Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 61)

Here Mr. Pickwick was interrupted by immense applause fromthe ladies, echoed by the gentlemen, during which the owner ofthe eyes was distinctly heard to state that she could kiss that dearMr. Pickwick. Whereupon Mr. Winkle gallantly inquired if itcouldn't be done by deputy: to which the young lady with theblack eyes replied 'Go away,' and accompanied the request witha look which said as plainly as a look could do, 'if you can.'

'My dear friends,' resumed Mr. Pickwick, 'I am going topropose the health of the bride and bridegroom--God bless 'em(cheers and tears). My young friend, Trundle, I believe to be avery excellent and manly fellow; and his wife I know to be a veryamiable and lovely girl, well qualified to transfer to anothersphere of action the happiness which for twenty years she hasdiffused around her, in her father's house. (Here, the fat boyburst forth into stentorian blubberings, and was led forth by thecoat collar, by Mr. Weller.) I wish,' added Mr. Pickwick--'Iwish I was young enough to be her sister's husband (cheers),but, failing that, I am happy to be old enough to be her father;for, being so, I shall not be suspected of any latent designs whenI say, that I admire, esteem, and love them both (cheers andsobs). The bride's father, our good friend there, is a nobleperson, and I am proud to know him (great uproar). He is a kind,excellent, independent-spirited, fine-hearted, hospitable, liberalman (enthusiastic shouts from the poor relations, at all theadjectives; and especially at the two last). That his daughtermay enjoy all the happiness, even he can desire; and that he mayderive from the contemplation of her felicity all the gratificationof heart and peace of mind which he so well deserves, is, I ampersuaded, our united wish. So, let us drink their healths, andwish them prolonged life, and every blessing!'

Mr. Pickwick concluded amidst a whirlwind of applause; andonce more were the lungs of the supernumeraries, under Mr.Weller's command, brought into active and efficient operation.Mr. Wardle proposed Mr. Pickwick; Mr. Pickwick proposed theold lady. Mr. Snodgrass proposed Mr. Wardle; Mr. Wardleproposed Mr. Snodgrass. One of the poor relations proposedMr. Tupman, and the other poor relation proposed Mr. Winkle;all was happiness and festivity, until the mysterious disappearanceof both the poor relations beneath the table, warned the partythat it was time to adjourn.

At dinner they met again, after a five-and-twenty mile walk,undertaken by the males at Wardle's recommendation, to get ridof the effects of the wine at breakfast. The poor relations hadkept in bed all day, with the view of attaining the same happyconsummation, but, as they had been unsuccessful, they stoppedthere. Mr. Weller kept the domestics in a state of perpetualhilarity; and the fat boy divided his time into small alternateallotments of eating and sleeping.

The dinner was as hearty an affair as the breakfast, and wasquite as noisy, without the tears. Then came the dessert and somemore toasts. Then came the tea and coffee; and then, the ball.

The best sitting-room at Manor Farm was a good, long, dark-panelled room with a high chimney-piece, and a capaciouschimney, up which you could have driven one of the new patentcabs, wheels and all. At the upper end of the room, seated in ashady bower of holly and evergreens were the two best fiddlers,and the only harp, in all Muggleton. In all sorts of recesses, andon all kinds of brackets, stood massive old silver candlestickswith four branches each. The carpet was up, the candles burnedbright, the fire blazed and crackled on the hearth, and merryvoices and light-hearted laughter rang through the room. If anyof the old English yeomen had turned into fairies when theydied, it was just the place in which they would have held their revels.

If anything could have added to the interest of this agreeablescene, it would have been the remarkable fact of Mr. Pickwick'sappearing without his gaiters, for the first time within thememory of his oldest friends.

'You mean to dance?' said Wardle.

'Of course I do,' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'Don't you see I amdressed for the purpose?' Mr. Pickwick called attention to hisspeckled silk stockings, and smartly tied pumps.

'YOU in silk stockings!' exclaimed Mr. Tupman jocosely.

'And why not, sir--why not?' said Mr. Pickwick, turningwarmly upon him.'Oh, of course there is no reason why you shouldn't wearthem,' responded Mr. Tupman.

'I imagine not, sir--I imagine not,' said Mr. Pickwick, in avery peremptory tone.

Mr. Tupman had contemplated a laugh, but he found it wasa serious matter; so he looked grave, and said they were apretty pattern.

'I hope they are,' said Mr. Pickwick, fixing his eyes upon hisfriend. 'You see nothing extraordinary in the stockings, ASstockings, I trust, Sir?'

'Certainly not. Oh, certainly not,' replied Mr. Tupman. Hewalked away; and Mr. Pickwick's countenance resumed itscustomary benign expression.

'We are all ready, I believe,' said Mr. Pickwick, who wasstationed with the old lady at the top of the dance, and hadalready made four false starts, in his excessive anxiety to commence.

'Then begin at once,' said Wardle. 'Now!'

Up struck the two fiddles and the one harp, and off wentMr. Pickwick into hands across, when there was a generalclapping of hands, and a cry of 'Stop, stop!'

'What's the matter?' said Mr. Pickwick, who was only broughtto, by the fiddles and harp desisting, and could have been stoppedby no other earthly power, if the house had been on fire.'Where's Arabella Allen?' cried a dozen voices.

'And Winkle?'added Mr. Tupman.

'Here we are!' exclaimed that gentleman, emerging with hispretty companion from the corner; as he did so, it would havebeen hard to tell which was the redder in the face, he or theyoung lady with the black eyes.

'What an extraordinary thing it is, Winkle,' said Mr. Pickwick,rather pettishly, 'that you couldn't have taken your place before.'

'Not at all extraordinary,' said Mr. Winkle.

'Well,' said Mr. Pickwick, with a very expressive smile, as hiseyes rested on Arabella, 'well, I don't know that it WASextraordinary, either, after all.'

However, there was no time to think more about the matter,for the fiddles and harp began in real earnest. Away went Mr.Pickwick--hands across--down the middle to the very end of theroom, and half-way up the chimney, back again to the door--poussette everywhere--loud stamp on the ground--ready for thenext couple--off again--all the figure over once more--anotherstamp to beat out the time--next couple, and the next, and thenext again--never was such going; at last, after they had reachedthe bottom of the dance, and full fourteen couple after the oldlady had retired in an exhausted state, and the clergyman's wifehad been substituted in her stead, did that gentleman, when therewas no demand whatever on his exertions, keep perpetuallydancing in his place, to keep time to the music, smiling on hispartner all the while with a blandness of demeanour whichbaffles all description.

Long before Mr. Pickwick was weary of dancing, the newly-married couple had retired from the scene. There was a glorioussupper downstairs, notwithstanding, and a good long sittingafter it; and when Mr. Pickwick awoke, late the next morning,he had a confused recollection of having, severally andconfidentially, invited somewhere about five-and-forty people to dinewith him at the George and Vulture, the very first time they cameto London; which Mr. Pickwick rightly considered a prettycertain indication of his having taken something besides exercise,on the previous night.

'And so your family has games in the kitchen to-night, mydear, has they?' inquired Sam of Emma.

'Yes, Mr. Weller,' replied Emma; 'we always have on ChristmasEve. Master wouldn't neglect to keep it up on any account.'

'Your master's a wery pretty notion of keeping anythin' up,my dear,' said Mr. Weller; 'I never see such a sensible sort ofman as he is, or such a reg'lar gen'l'm'n.''Oh, that he is!' said the fat boy, joining in the conversation;'don't he breed nice pork!' The fat youth gave a semi-cannibalicleer at Mr. Weller, as he thought of the roast legs and gravy.

'Oh, you've woke up, at last, have you?' said Sam.

The fat boy nodded.

'I'll tell you what it is, young boa-constructer,' said Mr. Wellerimpressively; 'if you don't sleep a little less, and exercise a littlemore, wen you comes to be a man you'll lay yourself open to thesame sort of personal inconwenience as was inflicted on the oldgen'l'm'n as wore the pigtail.'

'What did they do to him?' inquired the fat boy, in a faltering voice.

'I'm a-going to tell you,' replied Mr. Weller; 'he was one o' thelargest patterns as was ever turned out--reg'lar fat man, ashadn't caught a glimpse of his own shoes for five-and-forty year.'

'Lor!' exclaimed Emma.

'No, that he hadn't, my dear,' said Mr. Weller; 'and if you'dput an exact model of his own legs on the dinin'-table afore him,he wouldn't ha' known 'em. Well, he always walks to his officewith a wery handsome gold watch-chain hanging out, about afoot and a quarter, and a gold watch in his fob pocket as wasworth--I'm afraid to say how much, but as much as a watch canbe--a large, heavy, round manufacter, as stout for a watch, ashe was for a man, and with a big face in proportion. "You'dbetter not carry that 'ere watch," says the old gen'l'm'n's friends,"you'll be robbed on it," says they. "Shall I?" says he. "Yes, youwill," says they. "Well," says he, "I should like to see the thiefas could get this here watch out, for I'm blessed if I ever can, it'ssuch a tight fit," says he, "and wenever I vants to know what'so'clock, I'm obliged to stare into the bakers' shops," he says.Well, then he laughs as hearty as if he was a-goin' to pieces, andout he walks agin with his powdered head and pigtail, androlls down the Strand with the chain hangin' out furder thanever, and the great round watch almost bustin' through his graykersey smalls. There warn't a pickpocket in all London as didn'ttake a pull at that chain, but the chain 'ud never break, and thewatch 'ud never come out, so they soon got tired of draggingsuch a heavy old gen'l'm'n along the pavement, and he'd gohome and laugh till the pigtail wibrated like the penderlum of aDutch clock. At last, one day the old gen'l'm'n was a-rollin'along, and he sees a pickpocket as he know'd by sight, a-comingup, arm in arm with a little boy with a wery large head. "Here'sa game," says the old gen'l'm'n to himself, "they're a-goin' tohave another try, but it won't do!" So he begins a-chucklin'wery hearty, wen, all of a sudden, the little boy leaves hold of thepickpocket's arm, and rushes head foremost straight into the oldgen'l'm'n's stomach, and for a moment doubles him right upwith the pain. "Murder!" says the old gen'l'm'n. "All right, Sir,"says the pickpocket, a-wisperin' in his ear. And wen he comestraight agin, the watch and chain was gone, and what's worsethan that, the old gen'l'm'n's digestion was all wrong ever afterwards,to the wery last day of his life; so just you look about you,young feller, and take care you don't get too fat.'

As Mr. Weller concluded this moral tale, with which the fatboy appeared much affected, they all three repaired to the largekitchen, in which the family were by this time assembled,according to annual custom on Christmas Eve, observed by oldWardle's forefathers from time immemorial.

From the centre of the ceiling of this kitchen, old Wardle hadjust suspended, with his own hands, a huge branch of mistletoe,and this same branch of mistletoe instantaneously gave rise to ascene of general and most delightful struggling and confusion; inthe midst of which, Mr. Pickwick, with a gallantry that wouldhave done honour to a descendant of Lady Tollimglower herself,took the old lady by the hand, led her beneath the mysticbranch, and saluted her in all courtesy and decorum. The old ladysubmitted to this piece of practical politeness with all the dignitywhich befitted so important and serious a solemnity, but theyounger ladies, not being so thoroughly imbued with a superstitiousveneration for the custom, or imagining that the value ofa salute is very much enhanced if it cost a little trouble to obtainit, screamed and struggled, and ran into corners, and threatenedand remonstrated, and did everything but leave the room, untilsome of the less adventurous gentlemen were on the point ofdesisting, when they all at once found it useless to resist anylonger, and submitted to be kissed with a good grace. Mr. Winklekissed the young lady with the black eyes, and Mr. Snodgrasskissed Emily; and Mr. Weller, not being particular about theform of being under the mistletoe, kissed Emma and the otherfemale servants, just as he caught them. As to the poor relations,they kissed everybody, not even excepting the plainer portions ofthe young lady visitors, who, in their excessive confusion, ranright under the mistletoe, as soon as it was hung up, withoutknowing it! Wardle stood with his back to the fire, surveying thewhole scene, with the utmost satisfaction; and the fat boy tookthe opportunity of appropriating to his own use, and summarilydevouring, a particularly fine mince-pie, that had been carefullyput by, for somebody else.

Now, the screaming had subsided, and faces were in a glow,and curls in a tangle, and Mr. Pickwick, after kissing the old ladyas before mentioned, was standing under the mistletoe, lookingwith a very pleased countenance on all that was passing aroundhim, when the young lady with the black eyes, after a littlewhispering with the other young ladies, made a sudden dartforward, and, putting her arm round Mr. Pickwick's neck,saluted him affectionately on the left cheek; and before Mr.Pickwick distinctly knew what was the matter, he was surroundedby the whole body, and kissed by every one of them.

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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