'Well, Sir,' said Mr. Pickwick, with considerable pain depicted in his countenance, 'you will permit me to assure you that I am a most unfortunate man, so far as this case is concerned.'
'I hope you are, Sir,' replied Dodson; 'I trust you may be, Sir. If you are really innocent of what is laid to your charge, you are more unfortunate than I had believed any man could possibly be. What do you say, Mr. Fogg?'
'I say precisely what you say,' replied Fogg, with a smile of incredulity.
'The writ, Sir, which commences the action,' continued Dodson, 'was issued regularly. Mr. Fogg, where is the PRAECIPE book?'
'Here it is,' said Fogg, handing over a square book, with a parchment cover.
'Here is the entry,' resumed Dodson. '"Middlesex, Capias MARTHA BARDELL, WIDOW, v. SAMUEL PICKWICK. Damages #1500. Dodson & Fogg for the plaintiff, Aug. 28, 1827." All regular, Sir; perfectly.' Dodson coughed and looked at Fogg, who said 'Perfectly,' also. And then they both looked at Mr. Pickwick.
'I am to understand, then,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'that it really is your intention to proceed with this action?'
'Understand, sir! — that you certainly may,' replied Dodson, with something as near a smile as his importance would allow.
'And that the damages are actually laid at fifteen hundred pounds?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'To which understanding you may add my assurance, that if we could have prevailed upon our client, they would have been laid at treble the amount, sir,' replied Dodson. 'I believe Mrs. Bardell specially said, however,' observed Fogg, glancing at Dodson, 'that she would not compromise for a farthing less.'
'Unquestionably,' replied Dodson sternly. For the action was only just begun; and it wouldn't have done to let Mr. Pickwick compromise it then, even if he had been so disposed.
'As you offer no terms, sir,' said Dodson, displaying a slip of parchment in his right hand, and affectionately pressing a paper copy of it, on Mr. Pickwick with his left, 'I had better serve you with a copy of this writ, sir. Here is the original, sir.'
'Very well, gentlemen, very well,' said Mr. Pickwick, rising in person and wrath at the same time; 'you shall hear from my solicitor, gentlemen.'
'We shall be very happy to do so,' said Fogg, rubbing his hands.
'Very,' said Dodson, opening the door.
'And before I go, gentlemen,' said the excited Mr. Pickwick, turning round on the landing, 'permit me to say, that of all the disgraceful and rascally proceedings — '
'Stay, sir, stay,' interposed Dodson, with great politeness. 'Mr. Jackson! Mr. Wicks!'
'Sir,' said the two clerks, appearing at the bottom of the stairs.
'I merely want you to hear what this gentleman says,' replied Dodson. 'Pray, go on, sir — disgraceful and rascally proceedings, I think you said?'
'I did,' said Mr. Pickwick, thoroughly roused. 'I said, Sir, that of all the disgraceful and rascally proceedings that ever were attempted, this is the most so. I repeat it, sir.'
'You hear that, Mr. Wicks,' said Dodson.
'You won't forget these expressions, Mr. Jackson?' said Fogg.
'Perhaps you would like to call us swindlers, sir,' said Dodson. 'Pray do, Sir, if you feel disposed; now pray do, Sir.'
'I do,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'You ARE swindlers.'
'Very good,' said Dodson. 'You can hear down there, I hope, Mr. Wicks?'
'Oh, yes, Sir,' said Wicks.
'You had better come up a step or two higher, if you can't,' added Mr. Fogg. 'Go on, Sir; do go on. You had better call us thieves, Sir; or perhaps You would like to assault one Of US. Pray do it, Sir, if you would; we will not make the smallest resistance. Pray do it, Sir.'
As Fogg put himself very temptingly within the reach of Mr. Pickwick's clenched fist, there is little doubt that that gentleman would have complied with his earnest entreaty, but for the interposition of Sam, who, hearing the dispute, emerged from the office, mounted the stairs, and seized his master by the arm.
'You just come away,' said Mr. Weller. 'Battledore and shuttlecock's a wery good game, vhen you ain't the shuttlecock and two lawyers the battledores, in which case it gets too excitin' to be pleasant. Come avay, Sir. If you want to ease your mind by blowing up somebody, come out into the court and blow up me; but it's rayther too expensive work to be carried on here.'
And without the slightest ceremony, Mr. Weller hauled his master down the stairs, and down the court, and having safely deposited him in Cornhill, fell behind, prepared to follow whithersoever he should lead.
Mr. Pickwick walked on abstractedly, crossed opposite the Mansion House, and bent his steps up Cheapside. Sam began to wonder where they were going, when his master turned round, and said —
'Sam, I will go immediately to Mr. Perker's.'
'That's just exactly the wery place vere you ought to have gone last night, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller.
'I think it is, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'I KNOW it is,' said Mr. Weller.
'Well, well, Sam,' replied Mr. Pickwick, 'we will go there at once; but first, as I have been rather ruffled, I should like a glass of brandy-and-water warm, Sam. Where can I have it, Sam?'
Mr. Weller's knowledge of London was extensive and peculiar. He replied, without the slightest consideration —
'Second court on the right hand side — last house but vun on the same side the vay — take the box as stands in the first fireplace, 'cos there ain't no leg in the middle o' the table, which all the others has, and it's wery inconvenient.'
Mr. Pickwick observed his valet's directions implicitly, and bidding Sam follow him, entered the tavern he had pointed out, where the hot brandy-and-water was speedily placed before him; while Mr. Weller, seated at a respectful distance, though at the same table with his master, was accommodated with a pint of porter.
The room was one of a very homely description, and was apparently under the especial patronage of stage-coachmen; for several gentleman, who had all the appearance of belonging to that learned profession, were drinking and smoking in the different boxes. Among the number was one stout, red-faced, elderly man, in particular, seated in an opposite box, who attracted Mr. Pickwick's attention. The stout man was smoking with great vehemence, but between every half-dozen puffs, he took his pipe from his mouth, and looked first at Mr. Weller and then at Mr. Pickwick. Then, he would bury in a quart pot, as much of his countenance as the dimensions of the quart pot admitted of its receiving, and take another look at Sam and Mr. Pickwick. Then he would take another half-dozen puffs with an air of profound meditation and look at them again. At last the stout man, putting up his legs on the seat, and leaning his back against the wall, began to puff at his pipe without leaving off at all, and to stare through the smoke at the new-comers, as if he had made up his mind to see the most he could of them.
At first the evolutions of the stout man had escaped Mr. Weller's observation, but by degrees, as he saw Mr. Pickwick's eyes every now and then turning towards him, he began to gaze in the same direction, at the same time shading his eyes with his hand, as if he partially recognised the object before him, and wished to make quite sure of its identity. His doubts were speedily dispelled, however; for the stout man having blown a thick cloud from his pipe, a hoarse voice, like some strange effort of ventriloquism, emerged from beneath the capacious shawls which muffled his throat and chest, and slowly uttered these sounds — 'Wy, Sammy!'
'Who's that, Sam?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'Why, I wouldn't ha' believed it, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller, with astonished eyes. 'It's the old 'un.'
'Old one,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'What old one?'
'My father, sir,' replied Mr. Weller. 'How are you, my ancient?' And with this beautiful ebullition of filial affection, Mr. Weller made room on the seat beside him, for the stout man, who advanced pipe in mouth and pot in hand, to greet him.
'Wy, Sammy,' said the father, 'I ha'n't seen you, for two year and better.'
'Nor more you have, old codger,' replied the son. 'How's mother-in-law?'
'Wy, I'll tell you what, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller, senior, with much solemnity in his manner; 'there never was a nicer woman as a widder, than that 'ere second wentur o' mine — a sweet creetur she was, Sammy; all I can say on her now, is, that as she was such an uncommon pleasant widder, it's a great pity she ever changed her condition. She don't act as a vife, Sammy.' 'Don't she, though?' inquired Mr. Weller, junior.
The elder Mr. Weller shook his head, as he replied with a sigh, 'I've done it once too often, Sammy; I've done it once too often. Take example by your father, my boy, and be wery careful o' widders all your life, 'specially if they've kept a public-house, Sammy.' Having delivered this parental advice with great pathos, Mr. Weller, senior, refilled his pipe from a tin box he carried in his pocket; and, lighting his fresh pipe from the ashes of the old One, commenced smoking at a great rate.
'Beg your pardon, sir,' he said, renewing the subject, and addressing Mr. Pickwick, after a considerable pause, 'nothin' personal, I hope, sir; I hope you ha'n't got a widder, sir.'
'Not I,' replied Mr. Pickwick, laughing; and while Mr. Pickwick laughed, Sam Weller informed his parent in a whisper, of the relation in which he stood towards that gentleman.
'Beg your pardon, sir,' said Mr. Weller, senior, taking off his hat, 'I hope you've no fault to find with Sammy, Sir?'
'None whatever,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Wery glad to hear it, sir,' replied the old man; 'I took a good deal o' pains with his eddication, sir; let him run in the streets when he was wery young, and shift for hisself. It's the only way to make a boy sharp, sir.'
'Rather a dangerous process, I should imagine,' said Mr. Pickwick, with a smile.
'And not a wery sure one, neither,' added Mr. Weller; 'I got reg'larly done the other day.'