'Mr. Pickwick, ma'am,' said a servant, as that gentleman approached the presiding goddess, with his hat in his hand, and the brigand and troubadour on either arm.
'What! Where!' exclaimed Mrs. Leo Hunter, starting up, in an affected rapture of surprise.
'Here,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Is it possible that I have really the gratification of beholding Mr. Pickwick himself!' ejaculated Mrs. Leo Hunter.
'No other, ma'am,' replied Mr. Pickwick, bowing very low. 'Permit me to introduce my friends — Mr. Tupman — Mr. Winkle — Mr. Snodgrass — to the authoress of "The Expiring Frog."' Very few people but those who have tried it, know what a difficult process it is to bow in green velvet smalls, and a tight jacket, and high-crowned hat; or in blue satin trunks and white silks, or knee-cords and top-boots that were never made for the wearer, and have been fixed upon him without the remotest reference to the comparative dimensions of himself and the suit. Never were such distortions as Mr. Tupman's frame underwent in his efforts to appear easy and graceful — never was such ingenious posturing, as his fancy-dressed friends exhibited.
'Mr. Pickwick,' said Mrs. Leo Hunter, 'I must make you promise not to stir from my side the whole day. There are hundreds of people here, that I must positively introduce you to.'
'You are very kind, ma'am,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'In the first place, here are my little girls; I had almost forgotten them,' said Minerva, carelessly pointing towards a couple of full-grown young ladies, of whom one might be about twenty, and the other a year or two older, and who were dressed in very juvenile costumes — whether to make them look young, or their mamma younger, Mr. Pickwick does not distinctly inform us.
'They are very beautiful,' said Mr. Pickwick, as the juveniles turned away, after being presented.
'They are very like their mamma, Sir,' said Mr. Pott, majestically.
'Oh, you naughty man,' exclaimed Mrs. Leo Hunter, playfully tapping the editor's arm with her fan (Minerva with a fan!).
'Why now, my dear Mrs. Hunter,' said Mr. Pott, who was trumpeter in ordinary at the Den, 'you know that when your picture was in the exhibition of the Royal Academy, last year, everybody inquired whether it was intended for you, or your youngest daughter; for you were so much alike that there was no telling the difference between you.'
'Well, and if they did, why need you repeat it, before strangers?' said Mrs. Leo Hunter, bestowing another tap on the slumbering lion of the Eatanswill GAZETTE.
'Count, count,' screamed Mrs. Leo Hunter to a well-whiskered individual in a foreign uniform, who was passing by.
'Ah! you want me?' said the count, turning back.
'I want to introduce two very clever people to each other,' said Mrs. Leo Hunter. 'Mr. Pickwick, I have great pleasure in introducing you to Count Smorltork.' She added in a hurried whisper to Mr. Pickwick — 'The famous foreigner — gathering materials for his great work on England — hem! — Count Smorltork, Mr. Pickwick.' Mr. Pickwick saluted the count with all the reverence due to so great a man, and the count drew forth a set of tablets.
'What you say, Mrs. Hunt?' inquired the count, smiling graciously on the gratified Mrs. Leo Hunter, 'Pig Vig or Big Vig — what you call — lawyer — eh? I see — that is it. Big Vig' — and the count was proceeding to enter Mr. Pickwick in his tablets, as a gentleman of the long robe, who derived his name from the profession to which he belonged, when Mrs. Leo Hunter interposed.
'No, no, count,' said the lady, 'Pick-wick.'
'Ah, ah, I see,' replied the count. 'Peek — christian name; Weeks — surname; good, ver good. Peek Weeks. How you do, Weeks?'
'Quite well, I thank you,' replied Mr. Pickwick, with all his usual affability. 'Have you been long in England?'
'Long — ver long time — fortnight — more.'
'Do you stay here long?'
'You will have enough to do,' said Mr. Pickwick smiling, 'to gather all the materials you want in that time.'
'Eh, they are gathered,' said the count.
'Indeed!' said Mr. Pickwick.
'They are here,' added the count, tapping his forehead significantly. 'Large book at home — full of notes — music, picture, science, potry, poltic; all tings.'
'The word politics, sir,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'comprises in itself, a difficult study of no inconsiderable magnitude.'
'Ah!' said the count, drawing out the tablets again, 'ver good — fine words to begin a chapter. Chapter forty-seven. Poltics. The word poltic surprises by himself — ' And down went Mr. Pickwick's remark, in Count Smorltork's tablets, with such variations and additions as the count's exuberant fancy suggested, or his imperfect knowledge of the language occasioned.
'Count,' said Mrs. Leo Hunter. 'Mrs. Hunt,' replied the count.
'This is Mr. Snodgrass, a friend of Mr. Pickwick's, and a poet.'
'Stop,' exclaimed the count, bringing out the tablets once more. 'Head, potry — chapter, literary friends — name, Snowgrass; ver good. Introduced to Snowgrass — great poet, friend of Peek Weeks — by Mrs. Hunt, which wrote other sweet poem — what is that name? — Fog — Perspiring Fog — ver good — ver good indeed.' And the count put up his tablets, and with sundry bows and acknowledgments walked away, thoroughly satisfied that he had made the most important and valuable additions to his stock of information.
'Wonderful man, Count Smorltork,' said Mrs. Leo Hunter.
'Sound philosopher,' said Mr. Pott.
'Clear-headed, strong-minded person,' added Mr. Snodgrass.
A chorus of bystanders took up the shout of Count Smorltork's praise, shook their heads sagely, and unanimously cried, 'Very!'
As the enthusiasm in Count Smorltork's favour ran very high, his praises might have been sung until the end of the festivities, if the four something-ean singers had not ranged themselves in front of a small apple-tree, to look picturesque, and commenced singing their national songs, which appeared by no means difficult of execution, inasmuch as the grand secret seemed to be, that three of the something-ean singers should grunt, while the fourth howled. This interesting performance having concluded amidst the loud plaudits of the whole company, a boy forthwith proceeded to entangle himself with the rails of a chair, and to jump over it, and crawl under it, and fall down with it, and do everything but sit upon it, and then to make a cravat of his legs, and tie them round his neck, and then to illustrate the ease with which a human being can be made to look like a magnified toad — all which feats yielded high delight and satisfaction to the assembled spectators. After which, the voice of Mrs. Pott was heard to chirp faintly forth, something which courtesy interpreted into a song, which was all very classical, and strictly in character, because Apollo was himself a composer, and composers can very seldom sing their own music or anybody else's, either. This was succeeded by Mrs. Leo Hunter's recitation of her far-famed 'Ode to an Expiring Frog,' which was encored once, and would have been encored twice, if the major part of the guests, who thought it was high time to get something to eat, had not said that it was perfectly shameful to take advantage of Mrs. Hunter's good nature. So although Mrs. Leo Hunter professed her perfect willingness to recite the ode again, her kind and considerate friends wouldn't hear of it on any account; and the refreshment room being thrown open, all the people who had ever been there before, scrambled in with all possible despatch — Mrs. Leo Hunter's usual course of proceedings being, to issue cards for a hundred, and breakfast for fifty, or in other words to feed only the very particular lions, and let the smaller animals take care of themselves.
'Where is Mr. Pott?' said Mrs. Leo Hunter, as she placed the aforesaid lions around her.
'Here I am,' said the editor, from the remotest end of the room; far beyond all hope of food, unless something was done for him by the hostess.
'Won't you come up here?'
'Oh, pray don't mind him,' said Mrs. Pott, in the most obliging voice — 'you give yourself a great deal of unnecessary trouble, Mrs. Hunter. You'll do very well there, won't you — dear?'
'Certainly — love,' replied the unhappy Pott, with a grim smile. Alas for the knout! The nervous arm that wielded it, with such a gigantic force on public characters, was paralysed beneath the glance of the imperious Mrs. Pott.
Mrs. Leo Hunter looked round her in triumph. Count Smorltork was busily engaged in taking notes of the contents of the dishes; Mr. Tupman was doing the honours of the lobster salad to several lionesses, with a degree of grace which no brigand ever exhibited before; Mr. Snodgrass having cut out the young gentleman who cut up the books for the Eatanswill GAZETTE, was engaged in an impassioned argument with the young lady who did the poetry; and Mr. Pickwick was making himself universally agreeable. Nothing seemed wanting to render the select circle complete, when Mr. Leo Hunter — whose department on these occasions, was to stand about in doorways, and talk to the less important people — suddenly called out — 'My dear; here's Mr. Charles Fitz-Marshall.'
'Oh dear,' said Mrs. Leo Hunter, 'how anxiously I have been expecting him. Pray make room, to let Mr. Fitz-Marshall pass. Tell Mr. Fitz-Marshall, my dear, to come up to me directly, to be scolded for coming so late.'
'Coming, my dear ma'am,' cried a voice, 'as quick as I can — crowds of people — full room — hard work — very.'
Mr. Pickwick's knife and fork fell from his hand. He stared across the table at Mr. Tupman, who had dropped his knife and fork, and was looking as if he were about to sink into the ground without further notice.
'Ah!' cried the voice, as its owner pushed his way among the last five-and-twenty Turks, officers, cavaliers, and Charles the Seconds, that remained between him and the table, 'regular mangle — Baker's patent — not a crease in my coat, after all this squeezing — might have "got up my linen" as I came along — ha! ha! not a bad idea, that — queer thing to have it mangled when it's upon one, though — trying process — very.'