'A very good name, indeed,' said Mr. Pickwick, wholly unable to repress a smile.
'Yes, I think it is,' resumed Mr. Magnus. 'There's a good name before it, too, you will observe. Permit me, sir — if you hold the card a little slanting, this way, you catch the light upon the up-stroke. There — Peter Magnus — sounds well, I think, sir.'
'Very,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Curious circumstance about those initials, sir,' said Mr. Magnus. 'You will observe — P.M. — post meridian. In hasty notes to intimate acquaintance, I sometimes sign myself "Afternoon." It amuses my friends very much, Mr. Pickwick.'
'It is calculated to afford them the highest gratification, I should conceive,' said Mr. Pickwick, rather envying the ease with which Mr. Magnus's friends were entertained.
'Now, gen'l'm'n,' said the hostler, 'coach is ready, if you please.'
'Is all my luggage in?' inquired Mr. Magnus.
'All right, sir.'
'Is the red bag in?'
'All right, Sir.'
'And the striped bag?'
'Fore boot, Sir.'
'And the brown-paper parcel?'
'Under the seat, Sir.'
'And the leather hat-box?'
'They're all in, Sir.'
'Now, will you get up?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Excuse me,' replied Magnus, standing on the wheel. 'Excuse me, Mr. Pickwick. I cannot consent to get up, in this state of uncertainty. I am quite satisfied from that man's manner, that the leather hat-box is not in.'
The solemn protestations of the hostler being wholly unavailing, the leather hat-box was obliged to be raked up from the lowest depth of the boot, to satisfy him that it had been safely packed; and after he had been assured on this head, he felt a solemn presentiment, first, that the red bag was mislaid, and next that the striped bag had been stolen, and then that the brown-paper parcel 'had come untied.' At length when he had received ocular demonstration of the groundless nature of each and every of these suspicions, he consented to climb up to the roof of the coach, observing that now he had taken everything off his mind, he felt quite comfortable and happy.
'You're given to nervousness, ain't you, Sir?' inquired Mr. Weller, senior, eyeing the stranger askance, as he mounted to his place.
'Yes; I always am rather about these little matters,' said the stranger, 'but I am all right now — quite right.'
'Well, that's a blessin', said Mr. Weller. 'Sammy, help your master up to the box; t'other leg, Sir, that's it; give us your hand, Sir. Up with you. You was a lighter weight when you was a boy, sir.' 'True enough, that, Mr. Weller,' said the breathless Mr. Pickwick good-humouredly, as he took his seat on the box beside him.
'Jump up in front, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller. 'Now Villam, run 'em out. Take care o' the archvay, gen'l'm'n. "Heads," as the pieman says. That'll do, Villam. Let 'em alone.' And away went the coach up Whitechapel, to the admiration of the whole population of that pretty densely populated quarter.
'Not a wery nice neighbourhood, this, Sir,' said Sam, with a touch of the hat, which always preceded his entering into conversation with his master.
'It is not indeed, Sam,' replied Mr. Pickwick, surveying the crowded and filthy street through which they were passing.
'It's a wery remarkable circumstance, Sir,' said Sam, 'that poverty and oysters always seem to go together.'
'I don't understand you, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'What I mean, sir,' said Sam, 'is, that the poorer a place is, the greater call there seems to be for oysters. Look here, sir; here's a oyster-stall to every half-dozen houses. The street's lined vith 'em. Blessed if I don't think that ven a man's wery poor, he rushes out of his lodgings, and eats oysters in reg'lar desperation.'
'To be sure he does,' said Mr. Weller, senior; 'and it's just the same vith pickled salmon!'
'Those are two very remarkable facts, which never occurred to me before,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'The very first place we stop at, I'll make a note of them.'
By this time they had reached the turnpike at Mile End; a profound silence prevailed until they had got two or three miles farther on, when Mr. Weller, senior, turning suddenly to Mr. Pickwick, said —
'Wery queer life is a pike-keeper's, sir.'
'A what?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'What do you mean by a pike-keeper?' inquired Mr. Peter Magnus.
'The old 'un means a turnpike-keeper, gen'l'm'n,' observed Mr. Samuel Weller, in explanation.
'Oh,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I see. Yes; very curious life. Very uncomfortable.'
'They're all on 'em men as has met vith some disappointment in life,' said Mr. Weller, senior.
'Ay, ay,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Yes. Consequence of vich, they retires from the world, and shuts themselves up in pikes; partly with the view of being solitary, and partly to rewenge themselves on mankind by takin' tolls.'
'Dear me,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I never knew that before.'
'Fact, Sir,' said Mr. Weller; 'if they was gen'l'm'n, you'd call 'em misanthropes, but as it is, they only takes to pike-keepin'.'
With such conversation, possessing the inestimable charm of blending amusement with instruction, did Mr. Weller beguile the tediousness of the journey, during the greater part of the day. Topics of conversation were never wanting, for even when any pause occurred in Mr. Weller's loquacity, it was abundantly supplied by the desire evinced by Mr. Magnus to make himself acquainted with the whole of the personal history of his fellow-travellers, and his loudly-expressed anxiety at every stage, respecting the safety and well-being of the two bags, the leather hat-box, and the brown-paper parcel.
In the main street of Ipswich, on the left-hand side of the way, a short distance after you have passed through the open space fronting the Town Hall, stands an inn known far and wide by the appellation of the Great White Horse, rendered the more conspicuous by a stone statue of some rampacious animal with flowing mane and tail, distantly resembling an insane cart-horse, which is elevated above the principal door. The Great White Horse is famous in the neighbourhood, in the same degree as a prize ox, or a county-paper-chronicled turnip, or unwieldy pig — for its enormous size. Never was such labyrinths of uncarpeted passages, such clusters of mouldy, ill-lighted rooms, such huge numbers of small dens for eating or sleeping in, beneath any one roof, as are collected together between the four walls of the Great White Horse at Ipswich.
It was at the door of this overgrown tavern that the London coach stopped, at the same hour every evening; and it was from this same London coach that Mr. Pickwick, Sam Weller, and Mr. Peter Magnus dismounted, on the particular evening to which this chapter of our history bears reference.
'Do you stop here, sir?' inquired Mr. Peter Magnus, when the striped bag, and the red bag, and the brown-paper parcel, and the leather hat-box, had all been deposited in the passage. 'Do you stop here, sir?'
'I do,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Dear me,' said Mr. Magnus, 'I never knew anything like these extraordinary coincidences. Why, I stop here too. I hope we dine together?'
'With pleasure,' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'I am not quite certain whether I have any friends here or not, though. Is there any gentleman of the name of Tupman here, waiter?'
A corpulent man, with a fortnight's napkin under his arm, and coeval stockings on his legs, slowly desisted from his occupation of staring down the street, on this question being put to him by Mr. Pickwick; and, after minutely inspecting that gentleman's appearance, from the crown of his hat to the lowest button of his gaiters, replied emphatically —
'Nor any gentleman of the name of Snodgrass?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'My friends have not arrived to-day, Sir,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'We will dine alone, then. Show us a private room, waiter.'
On this request being preferred, the corpulent man condescended to order the boots to bring in the gentlemen's luggage; and preceding them down a long, dark passage, ushered them into a large, badly-furnished apartment, with a dirty grate, in which a small fire was making a wretched attempt to be cheerful, but was fast sinking beneath the dispiriting influence of the place. After the lapse of an hour, a bit of fish and a steak was served up to the travellers, and when the dinner was cleared away, Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Peter Magnus drew their chairs up to the fire, and having ordered a bottle of the worst possible port wine, at the highest possible price, for the good of the house, drank brandy-and-water for their own.
Mr. Peter Magnus was naturally of a very communicative disposition, and the brandy-and-water operated with wonderful effect in warming into life the deepest hidden secrets of his bosom. After sundry accounts of himself, his family, his connections, his friends, his jokes, his business, and his brothers (most talkative men have a great deal to say about their brothers), Mr. Peter Magnus took a view of Mr. Pickwick through his coloured spectacles for several minutes, and then said, with an air of modesty —
'And what do you think — what DO you think, Mr. Pickwick — I have come down here for?'
'Upon my word,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'it is wholly impossible for me to guess; on business, perhaps.'
'Partly right, Sir,' replied Mr. Peter Magnus, 'but partly wrong at the same time; try again, Mr. Pickwick.'