Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 5)

That gentleman was fast asleep; the restoration was soon made.The stranger was extremely jocose; and Mr. Tracy Tupman,being quite bewildered with wine, negus, lights, and ladies,thought the whole affair was an exquisite joke. His new frienddeparted; and, after experiencing some slight difficulty in findingthe orifice in his nightcap, originally intended for the reception ofhis head, and finally overturning his candlestick in his struggles toput it on, Mr. Tracy Tupman managed to get into bed by a seriesof complicated evolutions, and shortly afterwards sank into repose.

Seven o'clock had hardly ceased striking on the followingmorning, when Mr. Pickwick's comprehensive mind was arousedfrom the state of unconsciousness, in which slumber had plungedit, by a loud knocking at his chamber door.'Who's there?' said Mr. Pickwick, starting up in bed.

'Boots, sir.'

'What do you want?'

'Please, sir, can you tell me which gentleman of your partywears a bright blue dress-coat, with a gilt button with "P. C."on it?'

'It's been given out to brush,' thought Mr. Pickwick, 'and theman has forgotten whom it belongs to.' 'Mr. Winkle,'he calledout, 'next room but two, on the right hand.''Thank'ee, sir,' said the Boots, and away he went.

'What's the matter?' cried Mr. Tupman, as a loud knocking athis door roused hint from his oblivious repose.

'Can I speak to Mr. Winkle, sir?' replied Boots from the outside.

'Winkle--Winkle!' shouted Mr. Tupman, calling into theinner room.'Hollo!' replied a faint voice from within the bed-clothes.

'You're wanted--some one at the door;' and, having exertedhimself to articulate thus much, Mr. Tracy Tupman turnedround and fell fast asleep again.

'Wanted!' said Mr. Winkle, hastily jumping out of bed, andputting on a few articles of clothing; 'wanted! at this distancefrom town--who on earth can want me?'

'Gentleman in the coffee-room, sir,' replied the Boots, asMr. Winkle opened the door and confronted him; 'gentlemansays he'll not detain you a moment, Sir, but he can take no denial.'

'Very odd!' said Mr. Winkle; 'I'll be down directly.'

He hurriedly wrapped himself in a travelling-shawl anddressing-gown, and proceeded downstairs. An old woman and acouple of waiters were cleaning the coffee-room, and an officer inundress uniform was looking out of the window. He turnedround as Mr. Winkle entered, and made a stiff inclination of thehead. Having ordered the attendants to retire, and closed thedoor very carefully, he said, 'Mr. Winkle, I presume?'

'My name is Winkle, sir.'

'You will not be surprised, sir, when I inform you that I havecalled here this morning on behalf of my friend, Doctor Slammer,of the 97th.'

'Doctor Slammer!' said Mr. Winkle.

'Doctor Slammer. He begged me to express his opinion thatyour conduct of last evening was of a description which nogentleman could endure; and' (he added) 'which no one gentlemanwould pursue towards another.'

Mr. Winkle's astonishment was too real, and too evident, toescape the observation of Doctor Slammer's friend; he thereforeproceeded--'My friend, Doctor Slammer, requested me to add,that he was firmly persuaded you were intoxicated during aportion of the evening, and possibly unconscious of the extent ofthe insult you were guilty of. He commissioned me to say, thatshould this be pleaded as an excuse for your behaviour, he willconsent to accept a written apology, to be penned by you, frommy dictation.'

'A written apology!' repeated Mr. Winkle, in the mostemphatic tone of amazement possible.

'Of course you know the alternative,' replied the visitor coolly.

'Were you intrusted with this message to me by name?'inquired Mr. Winkle, whose intellects were hopelessly confusedby this extraordinary conversation.

'I was not present myself,' replied the visitor, 'and in consequenceof your firm refusal to give your card to Doctor Slammer,I was desired by that gentleman to identify the wearer of a veryuncommon coat--a bright blue dress-coat, with a gilt buttondisplaying a bust, and the letters "P. C."'

Mr. Winkle actually staggered with astonishment as he heardhis own costume thus minutely described. Doctor Slammer'sfriend proceeded:--'From the inquiries I made at the bar, justnow, I was convinced that the owner of the coat in questionarrived here, with three gentlemen, yesterday afternoon. Iimmediately sent up to the gentleman who was described asappearing the head of the party, and he at once referred me to you.'

If the principal tower of Rochester Castle had suddenly walkedfrom its foundation, and stationed itself opposite the coffee-roomwindow, Mr. Winkle's surprise would have been as nothingcompared with the profound astonishment with which he hadheard this address. His first impression was that his coat had beenstolen. 'Will you allow me to detain you one moment?' said he.

'Certainly,' replied the unwelcome visitor.

Mr. Winkle ran hastily upstairs, and with a trembling handopened the bag. There was the coat in its usual place, butexhibiting, on a close inspection, evident tokens of having beenworn on the preceding night.

'It must be so,' said Mr. Winkle, letting the coat fall from hishands. 'I took too much wine after dinner, and have a very vaguerecollection of walking about the streets, and smoking a cigarafterwards. The fact is, I was very drunk;--I must have changedmy coat--gone somewhere--and insulted somebody--I have nodoubt of it; and this message is the terrible consequence.' Sayingwhich, Mr. Winkle retraced his steps in the direction of thecoffee-room, with the gloomy and dreadful resolve of acceptingthe challenge of the warlike Doctor Slammer, and abiding by theworst consequences that might ensue.

To this determination Mr. Winkle was urged by a variety ofconsiderations, the first of which was his reputation with theclub. He had always been looked up to as a high authority on allmatters of amusement and dexterity, whether offensive, defensive,or inoffensive; and if, on this very first occasion of being putto the test, he shrunk back from the trial, beneath his leader's eye,his name and standing were lost for ever. Besides, he rememberedto have heard it frequently surmised by the uninitiated in suchmatters that by an understood arrangement between the seconds,the pistols were seldom loaded with ball; and, furthermore, hereflected that if he applied to Mr. Snodgrass to act as his second,and depicted the danger in glowing terms, that gentleman mightpossibly communicate the intelligence to Mr. Pickwick, whowould certainly lose no time in transmitting it to the localauthorities, and thus prevent the killing or maiming of his follower.

Such were his thoughts when he returned to the coffee-room,and intimated his intention of accepting the doctor's challenge.

'Will you refer me to a friend, to arrange the time and place ofmeeting?' said the officer.

'Quite unnecessary,' replied Mr. Winkle; 'name them to me,and I can procure the attendance of a friend afterwards.'

'Shall we say--sunset this evening?' inquired the officer, in acareless tone.

'Very good,' replied Mr. Winkle, thinking in his heart it wasvery bad.

'You know Fort Pitt?'

'Yes; I saw it yesterday.'

'If you will take the trouble to turn into the field which bordersthe trench, take the foot-path to the left when you arrive at anangle of the fortification, and keep straight on, till you see me, Iwill precede you to a secluded place, where the affair can beconducted without fear of interruption.'

'Fear of interruption!' thought Mr. Winkle.

'Nothing more to arrange, I think,' said the officer.

'I am not aware of anything more,' replied Mr. Winkle.'Good-morning.'

'Good-morning;' and the officer whistled a lively air as hestrode away.

That morning's breakfast passed heavily off. Mr. Tupman wasnot in a condition to rise, after the unwonted dissipation of theprevious night; Mr. Snodgrass appeared to labour under apoetical depression of spirits; and even Mr. Pickwick evinced anunusual attachment to silence and soda-water. Mr. Winkleeagerly watched his opportunity: it was not long wanting. Mr.Snodgrass proposed a visit to the castle, and as Mr. Winkle wasthe only other member of the party disposed to walk, they wentout together.'Snodgrass,' said Mr. Winkle, when they had turned out of thepublic street. 'Snodgrass, my dear fellow, can I rely upon yoursecrecy?' As he said this, he most devoutly and earnestly hopedhe could not.

'You can,' replied Mr. Snodgrass. 'Hear me swear--'

'No, no,' interrupted Winkle, terrified at the idea of hiscompanion's unconsciously pledging himself not to give information;'don't swear, don't swear; it's quite unnecessary.'

Mr. Snodgrass dropped the hand which he had, in the spirit ofpoesy, raised towards the clouds as he made the above appeal,and assumed an attitude of attention.

'I want your assistance, my dear fellow, in an affair ofhonour,' said Mr. Winkle.

'You shall have it,' replied Mr. Snodgrass, clasping his friend's hand.

'With a doctor--Doctor Slammer, of the 97th,' said Mr.Winkle, wishing to make the matter appear as solemn as possible;'an affair with an officer, seconded by another officer, at sunsetthis evening, in a lonely field beyond Fort Pitt.'

'I will attend you,' said Mr. Snodgrass.

He was astonished, but by no means dismayed. It is extraordinaryhow cool any party but the principal can be in such cases. Mr. Winklehad forgotten this. He had judged of his friend's feelings by his own.

'The consequences may be dreadful,' said Mr. Winkle.

'I hope not,' said Mr. Snodgrass.

'The doctor, I believe, is a very good shot,' said Mr. Winkle.

'Most of these military men are,' observed Mr. Snodgrasscalmly; 'but so are you, ain't you?'Mr. Winkle replied in the affirmative; and perceiving that hehad not alarmed his companion sufficiently, changed his ground.

'Snodgrass,' he said, in a voice tremulous with emotion, 'if Ifall, you will find in a packet which I shall place in your hands anote for my-- for my father.'

This attack was a failure also. Mr. Snodgrass was affected, buthe undertook the delivery of the note as readily as if he had beena twopenny postman.

'If I fall,' said Mr. Winkle, 'or if the doctor falls, you, my dearfriend, will be tried as an accessory before the fact. Shall Iinvolve my friend in transportation--possibly for life!'Mr. Snodgrass winced a little at this, but his heroism wasinvincible. 'In the cause of friendship,' he fervently exclaimed, 'Iwould brave all dangers.'

How Mr. Winkle cursed his companion's devoted friendshipinternally, as they walked silently along, side by side, for someminutes, each immersed in his own meditations! The morningwas wearing away; he grew desperate.

'Snodgrass,' he said, stopping suddenly, 'do not let me bebalked in this matter--do not give information to the localauthorities--do not obtain the assistance of several peaceofficers, to take either me or Doctor Slammer, of the 97thRegiment, at present quartered in Chatham Barracks, intocustody, and thus prevent this duel!--I say, do not.'

Mr. Snodgrass seized his friend's hand warmly, as heenthusiastically replied, 'Not for worlds!'

A thrill passed over Mr. Winkle's frame as the conviction thathe had nothing to hope from his friend's fears, and that he wasdestined to become an animated target, rushed forcibly upon him.

The state of the case having been formally explained to Mr.Snodgrass, and a case of satisfactory pistols, with the satisfactoryaccompaniments of powder, ball, and caps, having been hiredfrom a manufacturer in Rochester, the two friends returned totheir inn; Mr. Winkle to ruminate on the approaching struggle,and Mr. Snodgrass to arrange the weapons of war, and put theminto proper order for immediate use.

it was a dull and heavy evening when they again sallied forthon their awkward errand. Mr. Winkle was muffled up in a hugecloak to escape observation, and Mr. Snodgrass bore under histhe instruments of destruction.

'Have you got everything?' said Mr. Winkle, in an agitated tone.

'Everything,' replied Mr. Snodgrass; 'plenty of ammunition, incase the shots don't take effect. There's a quarter of a pound ofpowder in the case, and I have got two newspapers in my pocketfor the loadings.'

These were instances of friendship for which any man mightreasonably feel most grateful. The presumption is, that thegratitude of Mr. Winkle was too powerful for utterance, as hesaid nothing, but continued to walk on--rather slowly.

'We are in excellent time,' said Mr. Snodgrass, as they climbedthe fence of the first field;'the sun is just going down.' Mr. Winklelooked up at the declining orb and painfully thought of theprobability of his 'going down' himself, before long.

'There's the officer,' exclaimed Mr. Winkle, after a few minutes walking.'Where?' said Mr. Snodgrass.

'There--the gentleman in the blue cloak.' Mr. Snodgrasslooked in the direction indicated by the forefinger of his friend,and observed a figure, muffled up, as he had described. Theofficer evinced his consciousness of their presence by slightlybeckoning with his hand; and the two friends followed him at alittle distance, as he walked away.

The evening grew more dull every moment, and a melancholywind sounded through the deserted fields, like a distant giantwhistling for his house-dog. The sadness of the scene imparted asombre tinge to the feelings of Mr. Winkle. He started as theypassed the angle of the trench--it looked like a colossal grave.

The officer turned suddenly from the path, and after climbing apaling, and scaling a hedge, entered a secluded field. Two gentlemenwere waiting in it; one was a little, fat man, with black hair;and the other--a portly personage in a braided surtout--wassitting with perfect equanimity on a camp-stool.

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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