Chapter 51: In Which Mr. Pickwick Encounters An Old Acquaintance--To Which Fortunate Circumstance The Reader Is Mainly Indebted For Matter Of Thrilling Interest Herein Set Down, Concerning Two Great Public Men Of Might And Power
The morning which broke upon Mr. Pickwick's sight at eight o'clock, was not at all calculated to elevate his spirits, or to lessen the depression which the unlooked-for result of his embassy inspired. The sky was dark and gloomy, the air was damp and raw, the streets were wet and sloppy. The smoke hung sluggishly above the chimney-tops as if it lacked the courage to rise, and the rain came slowly and doggedly down, as if it had not even the spirit to pour. A game-cock in the stableyard, deprived of every spark of his accustomed animation, balanced himself dismally on one leg in a corner; a donkey, moping with drooping head under the narrow roof of an outhouse, appeared from his meditative and miserable countenance to be contemplating suicide. In the street, umbrellas were the only things to be seen, and the clicking of pattens and splashing of rain-drops were the only sounds to be heard.
The breakfast was interrupted by very little conversation; even Mr. Bob Sawyer felt the influence of the weather, and the previous day's excitement. In his own expressive language he was 'floored.' So was Mr. Ben Allen. So was Mr. Pickwick.
In protracted expectation of the weather clearing up, the last evening paper from London was read and re-read with an intensity of interest only known in cases of extreme destitution; every inch of the carpet was walked over with similar perseverance; the windows were looked out of, often enough to justify the imposition of an additional duty upon them; all kinds of topics of conversation were started, and failed; and at length Mr. Pickwick, when noon had arrived, without a change for the better, rang the bell resolutely, and ordered out the chaise.
Although the roads were miry, and the drizzling rain came down harder than it had done yet, and although the mud and wet splashed in at the open windows of the carriage to such an extent that the discomfort was almost as great to the pair of insides as to the pair of outsides, still there was something in the motion, and the sense of being up and doing, which was so infinitely superior to being pent in a dull room, looking at the dull rain dripping into a dull street, that they all agreed, on starting, that the change was a great improvement, and wondered how they could possibly have delayed making it as long as they had done.
When they stopped to change at Coventry, the steam ascended from the horses in such clouds as wholly to obscure the hostler, whose voice was however heard to declare from the mist, that he expected the first gold medal from the Humane Society on their next distribution of rewards, for taking the postboy's hat off; the water descending from the brim of which, the invisible gentleman declared, must have drowned him (the postboy), but for his great presence of mind in tearing it promptly from his head, and drying the gasping man's countenance with a wisp of straw.
'This is pleasant,' said Bob Sawyer, turning up his coat collar, and pulling the shawl over his mouth to concentrate the fumes of a glass of brandy just swallowed.
'Wery,' replied Sam composedly.
'You don't seem to mind it,' observed Bob.
'Vy, I don't exactly see no good my mindin' on it 'ud do, sir,' replied Sam.
'That's an unanswerable reason, anyhow,' said Bob.
'Yes, sir,' rejoined Mr. Weller. 'Wotever is, is right, as the young nobleman sweetly remarked wen they put him down in the pension list 'cos his mother's uncle's vife's grandfather vunce lit the king's pipe vith a portable tinder-box.'
'Not a bad notion that, Sam,' said Mr. Bob Sawyer approvingly.
, Just wot the young nobleman said ev'ry quarter-day arterwards for the rest of his life,' replied Mr. Weller.
'Wos you ever called in,' inquired Sam, glancing at the driver, after a short silence, and lowering his voice to a mysterious whisper--'wos you ever called in, when you wos 'prentice to a sawbones, to wisit a postboy.'
'I don't remember that I ever was,' replied Bob Sawyer.
'You never see a postboy in that 'ere hospital as you WALKED
(as they says o' the ghosts), did you?' demanded Sam.
'No,' replied Bob Sawyer. 'I don't think I ever did.'
'Never know'd a churchyard were there wos a postboy's tombstone, or see a dead postboy, did you?' inquired Sam, pursuing his catechism.
'No,' rejoined Bob, 'I never did.'
'No!' rejoined Sam triumphantly. 'Nor never vill; and there's another thing that no man never see, and that's a dead donkey. No man never see a dead donkey 'cept the gen'l'm'n in the black silk smalls as know'd the young 'ooman as kep' a goat; and that wos a French donkey, so wery likely he warn't wun o' the reg'lar breed.'
'Well, what has that got to do with the postboys?' asked Bob Sawyer.
'This here,' replied Sam. 'Without goin' so far as to as-sert, as some wery sensible people do, that postboys and donkeys is both immortal, wot I say is this: that wenever they feels theirselves gettin' stiff and past their work, they just rides off together, wun postboy to a pair in the usual way; wot becomes on 'em nobody knows, but it's wery probable as they starts avay to take their pleasure in some other vorld, for there ain't a man alive as ever see either a donkey or a postboy a-takin' his pleasure in this!'
Expatiating upon this learned and remarkable theory, and citing many curious statistical and other facts in its support, Sam Weller beguiled the time until they reached Dunchurch, where a dry postboy and fresh horses were procured; the next stage was Daventry, and the next Towcester; and at the end of each stage it rained harder than it had done at the beginning.
'I say,' remonstrated Bob Sawyer, looking in at the coach window, as they pulled up before the door of the Saracen's Head, Towcester, 'this won't do, you know.'
'Bless me!' said Mr. Pickwick, just awakening from a nap, 'I'm afraid you're wet.'
'Oh, you are, are you?' returned Bob. 'Yes, I am, a little that way, Uncomfortably damp, perhaps.'
Bob did look dampish, inasmuch as the rain was streaming from his neck, elbows, cuffs, skirts, and knees; and his whole apparel shone so with the wet, that it might have been mistaken for a full suit of prepared oilskin.
'I AM rather wet,' said Bob, giving himself a shake and casting a little hydraulic shower around, like a Newfoundland dog just emerged from the water.
'I think it's quite impossible to go on to-night,' interposed Ben.
'Out of the question, sir,' remarked Sam Weller, coming to assist in the conference; 'it's a cruelty to animals, sir, to ask 'em to do it. There's beds here, sir,' said Sam, addressing his master,
'everything clean and comfortable. Wery good little dinner, sir, they can get ready in half an hour--pair of fowls, sir, and a weal cutlet; French beans, 'taturs, tart, and tidiness. You'd better stop vere you are, sir, if I might recommend. Take adwice, sir, as the doctor said.'
The host of the Saracen's Head opportunely appeared at this moment, to confirm Mr. Weller's statement relative to the accommodations of the establishment, and to back his entreaties with a variety of dismal conjectures regarding the state of the roads, the doubt of fresh horses being to be had at the next stage, the dead certainty of its raining all night, the equally mortal certainty of its clearing up in the morning, and other topics of inducement familiar to innkeepers.
'Well,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'but I must send a letter to London by some conveyance, so that it may be delivered the very first thing in the morning, or I must go forwards at all hazards.'
The landlord smiled his delight. Nothing could be easier than for the gentleman to inclose a letter in a sheet of brown paper, and send it on, either by the mail or the night coach from Birmingham. If the gentleman were particularly anxious to have it left as soon as possible, he might write outside, 'To be delivered immediately,' which was sure to be attended to; or 'Pay the bearer half-a-crown extra for instant delivery,' which was surer still.
'Very well,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'then we will stop here.'
'Lights in the Sun, John; make up the fire; the gentlemen are wet!' cried the landlord. 'This way, gentlemen; don't trouble yourselves about the postboy now, sir. I'll send him to you when you ring for him, sir. Now, John, the candles.'
The candles were brought, the fire was stirred up, and a fresh log of wood thrown on. In ten minutes' time, a waiter was laying the cloth for dinner, the curtains were drawn, the fire was blazing brightly, and everything looked (as everything always does, in all decent English inns) as if the travellers had been expected, and their comforts prepared, for days beforehand.
Mr. Pickwick sat down at a side table, and hastily indited a note to Mr. Winkle, merely informing him that he was detained by stress of weather, but would certainly be in London next day; until when he deferred any account of his proceedings. This note was hastily made into a parcel, and despatched to the bar per Mr. Samuel Weller.
Sam left it with the landlady, and was returning to pull his master's boots off, after drying himself by the kitchen fire, when glancing casually through a half-opened door, he was arrested by the sight of a gentleman with a sandy head who had a large bundle of newspapers lying on the table before him, and was perusing the leading article of one with a settled sneer which curled up his nose and all other features into a majestic expression of haughty contempt.
'Hollo!' said Sam, 'I ought to know that 'ere head and them features; the eyeglass, too, and the broad-brimmed tile! Eatansvill to vit, or I'm a Roman.'
Sam was taken with a troublesome cough, at once, for the purpose of attracting the gentleman's attention; the gentleman starting at the sound, raised his head and his eyeglass, and disclosed to view the profound and thoughtful features of Mr. Pott, of the Eatanswill GAZETTE.
'Beggin' your pardon, sir,' said Sam, advancing with a bow,
'my master's here, Mr. Pott.'
'Hush! hush!' cried Pott, drawing Sam into the room, and closing the door, with a countenance of mysterious dread and apprehension.
'Wot's the matter, Sir?' inquired Sam, looking vacantly about him.
'Not a whisper of my name,' replied Pott; 'this is a buff neighbourhood. If the excited and irritable populace knew I was here, I should be torn to pieces.'
'No! Vould you, sir?' inquired Sam.
'I should be the victim of their fury,' replied Pott. 'Now young man, what of your master?'
'He's a-stopping here to-night on his vay to town, with a couple of friends,' replied Sam.
'Is Mr. Winkle one of them?' inquired Pott, with a slight frown.
'No, Sir. Mr. Vinkle stops at home now,' rejoined Sam. 'He's married.'
'Married!' exclaimed Pott, with frightful vehemence. He stopped, smiled darkly, and added, in a low, vindictive tone, 'It serves him right!' Having given vent to this cruel ebullition of deadly malice and cold-blooded triumph over a fallen enemy, Mr. Pott inquired whether Mr. Pickwick's friends were 'blue?' Receiving a most satisfactory answer in the affirmative from Sam, who knew as much about the matter as Pott himself, he consented to accompany him to Mr. Pickwick's room, where a hearty welcome awaited him, and an agreement to club their dinners together was at once made and ratified.
'And how are matters going on in Eatanswill?' inquired Mr. Pickwick, when Pott had taken a seat near the fire, and the whole party had got their wet boots off, and dry slippers on. 'Is the INDEPENDENT still in being?'
'The INDEPENDENT, sir,' replied Pott, 'is still dragging on a wretched and lingering career. Abhorred and despised by even the few who are cognisant of its miserable and disgraceful existence, stifled by the very filth it so profusely scatters, rendered deaf and blind by the exhalations of its own slime, the obscene journal, happily unconscious of its degraded state, is rapidly sinking beneath that treacherous mud which, while it seems to give it a firm standing with the low and debased classes of society, is nevertheless rising above its detested head, and will speedily engulf it for ever.'
Having delivered this manifesto (which formed a portion of his last week's leader) with vehement articulation, the editor paused to take breath, and looked majestically at Bob Sawyer.
'You are a young man, sir,' said Pott.
Mr. Bob Sawyer nodded.
'So are you, sir,' said Pott, addressing Mr. Ben Allen.
Ben admitted the soft impeachment.
'And are both deeply imbued with those blue principles, which, so long as I live, I have pledged myself to the people of these kingdoms to support and to maintain?' suggested Pott.
'Why, I don't exactly know about that,' replied Bob Sawyer.
'Not buff, Mr. Pickwick,' interrupted Pott, drawing back his chair, 'your friend is not buff, sir?'
'No, no,' rejoined Bob, 'I'm a kind of plaid at present; a compound of all sorts of colours.'
'A waverer,' said Pott solemnly, 'a waverer. I should like to show you a series of eight articles, Sir, that have appeared in the Eatanswill GAZETTE. I think I may venture to say that you would not be long in establishing your opinions on a firm and solid blue basis, sir.'
'I dare say I should turn very blue, long before I got to the end of them,' responded Bob.
Mr. Pott looked dubiously at Bob Sawyer for some seconds, and, turning to Mr. Pickwick, said--
'You have seen the literary articles which have appeared at intervals in the Eatanswill GAZETTE in the course of the last three months, and which have excited such general--I may say such universal--attention and admiration?'
'Why,' replied Mr. Pickwick, slightly embarrassed by the question, 'the fact is, I have been so much engaged in other ways, that I really have not had an opportunity of perusing them.'
'You should do so, Sir,' said Pott, with a severe countenance.
'I will,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'They appeared in the form of a copious review of a work on Chinese metaphysics, Sir,' said Pott.
'Oh,' observed Mr. Pickwick; 'from your pen, I hope?'
'From the pen of my critic, Sir,' rejoined Pott, with dignity.
'An abstruse subject, I should conceive,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Very, Sir,' responded Pott, looking intensely sage. 'He CRAMMED for it, to use a technical but expressive term; he read up for the subject, at my desire, in the "Encyclopaedia Britannica." '
'Indeed!' said Mr. Pickwick; 'I was not aware that that valuable work contained any information respecting Chinese metaphysics.'
'He read, Sir,' rejoined Pott, laying his hand on Mr. Pickwick's knee, and looking round with a smile of intellectual superiority --'he read for metaphysics under the letter M, and for China under the letter C, and combined his information, Sir!'
Mr. Pott's features assumed so much additional grandeur at the recollection of the power and research displayed in the learned effusions in question, that some minutes elapsed before Mr. Pickwick felt emboldened to renew the conversation; at length, as the editor's countenance gradually relaxed into its customary expression of moral supremacy, he ventured to resume the discourse by asking--
'Is it fair to inquire what great object has brought you so far from home?'
'That object which actuates and animates me in all my gigantic labours, Sir,' replied Pott, with a calm smile: 'my country's good.'
'I supposed it was some public mission,' observed Mr. Pickwick.
'Yes, Sir,' resumed Pott, 'it is.' Here, bending towards Mr. Pickwick, he whispered in a deep, hollow voice, 'A Buff ball, Sir, will take place in Birmingham to-morrow evening.'
'God bless me!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick.
'Yes, Sir, and supper,' added Pott.
'You don't say so!' ejaculated Mr. Pickwick.
Pott nodded portentously.
Now, although Mr. Pickwick feigned to stand aghast at this disclosure, he was so little versed in local politics that he was unable to form an adequate comprehension of the importance of the dire conspiracy it referred to; observing which, Mr. Pott, drawing forth the last number of the Eatanswill GAZETTE, and referring to the same, delivered himself of the following paragraph:--