The Pickwick Papers By Charles Dickens Chapters 31-33

CHAPTER XXXII. DESCRIBES, FAR MORE FULLY THAN THE COURT NEWSMAN EVER DID, A BACHELOR'S PARTY, GIVEN BY Mr. BOB SAWYER AT HIS LODGINGS IN THE BOROUGH

There is a repose about Lant Street, in the Borough, which sheds a gentle melancholy upon the soul. There are always a good many houses to let in the street: it is a by-street too, and its dulness is soothing. A house in Lant Street would not come within the denomination of a first-rate residence, in the strict acceptation of the term; but it is a most desirable spot nevertheless. If a man wished to abstract himself from the world — to remove himself from within the reach of temptation — to place himself beyond the possibility of any inducement to look out of the window — we should recommend him by all means go to Lant Street.

In this happy retreat are colonised a few clear-starchers, a sprinkling of journeymen bookbinders, one or two prison agents for the Insolvent Court, several small housekeepers who are employed in the Docks, a handful of mantua-makers, and a seasoning of jobbing tailors. The majority of the inhabitants either direct their energies to the letting of furnished apartments, or devote themselves to the healthful and invigorating pursuit of mangling. The chief features in the still life of the street are green shutters, lodging-bills, brass door-plates, and bell-handles; the principal specimens of animated nature, the pot-boy, the muffin youth, and the baked-potato man. The population is migratory, usually disappearing on the verge of quarter-day, and generally by night. His Majesty's revenues are seldom collected in this happy valley; the rents are dubious; and the water communication is very frequently cut off.

Mr. Bob Sawyer embellished one side of the fire, in his first-floor front, early on the evening for which he had invited Mr. Pickwick, and Mr. Ben Allen the other. The preparations for the reception of visitors appeared to be completed. The umbrellas in the passage had been heaped into the little corner outside the back-parlour door; the bonnet and shawl of the landlady's servant had been removed from the bannisters; there were not more than two pairs of pattens on the street-door mat; and a kitchen candle, with a very long snuff, burned cheerfully on the ledge of the staircase window. Mr. Bob Sawyer had himself purchased the spirits at a wine vaults in High Street, and had returned home preceding the bearer thereof, to preclude the possibility of their delivery at the wrong house. The punch was ready-made in a red pan in the bedroom; a little table, covered with a green baize cloth, had been borrowed from the parlour, to play at cards on; and the glasses of the establishment, together with those which had been borrowed for the occasion from the public-house, were all drawn up in a tray, which was deposited on the landing outside the door.

Notwithstanding the highly satisfactory nature of all these arrangements, there was a cloud on the countenance of Mr. Bob Sawyer, as he sat by the fireside. There was a sympathising expression, too, in the features of Mr. Ben Allen, as he gazed intently on the coals, and a tone of melancholy in his voice, as he said, after a long silence — 'Well, it is unlucky she should have taken it in her head to turn sour, just on this occasion. She might at least have waited till to-morrow.'

'That's her malevolence — that's her malevolence,' returned Mr. Bob Sawyer vehemently. 'She says that if I can afford to give a party I ought to be able to pay her confounded "little bill."' 'How long has it been running?' inquired Mr. Ben Allen. A bill, by the bye, is the most extraordinary locomotive engine that the genius of man ever produced. It would keep on running during the longest lifetime, without ever once stopping of its own accord.

'Only a quarter, and a month or so,' replied Mr. Bob Sawyer.

Ben Allen coughed hopelessly, and directed a searching look between the two top bars of the stove.

'It'll be a deuced unpleasant thing if she takes it into her head to let out, when those fellows are here, won't it?' said Mr. Ben Allen at length.

'Horrible,' replied Bob Sawyer, 'horrible.' A low tap was heard at the room door. Mr. Bob Sawyer looked expressively at his friend, and bade the tapper come in; whereupon a dirty, slipshod girl in black cotton stockings, who might have passed for the neglected daughter of a superannuated dustman in very reduced circumstances, thrust in her head, and said —

'Please, Mister Sawyer, Missis Raddle wants to speak to you.'

Before Mr. Bob Sawyer could return any answer, the girl suddenly disappeared with a jerk, as if somebody had given her a violent pull behind; this mysterious exit was no sooner accomplished, than there was another tap at the door — a smart, pointed tap, which seemed to say, 'Here I am, and in I'm coming.'

Mr. Bob Sawyer glanced at his friend with a look of abject apprehension, and once more cried, 'Come in.'

The permission was not at all necessary, for, before Mr. Bob Sawyer had uttered the words, a little, fierce woman bounced into the room, all in a tremble with passion, and pale with rage.

'Now, Mr. Sawyer,' said the little, fierce woman, trying to appear very calm, 'if you'll have the kindness to settle that little bill of mine I'll thank you, because I've got my rent to pay this afternoon, and my landlord's a-waiting below now.' Here the little woman rubbed her hands, and looked steadily over Mr. Bob Sawyer's head, at the wall behind him.

'I am very sorry to put you to any inconvenience, Mrs. Raddle,' said Bob Sawyer deferentially, 'but — '

'Oh, it isn't any inconvenience,' replied the little woman, with a shrill titter. 'I didn't want it particular before to-day; leastways, as it has to go to my landlord directly, it was as well for you to keep it as me. You promised me this afternoon, Mr. Sawyer, and every gentleman as has ever lived here, has kept his word, Sir, as of course anybody as calls himself a gentleman does.' Mrs. Raddle tossed her head, bit her lips, rubbed her hands harder, and looked at the wall more steadily than ever. It was plain to see, as Mr. Bob Sawyer remarked in a style of Eastern allegory on a subsequent occasion, that she was 'getting the steam up.'

'I am very sorry, Mrs. Raddle,' said Bob Sawyer, with all imaginable humility, 'but the fact is, that I have been disappointed in the City to-day.' — Extraordinary place that City. An astonishing number of men always ARE getting disappointed there.

'Well, Mr. Sawyer,' said Mrs. Raddle, planting herself firmly on a purple cauliflower in the Kidderminster carpet, 'and what's that to me, Sir?'

'I — I — have no doubt, Mrs. Raddle,' said Bob Sawyer, blinking this last question, 'that before the middle of next week we shall be able to set ourselves quite square, and go on, on a better system, afterwards.'

This was all Mrs. Raddle wanted. She had bustled up to the apartment of the unlucky Bob Sawyer, so bent upon going into a passion, that, in all probability, payment would have rather disappointed her than otherwise. She was in excellent order for a little relaxation of the kind, having just exchanged a few introductory compliments with Mr. R. in the front kitchen.

'Do you suppose, Mr. Sawyer,' said Mrs. Raddle, elevating her voice for the information of the neighbours — 'do you suppose that I'm a-going day after day to let a fellar occupy my lodgings as never thinks of paying his rent, nor even the very money laid out for the fresh butter and lump sugar that's bought for his breakfast, and the very milk that's took in, at the street door? Do you suppose a hard-working and industrious woman as has lived in this street for twenty year (ten year over the way, and nine year and three-quarters in this very house) has nothing else to do but to work herself to death after a parcel of lazy idle fellars, that are always smoking and drinking, and lounging, when they ought to be glad to turn their hands to anything that would help 'em to pay their bills? Do you — '

'My good soul,' interposed Mr. Benjamin Allen soothingly.

'Have the goodness to keep your observashuns to yourself, Sir, I beg,' said Mrs. Raddle, suddenly arresting the rapid torrent of her speech, and addressing the third party with impressive slowness and solemnity. 'I am not aweer, Sir, that you have any right to address your conversation to me. I don't think I let these apartments to you, Sir.'

'No, you certainly did not,' said Mr. Benjamin Allen.

'Very good, Sir,' responded Mrs. Raddle, with lofty politeness. 'Then p'raps, Sir, you'll confine yourself to breaking the arms and legs of the poor people in the hospitals, and keep yourself TO yourself, Sir, or there may be some persons here as will make you, Sir.'

'But you are such an unreasonable woman,' remonstrated Mr. Benjamin Allen.

'I beg your parding, young man,' said Mrs. Raddle, in a cold perspiration of anger. 'But will you have the goodness just to call me that again, sir?'

'I didn't make use of the word in any invidious sense, ma'am,' replied Mr. Benjamin Allen, growing somewhat uneasy on his own account.

'I beg your parding, young man,' demanded Mrs. Raddle, in a louder and more imperative tone. 'But who do you call a woman? Did you make that remark to me, sir?'

'Why, bless my heart!' said Mr. Benjamin Allen.

'Did you apply that name to me, I ask of you, sir?' interrupted Mrs. Raddle, with intense fierceness, throwing the door wide open.

'Why, of course I did,' replied Mr. Benjamin Allen.

'Yes, of course you did,' said Mrs. Raddle, backing gradually to the door, and raising her voice to its loudest pitch, for the special behoof of Mr. Raddle in the kitchen. 'Yes, of course you did! And everybody knows that they may safely insult me in my own 'ouse while my husband sits sleeping downstairs, and taking no more notice than if I was a dog in the streets. He ought to be ashamed of himself (here Mrs. Raddle sobbed) to allow his wife to be treated in this way by a parcel of young cutters and carvers of live people's bodies, that disgraces the lodgings (another sob), and leaving her exposed to all manner of abuse; a base, faint-hearted, timorous wretch, that's afraid to come upstairs, and face the ruffinly creatures — that's afraid — that's afraid to come!' Mrs. Raddle paused to listen whether the repetition of the taunt had roused her better half; and finding that it had not been successful, proceeded to descend the stairs with sobs innumerable; when there came a loud double knock at the street door; whereupon she burst into an hysterical fit of weeping, accompanied with dismal moans, which was prolonged until the knock had been repeated six times, when, in an uncontrollable burst of mental agony, she threw down all the umbrellas, and disappeared into the back parlour, closing the door after her with an awful crash.

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By the end of the novel, Dickens proposes a viable solution to some of the social problems he addresses, like debtor's prison.


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