now. We are all the victims of circumstances, and I thegreatest.' With this apology Mr. Pickwick buried his head in hishands, and ruminated; while Wardle measured out a regularcircle of nods and winks, addressed to the other members ofthe company.

'I'll have it explained, though,' said Mr. Pickwick, raising hishead and hammering the table. 'I'll see this Dodson and Fogg!I'll go to London to-morrow.'

'Not to-morrow,' said Wardle; 'you're too lame.'

'Well, then, next day.'

'Next day is the first of September, and you're pledged to rideout with us, as far as Sir Geoffrey Manning's grounds at allevents, and to meet us at lunch, if you don't take the field.'

'Well, then, the day after,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'Thursday.--Sam!'

'Sir,' replied Mr. Weller.

'Take two places outside to London, on Thursday morning,for yourself and me.'

'Wery well, Sir.'

Mr. Weller left the room, and departed slowly on his errand,with his hands in his pocket and his eyes fixed on the ground.

'Rum feller, the hemperor,' said Mr. Weller, as he walkedslowly up the street. 'Think o' his makin' up to that 'ere Mrs.Bardell--vith a little boy, too! Always the vay vith these here old'uns howsoever, as is such steady goers to look at. I didn't thinkhe'd ha' done it, though--I didn't think he'd ha' done it!'Moralising in this strain, Mr. Samuel Weller bent his stepstowards the booking-office.


The birds, who, happily for their own peace of mind and personalcomfort, were in blissful ignorance of the preparations which hadbeen making to astonish them, on the first of September, hailedit, no doubt, as one of the pleasantest mornings they had seenthat season. Many a young partridge who strutted complacentlyamong the stubble, with all the finicking coxcombry of youth, andmany an older one who watched his levity out of his little roundeye, with the contemptuous air of a bird of wisdom and experience,alike unconscious of their approaching doom, basked in the freshmorning air with lively and blithesome feelings, and a few hoursafterwards were laid low upon the earth. But we grow affecting:let us proceed.

In plain commonplace matter-of-fact, then, it was a finemorning--so fine that you would scarcely have believed that thefew months of an English summer had yet flown by. Hedges,fields, and trees, hill and moorland, presented to the eye theirever-varying shades of deep rich green; scarce a leaf hadfallen, scarce a sprinkle of yellow mingled with the hues ofsummer, warned you that autumn had begun. The sky wascloudless; the sun shone out bright and warm; the songs of birds,the hum of myriads of summer insects, filled the air; and thecottage gardens, crowded with flowers of every rich and beautifultint, sparkled, in the heavy dew, like beds of glittering jewels.Everything bore the stamp of summer, and none of its beautifulcolour had yet faded from the die.

Such was the morning, when an open carriage, in which werethree Pickwickians (Mr. Snodgrass having preferred to remain athome), Mr. Wardle, and Mr. Trundle, with Sam Weller on thebox beside the driver, pulled up by a gate at the roadside, beforewhich stood a tall, raw-boned gamekeeper, and a half-booted,leather-legginged boy, each bearing a bag of capacious dimensions,and accompanied by a brace of pointers.

'I say,' whispered Mr. Winkle to Wardle, as the man let downthe steps, 'they don't suppose we're going to kill game enough tofill those bags, do they?'

'Fill them!' exclaimed old Wardle. 'Bless you, yes! You shallfill one, and I the other; and when we've done with them, thepockets of our shooting-jackets will hold as much more.'

Mr. Winkle dismounted without saying anything in reply tothis observation; but he thought within himself, that if the partyremained in the open air, till he had filled one of the bags, theystood a considerable chance of catching colds in their heads.

'Hi, Juno, lass-hi, old girl; down, Daph, down,' said Wardle,caressing the dogs. 'Sir Geoffrey still in Scotland, of course, Martin?'

The tall gamekeeper replied in the affirmative, and looked withsome surprise from Mr. Winkle, who was holding his gun as if hewished his coat pocket to save him the trouble of pulling thetrigger, to Mr. Tupman, who was holding his as if he was afraidof it--as there is no earthly reason to doubt he really was.

'My friends are not much in the way of this sort of thing yet,Martin,' said Wardle, noticing the look. 'Live and learn, youknow. They'll be good shots one of these days. I beg my friendWinkle's pardon, though; he has had some practice.'

Mr. Winkle smiled feebly over his blue neckerchief inacknowledgment of the compliment, and got himself so mysteriouslyentangled with his gun, in his modest confusion, that if the piecehad been loaded, he must inevitably have shot himself dead uponthe spot.

'You mustn't handle your piece in that 'ere way, when youcome to have the charge in it, Sir,' said the tall gamekeepergruffly; 'or I'm damned if you won't make cold meat of some

on us.'

Mr. Winkle, thus admonished, abruptly altered his position,and in so doing, contrived to bring the barrel into pretty smartcontact with Mr. Weller's head.

'Hollo!' said Sam, picking up his hat, which had been knockedoff, and rubbing his temple. 'Hollo, sir! if you comes it this vay,you'll fill one o' them bags, and something to spare, at one fire.'

Here the leather-legginged boy laughed very heartily, and thentried to look as if it was somebody else, whereat Mr. Winklefrowned majestically.

'Where did you tell the boy to meet us with the snack, Martin?'inquired Wardle.

'Side of One-tree Hill, at twelve o'clock, Sir.'

'That's not Sir Geoffrey's land, is it?'

'No, Sir; but it's close by it. It's Captain Boldwig's land; butthere'll be nobody to interrupt us, and there's a fine bit ofturf there.'

'Very well,' said old Wardle. 'Now the sooner we're off thebetter. Will you join us at twelve, then, Pickwick?'

Mr. Pickwick was particularly desirous to view the sport, themore especially as he was rather anxious in respect of Mr.Winkle's life and limbs. On so inviting a morning, too, it wasvery tantalising to turn back, and leave his friends to enjoythemselves. It was, therefore, with a very rueful air that hereplied--

'Why, I suppose I must.'

'Ain't the gentleman a shot, Sir?' inquired the long gamekeeper.

'No,' replied Wardle; 'and he's lame besides.'

'I should very much like to go,' said Mr. Pickwick--'verymuch.'

There was a short pause of commiseration.

'There's a barrow t'other side the hedge,' said the boy. 'If thegentleman's servant would wheel along the paths, he could keepnigh us, and we could lift it over the stiles, and that.'

'The wery thing,' said Mr. Weller, who was a party interested,inasmuch as he ardently longed to see the sport. 'The werything. Well said, Smallcheek; I'll have it out in a minute.'

But here a difficulty arose. The long gamekeeper resolutelyprotested against the introduction into a shooting party, of agentleman in a barrow, as a gross violation of all establishedrules and precedents.It was a great objection, but not an insurmountable one. Thegamekeeper having been coaxed and feed, and having, moreover,eased his mind by 'punching' the head of the inventive youth whohad first suggested the use of the machine, Mr. Pickwick wasplaced in it, and off the party set; Wardle and the long gamekeeperleading the way, and Mr. Pickwick in the barrow, propelled bySam, bringing up the rear.

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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