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Chapter 18 Briefly illustrative of two Points; first, the Power o_ysterics, and, secondly, the Force of Circumstances

  • For two days after the dejeune at Mrs. Hunter’s, the Pickwickians remained a_atanswill, anxiously awaiting the arrival of some intelligence from thei_evered leader. Mr. Tupman and Mr. Snodgrass were once again left to their ow_eans of amusement; for Mr. Winkle, in compliance with a most pressin_nvitation, continued to reside at Mr. Pott’s house, and to devote his time t_he companionship of his amiable lady. Nor was the occasional society of Mr.
  • Pott himself wanting to complete their felicity. Deeply immersed in th_ntensity of his speculations for the public weal and the destruction of th_ndependent, it was not the habit of that great man to descend from his menta_innacle to the humble level of ordinary minds. On this occasion, however, an_s if expressly in compliment to any follower of Mr. Pickwick’s, he unbent, relaxed, stepped down from his pedestal, and walked upon the ground, benignl_dapting his remarks to the comprehension of the herd, and seeming in outwar_orm, if not in spirit, to be one of them.
  • Such having been the demeanour of this celebrated public character towards Mr.
  • Winkle, it will be readily imagined that considerable surprise was depicted o_he countenance of the latter gentleman, when, as he was sitting alone in th_reakfast–room, the door was hastily thrown open, and as hastily closed, o_he entrance of Mr. Pott, who, stalking majestically towards him, an_hrusting aside his proffered hand, ground his teeth, as if to put a sharpe_dge on what he was about to utter, and exclaimed, in a saw–like voice—
  • ‘Serpent!’
  • ‘Sir!’ exclaimed Mr. Winkle, starting from his chair.
  • ‘Serpent, Sir,’ repeated Mr. Pott, raising his voice, and then suddenl_epressing it: ‘I said, serpent, sir—make the most of it.’
  • When you have parted with a man at two o’clock in the morning, on terms of th_tmost good–fellowship, and he meets you again, at half–past nine, and greet_ou as a serpent, it is not unreasonable to conclude that something of a_npleasant nature has occurred meanwhile. So Mr. Winkle thought. He returne_r. Pott’s gaze of stone, and in compliance with that gentleman’s request, proceeded to make the most he could of the ‘serpent.’ The most, however, wa_othing at all; so, after a profound silence of some minutes’ duration, h_aid,—
  • ‘Serpent, Sir! Serpent, Mr. Pott! What can you mean, Sir?—this is pleasantry.’
  • ‘Pleasantry, sir!’ exclaimed Pott, with a motion of the hand, indicative of _trong desire to hurl the Britannia metal teapot at the head of the visitor.
  • ‘Pleasantry, sir!—But—no, I will be calm; I will be calm, Sir;’ in proof o_is calmness, Mr. Pott flung himself into a chair, and foamed at the mouth.
  • ‘My dear sir,’ interposed Mr. Winkle.
  • ‘Dear Sir!’ replied Pott. ‘How dare you address me, as dear Sir, Sir? How dar_ou look me in the face and do it, sir?’
  • ‘Well, Sir, if you come to that,’ responded Mr. Winkle, ‘how dare you look m_n the face, and call me a serpent, sir?’
  • ‘Because you are one,’ replied Mr. Pott.
  • ‘Prove it, Sir,’ said Mr. Winkle warmly. ‘Prove it.’
  • A malignant scowl passed over the profound face of the editor, as he drew fro_is pocket the Independent of that morning; and laying his finger on _articular paragraph, threw the journal across the table to Mr. Winkle.
  • That gentleman took it up, and read as follows:—
  • ‘Our obscure and filthy contemporary, in some disgusting observations on th_ecent election for this borough, has presumed to violate the hallowe_anctity of private life, and to refer,
  • in a manner not to be misunderstood, to the personal affairs of our lat_andidate—aye, and notwithstanding his base defeat, we will add, our futur_ember, Mr. Fizkin. What does our dastardly contemporary mean? What would th_uffian say, if we, setting at naught, like him, the decencies of socia_ntercourse, were to raise the curtain which happily conceals His private lif_rom general ridicule, not to say from general execration? What, if we wer_ven to point out, and comment on, facts and circumstances, which are publicl_otorious, and beheld by every one but our mole–eyed contemporary—what if w_ere to print the following effusion, which we received while we were writin_he commencement of this article, from a talented fellow–townsman an_orrespondent?
  • ‘“Lines To A Brass Pot
  • ‘“Oh Pott! if you’d known How false she’d have grown, When you heard th_arriage bells tinkle; You’d have done then, I vow, What you cannot help now, And handed her over to W——”’
  • ‘What,’ said Mr. Pott solemnly—‘what rhymes to “tinkle,” villain?’
  • ‘What rhymes to tinkle?’ said Mrs. Pott, whose entrance at the momen_orestalled the reply. ‘What rhymes to tinkle? Why, Winkle, I shoul_onceive.’ Saying this, Mrs. Pott smiled sweetly on the disturbed Pickwickian, and extended her hand towards him. The agitated young man would have accepte_t, in his confusion, had not Pott indignantly interposed.
  • ‘Back, ma’am—back!’ said the editor. ‘Take his hand before my very face!’
  • ‘Mr. P.!’ said his astonished lady.
  • ‘Wretched woman, look here,’ exclaimed the husband. ‘Look here, ma’am—“Line_o a Brass Pot.” “Brass Pot”; that’s me, ma’am. “False she’d have grown”; that’s you, ma’am—you.’ With this ebullition of rage, which was no_naccompanied with something like a tremble, at the expression of his wife’_ace, Mr. Pott dashed the current number of the Eatanswill Independent at he_eet.
  • ‘Upon my word, Sir,’ said the astonished Mrs. Pott, stooping to pick up th_aper. ‘Upon my word, Sir!’
  • Mr. Pott winced beneath the contemptuous gaze of his wife. He had made _esperate struggle to screw up his courage, but it was fast coming unscrewe_gain.
  • There appears nothing very tremendous in this little sentence, ‘Upon my word, sir,’ when it comes to be read; but the tone of voice in which it wa_elivered, and the look that accompanied it, both seeming to bear reference t_ome revenge to be thereafter visited upon the head of Pott, produced thei_ffect upon him. The most unskilful observer could have detected in hi_roubled countenance, a readiness to resign his Wellington boots to an_fficient substitute who would have consented to stand in them at that moment.
  • Mrs. Pott read the paragraph, uttered a loud shriek, and threw herself at ful_ength on the hearth–rug, screaming, and tapping it with the heels of he_hoes, in a manner which could leave no doubt of the propriety of her feeling_n the occasion.
  • ‘My dear,’ said the terrified Pott, ‘I didn’t say I believed it;—I—’ but th_nfortunate man’s voice was drowned in the screaming of his partner.
  • ‘Mrs. Pott, let me entreat you, my dear ma’am, to compose yourself,’ said Mr.
  • Winkle; but the shrieks and tappings were louder, and more frequent than ever.
  • ‘My dear,’ said Mr. Pott, ‘I’m very sorry. If you won’t consider your ow_ealth, consider me, my dear. We shall have a crowd round the house.’ But th_ore strenuously Mr. Pott entreated, the more vehemently the screams poure_orth.
  • Very fortunately, however, attached to Mrs. Pott’s person was a bodyguard o_ne, a young lady whose ostensible employment was to preside over her toilet, but who rendered herself useful in a variety of ways, and in none more so tha_n the particular department of constantly aiding and abetting her mistress i_very wish and inclination opposed to the desires of the unhappy Pott. Th_creams reached this young lady’s ears in due course, and brought her into th_oom with a speed which threatened to derange, materially, the very exquisit_rrangement of her cap and ringlets.
  • ‘Oh, my dear, dear mistress!’ exclaimed the bodyguard, kneeling frantically b_he side of the prostrate Mrs. Pott. ‘Oh, my dear mistress, what is th_atter?’
  • ‘Your master—your brutal master,’ murmured the patient.
  • Pott was evidently giving way.
  • ‘It’s a shame,’ said the bodyguard reproachfully. ‘I know he’ll be the deat_n you, ma’am. Poor dear thing!’
  • He gave way more. The opposite party followed up the attack.
  • ‘Oh, don’t leave me—don’t leave me, Goodwin,’ murmured Mrs. Pott, clutching a_he wrist of the said Goodwin with an hysteric jerk. ‘You’re the only perso_hat’s kind to me, Goodwin.’
  • At this affecting appeal, Goodwin got up a little domestic tragedy of her own, and shed tears copiously.
  • ‘Never, ma’am—never,’ said Goodwin.‘Oh, sir, you should be careful—you shoul_ndeed; you don’t know what harm you may do missis; you’ll be sorry for it on_ay, I know—I’ve always said so.’
  • The unlucky Pott looked timidly on, but said nothing.
  • ‘Goodwin,’ said Mrs. Pott, in a soft voice.
  • ‘Ma’am,’ said Goodwin.
  • ‘If you only knew how I have loved that man—’ ‘Don’t distress yourself b_ecollecting it, ma’am,’ said the bodyguard.
  • Pott looked very frightened. It was time to finish him.
  • ‘And now,’ sobbed Mrs. Pott, ‘now, after all, to be treated in this way; to b_eproached and insulted in the presence of a third party, and that part_lmost a stranger. But I will not submit to it! Goodwin,’ continued Mrs. Pott, raising herself in the arms of her attendant, ‘my brother, the lieutenant, shall interfere. I’ll be separated, Goodwin!’
  • ‘It would certainly serve him right, ma’am,’ said Goodwin.
  • Whatever thoughts the threat of a separation might have awakened in Mr. Pott’_ind, he forbore to give utterance to them, and contented himself by saying, with great humility:—
  • ‘My dear, will you hear me?’
  • A fresh train of sobs was the only reply, as Mrs. Pott grew more hysterical, requested to be informed why she was ever born, and required sundry othe_ieces of information of a similar description.
  • ‘My dear,’ remonstrated Mr. Pott, ‘do not give way to these sensitiv_eelings. I never believed that the paragraph had any foundation, m_ear—impossible. I was only angry, my dear—I may say outrageous—with th_ndependent people for daring to insert it; that’s all.’ Mr. Pott cast a_mploring look at the innocent cause of the mischief, as if to entreat him t_ay nothing about the serpent.
  • ‘And what steps, sir, do you mean to take to obtain redress?’ inquired Mr.
  • Winkle, gaining courage as he saw Pott losing it.
  • ‘Oh, Goodwin,’ observed Mrs. Pott, ‘does he mean to horsewhip the editor o_he Independent—does he, Goodwin?’
  • ‘Hush, hush, ma’am; pray keep yourself quiet,’ replied the bodyguard. ‘I dar_ay he will, if you wish it, ma’am.’
  • ‘Certainly,’ said Pott, as his wife evinced decided symptoms of going of_gain. ‘Of course I shall.’
  • ‘When, Goodwin—when?’ said Mrs. Pott, still undecided about the going off.
  • ‘Immediately, of course,’ said Mr. Pott; ‘before the day is out.’
  • ‘Oh, Goodwin,’ resumed Mrs. Pott, ‘it’s the only way of meeting the slander, and setting me right with the world.’
  • ‘Certainly, ma’am,’ replied Goodwin. ‘No man as is a man, ma’am, could refus_o do it.’
  • So, as the hysterics were still hovering about, Mr. Pott said once more tha_e would do it; but Mrs. Pott was so overcome at the bare idea of having eve_een suspected, that she was half a dozen times on the very verge of _elapse, and most unquestionably would have gone off, had it not been for th_ndefatigable efforts of the assiduous Goodwin, and repeated entreaties fo_ardon from the conquered Pott; and finally, when that unhappy individual ha_een frightened and snubbed down to his proper level, Mrs. Pott recovered, an_hey went to breakfast.
  • ‘You will not allow this base newspaper slander to shorten your stay here, Mr.
  • Winkle?’ said Mrs. Pott, smiling through the traces of her tears.
  • ‘I hope not,’ said Mr. Pott, actuated, as he spoke, by a wish that his visito_ould choke himself with the morsel of dry toast which he was raising to hi_ips at the moment, and so terminate his stay effectually.
  • ‘I hope not.’
  • ‘You are very good,’ said Mr. Winkle; ‘but a letter has been received from Mr.
  • Pickwick—so I learn by a note from Mr. Tupman, which was brought up to m_edroom door, this morning—in which he requests us to join him at Bury to–day; and we are to leave by the coach at noon.’
  • ‘But you will come back?’ said Mrs. Pott.
  • ‘Oh, certainly,’ replied Mr. Winkle.
  • ‘You are quite sure?’ said Mrs. Pott, stealing a tender look at her visitor.
  • ‘Quite,’ responded Mr. Winkle.
  • The breakfast passed off in silence, for each of the party was brooding ove_is, or her, own personal grievances. Mrs. Pott was regretting the loss of _eau; Mr. Pott his rash pledge to horsewhip the Independent; Mr. Winkle hi_aving innocently placed himself in so awkward a situation. Noon approached, and after many adieux and promises to return, he tore himself away.
  • ‘If he ever comes back, I’ll poison him,’ thought Mr. Pott, as he turned int_he little back office where he prepared his thunderbolts.
  • ‘If I ever do come back, and mix myself up with these people again,‘though_r. Winkle, as he wended his way to the Peacock, ‘I shall deserve to b_orsewhipped myself—that’s all.’
  • His friends were ready, the coach was nearly so, and in half an hour they wer_roceeding on their journey, along the road over which Mr. Pickwick and Sa_ad so recently travelled, and of which, as we have already said something, w_o not feel called upon to extract Mr. Snodgrass’s poetical and beautifu_escription.
  • Mr. Weller was standing at the door of the Angel, ready to receive them, an_y that gentleman they were ushered to the apartment of Mr. Pickwick, where, to the no small surprise of Mr. Winkle and Mr. Snodgrass, and the no smal_mbarrassment of Mr. Tupman, they found old Wardle and Trundle.
  • ‘How are you?’ said the old man, grasping Mr. Tupman’s hand. ‘Don’t hang back, or look sentimental about it; it can’t be helped, old fellow. For her sake, _ish you’d had her; for your own, I’m very glad you have not. A young fello_ike you will do better one of these days, eh?’ With this conclusion, Wardl_lapped Mr. Tupman on the back, and laughed heartily.
  • ‘Well, and how are you, my fine fellows?’ said the old gentleman, shakin_ands with Mr. Winkle and Mr. Snodgrass at the same time. ‘I have just bee_elling Pickwick that we must have you all down at Christmas. We’re going t_ave a wedding—a real wedding this time.’
  • ‘A wedding!’ exclaimed Mr. Snodgrass, turning very pale.
  • ‘Yes, a wedding. But don’t be frightened,’ said the good–humoured old man; ‘it’s only Trundle there, and Bella.’
  • ‘Oh, is that all?’ said Mr. Snodgrass, relieved from a painful doubt which ha_allen heavily on his breast. ‘Give you joy, Sir. How is Joe?’
  • ‘Very well,’ replied the old gentleman. ‘Sleepy as ever.’
  • ‘And your mother, and the clergyman, and all of ’em?’
  • ‘Quite well.’
  • ‘Where,’ said Mr. Tupman, with an effort—‘where is—she, Sir?’ and he turne_way his head, and covered his eyes with his hand. ‘She!’ said the ol_entleman, with a knowing shake of the head. ‘Do you mean my singl_elative—eh?’
  • Mr. Tupman, by a nod, intimated that his question applied to the disappointe_achael.
  • ‘Oh, she’s gone away,’ said the old gentleman. ‘She’s living at a relation’s, far enough off. She couldn’t bear to see the girls, so I let her go. But come!
  • Here’s the dinner. You must be hungry after your ride. I am, without any rid_t all; so let us fall to.’
  • Ample justice was done to the meal; and when they were seated round the table, after it had been disposed of, Mr. Pickwick, to the intense horror an_ndignation of his followers, related the adventure he had undergone, and th_uccess which had attended the base artifices of the diabolical Jingle. ‘An_he attack of rheumatism which I caught in that garden,’ said Mr. Pickwick, i_onclusion, ‘renders me lame at this moment.’
  • ‘I, too, have had something of an adventure,’ said Mr. Winkle, with a smile; and, at the request of Mr. Pickwick, he detailed the malicious libel of th_atanswill Independent, and the consequent excitement of their friend, th_ditor.
  • Mr. Pickwick’s brow darkened during the recital. His friends observed it, and, when Mr. Winkle had concluded, maintained a profound silence. Mr. Pickwic_truck the table emphatically with his clenched fist, and spoke as follows:—
  • ‘Is it not a wonderful circumstance,’ said Mr. Pickwick, ‘that we see_estined to enter no man’s house without involving him in some degree o_rouble? Does it not, I ask, bespeak the indiscretion, or, worse than that, the blackness of heart—that I should say so!—of my followers, that, beneat_hatever roof they locate, they disturb the peace of mind and happiness o_ome confiding female? Is it not, I say—’
  • Mr. Pickwick would in all probability have gone on for some time, had not th_ntrance of Sam, with a letter, caused him to break off in his eloquen_iscourse. He passed his handkerchief across his forehead, took off hi_pectacles, wiped them, and put them on again; and his voice had recovered it_onted softness of tone when he said—
  • ‘What have you there, Sam?’
  • ‘Called at the post–office just now, and found this here letter, as has lai_here for two days,’ replied Mr. Weller. ‘It’s sealed vith a vafer, an_irected in round hand.’
  • ‘I don’t know this hand,’ said Mr. Pickwick, opening the letter. ‘Mercy on us!
  • what’s this? It must be a jest; it—it—can’t be true.’
  • ‘What’s the matter?’ was the general inquiry.
  • ‘Nobody dead, is there?’ said Wardle, alarmed at the horror in Mr. Pickwick’_ountenance.
  • Mr. Pickwick made no reply, but, pushing the letter across the table, an_esiring Mr. Tupman to read it aloud, fell back in his chair with a look o_acant astonishment quite alarming to behold.
  • Mr. Tupman, with a trembling voice, read the letter, of which the following i_ copy:—
  • Freeman’s Court, Cornhill, August 28th, 1827.
  • Bardell against Pickwick.
  • Sir,
  • Having been instructed by Mrs. Martha Bardell to commence an action agains_ou for a breach of promise of marriage, for which the plaintiff lays he_amages at fifteen hundred pounds, we beg to inform you that a writ has bee_ssued against you in this suit in the Court of Common Pleas; and request t_now, by return of post, the name of your attorney in London, who will accep_ervice thereof.
  • We are, Sir, Your obedient servants, Dodson & Fogg.
  • Mr. Samuel Pickwick.
  • There was something so impressive in the mute astonishment with which each ma_egarded his neighbour, and every man regarded Mr. Pickwick, that all seeme_fraid to speak. The silence was at length broken by Mr. Tupman.
  • ‘Dodson and Fogg,’ he repeated mechanically.
  • ‘Bardell and Pickwick,’ said Mr. Snodgrass, musing.
  • ‘Peace of mind and happiness of confiding females,’ murmured Mr. Winkle, wit_n air of abstraction.
  • ‘It’s a conspiracy,’ said Mr. Pickwick, at length recovering the power o_peech; ‘a base conspiracy between these two grasping attorneys, Dodson an_ogg. Mrs. Bardell would never do it;—she hasn’t the heart to do it;—sh_asn’t the case to do it. Ridiculous—ridiculous.’ ‘Of her heart,’ said Wardle, with a smile, ‘you should certainly be the best judge. I don’t wish t_iscourage you, but I should certainly say that, of her case, Dodson and Fog_re far better judges than any of us can be.’
  • ‘It’s a vile attempt to extort money,’ said Mr. Pickwick.
  • ‘I hope it is,’ said Wardle, with a short, dry cough.
  • ‘Who ever heard me address her in any way but that in which a lodger woul_ddress his landlady?’ continued Mr. Pickwick, with great vehemence. ‘Who eve_aw me with her? Not even my friends here—’
  • ‘Except on one occasion,’ said Mr. Tupman.
  • Mr. Pickwick changed colour. ‘Ah,’ said Mr. Wardle. ‘Well, that’s important.
  • There was nothing suspicious then, I suppose?’
  • Mr. Tupman glanced timidly at his leader. ‘Why,’ said he, ‘there was nothin_uspicious; but—I don’t know how it happened, mind—she certainly was reclinin_n his arms.’
  • ‘Gracious powers!’ ejaculated Mr. Pickwick, as the recollection of the scen_n question struck forcibly upon him; ‘what a dreadful instance of the forc_f circumstances! So she was—so she was.’
  • ‘And our friend was soothing her anguish,’ said Mr. Winkle, rathe_aliciously.
  • ‘So I was,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘I don’t deny it. So I was.’
  • ‘Hollo!’ said Wardle; ‘for a case in which there’s nothing suspicious, thi_ooks rather queer—eh, Pickwick? Ah, sly dog—sly dog!’ and he laughed till th_lasses on the sideboard rang again.
  • ‘What a dreadful conjunction of appearances!’ exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, restin_is chin upon his hands. ‘Winkle—Tupman—I beg your pardon for the observation_ made just now. We are all the victims of circumstances, and I the greatest.’ With this apology Mr. Pickwick buried his head in his hands, and ruminated; while Wardle measured out a regular circle of nods and winks, addressed to th_ther members of the company.
  • ‘I’ll have it explained, though,’ said Mr. Pickwick, raising his head an_ammering the table. ‘I’ll see this Dodson and Fogg! I’ll go to Londo_o–morrow.’
  • ‘Not to–morrow,’ said Wardle; ‘you’re too lame.’
  • ‘Well, then, next day.’
  • ‘Next day is the first of September, and you’re pledged to ride out with us, as far as Sir Geoffrey Manning’s grounds at all events, and to meet us a_unch, if you don’t take the field.’
  • ‘Well, then, the day after,’ said Mr. Pickwick; ‘Thursday.—Sam!’
  • ‘Sir,’ replied Mr. Weller.
  • ‘Take two places outside to London, on Thursday morning, for yourself and me.’
  • ‘Wery well, Sir.’
  • Mr. Weller left the room, and departed slowly on his errand, with his hands i_is pocket and his eyes fixed on the ground.
  • ‘Rum feller, the hemperor,’ said Mr. Weller, as he walked slowly up th_treet. ‘Think o’ his makin’ up to that ‘ere Mrs. Bardell—vith a little boy, too! Always the vay vith these here old ’uns howsoever, as is such stead_oers to look at. I didn’t think he’d ha’ done it, though—I didn’t think he’_a’ done it!’ Moralising in this strain, Mr. Samuel Weller bent his step_owards the booking–office.