CHAPTER XLVIII. RELATES HOW Mr. PICKWICK, WITH THE ASSISTANCE OF SAMUEL WELLER, ESSAYED TO SOFTEN THE HEART OF Mr. BENJAMIN ALLEN, AND TO MOLLIFY THE WRATH OF Mr. ROBERT SAWYER
Mr. Ben Allen and Mr. Bob Sawyer sat together in the little surgery behind the shop, discussing minced veal and future prospects, when the discourse, not unnaturally, turned upon the practice acquired by Bob the aforesaid, and his present chances of deriving a competent independence from the honourable profession to which he had devoted himself.
'Which, I think,' observed Mr. Bob Sawyer, pursuing the thread of the subject — 'which, I think, Ben, are rather dubious.'
'What's rather dubious?' inquired Mr. Ben Allen, at the same time sharpening his intellect with a draught of beer. 'What's dubious?'
'Why, the chances,' responded Mr. Bob Sawyer.
'I forgot,' said Mr. Ben Allen. 'The beer has reminded me that I forgot, Bob — yes; they ARE dubious.'
'It's wonderful how the poor people patronise me,' said Mr. Bob Sawyer reflectively. 'They knock me up, at all hours of the night; they take medicine to an extent which I should have conceived impossible; they put on blisters and leeches with a perseverance worthy of a better cause; they make additions to their families, in a manner which is quite awful. Six of those last-named little promissory notes, all due on the same day, Ben, and all intrusted to me!'
'It's very gratifying, isn't it?' said Mr. Ben Allen, holding his plate for some more minced veal.
'Oh, very,' replied Bob; 'only not quite so much so as the confidence of patients with a shilling or two to spare would be. This business was capitally described in the advertisement, Ben. It is a practice, a very extensive practice — and that's all.'
'Bob,' said Mr. Ben Allen, laying down his knife and fork, and fixing his eyes on the visage of his friend, 'Bob, I'll tell you what it is.'
'What is it?' inquired Mr. Bob Sawyer.
'You must make yourself, with as little delay as possible, master of Arabella's one thousand pounds.'
'Three per cent. consolidated bank annuities, now standing in her name in the book or books of the governor and company of the Bank of England,' added Bob Sawyer, in legal phraseology.
'Exactly so,' said Ben. 'She has it when she comes of age, or marries. She wants a year of coming of age, and if you plucked up a spirit she needn't want a month of being married.'
'She's a very charming and delightful creature,' quoth Mr. Robert Sawyer, in reply; 'and has only one fault that I know of, Ben. It happens, unfortunately, that that single blemish is a want of taste. She don't like me.'
'It's my opinion that she don't know what she does like,' said Mr. Ben Allen contemptuously.
'Perhaps not,' remarked Mr. Bob Sawyer. 'But it's my opinion that she does know what she doesn't like, and that's of more importance.'
'I wish,' said Mr. Ben Allen, setting his teeth together, and speaking more like a savage warrior who fed on raw wolf's flesh which he carved with his fingers, than a peaceable young gentleman who ate minced veal with a knife and fork — 'I wish I knew whether any rascal really has been tampering with her, and attempting to engage her affections. I think I should assassinate him, Bob.'
'I'd put a bullet in him, if I found him out,' said Mr. Sawyer, stopping in the course of a long draught of beer, and looking malignantly out of the porter pot. 'If that didn't do his business, I'd extract it afterwards, and kill him that way.'
Mr. Benjamin Allen gazed abstractedly on his friend for some minutes in silence, and then said —
'You have never proposed to her, point-blank, Bob?'
'No. Because I saw it would be of no use,' replied Mr. Robert Sawyer.
'You shall do it, before you are twenty-four hours older,' retorted Ben, with desperate calmness. 'She shall have you, or I'll know the reason why. I'll exert my authority.'
'Well,' said Mr. Bob Sawyer, 'we shall see.'
'We shall see, my friend,' replied Mr. Ben Allen fiercely. He paused for a few seconds, and added in a voice broken by emotion, 'You have loved her from a child, my friend. You loved her when we were boys at school together, and, even then, she was wayward and slighted your young feelings. Do you recollect, with all the eagerness of a child's love, one day pressing upon her acceptance, two small caraway-seed biscuits and one sweet apple, neatly folded into a circular parcel with the leaf of a copy-book?'
'I do,' replied Bob Sawyer.
'She slighted that, I think?' said Ben Allen.
'She did,' rejoined Bob. 'She said I had kept the parcel so long in the pockets of my corduroys, that the apple was unpleasantly warm.'
'I remember,' said Mr. Allen gloomily. 'Upon which we ate it ourselves, in alternate bites.'
Bob Sawyer intimated his recollection of the circumstance last alluded to, by a melancholy frown; and the two friends remained for some time absorbed, each in his own meditations.
While these observations were being exchanged between Mr. Bob Sawyer and Mr. Benjamin Allen; and while the boy in the gray livery, marvelling at the unwonted prolongation of the dinner, cast an anxious look, from time to time, towards the glass door, distracted by inward misgivings regarding the amount of minced veal which would be ultimately reserved for his individual cravings; there rolled soberly on through the streets of Bristol, a private fly, painted of a sad green colour, drawn by a chubby sort of brown horse, and driven by a surly-looking man with his legs dressed like the legs of a groom, and his body attired in the coat of a coachman. Such appearances are common to many vehicles belonging to, and maintained by, old ladies of economic habits; and in this vehicle sat an old lady who was its mistress and proprietor.
'Martin!' said the old lady, calling to the surly man, out of the front window.
'Well?' said the surly man, touching his hat to the old lady.
'Mr. Sawyer's,' said the old lady.
'I was going there,' said the surly man.
The old lady nodded the satisfaction which this proof of the surly man's foresight imparted to her feelings; and the surly man giving a smart lash to the chubby horse, they all repaired to Mr. Bob Sawyer's together.
'Martin!' said the old lady, when the fly stopped at the door of Mr. Robert Sawyer, late Nockemorf.
'Well?' said Martin.
'Ask the lad to step out, and mind the horse.'
'I'm going to mind the horse myself,' said Martin, laying his whip on the roof of the fly.
'I can't permit it, on any account,' said the old lady; 'your testimony will be very important, and I must take you into the house with me. You must not stir from my side during the whole interview. Do you hear?'
'I hear,' replied Martin.
'Well; what are you stopping for?'
'Nothing,' replied Martin. So saying, the surly man leisurely descended from the wheel, on which he had been poising himself on the tops of the toes of his right foot, and having summoned the boy in the gray livery, opened the coach door, flung down the steps, and thrusting in a hand enveloped in a dark wash-leather glove, pulled out the old lady with as much unconcern in his manner as if she were a bandbox.
'Dear me!' exclaimed the old lady. 'I am so flurried, now I have got here, Martin, that I'm all in a tremble.'
Mr. Martin coughed behind the dark wash-leather gloves, but expressed no sympathy; so the old lady, composing herself, trotted up Mr. Bob Sawyer's steps, and Mr. Martin followed. Immediately on the old lady's entering the shop, Mr. Benjamin Allen and Mr. Bob Sawyer, who had been putting the spirits-and-water out of sight, and upsetting nauseous drugs to take off the smell of the tobacco smoke, issued hastily forth in a transport of pleasure and affection.
'My dear aunt,' exclaimed Mr. Ben Allen, 'how kind of you to look in upon us! Mr. Sawyer, aunt; my friend Mr. Bob Sawyer whom I have spoken to you about, regarding — you know, aunt.' And here Mr. Ben Allen, who was not at the moment extraordinarily sober, added the word 'Arabella,' in what was meant to be a whisper, but which was an especially audible and distinct tone of speech which nobody could avoid hearing, if anybody were so disposed.
'My dear Benjamin,' said the old lady, struggling with a great shortness of breath, and trembling from head to foot, 'don't be alarmed, my dear, but I think I had better speak to Mr. Sawyer, alone, for a moment. Only for one moment.'
'Bob,' said Mr. Allen, 'will you take my aunt into the surgery?'
'Certainly,' responded Bob, in a most professional voice. 'Step this way, my dear ma'am. Don't be frightened, ma'am. We shall be able to set you to rights in a very short time, I have no doubt, ma'am. Here, my dear ma'am. Now then!' With this, Mr. Bob Sawyer having handed the old lady to a chair, shut the door, drew another chair close to her, and waited to hear detailed the symptoms of some disorder from which he saw in perspective a long train of profits and advantages.
The first thing the old lady did, was to shake her head a great many times, and began to cry.
'Nervous,' said Bob Sawyer complacently. 'Camphor-julep and water three times a day, and composing draught at night.'
'I don't know how to begin, Mr. Sawyer,' said the old lady. 'It is so very painful and distressing.'
'You need not begin, ma'am,' rejoined Mr. Bob Sawyer. 'I can anticipate all you would say. The head is in fault.'
'I should be very sorry to think it was the heart,' said the old lady, with a slight groan.
'Not the slightest danger of that, ma'am,' replied Bob Sawyer. 'The stomach is the primary cause.'