Having been instructed by Mrs. Martha Bardell to commence an action against you for a breach of promise of marriage, for which the plaintiff lays her damages at fifteen hundred pounds, we beg to inform you that a writ has been issued against you in this suit in the Court of Common Pleas; and request to know, by return of post, the name of your attorney in London, who will accept service thereof.
We are, Sir, Your obedient servants, Dodson & Fogg.
Mr. Samuel Pickwick.
There was something so impressive in the mute astonishment with which each man regarded his neighbour, and every man regarded Mr. Pickwick, that all seemed afraid to speak. The silence was at length broken by Mr. Tupman.
'Dodson and Fogg,' he repeated mechanically.
'Bardell and Pickwick,' said Mr. Snodgrass, musing.
'Peace of mind and happiness of confiding females,' murmured Mr. Winkle, with an air of abstraction.
'It's a conspiracy,' said Mr. Pickwick, at length recovering the power of speech; 'a base conspiracy between these two grasping attorneys, Dodson and Fogg. Mrs. Bardell would never do it; — she hasn't the heart to do it; — she hasn't the case to do it. Ridiculous — ridiculous.' 'Of her heart,' said Wardle, with a smile, 'you should certainly be the best judge. I don't wish to discourage you, but I should certainly say that, of her case, Dodson and Fogg are far better judges than any of us can be.'
'It's a vile attempt to extort money,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'I hope it is,' said Wardle, with a short, dry cough.
'Who ever heard me address her in any way but that in which a lodger would address his landlady?' continued Mr. Pickwick, with great vehemence. 'Who ever saw me with her? Not even my friends here — '
'Except on one occasion,' said Mr. Tupman.
Mr. Pickwick changed colour. 'Ah,' said Mr. Wardle. 'Well, that's important. There was nothing suspicious then, I suppose?'
Mr. Tupman glanced timidly at his leader. 'Why,' said he, 'there was nothing suspicious; but — I don't know how it happened, mind — she certainly was reclining in his arms.'
'Gracious powers!' ejaculated Mr. Pickwick, as the recollection of the scene in question struck forcibly upon him; 'what a dreadful instance of the force of circumstances! So she was — so she was.'
'And our friend was soothing her anguish,' said Mr. Winkle, rather maliciously.
'So I was,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'I don't deny it. So I was.'
'Hollo!' said Wardle; 'for a case in which there's nothing suspicious, this looks rather queer — eh, Pickwick? Ah, sly dog — sly dog!' and he laughed till the glasses on the sideboard rang again.
'What a dreadful conjunction of appearances!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, resting his chin upon his hands. 'Winkle — Tupman — I beg your pardon for the observations I made just now. We are all the victims of circumstances, and I the greatest.' With this apology Mr. Pickwick buried his head in his hands, and ruminated; while Wardle measured out a regular circle of nods and winks, addressed to the other members of the company.
'I'll have it explained, though,' said Mr. Pickwick, raising his head and hammering the table. 'I'll see this Dodson and Fogg! I'll go to London to-morrow.'
'Not to-morrow,' said Wardle; 'you're too lame.'
'Well, then, next day.'
'Next day is the first of September, and you're pledged to ride out with us, as far as Sir Geoffrey Manning's grounds at all events, and to meet us at lunch, if you don't take the field.'
'Well, then, the day after,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'Thursday. — Sam!'
'Sir,' replied Mr. Weller.
'Take two places outside to London, on Thursday morning, for yourself and me.'
'Wery well, Sir.'
Mr. Weller left the room, and departed slowly on his errand, with his hands in his pocket and his eyes fixed on the ground.
'Rum feller, the hemperor,' said Mr. Weller, as he walked slowly up the street. 'Think o' his makin' up to that 'ere Mrs. Bardell — vith a little boy, too! Always the vay vith these here old 'uns howsoever, as is such steady goers to look at. I didn't think he'd ha' done it, though — I didn't think he'd ha' done it!' Moralising in this strain, Mr. Samuel Weller bent his steps towards the booking-office.