The Pickwick Papers By Charles Dickens Chapter 34

'Mr. Winkle has rather a short memory, my Lord,' interposed Mr. Skimpin, with another glance at the jury. 'We shall find means to refresh it before we have quite done with him, I dare say.'

'You had better be careful, Sir,' said the little judge, with a sinister look at the witness.

Poor Mr. Winkle bowed, and endeavoured to feign an easiness of manner, which, in his then state of confusion, gave him rather the air of a disconcerted pickpocket.

'Now, Mr. Winkle,' said Mr. Skimpin, 'attend to me, if you please, Sir; and let me recommend you, for your own sake, to bear in mind his Lordship's injunctions to be careful. I believe you are a particular friend of Mr. Pickwick, the defendant, are you not?'

'I have known Mr. Pickwick now, as well as I recollect at this moment, nearly — '

'Pray, Mr. Winkle, do not evade the question. Are you, or are you not, a particular friend of the defendant's?'

'I was just about to say, that — '

'Will you, or will you not, answer my question, Sir?' 'If you don't answer the question, you'll be committed, Sir,' interposed the little judge, looking over his note-book.

'Come, Sir,' said Mr. Skimpin, 'yes or no, if you please.'

'Yes, I am,' replied Mr. Winkle.

'Yes, you are. And why couldn't you say that at once, Sir? Perhaps you know the plaintiff too? Eh, Mr. Winkle?'

'I don't know her; I've seen her.'

'Oh, you don't know her, but you've seen her? Now, have the goodness to tell the gentlemen of the jury what you mean by that, Mr. Winkle.'

'I mean that I am not intimate with her, but I have seen her when I went to call on Mr. Pickwick, in Goswell Street.'

'How often have you seen her, Sir?'

'How often?'

'Yes, Mr. Winkle, how often? I'll repeat the question for you a dozen times, if you require it, Sir.' And the learned gentleman, with a firm and steady frown, placed his hands on his hips, and smiled suspiciously to the jury.

On this question there arose the edifying brow-beating, customary on such points. First of all, Mr. Winkle said it was quite impossible for him to say how many times he had seen Mrs. Bardell. Then he was asked if he had seen her twenty times, to which he replied, 'Certainly — more than that.' Then he was asked whether he hadn't seen her a hundred times — whether he couldn't swear that he had seen her more than fifty times — whether he didn't know that he had seen her at least seventy-five times, and so forth; the satisfactory conclusion which was arrived at, at last, being, that he had better take care of himself, and mind what he was about. The witness having been by these means reduced to the requisite ebb of nervous perplexity, the examination was continued as follows —

'Pray, Mr. Winkle, do you remember calling on the defendant Pickwick at these apartments in the plaintiff's house in Goswell Street, on one particular morning, in the month of July last?'

'Yes, I do.'

'Were you accompanied on that occasion by a friend of the name of Tupman, and another by the name of Snodgrass?'

'Yes, I was.'

'Are they here?' 'Yes, they are,' replied Mr. Winkle, looking very earnestly towards the spot where his friends were stationed.

'Pray attend to me, Mr. Winkle, and never mind your friends,' said Mr. Skimpin, with another expressive look at the jury. 'They must tell their stories without any previous consultation with you, if none has yet taken place (another look at the jury). Now, Sir, tell the gentlemen of the jury what you saw on entering the defendant's room, on this particular morning. Come; out with it, Sir; we must have it, sooner or later.'

'The defendant, Mr. Pickwick, was holding the plaintiff in his arms, with his hands clasping her waist,' replied Mr. Winkle with natural hesitation, 'and the plaintiff appeared to have fainted away.'

'Did you hear the defendant say anything?'

'I heard him call Mrs. Bardell a good creature, and I heard him ask her to compose herself, for what a situation it was, if anybody should come, or words to that effect.'

'Now, Mr. Winkle, I have only one more question to ask you, and I beg you to bear in mind his Lordship's caution. Will you undertake to swear that Pickwick, the defendant, did not say on the occasion in question — "My dear Mrs. Bardell, you're a good creature; compose yourself to this situation, for to this situation you must come," or words to that effect?'

'I — I didn't understand him so, certainly,' said Mr. Winkle, astounded on this ingenious dove-tailing of the few words he had heard. 'I was on the staircase, and couldn't hear distinctly; the impression on my mind is — '

'The gentlemen of the jury want none of the impressions on your mind, Mr. Winkle, which I fear would be of little service to honest, straightforward men,' interposed Mr. Skimpin. 'You were on the staircase, and didn't distinctly hear; but you will not swear that Pickwick did not make use of the expressions I have quoted? Do I understand that?'

'No, I will not,' replied Mr. Winkle; and down sat Mr. Skimpin with a triumphant countenance.

Mr. Pickwick's case had not gone off in so particularly happy a manner, up to this point, that it could very well afford to have any additional suspicion cast upon it. But as it could afford to be placed in a rather better light, if possible, Mr. Phunky rose for the purpose of getting something important out of Mr. Winkle in cross-examination. Whether he did get anything important out of him, will immediately appear.

'I believe, Mr. Winkle,' said Mr. Phunky, 'that Mr. Pickwick is not a young man?'

'Oh, no,' replied Mr. Winkle; 'old enough to be my father.'

'You have told my learned friend that you have known Mr. Pickwick a long time. Had you ever any reason to suppose or believe that he was about to be married?'

'Oh, no; certainly not;' replied Mr. Winkle with so much eagerness, that Mr. Phunky ought to have got him out of the box with all possible dispatch. Lawyers hold that there are two kinds of particularly bad witnesses — a reluctant witness, and a too-willing witness; it was Mr. Winkle's fate to figure in both characters.

'I will even go further than this, Mr. Winkle,' continued Mr. Phunky, in a most smooth and complacent manner. 'Did you ever see anything in Mr. Pickwick's manner and conduct towards the opposite sex, to induce you to believe that he ever contemplated matrimony of late years, in any case?'

'Oh, no; certainly not,' replied Mr. Winkle.

'Has his behaviour, when females have been in the case, always been that of a man, who, having attained a pretty advanced period of life, content with his own occupations and amusements, treats them only as a father might his daughters?'

'Not the least doubt of it,' replied Mr. Winkle, in the fulness of his heart. 'That is — yes — oh, yes — certainly.'

'You have never known anything in his behaviour towards Mrs. Bardell, or any other female, in the least degree suspicious?' said Mr. Phunky, preparing to sit down; for Serjeant Snubbin was winking at him.

'N-n-no,' replied Mr. Winkle, 'except on one trifling occasion, which, I have no doubt, might be easily explained.'

Now, if the unfortunate Mr. Phunky had sat down when Serjeant Snubbin had winked at him, or if Serjeant Buzfuz had stopped this irregular cross-examination at the outset (which he knew better than to do; observing Mr. Winkle's anxiety, and well knowing it would, in all probability, lead to something serviceable to him), this unfortunate admission would not have been elicited. The moment the words fell from Mr. Winkle's lips, Mr. Phunky sat down, and Serjeant Snubbin rather hastily told him he might leave the box, which Mr. Winkle prepared to do with great readiness, when Serjeant Buzfuz stopped him.

'Stay, Mr. Winkle, stay!' said Serjeant Buzfuz, 'will your Lordship have the goodness to ask him, what this one instance of suspicious behaviour towards females on the part of this gentleman, who is old enough to be his father, was?'

'You hear what the learned counsel says, Sir,' observed the judge, turning to the miserable and agonised Mr. Winkle. 'Describe the occasion to which you refer.'

'My Lord,' said Mr. Winkle, trembling with anxiety, 'I — I'd rather not.'

'Perhaps so,' said the little judge; 'but you must.'

Amid the profound silence of the whole court, Mr. Winkle faltered out, that the trifling circumstance of suspicion was Mr. Pickwick's being found in a lady's sleeping-apartment at midnight; which had terminated, he believed, in the breaking off of the projected marriage of the lady in question, and had led, he knew, to the whole party being forcibly carried before George Nupkins, Esq., magistrate and justice of the peace, for the borough of Ipswich!

'You may leave the box, Sir,' said Serjeant Snubbin. Mr. Winkle did leave the box, and rushed with delirious haste to the George and Vulture, where he was discovered some hours after, by the waiter, groaning in a hollow and dismal manner, with his head buried beneath the sofa cushions.

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