Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 59)

And numerous indeed are the hearts to which Christmasbrings a brief season of happiness and enjoyment. How manyfamilies, whose members have been dispersed and scattered farand wide, in the restless struggles of life, are then reunited, andmeet once again in that happy state of companionship and mutualgoodwill, which is a source of such pure and unalloyed delight;and one so incompatible with the cares and sorrows of the world,that the religious belief of the most civilised nations, and the rudetraditions of the roughest savages, alike number it among thefirst joys of a future condition of existence, provided for theblessed and happy! How many old recollections, and how manydormant sympathies, does Christmas time awaken!

We write these words now, many miles distant from the spotat which, year after year, we met on that day, a merry and joyouscircle. Many of the hearts that throbbed so gaily then, haveceased to beat; many of the looks that shone so brightly then,have ceased to glow; the hands we grasped, have grown cold; theeyes we sought, have hid their lustre in the grave; and yet the oldhouse, the room, the merry voices and smiling faces, the jest,the laugh, the most minute and trivial circumstances connectedwith those happy meetings, crowd upon our mind at eachrecurrence of the season, as if the last assemblage had been butyesterday! Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to thedelusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man thepleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and thetraveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fireside andhis quiet home!

But we are so taken up and occupied with the good qualities ofthis saint Christmas, that we are keeping Mr. Pickwick and hisfriends waiting in the cold on the outside of the Muggletoncoach, which they have just attained, well wrapped up in great-coats, shawls, and comforters. The portmanteaus and carpet-bags have been stowed away, and Mr. Weller and the guard areendeavouring to insinuate into the fore-boot a huge cod-fishseveral sizes too large for it--which is snugly packed up, in a longbrown basket, with a layer of straw over the top, and which hasbeen left to the last, in order that he may repose in safety on thehalf-dozen barrels of real native oysters, all the property ofMr. Pickwick, which have been arranged in regular order at thebottom of the receptacle. The interest displayed in Mr. Pickwick'scountenance is most intense, as Mr. Weller and the guard try tosqueeze the cod-fish into the boot, first head first, and then tailfirst, and then top upward, and then bottom upward, and thenside-ways, and then long-ways, all of which artifices the implacablecod-fish sturdily resists, until the guard accidentally hits himin the very middle of the basket, whereupon he suddenly disappearsinto the boot, and with him, the head and shoulders ofthe guard himself, who, not calculating upon so sudden acessation of the passive resistance of the cod-fish, experiences avery unexpected shock, to the unsmotherable delight of all theporters and bystanders. Upon this, Mr. Pickwick smiles withgreat good-humour, and drawing a shilling from his waistcoatpocket, begs the guard, as he picks himself out of the boot, todrink his health in a glass of hot brandy-and-water; at which theguard smiles too, and Messrs. Snodgrass, Winkle, and Tupman,all smile in company. The guard and Mr. Weller disappear forfive minutes, most probably to get the hot brandy-and-water, forthey smell very strongly of it, when they return, the coachmanmounts to the box, Mr. Weller jumps up behind, the Pickwickianspull their coats round their legs and their shawls over their noses,the helpers pull the horse-cloths off, the coachman shouts out acheery 'All right,' and away they go.

They have rumbled through the streets, and jolted over thestones, and at length reach the wide and open country. Thewheels skim over the hard and frosty ground; and the horses,bursting into a canter at a smart crack of the whip, step along theroad as if the load behind them--coach, passengers, cod-fish,oyster-barrels, and all--were but a feather at their heels. Theyhave descended a gentle slope, and enter upon a level, as compactand dry as a solid block of marble, two miles long. Another crackof the whip, and on they speed, at a smart gallop, the horsestossing their heads and rattling the harness, as if in exhilarationat the rapidity of the motion; while the coachman, holding whipand reins in one hand, takes off his hat with the other, and restingit on his knees, pulls out his handkerchief, and wipes his forehead,partly because he has a habit of doing it, and partlybecause it's as well to show the passengers how cool he is, andwhat an easy thing it is to drive four-in-hand, when you have hadas much practice as he has. Having done this very leisurely(otherwise the effect would be materially impaired), he replaceshis handkerchief, pulls on his hat, adjusts his gloves, squares hiselbows, cracks the whip again, and on they speed, more merrilythan before.A few small houses, scattered on either side of the road,betoken the entrance to some town or village. The lively notesof the guard's key-bugle vibrate in the clear cold air, and wakeup the old gentleman inside, who, carefully letting down thewindow-sash half-way, and standing sentry over the air, takes ashort peep out, and then carefully pulling it up again, informs theother inside that they're going to change directly; on which theother inside wakes himself up, and determines to postpone hisnext nap until after the stoppage. Again the bugle sounds lustilyforth, and rouses the cottager's wife and children, who peep outat the house door, and watch the coach till it turns the corner,when they once more crouch round the blazing fire, and throw onanother log of wood against father comes home; while fatherhimself, a full mile off, has just exchanged a friendly nod with thecoachman, and turned round to take a good long stare at thevehicle as it whirls away.

And now the bugle plays a lively air as the coach rattlesthrough the ill-paved streets of a country town; and the coachman,undoing the buckle which keeps his ribands together,prepares to throw them off the moment he stops. Mr. Pickwickemerges from his coat collar, and looks about him with greatcuriosity; perceiving which, the coachman informs Mr. Pickwickof the name of the town, and tells him it was market-day yesterday,both of which pieces of information Mr. Pickwick retails tohis fellow-passengers; whereupon they emerge from their coatcollars too, and look about them also. Mr. Winkle, who sits atthe extreme edge, with one leg dangling in the air, is nearlyprecipitated into the street, as the coach twists round the sharpcorner by the cheesemonger's shop, and turns into the market-place; and before Mr. Snodgrass, who sits next to him, hasrecovered from his alarm, they pull up at the inn yard where thefresh horses, with cloths on, are already waiting. The coachmanthrows down the reins and gets down himself, and the otheroutside passengers drop down also; except those who have nogreat confidence in their ability to get up again; and they remainwhere they are, and stamp their feet against the coach to warmthem--looking, with longing eyes and red noses, at the brightfire in the inn bar, and the sprigs of holly with red berries whichornament the window.

But the guard has delivered at the corn-dealer's shop, thebrown paper packet he took out of the little pouch which hangsover his shoulder by a leathern strap; and has seen the horsescarefully put to; and has thrown on the pavement the saddlewhich was brought from London on the coach roof; and hasassisted in the conference between the coachman and the hostlerabout the gray mare that hurt her off fore-leg last Tuesday; andhe and Mr. Weller are all right behind, and the coachman is allright in front, and the old gentleman inside, who has kept thewindow down full two inches all this time, has pulled it up again,and the cloths are off, and they are all ready for starting, exceptthe 'two stout gentlemen,' whom the coachman inquires afterwith some impatience. Hereupon the coachman, and the guard,and Sam Weller, and Mr. Winkle, and Mr. Snodgrass, and allthe hostlers, and every one of the idlers, who are more in numberthan all the others put together, shout for the missing gentlemenas loud as they can bawl. A distant response is heard from theyard, and Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Tupman come running down it,quite out of breath, for they have been having a glass of alea-piece, and Mr. Pickwick's fingers are so cold that he has beenfull five minutes before he could find the sixpence to pay for it.The coachman shouts an admonitory 'Now then, gen'l'm'n,' theguard re-echoes it; the old gentleman inside thinks it a veryextraordinary thing that people WILL get down when they knowthere isn't time for it; Mr. Pickwick struggles up on one side,Mr. Tupman on the other; Mr. Winkle cries 'All right'; and offthey start. Shawls are pulled up, coat collars are readjusted, thepavement ceases, the houses disappear; and they are once againdashing along the open road, with the fresh clear air blowing intheir faces, and gladdening their very hearts within them.

Such was the progress of Mr. Pickwick and his friends by theMuggleton Telegraph, on their way to Dingley Dell; and atthree o'clock that afternoon they all stood high and dry, safeand sound, hale and hearty, upon the steps of the Blue Lion,having taken on the road quite enough of ale and brandy, toenable them to bid defiance to the frost that was binding up theearth in its iron fetters, and weaving its beautiful network uponthe trees and hedges. Mr. Pickwick was busily engaged in countingthe barrels of oysters and superintending the disinterment ofthe cod-fish, when he felt himself gently pulled by the skirts of thecoat. Looking round, he discovered that the individual whoresorted to this mode of catching his attention was no other thanMr. Wardle's favourite page, better known to the readers of thisunvarnished history, by the distinguishing appellation of thefat boy.

'Aha!' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Aha!' said the fat boy.

As he said it, he glanced from the cod-fish to the oyster-barrels, and chuckled joyously. He was fatter than ever.

'Well, you look rosy enough, my young friend,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'I've been asleep, right in front of the taproom fire,' replied thefat boy, who had heated himself to the colour of a new chimney-pot, in the course of an hour's nap. 'Master sent me over withthe shay-cart, to carry your luggage up to the house. He'd ha'sent some saddle-horses, but he thought you'd rather walk,being a cold day.'

'Yes, yes,' said Mr. Pickwick hastily, for he remembered howthey had travelled over nearly the same ground on a previousoccasion. 'Yes, we would rather walk. Here, Sam!'

'Sir,' said Mr. Weller.

'Help Mr. Wardle's servant to put the packages into the cart,and then ride on with him. We will walk forward at once.'

Having given this direction, and settled with the coachman,Mr. Pickwick and his three friends struck into the footpath acrossthe fields, and walked briskly away, leaving Mr. Weller and thefat boy confronted together for the first time. Sam looked atthe fat boy with great astonishment, but without saying a word;and began to stow the luggage rapidly away in the cart, while thefat boy stood quietly by, and seemed to think it a very interestingsort of thing to see Mr. Weller working by himself.

'There,' said Sam, throwing in the last carpet-bag, 'there they are!'

'Yes,' said the fat boy, in a very satisfied tone, 'there they are.'

'Vell, young twenty stun,' said Sam, 'you're a nice specimen ofa prize boy, you are!''Thank'ee,' said the fat boy.

'You ain't got nothin' on your mind as makes you fret yourself,have you?' inquired Sam.

'Not as I knows on,' replied the fat boy.

'I should rayther ha' thought, to look at you, that you wasa-labourin' under an unrequited attachment to some young'ooman,' said Sam.

The fat boy shook his head.

'Vell,' said Sam, 'I am glad to hear it. Do you ever drink anythin'?'

'I likes eating better,' replied the boy.

'Ah,' said Sam, 'I should ha' s'posed that; but what I mean is,should you like a drop of anythin' as'd warm you? but I s'poseyou never was cold, with all them elastic fixtures, was you?'

'Sometimes,' replied the boy; 'and I likes a drop of something,when it's good.'

'Oh, you do, do you?' said Sam, 'come this way, then!'

The Blue Lion tap was soon gained, and the fat boy swalloweda glass of liquor without so much as winking--a feat whichconsiderably advanced him in Mr. Weller's good opinion. Mr.Weller having transacted a similar piece of business on his ownaccount, they got into the cart.

'Can you drive?' said the fat boy.'I should rayther think so,' replied Sam.

'There, then,' said the fat boy, putting the reins in his hand,and pointing up a lane, 'it's as straight as you can go; you can'tmiss it.'

With these words, the fat boy laid himself affectionately downby the side of the cod-fish, and, placing an oyster-barrel underhis head for a pillow, fell asleep instantaneously.

'Well,' said Sam, 'of all the cool boys ever I set my eyes on, thishere young gen'l'm'n is the coolest. Come, wake up, young dropsy!'

But as young dropsy evinced no symptoms of returning animation,Sam Weller sat himself down in front of the cart, andstarting the old horse with a jerk of the rein, jogged steadily on,towards the Manor Farm.

Meanwhile, Mr. Pickwick and his friends having walked theirblood into active circulation, proceeded cheerfully on. The pathswere hard; the grass was crisp and frosty; the air had a fine, dry,bracing coldness; and the rapid approach of the gray twilight(slate-coloured is a better term in frosty weather) made themlook forward with pleasant anticipation to the comforts whichawaited them at their hospitable entertainer's. It was the sort ofafternoon that might induce a couple of elderly gentlemen, in alonely field, to take off their greatcoats and play at leap-frog inpure lightness of heart and gaiety; and we firmly believe that hadMr. Tupman at that moment proffered 'a back,' Mr. Pickwickwould have accepted his offer with the utmost avidity.

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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