Chapter 16 Too full of Adventure to be briefly described
There is no month in the whole year in which nature wears a more beautifu_ppearance than in the month of August. Spring has many beauties, and May is _resh and blooming month, but the charms of this time of year are enhanced b_heir contrast with the winter season. August has no such advantage. It come_hen we remember nothing but clear skies, green fields, and sweet–smellin_lowers—when the recollection of snow, and ice, and bleak winds, has fade_rom our minds as completely as they have disappeared from the earth—and ye_hat a pleasant time it is! Orchards and cornfields ring with the hum o_abour; trees bend beneath the thick clusters of rich fruit which bow thei_ranches to the ground; and the corn, piled in graceful sheaves, or waving i_very light breath that sweeps above it, as if it wooed the sickle, tinges th_andscape with a golden hue. A mellow softness appears to hang over the whol_arth; the influence of the season seems to extend itself to the very wagon, whose slow motion across the well–reaped field is perceptible only to the eye, but strikes with no harsh sound upon the ear.
As the coach rolls swiftly past the fields and orchards which skirt the road, groups of women and children, piling the fruit in sieves, or gathering th_cattered ears of corn, pause for an instant from their labour, and shadin_he sun–burned face with a still browner hand, gaze upon the passengers wit_urious eyes, while some stout urchin, too small to work, but too mischievou_o be left at home, scrambles over the side of the basket in which he has bee_eposited for security, and kicks and screams with delight. The reaper stop_n his work, and stands with folded arms, looking at the vehicle as it whirl_ast; and the rough cart–horses bestow a sleepy glance upon the smart coac_eam, which says as plainly as a horse’s glance can, ‘It’s all very fine t_ook at, but slow going, over a heavy field, is better than warm work lik_hat, upon a dusty road, after all.’ You cast a look behind you, as you turn _orner of the road. The women and children have resumed their labour; th_eaper once more stoops to his work; the cart–horses have moved on; and al_re again in motion. The influence of a scene like this, was not lost upon th_ell–regulated mind of Mr. Pickwick. Intent upon the resolution he had formed, of exposing the real character of the nefarious Jingle, in any quarter i_hich he might be pursuing his fraudulent designs, he sat at first tacitur_nd contemplative, brooding over the means by which his purpose could be bes_ttained. By degrees his attention grew more and more attracted by the object_round him; and at last he derived as much enjoyment from the ride, as if i_ad been undertaken for the pleasantest reason in the world.
‘Delightful prospect, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘Beats the chimbley–pots, Sir,’ replied Mr. Weller, touching his hat.
‘I suppose you have hardly seen anything but chimney–pots and bricks an_ortar all your life, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick, smiling.
‘I worn’t always a boots, sir,’ said Mr. Weller, with a shake of the head. ‘_os a vaginer’s boy, once.’
‘When was that?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.
‘When I wos first pitched neck and crop into the world, to play at leap–fro_ith its troubles,’ replied Sam. ‘I wos a carrier’s boy at startin’; then _aginer’s, then a helper, then a boots. Now I’m a gen’l’m’n’s servant. I shal_e a gen’l’m’n myself one of these days, perhaps, with a pipe in my mouth, an_ summer–house in the back–garden. Who knows? I shouldn’t be surprised fo_ne.’
‘You are quite a philosopher, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘It runs in the family, I b’lieve, sir,’ replied Mr. Weller. ‘My father’s wer_uch in that line now. If my mother–in–law blows him up, he whistles. Sh_lies in a passion, and breaks his pipe; he steps out, and gets another. The_he screams wery loud, and falls into ‘sterics; and he smokes wery comfortabl_ill she comes to agin. That’s philosophy, Sir, ain’t it?’
‘A very good substitute for it, at all events,’ replied Mr. Pickwick, laughing. ‘It must have been of great service to you, in the course of you_ambling life, Sam.’
‘Service, sir,’ exclaimed Sam. ‘You may say that. Arter I run away from th_arrier, and afore I took up with the vaginer, I had unfurnished lodgin’s fo_ fortnight.’
‘Unfurnished lodgings?’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘Yes—the dry arches of Waterloo Bridge. Fine sleeping–place—vithin te_inutes’ walk of all the public offices—only if there is any objection to it, it is that the sitivation’s rayther too airy. I see some queer sights there.’ ‘Ah, I suppose you did,’ said Mr. Pickwick, with an air of considerabl_nterest.
‘Sights, sir,’ resumed Mr. Weller, ‘as ’ud penetrate your benevolent heart, and come out on the other side. You don’t see the reg’lar wagrants there; trust ’em, they knows better than that. Young beggars, male and female, a_asn’t made a rise in their profession, takes up their quarters ther_ometimes; but it’s generally the worn–out, starving, houseless creeturs a_oll themselves in the dark corners o’ them lonesome places—poor creeturs a_in’t up to the twopenny rope.’
‘And pray, Sam, what is the twopenny rope?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.
‘The twopenny rope, sir,’ replied Mr. Weller, ‘is just a cheap lodgin’ house, where the beds is twopence a night.’
‘What do they call a bed a rope for?’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘Bless your innocence, sir, that ain’t it,’ replied Sam. ‘Ven the lady an_en’l’m’n as keeps the hot–el first begun business, they used to make the bed_n the floor; but this wouldn’t do at no price, ‘cos instead o’ taking _oderate twopenn’orth o’ sleep, the lodgers used to lie there half the day. S_ow they has two ropes, ‘bout six foot apart, and three from the floor, whic_oes right down the room; and the beds are made of slips of coarse sacking, stretched across ’em.’
‘Well,’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘Well,’ said Mr. Weller, ‘the adwantage o’ the plan’s hobvious. At six o’cloc_very mornin’ they let’s go the ropes at one end, and down falls the lodgers.
Consequence is, that being thoroughly waked, they get up wery quietly, an_alk away! Beg your pardon, sir,’ said Sam, suddenly breaking off in hi_oquacious discourse. ‘Is this Bury St. Edmunds?’
‘It is,’ replied Mr. Pickwick.
The coach rattled through the well–paved streets of a handsome little town, o_hriving and cleanly appearance, and stopped before a large inn situated in _ide open street, nearly facing the old abbey.
‘And this,’ said Mr. Pickwick, looking up. ‘Is the Angel! We alight here, Sam.
But some caution is necessary. Order a private room, and do not mention m_ame. You understand.’
‘Right as a trivet, sir,’ replied Mr. Weller, with a wink of intelligence; an_aving dragged Mr. Pickwick’s portmanteau from the hind boot, into which i_ad been hastily thrown when they joined the coach at Eatanswill, Mr. Welle_isappeared on his errand. A private room was speedily engaged; and into i_r. Pickwick was ushered without delay. ‘Now, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick, ‘th_irst thing to be done is to—’ ‘Order dinner, Sir,’ interposed Mr. Weller.
‘It’s wery late, sir.”
‘Ah, so it is,’ said Mr. Pickwick, looking at his watch. ‘You are right, Sam.’
‘And if I might adwise, Sir,’ added Mr. Weller, ‘I’d just have a good night’_est arterwards, and not begin inquiring arter this here deep ’un till th_ornin’. There’s nothin’ so refreshen’ as sleep, sir, as the servant girl sai_fore she drank the egg–cupful of laudanum.’
‘I think you are right, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘But I must first ascertai_hat he is in the house, and not likely to go away.’
‘Leave that to me, Sir,’ said Sam. ‘Let me order you a snug little dinner, an_ake my inquiries below while it’s a–getting ready; I could worm ev’ry secre_ut O’ the boots’s heart, in five minutes, Sir.’ ‘Do so,’ said Mr. Pickwick; and Mr. Weller at once retired.
In half an hour, Mr. Pickwick was seated at a very satisfactory dinner; and i_hree–quarters Mr. Weller returned with the intelligence that Mr. Charle_itz–Marshall had ordered his private room to be retained for him, unti_urther notice. He was going to spend the evening at some private house in th_eighbourhood, had ordered the boots to sit up until his return, and had take_is servant with him.
‘Now, sir,’ argued Mr. Weller, when he had concluded his report, ‘if I can ge_ talk with this here servant in the mornin’, he’ll tell me all his master’_oncerns.’
‘How do you know that?’ interposed Mr. Pickwick.
‘Bless your heart, sir, servants always do,’ replied Mr. Weller.
‘Oh, ah, I forgot that,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘Well.’
‘Then you can arrange what’s best to be done, sir, and we can ac_ccordingly.’
As it appeared that this was the best arrangement that could be made, it wa_inally agreed upon. Mr. Weller, by his master’s permission, retired to spen_he evening in his own way; and was shortly afterwards elected, by th_nanimous voice of the assembled company, into the taproom chair, in whic_onourable post he acquitted himself so much to the satisfaction of th_entlemen–frequenters, that their roars of laughter and approbation penetrate_o Mr. Pickwick’s bedroom, and shortened the term of his natural rest by a_east three hours.
Early on the ensuing morning, Mr. Weller was dispelling all the feveris_emains of the previous evening’s conviviality, through the instrumentality o_ halfpenny shower–bath (having induced a young gentleman attached to th_table department, by the offer of that coin, to pump over his head and face, until he was perfectly restored), when he was attracted by the appearance of _oung fellow in mulberry–coloured livery, who was sitting on a bench in th_ard, reading what appeared to be a hymn–book, with an air of dee_bstraction, but who occasionally stole a glance at the individual under th_ump, as if he took some interest in his proceedings, nevertheless.
‘You’re a rum ’un to look at, you are!’ thought Mr. Weller, the first time hi_yes encountered the glance of the stranger in the mulberry suit, who had _arge, sallow, ugly face, very sunken eyes, and a gigantic head, from whic_epended a quantity of lank black hair. ‘You’re a rum ’un!’ thought Mr.
Weller; and thinking this, he went on washing himself, and thought no mor_bout him.
Still the man kept glancing from his hymn–book to Sam, and from Sam to hi_ymn–book, as if he wanted to open a conversation. So at last, Sam, by way o_iving him an opportunity, said with a familiar nod—
‘How are you, governor?’
‘I am happy to say, I am pretty well, Sir,’ said the man, speaking with grea_eliberation, and closing the book. ‘I hope you are the same, Sir?’
‘Why, if I felt less like a walking brandy–bottle I shouldn’t be quite s_taggery this mornin’,’ replied Sam. ‘Are you stoppin’ in this house, old ’un?’
The mulberry man replied in the affirmative.
‘How was it you worn’t one of us, last night?’ inquired Sam, scrubbing hi_ace with the towel. ‘You seem one of the jolly sort—looks as conwivial as _ive trout in a lime basket,’ added Mr. Weller, in an undertone.
‘I was out last night with my master,’ replied the stranger.
‘What’s his name?’ inquired Mr. Weller, colouring up very red with sudde_xcitement, and the friction of the towel combined.
‘Fitz–Marshall,’ said the mulberry man.
‘Give us your hand,’ said Mr. Weller, advancing; ‘I should like to know you. _ike your appearance, old fellow.’
‘Well, that is very strange,’ said the mulberry man, with great simplicity o_anner. ‘I like yours so much, that I wanted to speak to you, from the ver_irst moment I saw you under the pump.’ ‘Did you though?’
‘Upon my word. Now, isn’t that curious?’
‘Wery sing’ler,’ said Sam, inwardly congratulating himself upon the softnes_f the stranger. ‘What’s your name, my patriarch?’
‘And a wery good name it is; only one I know that ain’t got a nickname to it.
What’s the other name?’
‘Trotter,’ said the stranger. ‘What is yours?’
Sam bore in mind his master’s caution, and replied—
‘My name’s Walker; my master’s name’s Wilkins. Will you take a drop o’ somethin’ this mornin’, Mr. Trotter?’
Mr. Trotter acquiesced in this agreeable proposal; and having deposited hi_ook in his coat pocket, accompanied Mr. Weller to the tap, where they wer_oon occupied in discussing an exhilarating compound, formed by mixin_ogether, in a pewter vessel, certain quantities of British Hollands and th_ragrant essence of the clove.
‘And what sort of a place have you got?’ inquired Sam, as he filled hi_ompanion’s glass, for the second time.
‘Bad,’ said Job, smacking his lips, ‘very bad.’
‘You don’t mean that?’ said Sam.
‘I do, indeed. Worse than that, my master’s going to be married.’
‘Yes; and worse than that, too, he’s going to run away with an immense ric_eiress, from boarding–school.’
‘What a dragon!’ said Sam, refilling his companion’s glass. ‘It’s som_oarding–school in this town, I suppose, ain’t it?’ Now, although thi_uestion was put in the most careless tone imaginable, Mr. Job Trotter plainl_howed by gestures that he perceived his new friend’s anxiety to draw forth a_nswer to it. He emptied his glass, looked mysteriously at his companion, winked both of his small eyes, one after the other, and finally made a motio_ith his arm, as if he were working an imaginary pump–handle; thereb_ntimating that he (Mr. Trotter) considered himself as undergoing the proces_f being pumped by Mr. Samuel Weller.
‘No, no,’ said Mr. Trotter, in conclusion, ‘that’s not to be told t_verybody. That is a secret—a great secret, Mr. Walker.’ As the mulberry ma_aid this, he turned his glass upside down, by way of reminding his companio_hat he had nothing left wherewith to slake his thirst. Sam observed the hint; and feeling the delicate manner in which it was conveyed, ordered the pewte_essel to be refilled, whereat the small eyes of the mulberry man glistened.
‘And so it’s a secret?’ said Sam.
‘I should rather suspect it was,’ said the mulberry man, sipping his liquor, with a complacent face.
‘i suppose your mas’r’s wery rich?’ said Sam.
Mr. Trotter smiled, and holding his glass in his left hand, gave four distinc_laps on the pockets of his mulberry indescribables with his right, as if t_ntimate that his master might have done the same without alarming anybod_uch by the chinking of coin.
‘Ah,’ said Sam, ‘that’s the game, is it?’
The mulberry man nodded significantly.
‘Well, and don’t you think, old feller,’ remonstrated Mr. Weller, ‘that if yo_et your master take in this here young lady, you’re a precious rascal?’
‘I know that,’ said Job Trotter, turning upon his companion a countenance o_eep contrition, and groaning slightly, ‘I know that, and that’s what it i_hat preys upon my mind. But what am I to do?’
‘Do!’ said Sam; ‘di–wulge to the missis, and give up your master.’
‘Who’d believe me?’ replied Job Trotter. ‘The young lady’s considered the ver_icture of innocence and discretion. She’d deny it, and so would my master.
Who’d believe me? I should lose my place, and get indicted for a conspiracy, or some such thing; that’s all I should take by my motion.’
‘There’s somethin’ in that,’ said Sam, ruminating; ‘there’s somethin’ i_hat.’
‘If I knew any respectable gentleman who would take the matter up,’ continue_r. Trotter. ‘I might have some hope of preventing the elopement; but there’_he same difficulty, Mr. Walker, just the same. I know no gentleman in thi_trange place; and ten to one if I did, whether he would believe my story.’
‘Come this way,’ said Sam, suddenly jumping up, and grasping the mulberry ma_y the arm. ‘My mas’r’s the man you want, I see.’ And after a sligh_esistance on the part of Job Trotter, Sam led his newly–found friend to th_partment of Mr. Pickwick, to whom he presented him, together with a brie_ummary of the dialogue we have just repeated.
‘I am very sorry to betray my master, sir,’ said Job Trotter, applying to hi_yes a pink checked pocket–handkerchief about six inches square.
‘The feeling does you a great deal of honour,’ replied Mr. Pickwick; ‘but i_s your duty, nevertheless.’
‘I know it is my duty, Sir,’ replied Job, with great emotion. ‘We should al_ry to discharge our duty, Sir, and I humbly endeavour to discharge mine, Sir; but it is a hard trial to betray a master, Sir, whose clothes you wear, an_hose bread you eat, even though he is a scoundrel, Sir.’
‘You are a very good fellow,’ said Mr. Pickwick, much affected; ‘an hones_ellow.’
‘Come, come,’ interposed Sam, who had witnessed Mr. Trotter’s tears wit_onsiderable impatience, ‘blow this ‘ere water–cart bis’ness. It won’t do n_ood, this won’t.’
‘Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick reproachfully. ‘I am sorry to find that you have s_ittle respect for this young man’s feelings.’
‘His feelin’s is all wery well, Sir,’ replied Mr. Weller; ‘and as they’re s_ery fine, and it’s a pity he should lose ’em, I think he’d better keep ’em i_is own buzzum, than let ’em ewaporate in hot water, ‘specially as they do n_ood. Tears never yet wound up a clock, or worked a steam ingin’. The nex_ime you go out to a smoking party, young fellow, fill your pipe with that ‘ere reflection; and for the present just put that bit of pink gingham int_our pocket. ‘Tain’t so handsome that you need keep waving it about, as if yo_as a tight–rope dancer.’
‘My man is in the right,’ said Mr. Pickwick, accosting Job, ‘although his mod_f expressing his opinion is somewhat homely, and occasionall_ncomprehensible.’
‘He is, sir, very right,’ said Mr. Trotter, ‘and I will give way no longer.’ ‘Very well,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘Now, where is this boarding–school?’
‘It is a large, old, red brick house, just outside the town, Sir,’ replied Jo_rotter.
‘And when,’ said Mr. Pickwick—‘when is this villainous design to be carrie_nto execution—when is this elopement to take place?’
‘To–night, Sir,’ replied Job.
‘To–night!’ exclaimed Mr. Pickwick. ‘This very night, sir,’ replied Jo_rotter. ‘That is what alarms me so much.’
‘Instant measures must be taken,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘I will see the lady wh_eeps the establishment immediately.’
‘I beg your pardon, Sir,’ said Job, ‘but that course of proceeding will neve_o.’
‘Why not?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.
‘My master, sir, is a very artful man.’
‘I know he is,’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘And he has so wound himself round the old lady’s heart, Sir,’ resumed Job, ‘that she would believe nothing to his prejudice, if you went down on you_are knees, and swore it; especially as you have no proof but the word of _ervant, who, for anything she knows (and my master would be sure to say so), was discharged for some fault, and does this in revenge.’
‘What had better be done, then?’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘Nothing but taking him in the very act of eloping, will convince the ol_ady, sir,’ replied Job.
‘All them old cats will run their heads agin milestones,’ observed Mr. Weller, in a parenthesis.
‘But this taking him in the very act of elopement, would be a very difficul_hing to accomplish, I fear,’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘I don’t know, sir,’ said Mr. Trotter, after a few moments’ reflection. ‘_hink it might be very easily done.’
‘How?’ was Mr. Pickwick’s inquiry.
‘Why,’ replied Mr. Trotter, ‘my master and I, being in the confidence of th_wo servants, will be secreted in the kitchen at ten o’clock. When the famil_ave retired to rest, we shall come out of the kitchen, and the young lady ou_f her bedroom. A post–chaise will be waiting, and away we go.’
‘Well?’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘Well, sir, I have been thinking that if you were in waiting in the garde_ehind, alone—’
‘Alone,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘Why alone?’
‘I thought it very natural,’ replied Job, ‘that the old lady wouldn’t lik_uch an unpleasant discovery to be made before more persons than can possibl_e helped. The young lady, too, sir—consider her feelings.’
‘You are very right,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘The consideration evinces you_elicacy of feeling. Go on; you are very right.’
‘Well, sir, I have been thinking that if you were waiting in the back garde_lone, and I was to let you in, at the door which opens into it, from the en_f the passage, at exactly half–past eleven o’clock, you would be just in th_ery moment of time to assist me in frustrating the designs of this bad man, by whom I have been unfortunately ensnared.’ Here Mr. Trotter sighed deeply.
‘Don’t distress yourself on that account,’ said Mr. Pickwick; ‘if he had on_rain of the delicacy of feeling which distinguishes you, humble as you_tation is, I should have some hopes of him.’
Job Trotter bowed low; and in spite of Mr. Weller’s previous remonstrance, th_ears again rose to his eyes.
‘I never see such a feller,’ said Sam, ‘Blessed if I don’t think he’s got _ain in his head as is always turned on.’
‘Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick, with great severity, ‘hold your tongue.’
‘Wery well, sir,’ replied Mr. Weller.
‘I don’t like this plan,’ said Mr. Pickwick, after deep meditation. ‘Wh_annot I communicate with the young lady’s friends?’
‘Because they live one hundred miles from here, sir,’ responded Job Trotter.
‘That’s a clincher,’ said Mr. Weller, aside.
‘Then this garden,’ resumed Mr. Pickwick. ‘How am I to get into it?’
‘The wall is very low, sir, and your servant will give you a leg up.’ ‘M_ervant will give me a leg up,’ repeated Mr. Pickwick mechanically. ‘You wil_e sure to be near this door that you speak of?’
‘You cannot mistake it, Sir; it’s the only one that opens into the garden. Ta_t it when you hear the clock strike, and I will open it instantly.’
‘I don’t like the plan,’ said Mr. Pickwick; ‘but as I see no other, and as th_appiness of this young lady’s whole life is at stake, I adopt it. I shall b_ure to be there.’
Thus, for the second time, did Mr. Pickwick’s innate good–feeling involve hi_n an enterprise from which he would most willingly have stood aloof.
‘What is the name of the house?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.
‘Westgate House, Sir. You turn a little to the right when you get to the en_f the town; it stands by itself, some little distance off the high road, wit_he name on a brass plate on the gate.’
‘I know it,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘I observed it once before, when I was in thi_own. You may depend upon me.’
Mr. Trotter made another bow, and turned to depart, when Mr. Pickwick thrust _uinea into his hand.
‘You’re a fine fellow,’ said Mr. Pickwick, ‘and I admire your goodness o_eart. No thanks. Remember—eleven o’clock.’
‘There is no fear of my forgetting it, sir,’ replied Job Trotter. With thes_ords he left the room, followed by Sam.
‘I say,’ said the latter, ‘not a bad notion that ‘ere crying. I’d cry like _ain–water spout in a shower on such good terms. How do you do it?’
‘It comes from the heart, Mr. Walker,’ replied Job solemnly. ‘Good–morning, sir.’
‘You’re a soft customer, you are; we’ve got it all out o’ you, anyhow,’ thought Mr. Weller, as Job walked away.
We cannot state the precise nature of the thoughts which passed through Mr.
Trotter’s mind, because we don’t know what they were.
The day wore on, evening came, and at a little before ten o’clock Sam Welle_eported that Mr. Jingle and Job had gone out together, that their luggage wa_acked up, and that they had ordered a chaise. The plot was evidently i_xecution, as Mr. Trotter had foretold.
Half–past ten o’clock arrived, and it was time for Mr. Pickwick to issue fort_n his delicate errand. Resisting Sam’s tender of his greatcoat, in order tha_e might have no encumbrance in scaling the wall, he set forth, followed b_is attendant.
There was a bright moon, but it was behind the clouds. it was a fine dr_ight, but it was most uncommonly dark. Paths, hedges, fields, houses, an_rees, were enveloped in one deep shade. The atmosphere was hot and sultry, the summer lightning quivered faintly on the verge of the horizon, and was th_nly sight that varied the dull gloom in which everything was wrapped—soun_here was none, except the distant barking of some restless house–dog.
They found the house, read the brass plate, walked round the wall, and stoppe_t that portion of it which divided them from the bottom of the garden.
‘You will return to the inn, Sam, when you have assisted me over,’ said Mr.
‘Wery well, Sir.’
‘And you will sit up, till I return.’
‘Take hold of my leg; and, when I say “Over,” raise me gently.’
‘All right, sir.’
Having settled these preliminaries, Mr. Pickwick grasped the top of the wall, and gave the word ‘Over,’ which was literally obeyed. Whether his body partoo_n some degree of the elasticity of his mind, or whether Mr. Weller’s notion_f a gentle push were of a somewhat rougher description than Mr. Pickwick’s, the immediate effect of his assistance was to jerk that immortal gentlema_ompletely over the wall on to the bed beneath, where, after crushing thre_ooseberry–bushes and a rose–tree, he finally alighted at full length.
‘You ha’n’t hurt yourself, I hope, Sir?’ said Sam, in a loud whisper, as soo_s he had recovered from the surprise consequent upon the mysteriou_isappearance of his master.
‘I have not hurt myself, Sam, certainly,’ replied Mr. Pickwick, from the othe_ide of the wall, ‘but I rather think that you have hurt me.’
‘I hope not, Sir,’ said Sam.
‘Never mind,’ said Mr. Pickwick, rising, ‘it’s nothing but a few scratches. G_way, or we shall be overheard.’
With stealthy steps Sam Weller departed, leaving Mr. Pickwick alone in th_arden.
Lights occasionally appeared in the different windows of the house, or glance_rom the staircases, as if the inmates were retiring to rest. Not caring to g_oo near the door, until the appointed time, Mr. Pickwick crouched into a_ngle of the wall, and awaited its arrival.
It was a situation which might well have depressed the spirits of many a man.
Mr. Pickwick, however, felt neither depression nor misgiving. He knew that hi_urpose was in the main a good one, and he placed implicit reliance on th_igh–minded Job. it was dull, certainly; not to say dreary; but _ontemplative man can always employ himself in meditation. Mr. Pickwick ha_editated himself into a doze, when he was roused by the chimes of th_eighbouring church ringing out the hour—half–past eleven.
‘That’s the time,’ thought Mr. Pickwick, getting cautiously on his feet. H_ooked up at the house. The lights had disappeared, and the shutters wer_losed—all in bed, no doubt. He walked on tiptoe to the door, and gave _entle tap. Two or three minutes passing without any reply, he gave anothe_ap rather louder, and then another rather louder than that.
At length the sound of feet was audible upon the stairs, and then the light o_ candle shone through the keyhole of the door. There was a good deal o_nchaining and unbolting, and the door was slowly opened.
Now the door opened outwards; and as the door opened wider and wider, Mr.
Pickwick receded behind it, more and more. What was his astonishment when h_ust peeped out, by way of caution, to see that the person who had opened i_as—not Job Trotter, but a servant–girl with a candle in her hand! Mr.
Pickwick drew in his head again, with the swiftness displayed by tha_dmirable melodramatic performer, Punch, when he lies in wait for th_lat–headed comedian with the tin box of music.
‘It must have been the cat, Sarah,’ said the girl, addressing herself to som_ne in the house. ‘Puss, puss, puss,—tit, tit, tit.’
But no animal being decoyed by these blandishments, the girl slowly closed th_oor, and re–fastened it; leaving Mr. Pickwick drawn up straight against th_all.
‘This is very curious,’ thought Mr. Pickwick. ‘They are sitting up beyon_heir usual hour, I suppose. Extremely unfortunate, that they should hav_hosen this night, of all others, for such a purpose—exceedingly.’ And wit_hese thoughts, Mr. Pickwick cautiously retired to the angle of the wall i_hich he had been before ensconced; waiting until such time as he might dee_t safe to repeat the signal.
He had not been here five minutes, when a vivid flash of lightning wa_ollowed by a loud peal of thunder that crashed and rolled away in th_istance with a terrific noise—then came another flash of lightning, brighte_han the other, and a second peal of thunder louder than the first; and the_own came the rain, with a force and fury that swept everything before it.
Mr. Pickwick was perfectly aware that a tree is a very dangerous neighbour i_ thunderstorm. He had a tree on his right, a tree on his left, a third befor_im, and a fourth behind. If he remained where he was, he might fall th_ictim of an accident; if he showed himself in the centre of the garden, h_ight be consigned to a constable. Once or twice he tried to scale the wall, but having no other legs this time, than those with which Nature had furnishe_im, the only effect of his struggles was to inflict a variety of ver_npleasant gratings on his knees and shins, and to throw him into a state o_he most profuse perspiration.
‘What a dreadful situation,’ said Mr. Pickwick, pausing to wipe his brow afte_his exercise. He looked up at the house—all was dark. They must be gone t_ed now. He would try the signal again.
He walked on tiptoe across the moist gravel, and tapped at the door. He hel_is breath, and listened at the key–hole. No reply: very odd. Another knock.
He listened again. There was a low whispering inside, and then a voice cried—
‘That’s not Job,’ thought Mr. Pickwick, hastily drawing himself straight u_gainst the wall again. ‘It’s a woman.’
He had scarcely had time to form this conclusion, when a window above stair_as thrown up, and three or four female voices repeated the query—‘Who’_here?’
Mr. Pickwick dared not move hand or foot. It was clear that the whol_stablishment was roused. He made up his mind to remain where he was, unti_he alarm had subsided; and then by a supernatural effort, to get over th_all, or perish in the attempt.
Like all Mr. Pickwick’s determinations, this was the best that could be mad_nder the circumstances; but, unfortunately, it was founded upon th_ssumption that they would not venture to open the door again. What was hi_iscomfiture, when he heard the chain and bolts withdrawn, and saw the doo_lowly opening, wider and wider! He retreated into the corner, step by step; but do what he would, the interposition of his own person, prevented its bein_pened to its utmost width.
‘Who’s there?’ screamed a numerous chorus of treble voices from the staircas_nside, consisting of the spinster lady of the establishment, three teachers, five female servants, and thirty boarders, all half–dressed and in a forest o_url–papers.
Of course Mr. Pickwick didn’t say who was there: and then the burden of th_horus changed into—‘Lor! I am so frightened.’
‘Cook,’ said the lady abbess, who took care to be on the top stair, the ver_ast of the group—‘cook, why don’t you go a little way into the garden?’ ‘Please, ma’am, I don’t like,’ responded the cook.
‘Lor, what a stupid thing that cook is!’ said the thirty boarders.
‘Cook,’ said the lady abbess, with great dignity; ‘don’t answer me, if yo_lease. I insist upon your looking into the garden immediately.’
Here the cook began to cry, and the housemaid said it was ‘a shame!’ for whic_artisanship she received a month’s warning on the spot.
‘Do you hear, cook?’ said the lady abbess, stamping her foot impatiently.
‘Don’t you hear your missis, cook?’ said the three teachers.
‘What an impudent thing that cook is!’ said the thirty boarders.
The unfortunate cook, thus strongly urged, advanced a step or two, and holdin_er candle just where it prevented her from seeing at all, declared there wa_othing there, and it must have been the wind. The door was just going to b_losed in consequence, when an inquisitive boarder, who had been peepin_etween the hinges, set up a fearful screaming, which called back the cook an_ousemaid, and all the more adventurous, in no time.
‘What is the matter with Miss Smithers?’ said the lady abbess, as th_foresaid Miss Smithers proceeded to go into hysterics of four young lad_ower.
‘Lor, Miss Smithers, dear,’ said the other nine–and–twenty boarders.
‘Oh, the man—the man—behind the door!’ screamed Miss Smithers.
The lady abbess no sooner heard this appalling cry, than she retreated to he_wn bedroom, double–locked the door, and fainted away comfortably. Th_oarders, and the teachers, and the servants, fell back upon the stairs, an_pon each other; and never was such a screaming, and fainting, and strugglin_eheld. In the midst of the tumult, Mr. Pickwick emerged from his concealment, and presented himself amongst them.
‘Ladies—dear ladies,’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘Oh. he says we’re dear,’ cried the oldest and ugliest teacher. ‘Oh, th_retch!’
‘Ladies,’ roared Mr. Pickwick, rendered desperate by the danger of hi_ituation. ‘Hear me. I am no robber. I want the lady of the house.’
‘Oh, what a ferocious monster!’ screamed another teacher. ‘He wants Mis_omkins.’
Here there was a general scream.
‘Ring the alarm bell, somebody!’ cried a dozen voices.
‘Don’t—don’t,’ shouted Mr. Pickwick. ‘Look at me. Do I look like a robber! M_ear ladies—you may bind me hand and leg, or lock me up in a closet, if yo_ike. Only hear what I have got to say—only hear me.’
‘How did you come in our garden?’ faltered the housemaid.
‘Call the lady of the house, and I’ll tell her everything,’ said Mr. Pickwick, exerting his lungs to the utmost pitch. ‘Call her—only be quiet, and call her, and you shall hear everything .’
It might have been Mr. Pickwick’s appearance, or it might have been hi_anner, or it might have been the temptation—irresistible to a female mind—o_earing something at present enveloped in mystery, that reduced the mor_easonable portion of the establishment (some four individuals) to a state o_omparative quiet. By them it was proposed, as a test of Mr. Pickwick’_incerity, that he should immediately submit to personal restraint; and tha_entleman having consented to hold a conference with Miss Tomkins, from th_nterior of a closet in which the day boarders hung their bonnets an_andwich–bags, he at once stepped into it, of his own accord, and was securel_ocked in. This revived the others; and Miss Tomkins having been brought to, and brought down, the conference began.
‘What did you do in my garden, man?’ said Miss Tomkins, in a faint voice.
‘I came to warn you that one of your young ladies was going to elop_o–night,’ replied Mr. Pickwick, from the interior of the closet.
‘Elope!’ exclaimed Miss Tomkins, the three teachers, the thirty boarders, an_he five servants. ‘Who with?’ ‘Your friend, Mr. Charles Fitz–Marshall.’
‘My friend! I don’t know any such person.’
‘Well, Mr. Jingle, then.’
‘I never heard the name in my life.’
‘Then, I have been deceived, and deluded,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘I have been th_ictim of a conspiracy—a foul and base conspiracy. Send to the Angel, my dea_a’am, if you don’t believe me. Send to the Angel for Mr. Pickwick’_anservant, I implore you, ma’am.’
‘He must be respectable—he keeps a manservant,’ said Miss Tomkins to th_riting and ciphering governess.
‘It’s my opinion, Miss Tomkins,’ said the writing and ciphering governess, ‘that his manservant keeps him, I think he’s a madman, Miss Tomkins, and th_ther’s his keeper.’
‘I think you are very right, Miss Gwynn,’ responded Miss Tomkins. ‘Let two o_he servants repair to the Angel, and let the others remain here, to protec_s.’
So two of the servants were despatched to the Angel in search of Mr. Samue_eller; and the remaining three stopped behind to protect Miss Tomkins, an_he three teachers, and the thirty boarders. And Mr. Pickwick sat down in th_loset, beneath a grove of sandwich–bags, and awaited the return of th_essengers, with all the philosophy and fortitude he could summon to his aid.
An hour and a half elapsed before they came back, and when they did come, Mr.
Pickwick recognised, in addition to the voice of Mr. Samuel Weller, two othe_oices, the tones of which struck familiarly on his ear; but whose they were, he could not for the life of him call to mind.
A very brief conversation ensued. The door was unlocked. Mr. Pickwick steppe_ut of the closet, and found himself in the presence of the whol_stablishment of Westgate House, Mr Samuel Weller, and—old Wardle, and hi_estined son–in–law, Mr. Trundle!
‘My dear friend,’ said Mr. Pickwick, running forward and grasping Wardle’_and, ‘my dear friend, pray, for Heaven’s sake, explain to this lady th_nfortunate and dreadful situation in which I am placed. You must have hear_t from my servant; say, at all events, my dear fellow, that I am neither _obber nor a madman.’
‘I have said so, my dear friend. I have said so already,’ replied Mr. Wardle, shaking the right hand of his friend, while Mr. Trundle shook the left. ‘An_hoever says, or has said, he is,’ interposed Mr. Weller, stepping forward, ‘says that which is not the truth, but so far from it, on the contrary, quit_he rewerse. And if there’s any number o’ men on these here premises as ha_aid so, I shall be wery happy to give ’em all a wery convincing proof o’ their being mistaken, in this here wery room, if these wery respectable ladies ‘ll have the goodness to retire, and order ’em up, one at a time.’ Havin_elivered this defiance with great volubility, Mr. Weller struck his open pal_mphatically with his clenched fist, and winked pleasantly on Miss Tomkins, the intensity of whose horror at his supposing it within the bounds o_ossibility that there could be any men on the premises of Westgate Hous_stablishment for Young Ladies, it is impossible to describe.
Mr. Pickwick’s explanation having already been partially made, was soo_oncluded. But neither in the course of his walk home with his friends, no_fterwards when seated before a blazing fire at the supper he so much needed, could a single observation be drawn from him. He seemed bewildered and amazed.
Once, and only once, he turned round to Mr. Wardle, and said—
‘How did you come here?’
‘Trundle and I came down here, for some good shooting on the first,’ replie_ardle. ‘We arrived to–night, and were astonished to hear from your servan_hat you were here too. But I am glad you are,’ said the old fellow, slappin_im on the back—‘I am glad you are. We shall have a jovial party on the first, and we’ll give Winkle another chance—eh, old boy?’
Mr. Pickwick made no reply, he did not even ask after his friends at Dingle_ell, and shortly afterwards retired for the night, desiring Sam to fetch hi_andle when he rung. The bell did ring in due course, and Mr. Weller presente_imself.
‘Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick, looking out from under the bed–clothes.
‘Sir,’ said Mr. Weller.
Mr. Pickwick paused, and Mr. Weller snuffed the candle.
‘Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick again, as if with a desperate effort.
‘Sir,’ said Mr. Weller, once more.
‘Where is that Trotter?’
‘With his master, I suppose?’
‘Friend or master, or whatever he is, he’s gone with him,’ replied Mr. Weller.
‘There’s a pair on ’em, sir.’
‘Jingle suspected my design, and set that fellow on you, with this story, _uppose?’ said Mr. Pickwick, half choking.
‘Just that, sir,’ replied Mr. Weller.
‘It was all false, of course?’
‘All, sir,’ replied Mr. Weller. ‘Reg’lar do, sir; artful dodge.’
‘I don’t think he’ll escape us quite so easily the next time, Sam!’ said Mr.
‘I don’t think he will, Sir.’
‘Whenever I meet that Jingle again, wherever it is,’ said Mr. Pickwick, raising himself in bed, and indenting his pillow with a tremendous blow, ‘I’l_nflict personal chastisement on him, in addition to the exposure he so richl_erits. I will, or my name is not Pickwick.’
‘And venever I catches hold o’ that there melan–cholly chap with the blac_air,’ said Sam, ‘if I don’t bring some real water into his eyes, for once i_ way, my name ain’t Weller. Good–night, Sir!’