'Eh?' said Mr. Magnus; and then he repeated the sneer with increased effect. 'But you shall answer it, Sir.'
'Answer what?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Never mind, sir,' replied Mr. Magnus, striding up and down the room. 'Never mind.'
There must be something very comprehensive in this phrase of 'Never mind,' for we do not recollect to have ever witnessed a quarrel in the street, at a theatre, public room, or elsewhere, in which it has not been the standard reply to all belligerent inquiries. 'Do you call yourself a gentleman, sir?' — 'Never mind, sir.' 'Did I offer to say anything to the young woman, sir?' — 'Never mind, sir.' 'Do you want your head knocked up against that wall, sir?' — 'Never mind, sir.' It is observable, too, that there would appear to be some hidden taunt in this universal 'Never mind,' which rouses more indignation in the bosom of the individual addressed, than the most lavish abuse could possibly awaken.
We do not mean to assert that the application of this brevity to himself, struck exactly that indignation to Mr. Pickwick's soul, which it would infallibly have roused in a vulgar breast. We merely record the fact that Mr. Pickwick opened the room door, and abruptly called out, 'Tupman, come here!'
Mr. Tupman immediately presented himself, with a look of very considerable surprise.
'Tupman,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'a secret of some delicacy, in which that lady is concerned, is the cause of a difference which has just arisen between this gentleman and myself. When I assure him, in your presence, that it has no relation to himself, and is not in any way connected with his affairs, I need hardly beg you to take notice that if he continue to dispute it, he expresses a doubt of my veracity, which I shall consider extremely insulting.' As Mr. Pickwick said this, he looked encyclopedias at Mr. Peter Magnus.
Mr. Pickwick's upright and honourable bearing, coupled with that force and energy of speech which so eminently distinguished him, would have carried conviction to any reasonable mind; but, unfortunately, at that particular moment, the mind of Mr. Peter Magnus was in anything but reasonable order. Consequently, instead of receiving Mr. Pickwick's explanation as he ought to have done, he forthwith proceeded to work himself into a red-hot, scorching, consuming passion, and to talk about what was due to his own feelings, and all that sort of thing; adding force to his declamation by striding to and fro, and pulling his hair — amusements which he would vary occasionally, by shaking his fist in Mr. Pickwick's philanthropic countenance.
Mr. Pickwick, in his turn, conscious of his own innocence and rectitude, and irritated by having unfortunately involved the middle-aged lady in such an unpleasant affair, was not so quietly disposed as was his wont. The consequence was, that words ran high, and voices higher; and at length Mr. Magnus told Mr. Pickwick he should hear from him; to which Mr. Pickwick replied, with laudable politeness, that the sooner he heard from him the better; whereupon the middle-aged lady rushed in terror from the room, out of which Mr. Tupman dragged Mr. Pickwick, leaving Mr. Peter Magnus to himself and meditation.
If the middle-aged lady had mingled much with the busy world, or had profited at all by the manners and customs of those who make the laws and set the fashions, she would have known that this sort of ferocity is the most harmless thing in nature; but as she had lived for the most part in the country, and never read the parliamentary debates, she was little versed in these particular refinements of civilised life. Accordingly, when she had gained her bedchamber, bolted herself in, and began to meditate on the scene she had just witnessed, the most terrific pictures of slaughter and destruction presented themselves to her imagination; among which, a full-length portrait of Mr. Peter Magnus borne home by four men, with the embellishment of a whole barrelful of bullets in his left side, was among the very least. The more the middle-aged lady meditated, the more terrified she became; and at length she determined to repair to the house of the principal magistrate of the town, and request him to secure the persons of Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Tupman without delay.
To this decision the middle-aged lady was impelled by a variety of considerations, the chief of which was the incontestable proof it would afford of her devotion to Mr. Peter Magnus, and her anxiety for his safety. She was too well acquainted with his jealous temperament to venture the slightest allusion to the real cause of her agitation on beholding Mr. Pickwick; and she trusted to her own influence and power of persuasion with the little man, to quell his boisterous jealousy, supposing that Mr. Pickwick were removed, and no fresh quarrel could arise. Filled with these reflections, the middle-aged lady arrayed herself in her bonnet and shawl, and repaired to the mayor's dwelling straightway.
Now George Nupkins, Esquire, the principal magistrate aforesaid, was as grand a personage as the fastest walker would find out, between sunrise and sunset, on the twenty-first of June, which being, according to the almanacs, the longest day in the whole year, would naturally afford him the longest period for his search. On this particular morning, Mr. Nupkins was in a state of the utmost excitement and irritation, for there had been a rebellion in the town; all the day-scholars at the largest day-school had conspired to break the windows of an obnoxious apple-seller, and had hooted the beadle and pelted the constabulary — an elderly gentleman in top-boots, who had been called out to repress the tumult, and who had been a peace-officer, man and boy, for half a century at least. And Mr. Nupkins was sitting in his easy-chair, frowning with majesty, and boiling with rage, when a lady was announced on pressing, private, and particular business. Mr. Nupkins looked calmly terrible, and commanded that the lady should be shown in; which command, like all the mandates of emperors, and magistrates, and other great potentates of the earth, was forthwith obeyed; and Miss Witherfield, interestingly agitated, was ushered in accordingly.
'Muzzle!' said the magistrate.
Muzzle was an undersized footman, with a long body and short legs.
'Muzzle!' 'Yes, your Worship.'
'Place a chair, and leave the room.'
'Yes, your Worship.'
'Now, ma'am, will you state your business?' said the magistrate.
'It is of a very painful kind, Sir,' said Miss Witherfield.
'Very likely, ma'am,' said the magistrate. 'Compose your feelings, ma'am.' Here Mr. Nupkins looked benignant. 'And then tell me what legal business brings you here, ma'am.' Here the magistrate triumphed over the man; and he looked stern again.
'It is very distressing to me, Sir, to give this information,' said Miss Witherfield, 'but I fear a duel is going to be fought here.'
'Here, ma'am?' said the magistrate. 'Where, ma'am?'
'In Ipswich.' 'In Ipswich, ma'am! A duel in Ipswich!' said the magistrate, perfectly aghast at the notion. 'Impossible, ma'am; nothing of the kind can be contemplated in this town, I am persuaded. Bless my soul, ma'am, are you aware of the activity of our local magistracy? Do you happen to have heard, ma'am, that I rushed into a prize-ring on the fourth of May last, attended by only sixty special constables; and, at the hazard of falling a sacrifice to the angry passions of an infuriated multitude, prohibited a pugilistic contest between the Middlesex Dumpling and the Suffolk Bantam? A duel in Ipswich, ma'am? I don't think — I do not think,' said the magistrate, reasoning with himself, 'that any two men can have had the hardihood to plan such a breach of the peace, in this town.'
'My information is, unfortunately, but too correct,' said the middle-aged lady; 'I was present at the quarrel.'
'It's a most extraordinary thing,' said the astounded magistrate. 'Muzzle!'
'Yes, your Worship.'
'Send Mr. Jinks here, directly! Instantly.'
'Yes, your Worship.'
Muzzle retired; and a pale, sharp-nosed, half-fed, shabbily-clad clerk, of middle age, entered the room.
'Mr. Jinks,' said the magistrate. 'Mr. Jinks.'
'Sir,' said Mr. Jinks. 'This lady, Mr. Jinks, has come here, to give information of an intended duel in this town.'
Mr. Jinks, not knowing exactly what to do, smiled a dependent's smile.
'What are you laughing at, Mr. Jinks?' said the magistrate.
Mr. Jinks looked serious instantly.
'Mr. Jinks,' said the magistrate, 'you're a fool.'
Mr. Jinks looked humbly at the great man, and bit the top of his pen.
'You may see something very comical in this information, Sir — but I can tell you this, Mr. Jinks, that you have very little to laugh at,' said the magistrate.
The hungry-looking Jinks sighed, as if he were quite aware of the fact of his having very little indeed to be merry about; and, being ordered to take the lady's information, shambled to a seat, and proceeded to write it down.
'This man, Pickwick, is the principal, I understand?' said the magistrate, when the statement was finished.
'He is,' said the middle-aged lady.
'And the other rioter — what's his name, Mr. Jinks?'
'Tupman, Sir.' 'Tupman is the second?'
'The other principal, you say, has absconded, ma'am?'
'Yes,' replied Miss Witherfield, with a short cough.
'Very well,' said the magistrate. 'These are two cut-throats from London, who have come down here to destroy his Majesty's population, thinking that at this distance from the capital, the arm of the law is weak and paralysed. They shall be made an example of. Draw up the warrants, Mr. Jinks. Muzzle!'
'Yes, your Worship.'
'Is Grummer downstairs?'
'Yes, your Worship.'
'Send him up.' The obsequious Muzzle retired, and presently returned, introducing the elderly gentleman in the top-boots, who was chiefly remarkable for a bottle-nose, a hoarse voice, a snuff-coloured surtout, and a wandering eye.