CHAPTER XL. INTRODUCES Mr. PICKWICK TO A NEW AND NOT UNINTERESTING SCENE IN THE GREAT DRAMA OF LIFE
The remainder of the period which Mr. Pickwick had assigned as the duration of the stay at Bath passed over without the occurrence of anything material. Trinity term commenced. On the expiration of its first week, Mr. Pickwick and his friends returned to London; and the former gentleman, attended of course by Sam, straightway repaired to his old quarters at the George and Vulture.
On the third morning after their arrival, just as all the clocks in the city were striking nine individually, and somewhere about nine hundred and ninety-nine collectively, Sam was taking the air in George Yard, when a queer sort of fresh-painted vehicle drove up, out of which there jumped with great agility, throwing the reins to a stout man who sat beside him, a queer sort of gentleman, who seemed made for the vehicle, and the vehicle for him.
The vehicle was not exactly a gig, neither was it a stanhope. It was not what is currently denominated a dog-cart, neither was it a taxed cart, nor a chaise-cart, nor a guillotined cabriolet; and yet it had something of the character of each and every of these machines. It was painted a bright yellow, with the shafts and wheels picked out in black; and the driver sat in the orthodox sporting style, on cushions piled about two feet above the rail. The horse was a bay, a well-looking animal enough; but with something of a flash and dog-fighting air about him, nevertheless, which accorded both with the vehicle and his master.
The master himself was a man of about forty, with black hair, and carefully combed whiskers. He was dressed in a particularly gorgeous manner, with plenty of articles of jewellery about him — all about three sizes larger than those which are usually worn by gentlemen — and a rough greatcoat to crown the whole. Into one pocket of this greatcoat, he thrust his left hand the moment he dismounted, while from the other he drew forth, with his right, a very bright and glaring silk handkerchief, with which he whisked a speck or two of dust from his boots, and then, crumpling it in his hand, swaggered up the court.
It had not escaped Sam's attention that, when this person dismounted, a shabby-looking man in a brown greatcoat shorn of divers buttons, who had been previously slinking about, on the opposite side of the way, crossed over, and remained stationary close by. Having something more than a suspicion of the object of the gentleman's visit, Sam preceded him to the George and Vulture, and, turning sharp round, planted himself in the Centre of the doorway.
'Now, my fine fellow!' said the man in the rough coat, in an imperious tone, attempting at the same time to push his way past.
'Now, Sir, wot's the matter?' replied Sam, returning the push with compound interest.
'Come, none of this, my man; this won't do with me,' said the owner of the rough coat, raising his voice, and turning white. 'Here, Smouch!'
'Well, wot's amiss here?' growled the man in the brown coat, who had been gradually sneaking up the court during this short dialogue.
'Only some insolence of this young man's,' said the principal, giving Sam another push.
'Come, none o' this gammon,' growled Smouch, giving him another, and a harder one.
This last push had the effect which it was intended by the experienced Mr. Smouch to produce; for while Sam, anxious to return the compliment, was grinding that gentleman's body against the door-post, the principal crept past, and made his way to the bar, whither Sam, after bandying a few epithetical remarks with Mr. Smouch, followed at once.
'Good-morning, my dear,' said the principal, addressing the young lady at the bar, with Botany Bay ease, and New South Wales gentility; 'which is Mr. Pickwick's room, my dear?'
'Show him up,' said the barmaid to a waiter, without deigning another look at the exquisite, in reply to his inquiry.
The waiter led the way upstairs as he was desired, and the man in the rough coat followed, with Sam behind him, who, in his progress up the staircase, indulged in sundry gestures indicative of supreme contempt and defiance, to the unspeakable gratification of the servants and other lookers-on. Mr. Smouch, who was troubled with a hoarse cough, remained below, and expectorated in the passage.
Mr. Pickwick was fast asleep in bed, when his early visitor, followed by Sam, entered the room. The noise they made, in so doing, awoke him.
'Shaving-water, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, from within the curtains.
'Shave you directly, Mr. Pickwick,' said the visitor, drawing one of them back from the bed's head. 'I've got an execution against you, at the suit of Bardell. — Here's the warrant. — Common Pleas. — Here's my card. I suppose you'll come over to my house.' Giving Mr. Pickwick a friendly tap on the shoulder, the sheriff's officer (for such he was) threw his card on the counterpane, and pulled a gold toothpick from his waistcoat pocket.
'Namby's the name,' said the sheriff's deputy, as Mr. Pickwick took his spectacles from under the pillow, and put them on, to read the card. 'Namby, Bell Alley, Coleman Street.'
At this point, Sam Weller, who had had his eyes fixed hitherto on Mr. Namby's shining beaver, interfered.
'Are you a Quaker?' said Sam.
'I'll let you know I am, before I've done with you,' replied the indignant officer. 'I'll teach you manners, my fine fellow, one of these fine mornings.'
'Thank'ee,' said Sam. 'I'll do the same to you. Take your hat off.' With this, Mr. Weller, in the most dexterous manner, knocked Mr. Namby's hat to the other side of the room, with such violence, that he had very nearly caused him to swallow the gold toothpick into the bargain.
'Observe this, Mr. Pickwick,' said the disconcerted officer, gasping for breath. 'I've been assaulted in the execution of my dooty by your servant in your chamber. I'm in bodily fear. I call you to witness this.'
'Don't witness nothin', Sir,' interposed Sam. 'Shut your eyes up tight, Sir. I'd pitch him out o' winder, only he couldn't fall far enough, 'cause o' the leads outside.'
'Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, in an angry voice, as his attendant made various demonstrations of hostilities, 'if you say another word, or offer the slightest interference with this person, I discharge you that instant.'
'But, Sir!' said Sam.
'Hold your tongue,' interposed Mr. Pickwick. 'Take that hat up again.'
But this Sam flatly and positively refused to do; and, after he had been severely reprimanded by his master, the officer, being in a hurry, condescended to pick it up himself, venting a great variety of threats against Sam meanwhile, which that gentleman received with perfect composure, merely observing that if Mr. Namby would have the goodness to put his hat on again, he would knock it into the latter end of next week. Mr. Namby, perhaps thinking that such a process might be productive of inconvenience to himself, declined to offer the temptation, and, soon after, called up Smouch. Having informed him that the capture was made, and that he was to wait for the prisoner until he should have finished dressing, Namby then swaggered out, and drove away. Smouch, requesting Mr. Pickwick in a surly manner 'to be as alive as he could, for it was a busy time,' drew up a chair by the door and sat there, until he had finished dressing. Sam was then despatched for a hackney-coach, and in it the triumvirate proceeded to Coleman Street. It was fortunate the distance was short; for Mr. Smouch, besides possessing no very enchanting conversational powers, was rendered a decidedly unpleasant companion in a limited space, by the physical weakness to which we have elsewhere adverted.
The coach having turned into a very narrow and dark street, stopped before a house with iron bars to all the windows; the door-posts of which were graced by the name and title of 'Namby, Officer to the Sheriffs of London'; the inner gate having been opened by a gentleman who might have passed for a neglected twin-brother of Mr. Smouch, and who was endowed with a large key for the purpose, Mr. Pickwick was shown into the 'coffee-room.'
This coffee-room was a front parlour, the principal features of which were fresh sand and stale tobacco smoke. Mr. Pickwick bowed to the three persons who were seated in it when he entered; and having despatched Sam for Perker, withdrew into an obscure corner, and looked thence with some curiosity upon his new companions.
One of these was a mere boy of nineteen or twenty, who, though it was yet barely ten o'clock, was drinking gin-and-water, and smoking a cigar — amusements to which, judging from his inflamed countenance, he had devoted himself pretty constantly for the last year or two of his life. Opposite him, engaged in stirring the fire with the toe of his right boot, was a coarse, vulgar young man of about thirty, with a sallow face and harsh voice; evidently possessed of that knowledge of the world, and captivating freedom of manner, which is to be acquired in public-house parlours, and at low billiard tables. The third tenant of the apartment was a middle-aged man in a very old suit of black, who looked pale and haggard, and paced up and down the room incessantly; stopping, now and then, to look with great anxiety out of the window as if he expected somebody, and then resuming his walk.
'You'd better have the loan of my razor this morning, Mr. Ayresleigh,' said the man who was stirring the fire, tipping the wink to his friend the boy.
'Thank you, no, I shan't want it; I expect I shall be out, in the course of an hour or so,' replied the other in a hurried manner. Then, walking again up to the window, and once more returning disappointed, he sighed deeply, and left the room; upon which the other two burst into a loud laugh.
'Well, I never saw such a game as that,' said the gentleman who had offered the razor, whose name appeared to be Price. 'Never!' Mr. Price confirmed the assertion with an oath, and then laughed again, when of course the boy (who thought his companion one of the most dashing fellows alive) laughed also.
'You'd hardly think, would you now,' said Price, turning towards Mr. Pickwick, 'that that chap's been here a week yesterday, and never once shaved himself yet, because he feels so certain he's going out in half an hour's time, thinks he may as well put it off till he gets home?'
'Poor man!' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Are his chances of getting out of his difficulties really so great?'