Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 60)

However, Mr. Tupman did not volunteer any such accommodation,and the friends walked on, conversing merrily. Asthey turned into a lane they had to cross, the sound of manyvoices burst upon their ears; and before they had even hadtime to form a guess to whom they belonged, they walkedinto the very centre of the party who were expecting theirarrival--a fact which was first notified to the Pickwickians, bythe loud 'Hurrah,' which burst from old Wardle's lips, whenthey appeared in sight.

First, there was Wardle himself, looking, if that were possible,more jolly than ever; then there were Bella and her faithfulTrundle; and, lastly, there were Emily and some eight or tenyoung ladies, who had all come down to the wedding, which wasto take place next day, and who were in as happy and importanta state as young ladies usually are, on such momentous occasions;and they were, one and all, startling the fields and lanes, far andwide, with their frolic and laughter.

The ceremony of introduction, under such circumstances, wasvery soon performed, or we should rather say that the introductionwas soon over, without any ceremony at all. In two minutesthereafter, Mr. Pickwick was joking with the young ladies whowouldn't come over the stile while he looked--or who, havingpretty feet and unexceptionable ankles, preferred standing on thetop rail for five minutes or so, declaring that they were toofrightened to move--with as much ease and absence of reserve orconstraint, as if he had known them for life. It is worthy ofremark, too, that Mr. Snodgrass offered Emily far more assistancethan the absolute terrors of the stile (although it was full threefeet high, and had only a couple of stepping-stones) wouldseem to require; while one black-eyed young lady in a verynice little pair of boots with fur round the top, was observedto scream very loudly, when Mr. Winkle offered to help her over.

All this was very snug and pleasant. And when the difficultiesof the stile were at last surmounted, and they once more enteredon the open field, old Wardle informed Mr. Pickwick how theyhad all been down in a body to inspect the furniture and fittings-up of the house, which the young couple were to tenant, after theChristmas holidays; at which communication Bella and Trundleboth coloured up, as red as the fat boy after the taproom fire;and the young lady with the black eyes and the fur round theboots, whispered something in Emily's ear, and then glancedarchly at Mr. Snodgrass; to which Emily responded that she wasa foolish girl, but turned very red, notwithstanding; and Mr.Snodgrass, who was as modest as all great geniuses usually are,felt the crimson rising to the crown of his head, and devoutlywished, in the inmost recesses of his own heart, that the younglady aforesaid, with her black eyes, and her archness, and herboots with the fur round the top, were all comfortably depositedin the adjacent county.

But if they were social and happy outside the house, what wasthe warmth and cordiality of their reception when they reachedthe farm! The very servants grinned with pleasure at sight ofMr. Pickwick; and Emma bestowed a half-demure, half-impudent,and all-pretty look of recognition, on Mr. Tupman,which was enough to make the statue of Bonaparte in thepassage, unfold his arms, and clasp her within them.

The old lady was seated with customary state in the frontparlour, but she was rather cross, and, by consequence, mostparticularly deaf. She never went out herself, and like a greatmany other old ladies of the same stamp, she was apt to considerit an act of domestic treason, if anybody else took the liberty ofdoing what she couldn't. So, bless her old soul, she sat as uprightas she could, in her great chair, and looked as fierce as might be--and that was benevolent after all.

'Mother,' said Wardle, 'Mr. Pickwick. You recollect him?'

'Never mind,' replied the old lady, with great dignity. 'Don'ttrouble Mr. Pickwick about an old creetur like me. Nobody caresabout me now, and it's very nat'ral they shouldn't.' Here the oldlady tossed her head, and smoothed down her lavender-colouredsilk dress with trembling hands.'Come, come, ma'am,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I can't let you cutan old friend in this way. I have come down expressly to have along talk, and another rubber with you; and we'll show theseboys and girls how to dance a minuet, before they're eight-and-forty hours older.'

The old lady was rapidly giving way, but she did not like to doit all at once; so she only said, 'Ah! I can't hear him!'

'Nonsense, mother,' said Wardle. 'Come, come, don't becross, there's a good soul. Recollect Bella; come, you must keepher spirits up, poor girl.'

The good old lady heard this, for her lip quivered as her sonsaid it. But age has its little infirmities of temper, and she wasnot quite brought round yet. So, she smoothed down thelavender-coloured dress again, and turning to Mr. Pickwicksaid, 'Ah, Mr. Pickwick, young people was very different, whenI was a girl.'

'No doubt of that, ma'am,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'and that's thereason why I would make much of the few that have any tracesof the old stock'--and saying this, Mr. Pickwick gently pulledBella towards him, and bestowing a kiss upon her forehead,bade her sit down on the little stool at her grandmother's feet.Whether the expression of her countenance, as it was raisedtowards the old lady's face, called up a thought of old times, orwhether the old lady was touched by Mr. Pickwick's affectionategood-nature, or whatever was the cause, she was fairly melted;so she threw herself on her granddaughter's neck, and all thelittle ill-humour evaporated in a gush of silent tears.

A happy party they were, that night. Sedate and solemn werethe score of rubbers in which Mr. Pickwick and the old ladyplayed together; uproarious was the mirth of the round table.Long after the ladies had retired, did the hot elder wine, wellqualified with brandy and spice, go round, and round, and roundagain; and sound was the sleep and pleasant were the dreamsthat followed. It is a remarkable fact that those of Mr. Snodgrassbore constant reference to Emily Wardle; and that the principalfigure in Mr. Winkle's visions was a young lady with black eyes,and arch smile, and a pair of remarkably nice boots with furround the tops.

Mr. Pickwick was awakened early in the morning, by a hum ofvoices and a pattering of feet, sufficient to rouse even the fat boyfrom his heavy slumbers. He sat up in bed and listened. Thefemale servants and female visitors were running constantly toand fro; and there were such multitudinous demands for hotwater, such repeated outcries for needles and thread, and somany half-suppressed entreaties of 'Oh, do come and tie me,there's a dear!' that Mr. Pickwick in his innocence began toimagine that something dreadful must have occurred--when hegrew more awake, and remembered the wedding. The occasionbeing an important one, he dressed himself with peculiar care,and descended to the breakfast-room.

There were all the female servants in a bran new uniform ofpink muslin gowns with white bows in their caps, running aboutthe house in a state of excitement and agitation which it wouldbe impossible to describe. The old lady was dressed out in abrocaded gown, which had not seen the light for twenty years,saving and excepting such truant rays as had stolen through thechinks in the box in which it had been laid by, during the wholetime. Mr. Trundle was in high feather and spirits, but a littlenervous withal. The hearty old landlord was trying to look verycheerful and unconcerned, but failing signally in the attempt.All the girls were in tears and white muslin, except a select twoor three, who were being honoured with a private view of thebride and bridesmaids, upstairs. All the Pickwickians were inmost blooming array; and there was a terrific roaring on thegrass in front of the house, occasioned by all the men, boys, andhobbledehoys attached to the farm, each of whom had got awhite bow in his button-hole, and all of whom were cheeringwith might and main; being incited thereto, and stimulatedtherein by the precept and example of Mr. Samuel Weller, whohad managed to become mighty popular already, and was asmuch at home as if he had been born on the land.

A wedding is a licensed subject to joke upon, but there reallyis no great joke in the matter after all;--we speak merely of theceremony, and beg it to be distinctly understood that we indulgein no hidden sarcasm upon a married life. Mixed up with thepleasure and joy of the occasion, are the many regrets at quittinghome, the tears of parting between parent and child, theconsciousness of leaving the dearest and kindest friends of thehappiest portion of human life, to encounter its cares and troubleswith others still untried and little known--natural feelings whichwe would not render this chapter mournful by describing, andwhich we should be still more unwilling to be supposed to ridicule.

Let us briefly say, then, that the ceremony was performed bythe old clergyman, in the parish church of Dingley Dell, andthat Mr. Pickwick's name is attached to the register, still preservedin the vestry thereof; that the young lady with the blackeyes signed her name in a very unsteady and tremulous manner;that Emily's signature, as the other bridesmaid, is nearlyillegible; that it all went off in very admirable style; that theyoung ladies generally thought it far less shocking than they hadexpected; and that although the owner of the black eyes and thearch smile informed Mr. Wardle that she was sure she couldnever submit to anything so dreadful, we have the very bestreasons for thinking she was mistaken. To all this, we may add,that Mr. Pickwick was the first who saluted the bride, and thatin so doing he threw over her neck a rich gold watch and chain,which no mortal eyes but the jeweller's had ever beheld before.Then, the old church bell rang as gaily as it could, and they allreturned to breakfast.'Vere does the mince-pies go, young opium-eater?' said Mr.Weller to the fat boy, as he assisted in laying out such articlesof consumption as had not been duly arranged on the previous night.

The fat boy pointed to the destination of the pies.

'Wery good,' said Sam, 'stick a bit o' Christmas in 'em.T'other dish opposite. There; now we look compact and comfortable,as the father said ven he cut his little boy's head off, tocure him o' squintin'.'

As Mr. Weller made the comparison, he fell back a step ortwo, to give full effect to it, and surveyed the preparations withthe utmost satisfaction.

'Wardle,' said Mr. Pickwick, almost as soon as they were allseated, 'a glass of wine in honour of this happy occasion!'

'I shall be delighted, my boy,' said Wardle. 'Joe--damn thatboy, he's gone to sleep.''No, I ain't, sir,' replied the fat boy, starting up from a remotecorner, where, like the patron saint of fat boys--the immortalHorner--he had been devouring a Christmas pie, though notwith the coolness and deliberation which characterised thatyoung gentleman's proceedings.

'Fill Mr. Pickwick's glass.'

'Yes, sir.'

The fat boy filled Mr. Pickwick's glass, and then retiredbehind his master's chair, from whence he watched the play ofthe knives and forks, and the progress of the choice morselsfrom the dishes to the mouths of the company, with a kind ofdark and gloomy joy that was most impressive.

'God bless you, old fellow!' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Same to you, my boy,' replied Wardle; and they pledged eachother, heartily.

'Mrs. Wardle,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'we old folks must have aglass of wine together, in honour of this joyful event.'

The old lady was in a state of great grandeur just then, for shewas sitting at the top of the table in the brocaded gown, withher newly-married granddaughter on one side, and Mr. Pickwickon the other, to do the carving. Mr. Pickwick had not spoken ina very loud tone, but she understood him at once, and drank offa full glass of wine to his long life and happiness; after which theworthy old soul launched forth into a minute and particularaccount of her own wedding, with a dissertation on the fashionof wearing high-heeled shoes, and some particulars concerningthe life and adventures of the beautiful Lady Tollimglower,deceased; at all of which the old lady herself laughed veryheartily indeed, and so did the young ladies too, for they werewondering among themselves what on earth grandma wastalking about. When they laughed, the old lady laughed tentimes more heartily, and said that these always had been consideredcapital stories, which caused them all to laugh again, and putthe old lady into the very best of humours. Then thecake was cut, and passed through the ring; the young ladiessaved pieces to put under their pillows to dream of their futurehusbands on; and a great deal of blushing and merriment wasthereby occasioned.

'Mr. Miller,' said Mr. Pickwick to his old acquaintance, thehard-headed gentleman, 'a glass of wine?'

'With great satisfaction, Mr. Pickwick,' replied the hard-headed gentleman solemnly.

'You'll take me in?' said the benevolent old clergyman.

'And me,' interposed his wife.'And me, and me,' said a couple of poor relations at thebottom of the table, who had eaten and drunk very heartily, andlaughed at everything.

Mr. Pickwick expressed his heartfelt delight at every additionalsuggestion; and his eyes beamed with hilarity and cheerfulness.'Ladies and gentlemen,' said Mr. Pickwick, suddenly rising.

'Hear, hear! Hear, hear! Hear, hear!' cried Mr. Weller, in theexcitement of his feelings.

'Call in all the servants,' cried old Wardle, interposing toprevent the public rebuke which Mr. Weller would otherwisemost indubitably have received from his master. 'Give them aglass of wine each to drink the toast in. Now, Pickwick.'

Amidst the silence of the company, the whispering of thewomen-servants, and the awkward embarrassment of the men,Mr. Pickwick proceeded--

'Ladies and gentlemen--no, I won't say ladies and gentlemen,I'll call you my friends, my dear friends, if the ladies will allowme to take so great a liberty--'

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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