'I feel a great delicacy, gentlemen, in coming for'ard,' said the man in the long coat, 'having the misforchune to be a coachman, and being only admitted as a honorary member of these agreeable swarrys, but I do feel myself bound, gentlemen — drove into a corner, if I may use the expression — to make known an afflicting circumstance which has come to my knowledge; which has happened I may say within the soap of my everyday contemplation. Gentlemen, our friend Mr. Whiffers (everybody looked at the individual in orange), our friend Mr. Whiffers has resigned.'
Universal astonishment fell upon the hearers. Each gentleman looked in his neighbour's face, and then transferred his glance to the upstanding coachman.
'You may well be sapparised, gentlemen,' said the coachman. 'I will not wenchure to state the reasons of this irrepairabel loss to the service, but I will beg Mr. Whiffers to state them himself, for the improvement and imitation of his admiring friends.'
The suggestion being loudly approved of, Mr. Whiffers explained. He said he certainly could have wished to have continued to hold the appointment he had just resigned. The uniform was extremely rich and expensive, the females of the family was most agreeable, and the duties of the situation was not, he was bound to say, too heavy; the principal service that was required of him, being, that he should look out of the hall window as much as possible, in company with another gentleman, who had also resigned. He could have wished to have spared that company the painful and disgusting detail on which he was about to enter, but as the explanation had been demanded of him, he had no alternative but to state, boldly and distinctly, that he had been required to eat cold meat.
It is impossible to conceive the disgust which this avowal awakened in the bosoms of the hearers. Loud cries of 'Shame,' mingled with groans and hisses, prevailed for a quarter of an hour.
Mr. Whiffers then added that he feared a portion of this outrage might be traced to his own forbearing and accommodating disposition. He had a distinct recollection of having once consented to eat salt butter, and he had, moreover, on an occasion of sudden sickness in the house, so far forgotten himself as to carry a coal-scuttle up to the second floor. He trusted he had not lowered himself in the good opinion of his friends by this frank confession of his faults; and he hoped the promptness with which he had resented the last unmanly outrage on his feelings, to which he had referred, would reinstate him in their good opinion, if he had.
Mr. Whiffers's address was responded to, with a shout of admiration, and the health of the interesting martyr was drunk in a most enthusiastic manner; for this, the martyr returned thanks, and proposed their visitor, Mr. Weller — a gentleman whom he had not the pleasure of an intimate acquaintance with, but who was the friend of Mr. John Smauker, which was a sufficient letter of recommendation to any society of gentlemen whatever, or wherever. On this account, he should have been disposed to have given Mr. Weller's health with all the honours, if his friends had been drinking wine; but as they were taking spirits by way of a change, and as it might be inconvenient to empty a tumbler at every toast, he should propose that the honours be understood.
At the conclusion of this speech, everybody took a sip in honour of Sam; and Sam having ladled out, and drunk, two full glasses of punch in honour of himself, returned thanks in a neat speech.
'Wery much obliged to you, old fellers,' said Sam, ladling away at the punch in the most unembarrassed manner possible, 'for this here compliment; which, comin' from sich a quarter, is wery overvelmin'. I've heered a good deal on you as a body, but I will say, that I never thought you was sich uncommon nice men as I find you air. I only hope you'll take care o' yourselves, and not compromise nothin' o' your dignity, which is a wery charmin' thing to see, when one's out a-walkin', and has always made me wery happy to look at, ever since I was a boy about half as high as the brass-headed stick o' my wery respectable friend, Blazes, there. As to the wictim of oppression in the suit o' brimstone, all I can say of him, is, that I hope he'll get jist as good a berth as he deserves; in vitch case it's wery little cold swarry as ever he'll be troubled with agin.'
Here Sam sat down with a pleasant smile, and his speech having been vociferously applauded, the company broke up.
'Wy, you don't mean to say you're a-goin' old feller?' said Sam Weller to his friend, Mr. John Smauker.
'I must, indeed,' said Mr. Smauker; 'I promised Bantam.'
'Oh, wery well,' said Sam; 'that's another thing. P'raps he'd resign if you disappinted him. You ain't a-goin', Blazes?'
'Yes, I am,' said the man with the cocked hat.
'Wot, and leave three-quarters of a bowl of punch behind you!' said Sam; 'nonsense, set down agin.'
Mr. Tuckle was not proof against this invitation. He laid aside the cocked hat and stick which he had just taken up, and said he would have one glass, for good fellowship's sake.
As the gentleman in blue went home the same way as Mr. Tuckle, he was prevailed upon to stop too. When the punch was about half gone, Sam ordered in some oysters from the green-grocer's shop; and the effect of both was so extremely exhilarating, that Mr. Tuckle, dressed out with the cocked hat and stick, danced the frog hornpipe among the shells on the table, while the gentleman in blue played an accompaniment upon an ingenious musical instrument formed of a hair-comb upon a curl-paper. At last, when the punch was all gone, and the night nearly so, they sallied forth to see each other home. Mr. Tuckle no sooner got into the open air, than he was seized with a sudden desire to lie on the curbstone; Sam thought it would be a pity to contradict him, and so let him have his own way. As the cocked hat would have been spoiled if left there, Sam very considerately flattened it down on the head of the gentleman in blue, and putting the big stick in his hand, propped him up against his own street-door, rang the bell, and walked quietly home.
At a much earlier hour next morning than his usual time of rising, Mr. Pickwick walked downstairs completely dressed, and rang the bell.
'Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, when Mr. Weller appeared in reply to the summons, 'shut the door.'
Mr. Weller did so.
'There was an unfortunate occurrence here, last night, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'which gave Mr. Winkle some cause to apprehend violence from Mr. Dowler.'
'So I've heerd from the old lady downstairs, Sir,' replied Sam.
'And I'm sorry to say, Sam,' continued Mr. Pickwick, with a most perplexed countenance, 'that in dread of this violence, Mr. Winkle has gone away.'
'Gone avay!' said Sam.
'Left the house early this morning, without the slightest previous communication with me,' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'And is gone, I know not where.'
'He should ha' stopped and fought it out, Sir,' replied Sam contemptuously. 'It wouldn't take much to settle that 'ere Dowler, Sir.'
'Well, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I may have my doubts of his great bravery and determination also. But however that may be, Mr. Winkle is gone. He must be found, Sam. Found and brought back to me.' 'And s'pose he won't come back, Sir?' said Sam.
'He must be made, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Who's to do it, Sir?' inquired Sam, with a smile.
'You,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
'Wery good, Sir.'
With these words Mr. Weller left the room, and immediately afterwards was heard to shut the street door. In two hours' time he returned with so much coolness as if he had been despatched on the most ordinary message possible, and brought the information that an individual, in every respect answering Mr. Winkle's description, had gone over to Bristol that morning, by the branch coach from the Royal Hotel.
'Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, grasping his hand, 'you're a capital fellow; an invaluable fellow. You must follow him, Sam.'
'Cert'nly, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller.
'The instant you discover him, write to me immediately, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'If he attempts to run away from you, knock him down, or lock him up. You have my full authority, Sam.'
'I'll be wery careful, sir,' rejoined Sam.
'You'll tell him,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'that I am highly excited, highly displeased, and naturally indignant, at the very extraordinary course he has thought proper to pursue.'
'I will, Sir,' replied Sam.
'You'll tell him,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'that if he does not come back to this very house, with you, he will come back with me, for I will come and fetch him.'
'I'll mention that 'ere, Sir,' rejoined Sam.
'You think you can find him, Sam?' said Mr. Pickwick, looking earnestly in his face.
'Oh, I'll find him if he's anyvere,' rejoined Sam, with great confidence.
'Very well,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Then the sooner you go the better.'
With these instructions, Mr. Pickwick placed a sum of money in the hands of his faithful servitor, and ordered him to start for Bristol immediately, in pursuit of the fugitive.
Sam put a few necessaries in a carpet-bag, and was ready for starting. He stopped when he had got to the end of the passage, and walking quietly back, thrust his head in at the parlour door.
'Sir,' whispered Sam.
'Well, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'I fully understands my instructions, do I, Sir?' inquired Sam.
'I hope so,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'It's reg'larly understood about the knockin' down, is it, Sir?' inquired Sam.
'Perfectly,' replied Pickwick. 'Thoroughly. Do what you think necessary. You have my orders.'
Sam gave a nod of intelligence, and withdrawing his head from the door, set forth on his pilgrimage with a light heart.