'And now,' sobbed Mrs. Pott, 'now, after all, to be treated in this way; to be reproached and insulted in the presence of a third party, and that party almost a stranger. But I will not submit to it! Goodwin,' continued Mrs. Pott, raising herself in the arms of her attendant, 'my brother, the lieutenant, shall interfere. I'll be separated, Goodwin!'
'It would certainly serve him right, ma'am,' said Goodwin.
Whatever thoughts the threat of a separation might have awakened in Mr. Pott's mind, he forbore to give utterance to them, and contented himself by saying, with great humility: —
'My dear, will you hear me?'
A fresh train of sobs was the only reply, as Mrs. Pott grew more hysterical, requested to be informed why she was ever born, and required sundry other pieces of information of a similar description.
'My dear,' remonstrated Mr. Pott, 'do not give way to these sensitive feelings. I never believed that the paragraph had any foundation, my dear — impossible. I was only angry, my dear — I may say outrageous — with the INDEPENDENT people for daring to insert it; that's all.' Mr. Pott cast an imploring look at the innocent cause of the mischief, as if to entreat him to say nothing about the serpent.
'And what steps, sir, do you mean to take to obtain redress?' inquired Mr. Winkle, gaining courage as he saw Pott losing it.
'Oh, Goodwin,' observed Mrs. Pott, 'does he mean to horsewhip the editor of the INDEPENDENT — does he, Goodwin?'
'Hush, hush, ma'am; pray keep yourself quiet,' replied the bodyguard. 'I dare say he will, if you wish it, ma'am.'
'Certainly,' said Pott, as his wife evinced decided symptoms of going off again. 'Of course I shall.'
'When, Goodwin — when?' said Mrs. Pott, still undecided about the going off.
'Immediately, of course,' said Mr. Pott; 'before the day is out.'
'Oh, Goodwin,' resumed Mrs. Pott, 'it's the only way of meeting the slander, and setting me right with the world.'
'Certainly, ma'am,' replied Goodwin. 'No man as is a man, ma'am, could refuse to do it.'
So, as the hysterics were still hovering about, Mr. Pott said once more that he would do it; but Mrs. Pott was so overcome at the bare idea of having ever been suspected, that she was half a dozen times on the very verge of a relapse, and most unquestionably would have gone off, had it not been for the indefatigable efforts of the assiduous Goodwin, and repeated entreaties for pardon from the conquered Pott; and finally, when that unhappy individual had been frightened and snubbed down to his proper level, Mrs. Pott recovered, and they went to breakfast.
'You will not allow this base newspaper slander to shorten your stay here, Mr. Winkle?' said Mrs. Pott, smiling through the traces of her tears.
'I hope not,' said Mr. Pott, actuated, as he spoke, by a wish that his visitor would choke himself with the morsel of dry toast which he was raising to his lips at the moment, and so terminate his stay effectually.
'I hope not.'
'You are very good,' said Mr. Winkle; 'but a letter has been received from Mr. Pickwick — so I learn by a note from Mr. Tupman, which was brought up to my bedroom door, this morning — in which he requests us to join him at Bury to-day; and we are to leave by the coach at noon.'
'But you will come back?' said Mrs. Pott.
'Oh, certainly,' replied Mr. Winkle.
'You are quite sure?' said Mrs. Pott, stealing a tender look at her visitor.
'Quite,' responded Mr. Winkle.
The breakfast passed off in silence, for each of the party was brooding over his, or her, own personal grievances. Mrs. Pott was regretting the loss of a beau; Mr. Pott his rash pledge to horsewhip the INDEPENDENT; Mr. Winkle his having innocently placed himself in so awkward a situation. Noon approached, and after many adieux and promises to return, he tore himself away.
'If he ever comes back, I'll poison him,' thought Mr. Pott, as he turned into the little back office where he prepared his thunderbolts.
'If I ever do come back, and mix myself up with these people again,'thought Mr. Winkle, as he wended his way to the Peacock, 'I shall deserve to be horsewhipped myself — that's all.'
His friends were ready, the coach was nearly so, and in half an hour they were proceeding on their journey, along the road over which Mr. Pickwick and Sam had so recently travelled, and of which, as we have already said something, we do not feel called upon to extract Mr. Snodgrass's poetical and beautiful description.
Mr. Weller was standing at the door of the Angel, ready to receive them, and by that gentleman they were ushered to the apartment of Mr. Pickwick, where, to the no small surprise of Mr. Winkle and Mr. Snodgrass, and the no small embarrassment of Mr. Tupman, they found old Wardle and Trundle.
'How are you?' said the old man, grasping Mr. Tupman's hand. 'Don't hang back, or look sentimental about it; it can't be helped, old fellow. For her sake, I wish you'd had her; for your own, I'm very glad you have not. A young fellow like you will do better one of these days, eh?' With this conclusion, Wardle slapped Mr. Tupman on the back, and laughed heartily.
'Well, and how are you, my fine fellows?' said the old gentleman, shaking hands with Mr. Winkle and Mr. Snodgrass at the same time. 'I have just been telling Pickwick that we must have you all down at Christmas. We're going to have a wedding — a real wedding this time.'
'A wedding!' exclaimed Mr. Snodgrass, turning very pale.
'Yes, a wedding. But don't be frightened,' said the good-humoured old man; 'it's only Trundle there, and Bella.'
'Oh, is that all?' said Mr. Snodgrass, relieved from a painful doubt which had fallen heavily on his breast. 'Give you joy, Sir. How is Joe?'
'Very well,' replied the old gentleman. 'Sleepy as ever.'
'And your mother, and the clergyman, and all of 'em?'
'Where,' said Mr. Tupman, with an effort — 'where is — SHE, Sir?' and he turned away his head, and covered his eyes with his hand. 'SHE!' said the old gentleman, with a knowing shake of the head. 'Do you mean my single relative — eh?'
Mr. Tupman, by a nod, intimated that his question applied to the disappointed Rachael.
'Oh, she's gone away,' said the old gentleman. 'She's living at a relation's, far enough off. She couldn't bear to see the girls, so I let her go. But come! Here's the dinner. You must be hungry after your ride. I am, without any ride at all; so let us fall to.'
Ample justice was done to the meal; and when they were seated round the table, after it had been disposed of, Mr. Pickwick, to the intense horror and indignation of his followers, related the adventure he had undergone, and the success which had attended the base artifices of the diabolical Jingle. 'And the attack of rheumatism which I caught in that garden,' said Mr. Pickwick, in conclusion, 'renders me lame at this moment.'
'I, too, have had something of an adventure,' said Mr. Winkle, with a smile; and, at the request of Mr. Pickwick, he detailed the malicious libel of the Eatanswill INDEPENDENT, and the consequent excitement of their friend, the editor.
Mr. Pickwick's brow darkened during the recital. His friends observed it, and, when Mr. Winkle had concluded, maintained a profound silence. Mr. Pickwick struck the table emphatically with his clenched fist, and spoke as follows: —
'Is it not a wonderful circumstance,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'that we seem destined to enter no man's house without involving him in some degree of trouble? Does it not, I ask, bespeak the indiscretion, or, worse than that, the blackness of heart — that I should say so! — of my followers, that, beneath whatever roof they locate, they disturb the peace of mind and happiness of some confiding female? Is it not, I say — '
Mr. Pickwick would in all probability have gone on for some time, had not the entrance of Sam, with a letter, caused him to break off in his eloquent discourse. He passed his handkerchief across his forehead, took off his spectacles, wiped them, and put them on again; and his voice had recovered its wonted softness of tone when he said —
'What have you there, Sam?'
'Called at the post-office just now, and found this here letter, as has laid there for two days,' replied Mr. Weller. 'It's sealed vith a vafer, and directed in round hand.'
'I don't know this hand,' said Mr. Pickwick, opening the letter. 'Mercy on us! what's this? It must be a jest; it — it — can't be true.'
'What's the matter?' was the general inquiry.
'Nobody dead, is there?' said Wardle, alarmed at the horror in Mr. Pickwick's countenance.
Mr. Pickwick made no reply, but, pushing the letter across the table, and desiring Mr. Tupman to read it aloud, fell back in his chair with a look of vacant astonishment quite alarming to behold.
Mr. Tupman, with a trembling voice, read the letter, of which the following is a copy: —
Freeman's Court, Cornhill, August 28th, 1827.
Bardell against Pickwick.