The Pickwick Papers By Charles Dickens Chapters 31-33

(Immense cheering.) The soft sex to a man — he begged pardon, to a female — rallied round the young waterman, and turned with disgust from the drinker of spirits (cheers). The Brick Lane Branch brothers were watermen (cheers and laughter). That room was their boat; that audience were the maidens; and he (Mr. Anthony Humm), however unworthily, was 'first oars' (unbounded applause).

'Wot does he mean by the soft sex, Sammy?' inquired Mr. Weller, in a whisper.

'The womin,' said Sam, in the same tone.

'He ain't far out there, Sammy,' replied Mr. Weller; 'they MUST be a soft sex — a wery soft sex, indeed — if they let themselves be gammoned by such fellers as him.'

Any further observations from the indignant old gentleman were cut short by the announcement of the song, which Mr. Anthony Humm gave out two lines at a time, for the information of such of his hearers as were unacquainted with the legend. While it was being sung, the little man with the drab shorts disappeared; he returned immediately on its conclusion, and whispered Mr. Anthony Humm, with a face of the deepest importance. 'My friends,' said Mr. Humm, holding up his hand in a deprecatory manner, to bespeak the silence of such of the stout old ladies as were yet a line or two behind; 'my friends, a delegate from the Dorking Branch of our society, Brother Stiggins, attends below.'

Out came the pocket-handkerchiefs again, in greater force than ever; for Mr. Stiggins was excessively popular among the female constituency of Brick Lane.

'He may approach, I think,' said Mr. Humm, looking round him, with a fat smile. 'Brother Tadger, let him come forth and greet us.'

The little man in the drab shorts who answered to the name of Brother Tadger, bustled down the ladder with great speed, and was immediately afterwards heard tumbling up with the Reverend Mr. Stiggins.

'He's a-comin', Sammy,' whispered Mr. Weller, purple in the countenance with suppressed laughter.

'Don't say nothin' to me,' replied Sam, 'for I can't bear it. He's close to the door. I hear him a-knockin' his head again the lath and plaster now.'

As Sam Weller spoke, the little door flew open, and Brother Tadger appeared, closely followed by the Reverend Mr. Stiggins, who no sooner entered, than there was a great clapping of hands, and stamping of feet, and flourishing of handkerchiefs; to all of which manifestations of delight, Brother Stiggins returned no other acknowledgment than staring with a wild eye, and a fixed smile, at the extreme top of the wick of the candle on the table, swaying his body to and fro, meanwhile, in a very unsteady and uncertain manner.

'Are you unwell, Brother Stiggins?' whispered Mr. Anthony Humm.

'I am all right, Sir,' replied Mr. Stiggins, in a tone in which ferocity was blended with an extreme thickness of utterance; 'I am all right, Sir.'

'Oh, very well,' rejoined Mr. Anthony Humm, retreating a few paces.

'I believe no man here has ventured to say that I am not all right, Sir?' said Mr. Stiggins.

'Oh, certainly not,' said Mr. Humm. 'I should advise him not to, Sir; I should advise him not,' said Mr. Stiggins.

By this time the audience were perfectly silent, and waited with some anxiety for the resumption of business.

'Will you address the meeting, brother?' said Mr. Humm, with a smile of invitation.

'No, sir,' rejoined Mr. Stiggins; 'No, sir. I will not, sir.'

The meeting looked at each other with raised eyelids; and a murmur of astonishment ran through the room.

'It's my opinion, sir,' said Mr. Stiggins, unbuttoning his coat, and speaking very loudly — 'it's my opinion, sir, that this meeting is drunk, sir. Brother Tadger, sir!' said Mr. Stiggins, suddenly increasing in ferocity, and turning sharp round on the little man in the drab shorts, 'YOU are drunk, sir!' With this, Mr. Stiggins, entertaining a praiseworthy desire to promote the sobriety of the meeting, and to exclude therefrom all improper characters, hit Brother Tadger on the summit of the nose with such unerring aim, that the drab shorts disappeared like a flash of lightning. Brother Tadger had been knocked, head first, down the ladder.

Upon this, the women set up a loud and dismal screaming; and rushing in small parties before their favourite brothers, flung their arms around them to preserve them from danger. An instance of affection, which had nearly proved fatal to Humm, who, being extremely popular, was all but suffocated, by the crowd of female devotees that hung about his neck, and heaped caresses upon him. The greater part of the lights were quickly put out, and nothing but noise and confusion resounded on all sides.

'Now, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller, taking off his greatcoat with much deliberation, 'just you step out, and fetch in a watchman.'

'And wot are you a-goin' to do, the while?' inquired Sam.

'Never you mind me, Sammy,' replied the old gentleman; 'I shall ockipy myself in havin' a small settlement with that 'ere Stiggins.' Before Sam could interfere to prevent it, his heroic parent had penetrated into a remote corner of the room, and attacked the Reverend Mr. Stiggins with manual dexterity.

'Come off!' said Sam.

'Come on!' cried Mr. Weller; and without further invitation he gave the Reverend Mr. Stiggins a preliminary tap on the head, and began dancing round him in a buoyant and cork-like manner, which in a gentleman at his time of life was a perfect marvel to behold.

Finding all remonstrances unavailing, Sam pulled his hat firmly on, threw his father's coat over his arm, and taking the old man round the waist, forcibly dragged him down the ladder, and into the street; never releasing his hold, or permitting him to stop, until they reached the corner. As they gained it, they could hear the shouts of the populace, who were witnessing the removal of the Reverend Mr. Stiggins to strong lodgings for the night, and could hear the noise occasioned by the dispersion in various directions of the members of the Brick Lane Branch of the United Grand Junction Ebenezer Temperance Association.

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