'Does Mr. Sawyer live here?' said Mr. Pickwick, when the door was opened.
'Yes,' said the girl, 'first floor. It's the door straight afore you, when you gets to the top of the stairs.' Having given this instruction, the handmaid, who had been brought up among the aboriginal inhabitants of Southwark, disappeared, with the candle in her hand, down the kitchen stairs, perfectly satisfied that she had done everything that could possibly be required of her under the circumstances.
Mr. Snodgrass, who entered last, secured the street door, after several ineffectual efforts, by putting up the chain; and the friends stumbled upstairs, where they were received by Mr. Bob Sawyer, who had been afraid to go down, lest he should be waylaid by Mrs. Raddle.
'How are you?' said the discomfited student. 'Glad to see you — take care of the glasses.' This caution was addressed to Mr. Pickwick, who had put his hat in the tray.
'Dear me,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I beg your pardon.'
'Don't mention it, don't mention it,' said Bob Sawyer. 'I'm rather confined for room here, but you must put up with all that, when you come to see a young bachelor. Walk in. You've seen this gentleman before, I think?' Mr. Pickwick shook hands with Mr. Benjamin Allen, and his friends followed his example. They had scarcely taken their seats when there was another double knock.
'I hope that's Jack Hopkins!' said Mr. Bob Sawyer. 'Hush. Yes, it is. Come up, Jack; come up.'
A heavy footstep was heard upon the stairs, and Jack Hopkins presented himself. He wore a black velvet waistcoat, with thunder-and-lightning buttons; and a blue striped shirt, with a white false collar.
'You're late, Jack?' said Mr. Benjamin Allen.
'Been detained at Bartholomew's,' replied Hopkins.
'No, nothing particular. Rather a good accident brought into the casualty ward.'
'What was that, sir?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'Only a man fallen out of a four pair of stairs' window; but it's a very fair case indeed.'
'Do you mean that the patient is in a fair way to recover?' inquired Mr. Pickwick. 'No,' replied Mr. Hopkins carelessly. 'No, I should rather say he wouldn't. There must be a splendid operation, though, to-morrow — magnificent sight if Slasher does it.'
'You consider Mr. Slasher a good operator?' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Best alive,' replied Hopkins. 'Took a boy's leg out of the socket last week — boy ate five apples and a gingerbread cake — exactly two minutes after it was all over, boy said he wouldn't lie there to be made game of, and he'd tell his mother if they didn't begin.'
'Dear me!' said Mr. Pickwick, astonished.
'Pooh! That's nothing, that ain't,' said Jack Hopkins. 'Is it, Bob?'
'Nothing at all,' replied Mr. Bob Sawyer.
'By the bye, Bob,' said Hopkins, with a scarcely perceptible glance at Mr. Pickwick's attentive face, 'we had a curious accident last night. A child was brought in, who had swallowed a necklace.'
'Swallowed what, Sir?' interrupted Mr. Pickwick. 'A necklace,' replied Jack Hopkins. 'Not all at once, you know, that would be too much — you couldn't swallow that, if the child did — eh, Mr. Pickwick? ha, ha!' Mr. Hopkins appeared highly gratified with his own pleasantry, and continued — 'No, the way was this. Child's parents were poor people who lived in a court. Child's eldest sister bought a necklace — common necklace, made of large black wooden beads. Child being fond of toys, cribbed the necklace, hid it, played with it, cut the string, and swallowed a bead. Child thought it capital fun, went back next day, and swallowed another bead.'
'Bless my heart,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'what a dreadful thing! I beg your pardon, Sir. Go on.'
'Next day, child swallowed two beads; the day after that, he treated himself to three, and so on, till in a week's time he had got through the necklace — five-and-twenty beads in all. The sister, who was an industrious girl, and seldom treated herself to a bit of finery, cried her eyes out, at the loss of the necklace; looked high and low for it; but, I needn't say, didn't find it. A few days afterwards, the family were at dinner — baked shoulder of mutton, and potatoes under it — the child, who wasn't hungry, was playing about the room, when suddenly there was heard a devil of a noise, like a small hailstorm. "Don't do that, my boy," said the father. "I ain't a-doin' nothing," said the child. "Well, don't do it again," said the father. There was a short silence, and then the noise began again, worse than ever. "If you don't mind what I say, my boy," said the father, "you'll find yourself in bed, in something less than a pig's whisper." He gave the child a shake to make him obedient, and such a rattling ensued as nobody ever heard before. "Why, damme, it's IN the child!" said the father, "he's got the croup in the wrong place!" "No, I haven't, father," said the child, beginning to cry, "it's the necklace; I swallowed it, father." — The father caught the child up, and ran with him to the hospital; the beads in the boy's stomach rattling all the way with the jolting; and the people looking up in the air, and down in the cellars, to see where the unusual sound came from. He's in the hospital now,' said Jack Hopkins, 'and he makes such a devil of a noise when he walks about, that they're obliged to muffle him in a watchman's coat, for fear he should wake the patients.'
'That's the most extraordinary case I ever heard of,' said Mr. Pickwick, with an emphatic blow on the table.
'Oh, that's nothing,' said Jack Hopkins. 'Is it, Bob?'
'Certainly not,' replied Bob Sawyer.
'Very singular things occur in our profession, I can assure you, Sir,' said Hopkins.
'So I should be disposed to imagine,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
Another knock at the door announced a large-headed young man in a black wig, who brought with him a scorbutic youth in a long stock. The next comer was a gentleman in a shirt emblazoned with pink anchors, who was closely followed by a pale youth with a plated watchguard. The arrival of a prim personage in clean linen and cloth boots rendered the party complete. The little table with the green baize cover was wheeled out; the first instalment of punch was brought in, in a white jug; and the succeeding three hours were devoted to VINGT-ET-UN at sixpence a dozen, which was only once interrupted by a slight dispute between the scorbutic youth and the gentleman with the pink anchors; in the course of which, the scorbutic youth intimated a burning desire to pull the nose of the gentleman with the emblems of hope; in reply to which, that individual expressed his decided unwillingness to accept of any 'sauce' on gratuitous terms, either from the irascible young gentleman with the scorbutic countenance, or any other person who was ornamented with a head.
When the last 'natural' had been declared, and the profit and loss account of fish and sixpences adjusted, to the satisfaction of all parties, Mr. Bob Sawyer rang for supper, and the visitors squeezed themselves into corners while it was getting ready.
it was not so easily got ready as some people may imagine. First of all, it was necessary to awaken the girl, who had fallen asleep with her face on the kitchen table; this took a little time, and, even when she did answer the bell, another quarter of an hour was consumed in fruitless endeavours to impart to her a faint and distant glimmering of reason. The man to whom the order for the oysters had been sent, had not been told to open them; it is a very difficult thing to open an oyster with a limp knife and a two-pronged fork; and very little was done in this way. Very little of the beef was done either; and the ham (which was also from the German-sausage shop round the corner) was in a similar predicament. However, there was plenty of porter in a tin can; and the cheese went a great way, for it was very strong. So upon the whole, perhaps, the supper was quite as good as such matters usually are.
After supper, another jug of punch was put upon the table, together with a paper of cigars, and a couple of bottles of spirits. Then there was an awful pause; and this awful pause was occasioned by a very common occurrence in this sort of place, but a very embarrassing one notwithstanding.
The fact is, the girl was washing the glasses. The establishment boasted four: we do not record the circumstance as at all derogatory to Mrs. Raddle, for there never was a lodging-house yet, that was not short of glasses. The landlady's glasses were little, thin, blown-glass tumblers, and those which had been borrowed from the public-house were great, dropsical, bloated articles, each supported on a huge gouty leg. This would have been in itself sufficient to have possessed the company with the real state of affairs; but the young woman of all work had prevented the possibility of any misconception arising in the mind of any gentleman upon the subject, by forcibly dragging every man's glass away, long before he had finished his beer, and audibly stating, despite the winks and interruptions of Mr. Bob Sawyer, that it was to be conveyed downstairs, and washed forthwith.
It is a very ill wind that blows nobody any good. The prim man in the cloth boots, who had been unsuccessfully attempting to make a joke during the whole time the round game lasted, saw his opportunity, and availed himself of it. The instant the glasses disappeared, he commenced a long story about a great public character, whose name he had forgotten, making a particularly happy reply to another eminent and illustrious individual whom he had never been able to identify. He enlarged at some length and with great minuteness upon divers collateral circumstances, distantly connected with the anecdote in hand, but for the life of him he couldn't recollect at that precise moment what the anecdote was, although he had been in the habit of telling the story with great applause for the last ten years.
'Dear me,' said the prim man in the cloth boots, 'it is a very extraordinary circumstance.'
'I am sorry you have forgotten it,' said Mr. Bob Sawyer, glancing eagerly at the door, as he thought he heard the noise of glasses jingling; 'very sorry.'
'So am I,' responded the prim man, 'because I know it would have afforded so much amusement. Never mind; I dare say I shall manage to recollect it, in the course of half an hour or so.'
The prim man arrived at this point just as the glasses came back, when Mr. Bob Sawyer, who had been absorbed in attention during the whole time, said he should very much like to hear the end of it, for, so far as it went, it was, without exception, the very best story he had ever heard. The sight of the tumblers restored Bob Sawyer to a degree of equanimity which he had not possessed since his interview with his landlady. His face brightened up, and he began to feel quite convivial.