'Sam!' said Mr. Pickwick, looking round, when they got to the end of Cheapside.
'Sir?' said Sam, stepping up to his master.
'Which way?' 'Up Newgate Street.'
Mr. Pickwick did not turn round immediately, but looked vacantly in Sam's face for a few seconds, and heaved a deep sigh.
'What's the matter, sir?' inquired Sam.
'This action, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'is expected to come on, on the fourteenth of next month.' 'Remarkable coincidence that 'ere, sir,' replied Sam.
'Why remarkable, Sam?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'Walentine's day, sir,' responded Sam; 'reg'lar good day for a breach o' promise trial.'
Mr. Weller's smile awakened no gleam of mirth in his master's countenance. Mr. Pickwick turned abruptly round, and led the way in silence.
They had walked some distance, Mr. Pickwick trotting on before, plunged in profound meditation, and Sam following behind, with a countenance expressive of the most enviable and easy defiance of everything and everybody, when the latter, who was always especially anxious to impart to his master any exclusive information he possessed, quickened his pace until he was close at Mr. Pickwick's heels; and, pointing up at a house they were passing, said —
'Wery nice pork-shop that 'ere, sir.'
'Yes, it seems so,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Celebrated sassage factory,' said Sam.
'Is it?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Is it!' reiterated Sam, with some indignation; 'I should rayther think it was. Why, sir, bless your innocent eyebrows, that's where the mysterious disappearance of a 'spectable tradesman took place four years ago.'
'You don't mean to say he was burked, Sam?' said Mr. Pickwick, looking hastily round.
'No, I don't indeed, sir,' replied Mr. Weller, 'I wish I did; far worse than that. He was the master o' that 'ere shop, sir, and the inwentor o' the patent-never-leavin'-off sassage steam-ingin, as 'ud swaller up a pavin' stone if you put it too near, and grind it into sassages as easy as if it was a tender young babby. Wery proud o' that machine he was, as it was nat'ral he should be, and he'd stand down in the celler a-lookin' at it wen it was in full play, till he got quite melancholy with joy. A wery happy man he'd ha' been, Sir, in the procession o' that 'ere ingin and two more lovely hinfants besides, if it hadn't been for his wife, who was a most owdacious wixin. She was always a-follerin' him about, and dinnin' in his ears, till at last he couldn't stand it no longer. "I'll tell you what it is, my dear," he says one day; "if you persewere in this here sort of amusement," he says, "I'm blessed if I don't go away to 'Merriker; and that's all about it." "You're a idle willin," says she, "and I wish the 'Merrikins joy of their bargain." Arter which she keeps on abusin' of him for half an hour, and then runs into the little parlour behind the shop, sets to a-screamin', says he'll be the death on her, and falls in a fit, which lasts for three good hours — one o' them fits wich is all screamin' and kickin'. Well, next mornin', the husband was missin'. He hadn't taken nothin' from the till — hadn't even put on his greatcoat — so it was quite clear he warn't gone to 'Merriker. Didn't come back next day; didn't come back next week; missis had bills printed, sayin' that, if he'd come back, he should be forgiven everythin' (which was very liberal, seein' that he hadn't done nothin' at all); the canals was dragged, and for two months arterwards, wenever a body turned up, it was carried, as a reg'lar thing, straight off to the sassage shop. Hows'ever, none on 'em answered; so they gave out that he'd run away, and she kep' on the bis'ness. One Saturday night, a little, thin, old gen'l'm'n comes into the shop in a great passion and says, "Are you the missis o' this here shop?" "Yes, I am," says she. "Well, ma'am," says he, "then I've just looked in to say that me and my family ain't a-goin' to be choked for nothin'; and more than that, ma'am," he says, "you'll allow me to observe that as you don't use the primest parts of the meat in the manafacter o' sassages, I'd think you'd find beef come nearly as cheap as buttons." "As buttons, Sir!" says she. "Buttons, ma'am," says the little, old gentleman, unfolding a bit of paper, and showin' twenty or thirty halves o' buttons. "Nice seasonin' for sassages, is trousers' buttons, ma'am." "They're my husband's buttons!" says the widder beginnin' to faint, "What!" screams the little old gen'l'm'n, turnin' wery pale. "I see it all," says the widder; "in a fit of temporary insanity he rashly converted hisself into sassages!" And so he had, Sir,' said Mr. Weller, looking steadily into Mr. Pickwick's horror-stricken countenance, 'or else he'd been draw'd into the ingin; but however that might ha' been, the little, old gen'l'm'n, who had been remarkably partial to sassages all his life, rushed out o' the shop in a wild state, and was never heerd on arterwards!'
The relation of this affecting incident of private life brought master and man to Mr. Perker's chambers. Lowten, holding the door half open, was in conversation with a rustily-clad, miserable-looking man, in boots without toes and gloves without fingers. There were traces of privation and suffering — almost of despair — in his lank and care-worn countenance; he felt his poverty, for he shrank to the dark side of the staircase as Mr. Pickwick approached.
'It's very unfortunate,' said the stranger, with a sigh.
'Very,' said Lowten, scribbling his name on the doorpost with his pen, and rubbing it out again with the feather. 'Will you leave a message for him?'
'When do you think he'll be back?' inquired the stranger.
'Quite uncertain,' replied Lowten, winking at Mr. Pickwick, as the stranger cast his eyes towards the ground.
'You don't think it would be of any use my waiting for him?' said the stranger, looking wistfully into the office.
'Oh, no, I'm sure it wouldn't,' replied the clerk, moving a little more into the centre of the doorway. 'He's certain not to be back this week, and it's a chance whether he will be next; for when Perker once gets out of town, he's never in a hurry to come back again.'
'Out of town!' said Mr. Pickwick; 'dear me, how unfortunate!'
'Don't go away, Mr. Pickwick,' said Lowten, 'I've got a letter for you.' The stranger, seeming to hesitate, once more looked towards the ground, and the clerk winked slyly at Mr. PickwiCK, as if to intimate that some exquisite piece of humour was going forward, though what it was Mr. Pickwick could not for the life of him divine. 'Step in, Mr. Pickwick,' said Lowten. 'Well, will you leave a message, Mr. Watty, or will you call again?'
'Ask him to be so kind as to leave out word what has been done in my business,' said the man; 'for God's sake don't neglect it, Mr. Lowten.'
'No, no; I won't forget it,' replied the clerk. 'Walk in, Mr. Pickwick. Good-morning, Mr. Watty; it's a fine day for walking, isn't it?' Seeing that the stranger still lingered, he beckoned Sam Weller to follow his master in, and shut the door in his face.
'There never was such a pestering bankrupt as that since the world began, I do believe!' said Lowten, throwing down his pen with the air of an injured man. 'His affairs haven't been in Chancery quite four years yet, and I'm d — d if he don't come worrying here twice a week. Step this way, Mr. Pickwick. Perker IS in, and he'll see you, I know. Devilish cold,' he added pettishly, 'standing at that door, wasting one's time with such seedy vagabonds!' Having very vehemently stirred a particularly large fire with a particularly small poker, the clerk led the way to his principal's private room, and announced Mr. Pickwick.
'Ah, my dear Sir,' said little Mr. Perker, bustling up from his chair. 'Well, my dear sir, and what's the news about your matter, eh? Anything more about our friends in Freeman's Court? They've not been sleeping, I know that. Ah, they're very smart fellows; very smart, indeed.'
As the little man concluded, he took an emphatic pinch of snuff, as a tribute to the smartness of Messrs. Dodson and Fogg.
'They are great scoundrels,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Aye, aye,' said the little man; 'that's a matter of opinion, you know, and we won't dispute about terms; because of course you can't be expected to view these subjects with a professional eye. Well, we've done everything that's necessary. I have retained Serjeant Snubbin.'
'Is he a good man?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'Good man!' replied Perker; 'bless your heart and soul, my dear Sir, Serjeant Snubbin is at the very top of his profession. Gets treble the business of any man in court — engaged in every case. You needn't mention it abroad; but we say — we of the profession — that Serjeant Snubbin leads the court by the nose.'
The little man took another pinch of snuff as he made this communication, and nodded mysteriously to Mr. Pickwick.
'They have subpoenaed my three friends,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Ah! of course they would,' replied Perker. 'Important witnesses; saw you in a delicate situation.'
'But she fainted of her own accord,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'She threw herself into my arms.'
'Very likely, my dear Sir,' replied Perker; 'very likely and very natural. Nothing more so, my dear Sir, nothing. But who's to prove it?'
'They have subpoenaed my servant, too,' said Mr. Pickwick, quitting the other point; for there Mr. Perker's question had somewhat staggered him.
'Sam?' said Perker.
Mr. Pickwick replied in the affirmative.
'Of course, my dear Sir; of course. I knew they would. I could have told you that, a month ago. You know, my dear Sir, if you WILL take the management of your affairs into your own hands after entrusting them to your solicitor, you must also take the consequences.' Here Mr. Perker drew himself up with conscious dignity, and brushed some stray grains of snuff from his shirt frill.