The Pickwick Papers By Charles Dickens Chapters 42-45

'None o' that, I say, young feller,' repeated Sam firmly. 'No man serves him but me. And now we're upon it, I'll let you into another secret besides that,' said Sam, as he paid for the beer. 'I never heerd, mind you, or read of in story-books, nor see in picters, any angel in tights and gaiters — not even in spectacles, as I remember, though that may ha' been done for anythin' I know to the contrairey — but mark my vords, Job Trotter, he's a reg'lar thoroughbred angel for all that; and let me see the man as wenturs to tell me he knows a better vun.' With this defiance, Mr. Weller buttoned up his change in a side pocket, and, with many confirmatory nods and gestures by the way, proceeded in search of the subject of discourse.

They found Mr. Pickwick, in company with Jingle, talking very earnestly, and not bestowing a look on the groups who were congregated on the racket-ground; they were very motley groups too, and worth the looking at, if it were only in idle curiosity.

'Well,' said Mr. Pickwick, as Sam and his companion drew nigh, 'you will see how your health becomes, and think about it meanwhile. Make the statement out for me when you feel yourself equal to the task, and I will discuss the subject with you when I have considered it. Now, go to your room. You are tired, and not strong enough to be out long.'

Mr. Alfred Jingle, without one spark of his old animation — with nothing even of the dismal gaiety which he had assumed when Mr. Pickwick first stumbled on him in his misery — bowed low without speaking, and, motioning to Job not to follow him just yet, crept slowly away.

'Curious scene this, is it not, Sam?' said Mr. Pickwick, looking good-humouredly round.

'Wery much so, Sir,' replied Sam. 'Wonders 'ull never cease,' added Sam, speaking to himself. 'I'm wery much mistaken if that 'ere Jingle worn't a-doin somethin' in the water-cart way!'

The area formed by the wall in that part of the Fleet in which Mr. Pickwick stood was just wide enough to make a good racket-court; one side being formed, of course, by the wall itself, and the other by that portion of the prison which looked (or rather would have looked, but for the wall) towards St. Paul's Cathedral. Sauntering or sitting about, in every possible attitude of listless idleness, were a great number of debtors, the major part of whom were waiting in prison until their day of 'going up' before the Insolvent Court should arrive; while others had been remanded for various terms, which they were idling away as they best could. Some were shabby, some were smart, many dirty, a few clean; but there they all lounged, and loitered, and slunk about with as little spirit or purpose as the beasts in a menagerie.

Lolling from the windows which commanded a view of this promenade were a number of persons, some in noisy conversation with their acquaintance below, others playing at ball with some adventurous throwers outside, others looking on at the racket-players, or watching the boys as they cried the game. Dirty, slipshod women passed and repassed, on their way to the cooking-house in one corner of the yard; children screamed, and fought, and played together, in another; the tumbling of the skittles, and the shouts of the players, mingled perpetually with these and a hundred other sounds; and all was noise and tumult — save in a little miserable shed a few yards off, where lay, all quiet and ghastly, the body of the Chancery prisoner who had died the night before, awaiting the mockery of an inquest. The body! It is the lawyer's term for the restless, whirling mass of cares and anxieties, affections, hopes, and griefs, that make up the living man. The law had his body; and there it lay, clothed in grave-clothes, an awful witness to its tender mercy.

'Would you like to see a whistling-shop, Sir?' inquired Job Trotter.

'What do you mean?' was Mr. Pickwick's counter inquiry.

'A vistlin' shop, Sir,' interposed Mr. Weller.

'What is that, Sam? — A bird-fancier's?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.

'Bless your heart, no, Sir,' replied Job; 'a whistling-shop, Sir, is where they sell spirits.' Mr. Job Trotter briefly explained here, that all persons, being prohibited under heavy penalties from conveying spirits into debtors' prisons, and such commodities being highly prized by the ladies and gentlemen confined therein, it had occurred to some speculative turnkey to connive, for certain lucrative considerations, at two or three prisoners retailing the favourite article of gin, for their own profit and advantage.

'This plan, you see, Sir, has been gradually introduced into all the prisons for debt,' said Mr. Trotter.

'And it has this wery great advantage,' said Sam, 'that the turnkeys takes wery good care to seize hold o' ev'rybody but them as pays 'em, that attempts the willainy, and wen it gets in the papers they're applauded for their wigilance; so it cuts two ways — frightens other people from the trade, and elewates their own characters.'

'Exactly so, Mr. Weller,' observed Job.

'Well, but are these rooms never searched to ascertain whether any spirits are concealed in them?' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Cert'nly they are, Sir,' replied Sam; 'but the turnkeys knows beforehand, and gives the word to the wistlers, and you may wistle for it wen you go to look.'

By this time, Job had tapped at a door, which was opened by a gentleman with an uncombed head, who bolted it after them when they had walked in, and grinned; upon which Job grinned, and Sam also; whereupon Mr. Pickwick, thinking it might be expected of him, kept on smiling to the end of the interview.

The gentleman with the uncombed head appeared quite satisfied with this mute announcement of their business, and, producing a flat stone bottle, which might hold about a couple of quarts, from beneath his bedstead, filled out three glasses of gin, which Job Trotter and Sam disposed of in a most workmanlike manner.

'Any more?' said the whistling gentleman.

'No more,' replied Job Trotter.

Mr. Pickwick paid, the door was unbolted, and out they came; the uncombed gentleman bestowing a friendly nod upon Mr. Roker, who happened to be passing at the moment.

From this spot, Mr. Pickwick wandered along all the galleries, up and down all the staircases, and once again round the whole area of the yard. The great body of the prison population appeared to be Mivins, and Smangle, and the parson, and the butcher, and the leg, over and over, and over again. There were the same squalor, the same turmoil and noise, the same general characteristics, in every corner; in the best and the worst alike. The whole place seemed restless and troubled; and the people were crowding and flitting to and fro, like the shadows in an uneasy dream.

'I have seen enough,' said Mr. Pickwick, as he threw himself into a chair in his little apartment. 'My head aches with these scenes, and my heart too. Henceforth I will be a prisoner in my own room.'

And Mr. Pickwick steadfastly adhered to this determination. For three long months he remained shut up, all day; only stealing out at night to breathe the air, when the greater part of his fellow-prisoners were in bed or carousing in their rooms. His health was beginning to suffer from the closeness of the confinement, but neither the often-repeated entreaties of Perker and his friends, nor the still more frequently-repeated warnings and admonitions of Mr. Samuel Weller, could induce him to alter one jot of his inflexible resolution.

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