'Not a whisper of my name,' replied Pott; 'this is a buff neighbourhood. If the excited and irritable populace knew I was here, I should be torn to pieces.'
'No! Vould you, sir?' inquired Sam.
'I should be the victim of their fury,' replied Pott. 'Now young man, what of your master?'
'He's a-stopping here to-night on his vay to town, with a couple of friends,' replied Sam.
'Is Mr. Winkle one of them?' inquired Pott, with a slight frown.
'No, Sir. Mr. Vinkle stops at home now,' rejoined Sam. 'He's married.'
'Married!' exclaimed Pott, with frightful vehemence. He stopped, smiled darkly, and added, in a low, vindictive tone, 'It serves him right!' Having given vent to this cruel ebullition of deadly malice and cold-blooded triumph over a fallen enemy, Mr. Pott inquired whether Mr. Pickwick's friends were 'blue?' Receiving a most satisfactory answer in the affirmative from Sam, who knew as much about the matter as Pott himself, he consented to accompany him to Mr. Pickwick's room, where a hearty welcome awaited him, and an agreement to club their dinners together was at once made and ratified.
'And how are matters going on in Eatanswill?' inquired Mr. Pickwick, when Pott had taken a seat near the fire, and the whole party had got their wet boots off, and dry slippers on. 'Is the INDEPENDENT still in being?'
'The INDEPENDENT, sir,' replied Pott, 'is still dragging on a wretched and lingering career. Abhorred and despised by even the few who are cognisant of its miserable and disgraceful existence, stifled by the very filth it so profusely scatters, rendered deaf and blind by the exhalations of its own slime, the obscene journal, happily unconscious of its degraded state, is rapidly sinking beneath that treacherous mud which, while it seems to give it a firm standing with the low and debased classes of society, is nevertheless rising above its detested head, and will speedily engulf it for ever.'
Having delivered this manifesto (which formed a portion of his last week's leader) with vehement articulation, the editor paused to take breath, and looked majestically at Bob Sawyer.
'You are a young man, sir,' said Pott.
Mr. Bob Sawyer nodded.
'So are you, sir,' said Pott, addressing Mr. Ben Allen.
Ben admitted the soft impeachment.
'And are both deeply imbued with those blue principles, which, so long as I live, I have pledged myself to the people of these kingdoms to support and to maintain?' suggested Pott.
'Why, I don't exactly know about that,' replied Bob Sawyer. 'I am — '
'Not buff, Mr. Pickwick,' interrupted Pott, drawing back his chair, 'your friend is not buff, sir?'
'No, no,' rejoined Bob, 'I'm a kind of plaid at present; a compound of all sorts of colours.'
'A waverer,' said Pott solemnly, 'a waverer. I should like to show you a series of eight articles, Sir, that have appeared in the Eatanswill GAZETTE. I think I may venture to say that you would not be long in establishing your opinions on a firm and solid blue basis, sir.' 'I dare say I should turn very blue, long before I got to the end of them,' responded Bob.
Mr. Pott looked dubiously at Bob Sawyer for some seconds, and, turning to Mr. Pickwick, said —
'You have seen the literary articles which have appeared at intervals in the Eatanswill GAZETTE in the course of the last three months, and which have excited such general — I may say such universal — attention and admiration?'
'Why,' replied Mr. Pickwick, slightly embarrassed by the question, 'the fact is, I have been so much engaged in other ways, that I really have not had an opportunity of perusing them.'
'You should do so, Sir,' said Pott, with a severe countenance.
'I will,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'They appeared in the form of a copious review of a work on Chinese metaphysics, Sir,' said Pott.
'Oh,' observed Mr. Pickwick; 'from your pen, I hope?'
'From the pen of my critic, Sir,' rejoined Pott, with dignity.
'An abstruse subject, I should conceive,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Very, Sir,' responded Pott, looking intensely sage. 'He CRAMMED for it, to use a technical but expressive term; he read up for the subject, at my desire, in the "Encyclopaedia Britannica."'
'Indeed!' said Mr. Pickwick; 'I was not aware that that valuable work contained any information respecting Chinese metaphysics.'
'He read, Sir,' rejoined Pott, laying his hand on Mr. Pickwick's knee, and looking round with a smile of intellectual superiority — 'he read for metaphysics under the letter M, and for China under the letter C, and combined his information, Sir!'
Mr. Pott's features assumed so much additional grandeur at the recollection of the power and research displayed in the learned effusions in question, that some minutes elapsed before Mr. Pickwick felt emboldened to renew the conversation; at length, as the editor's countenance gradually relaxed into its customary expression of moral supremacy, he ventured to resume the discourse by asking —
'Is it fair to inquire what great object has brought you so far from home?'
'That object which actuates and animates me in all my gigantic labours, Sir,' replied Pott, with a calm smile: 'my country's good.' 'I supposed it was some public mission,' observed Mr. Pickwick.
'Yes, Sir,' resumed Pott, 'it is.' Here, bending towards Mr. Pickwick, he whispered in a deep, hollow voice, 'A Buff ball, Sir, will take place in Birmingham to-morrow evening.'
'God bless me!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick.
'Yes, Sir, and supper,' added Pott.
'You don't say so!' ejaculated Mr. Pickwick.
Pott nodded portentously.
Now, although Mr. Pickwick feigned to stand aghast at this disclosure, he was so little versed in local politics that he was unable to form an adequate comprehension of the importance of the dire conspiracy it referred to; observing which, Mr. Pott, drawing forth the last number of the Eatanswill GAZETTE, and referring to the same, delivered himself of the following paragraph: —
'A reptile contemporary has recently sweltered forth his black venom in the vain and hopeless attempt of sullying the fair name of our distinguished and excellent representative, the Honourable Mr. Slumkey — that Slumkey whom we, long before he gained his present noble and exalted position, predicted would one day be, as he now is, at once his country's brightest honour, and her proudest boast: alike her bold defender and her honest pride — our reptile contemporary, we say, has made himself merry, at the expense of a superbly embossed plated coal-scuttle, which has been presented to that glorious man by his enraptured constituents, and towards the purchase of which, the nameless wretch insinuates, the Honourable Mr. Slumkey himself contributed, through a confidential friend of his butler's, more than three-fourths of the whole sum subscribed. Why, does not the crawling creature see, that even if this be the fact, the Honourable Mr. Slumkey only appears in a still more amiable and radiant light than before, if that be possible? Does not even his obtuseness perceive that this amiable and touching desire to carry out the wishes of the constituent body, must for ever endear him to the hearts and souls of such of his fellow townsmen as are not worse than swine; or, in other words, who are not as debased as our contemporary himself? But such is the wretched trickery of hole-and-corner Buffery! These are not its only artifices. Treason is abroad. We boldly state, now that we are goaded to the disclosure, and we throw ourselves on the country and its constables for protection — we boldly state that secret preparations are at this moment in progress for a Buff ball; which is to be held in a Buff town, in the very heart and centre of a Buff population; which is to be conducted by a Buff master of the ceremonies; which is to be attended by four ultra Buff members of Parliament, and the admission to which, is to be by Buff tickets! Does our fiendish contemporary wince? Let him writhe, in impotent malice, as we pen the words, WE WILL BE THERE.'
'There, Sir,' said Pott, folding up the paper quite exhausted, 'that is the state of the case!'
The landlord and waiter entering at the moment with dinner, caused Mr. Pott to lay his finger on his lips, in token that he considered his life in Mr. Pickwick's hands, and depended on his secrecy. Messrs. Bob Sawyer and Benjamin Allen, who had irreverently fallen asleep during the reading of the quotation from the Eatanswill GAZETTE, and the discussion which followed it, were roused by the mere whispering of the talismanic word 'Dinner' in their ears; and to dinner they went with good digestion waiting on appetite, and health on both, and a waiter on all three.
In the course of the dinner and the sitting which succeeded it, Mr. Pott descending, for a few moments, to domestic topics, informed Mr. Pickwick that the air of Eatanswill not agreeing with his lady, she was then engaged in making a tour of different fashionable watering-places with a view to the recovery of her wonted health and spirits; this was a delicate veiling of the fact that Mrs. Pott, acting upon her often-repeated threat of separation, had, in virtue of an arrangement negotiated by her brother, the lieutenant, and concluded by Mr. Pott, permanently retired with the faithful bodyguard upon one moiety or half part of the annual income and profits arising from the editorship and sale of the Eatanswill GAZETTE.
While the great Mr. Pott was dwelling upon this and other matters, enlivening the conversation from time to time with various extracts from his own lucubrations, a stern stranger, calling from the window of a stage-coach, outward bound, which halted at the inn to deliver packages, requested to know whether if he stopped short on his journey and remained there for the night, he could be furnished with the necessary accommodation of a bed and bedstead.
'Certainly, sir,' replied the landlord.
'I can, can I?' inquired the stranger, who seemed habitually suspicious in look and manner.
'No doubt of it, Sir,' replied the landlord.
'Good,' said the stranger. 'Coachman, I get down here. Guard, my carpet-bag!'
Bidding the other passengers good-night, in a rather snappish manner, the stranger alighted. He was a shortish gentleman, with very stiff black hair cut in the porcupine or blacking-brush style, and standing stiff and straight all over his head; his aspect was pompous and threatening; his manner was peremptory; his eyes were sharp and restless; and his whole bearing bespoke a feeling of great confidence in himself, and a consciousness of immeasurable superiority over all other people.