The Pickwick Papers By Charles Dickens Chapters 15-17


There is no month in the whole year in which nature wears a more beautiful appearance than in the month of August. Spring has many beauties, and May is a fresh and blooming month, but the charms of this time of year are enhanced by their contrast with the winter season. August has no such advantage. It comes when we remember nothing but clear skies, green fields, and sweet-smelling flowers — when the recollection of snow, and ice, and bleak winds, has faded from our minds as completely as they have disappeared from the earth — and yet what a pleasant time it is! Orchards and cornfields ring with the hum of labour; trees bend beneath the thick clusters of rich fruit which bow their branches to the ground; and the corn, piled in graceful sheaves, or waving in every light breath that sweeps above it, as if it wooed the sickle, tinges the landscape with a golden hue. A mellow softness appears to hang over the whole earth; the influence of the season seems to extend itself to the very wagon, whose slow motion across the well-reaped field is perceptible only to the eye, but strikes with no harsh sound upon the ear.

As the coach rolls swiftly past the fields and orchards which skirt the road, groups of women and children, piling the fruit in sieves, or gathering the scattered ears of corn, pause for an instant from their labour, and shading the sun-burned face with a still browner hand, gaze upon the passengers with curious eyes, while some stout urchin, too small to work, but too mischievous to be left at home, scrambles over the side of the basket in which he has been deposited for security, and kicks and screams with delight. The reaper stops in his work, and stands with folded arms, looking at the vehicle as it whirls past; and the rough cart-horses bestow a sleepy glance upon the smart coach team, which says as plainly as a horse's glance can, 'It's all very fine to look at, but slow going, over a heavy field, is better than warm work like that, upon a dusty road, after all.' You cast a look behind you, as you turn a corner of the road. The women and children have resumed their labour; the reaper once more stoops to his work; the cart-horses have moved on; and all are again in motion. The influence of a scene like this, was not lost upon the well-regulated mind of Mr. Pickwick. Intent upon the resolution he had formed, of exposing the real character of the nefarious Jingle, in any quarter in which he might be pursuing his fraudulent designs, he sat at first taciturn and contemplative, brooding over the means by which his purpose could be best attained. By degrees his attention grew more and more attracted by the objects around him; and at last he derived as much enjoyment from the ride, as if it had been undertaken for the pleasantest reason in the world.

'Delightful prospect, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Beats the chimbley-pots, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller, touching his hat.

'I suppose you have hardly seen anything but chimney-pots and bricks and mortar all your life, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, smiling.

'I worn't always a boots, sir,' said Mr. Weller, with a shake of the head. 'I wos a vaginer's boy, once.'

'When was that?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.

'When I wos first pitched neck and crop into the world, to play at leap-frog with its troubles,' replied Sam. 'I wos a carrier's boy at startin'; then a vaginer's, then a helper, then a boots. Now I'm a gen'l'm'n's servant. I shall be a gen'l'm'n myself one of these days, perhaps, with a pipe in my mouth, and a summer-house in the back-garden. Who knows? I shouldn't be surprised for one.'

'You are quite a philosopher, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'It runs in the family, I b'lieve, sir,' replied Mr. Weller. 'My father's wery much in that line now. If my mother-in-law blows him up, he whistles. She flies in a passion, and breaks his pipe; he steps out, and gets another. Then she screams wery loud, and falls into 'sterics; and he smokes wery comfortably till she comes to agin. That's philosophy, Sir, ain't it?'

'A very good substitute for it, at all events,' replied Mr. Pickwick, laughing. 'It must have been of great service to you, in the course of your rambling life, Sam.'

'Service, sir,' exclaimed Sam. 'You may say that. Arter I run away from the carrier, and afore I took up with the vaginer, I had unfurnished lodgin's for a fortnight.'

'Unfurnished lodgings?' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Yes — the dry arches of Waterloo Bridge. Fine sleeping-place — vithin ten minutes' walk of all the public offices — only if there is any objection to it, it is that the sitivation's rayther too airy. I see some queer sights there.' 'Ah, I suppose you did,' said Mr. Pickwick, with an air of considerable interest.

'Sights, sir,' resumed Mr. Weller, 'as 'ud penetrate your benevolent heart, and come out on the other side. You don't see the reg'lar wagrants there; trust 'em, they knows better than that. Young beggars, male and female, as hasn't made a rise in their profession, takes up their quarters there sometimes; but it's generally the worn-out, starving, houseless creeturs as roll themselves in the dark corners o' them lonesome places — poor creeturs as ain't up to the twopenny rope.'

'And pray, Sam, what is the twopenny rope?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.

'The twopenny rope, sir,' replied Mr. Weller, 'is just a cheap lodgin' house, where the beds is twopence a night.'

'What do they call a bed a rope for?' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Bless your innocence, sir, that ain't it,' replied Sam. 'Ven the lady and gen'l'm'n as keeps the hot-el first begun business, they used to make the beds on the floor; but this wouldn't do at no price, 'cos instead o' taking a moderate twopenn'orth o' sleep, the lodgers used to lie there half the day. So now they has two ropes, 'bout six foot apart, and three from the floor, which goes right down the room; and the beds are made of slips of coarse sacking, stretched across 'em.'

'Well,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Well,' said Mr. Weller, 'the adwantage o' the plan's hobvious. At six o'clock every mornin' they let's go the ropes at one end, and down falls the lodgers. Consequence is, that being thoroughly waked, they get up wery quietly, and walk away! Beg your pardon, sir,' said Sam, suddenly breaking off in his loquacious discourse. 'Is this Bury St. Edmunds?'

'It is,' replied Mr. Pickwick.

The coach rattled through the well-paved streets of a handsome little town, of thriving and cleanly appearance, and stopped before a large inn situated in a wide open street, nearly facing the old abbey.

'And this,' said Mr. Pickwick, looking up. 'Is the Angel! We alight here, Sam. But some caution is necessary. Order a private room, and do not mention my name. You understand.'

'Right as a trivet, sir,' replied Mr. Weller, with a wink of intelligence; and having dragged Mr. Pickwick's portmanteau from the hind boot, into which it had been hastily thrown when they joined the coach at Eatanswill, Mr. Weller disappeared on his errand. A private room was speedily engaged; and into it Mr. Pickwick was ushered without delay. 'Now, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'the first thing to be done is to — ' 'Order dinner, Sir,' interposed Mr. Weller. 'It's wery late, sir.'

'Ah, so it is,' said Mr. Pickwick, looking at his watch. 'You are right, Sam.'

'And if I might adwise, Sir,' added Mr. Weller, 'I'd just have a good night's rest arterwards, and not begin inquiring arter this here deep 'un till the mornin'. There's nothin' so refreshen' as sleep, sir, as the servant girl said afore she drank the egg-cupful of laudanum.'

'I think you are right, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'But I must first ascertain that he is in the house, and not likely to go away.'

'Leave that to me, Sir,' said Sam. 'Let me order you a snug little dinner, and make my inquiries below while it's a-getting ready; I could worm ev'ry secret out O' the boots's heart, in five minutes, Sir.' 'Do so,' said Mr. Pickwick; and Mr. Weller at once retired.

In half an hour, Mr. Pickwick was seated at a very satisfactory dinner; and in three-quarters Mr. Weller returned with the intelligence that Mr. Charles Fitz-Marshall had ordered his private room to be retained for him, until further notice. He was going to spend the evening at some private house in the neighbourhood, had ordered the boots to sit up until his return, and had taken his servant with him.

'Now, sir,' argued Mr. Weller, when he had concluded his report, 'if I can get a talk with this here servant in the mornin', he'll tell me all his master's concerns.'

'How do you know that?' interposed Mr. Pickwick.

'Bless your heart, sir, servants always do,' replied Mr. Weller.

'Oh, ah, I forgot that,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Well.'

'Then you can arrange what's best to be done, sir, and we can act accordingly.'

As it appeared that this was the best arrangement that could be made, it was finally agreed upon. Mr. Weller, by his master's permission, retired to spend the evening in his own way; and was shortly afterwards elected, by the unanimous voice of the assembled company, into the taproom chair, in which honourable post he acquitted himself so much to the satisfaction of the gentlemen-frequenters, that their roars of laughter and approbation penetrated to Mr. Pickwick's bedroom, and shortened the term of his natural rest by at least three hours.

Early on the ensuing morning, Mr. Weller was dispelling all the feverish remains of the previous evening's conviviality, through the instrumentality of a halfpenny shower-bath (having induced a young gentleman attached to the stable department, by the offer of that coin, to pump over his head and face, until he was perfectly restored), when he was attracted by the appearance of a young fellow in mulberry-coloured livery, who was sitting on a bench in the yard, reading what appeared to be a hymn-book, with an air of deep abstraction, but who occasionally stole a glance at the individual under the pump, as if he took some interest in his proceedings, nevertheless.

'You're a rum 'un to look at, you are!' thought Mr. Weller, the first time his eyes encountered the glance of the stranger in the mulberry suit, who had a large, sallow, ugly face, very sunken eyes, and a gigantic head, from which depended a quantity of lank black hair. 'You're a rum 'un!' thought Mr. Weller; and thinking this, he went on washing himself, and thought no more about him.

Still the man kept glancing from his hymn-book to Sam, and from Sam to his hymn-book, as if he wanted to open a conversation. So at last, Sam, by way of giving him an opportunity, said with a familiar nod —

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By the end of the novel, Dickens proposes a viable solution to some of the social problems he addresses, like debtor's prison.