CHAPTER XXXVII. HONOURABLY ACCOUNTS FOR Mr. WELLER'S ABSENCE, BY DESCRIBING A SOIREE TO WHICH HE WAS INVITED AND WENT; ALSO RELATES HOW HE WAS ENTRUSTED BY Mr. PICKWICK WITH A PRIVATE MISSION OF DELICACY AND IMPORTANCE
'Mr. Weller,' said Mrs. Craddock, upon the morning of this very eventful day, 'here's a letter for you.'
'Wery odd that,' said Sam; 'I'm afeerd there must be somethin' the matter, for I don't recollect any gen'l'm'n in my circle of acquaintance as is capable o' writin' one.'
'Perhaps something uncommon has taken place,' observed Mrs. Craddock.
'It must be somethin' wery uncommon indeed, as could perduce a letter out o' any friend o' mine,' replied Sam, shaking his head dubiously; 'nothin' less than a nat'ral conwulsion, as the young gen'l'm'n observed ven he wos took with fits. It can't be from the gov'ner,' said Sam, looking at the direction. 'He always prints, I know, 'cos he learnt writin' from the large bills in the booking-offices. It's a wery strange thing now, where this here letter can ha' come from.'
As Sam said this, he did what a great many people do when they are uncertain about the writer of a note — looked at the seal, and then at the front, and then at the back, and then at the sides, and then at the superscription; and, as a last resource, thought perhaps he might as well look at the inside, and try to find out from that.
'It's wrote on gilt-edged paper,' said Sam, as he unfolded it, 'and sealed in bronze vax vith the top of a door key. Now for it.' And, with a very grave face, Mr. Weller slowly read as follows —
'A select company of the Bath footmen presents their compliments to Mr. Weller, and requests the pleasure of his company this evening, to a friendly swarry, consisting of a boiled leg of mutton with the usual trimmings. The swarry to be on table at half-past nine o'clock punctually.'
This was inclosed in another note, which ran thus —
'Mr. John Smauker, the gentleman who had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Weller at the house of their mutual acquaintance, Mr. Bantam, a few days since, begs to inclose Mr. Weller the herewith invitation. If Mr. Weller will call on Mr. John Smauker at nine o'clock, Mr. John Smauker will have the pleasure of introducing Mr. Weller.
(Signed) 'JOHN SMAUKER.'
The envelope was directed to blank Weller, Esq., at Mr. Pickwick's; and in a parenthesis, in the left hand corner, were the words 'airy bell,' as an instruction to the bearer.
'Vell,' said Sam, 'this is comin' it rayther powerful, this is. I never heerd a biled leg o' mutton called a swarry afore. I wonder wot they'd call a roast one.'
However, without waiting to debate the point, Sam at once betook himself into the presence of Mr. Pickwick, and requested leave of absence for that evening, which was readily granted. With this permission and the street-door key, Sam Weller issued forth a little before the appointed time, and strolled leisurely towards Queen Square, which he no sooner gained than he had the satisfaction of beholding Mr. John Smauker leaning his powdered head against a lamp-post at a short distance off, smoking a cigar through an amber tube.
'How do you do, Mr. Weller?' said Mr. John Smauker, raising his hat gracefully with one hand, while he gently waved the other in a condescending manner. 'How do you do, Sir?'
'Why, reasonably conwalessent,' replied Sam. 'How do YOU find yourself, my dear feller?'
'Only so so,' said Mr. John Smauker.
'Ah, you've been a-workin' too hard,' observed Sam. 'I was fearful you would; it won't do, you know; you must not give way to that 'ere uncompromisin' spirit o' yourn.'
'It's not so much that, Mr. Weller,' replied Mr. John Smauker, 'as bad wine; I'm afraid I've been dissipating.'
'Oh! that's it, is it?' said Sam; 'that's a wery bad complaint, that.'
'And yet the temptation, you see, Mr. Weller,' observed Mr. John Smauker.
'Ah, to be sure,' said Sam.
'Plunged into the very vortex of society, you know, Mr. Weller,' said Mr. John Smauker, with a sigh.
'Dreadful, indeed!' rejoined Sam.
'But it's always the way,' said Mr. John Smauker; 'if your destiny leads you into public life, and public station, you must expect to be subjected to temptations which other people is free from, Mr. Weller.'
'Precisely what my uncle said, ven he vent into the public line,' remarked Sam, 'and wery right the old gen'l'm'n wos, for he drank hisself to death in somethin' less than a quarter.' Mr. John Smauker looked deeply indignant at any parallel being drawn between himself and the deceased gentleman in question; but, as Sam's face was in the most immovable state of calmness, he thought better of it, and looked affable again. 'Perhaps we had better be walking,' said Mr. Smauker, consulting a copper timepiece which dwelt at the bottom of a deep watch-pocket, and was raised to the surface by means of a black string, with a copper key at the other end.
'P'raps we had,' replied Sam, 'or they'll overdo the swarry, and that'll spile it.'
'Have you drank the waters, Mr. Weller?' inquired his companion, as they walked towards High Street.
'Once,' replied Sam.
'What did you think of 'em, Sir?'
'I thought they was particklery unpleasant,' replied Sam.
'Ah,' said Mr. John Smauker, 'you disliked the killibeate taste, perhaps?'
'I don't know much about that 'ere,' said Sam. 'I thought they'd a wery strong flavour o' warm flat irons.'
'That IS the killibeate, Mr. Weller,' observed Mr. John Smauker contemptuously.
'Well, if it is, it's a wery inexpressive word, that's all,' said Sam. 'It may be, but I ain't much in the chimical line myself, so I can't say.' And here, to the great horror of Mr. John Smauker, Sam Weller began to whistle.
'I beg your pardon, Mr. Weller,' said Mr. John Smauker, agonised at the exceeding ungenteel sound, 'will you take my arm?'
'Thank'ee, you're wery good, but I won't deprive you of it,' replied Sam. 'I've rayther a way o' putting my hands in my pockets, if it's all the same to you.' As Sam said this, he suited the action to the word, and whistled far louder than before.
'This way,' said his new friend, apparently much relieved as they turned down a by-street; 'we shall soon be there.'
'Shall we?' said Sam, quite unmoved by the announcement of his close vicinity to the select footmen of Bath.
'Yes,' said Mr. John Smauker. 'Don't be alarmed, Mr. Weller.'
'Oh, no,' said Sam.
'You'll see some very handsome uniforms, Mr. Weller,' continued Mr. John Smauker; 'and perhaps you'll find some of the gentlemen rather high at first, you know, but they'll soon come round.'
'That's wery kind on 'em,' replied Sam. 'And you know,' resumed Mr. John Smauker, with an air of sublime protection — 'you know, as you're a stranger, perhaps, they'll be rather hard upon you at first.'
'They won't be wery cruel, though, will they?' inquired Sam.
'No, no,' replied Mr. John Smauker, pulling forth the fox's head, and taking a gentlemanly pinch. 'There are some funny dogs among us, and they will have their joke, you know; but you mustn't mind 'em, you mustn't mind 'em.'
'I'll try and bear up agin such a reg'lar knock down o' talent,' replied Sam.
'That's right,' said Mr. John Smauker, putting forth his fox's head, and elevating his own; 'I'll stand by you.'
By this time they had reached a small greengrocer's shop, which Mr. John Smauker entered, followed by Sam, who, the moment he got behind him, relapsed into a series of the very broadest and most unmitigated grins, and manifested other demonstrations of being in a highly enviable state of inward merriment.
Crossing the greengrocer's shop, and putting their hats on the stairs in the little passage behind it, they walked into a small parlour; and here the full splendour of the scene burst upon Mr. Weller's view.
A couple of tables were put together in the middle of the parlour, covered with three or four cloths of different ages and dates of washing, arranged to look as much like one as the circumstances of the case would allow. Upon these were laid knives and forks for six or eight people. Some of the knife handles were green, others red, and a few yellow; and as all the forks were black, the combination of colours was exceedingly striking. Plates for a corresponding number of guests were warming behind the fender; and the guests themselves were warming before it: the chief and most important of whom appeared to be a stoutish gentleman in a bright crimson coat with long tails, vividly red breeches, and a cocked hat, who was standing with his back to the fire, and had apparently just entered, for besides retaining his cocked hat on his head, he carried in his hand a high stick, such as gentlemen of his profession usually elevate in a sloping position over the roofs of carriages.
'Smauker, my lad, your fin,' said the gentleman with the cocked hat.