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 (Page 2)
'A reptile contemporary has recently sweltered forth his black venom in the vain and hopeless attempt of sullying the fair name of our distinguished and excellent representative, the Honourable Mr. Slumkey--that Slumkey whom we, long before he gained his present noble and exalted position, predicted would one day be, as he now is, at once his country's brightest honour, and her proudest boast: alike her bold defender and her honest pride-- our reptile contemporary, we say, has made himself merry, at the expense of a superbly embossed plated coal-scuttle, which has been presented to that glorious man by his enraptured constituents, and towards the purchase of which, the nameless wretch insinuates, the Honourable Mr. Slumkey himself contributed, through a confidential friend of his butler's, more than three-fourths of the whole sum subscribed. Why, does not the crawling creature see, that even if this be the fact, the Honourable Mr. Slumkey only appears in a still more amiable and radiant light than before, if that be possible? Does not even his obtuseness perceive that this amiable and touching desire to carry out the wishes of the constituent body, must for ever endear him to the hearts and souls of such of his fellow townsmen as are not worse than swine; or, in other words, who are not as debased as our contemporary himself? But such is the wretched trickery of hole-and-corner Buffery! These are not its only artifices. Treason is abroad. We boldly state, now that we are goaded to the disclosure, and we throw ourselves on the country and its constables for protection--we boldly state that secret preparations are at this moment in progress for a Buff ball; which is to be held in a Buff town, in the very heart and centre of a Buff population; which is to be conducted by a Buff master of the ceremonies; which is to be attended by four ultra Buff members of Parliament, and the admission to which, is to be by Buff tickets! Does our fiendish contemporary wince? Let him writhe, in impotent malice, as we pen the words, WE WILL BE THERE.'
'There, Sir,' said Pott, folding up the paper quite exhausted, 'that is the state of the case!'
The landlord and waiter entering at the moment with dinner, caused Mr. Pott to lay his finger on his lips, in token that he considered his life in Mr. Pickwick's hands, and depended on his secrecy. Messrs. Bob Sawyer and Benjamin Allen, who had irreverently fallen asleep during the reading of the quotation from the Eatanswill GAZETTE, and the discussion which followed it, were roused by the mere whispering of the talismanic word
'Dinner' in their ears; and to dinner they went with good digestion waiting on appetite, and health on both, and a waiter on all three.
In the course of the dinner and the sitting which succeeded it, Mr. Pott descending, for a few moments, to domestic topics, informed Mr. Pickwick that the air of Eatanswill not agreeing with his lady, she was then engaged in making a tour of different fashionable watering-places with a view to the recovery of her wonted health and spirits; this was a delicate veiling of the fact that Mrs. Pott, acting upon her often-repeated threat of separation, had, in virtue of an arrangement negotiated by her brother, the lieutenant, and concluded by Mr. Pott, permanently retired with the faithful bodyguard upon one moiety or half part of the annual income and profits arising from the editorship and sale of the Eatanswill GAZETTE.
While the great Mr. Pott was dwelling upon this and other matters, enlivening the conversation from time to time with various extracts from his own lucubrations, a stern stranger, calling from the window of a stage-coach, outward bound, which halted at the inn to deliver packages, requested to know whether if he stopped short on his journey and remained there for the night, he could be furnished with the necessary accommodation of a bed and bedstead.
'Certainly, sir,' replied the landlord.
'I can, can I?' inquired the stranger, who seemed habitually suspicious in look and manner.
'No doubt of it, Sir,' replied the landlord.
'Good,' said the stranger. 'Coachman, I get down here. Guard, my carpet-bag!'
Bidding the other passengers good-night, in a rather snappish manner, the stranger alighted. He was a shortish gentleman, with very stiff black hair cut in the porcupine or blacking-brush style, and standing stiff and straight all over his head; his aspect was pompous and threatening; his manner was peremptory; his eyes were sharp and restless; and his whole bearing bespoke a feeling of great confidence in himself, and a consciousness of immeasurable superiority over all other people.
This gentleman was shown into the room originally assigned to the patriotic Mr. Pott; and the waiter remarked, in dumb astonishment at the singular coincidence, that he had no sooner lighted the candles than the gentleman, diving into his hat, drew forth a newspaper, and began to read it with the very same expression of indignant scorn, which, upon the majestic features of Pott, had paralysed his energies an hour before. The man observed too, that, whereas Mr. Pott's scorn had been roused by a newspaper headed the Eatanswill INDEPENDENT, this gentleman's withering contempt was awakened by a newspaper entitled the Eatanswill GAZETTE.
'Send the landlord,' said the stranger.
'Yes, sir,' rejoined the waiter.
The landlord was sent, and came.
'Are you the landlord?' inquired the gentleman.
'I am sir,' replied the landlord.
'My name is Slurk,' said the gentleman.
The landlord slightly inclined his head.
'Slurk, sir,' repeated the gentleman haughtily. 'Do you know me now, man?'
The landlord scratched his head, looked at the ceiling, and at the stranger, and smiled feebly.
'Do you know me, man?' inquired the stranger angrily.
The landlord made a strong effort, and at length replied,
'Well, Sir, I do not know you.'
'Great Heaven!' said the stranger, dashing his clenched fist upon the table. 'And this is popularity!'
The landlord took a step or two towards the door; the stranger fixing his eyes upon him, resumed.
'This,' said the stranger--'this is gratitude for years of labour and study in behalf of the masses. I alight wet and weary; no enthusiastic crowds press forward to greet their champion; the church bells are silent; the very name elicits no responsive feeling in their torpid bosoms. It is enough,' said the agitated Mr. Slurk, pacing to and fro, 'to curdle the ink in one's pen, and induce one to abandon their cause for ever.'
'Did you say brandy-and-water, Sir?' said the landlord, venturing a hint.
'Rum,' said Mr. Slurk, turning fiercely upon him. 'Have you got a fire anywhere?'
'We can light one directly, Sir,' said the landlord.
'Which will throw out no heat until it is bed-time,' interrupted Mr. Slurk. 'Is there anybody in the kitchen?'
Not a soul. There was a beautiful fire. Everybody had gone, and the house door was closed for the night.
'I will drink my rum-and-water,' said Mr. Slurk, 'by the kitchen fire.' So, gathering up his hat and newspaper, he stalked solemnly behind the landlord to that humble apartment, and throwing himself on a settle by the fireside, resumed his countenance of scorn, and began to read and drink in silent dignity.
Now, some demon of discord, flying over the Saracen's Head at that moment, on casting down his eyes in mere idle curiosity, happened to behold Slurk established comfortably by the kitchen fire, and Pott slightly elevated with wine in another room; upon which the malicious demon, darting down into the last-mentioned apartment with inconceivable rapidity, passed at once into the head of Mr. Bob Sawyer, and prompted him for his (the demon's) own evil purpose to speak as follows:--
'I say, we've let the fire out. It's uncommonly cold after the rain, isn't it?'
'It really is,' replied Mr. Pickwick, shivering.
'It wouldn't be a bad notion to have a cigar by the kitchen fire, would it?' said Bob Sawyer, still prompted by the demon aforesaid.
'It would be particularly comfortable, I think,' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'Mr. Pott, what do you say?'
Mr. Pott yielded a ready assent; and all four travellers, each with his glass in his hand, at once betook themselves to the kitchen, with Sam Weller heading the procession to show them the way.
The stranger was still reading; he looked up and started. Mr. Pott started.
'What's the matter?' whispered Mr. Pickwick.
'That reptile!' replied Pott.
'What reptile?' said Mr. Pickwick, looking about him for fear he should tread on some overgrown black beetle, or dropsical spider.
'That reptile,' whispered Pott, catching Mr. Pickwick by the arm, and pointing towards the stranger. 'That reptile Slurk, of the INDEPENDENT!'
'Perhaps we had better retire,' whispered Mr. Pickwick.
'Never, Sir,' rejoined Pott, pot-valiant in a double sense--
'never.' With these words, Mr. Pott took up his position on an opposite settle, and selecting one from a little bundle of newspapers, began to read against his enemy.
Mr. Pott, of course read the INDEPENDENT, and Mr. Slurk, of course, read the GAZETTE; and each gentleman audibly expressed his contempt at the other's compositions by bitter laughs and sarcastic sniffs; whence they proceeded to more open expressions of opinion, such as 'absurd,' 'wretched,' 'atrocity,' 'humbug,'
'knavery', 'dirt,' 'filth,' 'slime,' 'ditch-water,' and other critical remarks of the like nature.
Both Mr. Bob Sawyer and Mr. Ben Allen had beheld these symptoms of rivalry and hatred, with a degree of delight which imparted great additional relish to the cigars at which they were puffing most vigorously. The moment they began to flag, the mischievous Mr. Bob Sawyer, addressing Slurk with great politeness, said--
'Will you allow me to look at your paper, Sir, when you have quite done with it?'
'You will find very little to repay you for your trouble in this contemptible THING, sir,' replied Slurk, bestowing a Satanic frown on Pott.
'You shall have this presently,' said Pott, looking up, pale with rage, and quivering in his speech, from the same cause.
'Ha! ha! you will be amused with this FELLOW'S audacity.'
Terrible emphasis was laid upon 'thing' and 'fellow'; and the faces of both editors began to glow with defiance.
'The ribaldry of this miserable man is despicably disgusting,' said Pott, pretending to address Bob Sawyer, and scowling upon Slurk. Here, Mr. Slurk laughed very heartily, and folding up the paper so as to get at a fresh column conveniently, said, that the blockhead really amused him.
'What an impudent blunderer this fellow is,' said Pott, turning from pink to crimson.
'Did you ever read any of this man's foolery, Sir?' inquired Slurk of Bob Sawyer.
'Never,' replied Bob; 'is it very bad?'
'Oh, shocking! shocking!' rejoined Slurk.
'Really! Dear me, this is too atrocious!' exclaimed Pott, at this juncture; still feigning to be absorbed in his reading.
'If you can wade through a few sentences of malice, meanness, falsehood, perjury, treachery, and cant,' said Slurk, handing the paper to Bob, 'you will, perhaps, be somewhat repaid by a laugh at the style of this ungrammatical twaddler.'
'What's that you said, Sir?' inquired Mr. Pott, looking up, trembling all over with passion.
'What's that to you, sir?' replied Slurk.
'Ungrammatical twaddler, was it, sir?' said Pott.
'Yes, sir, it was,' replied Slurk; 'and BLUE BORE, Sir, if you like that better; ha! ha!'
Mr. Pott retorted not a word at this jocose insult, but deliberately folded up his copy of the INDEPENDENT, flattened it carefully down, crushed it beneath his boot, spat upon it with great ceremony, and flung it into the fire.
'There, sir,' said Pott, retreating from the stove, 'and that's the way I would serve the viper who produces it, if I were not, fortunately for him, restrained by the laws of my country.'
'Serve him so, sir!' cried Slurk, starting up. 'Those laws shall never be appealed to by him, sir, in such a case. Serve him so, sir!'
'Hear! hear!' said Bob Sawyer.
'Nothing can be fairer,' observed Mr. Ben Allen.
'Serve him so, sir!' reiterated Slurk, in a loud voice.
Mr. Pott darted a look of contempt, which might have withered an anchor.
'Serve him so, sir!' reiterated Slurk, in a louder voice than before.
'I will not, sir,' rejoined Pott.
'Oh, you won't, won't you, sir?' said Mr. Slurk, in a taunting manner; 'you hear this, gentlemen! He won't; not that he's afraid--, oh, no! he WON'T. Ha! ha!'
'I consider you, sir,' said Mr. Pott, moved by this sarcasm, 'I consider you a viper. I look upon you, sir, as a man who has placed himself beyond the pale of society, by his most audacious, disgraceful, and abominable public conduct. I view you, sir, personally and politically, in no other light than as a most unparalleled and unmitigated viper.'
The indignant Independent did not wait to hear the end of this personal denunciation; for, catching up his carpet-bag, which was well stuffed with movables, he swung it in the air as Pott turned away, and, letting it fall with a circular sweep on his head, just at that particular angle of the bag where a good thick hairbrush happened to be packed, caused a sharp crash to be heard throughout the kitchen, and brought him at once to the ground.
'Gentlemen,' cried Mr. Pickwick, as Pott started up and seized the fire-shovel--'gentlemen! Consider, for Heaven's sake--help --Sam--here--pray, gentlemen--interfere, somebody.'
Uttering these incoherent exclamations, Mr. Pickwick rushed between the infuriated combatants just in time to receive the carpet-bag on one side of his body, and the fire-shovel on the other. Whether the representatives of the public feeling of Eatanswill were blinded by animosity, or (being both acute reasoners) saw the advantage of having a third party between them to bear all the blows, certain it is that they paid not the slightest attention to Mr. Pickwick, but defying each other with great spirit, plied the carpet-bag and the fire-shovel most fearlessly. Mr. Pickwick would unquestionably have suffered severely for his humane interference, if Mr. Weller, attracted by his master's cries, had not rushed in at the moment, and, snatching up a meal--sack, effectually stopped the conflict by drawing it over the head and shoulders of the mighty Pott, and clasping him tight round the shoulders.
'Take away that 'ere bag from the t'other madman,' said Sam to Ben Allen and Bob Sawyer, who had done nothing but dodge round the group, each with a tortoise-shell lancet in his hand, ready to bleed the first man stunned. 'Give it up, you wretched little creetur, or I'll smother you in it.'
Awed by these threats, and quite out of breath, the INDEPENDENT suffered himself to be disarmed; and Mr. Weller, removing the extinguisher from Pott, set him free with a caution.
'You take yourselves off to bed quietly,' said Sam, 'or I'll put you both in it, and let you fight it out vith the mouth tied, as I vould a dozen sich, if they played these games. And you have the goodness to come this here way, sir, if you please.'
Thus addressing his master, Sam took him by the arm, and led him off, while the rival editors were severally removed to their beds by the landlord, under the inspection of Mr. Bob Sawyer and Mr. Benjamin Allen; breathing, as they went away, many sanguinary threats, and making vague appointments for mortal combat next day. When they came to think it over, however, it occurred to them that they could do it much better in print, so they recommenced deadly hostilities without delay; and all Eatanswill rung with their boldness--on paper.
They had taken themselves off in separate coaches, early next morning, before the other travellers were stirring; and the weather having now cleared up, the chaise companions once more turned their faces to London.Next