Mr. Tupman said nothing; but he thought of Donna Christina, the stomach pump, and the fountain; and his eyes filled with tears.
A private sitting-room having been engaged, bedrooms inspected, and dinner ordered, the party walked out to view the city and adjoining neighbourhood.
We do not find, from a careful perusal of Mr. Pickwick's notes of the four towns, Stroud, Rochester, Chatham, and Brompton, that his impressions of their appearance differ in any material point from those of other travellers who have gone over the same ground. His general description is easily abridged.
'The principal productions of these towns,' says Mr. Pickwick, 'appear to be soldiers, sailors, Jews, chalk, shrimps, officers, and dockyard men. The commodities chiefly exposed for sale in the public streets are marine stores, hard-bake, apples, flat-fish, and oysters. The streets present a lively and animated appearance, occasioned chiefly by the conviviality of the military. It is truly delightful to a philanthropic mind to see these gallant men staggering along under the influence of an overflow both of animal and ardent spirits; more especially when we remember that the following them about, and jesting with them, affords a cheap and innocent amusement for the boy population. Nothing,' adds Mr. Pickwick, 'can exceed their good-humour. It was but the day before my arrival that one of them had been most grossly insulted in the house of a publican. The barmaid had positively refused to draw him any more liquor; in return for which he had (merely in playfulness) drawn his bayonet, and wounded the girl in the shoulder. And yet this fine fellow was the very first to go down to the house next morning and express his readiness to overlook the matter, and forget what had occurred!
'The consumption of tobacco in these towns,' continues Mr. Pickwick, 'must be very great, and the smell which pervades the streets must be exceedingly delicious to those who are extremely fond of smoking. A superficial traveller might object to the dirt, which is their leading characteristic; but to those who view it as an indication of traffic and commercial prosperity, it is truly gratifying.'
Punctual to five o'clock came the stranger, and shortly afterwards the dinner. He had divested himself of his brown paper parcel, but had made no alteration in his attire, and was, if possible, more loquacious than ever.
'What's that?' he inquired, as the waiter removed one of the covers.
'Soles — ah! — capital fish — all come from London-stage-coach proprietors get up political dinners — carriage of soles — dozens of baskets — cunning fellows. Glass of wine, Sir.'
'With pleasure,' said Mr. Pickwick; and the stranger took wine, first with him, and then with Mr. Snodgrass, and then with Mr. Tupman, and then with Mr. Winkle, and then with the whole party together, almost as rapidly as he talked.
'Devil of a mess on the staircase, waiter,' said the stranger. 'Forms going up — carpenters coming down — lamps, glasses, harps. What's going forward?'
'Ball, Sir,' said the waiter.
'No, Sir, not assembly, Sir. Ball for the benefit of a charity, Sir.'
'Many fine women in this town, do you know, Sir?' inquired Mr. Tupman, with great interest.
'Splendid — capital. Kent, sir — everybody knows Kent — apples, cherries, hops, and women. Glass of wine, Sir!'
'With great pleasure,' replied Mr. Tupman. The stranger filled, and emptied.
'I should very much like to go,' said Mr. Tupman, resuming the subject of the ball, 'very much.'
'Tickets at the bar, Sir,' interposed the waiter; 'half-a-guinea each, Sir.'
Mr. Tupman again expressed an earnest wish to be present at the festivity; but meeting with no response in the darkened eye of Mr. Snodgrass, or the abstracted gaze of Mr. Pickwick, he applied himself with great interest to the port wine and dessert, which had just been placed on the table. The waiter withdrew, and the party were left to enjoy the cosy couple of hours succeeding dinner.
'Beg your pardon, sir,' said the stranger, 'bottle stands — pass it round — way of the sun — through the button-hole — no heeltaps,' and he emptied his glass, which he had filled about two minutes before, and poured out another, with the air of a man who was used to it.
The wine was passed, and a fresh supply ordered. The visitor talked, the Pickwickians listened. Mr. Tupman felt every moment more disposed for the ball. Mr. Pickwick's countenance glowed with an expression of universal philanthropy, and Mr. Winkle and Mr. Snodgrass fell fast asleep.
'They're beginning upstairs,' said the stranger — 'hear the company — fiddles tuning — now the harp — there they go.' The various sounds which found their way downstairs announced the commencement of the first quadrille.
'How I should like to go,' said Mr. Tupman again.
'So should I,' said the stranger — 'confounded luggage, — heavy smacks — nothing to go in — odd, ain't it?'
Now general benevolence was one of the leading features of the Pickwickian theory, and no one was more remarkable for the zealous manner in which he observed so noble a principle than Mr. Tracy Tupman. The number of instances recorded on the Transactions of the Society, in which that excellent man referred objects of charity to the houses of other members for left-off garments or pecuniary relief is almost incredible. 'I should be very happy to lend you a change of apparel for the purpose,' said Mr. Tracy Tupman, 'but you are rather slim, and I am — '
'Rather fat — grown-up Bacchus — cut the leaves — dismounted from the tub, and adopted kersey, eh? — not double distilled, but double milled — ha! ha! pass the wine.'
Whether Mr. Tupman was somewhat indignant at the peremptory tone in which he was desired to pass the wine which the stranger passed so quickly away, or whether he felt very properly scandalised at an influential member of the Pickwick Club being ignominiously compared to a dismounted Bacchus, is a fact not yet completely ascertained. He passed the wine, coughed twice, and looked at the stranger for several seconds with a stern intensity; as that individual, however, appeared perfectly collected, and quite calm under his searching glance, he gradually relaxed, and reverted to the subject of the ball.
'I was about to observe, Sir,' he said, 'that though my apparel would be too large, a suit of my friend Mr. Winkle's would, perhaps, fit you better.'
The stranger took Mr. Winkle's measure with his eye, and that feature glistened with satisfaction as he said, 'Just the thing.'
Mr. Tupman looked round him. The wine, which had exerted its somniferous influence over Mr. Snodgrass and Mr. Winkle, had stolen upon the senses of Mr. Pickwick. That gentleman had gradually passed through the various stages which precede the lethargy produced by dinner, and its consequences. He had undergone the ordinary transitions from the height of conviviality to the depth of misery, and from the depth of misery to the height of conviviality. Like a gas-lamp in the street, with the wind in the pipe, he had exhibited for a moment an unnatural brilliancy, then sank so low as to be scarcely discernible; after a short interval, he had burst out again, to enlighten for a moment; then flickered with an uncertain, staggering sort of light, and then gone out altogether. His head was sunk upon his bosom, and perpetual snoring, with a partial choke occasionally, were the only audible indications of the great man's presence.
The temptation to be present at the ball, and to form his first impressions of the beauty of the Kentish ladies, was strong upon Mr. Tupman. The temptation to take the stranger with him was equally great. He was wholly unacquainted with the place and its inhabitants, and the stranger seemed to possess as great a knowledge of both as if he had lived there from his infancy. Mr. Winkle was asleep, and Mr. Tupman had had sufficient experience in such matters to know that the moment he awoke he would, in the ordinary course of nature, roll heavily to bed. He was undecided. 'Fill your glass, and pass the wine,' said the indefatigable visitor.
Mr. Tupman did as he was requested; and the additional stimulus of the last glass settled his determination.
'Winkle's bedroom is inside mine,' said Mr. Tupman; 'I couldn't make him understand what I wanted, if I woke him now, but I know he has a dress-suit in a carpet bag; and supposing you wore it to the ball, and took it off when we returned, I could replace it without troubling him at all about the matter.'
'Capital,' said the stranger, 'famous plan — damned odd situation — fourteen coats in the packing-cases, and obliged to wear another man's — very good notion, that — very.'
'We must purchase our tickets,' said Mr. Tupman.
'Not worth while splitting a guinea,' said the stranger, 'toss who shall pay for both — I call; you spin — first time — woman — woman — bewitching woman,' and down came the sovereign with the dragon (called by courtesy a woman) uppermost.
Mr. Tupman rang the bell, purchased the tickets, and ordered chamber candlesticks. In another quarter of an hour the stranger was completely arrayed in a full suit of Mr. Nathaniel Winkle's.
'It's a new coat,' said Mr. Tupman, as the stranger surveyed himself with great complacency in a cheval glass; 'the first that's been made with our club button,' and he called his companions' attention to the large gilt button which displayed a bust of Mr. Pickwick in the centre, and the letters 'P. C.' on either side.
'"P. C."' said the stranger — 'queer set out — old fellow's likeness, and "P. C." — What does "P. C." stand for — Peculiar Coat, eh?'
Mr. Tupman, with rising indignation and great importance, explained the mystic device.