They were not meteors; they were too low. They were not glow-worms; they were too high. They were not will-o'-the-wisps; they were not fireflies; they were not fireworks. What could they be? Some extraordinary and wonderful phenomenon of nature, which no philosopher had ever seen before; something which it had been reserved for him alone to discover, and which he should immortalise his name by chronicling for the benefit of posterity. Full of this idea, the scientific gentleman seized his pen again, and committed to paper sundry notes of these unparalleled appearances, with the date, day, hour, minute, and precise second at which they were visible: all of which were to form the data of a voluminous treatise of great research and deep learning, which should astonish all the atmospherical wiseacres that ever drew breath in any part of the civilised globe.
He threw himself back in his easy-chair, wrapped in contemplations of his future greatness. The mysterious light appeared more brilliantly than before, dancing, to all appearance, up and down the lane, crossing from side to side, and moving in an orbit as eccentric as comets themselves.
The scientific gentleman was a bachelor. He had no wife to call in and astonish, so he rang the bell for his servant.
'Pruffle,' said the scientific gentleman, 'there is something very extraordinary in the air to-night? Did you see that?' said the scientific gentleman, pointing out of the window, as the light again became visible.
'Yes, I did, Sir.'
'What do you think of it, Pruffle?'
'Think of it, Sir?'
'Yes. You have been bred up in this country. What should you say was the cause for those lights, now?'
The scientific gentleman smilingly anticipated Pruffle's reply that he could assign no cause for them at all. Pruffle meditated.
'I should say it was thieves, Sir,' said Pruffle at length.
'You're a fool, and may go downstairs,' said the scientific gentleman.
'Thank you, Sir,' said Pruffle. And down he went.
But the scientific gentleman could not rest under the idea of the ingenious treatise he had projected being lost to the world, which must inevitably be the case if the speculation of the ingenious Mr. Pruffle were not stifled in its birth. He put on his hat and walked quickly down the garden, determined to investigate the matter to the very bottom.
Now, shortly before the scientific gentleman walked out into the garden, Mr. Pickwick had run down the lane as fast as he could, to convey a false alarm that somebody was coming that way; occasionally drawing back the slide of the dark lantern to keep himself from the ditch. The alarm was no sooner given, than Mr. Winkle scrambled back over the wall, and Arabella ran into the house; the garden gate was shut, and the three adventurers were making the best of their way down the lane, when they were startled by the scientific gentleman unlocking his garden gate.
'Hold hard,' whispered Sam, who was, of course, the first of the party. 'Show a light for just vun second, Sir.'
Mr. Pickwick did as he was desired, and Sam, seeing a man's head peeping out very cautiously within half a yard of his own, gave it a gentle tap with his clenched fist, which knocked it, with a hollow sound, against the gate. Having performed this feat with great suddenness and dexterity, Mr. Weller caught Mr. Pickwick up on his back, and followed Mr. Winkle down the lane at a pace which, considering the burden he carried, was perfectly astonishing.
'Have you got your vind back agin, Sir,' inquired Sam, when they had reached the end.
'Quite. Quite, now,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
'Then come along, Sir,' said Sam, setting his master on his feet again. 'Come betveen us, sir. Not half a mile to run. Think you're vinnin' a cup, sir. Now for it.'
Thus encouraged, Mr. Pickwick made the very best use of his legs. It may be confidently stated that a pair of black gaiters never got over the ground in better style than did those of Mr. Pickwick on this memorable occasion.
The coach was waiting, the horses were fresh, the roads were good, and the driver was willing. The whole party arrived in safety at the Bush before Mr. Pickwick had recovered his breath.
'in with you at once, sir,' said Sam, as he helped his master out. 'Don't stop a second in the street, arter that 'ere exercise. Beg your pardon, sir,'continued Sam, touching his hat as Mr. Winkle descended, 'hope there warn't a priory 'tachment, sir?'
Mr. Winkle grasped his humble friend by the hand, and whispered in his ear, 'It's all right, Sam; quite right.' Upon which Mr. Weller struck three distinct blows upon his nose in token of intelligence, smiled, winked, and proceeded to put the steps up, with a countenance expressive of lively satisfaction.
As to the scientific gentleman, he demonstrated, in a masterly treatise, that these wonderful lights were the effect of electricity; and clearly proved the same by detailing how a flash of fire danced before his eyes when he put his head out of the gate, and how he received a shock which stunned him for a quarter of an hour afterwards; which demonstration delighted all the scientific associations beyond measure, and caused him to be considered a light of science ever afterwards.