Chapter 39 Mr. Samuel Weller, being intrusted with a Mission of Love,
proceeds to execute it; with what Success will hereinafter appear
During the whole of next day, Sam kept Mr. Winkle steadily in sight, full_etermined not to take his eyes off him for one instant, until he shoul_eceive express instructions from the fountain–head. However disagreeabl_am’s very close watch and great vigilance were to Mr. Winkle, he thought i_etter to bear with them, than, by any act of violent opposition, to hazar_eing carried away by force, which Mr. Weller more than once strongly hinte_as the line of conduct that a strict sense of duty prompted him to pursue.
There is little reason to doubt that Sam would very speedily have quieted hi_cruples, by bearing Mr. Winkle back to Bath, bound hand and foot, had not Mr.
Pickwick’s prompt attention to the note, which Dowler had undertaken t_eliver, forestalled any such proceeding. In short, at eight o’clock in th_vening, Mr. Pickwick himself walked into the coffee–room of the Bush Tavern, and told Sam with a smile, to his very great relief, that he had done quit_ight, and it was unnecessary for him to mount guard any longer.
‘I thought it better to come myself,’ said Mr. Pickwick, addressing Mr.
Winkle, as Sam disencumbered him of his great–coat and travelling–shawl, ‘t_scertain, before I gave my consent to Sam’s employment in this matter, tha_ou are quite in earnest and serious, with respect to this young lady.’
‘Serious, from my heart—from my soul!‘returned Mr. Winkle, with great energy.
‘Remember,’ said Mr. Pickwick, with beaming eyes, ‘we met her at our excellen_nd hospitable friend’s, Winkle. It would be an ill return to tamper lightly, and without due consideration, with this young lady’s affections. I’ll no_llow that, sir. I’ll not allow it.’
‘I have no such intention, indeed,’ exclaimed Mr. Winkle warmly. ‘I hav_onsidered the matter well, for a long time, and I feel that my happiness i_ound up in her.’
‘That’s wot we call tying it up in a small parcel, sir,’ interposed Mr.
Weller, with an agreeable smile.
Mr. Winkle looked somewhat stern at this interruption, and Mr. Pickwic_ngrily requested his attendant not to jest with one of the best feelings o_ur nature; to which Sam replied, ‘That he wouldn’t, if he was aware on it; but there were so many on ’em, that he hardly know’d which was the best one_en he heerd ’em mentioned.’
Mr. Winkle then recounted what had passed between himself and Mr. Ben Allen, relative to Arabella; stated that his object was to gain an interview with th_oung lady, and make a formal disclosure of his passion; and declared hi_onviction, founded on certain dark hints and mutterings of the aforesaid Ben, that, wherever she was at present immured, it was somewhere near the Downs.
And this was his whole stock of knowledge or suspicion on the subject.
With this very slight clue to guide him, it was determined that Mr. Welle_hould start next morning on an expedition of discovery; it was also arrange_hat Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Winkle, who were less confident of their powers, should parade the town meanwhile, and accidentally drop in upon Mr. Bob Sawye_n the course of the day, in the hope of seeing or hearing something of th_oung lady’s whereabouts.
Accordingly, next morning, Sam Weller issued forth upon his quest, in no wa_aunted by the very discouraging prospect before him; and away he walked, u_ne street and down another—we were going to say, up one hill and dow_nother, only it’s all uphill at Clifton—without meeting with anything o_nybody that tended to throw the faintest light on the matter in hand. Man_ere the colloquies into which Sam entered with grooms who were airing horse_n roads, and nursemaids who were airing children in lanes; but nothing coul_am elicit from either the first–mentioned or the last, which bore th_lightest reference to the object of his artfully–prosecuted inquiries. Ther_ere a great many young ladies in a great many houses, the greater par_hereof were shrewdly suspected by the male and female domestics to be deepl_ttached to somebody, or perfectly ready to become so, if opportunit_fforded. But as none among these young ladies was Miss Arabella Allen, th_nformation left Sam at exactly the old point of wisdom at which he had stoo_efore.
Sam struggled across the Downs against a good high wind, wondering whether i_as always necessary to hold your hat on with both hands in that part of th_ountry, and came to a shady by–place, about which were sprinkled severa_ittle villas of quiet and secluded appearance. Outside a stable door at th_ottom of a long back lane without a thoroughfare, a groom in undress wa_dling about, apparently persuading himself that he was doing something with _pade and a wheel–barrow. We may remark, in this place, that we have scarcel_ver seen a groom near a stable, in his lazy moments, who has not been, to _reater or less extent, the victim of this singular delusion.
Sam thought he might as well talk to this groom as to any one else, especiall_s he was very tired with walking, and there was a good large stone jus_pposite the wheel–barrow; so he strolled down the lane, and, seating himsel_n the stone, opened a conversation with the ease and freedom for which he wa_emarkable.
‘Mornin’, old friend,’ said Sam.
‘Arternoon, you mean,’ replied the groom, casting a surly look at Sam.
‘You’re wery right, old friend,’ said Sam; ‘I do mean arternoon. How are you?’
‘Why, I don’t find myself much the better for seeing of you,’ replied th_ll–tempered groom.
‘That’s wery odd—that is,’ said Sam, ‘for you look so uncommon cheerful, an_eem altogether so lively, that it does vun’s heart good to see you.’
The surly groom looked surlier still at this, but not sufficiently so t_roduce any effect upon Sam, who immediately inquired, with a countenance o_reat anxiety, whether his master’s name was not Walker.
‘No, it ain’t,’ said the groom.
‘Nor Brown, I s’pose?’ said Sam.
‘No, it ain’t.’
‘No; nor that either,’ said the groom.
‘Vell,’ replied Sam, ‘then I’m mistaken, and he hasn’t got the honour o’ m_cquaintance, which I thought he had. Don’t wait here out o’ compliment t_e,’ said Sam, as the groom wheeled in the barrow, and prepared to shut th_ate. ‘Ease afore ceremony, old boy; I’ll excuse you.’
‘I’d knock your head off for half–a–crown,’ said the surly groom, bolting on_alf of the gate.
‘Couldn’t afford to have it done on those terms,’ rejoined Sam. ‘It ’ud b_orth a life’s board wages at least, to you, and ’ud be cheap at that. Make m_ompliments indoors. Tell ’em not to vait dinner for me, and say they needn’_ind puttin’ any by, for it’ll be cold afore I come in.’
In reply to this, the groom waxing very wroth, muttered a desire to damag_omebody’s person; but disappeared without carrying it into execution, slamming the door angrily after him, and wholly unheeding Sam’s affectionat_equest, that he would leave him a lock of his hair before he went.
Sam continued to sit on the large stone, meditating upon what was best to b_one, and revolving in his mind a plan for knocking at all the doors withi_ive miles of Bristol, taking them at a hundred and fifty or two hundred _ay, and endeavouring to find Miss Arabella by that expedient, when acciden_ll of a sudden threw in his way what he might have sat there for _welvemonth and yet not found without it.
Into the lane where he sat, there opened three or four garden gates, belongin_o as many houses, which though detached from each other, were only separate_y their gardens. As these were large and long, and well planted with trees, the houses were not only at some distance off, but the greater part of the_ere nearly concealed from view. Sam was sitting with his eyes fixed upon th_ust–heap outside the next gate to that by which the groom had disappeared, profoundly turning over in his mind the difficulties of his presen_ndertaking, when the gate opened, and a female servant came out into the lan_o shake some bedside carpets.
Sam was so very busy with his own thoughts, that it is probable he would hav_aken no more notice of the young woman than just raising his head an_emarking that she had a very neat and pretty figure, if his feelings o_allantry had not been most strongly roused by observing that she had no on_o help her, and that the carpets seemed too heavy for her single strength.
Mr. Weller was a gentleman of great gallantry in his own way, and he no soone_emarked this circumstance than he hastily rose from the large stone, an_dvanced towards her.
‘My dear,’ said Sam, sliding up with an air of great respect, ‘you’ll spil_hat wery pretty figure out o’ all perportion if you shake them carpets b_ourself. Let me help you.’
The young lady, who had been coyly affecting not to know that a gentleman wa_o near, turned round as Sam spoke—no doubt (indeed she said so, afterwards) to decline this offer from a perfect stranger—when instead of speaking, sh_tarted back, and uttered a half–suppressed scream. Sam was scarcely les_taggered, for in the countenance of the well–shaped female servant, he behel_he very features of his valentine, the pretty housemaid from Mr. Nupkins’s.
‘Wy, Mary, my dear!’ said Sam.
‘Lauk, Mr. Weller,’ said Mary, ‘how you do frighten one!’
Sam made no verbal answer to this complaint, nor can we precisely say wha_eply he did make. We merely know that after a short pause Mary said, ‘Lor, d_dun, Mr. Weller!’ and that his hat had fallen off a few moments before—fro_oth of which tokens we should be disposed to infer that one kiss, or more, had passed between the parties.
‘Why, how did you come here?’ said Mary, when the conversation to which thi_nterruption had been offered, was resumed.
‘O’ course I came to look arter you, my darlin’,’ replied Mr. Weller; for onc_ermitting his passion to get the better of his veracity.
‘And how did you know I was here?’ inquired Mary. ‘Who could have told yo_hat I took another service at Ipswich, and that they afterwards moved all th_ay here? Who could have told you that, Mr. Weller?’
‘Ah, to be sure,’ said Sam, with a cunning look, ‘that’s the pint. Who coul_a’ told me?’
‘It wasn’t Mr. Muzzle, was it?’ inquired Mary.
‘Oh, no.’ replied Sam, with a solemn shake of the head, ‘it warn’t him.’
‘It must have been the cook,’ said Mary.
‘O’ course it must,’ said Sam.
‘Well, I never heard the like of that!’ exclaimed Mary.
‘No more did I,’ said Sam. ‘But Mary, my dear’—here Sam’s manner gre_xtremely affectionate—‘Mary, my dear, I’ve got another affair in hand as i_ery pressin’. There’s one o’ my governor’s friends—Mr. Winkle, you remembe_im?’
‘Him in the green coat?’ said Mary. ‘Oh, yes, I remember him.’
‘Well,’ said Sam, ‘he’s in a horrid state o’ love; reg’larly comfoozled, an_one over vith it.’
‘Lor!’ interposed Mary.
‘Yes,’ said Sam; ‘but that’s nothin’ if we could find out the young ‘ooman;’ and here Sam, with many digressions upon the personal beauty of Mary, and th_nspeakable tortures he had experienced since he last saw her, gave a faithfu_ccount of Mr. Winkle’s present predicament.
‘Well,’ said Mary, ‘I never did!’
‘O’ course not,’ said Sam, ‘and nobody never did, nor never vill neither; an_ere am I a–walkin’ about like the wandering Jew—a sportin’ character you hav_erhaps heerd on Mary, my dear, as vos alvays doin’ a match agin’ time, an_ever vent to sleep—looking arter this here Miss Arabella Allen.’
‘Miss who?’ said Mary, in great astonishment.
‘Miss Arabella Allen,’ said Sam.
‘Goodness gracious!’ said Mary, pointing to the garden door which the sulk_room had locked after him. ‘Why, it’s that very house; she’s been livin_here these six weeks. Their upper house–maid, which is lady’s–maid too, tol_e all about it over the wash–house palin’s before the family was out of bed, one mornin’.’
‘Wot, the wery next door to you?’ said Sam.
‘The very next,’ replied Mary.
Mr. Weller was so deeply overcome on receiving this intelligence that he foun_t absolutely necessary to cling to his fair informant for support; and diver_ittle love passages had passed between them, before he was sufficientl_ollected to return to the subject.
‘Vell,’ said Sam at length, ‘if this don’t beat cock–fightin’ nothin’ neve_ill, as the lord mayor said, ven the chief secretary o’ state proposed hi_issis’s health arter dinner. That wery next house! Wy, I’ve got a message t_er as I’ve been a–trying all day to deliver.’
‘Ah,’ said Mary, ‘but you can’t deliver it now, because she only walks in th_arden in the evening, and then only for a very little time; she never goe_ut, without the old lady.’
Sam ruminated for a few moments, and finally hit upon the following plan o_perations; that he should return just at dusk—the time at which Arabell_nvariably took her walk—and, being admitted by Mary into the garden of th_ouse to which she belonged, would contrive to scramble up the wall, beneat_he overhanging boughs of a large pear–tree, which would effectually scree_im from observation; would there deliver his message, and arrange, i_ossible, an interview on behalf of Mr. Winkle for the ensuing evening at th_ame hour. Having made this arrangement with great despatch, he assisted Mar_n the long–deferred occupation of shaking the carpets.
It is not half as innocent a thing as it looks, that shaking little pieces o_arpet—at least, there may be no great harm in the shaking, but the folding i_ very insidious process. So long as the shaking lasts, and the two partie_re kept the carpet’s length apart, it is as innocent an amusement as can wel_e devised; but when the folding begins, and the distance between them get_radually lessened from one half its former length to a quarter, and then t_n eighth, and then to a sixteenth, and then to a thirty–second, if the carpe_e long enough, it becomes dangerous. We do not know, to a nicety, how man_ieces of carpet were folded in this instance, but we can venture to stat_hat as many pieces as there were, so many times did Sam kiss the prett_ousemaid.
Mr. Weller regaled himself with moderation at the nearest tavern until it wa_early dusk, and then returned to the lane without the thoroughfare. Havin_een admitted into the garden by Mary, and having received from that lad_undry admonitions concerning the safety of his limbs and neck, Sam mounte_nto the pear–tree, to wait until Arabella should come into sight.
He waited so long without this anxiously–expected event occurring, that h_egan to think it was not going to take place at all, when he heard ligh_ootsteps upon the gravel, and immediately afterwards beheld Arabella walkin_ensively down the garden. As soon as she came nearly below the tree, Sa_egan, by way of gently indicating his presence, to make sundry diabolica_oises similar to those which would probably be natural to a person of middl_ge who had been afflicted with a combination of inflammatory sore throat, croup, and whooping–cough, from his earliest infancy.
Upon this, the young lady cast a hurried glance towards the spot whence th_readful sounds proceeded; and her previous alarm being not at all diminishe_hen she saw a man among the branches, she would most certainly have decamped, and alarmed the house, had not fear fortunately deprived her of the power o_oving, and caused her to sink down on a garden seat, which happened by goo_uck to be near at hand.
‘She’s a–goin’ off,’ soliloquised Sam in great perplexity. ‘Wot a thing it is, as these here young creeturs will go a–faintin’ avay just ven they oughtn’_o. Here, young ‘ooman, Miss Sawbones, Mrs. Vinkle, don’t!’
Whether it was the magic of Mr. Winkle’s name, or the coolness of the ope_ir, or some recollection of Mr. Weller’s voice, that revived Arabella, matters not. She raised her head and languidly inquired, ‘Who’s that, and wha_o you want?’
‘Hush,’ said Sam, swinging himself on to the wall, and crouching there in a_mall a compass as he could reduce himself to, ‘only me, miss, only me.’
‘Mr. Pickwick’s servant!’ said Arabella earnestly.
‘The wery same, miss,’ replied Sam. ‘Here’s Mr. Vinkle reg’larly sewed up vit_esperation, miss.’
‘Ah!’ said Arabella, drawing nearer the wall.
‘Ah, indeed,’ said Sam. ‘Ve thought ve should ha’ been obliged t_trait–veskit him last night; he’s been a–ravin’ all day; and he says if h_an’t see you afore to–morrow night’s over, he vishes he may be somethin’ unpleasanted if he don’t drownd hisself.’
‘Oh, no, no, Mr. Weller!’ said Arabella, clasping her hands.
‘That’s wot he says, miss,’ replied Sam coolly. ‘He’s a man of his word, an_t’s my opinion he’ll do it, miss. He’s heerd all about you from the sawbone_n barnacles.’
‘From my brother!’ said Arabella, having some faint recognition of Sam’_escription.
‘I don’t rightly know which is your brother, miss,’ replied Sam. ‘Is it th_irtiest vun o’ the two?’
‘Yes, yes, Mr. Weller,’ returned Arabella, ‘go on. Make haste, pray.’
‘Well, miss,’ said Sam, ‘he’s heerd all about it from him; and it’s th_ov’nor’s opinion that if you don’t see him wery quick, the sawbones as we’v_een a–speakin’ on, ’ull get as much extra lead in his head as’ll raythe_amage the dewelopment o’ the orgins if they ever put it in spirit_rtervards.’
‘Oh, what can I do to prevent these dreadful quarrels!’ exclaimed Arabella.
‘It’s the suspicion of a priory ‘tachment as is the cause of it all,’ replie_am. ‘You’d better see him, miss.’
‘But how?—where?‘cried Arabella. ‘I dare not leave the house alone. My brothe_s so unkind, so unreasonable! I know how strange my talking thus to you ma_ppear, Mr. Weller, but I am very, very unhappy—’ and here poor Arabella wep_o bitterly that Sam grew chivalrous.
‘It may seem wery strange talkin’ to me about these here affairs, miss,’ sai_am, with great vehemence; ‘but all I can say is, that I’m not only ready bu_illin’ to do anythin’ as’ll make matters agreeable; and if chuckin’ either o’ them sawboneses out o’ winder ’ull do it, I’m the man.’ As Sam Weller sai_his, he tucked up his wristbands, at the imminent hazard of falling off th_all in so doing, to intimate his readiness to set to work immediately.
Flattering as these professions of good feeling were, Arabella resolutel_eclined (most unaccountably, as Sam thought) to avail herself of them. Fo_ome time she strenuously refused to grant Mr. Winkle the interview Sam had s_athetically requested; but at length, when the conversation threatened to b_nterrupted by the unwelcome arrival of a third party, she hurriedly gave hi_o understand, with many professions of gratitude, that it was barely possibl_he might be in the garden an hour later, next evening. Sam understood thi_erfectly well; and Arabella, bestowing upon him one of her sweetest smiles, tripped gracefully away, leaving Mr. Weller in a state of very grea_dmiration of her charms, both personal and mental.
Having descended in safety from the wall, and not forgotten to devote a fe_oments to his own particular business in the same department, Mr. Weller the_ade the best of his way back to the Bush, where his prolonged absence ha_ccasioned much speculation and some alarm.
‘We must be careful,’ said Mr. Pickwick, after listening attentively to Sam’_ale, ‘not for our sakes, but for that of the young lady. We must be ver_autious.’
‘We!’ said Mr. Winkle, with marked emphasis.
Mr. Pickwick’s momentary look of indignation at the tone of this remark, subsided into his characteristic expression of benevolence, as he replied—
‘We, Sir! I shall accompany you.’
‘You!’ said Mr. Winkle.
‘I,’ replied Mr. Pickwick mildly. ‘In affording you this interview, the youn_ady has taken a natural, perhaps, but still a very imprudent step. If I a_resent at the meeting—a mutual friend, who is old enough to be the father o_oth parties—the voice of calumny can never be raised against her hereafter.’
Mr. Pickwick’s eyes lightened with honest exultation at his own foresight, a_e spoke thus. Mr. Winkle was touched by this little trait of his delicat_espect for the young protegee of his friend, and took his hand with a feelin_f regard, akin to veneration.
‘You shall go,’ said Mr. Winkle.
‘I will,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘Sam, have my greatcoat and shawl ready, an_rder a conveyance to be at the door to–morrow evening, rather earlier than i_bsolutely necessary, in order that we may be in good time.’
Mr. Weller touched his hat, as an earnest of his obedience, and withdrew t_ake all needful preparations for the expedition.
The coach was punctual to the time appointed; and Mr. Weller, after dul_nstalling Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Winkle inside, took his seat on the box by th_river. They alighted, as had been agreed on, about a quarter of a mile fro_he place of rendezvous, and desiring the coachman to await their return, proceeded the remaining distance on foot.
It was at this stage of the undertaking that Mr. Pickwick, with many smile_nd various other indications of great self–satisfaction, produced from one o_is coat pockets a dark lantern, with which he had specially provided himsel_or the occasion, and the great mechanical beauty of which he proceeded t_xplain to Mr. Winkle, as they walked along, to the no small surprise of th_ew stragglers they met.
‘I should have been the better for something of this kind, in my last garde_xpedition, at night; eh, Sam?’ said Mr. Pickwick, looking good–humouredl_ound at his follower, who was trudging behind.
‘Wery nice things, if they’re managed properly, Sir,’ replied Mr. Weller; ‘bu_en you don’t want to be seen, I think they’re more useful arter the candle’_one out, than wen it’s alight.’
Mr. Pickwick appeared struck by Sam’s remarks, for he put the lantern into hi_ocket again, and they walked on in silence.
‘Down here, Sir,’ said Sam. ‘Let me lead the way. This is the lane, Sir.’
Down the lane they went, and dark enough it was. Mr. Pickwick brought out th_antern, once or twice, as they groped their way along, and threw a ver_rilliant little tunnel of light before them, about a foot in diameter. It wa_ery pretty to look at, but seemed to have the effect of rendering surroundin_bjects rather darker than before.
At length they arrived at the large stone. Here Sam recommended his master an_r. Winkle to seat themselves, while he reconnoitred, and ascertained whethe_ary was yet in waiting.
After an absence of five or ten minutes, Sam returned to say that the gate wa_pened, and all quiet. Following him with stealthy tread, Mr. Pickwick and Mr.
Winkle soon found themselves in the garden. Here everybody said, ‘Hush!’ _ood many times; and that being done, no one seemed to have any very distinc_pprehension of what was to be done next.
‘Is Miss Allen in the garden yet, Mary?’ inquired Mr. Winkle, much agitated.
‘I don’t know, sir,’ replied the pretty housemaid. ‘The best thing to be done, sir, will be for Mr. Weller to give you a hoist up into the tree, and perhap_r. Pickwick will have the goodness to see that nobody comes up the lane, while I watch at the other end of the garden. Goodness gracious, what’s that?’
‘That ‘ere blessed lantern ’ull be the death on us all,’ exclaimed Sa_eevishly. ‘Take care wot you’re a–doin’ on, sir; you’re a–sendin’ a blaze o’ light, right into the back parlour winder.’
‘Dear me!’ said Mr. Pickwick, turning hastily aside, ‘I didn’t mean to d_hat.’
‘Now, it’s in the next house, sir,’ remonstrated Sam.
‘Bless my heart!’ exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, turning round again.
‘Now, it’s in the stable, and they’ll think the place is afire,’ said Sam.
‘Shut it up, sir, can’t you?’
‘It’s the most extraordinary lantern I ever met with, in all my life!’ exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, greatly bewildered by the effects he had s_nintentionally produced. ‘I never saw such a powerful reflector.’
‘It’ll be vun too powerful for us, if you keep blazin’ avay in that manner, sir,’ replied Sam, as Mr. Pickwick, after various unsuccessful efforts, managed to close the slide. ‘There’s the young lady’s footsteps. Now, Mr.
Winkle, sir, up vith you.’
‘Stop, stop!’ said Mr. Pickwick, ‘I must speak to her first. Help me up, Sam.’
‘Gently, Sir,’ said Sam, planting his head against the wall, and making _latform of his back. ‘Step atop o’ that ‘ere flower–pot, Sir. Now then, u_ith you.’
‘I’m afraid I shall hurt you, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘Never mind me, Sir,’ replied Sam. ‘Lend him a hand, Mr. Winkle. sir. Steady, sir, steady! That’s the time o’ day!’
As Sam spoke, Mr. Pickwick, by exertions almost supernatural in a gentleman o_is years and weight, contrived to get upon Sam’s back; and Sam gently raisin_imself up, and Mr. Pickwick holding on fast by the top of the wall, while Mr.
Winkle clasped him tight by the legs, they contrived by these means to brin_is spectacles just above the level of the coping.
‘My dear,’ said Mr. Pickwick, looking over the wall, and catching sight o_rabella, on the other side, ‘don’t be frightened, my dear, it’s only me.’ ‘Oh, pray go away, Mr. Pickwick,’ said Arabella. ‘Tell them all to go away. _m so dreadfully frightened. Dear, dear Mr. Pickwick, don’t stop there. You’l_all down and kill yourself, I know you will.’
‘Now, pray don’t alarm yourself, my dear,’ said Mr. Pickwick soothingly.
‘There is not the least cause for fear, I assure you. Stand firm, Sam,’ sai_r. Pickwick, looking down.
‘All right, sir,’ replied Mr. Weller. ‘Don’t be longer than you ca_onweniently help, sir. You’re rayther heavy.’
‘Only another moment, Sam,’ replied Mr. Pickwick.
‘I merely wished you to know, my dear, that I should not have allowed my youn_riend to see you in this clandestine way, if the situation in which you ar_laced had left him any alternative; and, lest the impropriety of this ste_hould cause you any uneasiness, my love, it may be a satisfaction to you, t_now that I am present. That’s all, my dear.’
‘Indeed, Mr. Pickwick, I am very much obliged to you for your kindness an_onsideration,’ replied Arabella, drying her tears with her handkerchief. Sh_ould probably have said much more, had not Mr. Pickwick’s head disappeare_ith great swiftness, in consequence of a false step on Sam’s shoulder whic_rought him suddenly to the ground. He was up again in an instant however; an_idding Mr. Winkle make haste and get the interview over, ran out into th_ane to keep watch, with all the courage and ardour of youth. Mr. Winkl_imself, inspired by the occasion, was on the wall in a moment, merely pausin_o request Sam to be careful of his master.
‘I’ll take care on him, sir,’ replied Sam. ‘Leave him to me.’
‘Where is he? What’s he doing, Sam?’ inquired Mr. Winkle.
‘Bless his old gaiters,’ rejoined Sam, looking out at the garden door. ‘He’_–keepin’ guard in the lane vith that ‘ere dark lantern, like a amiable Gu_awkes! I never see such a fine creetur in my days. Blessed if I don’t thin_is heart must ha’ been born five–and–twenty year arter his body, at least!’
Mr. Winkle stayed not to hear the encomium upon his friend. He had droppe_rom the wall; thrown himself at Arabella’s feet; and by this time wa_leading the sincerity of his passion with an eloquence worthy even of Mr.
While these things were going on in the open air, an elderly gentleman o_cientific attainments was seated in his library, two or three houses off, writing a philosophical treatise, and ever and anon moistening his clay an_is labours with a glass of claret from a venerable–looking bottle which stoo_y his side. In the agonies of composition, the elderly gentleman looke_ometimes at the carpet, sometimes at the ceiling, and sometimes at the wall; and when neither carpet, ceiling, nor wall afforded the requisite degree o_nspiration, he looked out of the window.
In one of these pauses of invention, the scientific gentleman was gazin_bstractedly on the thick darkness outside, when he was very much surprised b_bserving a most brilliant light glide through the air, at a short distanc_bove the ground, and almost instantaneously vanish. After a short time th_henomenon was repeated, not once or twice, but several times; at last th_cientific gentleman, laying down his pen, began to consider to what natura_auses these appearances were to be assigned.
They were not meteors; they were too low. They were not glow–worms; they wer_oo high. They were not will–o’–the–wisps; they were not fireflies; they wer_ot fireworks. What could they be? Some extraordinary and wonderful phenomeno_f nature, which no philosopher had ever seen before; something which it ha_een reserved for him alone to discover, and which he should immortalise hi_ame by chronicling for the benefit of posterity. Full of this idea, th_cientific gentleman seized his pen again, and committed to paper sundry note_f these unparalleled appearances, with the date, day, hour, minute, an_recise second at which they were visible: all of which were to form the dat_f a voluminous treatise of great research and deep learning, which shoul_stonish all the atmospherical wiseacres that ever drew breath in any part o_he civilised globe.
He threw himself back in his easy–chair, wrapped in contemplations of hi_uture greatness. The mysterious light appeared more brilliantly than before, dancing, to all appearance, up and down the lane, crossing from side to side, and moving in an orbit as eccentric as comets themselves.
The scientific gentleman was a bachelor. He had no wife to call in an_stonish, so he rang the bell for his servant.
‘Pruffle,’ said the scientific gentleman, ‘there is something ver_xtraordinary in the air to–night? Did you see that?’ said the scientifi_entleman, pointing out of the window, as the light again became visible.
‘Yes, I did, Sir.’
‘What do you think of it, Pruffle?’
‘Think of it, Sir?’
‘Yes. You have been bred up in this country. What should you say was the caus_or those lights, now?’
The scientific gentleman smilingly anticipated Pruffle’s reply that he coul_ssign no cause for them at all. Pruffle meditated.
‘I should say it was thieves, Sir,’ said Pruffle at length.
‘You’re a fool, and may go downstairs,’ said the scientific gentleman.
‘Thank you, Sir,’ said Pruffle. And down he went.
But the scientific gentleman could not rest under the idea of the ingeniou_reatise he had projected being lost to the world, which must inevitably b_he case if the speculation of the ingenious Mr. Pruffle were not stifled i_ts birth. He put on his hat and walked quickly down the garden, determined t_nvestigate the matter to the very bottom.
Now, shortly before the scientific gentleman walked out into the garden, Mr.
Pickwick had run down the lane as fast as he could, to convey a false alar_hat somebody was coming that way; occasionally drawing back the slide of th_ark lantern to keep himself from the ditch. The alarm was no sooner given, than Mr. Winkle scrambled back over the wall, and Arabella ran into the house; the garden gate was shut, and the three adventurers were making the best o_heir way down the lane, when they were startled by the scientific gentlema_nlocking his garden gate.
‘Hold hard,’ whispered Sam, who was, of course, the first of the party. ‘Sho_ light for just vun second, Sir.’
Mr. Pickwick did as he was desired, and Sam, seeing a man’s head peeping ou_ery cautiously within half a yard of his own, gave it a gentle tap with hi_lenched fist, which knocked it, with a hollow sound, against the gate. Havin_erformed this feat with great suddenness and dexterity, Mr. Weller caught Mr.
Pickwick up on his back, and followed Mr. Winkle down the lane at a pac_hich, considering the burden he carried, was perfectly astonishing.
‘Have you got your vind back agin, Sir,’ inquired Sam, when they had reache_he end.
‘Quite. Quite, now,’ replied Mr. Pickwick.
‘Then come along, Sir,’ said Sam, setting his master on his feet again. ‘Com_etveen us, sir. Not half a mile to run. Think you’re vinnin’ a cup, sir. No_or it.’
Thus encouraged, Mr. Pickwick made the very best use of his legs. It may b_onfidently stated that a pair of black gaiters never got over the ground i_etter style than did those of Mr. Pickwick on this memorable occasion.
The coach was waiting, the horses were fresh, the roads were good, and th_river was willing. The whole party arrived in safety at the Bush before Mr.
Pickwick had recovered his breath.
‘in with you at once, sir,’ said Sam, as he helped his master out. ‘Don’t sto_ second in the street, arter that ‘ere exercise. Beg your pardon, sir,‘continued Sam, touching his hat as Mr. Winkle descended, ‘hope ther_arn’t a priory ‘tachment, sir?’
Mr. Winkle grasped his humble friend by the hand, and whispered in his ear, ‘It’s all right, Sam; quite right.’ Upon which Mr. Weller struck thre_istinct blows upon his nose in token of intelligence, smiled, winked, an_roceeded to put the steps up, with a countenance expressive of livel_atisfaction.
As to the scientific gentleman, he demonstrated, in a masterly treatise, tha_hese wonderful lights were the effect of electricity; and clearly proved th_ame by detailing how a flash of fire danced before his eyes when he put hi_ead out of the gate, and how he received a shock which stunned him for _uarter of an hour afterwards; which demonstration delighted all th_cientific associations beyond measure, and caused him to be considered _ight of science ever afterwards.