The supper was ready laid, the chairs were drawn round the table, bottles, jugs, and glasses were arranged upon the sideboard, and everything betokene_he approach of the most convivial period in the whole four–and–twenty hours.
‘Where’s Rachael?’ said Mr. Wardle.
‘Ay, and Jingle?’ added Mr. Pickwick.
‘Dear me,’ said the host, ‘I wonder I haven’t missed him before. Why, I don’_hink I’ve heard his voice for two hours at least. Emily, my dear, ring th_ell.’
The bell was rung, and the fat boy appeared.
‘Where’s Miss Rachael?’ He couldn’t say. ‘Where’s Mr. Jingle, then?’ He didn’_now. Everybody looked surprised. It was late—past eleven o’clock. Mr. Tupma_aughed in his sleeve. They were loitering somewhere, talking about him. Ha, ha! capital notion that—funny.
‘Never mind,’ said Wardle, after a short pause. ‘They’ll turn up presently, _are say. I never wait supper for anybody.’
‘Excellent rule, that,’ said Mr. Pickwick—‘admirable.’
‘Pray, sit down,’ said the host.
‘Certainly’ said Mr. Pickwick; and down they sat.
There was a gigantic round of cold beef on the table, and Mr. Pickwick wa_upplied with a plentiful portion of it. He had raised his fork to his lips, and was on the very point of opening his mouth for the reception of a piece o_eef, when the hum of many voices suddenly arose in the kitchen. He paused, and laid down his fork. Mr. Wardle paused too, and insensibly released hi_old of the carving–knife, which remained inserted in the beef. He looked a_r. Pickwick. Mr. Pickwick looked at him.
Heavy footsteps were heard in the passage; the parlour door was suddenly burs_pen; and the man who had cleaned Mr. Pickwick’s boots on his first arrival, rushed into the room, followed by the fat boy and all the domestics. ‘What th_evil’s the meaning of this?’ exclaimed the host.
‘The kitchen chimney ain’t a–fire, is it, Emma?’ inquired the old lady. ‘Lor, grandma! No,’ screamed both the young ladies.
‘What’s the matter?’ roared the master of the house.
The man gasped for breath, and faintly ejaculated—
‘They ha’ gone, mas’r!—gone right clean off, Sir!’ (At this juncture Mr.
Tupman was observed to lay down his knife and fork, and to turn very pale.)
‘Who’s gone?’ said Mr. Wardle fiercely.
‘Mus’r Jingle and Miss Rachael, in a po’–chay, from Blue Lion, Muggleton. _as there; but I couldn’t stop ’em; so I run off to tell ‘ee.’
‘I paid his expenses!’ said Mr. Tupman, jumping up frantically. ‘He’s got te_ounds of mine!—stop him!—he’s swindled me!—I won’t bear it!—I’ll hav_ustice, Pickwick!—I won’t stand it!’ and with sundry incoherent exclamation_f the like nature, the unhappy gentleman spun round and round the apartment, in a transport of frenzy.
‘Lord preserve us!’ ejaculated Mr. Pickwick, eyeing the extraordinary gesture_f his friend with terrified surprise. ‘He’s gone mad! What shall we do?’ ‘Do!’ said the stout old host, who regarded only the last words of th_entence. ‘Put the horse in the gig! I’ll get a chaise at the Lion, and follow ’em instantly. Where?’—he exclaimed, as the man ran out to execute th_ommission—‘where’s that villain, Joe?’
‘Here I am! but I hain’t a willin,’ replied a voice. It was the fat boy’s.
‘Let me get at him, Pickwick,’ cried Wardle, as he rushed at the ill–starre_outh. ‘He was bribed by that scoundrel, Jingle, to put me on a wrong scent, by telling a cock–and–bull story of my sister and your friend Tupman!’ (Her_r. Tupman sank into a chair.) ‘Let me get at him!’
‘Don’t let him!’ screamed all the women, above whose exclamations th_lubbering of the fat boy was distinctly audible.
‘I won’t be held!’ cried the old man. ‘Mr. Winkle, take your hands off. Mr.
Pickwick, let me go, sir!’
It was a beautiful sight, in that moment of turmoil and confusion, to behol_he placid and philosophical expression of Mr. Pickwick’s face, albei_omewhat flushed with exertion, as he stood with his arms firmly clasped roun_he extensive waist of their corpulent host, thus restraining the impetuosit_f his passion, while the fat boy was scratched, and pulled, and pushed fro_he room by all the females congregated therein. He had no sooner released hi_old, than the man entered to announce that the gig was ready.
‘Don’t let him go alone!’ screamed the females. ‘He’ll kill somebody!’
‘I’ll go with him,’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘You’re a good fellow, Pickwick,’ said the host, grasping his hand. ‘Emma, give Mr. Pickwick a shawl to tie round his neck—make haste. Look after you_randmother, girls; she has fainted away. Now then, are you ready?’
Mr. Pickwick’s mouth and chin having been hastily enveloped in a large shawl, his hat having been put on his head, and his greatcoat thrown over his arm, h_eplied in the affirmative.
They jumped into the gig. ‘Give her her head, Tom,’ cried the host; and awa_hey went, down the narrow lanes; jolting in and out of the cart–ruts, an_umping up against the hedges on either side, as if they would go to piece_very moment.
‘How much are they ahead?’ shouted Wardle, as they drove up to the door of th_lue Lion, round which a little crowd had collected, late as it was.
‘Not above three–quarters of an hour,’ was everybody’s reply. ‘Chaise–and–fou_irectly!—out with ’em! Put up the gig afterwards.’
‘Now, boys!’ cried the landlord—‘chaise–and–four out—make haste—look aliv_here!’
Away ran the hostlers and the boys. The lanterns glimmered, as the men ran t_nd fro; the horses’ hoofs clattered on the uneven paving of the yard; th_haise rumbled as it was drawn out of the coach–house; and all was noise an_ustle.
‘Now then!—is that chaise coming out to–night?’ cried Wardle.
‘Coming down the yard now, Sir,’ replied the hostler.
Out came the chaise—in went the horses—on sprang the boys—in got th_ravellers.
‘Mind—the seven–mile stage in less than half an hour!’ shouted Wardle.
‘Off with you!’
The boys applied whip and spur, the waiters shouted, the hostlers cheered, an_way they went, fast and furiously.
‘Pretty situation,’ thought Mr. Pickwick, when he had had a moment’s time fo_eflection. ‘Pretty situation for the general chairman of the Pickwick Club.
Damp chaise—strange horses—fifteen miles an hour—and twelve o’clock at night!’
For the first three or four miles, not a word was spoken by either of th_entlemen, each being too much immersed in his own reflections to address an_bservations to his companion. When they had gone over that much ground, however, and the horses getting thoroughly warmed began to do their work i_eally good style, Mr. Pickwick became too much exhilarated with the rapidit_f the motion, to remain any longer perfectly mute.
‘We’re sure to catch them, I think,’ said he.
‘Hope so,’ replied his companion.
‘Fine night,’ said Mr. Pickwick, looking up at the moon, which was shinin_rightly.
‘So much the worse,’ returned Wardle; ‘for they’ll have had all the advantag_f the moonlight to get the start of us, and we shall lose it. It will hav_one down in another hour.’
‘It will be rather unpleasant going at this rate in the dark, won’t it?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.
‘I dare say it will,’ replied his friend dryly.
Mr. Pickwick’s temporary excitement began to sober down a little, as h_eflected upon the inconveniences and dangers of the expedition in which h_ad so thoughtlessly embarked. He was roused by a loud shouting of th_ost–boy on the leader.
‘Yo–yo–yo–yo–yoe!’ went the first boy.
‘Yo–yo–yo–yoe!’ went the second.
‘Yo–yo–yo–yoe!’ chimed in old Wardle himself, most lustily, with his head an_alf his body out of the coach window.
‘Yo–yo–yo–yoe!’ shouted Mr. Pickwick, taking up the burden of the cry, thoug_e had not the slightest notion of its meaning or object. And amidst th_o–yoing of the whole four, the chaise stopped.
‘What’s the matter?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.
‘There’s a gate here,’ replied old Wardle. ‘We shall hear something of th_ugitives.’
After a lapse of five minutes, consumed in incessant knocking and shouting, a_ld man in his shirt and trousers emerged from the turnpike–house, and opene_he gate.
‘How long is it since a post–chaise went through here?’ inquired Mr. Wardle.
‘Why, I don’t rightly know. It worn’t a long time ago, nor it worn’t a shor_ime ago—just between the two, perhaps.’
‘Has any chaise been by at all?’
‘Oh, yes, there’s been a Shay by.’
‘How long ago, my friend,’ interposed Mr. Pickwick; ‘an hour?’
‘Ah, I dare say it might be,’ replied the man.
‘Or two hours?’ inquired the post—boy on the wheeler.
‘Well, I shouldn’t wonder if it was,’ returned the old man doubtfully.
‘Drive on, boys,’ cried the testy old gentleman; ‘don’t waste any more tim_ith that old idiot!’
‘Idiot!’ exclaimed the old man with a grin, as he stood in the middle of th_oad with the gate half–closed, watching the chaise which rapidly diminishe_n the increasing distance. ‘No—not much o’ that either; you’ve lost te_inutes here, and gone away as wise as you came, arter all. If every man o_he line as has a guinea give him, earns it half as well, you won’t catc_’other shay this side Mich’lmas, old short–and–fat.’ And with anothe_rolonged grin, the old man closed the gate, re–entered his house, and bolte_he door after him.
Meanwhile the chaise proceeded, without any slackening of pace, towards th_onclusion of the stage. The moon, as Wardle had foretold, was rapidly on th_ane; large tiers of dark, heavy clouds, which had been graduall_verspreading the sky for some time past, now formed one black mass overhead; and large drops of rain which pattered every now and then against the window_f the chaise, seemed to warn the travellers of the rapid approach of a storm_ight. The wind, too, which was directly against them, swept in furious gust_own the narrow road, and howled dismally through the trees which skirted th_athway. Mr. Pickwick drew his coat closer about him, coiled himself mor_nugly up into the corner of the chaise, and fell into a sound sleep, fro_hich he was only awakened by the stopping of the vehicle, the sound of th_ostler’s bell, and a loud cry of ‘Horses on directly!’
But here another delay occurred. The boys were sleeping with such mysteriou_oundness, that it took five minutes a–piece to wake them. The hostler ha_omehow or other mislaid the key of the stable, and even when that was found, two sleepy helpers put the wrong harness on the wrong horses, and the whol_rocess of harnessing had to be gone through afresh. Had Mr. Pickwick bee_lone, these multiplied obstacles would have completely put an end to th_ursuit at once, but old Wardle was not to be so easily daunted; and he lai_bout him with such hearty good–will, cuffing this man, and pushing that; strapping a buckle here, and taking in a link there, that the chaise was read_n a much shorter time than could reasonably have been expected, under so man_ifficulties.
They resumed their journey; and certainly the prospect before them was by n_eans encouraging. The stage was fifteen miles long, the night was dark, th_ind high, and the rain pouring in torrents. It was impossible to make an_reat way against such obstacles united; it was hard upon one o’clock already; and nearly two hours were consumed in getting to the end of the stage. Here, however, an object presented itself, which rekindled their hopes, an_eanimated their drooping spirits.
‘When did this chaise come in?’ cried old Wardle, leaping out of his ow_ehicle, and pointing to one covered with wet mud, which was standing in th_ard.
‘Not a quarter of an hour ago, sir,’ replied the hostler, to whom the questio_as addressed. ‘Lady and gentleman?’ inquired Wardle, almost breathless wit_mpatience.
‘Tall gentleman—dress–coat—long legs—thin body?’
‘Elderly lady—thin face—rather skinny—eh?’
‘By heavens, it’s the couple, Pickwick,’ exclaimed the old gentleman.
‘Would have been here before,’ said the hostler, ‘but they broke a trace.’
‘’Tis them!’ said Wardle, ‘it is, by Jove! Chaise–and–four instantly! We shal_atch them yet before they reach the next stage. A guinea a–piece, boys–b_live there—bustle about—there’s good fellows.’
And with such admonitions as these, the old gentleman ran up and down th_ard, and bustled to and fro, in a state of excitement which communicate_tself to Mr. Pickwick also; and under the influence of which, that gentlema_ot himself into complicated entanglements with harness, and mixed up wit_orses and wheels of chaises, in the most surprising manner, firmly believin_hat by so doing he was materially forwarding the preparations for thei_esuming their journey.
‘Jump in—jump in!’ cried old Wardle, climbing into the chaise, pulling up th_teps, and slamming the door after him. ‘Come along! Make haste!’ And befor_r. Pickwick knew precisely what he was about, he felt himself forced in a_he other door, by one pull from the old gentleman and one push from th_ostler; and off they were again.
‘Ah! we are moving now,’ said the old gentleman exultingly. They were indeed, as was sufficiently testified to Mr. Pickwick, by his constant collisio_ither with the hard wood–work of the chaise, or the body of his companion.
‘Hold up!’ said the stout old Mr. Wardle, as Mr. Pickwick dived head foremos_nto his capacious waistcoat.
‘I never did feel such a jolting in my life,’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘Never mind,’ replied his companion, ‘it will soon be over. Steady, steady.’
Mr. Pickwick planted himself into his own corner, as firmly as he could; an_n whirled the chaise faster than ever.
They had travelled in this way about three miles, when Mr. Wardle, who ha_een looking out of the Window for two or three minutes, suddenly drew in hi_ace, covered with splashes, and exclaimed in breathless eagerness—
‘Here they are!’
Mr. Pickwick thrust his head out of his window. Yes: there was _haise–and–four, a short distance before them, dashing along at full gallop.
‘Go on, go on,’ almost shrieked the old gentleman. ‘Two guineas a–piece, boys—don’t let ’em gain on us—keep it up—keep it up.’
The horses in the first chaise started on at their utmost speed; and those i_r. Wardle’s galloped furiously behind them.
‘I see his head,’ exclaimed the choleric old man; ‘damme, I see his head.’
‘So do I’ said Mr. Pickwick; ‘that’s he.’ Mr. Pickwick was not mistaken. Th_ountenance of Mr. Jingle, completely coated with mud thrown up by the wheels, was plainly discernible at the window of his chaise; and the motion of hi_rm, which was waving violently towards the postillions, denoted that he wa_ncouraging them to increased exertion.
The interest was intense. Fields, trees, and hedges, seemed to rush past the_ith the velocity of a whirlwind, so rapid was the pace at which they tor_long. They were close by the side of the first chaise. Jingle’s voice coul_e plainly heard, even above the din of the wheels, urging on the boys. Ol_r. Wardle foamed with rage and excitement. He roared out scoundrels an_illains by the dozen, clenched his fist and shook it expressively at th_bject of his indignation; but Mr. Jingle only answered with a contemptuou_mile, and replied to his menaces by a shout of triumph, as his horses, answering the increased application of whip and spur, broke into a faste_allop, and left the pursuers behind.
Mr. Pickwick had just drawn in his head, and Mr. Wardle, exhausted wit_houting, had done the same, when a tremendous jolt threw them forward agains_he front of the vehicle. There was a sudden bump—a loud crash—away rolled _heel, and over went the chaise.
After a very few seconds of bewilderment and confusion, in which nothing bu_he plunging of horses, and breaking of glass could be made out, Mr. Pickwic_elt himself violently pulled out from among the ruins of the chaise; and a_oon as he had gained his feet, extricated his head from the skirts of hi_reatcoat, which materially impeded the usefulness of his spectacles, the ful_isaster of the case met his view.
Old Mr. Wardle without a hat, and his clothes torn in several places, stood b_is side, and the fragments of the chaise lay scattered at their feet. Th_ost–boys, who had succeeded in cutting the traces, were standing, disfigure_ith mud and disordered by hard riding, by the horses’ heads. About a hundre_ards in advance was the other chaise, which had pulled up on hearing th_rash. The postillions, each with a broad grin convulsing his countenance, were viewing the adverse party from their saddles, and Mr. Jingle wa_ontemplating the wreck from the coach window, with evident satisfaction. Th_ay was just breaking, and the whole scene was rendered perfectly visible b_he grey light of the morning.
‘Hollo!’ shouted the shameless Jingle, ‘anybody damaged?—elderly gentlemen—n_ight weights—dangerous work—very.’
‘You’re a rascal,’ roared Wardle.
‘Ha! ha!’ replied Jingle; and then he added, with a knowing wink, and a jer_f the thumb towards the interior of the chaise—‘I say—she’s very well—desire_er compliments—begs you won’t trouble yourself—love to tuppy—won’t you get u_ehind?—drive on, boys.’
The postillions resumed their proper attitudes, and away rattled the chaise, Mr. Jingle fluttering in derision a white handkerchief from the coach window.
Nothing in the whole adventure, not even the upset, had disturbed the calm an_quable current of Mr. Pickwick’s temper. The villainy, however, which coul_irst borrow money of his faithful follower, and then abbreviate his name to ‘Tuppy,’ was more than he could patiently bear. He drew his breath hard, an_oloured up to the very tips of his spectacles, as he said, slowly an_mphatically—
‘If ever I meet that man again, I’ll—’
‘Yes, yes,’ interrupted Wardle, ‘that’s all very well; but while we stan_alking here, they’ll get their licence, and be married in London.’
Mr. Pickwick paused, bottled up his vengeance, and corked it down. ‘How far i_t to the next stage?’ inquired Mr. Wardle, of one of the boys.
‘Six mile, ain’t it, Tom?’
‘Rayther better nor six mile, Sir.’
‘Can’t be helped,’ said Wardle, ‘we must walk it, Pickwick.’
‘No help for it,’ replied that truly great man.
So sending forward one of the boys on horseback, to procure a fresh chaise an_orses, and leaving the other behind to take care of the broken one, Mr.
Pickwick and Mr. Wardle set manfully forward on the walk, first tying thei_hawls round their necks, and slouching down their hats to escape as much a_ossible from the deluge of rain, which after a slight cessation had agai_egun to pour heavily down.