Flattering as these professions of good feeling were, Arabella resolutely declined (most unaccountably, as Sam thought) to avail herself of them. For some time she strenuously refused to grant Mr. Winkle the interview Sam had so pathetically requested; but at length, when the conversation threatened to be interrupted by the unwelcome arrival of a third party, she hurriedly gave him to understand, with many professions of gratitude, that it was barely possible she might be in the garden an hour later, next evening. Sam understood this perfectly well; and Arabella, bestowing upon him one of her sweetest smiles, tripped gracefully away, leaving Mr. Weller in a state of very great admiration of her charms, both personal and mental.
Having descended in safety from the wall, and not forgotten to devote a few moments to his own particular business in the same department, Mr. Weller then made the best of his way back to the Bush, where his prolonged absence had occasioned much speculation and some alarm.
'We must be careful,' said Mr. Pickwick, after listening attentively to Sam's tale, 'not for our sakes, but for that of the young lady. We must be very cautious.'
'WE!' said Mr. Winkle, with marked emphasis.
Mr. Pickwick's momentary look of indignation at the tone of this remark, subsided into his characteristic expression of benevolence, as he replied —
'WE, Sir! I shall accompany you.'
'You!' said Mr. Winkle.
'I,' replied Mr. Pickwick mildly. 'In affording you this interview, the young lady has taken a natural, perhaps, but still a very imprudent step. If I am present at the meeting — a mutual friend, who is old enough to be the father of both parties — the voice of calumny can never be raised against her hereafter.'
Mr. Pickwick's eyes lightened with honest exultation at his own foresight, as he spoke thus. Mr. Winkle was touched by this little trait of his delicate respect for the young PROTEGEE of his friend, and took his hand with a feeling of regard, akin to veneration.
'You SHALL go,' said Mr. Winkle.
'I will,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Sam, have my greatcoat and shawl ready, and order a conveyance to be at the door to-morrow evening, rather earlier than is absolutely necessary, in order that we may be in good time.'
Mr. Weller touched his hat, as an earnest of his obedience, and withdrew to make all needful preparations for the expedition.
The coach was punctual to the time appointed; and Mr. Weller, after duly installing Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Winkle inside, took his seat on the box by the driver. They alighted, as had been agreed on, about a quarter of a mile from the place of rendezvous, and desiring the coachman to await their return, proceeded the remaining distance on foot.
It was at this stage of the undertaking that Mr. Pickwick, with many smiles and various other indications of great self-satisfaction, produced from one of his coat pockets a dark lantern, with which he had specially provided himself for the occasion, and the great mechanical beauty of which he proceeded to explain to Mr. Winkle, as they walked along, to the no small surprise of the few stragglers they met.
'I should have been the better for something of this kind, in my last garden expedition, at night; eh, Sam?' said Mr. Pickwick, looking good-humouredly round at his follower, who was trudging behind.
'Wery nice things, if they're managed properly, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller; 'but wen you don't want to be seen, I think they're more useful arter the candle's gone out, than wen it's alight.'
Mr. Pickwick appeared struck by Sam's remarks, for he put the lantern into his pocket again, and they walked on in silence.
'Down here, Sir,' said Sam. 'Let me lead the way. This is the lane, Sir.'
Down the lane they went, and dark enough it was. Mr. Pickwick brought out the lantern, once or twice, as they groped their way along, and threw a very brilliant little tunnel of light before them, about a foot in diameter. It was very pretty to look at, but seemed to have the effect of rendering surrounding objects rather darker than before.
At length they arrived at the large stone. Here Sam recommended his master and Mr. Winkle to seat themselves, while he reconnoitred, and ascertained whether Mary was yet in waiting.
After an absence of five or ten minutes, Sam returned to say that the gate was opened, and all quiet. Following him with stealthy tread, Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Winkle soon found themselves in the garden. Here everybody said, 'Hush!' a good many times; and that being done, no one seemed to have any very distinct apprehension of what was to be done next.
'Is Miss Allen in the garden yet, Mary?' inquired Mr. Winkle, much agitated.
'I don't know, sir,' replied the pretty housemaid. 'The best thing to be done, sir, will be for Mr. Weller to give you a hoist up into the tree, and perhaps Mr. Pickwick will have the goodness to see that nobody comes up the lane, while I watch at the other end of the garden. Goodness gracious, what's that?'
'That 'ere blessed lantern 'ull be the death on us all,' exclaimed Sam peevishly. 'Take care wot you're a-doin' on, sir; you're a-sendin' a blaze o' light, right into the back parlour winder.'
'Dear me!' said Mr. Pickwick, turning hastily aside, 'I didn't mean to do that.'
'Now, it's in the next house, sir,' remonstrated Sam.
'Bless my heart!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, turning round again.
'Now, it's in the stable, and they'll think the place is afire,' said Sam. 'Shut it up, sir, can't you?'
'It's the most extraordinary lantern I ever met with, in all my life!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, greatly bewildered by the effects he had so unintentionally produced. 'I never saw such a powerful reflector.'
'It'll be vun too powerful for us, if you keep blazin' avay in that manner, sir,' replied Sam, as Mr. Pickwick, after various unsuccessful efforts, managed to close the slide. 'There's the young lady's footsteps. Now, Mr. Winkle, sir, up vith you.'
'Stop, stop!' said Mr. Pickwick, 'I must speak to her first. Help me up, Sam.'
'Gently, Sir,' said Sam, planting his head against the wall, and making a platform of his back. 'Step atop o' that 'ere flower-pot, Sir. Now then, up vith you.'
'I'm afraid I shall hurt you, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Never mind me, Sir,' replied Sam. 'Lend him a hand, Mr. Winkle, sir. Steady, sir, steady! That's the time o' day!'
As Sam spoke, Mr. Pickwick, by exertions almost supernatural in a gentleman of his years and weight, contrived to get upon Sam's back; and Sam gently raising himself up, and Mr. Pickwick holding on fast by the top of the wall, while Mr. Winkle clasped him tight by the legs, they contrived by these means to bring his spectacles just above the level of the coping.
'My dear,' said Mr. Pickwick, looking over the wall, and catching sight of Arabella, on the other side, 'don't be frightened, my dear, it's only me.' 'Oh, pray go away, Mr. Pickwick,' said Arabella. 'Tell them all to go away. I am so dreadfully frightened. Dear, dear Mr. Pickwick, don't stop there. You'll fall down and kill yourself, I know you will.'
'Now, pray don't alarm yourself, my dear,' said Mr. Pickwick soothingly. 'There is not the least cause for fear, I assure you. Stand firm, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, looking down.
'All right, sir,' replied Mr. Weller. 'Don't be longer than you can conweniently help, sir. You're rayther heavy.'
'Only another moment, Sam,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
'I merely wished you to know, my dear, that I should not have allowed my young friend to see you in this clandestine way, if the situation in which you are placed had left him any alternative; and, lest the impropriety of this step should cause you any uneasiness, my love, it may be a satisfaction to you, to know that I am present. That's all, my dear.'
'Indeed, Mr. Pickwick, I am very much obliged to you for your kindness and consideration,' replied Arabella, drying her tears with her handkerchief. She would probably have said much more, had not Mr. Pickwick's head disappeared with great swiftness, in consequence of a false step on Sam's shoulder which brought him suddenly to the ground. He was up again in an instant however; and bidding Mr. Winkle make haste and get the interview over, ran out into the lane to keep watch, with all the courage and ardour of youth. Mr. Winkle himself, inspired by the occasion, was on the wall in a moment, merely pausing to request Sam to be careful of his master.
'I'll take care on him, sir,' replied Sam. 'Leave him to me.'
'Where is he? What's he doing, Sam?' inquired Mr. Winkle.
'Bless his old gaiters,' rejoined Sam, looking out at the garden door. 'He's a-keepin' guard in the lane vith that 'ere dark lantern, like a amiable Guy Fawkes! I never see such a fine creetur in my days. Blessed if I don't think his heart must ha' been born five-and-twenty year arter his body, at least!'
Mr. Winkle stayed not to hear the encomium upon his friend. He had dropped from the wall; thrown himself at Arabella's feet; and by this time was pleading the sincerity of his passion with an eloquence worthy even of Mr. Pickwick himself.
While these things were going on in the open air, an elderly gentleman of scientific attainments was seated in his library, two or three houses off, writing a philosophical treatise, and ever and anon moistening his clay and his labours with a glass of claret from a venerable-looking bottle which stood by his side. In the agonies of composition, the elderly gentleman looked sometimes at the carpet, sometimes at the ceiling, and sometimes at the wall; and when neither carpet, ceiling, nor wall afforded the requisite degree of inspiration, he looked out of the window.
In one of these pauses of invention, the scientific gentleman was gazing abstractedly on the thick darkness outside, when he was very much surprised by observing a most brilliant light glide through the air, at a short distance above the ground, and almost instantaneously vanish. After a short time the phenomenon was repeated, not once or twice, but several times; at last the scientific gentleman, laying down his pen, began to consider to what natural causes these appearances were to be assigned.