'Oh! I don't know,' said the jolly old gentleman; 'all very natural, I dare say — nothing unusual. Mr. Pickwick, some wine, Sir?' Mr. Pickwick, who had been deeply investigating the interior of the pigeon-pie, readily assented.
'Emily, my dear,' said the spinster aunt, with a patronising air, 'don't talk so loud, love.'
'Aunt and the little old gentleman want to have it all to themselves, I think,' whispered Miss Isabella Wardle to her sister Emily. The young ladies laughed very heartily, and the old one tried to look amiable, but couldn't manage it.
'Young girls have such spirits,' said Miss Wardle to Mr. Tupman, with an air of gentle commiseration, as if animal spirits were contraband, and their possession without a permit a high crime and misdemeanour.
'Oh, they have,' replied Mr. Tupman, not exactly making the sort of reply that was expected from him. 'It's quite delightful.'
'Hem!' said Miss Wardle, rather dubiously.
'Will you permit me?' said Mr. Tupman, in his blandest manner, touching the enchanting Rachael's wrist with one hand, and gently elevating the bottle with the other. 'Will you permit me?'
'Oh, sir!' Mr. Tupman looked most impressive; and Rachael expressed her fear that more guns were going off, in which case, of course, she should have required support again.
'Do you think my dear nieces pretty?' whispered their affectionate aunt to Mr. Tupman.
'I should, if their aunt wasn't here,' replied the ready Pickwickian, with a passionate glance.
'Oh, you naughty man — but really, if their complexions were a little better, don't you think they would be nice-looking girls — by candlelight?'
'Yes; I think they would,' said Mr. Tupman, with an air of indifference.
'Oh, you quiz — I know what you were going to say.'
'What?' inquired Mr. Tupman, who had not precisely made up his mind to say anything at all.
'You were going to say that Isabel stoops — I know you were — you men are such observers. Well, so she does; it can't be denied; and, certainly, if there is one thing more than another that makes a girl look ugly it is stooping. I often tell her that when she gets a little older she'll be quite frightful. Well, you are a quiz!'
Mr. Tupman had no objection to earning the reputation at so cheap a rate: so he looked very knowing, and smiled mysteriously.
'What a sarcastic smile,' said the admiring Rachael; 'I declare I'm quite afraid of you.'
'Afraid of me!'
'Oh, you can't disguise anything from me — I know what that smile means very well.'
'What?' said Mr. Tupman, who had not the slightest notion himself.
'You mean,' said the amiable aunt, sinking her voice still lower — 'you mean, that you don't think Isabella's stooping is as bad as Emily's boldness. Well, she is bold! You cannot think how wretched it makes me sometimes — I'm sure I cry about it for hours together — my dear brother is SO good, and so unsuspicious, that he never sees it; if he did, I'm quite certain it would break his heart. I wish I could think it was only manner — I hope it may be — ' (Here the affectionate relative heaved a deep sigh, and shook her head despondingly).
'I'm sure aunt's talking about us,' whispered Miss Emily Wardle to her sister — 'I'm quite certain of it — she looks so malicious.'
'Is she?' replied Isabella. — 'Hem! aunt, dear!'
'Yes, my dear love!'
'I'm SO afraid you'll catch cold, aunt — have a silk handkerchief to tie round your dear old head — you really should take care of yourself — consider your age!'
However well deserved this piece of retaliation might have been, it was as vindictive a one as could well have been resorted to. There is no guessing in what form of reply the aunt's indignation would have vented itself, had not Mr. Wardle unconsciously changed the subject, by calling emphatically for Joe.
'Damn that boy,' said the old gentleman, 'he's gone to sleep again.'
'Very extraordinary boy, that,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'does he always sleep in this way?'
'Sleep!' said the old gentleman, 'he's always asleep. Goes on errands fast asleep, and snores as he waits at table.'
'How very odd!' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Ah! odd indeed,' returned the old gentleman; 'I'm proud of that boy — wouldn't part with him on any account — he's a natural curiosity! Here, Joe — Joe — take these things away, and open another bottle — d'ye hear?'
The fat boy rose, opened his eyes, swallowed the huge piece of pie he had been in the act of masticating when he last fell asleep, and slowly obeyed his master's orders — gloating languidly over the remains of the feast, as he removed the plates, and deposited them in the hamper. The fresh bottle was produced, and speedily emptied: the hamper was made fast in its old place — the fat boy once more mounted the box — the spectacles and pocket-glass were again adjusted — and the evolutions of the military recommenced. There was a great fizzing and banging of guns, and starting of ladies — and then a Mine was sprung, to the gratification of everybody — and when the mine had gone off, the military and the company followed its example, and went off too.
'Now, mind,' said the old gentleman, as he shook hands with Mr. Pickwick at the conclusion of a conversation which had been carried on at intervals, during the conclusion of the proceedings, 'we shall see you all to-morrow.'
'Most certainly,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
'You have got the address?'
'Manor Farm, Dingley Dell,' said Mr. Pickwick, consulting his pocket-book. 'That's it,' said the old gentleman. 'I don't let you off, mind, under a week; and undertake that you shall see everything worth seeing. If you've come down for a country life, come to me, and I'll give you plenty of it. Joe — damn that boy, he's gone to sleep again — Joe, help Tom put in the horses.'
The horses were put in — the driver mounted — the fat boy clambered up by his side — farewells were exchanged — and the carriage rattled off. As the Pickwickians turned round to take a last glimpse of it, the setting sun cast a rich glow on the faces of their entertainers, and fell upon the form of the fat boy. His head was sunk upon his bosom; and he slumbered again.