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—
‘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?’
‘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.
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.