Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 4)

Now general benevolence was one of the leading features of thePickwickian theory, and no one was more remarkable for thezealous manner in which he observed so noble a principle thanMr. Tracy Tupman. The number of instances recorded on theTransactions of the Society, in which that excellent man referredobjects of charity to the houses of other members for left-offgarments or pecuniary relief is almost incredible.'I should be very happy to lend you a change of apparel for thepurpose,' said Mr. Tracy Tupman, 'but you are rather slim, andI am--'

'Rather fat--grown-up Bacchus--cut the leaves--dismountedfrom the tub, and adopted kersey, eh?--not double distilled, butdouble milled--ha! ha! pass the wine.'

Whether Mr. Tupman was somewhat indignant at the peremptorytone in which he was desired to pass the wine which thestranger passed so quickly away, or whether he felt very properlyscandalised at an influential member of the Pickwick Club beingignominiously compared to a dismounted Bacchus, is a fact notyet completely ascertained. He passed the wine, coughed twice,and looked at the stranger for several seconds with a stern intensity;as that individual, however, appeared perfectly collected,and quite calm under his searching glance, he gradually relaxed,and reverted to the subject of the ball.

'I was about to observe, Sir,' he said, 'that though my apparelwould be too large, a suit of my friend Mr. Winkle's would,perhaps, fit you better.'

The stranger took Mr. Winkle's measure with his eye, and thatfeature glistened with satisfaction as he said, 'Just the thing.'

Mr. Tupman looked round him. The wine, which had exertedits somniferous influence over Mr. Snodgrass and Mr. Winkle,had stolen upon the senses of Mr. Pickwick. That gentleman hadgradually passed through the various stages which precede thelethargy produced by dinner, and its consequences. He hadundergone the ordinary transitions from the height of convivialityto the depth of misery, and from the depth of misery to the heightof conviviality. Like a gas-lamp in the street, with the wind in thepipe, he had exhibited for a moment an unnatural brilliancy, thensank so low as to be scarcely discernible; after a short interval, hehad burst out again, to enlighten for a moment; then flickeredwith an uncertain, staggering sort of light, and then gone outaltogether. His head was sunk upon his bosom, and perpetualsnoring, with a partial choke occasionally, were the only audibleindications of the great man's presence.

The temptation to be present at the ball, and to form his firstimpressions of the beauty of the Kentish ladies, was strong uponMr. Tupman. The temptation to take the stranger with him wasequally great. He was wholly unacquainted with the place and itsinhabitants, and the stranger seemed to possess as great aknowledge of both as if he had lived there from his infancy.Mr. Winkle was asleep, and Mr. Tupman had had sufficientexperience in such matters to know that the moment he awoke hewould, in the ordinary course of nature, roll heavily to bed. Hewas undecided. 'Fill your glass, and pass the wine,' said theindefatigable visitor.

Mr. Tupman did as he was requested; and the additionalstimulus of the last glass settled his determination.

'Winkle's bedroom is inside mine,' said Mr. Tupman; 'Icouldn't make him understand what I wanted, if I woke him now,but I know he has a dress-suit in a carpet bag; and supposing youwore it to the ball, and took it off when we returned, I couldreplace it without troubling him at all about the matter.'

'Capital,' said the stranger, 'famous plan--damned oddsituation--fourteen coats in the packing-cases, and obliged towear another man's--very good notion, that--very.'

'We must purchase our tickets,' said Mr. Tupman.

'Not worth while splitting a guinea,' said the stranger, 'tosswho shall pay for both--I call; you spin--first time--woman--woman--bewitching woman,' and down came the sovereign withthe dragon (called by courtesy a woman) uppermost.

Mr. Tupman rang the bell, purchased the tickets, and orderedchamber candlesticks. In another quarter of an hour the strangerwas completely arrayed in a full suit of Mr. Nathaniel Winkle's.

'It's a new coat,' said Mr. Tupman, as the stranger surveyedhimself with great complacency in a cheval glass; 'the first that'sbeen made with our club button,' and he called his companions'attention to the large gilt button which displayed a bust of Mr.Pickwick in the centre, and the letters 'P. C.' on either side.

'"P. C."' said the stranger--'queer set out--old fellow'slikeness, and "P. C."--What does "P. C." stand for--PeculiarCoat, eh?'

Mr. Tupman, with rising indignation and great importance,explained the mystic device.

'Rather short in the waist, ain't it?' said the stranger, screwinghimself round to catch a glimpse in the glass of the waist buttons,which were half-way up his back. 'Like a general postman's coat--queer coats those--made by contract--no measuring--mysterious dispensations of Providence--all the short men getlong coats--all the long men short ones.' Running on in this way,Mr. Tupman's new companion adjusted his dress, or rather thedress of Mr. Winkle; and, accompanied by Mr. Tupman,ascended the staircase leading to the ballroom.

'What names, sir?' said the man at the door. Mr. TracyTupman was stepping forward to announce his own titles, whenthe stranger prevented him.

'No names at all;' and then he whispered Mr. Tupman,'names won't do--not known--very good names in their way,but not great ones--capital names for a small party, but won'tmake an impression in public assemblies--incog. the thing--gentlemen from London--distinguished foreigners--anything.'The door was thrown open, and Mr. Tracy Tupman and thestranger entered the ballroom.

It was a long room, with crimson-covered benches, and waxcandles in glass chandeliers. The musicians were securely confinedin an elevated den, and quadrilles were being systematicallygot through by two or three sets of dancers. Two card-tables weremade up in the adjoining card-room, and two pair of old ladies,and a corresponding number of stout gentlemen, were executingwhist therein.

The finale concluded, the dancers promenaded the room, andMr. Tupman and his companion stationed themselves in a cornerto observe the company.

'Charming women,' said Mr. Tupman.

'Wait a minute,' said the stranger, 'fun presently--nobs notcome yet--queer place--dockyard people of upper rank don'tknow dockyard people of lower rank--dockyard people of lowerrank don't know small gentry--small gentry don't knowtradespeople--commissioner don't know anybody.'

'Who's that little boy with the light hair and pink eyes, in afancy dress?'inquired Mr. Tupman.

'Hush, pray--pink eyes--fancy dress--little boy--nonsense--ensign 97th--Honourable Wilmot Snipe--great family--Snipes--very.'

'Sir Thomas Clubber, Lady Clubber, and the Misses Clubber!'shouted the man at the door in a stentorian voice. A greatsensation was created throughout the room by the entrance of atall gentleman in a blue coat and bright buttons, a large lady inblue satin, and two young ladies, on a similar scale, in fashionably-made dresses of the same hue.

'Commissioner--head of the yard--great man--remarkablygreat man,' whispered the stranger in Mr. Tupman's ear, as thecharitable committee ushered Sir Thomas Clubber and family tothe top of the room. The Honourable Wilmot Snipe, and otherdistinguished gentlemen crowded to render homage to the MissesClubber; and Sir Thomas Clubber stood bolt upright, and lookedmajestically over his black kerchief at the assembled company.

'Mr. Smithie, Mrs. Smithie, and the Misses Smithie,' was thenext announcement.

'What's Mr. Smithie?' inquired Mr. Tracy Tupman.

'Something in the yard,' replied the stranger. Mr. Smithiebowed deferentially to Sir Thomas Clubber; and Sir ThomasClubber acknowledged the salute with conscious condescension.Lady Clubber took a telescopic view of Mrs. Smithie and familythrough her eye-glass and Mrs. Smithie stared in her turn atMrs. Somebody-else, whose husband was not in the dockyardat all.

'Colonel Bulder, Mrs. Colonel Bulder, and Miss Bulder,' werethe next arrivals.

'Head of the garrison,' said the stranger, in reply to Mr. Tupman'sinquiring look.

Miss Bulder was warmly welcomed by the Misses Clubber; thegreeting between Mrs. Colonel Bulder and Lady Clubber was ofthe most affectionate description; Colonel Bulder and Sir ThomasClubber exchanged snuff-boxes, and looked very much like a pairof Alexander Selkirks--'Monarchs of all they surveyed.'

While the aristocracy of the place--the Bulders, and Clubbers,and Snipes--were thus preserving their dignity at the upper endof the room, the other classes of society were imitating theirexample in other parts of it. The less aristocratic officers of the97th devoted themselves to the families of the less importantfunctionaries from the dockyard. The solicitors' wives, and thewine-merchant's wife, headed another grade (the brewer's wifevisited the Bulders); and Mrs. Tomlinson, the post-office keeper,seemed by mutual consent to have been chosen the leader of thetrade party.

One of the most popular personages, in his own circle, present,was a little fat man, with a ring of upright black hair round hishead, and an extensive bald plain on the top of it--DoctorSlammer, surgeon to the 97th. The doctor took snuff witheverybody, chatted with everybody, laughed, danced, made jokes,played whist, did everything, and was everywhere. To thesepursuits, multifarious as they were, the little doctor added amore important one than any--he was indefatigable in payingthe most unremitting and devoted attention to a little old widow,whose rich dress and profusion of ornament bespoke her a mostdesirable addition to a limited income.

Upon the doctor, and the widow, the eyes of both Mr. Tupmanand his companion had been fixed for some time, when thestranger broke silence.

'Lots of money--old girl--pompous doctor--not a bad idea--good fun,' were the intelligible sentences which issued from hislips. Mr. Tupman looked inquisitively in his face.'I'll dance with the widow,' said the stranger.

'Who is she?' inquired Mr. Tupman.

'Don't know--never saw her in all my life--cut out the doctor--here goes.' And the stranger forthwith crossed the room; and,leaning against a mantel-piece, commenced gazing with an air ofrespectful and melancholy admiration on the fat countenance ofthe little old lady. Mr. Tupman looked on, in mute astonishment.The stranger progressed rapidly; the little doctor danced withanother lady; the widow dropped her fan; the stranger picked itup, and presented it--a smile--a bow--a curtsey--a few wordsof conversation. The stranger walked boldly up to, and returnedwith, the master of the ceremonies; a little introductory pantomime;and the stranger and Mrs. Budger took their places in a quadrille.

The surprise of Mr. Tupman at this summary proceeding, greatas it was, was immeasurably exceeded by the astonishment of thedoctor. The stranger was young, and the widow was flattered.The doctor's attentions were unheeded by the widow; and thedoctor's indignation was wholly lost on his imperturbable rival.Doctor Slammer was paralysed. He, Doctor Slammer, of the97th, to be extinguished in a moment, by a man whom nobodyhad ever seen before, and whom nobody knew even now! DoctorSlammer--Doctor Slammer of the 97th rejected! Impossible! Itcould not be! Yes, it was; there they were. What! introducing hisfriend! Could he believe his eyes! He looked again, and wasunder the painful necessity of admitting the veracity of his optics;Mrs. Budger was dancing with Mr. Tracy Tupman; there was nomistaking the fact. There was the widow before him, bouncingbodily here and there, with unwonted vigour; and Mr. TracyTupman hopping about, with a face expressive of the mostintense solemnity, dancing (as a good many people do) as if aquadrille were not a thing to be laughed at, but a severe trial tothe feelings, which it requires inflexible resolution to encounter.

Silently and patiently did the doctor bear all this, and all thehandings of negus, and watching for glasses, and darting forbiscuits, and coquetting, that ensued; but, a few seconds after thestranger had disappeared to lead Mrs. Budger to her carriage, hedarted swiftly from the room with every particle of his hitherto-bottled-up indignation effervescing, from all parts of his countenance,in a perspiration of passion.

The stranger was returning, and Mr. Tupman was beside him.He spoke in a low tone, and laughed. The little doctor thirstedfor his life. He was exulting. He had triumphed.

'Sir!' said the doctor, in an awful voice, producing a card, andretiring into an angle of the passage, 'my name is Slammer,Doctor Slammer, sir--97th Regiment--Chatham Barracks--mycard, Sir, my card.' He would have added more, but his indignationchoked him.

'Ah!' replied the stranger coolly, 'Slammer--much obliged--polite attention--not ill now, Slammer--but when I am--knockyou up.'

'You--you're a shuffler, sir,' gasped the furious doctor, 'apoltroon--a coward--a liar--a--a--will nothing induce you togive me your card, sir!''Oh! I see,' said the stranger, half aside, 'negus too strong here--liberal landlord--very foolish--very--lemonade much better--hot rooms--elderly gentlemen--suffer for it in the morning--cruel--cruel;' and he moved on a step or two.

'You are stopping in this house, Sir,' said the indignant littleman; 'you are intoxicated now, Sir; you shall hear from me in themorning, sir. I shall find you out, sir; I shall find you out.'

'Rather you found me out than found me at home,' replied theunmoved stranger.

Doctor Slammer looked unutterable ferocity, as he fixed hishat on his head with an indignant knock; and the stranger andMr. Tupman ascended to the bedroom of the latter to restore theborrowed plumage to the unconscious Winkle.

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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