CHAPTER XXIV. WHEREIN Mr. PETER MAGNUS GROWS JEALOUS, AND THE MIDDLE-AGED LADY APPREHENSIVE, WHICH BRINGS THE PICKWICKIANS WITHIN THE GRASP OF THE LAW
When Mr. Pickwick descended to the room in which he and Mr. Peter Magnus had spent the preceding evening, he found that gentleman with the major part of the contents of the two bags, the leathern hat-box, and the brown-paper parcel, displaying to all possible advantage on his person, while he himself was pacing up and down the room in a state of the utmost excitement and agitation.
'Good-morning, Sir,' said Mr. Peter Magnus. 'What do you think of this, Sir?'
'Very effective indeed,' replied Mr. Pickwick, surveying the garments of Mr. Peter Magnus with a good-natured smile.
'Yes, I think it'll do,' said Mr. Magnus. 'Mr. Pickwick, Sir, I have sent up my card.'
'Have you?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'And the waiter brought back word, that she would see me at eleven — at eleven, Sir; it only wants a quarter now.'
'Very near the time,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Yes, it is rather near,' replied Mr. Magnus, 'rather too near to be pleasant — eh! Mr. Pickwick, sir?'
'Confidence is a great thing in these cases,' observed Mr. Pickwick.
'I believe it is, Sir,' said Mr. Peter Magnus. 'I am very confident, Sir. Really, Mr. Pickwick, I do not see why a man should feel any fear in such a case as this, sir. What is it, Sir? There's nothing to be ashamed of; it's a matter of mutual accommodation, nothing more. Husband on one side, wife on the other. That's my view of the matter, Mr. Pickwick.'
'It is a very philosophical one,' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'But breakfast is waiting, Mr. Magnus. Come.'
Down they sat to breakfast, but it was evident, notwithstanding the boasting of Mr. Peter Magnus, that he laboured under a very considerable degree of nervousness, of which loss of appetite, a propensity to upset the tea-things, a spectral attempt at drollery, and an irresistible inclination to look at the clock, every other second, were among the principal symptoms.
'He-he-he,'tittered Mr. Magnus, affecting cheerfulness, and gasping with agitation. 'It only wants two minutes, Mr. Pickwick. Am I pale, Sir?' 'Not very,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
There was a brief pause.
'I beg your pardon, Mr. Pickwick; but have you ever done this sort of thing in your time?' said Mr. Magnus.
'You mean proposing?' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Yes.'
'Never,' said Mr. Pickwick, with great energy, 'never.'
'You have no idea, then, how it's best to begin?' said Mr. Magnus.
'Why,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I may have formed some ideas upon the subject, but, as I have never submitted them to the test of experience, I should be sorry if you were induced to regulate your proceedings by them.'
'I should feel very much obliged to you, for any advice, Sir,' said Mr. Magnus, taking another look at the clock, the hand of which was verging on the five minutes past.
'Well, sir,' said Mr. Pickwick, with the profound solemnity with which that great man could, when he pleased, render his remarks so deeply impressive. 'I should commence, sir, with a tribute to the lady's beauty and excellent qualities; from them, Sir, I should diverge to my own unworthiness.'
'Very good,' said Mr. Magnus.
'Unworthiness for HER only, mind, sir,' resumed Mr. Pickwick; 'for to show that I was not wholly unworthy, sir, I should take a brief review of my past life, and present condition. I should argue, by analogy, that to anybody else, I must be a very desirable object. I should then expatiate on the warmth of my love, and the depth of my devotion. Perhaps I might then be tempted to seize her hand.'
'Yes, I see,' said Mr. Magnus; 'that would be a very great point.'
'I should then, Sir,' continued Mr. Pickwick, growing warmer as the subject presented itself in more glowing colours before him — 'I should then, Sir, come to the plain and simple question, "Will you have me?" I think I am justified in assuming that upon this, she would turn away her head.'
'You think that may be taken for granted?' said Mr. Magnus; 'because, if she did not do that at the right place, it would be embarrassing.'
'I think she would,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Upon this, sir, I should squeeze her hand, and I think — I think, Mr. Magnus — that after I had done that, supposing there was no refusal, I should gently draw away the handkerchief, which my slight knowledge of human nature leads me to suppose the lady would be applying to her eyes at the moment, and steal a respectful kiss. I think I should kiss her, Mr. Magnus; and at this particular point, I am decidedly of opinion that if the lady were going to take me at all, she would murmur into my ears a bashful acceptance.'
Mr. Magnus started; gazed on Mr. Pickwick's intelligent face, for a short time in silence; and then (the dial pointing to the ten minutes past) shook him warmly by the hand, and rushed desperately from the room.
Mr. Pickwick had taken a few strides to and fro; and the small hand of the clock following the latter part of his example, had arrived at the figure which indicates the half-hour, when the door suddenly opened. He turned round to meet Mr. Peter Magnus, and encountered, in his stead, the joyous face of Mr. Tupman, the serene countenance of Mr. Winkle, and the intellectual lineaments of Mr. Snodgrass. As Mr. Pickwick greeted them, Mr. Peter Magnus tripped into the room.
'My friends, the gentleman I was speaking of — Mr. Magnus,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Your servant, gentlemen,' said Mr. Magnus, evidently in a high state of excitement; 'Mr. Pickwick, allow me to speak to you one moment, sir.'
As he said this, Mr. Magnus harnessed his forefinger to Mr. Pickwick's buttonhole, and, drawing him to a window recess, said —
'Congratulate me, Mr. Pickwick; I followed your advice to the very letter.'
'And it was all correct, was it?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'It was, Sir. Could not possibly have been better,' replied Mr. Magnus. 'Mr. Pickwick, she is mine.'
'I congratulate you, with all my heart,' replied Mr. Pickwick, warmly shaking his new friend by the hand.
'You must see her. Sir,' said Mr. Magnus; 'this way, if you please. Excuse us for one instant, gentlemen.' Hurrying on in this way, Mr. Peter Magnus drew Mr. Pickwick from the room. He paused at the next door in the passage, and tapped gently thereat.
'Come in,' said a female voice. And in they went.
'Miss Witherfield,' said Mr. Magnus, 'allow me to introduce my very particular friend, Mr. Pickwick. Mr. Pickwick, I beg to make you known to Miss Witherfield.'
The lady was at the upper end of the room. As Mr. Pickwick bowed, he took his spectacles from his waistcoat pocket, and put them on; a process which he had no sooner gone through, than, uttering an exclamation of surprise, Mr. Pickwick retreated several paces, and the lady, with a half-suppressed scream, hid her face in her hands, and dropped into a chair; whereupon Mr. Peter Magnus was stricken motionless on the spot, and gazed from one to the other, with a countenance expressive of the extremities of horror and surprise. This certainly was, to all appearance, very unaccountable behaviour; but the fact is, that Mr. Pickwick no sooner put on his spectacles, than he at once recognised in the future Mrs. Magnus the lady into whose room he had so unwarrantably intruded on the previous night; and the spectacles had no sooner crossed Mr. Pickwick's nose, than the lady at once identified the countenance which she had seen surrounded by all the horrors of a nightcap. So the lady screamed, and Mr. Pickwick started.
'Mr. Pickwick!' exclaimed Mr. Magnus, lost in astonishment, 'what is the meaning of this, Sir? What is the meaning of it, Sir?' added Mr. Magnus, in a threatening, and a louder tone.
'Sir,' said Mr. Pickwick, somewhat indignant at the very sudden manner in which Mr. Peter Magnus had conjugated himself into the imperative mood, 'I decline answering that question.'
'You decline it, Sir?' said Mr. Magnus.
'I do, Sir,' replied Mr. Pickwick; 'I object to say anything which may compromise that lady, or awaken unpleasant recollections in her breast, without her consent and permission.'
'Miss Witherfield,' said Mr. Peter Magnus, 'do you know this person?'
'Know him!' repeated the middle-aged lady, hesitating.
'Yes, know him, ma'am; I said know him,' replied Mr. Magnus, with ferocity.
'I have seen him,' replied the middle-aged lady.
'Where?' inquired Mr. Magnus, 'where?'
'That,' said the middle-aged lady, rising from her seat, and averting her head — 'that I would not reveal for worlds.'
'I understand you, ma'am,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'and respect your delicacy; it shall never be revealed by ME depend upon it.'
'Upon my word, ma'am,' said Mr. Magnus, 'considering the situation in which I am placed with regard to yourself, you carry this matter off with tolerable coolness — tolerable coolness, ma'am.'
'Cruel Mr. Magnus!' said the middle-aged lady; here she wept very copiously indeed.
'Address your observations to me, sir,' interposed Mr. Pickwick; 'I alone am to blame, if anybody be.'
'Oh! you alone are to blame, are you, sir?' said Mr. Magnus; 'I — I — see through this, sir. You repent of your determination now, do you?'
'My determination!' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Your determination, Sir. Oh! don't stare at me, Sir,' said Mr. Magnus; 'I recollect your words last night, Sir. You came down here, sir, to expose the treachery and falsehood of an individual on whose truth and honour you had placed implicit reliance — eh?' Here Mr. Peter Magnus indulged in a prolonged sneer; and taking off his green spectacles — which he probably found superfluous in his fit of jealousy — rolled his little eyes about, in a manner frightful to behold.