CHAPTER XXVII. SAMUEL WELLER MAKES A PILGRIMAGE TO DORKING, AND BEHOLDS HIS MOTHER-IN-LAW
There still remaining an interval of two days before the time agreed upon for the departure of the Pickwickians to Dingley Dell, Mr. Weller sat himself down in a back room at the George and Vulture, after eating an early dinner, to muse on the best way of disposing of his time. It was a remarkably fine day; and he had not turned the matter over in his mind ten minutes, when he was suddenly stricken filial and affectionate; and it occurred to him so strongly that he ought to go down and see his father, and pay his duty to his mother-in-law, that he was lost in astonishment at his own remissness in never thinking of this moral obligation before. Anxious to atone for his past neglect without another hour's delay, he straightway walked upstairs to Mr. Pickwick, and requested leave of absence for this laudable purpose.
'Certainly, Sam, certainly,' said Mr. Pickwick, his eyes glistening with delight at this manifestation of filial feeling on the part of his attendant; 'certainly, Sam.'
Mr. Weller made a grateful bow.
'I am very glad to see that you have so high a sense of your duties as a son, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'I always had, sir,' replied Mr. Weller.
'That's a very gratifying reflection, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick approvingly.
'Wery, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller; 'if ever I wanted anythin' o' my father, I always asked for it in a wery 'spectful and obligin' manner. If he didn't give it me, I took it, for fear I should be led to do anythin' wrong, through not havin' it. I saved him a world o' trouble this vay, Sir.'
'That's not precisely what I meant, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, shaking his head, with a slight smile.
'All good feelin', sir — the wery best intentions, as the gen'l'm'n said ven he run away from his wife 'cos she seemed unhappy with him,' replied Mr. Weller.
'You may go, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Thank'ee, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller; and having made his best bow, and put on his best clothes, Sam planted himself on the top of the Arundel coach, and journeyed on to Dorking.
The Marquis of Granby, in Mrs. Weller's time, was quite a model of a roadside public-house of the better class — just large enough to be convenient, and small enough to be snug. On the opposite side of the road was a large sign-board on a high post, representing the head and shoulders of a gentleman with an apoplectic countenance, in a red coat with deep blue facings, and a touch of the same blue over his three-cornered hat, for a sky. Over that again were a pair of flags; beneath the last button of his coat were a couple of cannon; and the whole formed an expressive and undoubted likeness of the Marquis of Granby of glorious memory.
The bar window displayed a choice collection of geranium plants, and a well-dusted row of spirit phials. The open shutters bore a variety of golden inscriptions, eulogistic of good beds and neat wines; and the choice group of countrymen and hostlers lounging about the stable door and horse-trough, afforded presumptive proof of the excellent quality of the ale and spirits which were sold within. Sam Weller paused, when he dismounted from the coach, to note all these little indications of a thriving business, with the eye of an experienced traveller; and having done so, stepped in at once, highly satisfied with everything he had observed.
'Now, then!' said a shrill female voice the instant Sam thrust his head in at the door, 'what do you want, young man?'
Sam looked round in the direction whence the voice proceeded. It came from a rather stout lady of comfortable appearance, who was seated beside the fireplace in the bar, blowing the fire to make the kettle boil for tea. She was not alone; for on the other side of the fireplace, sitting bolt upright in a high-backed chair, was a man in threadbare black clothes, with a back almost as long and stiff as that of the chair itself, who caught Sam's most particular and especial attention at once.
He was a prim-faced, red-nosed man, with a long, thin countenance, and a semi-rattlesnake sort of eye — rather sharp, but decidedly bad. He wore very short trousers, and black cotton stockings, which, like the rest of his apparel, were particularly rusty. His looks were starched, but his white neckerchief was not, and its long limp ends straggled over his closely-buttoned waistcoat in a very uncouth and unpicturesque fashion. A pair of old, worn, beaver gloves, a broad-brimmed hat, and a faded green umbrella, with plenty of whalebone sticking through the bottom, as if to counterbalance the want of a handle at the top, lay on a chair beside him; and, being disposed in a very tidy and careful manner, seemed to imply that the red-nosed man, whoever he was, had no intention of going away in a hurry.
To do the red-nosed man justice, he would have been very far from wise if he had entertained any such intention; for, to judge from all appearances, he must have been possessed of a most desirable circle of acquaintance, if he could have reasonably expected to be more comfortable anywhere else. The fire was blazing brightly under the influence of the bellows, and the kettle was singing gaily under the influence of both. A small tray of tea-things was arranged on the table; a plate of hot buttered toast was gently simmering before the fire; and the red-nosed man himself was busily engaged in converting a large slice of bread into the same agreeable edible, through the instrumentality of a long brass toasting-fork. Beside him stood a glass of reeking hot pine-apple rum-and-water, with a slice of lemon in it; and every time the red-nosed man stopped to bring the round of toast to his eye, with the view of ascertaining how it got on, he imbibed a drop or two of the hot pine-apple rum-and-water, and smiled upon the rather stout lady, as she blew the fire.
Sam was so lost in the contemplation of this comfortable scene, that he suffered the first inquiry of the rather stout lady to pass unheeded. It was not until it had been twice repeated, each time in a shriller tone, that he became conscious of the impropriety of his behaviour.
'Governor in?' inquired Sam, in reply to the question.
'No, he isn't,' replied Mrs. Weller; for the rather stout lady was no other than the quondam relict and sole executrix of the dead-and-gone Mr. Clarke; 'no, he isn't, and I don't expect him, either.'
'I suppose he's drivin' up to-day?' said Sam.
'He may be, or he may not,' replied Mrs. Weller, buttering the round of toast which the red-nosed man had just finished. 'I don't know, and, what's more, I don't care. — Ask a blessin', Mr. Stiggins.'
The red-nosed man did as he was desired, and instantly commenced on the toast with fierce voracity.
The appearance of the red-nosed man had induced Sam, at first sight, to more than half suspect that he was the deputy-shepherd of whom his estimable parent had spoken. The moment he saw him eat, all doubt on the subject was removed, and he perceived at once that if he purposed to take up his temporary quarters where he was, he must make his footing good without delay. He therefore commenced proceedings by putting his arm over the half-door of the bar, coolly unbolting it, and leisurely walking in.
'Mother-in-law,' said Sam, 'how are you?'
'Why, I do believe he is a Weller!' said Mrs. W., raising her eyes to Sam's face, with no very gratified expression of countenance.
'I rayther think he is,' said the imperturbable Sam; 'and I hope this here reverend gen'l'm'n 'll excuse me saying that I wish I was THE Weller as owns you, mother-in-law.'
This was a double-barrelled compliment. It implied that Mrs. Weller was a most agreeable female, and also that Mr. Stiggins had a clerical appearance. It made a visible impression at once; and Sam followed up his advantage by kissing his mother-in-law.
'Get along with you!' said Mrs. Weller, pushing him away. 'For shame, young man!' said the gentleman with the red nose.
'No offence, sir, no offence,' replied Sam; 'you're wery right, though; it ain't the right sort o' thing, ven mothers-in-law is young and good-looking, is it, Sir?'
'It's all vanity,' said Mr. Stiggins.
'Ah, so it is,' said Mrs. Weller, setting her cap to rights.
Sam thought it was, too, but he held his peace.
The deputy-shepherd seemed by no means best pleased with Sam's arrival; and when the first effervescence of the compliment had subsided, even Mrs. Weller looked as if she could have spared him without the smallest inconvenience. However, there he was; and as he couldn't be decently turned out, they all three sat down to tea.
'And how's father?' said Sam.
At this inquiry, Mrs. Weller raised her hands, and turned up her eyes, as if the subject were too painful to be alluded to.
Mr. Stiggins groaned.
'What's the matter with that 'ere gen'l'm'n?' inquired Sam.
'He's shocked at the way your father goes on in,' replied Mrs. Weller.
'Oh, he is, is he?' said Sam.
'And with too good reason,' added Mrs. Weller gravely.
Mr. Stiggins took up a fresh piece of toast, and groaned heavily.
'He is a dreadful reprobate,' said Mrs. Weller.
'A man of wrath!' exclaimed Mr. Stiggins. He took a large semi-circular bite out of the toast, and groaned again.
Sam felt very strongly disposed to give the reverend Mr. Stiggins something to groan for, but he repressed his inclination, and merely asked, 'What's the old 'un up to now?'