CHAPTER XII. DESCRIPTIVE OF A VERY IMPORTANT PROCEEDING ON THE PART OF Mr. PICKWICK; NO LESS AN EPOCH IN HIS LIFE, THAN IN THIS HISTORY
Mr. Pickwick's apartments in Goswell Street, although on a limited scale, were not only of a very neat and comfortable description, but peculiarly adapted for the residence of a man of his genius and observation. His sitting-room was the first-floor front, his bedroom the second-floor front; and thus, whether he were sitting at his desk in his parlour, or standing before the dressing-glass in his dormitory, he had an equal opportunity of contemplating human nature in all the numerous phases it exhibits, in that not more populous than popular thoroughfare. His landlady, Mrs. Bardell — the relict and sole executrix of a deceased custom-house officer — was a comely woman of bustling manners and agreeable appearance, with a natural genius for cooking, improved by study and long practice, into an exquisite talent. There were no children, no servants, no fowls. The only other inmates of the house were a large man and a small boy; the first a lodger, the second a production of Mrs. Bardell's. The large man was always home precisely at ten o'clock at night, at which hour he regularly condensed himself into the limits of a dwarfish French bedstead in the back parlour; and the infantine sports and gymnastic exercises of Master Bardell were exclusively confined to the neighbouring pavements and gutters. Cleanliness and quiet reigned throughout the house; and in it Mr. Pickwick's will was law.
To any one acquainted with these points of the domestic economy of the establishment, and conversant with the admirable regulation of Mr. Pickwick's mind, his appearance and behaviour on the morning previous to that which had been fixed upon for the journey to Eatanswill would have been most mysterious and unaccountable. He paced the room to and fro with hurried steps, popped his head out of the window at intervals of about three minutes each, constantly referred to his watch, and exhibited many other manifestations of impatience very unusual with him. It was evident that something of great importance was in contemplation, but what that something was, not even Mrs. Bardell had been enabled to discover.
'Mrs. Bardell,' said Mr. Pickwick, at last, as that amiable female approached the termination of a prolonged dusting of the apartment.
'Sir,' said Mrs. Bardell.
'Your little boy is a very long time gone.'
'Why it's a good long way to the Borough, sir,' remonstrated Mrs. Bardell.
'Ah,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'very true; so it is.' Mr. Pickwick relapsed into silence, and Mrs. Bardell resumed her dusting.
'Mrs. Bardell,' said Mr. Pickwick, at the expiration of a few minutes.
'Sir,' said Mrs. Bardell again. 'Do you think it a much greater expense to keep two people, than to keep one?'
'La, Mr. Pickwick,' said Mrs. Bardell, colouring up to the very border of her cap, as she fancied she observed a species of matrimonial twinkle in the eyes of her lodger; 'La, Mr. Pickwick, what a question!'
'Well, but do you?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'That depends,' said Mrs. Bardell, approaching the duster very near to Mr. Pickwick's elbow which was planted on the table. 'That depends a good deal upon the person, you know, Mr. Pickwick; and whether it's a saving and careful person, sir.'
'That's very true,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'but the person I have in my eye (here he looked very hard at Mrs. Bardell) I think possesses these qualities; and has, moreover, a considerable knowledge of the world, and a great deal of sharpness, Mrs. Bardell, which may be of material use to me.'
'La, Mr. Pickwick,' said Mrs. Bardell, the crimson rising to her cap-border again.
'I do,' said Mr. Pickwick, growing energetic, as was his wont in speaking of a subject which interested him — 'I do, indeed; and to tell you the truth, Mrs. Bardell, I have made up my mind.'
'Dear me, sir,'exclaimed Mrs. Bardell.
'You'll think it very strange now,' said the amiable Mr. Pickwick, with a good-humoured glance at his companion, 'that I never consulted you about this matter, and never even mentioned it, till I sent your little boy out this morning — eh?'
Mrs. Bardell could only reply by a look. She had long worshipped Mr. Pickwick at a distance, but here she was, all at once, raised to a pinnacle to which her wildest and most extravagant hopes had never dared to aspire. Mr. Pickwick was going to propose — a deliberate plan, too — sent her little boy to the Borough, to get him out of the way — how thoughtful — how considerate!
'Well,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'what do you think?'
'Oh, Mr. Pickwick,' said Mrs. Bardell, trembling with agitation, 'you're very kind, sir.'
'It'll save you a good deal of trouble, won't it?' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Oh, I never thought anything of the trouble, sir,' replied Mrs. Bardell; 'and, of course, I should take more trouble to please you then, than ever; but it is so kind of you, Mr. Pickwick, to have so much consideration for my loneliness.'
'Ah, to be sure,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'I never thought of that. When I am in town, you'll always have somebody to sit with you. To be sure, so you will.'
'I am sure I ought to be a very happy woman,' said Mrs. Bardell.
'And your little boy — ' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Bless his heart!' interposed Mrs. Bardell, with a maternal sob.
'He, too, will have a companion,' resumed Mr. Pickwick, 'a lively one, who'll teach him, I'll be bound, more tricks in a week than he would ever learn in a year.' And Mr. Pickwick smiled placidly.
'Oh, you dear — ' said Mrs. Bardell.
Mr. Pickwick started.
'Oh, you kind, good, playful dear,' said Mrs. Bardell; and without more ado, she rose from her chair, and flung her arms round Mr. Pickwick's neck, with a cataract of tears and a chorus of sobs.
'Bless my soul,' cried the astonished Mr. Pickwick; 'Mrs. Bardell, my good woman — dear me, what a situation — pray consider. — Mrs. Bardell, don't — if anybody should come — '
'Oh, let them come,' exclaimed Mrs. Bardell frantically; 'I'll never leave you — dear, kind, good soul;' and, with these words, Mrs. Bardell clung the tighter.
'Mercy upon me,' said Mr. Pickwick, struggling violently, 'I hear somebody coming up the stairs. Don't, don't, there's a good creature, don't.' But entreaty and remonstrance were alike unavailing; for Mrs. Bardell had fainted in Mr. Pickwick's arms; and before he could gain time to deposit her on a chair, Master Bardell entered the room, ushering in Mr. Tupman, Mr. Winkle, and Mr. Snodgrass.
Mr. Pickwick was struck motionless and speechless. He stood with his lovely burden in his arms, gazing vacantly on the countenances of his friends, without the slightest attempt at recognition or explanation. They, in their turn, stared at him; and Master Bardell, in his turn, stared at everybody.
The astonishment of the Pickwickians was so absorbing, and the perplexity of Mr. Pickwick was so extreme, that they might have remained in exactly the same relative situations until the suspended animation of the lady was restored, had it not been for a most beautiful and touching expression of filial affection on the part of her youthful son. Clad in a tight suit of corduroy, spangled with brass buttons of a very considerable size, he at first stood at the door astounded and uncertain; but by degrees, the impression that his mother must have suffered some personal damage pervaded his partially developed mind, and considering Mr. Pickwick as the aggressor, he set up an appalling and semi-earthly kind of howling, and butting forward with his head, commenced assailing that immortal gentleman about the back and legs, with such blows and pinches as the strength of his arm, and the violence of his excitement, allowed.
'Take this little villain away,' said the agonised Mr. Pickwick, 'he's mad.'
'What is the matter?' said the three tongue-tied Pickwickians.
'I don't know,' replied Mr. Pickwick pettishly. 'Take away the boy.' (Here Mr. Winkle carried the interesting boy, screaming and struggling, to the farther end of the apartment.) 'Now help me, lead this woman downstairs.'
'Oh, I am better now,' said Mrs. Bardell faintly.
'Let me lead you downstairs,' said the ever-gallant Mr. Tupman.
'Thank you, sir — thank you;' exclaimed Mrs. Bardell hysterically. And downstairs she was led accordingly, accompanied by her affectionate son.
'I cannot conceive,' said Mr. Pickwick when his friend returned — 'I cannot conceive what has been the matter with that woman. I had merely announced to her my intention of keeping a man-servant, when she fell into the extraordinary paroxysm in which you found her. Very extraordinary thing.'
'Very,' said his three friends.
'Placed me in such an extremely awkward situation,' continued Mr. Pickwick.
'Very,' was the reply of his followers, as they coughed slightly, and looked dubiously at each other.
This behaviour was not lost upon Mr. Pickwick. He remarked their incredulity. They evidently suspected him.
'There is a man in the passage now,' said Mr. Tupman.
'It's the man I spoke to you about,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'I sent for him to the Borough this morning. Have the goodness to call him up, Snodgrass.'
Mr. Snodgrass did as he was desired; and Mr. Samuel Weller forthwith presented himself.
'Oh — you remember me, I suppose?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'I should think so,' replied Sam, with a patronising wink. 'Queer start that 'ere, but he was one too many for you, warn't he? Up to snuff and a pinch or two over — eh?'
'Never mind that matter now,' said Mr. Pickwick hastily; 'I want to speak to you about something else. Sit down.'