Chapter 54 Containing some Particulars relative to the Double Knock, an_ther Matters: among which certain interesting Disclosures relative to Mr.
Snodgrass and a Young Lady are by no Means irrelevant to this History
The object that presented itself to the eyes of the astonished clerk, was _oy—a wonderfully fat boy—habited as a serving lad, standing upright on th_at, with his eyes closed as if in sleep. He had never seen such a fat boy, i_r out of a travelling caravan; and this, coupled with the calmness and repos_f his appearance, so very different from what was reasonably to have bee_xpected of the inflicter of such knocks, smote him with wonder.
‘What’s the matter?’ inquired the clerk.
The extraordinary boy replied not a word; but he nodded once, and seemed, t_he clerk’s imagination, to snore feebly.
‘Where do you come from?’ inquired the clerk.
The boy made no sign. He breathed heavily, but in all other respects wa_otionless.
The clerk repeated the question thrice, and receiving no answer, prepared t_hut the door, when the boy suddenly opened his eyes, winked several times, sneezed once, and raised his hand as if to repeat the knocking. Finding th_oor open, he stared about him with astonishment, and at length fixed his eye_n Mr. Lowten’s face.
‘What the devil do you knock in that way for?’ inquired the clerk angrily.
‘Which way?’ said the boy, in a slow and sleepy voice.
‘Why, like forty hackney–coachmen,’ replied the clerk.
‘Because master said, I wasn’t to leave off knocking till they opened th_oor, for fear I should go to sleep,’ said the boy.
‘Well,’ said the clerk, ‘what message have you brought?’
‘He’s downstairs,’ rejoined the boy.
‘Master. He wants to know whether you’re at home.’
Mr. Lowten bethought himself, at this juncture, of looking out of the window.
Seeing an open carriage with a hearty old gentleman in it, looking up ver_nxiously, he ventured to beckon him; on which, the old gentleman jumped ou_irectly.
‘That’s your master in the carriage, I suppose?’ said Lowten.
The boy nodded.
All further inquiries were superseded by the appearance of old Wardle, who, running upstairs and just recognising Lowten, passed at once into Mr. Perker’_oom.
‘Pickwick!’ said the old gentleman. ‘Your hand, my boy! Why have I never hear_ntil the day before yesterday of your suffering yourself to be cooped up i_ail? And why did you let him do it, Perker?’
‘I couldn’t help it, my dear Sir,’ replied Perker, with a smile and a pinch o_nuff; ‘you know how obstinate he is?’
‘Of course I do; of course I do,’ replied the old gentleman. ‘I am heartil_lad to see him, notwithstanding. I will not lose sight of him again, in _urry.’
With these words, Wardle shook Mr. Pickwick’s hand once more, and, having don_he same by Perker, threw himself into an arm–chair, his jolly red fac_hining again with smiles and health.
‘Well!’ said Wardle. ‘Here are pretty goings on—a pinch of your snuff, Perker, my boy—never were such times, eh?’
‘What do you mean?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.
‘Mean!’ replied Wardle. ‘Why, I think the girls are all running mad; that’s n_ews, you’ll say? Perhaps it’s not; but it’s true, for all that.’
‘You have not come up to London, of all places in the world, to tell us that, my dear Sir, have you?’ inquired Perker.
‘No, not altogether,’ replied Wardle; ‘though it was the main cause of m_oming. How’s Arabella?’
‘Very well,’ replied Mr. Pickwick, ‘and will be delighted to see you, I a_ure.’
‘Black–eyed little jilt!’ replied Wardle. ‘I had a great idea of marrying he_yself, one of these odd days. But I am glad of it too, very glad.’
‘How did the intelligence reach you?’ asked Mr. Pickwick.
‘Oh, it came to my girls, of course,‘replied Wardle. ‘Arabella wrote, the da_efore yesterday, to say she had made a stolen match without her husband’_ather’s consent, and so you had gone down to get it when his refusing i_ouldn’t prevent the match, and all the rest of it. I thought it a very goo_ime to say something serious to my girls; so I said what a dreadful thing i_as that children should marry without their parents’ consent, and so forth; but, bless your hearts, I couldn’t make the least impression upon them. The_hought it such a much more dreadful thing that there should have been _edding without bridesmaids, that I might as well have preached to Jo_imself.’ Here the old gentleman stopped to laugh; and having done so to hi_eart’s content, presently resumed—
‘But this is not the best of it, it seems. This is only half the love–makin_nd plotting that have been going forward. We have been walking on mines fo_he last six months, and they’re sprung at last.’
‘What do you mean?’ exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, turning pale; ‘no other secre_arriage, I hope?’
‘No, no,’ replied old Wardle; ‘not so bad as that; no.’
‘What then?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick; ‘am I interested in it?’
‘Shall I answer that question, Perker?’ said Wardle.
‘If you don’t commit yourself by doing so, my dear Sir.’
‘Well then, you are,’ said Wardle.
‘How?’ asked Mr. Pickwick anxiously. ‘In what way?’
‘Really,’ replied Wardle, ‘you’re such a fiery sort of a young fellow that _m almost afraid to tell you; but, however, if Perker will sit between us t_revent mischief, I’ll venture.’
Having closed the room door, and fortified himself with another application t_erker’s snuff–box, the old gentleman proceeded with his great disclosure i_hese words—
‘The fact is, that my daughter Bella—Bella, who married young Trundle, yo_now.’
‘Yes, yes, we know,’ said Mr. Pickwick impatiently.
‘Don’t alarm me at the very beginning. My daughter Bella—Emily having gone t_ed with a headache after she had read Arabella’s letter to me—sat hersel_own by my side the other evening, and began to talk over this marriag_ffair. “Well, pa,” she says, “what do you think of it?” “Why, my dear,” _aid, “I suppose it’s all very well; I hope it’s for the best.” I answered i_his way because I was sitting before the fire at the time, drinking my gro_ather thoughtfully, and I knew my throwing in an undecided word now and then, would induce her to continue talking. Both my girls are pictures of their dea_other, and as I grow old I like to sit with only them by me; for their voice_nd looks carry me back to the happiest period of my life, and make me, fo_he moment, as young as I used to be then, though not quite so light–hearted.
“It’s quite a marriage of affection, pa,” said Bella, after a short silence.
“Yes, my dear,” said I, “but such marriages do not always turn out th_appiest.”’
‘I question that, mind!’ interposed Mr. Pickwick warmly. ‘Very good,’ responded Wardle, ‘question anything you like when it’s your turn to speak, but don’t interrupt me.’
‘I beg your pardon,’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘Granted,’ replied Wardle. ‘“I am sorry to hear you express your opinio_gainst marriages of affection, pa,” said Bella, colouring a little. “I wa_rong; I ought not to have said so, my dear, either,” said I, patting he_heek as kindly as a rough old fellow like me could pat it, “for your mother’_as one, and so was yours.” “It’s not that I meant, pa,” said Bella. “The fac_s, pa, I wanted to speak to you about Emily.”’
Mr. Pickwick started.
‘What’s the matter now?’ inquired Wardle, stopping in his narrative.
‘Nothing,‘replied Mr. Pickwick. ‘Pray go on.’
‘I never could spin out a story,’ said Wardle abruptly. ‘It must come out, sooner or later, and it’ll save us all a great deal of time if it comes a_nce. The long and the short of it is, then, that Bella at last mustered u_ourage to tell me that Emily was very unhappy; that she and your young frien_nodgrass had been in constant correspondence and communication ever sinc_ast Christmas; that she had very dutifully made up her mind to run away wit_im, in laudable imitation of her old friend and school–fellow; but tha_aving some compunctions of conscience on the subject, inasmuch as I ha_lways been rather kindly disposed to both of them, they had thought it bette_n the first instance to pay me the compliment of asking whether I would hav_ny objection to their being married in the usual matter–of–fact manner. Ther_ow, Mr. Pickwick, if you can make it convenient to reduce your eyes to thei_sual size again, and to let me hear what you think we ought to do, I shal_eel rather obliged to you!’
The testy manner in which the hearty old gentleman uttered this last sentenc_as not wholly unwarranted; for Mr. Pickwick’s face had settled down into a_xpression of blank amazement and perplexity, quite curious to behold.
‘Snodgrass!–since last Christmas!’ were the first broken words that issue_rom the lips of the confounded gentleman.
‘Since last Christmas,’ replied Wardle; ‘that’s plain enough, and very ba_pectacles we must have worn, not to have discovered it before.’
‘I don’t understand it,’ said Mr. Pickwick, ruminating; ‘I cannot reall_nderstand it.’
‘It’s easy enough to understand it,’ replied the choleric old gentleman. ‘I_ou had been a younger man, you would have been in the secret long ago; an_esides,’ added Wardle, after a moment’s hesitation, ‘the truth is, that, knowing nothing of this matter, I have rather pressed Emily for four or fiv_onths past, to receive favourably (if she could; I would never attempt t_orce a girl’s inclinations) the addresses of a young gentleman down in ou_eighbourhood. I have no doubt that, girl–like, to enhance her own value an_ncrease the ardour of Mr. Snodgrass, she has represented this matter in ver_lowing colours, and that they have both arrived at the conclusion that the_re a terribly–persecuted pair of unfortunates, and have no resource bu_landestine matrimony, or charcoal. Now the question is, what’s to be done?’
‘What have you done?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.
‘I mean what did you do when your married daughter told you this?’
‘Oh, I made a fool of myself of course,’ rejoined Wardle.
‘Just so,’ interposed Perker, who had accompanied this dialogue with sundr_witchings of his watch–chain, vindictive rubbings of his nose, and othe_ymptoms of impatience. ‘That’s very natural; but how?’
‘I went into a great passion and frightened my mother into a fit,’ sai_ardle.
‘That was judicious,’ remarked Perker; ‘and what else?’
‘I fretted and fumed all next day, and raised a great disturbance,’ rejoine_he old gentleman. ‘At last I got tired of rendering myself unpleasant an_aking everybody miserable; so I hired a carriage at Muggleton, and, puttin_y own horses in it, came up to town, under pretence of bringing Emily to se_rabella.’
‘Miss Wardle is with you, then?’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘To be sure she is,’ replied Wardle. ‘She is at Osborne’s Hotel in the Adelph_t this moment, unless your enterprising friend has run away with her since _ame out this morning.’
‘You are reconciled then?’ said Perker.
‘Not a bit of it,’ answered Wardle; ‘she has been crying and moping eve_ince, except last night, between tea and supper, when she made a great parad_f writing a letter that I pretended to take no notice of.’
‘You want my advice in this matter, I suppose?’ said Perker, looking from th_using face of Mr. Pickwick to the eager countenance of Wardle, and takin_everal consecutive pinches of his favourite stimulant.
‘I suppose so,’ said Wardle, looking at Mr. Pickwick.
‘Certainly,’ replied that gentleman.
‘Well then,’ said Perker, rising and pushing his chair back, ‘my advice is, that you both walk away together, or ride away, or get away by some means o_ther, for I’m tired of you, and just talk this matter over between you. I_ou have not settled it by the next time I see you, I’ll tell you what to do.’
‘This is satisfactory,’ said Wardle, hardly knowing whether to smile or b_ffended.
‘Pooh, pooh, my dear Sir,’ returned Perker. ‘I know you both a great dea_etter than you know yourselves. You have settled it already, to all intent_nd purposes.’
Thus expressing himself, the little gentleman poked his snuff–box first int_he chest of Mr. Pickwick, and then into the waistcoat of Mr. Wardle, upo_hich they all three laughed, especially the two last–named gentlemen, who a_nce shook hands again, without any obvious or particular reason.
‘You dine with me to–day,’ said Wardle to Perker, as he showed them out.
‘Can’t promise, my dear Sir, can’t promise,’ replied Perker. ‘I’ll look in, i_he evening, at all events.’
‘I shall expect you at five,’ said Wardle. ‘Now, Joe!’ And Joe having been a_ength awakened, the two friends departed in Mr. Wardle’s carriage, which i_ommon humanity had a dickey behind for the fat boy, who, if there had been _ootboard instead, would have rolled off and killed himself in his very firs_ap.
Driving to the George and Vulture, they found that Arabella and her maid ha_ent for a hackney–coach immediately on the receipt of a short note from Emil_nnouncing her arrival in town, and had proceeded straight to the Adelphi. A_ardle had business to transact in the city, they sent the carriage and th_at boy to his hotel, with the information that he and Mr. Pickwick woul_eturn together to dinner at five o’clock.
Charged with this message, the fat boy returned, slumbering as peaceably i_is dickey, over the stones, as if it had been a down bed on watch springs. B_ome extraordinary miracle he awoke of his own accord, when the coach stopped, and giving himself a good shake to stir up his faculties, went upstairs t_xecute his commission.
Now, whether the shake had jumbled the fat boy’s faculties together, instea_f arranging them in proper order, or had roused such a quantity of new idea_ithin him as to render him oblivious of ordinary forms and ceremonies, or (which is also possible) had proved unsuccessful in preventing his fallin_sleep as he ascended the stairs, it is an undoubted fact that he walked int_he sitting–room without previously knocking at the door; and so beheld _entleman with his arms clasping his young mistress’s waist, sitting ver_ovingly by her side on a sofa, while Arabella and her pretty handmaid feigne_o be absorbed in looking out of a window at the other end of the room. At th_ight of this phenomenon, the fat boy uttered an interjection, the ladies _cream, and the gentleman an oath, almost simultaneously.
‘Wretched creature, what do you want here?’ said the gentleman, who it i_eedless to say was Mr. Snodgrass.
To this the fat boy, considerably terrified, briefly responded, ‘Missis.’
‘What do you want me for,’ inquired Emily, turning her head aside, ‘you stupi_reature?’
‘Master and Mr. Pickwick is a–going to dine here at five,’ replied the fa_oy.
‘Leave the room!’ said Mr. Snodgrass, glaring upon the bewildered youth.
‘No, no, no,’ added Emily hastily. ‘Bella, dear, advise me.’
Upon this, Emily and Mr. Snodgrass, and Arabella and Mary, crowded into _orner, and conversed earnestly in whispers for some minutes, during which th_at boy dozed.
‘Joe,’ said Arabella, at length, looking round with a most bewitching smile, ‘how do you do, Joe?’
‘Joe,’ said Emily, ‘you’re a very good boy; I won’t forget you, Joe.’
‘Joe,’ said Mr. Snodgrass, advancing to the astonished youth, and seizing hi_and, ‘I didn’t know you before. There’s five shillings for you, Joe!”
‘I’ll owe you five, Joe,’ said Arabella, ‘for old acquaintance sake, yo_now;’ and another most captivating smile was bestowed upon the corpulen_ntruder.
The fat boy’s perception being slow, he looked rather puzzled at first t_ccount for this sudden prepossession in his favour, and stared about him in _ery alarming manner. At length his broad face began to show symptoms of _rin of proportionately broad dimensions; and then, thrusting half–a–crow_nto each of his pockets, and a hand and wrist after it, he burst into a hors_augh: being for the first and only time in his existence.
‘He understands us, I see,’ said Arabella. ‘He had better have something t_at, immediately,’ remarked Emily.
The fat boy almost laughed again when he heard this suggestion. Mary, after _ittle more whispering, tripped forth from the group and said—
‘I am going to dine with you to–day, sir, if you have no objection.’
‘This way,’ said the fat boy eagerly. ‘There is such a jolly meat–pie!’
With these words, the fat boy led the way downstairs; his pretty companio_aptivating all the waiters and angering all the chambermaids as she followe_im to the eating–room.
There was the meat–pie of which the youth had spoken so feelingly, and ther_ere, moreover, a steak, and a dish of potatoes, and a pot of porter.
‘Sit down,’ said the fat boy. ‘Oh, my eye, how prime! I am so hungry.’
Having apostrophised his eye, in a species of rapture, five or six times, th_outh took the head of the little table, and Mary seated herself at th_ottom.
‘Will you have some of this?’ said the fat boy, plunging into the pie up t_he very ferules of the knife and fork.
‘A little, if you please,’ replied Mary.
The fat boy assisted Mary to a little, and himself to a great deal, and wa_ust going to begin eating when he suddenly laid down his knife and fork, leaned forward in his chair, and letting his hands, with the knife and fork i_hem, fall on his knees, said, very slowly—
‘I say! How nice you look!’
This was said in an admiring manner, and was, so far, gratifying; but stil_here was enough of the cannibal in the young gentleman’s eyes to render th_ompliment a double one.
‘Dear me, Joseph,’ said Mary, affecting to blush, ‘what do you mean?’
The fat boy, gradually recovering his former position, replied with a heav_igh, and, remaining thoughtful for a few moments, drank a long draught of th_orter. Having achieved this feat, he sighed again, and applied himsel_ssiduously to the pie.
‘What a nice young lady Miss Emily is!’ said Mary, after a long silence.
The fat boy had by this time finished the pie. He fixed his eyes on Mary, an_eplied—‘I knows a nicerer.’
‘Indeed!’ said Mary.
‘Yes, indeed!’ replied the fat boy, with unwonted vivacity.
‘What’s her name?’ inquired Mary.
‘So’s hers,’ said the fat boy. ‘You’re her.’ The boy grinned to add point t_he compliment, and put his eyes into something between a squint and a cast, which there is reason to believe he intended for an ogle.
‘You mustn’t talk to me in that way,’ said Mary; ‘you don’t mean it.’
‘Don’t I, though?’ replied the fat boy. ‘I say?’
‘Are you going to come here regular?’
‘No,’ rejoined Mary, shaking her head, ‘I’m going away again to–night. Why?’
‘Oh,’ said the fat boy, in a tone of strong feeling; ‘how we should hav_njoyed ourselves at meals, if you had been!’
‘I might come here sometimes, perhaps, to see you,’ said Mary, plaiting th_able–cloth in assumed coyness, ‘if you would do me a favour.’
The fat boy looked from the pie–dish to the steak, as if he thought a favou_ust be in a manner connected with something to eat; and then took out one o_he half–crowns and glanced at it nervously.
‘Don’t you understand me?’ said Mary, looking slily in his fat face.
Again he looked at the half–crown, and said faintly, ‘No.’
‘The ladies want you not to say anything to the old gentleman about the youn_entleman having been upstairs; and I want you too.’
,is that all?’ said the fat boy, evidently very much relieved, as he pockete_he half–crown again. ‘Of course I ain’t a–going to.’
‘You see,’ said Mary, ‘Mr. Snodgrass is very fond of Miss Emily, and Mis_mily’s very fond of him, and if you were to tell about it, the old gentlema_ould carry you all away miles into the country, where you’d see nobody.’
‘No, no, I won’t tell,’ said the fat boy stoutly.
‘That’s a dear,’ said Mary. ‘Now it’s time I went upstairs, and got my lad_eady for dinner.’
‘Don’t go yet,’ urged the fat boy.
‘I must,’ replied Mary. ‘Good–bye, for the present.’
The fat boy, with elephantine playfulness, stretched out his arms to ravish _iss; but as it required no great agility to elude him, his fair enslaver ha_anished before he closed them again; upon which the apathetic youth ate _ound or so of steak with a sentimental countenance, and fell fast asleep.
There was so much to say upstairs, and there were so many plans to concert fo_lopement and matrimony in the event of old Wardle continuing to be cruel, that it wanted only half an hour of dinner when Mr. Snodgrass took his fina_dieu. The ladies ran to Emily’s bedroom to dress, and the lover, taking u_is hat, walked out of the room. He had scarcely got outside the door, when h_eard Wardle’s voice talking loudly, and looking over the banisters behel_im, followed by some other gentlemen, coming straight upstairs. Knowin_othing of the house, Mr. Snodgrass in his confusion stepped hastily back int_he room he had just quitted, and passing thence into an inner apartment (Mr.
Wardle’s bedchamber), closed the door softly, just as the persons he ha_aught a glimpse of entered the sitting–room. These were Mr. Wardle, Mr.
Pickwick, Mr. Nathaniel Winkle, and Mr. Benjamin Allen, whom he had n_ifficulty in recognising by their voices.
‘Very lucky I had the presence of mind to avoid them,’ thought Mr. Snodgras_ith a smile, and walking on tiptoe to another door near the bedside; ‘thi_pens into the same passage, and I can walk quietly and comfortably away.’
There was only one obstacle to his walking quietly and comfortably away, whic_as that the door was locked and the key gone.
‘Let us have some of your best wine to–day, waiter,’ said old Wardle, rubbin_is hands.
‘You shall have some of the very best, sir,’ replied the waiter.
‘Let the ladies know we have come in.’
Devoutly and ardently did Mr. Snodgrass wish that the ladies could know he ha_ome in. He ventured once to whisper, ‘Waiter!’ through the keyhole, but th_robability of the wrong waiter coming to his relief, flashed upon his mind, together with a sense of the strong resemblance between his own situation an_hat in which another gentleman had been recently found in a neighbourin_otel (an account of whose misfortunes had appeared under the head of ‘Police’ in that morning’s paper), he sat himself on a portmanteau, and tremble_iolently.
‘We won’t wait a minute for Perker,’ said Wardle, looking at his watch; ‘he i_lways exact. He will be here, in time, if he means to come; and if he doe_ot, it’s of no use waiting. Ha! Arabella!’
‘My sister!’ exclaimed Mr. Benjamin Allen, folding her in a most romanti_mbrace.
‘Oh, Ben, dear, how you do smell of tobacco,’ said Arabella, rather overcom_y this mark of affection.
‘Do I?’ said Mr. Benjamin Allen. ‘Do I, Bella? Well, perhaps I do.’
Perhaps he did, having just left a pleasant little smoking–party of twelv_edical students, in a small back parlour with a large fire.
‘But I am delighted to see you,’ said Mr. Ben Allen. ‘Bless you, Bella!’
‘There,’ said Arabella, bending forward to kiss her brother; ‘don’t take hol_f me again, Ben, dear, because you tumble me so.’
At this point of the reconciliation, Mr. Ben Allen allowed his feelings an_he cigars and porter to overcome him, and looked round upon the beholder_ith damp spectacles.
‘is nothing to be said to me?’ cried Wardle, with open arms.
‘A great deal,’ whispered Arabella, as she received the old gentleman’s heart_aress and congratulation. ‘You are a hard–hearted, unfeeling, cruel monster.’
‘You are a little rebel,’ replied Wardle, in the same tone, ‘and I am afraid _hall be obliged to forbid you the house. People like you, who get married i_pite of everybody, ought not to be let loose on society. But come!’ added th_ld gentleman aloud, ‘here’s the dinner; you shall sit by me. Joe; why, dam_he boy, he’s awake!’
To the great distress of his master, the fat boy was indeed in a state o_emarkable vigilance, his eyes being wide open, and looking as if the_ntended to remain so. There was an alacrity in his manner, too, which wa_qually unaccountable; every time his eyes met those of Emily or Arabella, h_mirked and grinned; once, Wardle could have sworn, he saw him wink.
This alteration in the fat boy’s demeanour originated in his increased sens_f his own importance, and the dignity he acquired from having been taken int_he confidence of the young ladies; and the smirks, and grins, and winks wer_o many condescending assurances that they might depend upon his fidelity. A_hese tokens were rather calculated to awaken suspicion than allay it, an_ere somewhat embarrassing besides, they were occasionally answered by a frow_r shake of the head from Arabella, which the fat boy, considering as hints t_e on his guard, expressed his perfect understanding of, by smirking, grinning, and winking, with redoubled assiduity.
‘Joe,’ said Mr. Wardle, after an unsuccessful search in all his pockets, ‘i_y snuff–box on the sofa?’
‘No, sir,’ replied the fat boy.
‘Oh, I recollect; I left it on my dressing–table this morning,’ said Wardle.
‘Run into the next room and fetch it.’
The fat boy went into the next room; and, having been absent about a minute, returned with the snuff–box, and the palest face that ever a fat boy wore.
‘What’s the matter with the boy?’ exclaimed Wardle.
‘Nothen’s the matter with me,’ replied Joe nervously.
‘Have you been seeing any spirits?’ inquired the old gentleman.
‘Or taking any?’ added Ben Allen.
‘I think you’re right,’ whispered Wardle across the table. ‘He is intoxicated, I’m sure.’
Ben Allen replied that he thought he was; and, as that gentleman had seen _ast deal of the disease in question, Wardle was confirmed in an impressio_hich had been hovering about his mind for half an hour, and at once arrive_t the conclusion that the fat boy was drunk.
‘Just keep your eye upon him for a few minutes,’ murmured Wardle. ‘We shal_oon find out whether he is or not.’
The unfortunate youth had only interchanged a dozen words with Mr. Snodgrass, that gentleman having implored him to make a private appeal to some friend t_elease him, and then pushed him out with the snuff–box, lest his prolonge_bsence should lead to a discovery. He ruminated a little with a mos_isturbed expression of face, and left the room in search of Mary.
But Mary had gone home after dressing her mistress, and the fat boy came bac_gain more disturbed than before.
Wardle and Mr. Ben Allen exchanged glances. ‘Joe!’ said Wardle.
‘What did you go away for?’
The fat boy looked hopelessly in the face of everybody at table, and stammere_ut that he didn’t know.
‘Oh,’ said Wardle, ‘you don’t know, eh? Take this cheese to Mr. Pickwick.’
Now, Mr. Pickwick being in the very best health and spirits, had been makin_imself perfectly delightful all dinner–time, and was at this moment engage_n an energetic conversation with Emily and Mr. Winkle; bowing his head, courteously, in the emphasis of his discourse, gently waving his left hand t_end force to his observations, and all glowing with placid smiles. He took _iece of cheese from the plate, and was on the point of turning round to rene_he conversation, when the fat boy, stooping so as to bring his head on _evel with that of Mr. Pickwick, pointed with his thumb over his shoulder, an_ade the most horrible and hideous face that was ever seen out of a Christma_antomime.
‘Dear me!’ said Mr. Pickwick, starting, ‘what a very—Eh?’ He stopped, for th_at boy had drawn himself up, and was, or pretended to be, fast asleep.
‘What’s the matter?’ inquired Wardle.
‘This is such an extremely singular lad!’ replied Mr. Pickwick, lookin_neasily at the boy. ‘It seems an odd thing to say, but upon my word I a_fraid that, at times, he is a little deranged.’
‘Oh! Mr. Pickwick, pray don’t say so,’ cried Emily and Arabella, both at once.
‘I am not certain, of course,’ said Mr. Pickwick, amidst profound silence an_ooks of general dismay; ‘but his manner to me this moment really was ver_larming. Oh!’ ejaculated Mr. Pickwick, suddenly jumping up with a shor_cream. ‘I beg your pardon, ladies, but at that moment he ran some shar_nstrument into my leg. Really, he is not safe.’
‘He’s drunk,’ roared old Wardle passionately. ‘Ring the bell! Call th_aiters! He’s drunk.’
‘I ain’t,’ said the fat boy, falling on his knees as his master seized him b_he collar. ‘I ain’t drunk.’
‘Then you’re mad; that’s worse. Call the waiters,’ said the old gentleman.
‘I ain’t mad; I’m sensible,’ rejoined the fat boy, beginning to cry.
‘Then, what the devil did you run sharp instruments into Mr. Pickwick’s leg_or?’ inquired Wardle angrily.
‘He wouldn’t look at me,’ replied the boy. ‘I wanted to speak to him.’
‘What did you want to say?’ asked half a dozen voices at once.
The fat boy gasped, looked at the bedroom door, gasped again, and wiped tw_ears away with the knuckle of each of his forefingers.
‘What did you want to say?’ demanded Wardle, shaking him.
‘Stop!’ said Mr. Pickwick; ‘allow me. What did you wish to communicate to me, my poor boy?’
‘I want to whisper to you,’ replied the fat boy.
‘You want to bite his ear off, I suppose,’ said Wardle. ‘Don’t come near him; he’s vicious; ring the bell, and let him be taken downstairs.’
Just as Mr. Winkle caught the bell–rope in his hand, it was arrested by _eneral expression of astonishment; the captive lover, his face burning wit_onfusion, suddenly walked in from the bedroom, and made a comprehensive bo_o the company.
‘Hollo!’ cried Wardle, releasing the fat boy’s collar, and staggering back.
‘I have been concealed in the next room, sir, since you returned,’ explaine_r. Snodgrass.
‘Emily, my girl,’ said Wardle reproachfully, ‘I detest meanness and deceit; this is unjustifiable and indelicate in the highest degree. I don’t deserv_his at your hands, Emily, indeed!’
‘Dear papa,’ said Emily, ‘Arabella knows—everybody here knows—Joe knows—that _as no party to this concealment. Augustus, for Heaven’s sake, explain it!’
Mr. Snodgrass, who had only waited for a hearing, at once recounted how he ha_een placed in his then distressing predicament; how the fear of giving ris_o domestic dissensions had alone prompted him to avoid Mr. Wardle on hi_ntrance; how he merely meant to depart by another door, but, finding i_ocked, had been compelled to stay against his will. It was a painfu_ituation to be placed in; but he now regretted it the less, inasmuch as i_fforded him an opportunity of acknowledging, before their mutual friends, that he loved Mr. Wardle’s daughter deeply and sincerely; that he was proud t_vow that the feeling was mutual; and that if thousands of miles were place_etween them, or oceans rolled their waters, he could never for an instan_orget those happy days, when first—et cetera, et cetera.
Having delivered himself to this effect, Mr. Snodgrass bowed again, looke_nto the crown of his hat, and stepped towards the door.
‘Stop!’ shouted Wardle. ‘Why, in the name of all that’s—’
‘Inflammable,’ mildly suggested Mr. Pickwick, who thought something worse wa_oming.
‘Well—that’s inflammable,’ said Wardle, adopting the substitute; ‘couldn’t yo_ay all this to me in the first instance?’
‘Or confide in me?’ added Mr. Pickwick.
‘Dear, dear,’ said Arabella, taking up the defence, ‘what is the use of askin_ll that now, especially when you know you had set your covetous old heart o_ richer son–in–law, and are so wild and fierce besides, that everybody i_fraid of you, except me? Shake hands with him, and order him some dinner, fo_oodness gracious’ sake, for he looks half starved; and pray have your wine u_t once, for you’ll not be tolerable until you have taken two bottles a_east.’
The worthy old gentleman pulled Arabella’s ear, kissed her without th_mallest scruple, kissed his daughter also with great affection, and shook Mr.
Snodgrass warmly by the hand.
‘She is right on one point at all events,’ said the old gentleman cheerfully.
‘Ring for the wine!’
The wine came, and Perker came upstairs at the same moment. Mr. Snodgrass ha_inner at a side table, and, when he had despatched it, drew his chair nex_mily, without the smallest opposition on the old gentleman’s part.
The evening was excellent. Little Mr. Perker came out wonderfully, tol_arious comic stories, and sang a serious song which was almost as funny a_he anecdotes. Arabella was very charming, Mr. Wardle very jovial, Mr.
Pickwick very harmonious, Mr. Ben Allen very uproarious, the lovers ver_ilent, Mr. Winkle very talkative, and all of them very happy.